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Bone Tea

Chapter Text

Mud caked at Marinette’s shoes, and, not for the first time that night, she was glad she decided to wear her rain boots. Sweat dripped down her back, and she sighed heavily, scratching at the charmed mask covering her whole face.

Sure, it was good for hiding her identity, but it made digging into graves a pain.

“No one’ll know if you take it off, you know,” said the ghost boy named Louis floating above her. Little troublesome ghosts like him also made digging into graves a pain.

“You’ll know,” she responded, shoveling another pile of dirt out of the way.

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m dead.”

“I know more than anyone that the dead don’t always stay quiet.”

Louis had no idea what to say to that, so he remained silent, drifting back and forth in a breeze Marinette wished she could feel. Her tank top stuck to her skin, and she pulled at it, looking up at the night sky and blowing the hair out of her face.

“Why do you go through so much trouble for some bones?” Louis asked, and Marinette turned, raising an eyebrow. The boy’s cheeks turned opaque, as if he were blushing. “I mean, yeah, they’re my bones, but you always have so much trouble every time I see you.”

“You’ve been watching me?”

“Most of the ghosts here do.”

“Why don’t I notice them?”

“We can be really good at hiding when we need to be.” Marinette glanced around, giving the old cemetery an appraising look. Then she returned to her digging. “Why don’t you ever have someone come help you? Can’t you just use magic to get the dirt out of the way?”

“I work alone,” she said with a shrug, and a split-second grin lit up her face as her shovel hit the boy’s coffin. “And your magic is only as strong as the amount of work you put in.”

Louis watched as she threw the shovel aside, jumping out of the hole she’d dug and brushing her hands off. She moved a hand to the side, and the small coffin lid flipped open, revealing the perfectly preserved body of her small ghostly companion. His skin was a milky white color, his head was bare of any hair, and his eyes were closed, as if he was asleep. There was an action figure tucked in between him and the walls of the coffin

“This is creepy,” Louis said, shrinking away from Marinette.

“I would’ve thought if you were watching me, you’d be used to it by now.”

“It’s different when it’s up close.”

Marinette could sort of understand the boy’s unease. She’d once dabbled in astral projection, and the sight of her unconscious body had given her a rather icky feeling. She didn’t think seeing your own corpse could be much better.

“Fair point.” She kneeled down, examining the body with a keen eye.  “Do you have any preference as to which bone I take?”

Louis seemed to shiver, and he drifted just the slightest bit away from her. “You’re going to take one of my bones?” He sounded rather horrified by this prospect.

She looked up at the boy, smiling a little to try and get him to feel at ease. “Just a small one, like from your pinky finger or from your littlest toe. You’ll hardly even notice it’s gone.” Not that the ghost would feel it at all - after all, ghosts normally take shape of when they were at the peak of life while living, which is why ghost Louis had no trace of the sickness that had plagued him during his life. But still. Most ghosts like the reassurance.

“What do you even need it for?” Louis asked, drifting towards her once more, slowly and curiously, like a stray cat. “I know you’ve talking to my mom about something, but you never said what about.”

Marinette shrugged. “She only wants to know where you’re headed once you decide to leave this plane of existence. I can use a simple spell to figure it out.”

“Like… Heaven or Hell?”

“There’s far more than that, and none so black and white.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that there’s a lot of different afterlifes that you could go to,” Marinette explained, just as she had explained to his mother. “That is, once you move on.”

Louis chewed on his thumb, staring down at his body. “And when do I move on?” he asked.

Marinette shrugged. “Whenever you feel like it. Sometimes ghosts stay to watch over their living loved ones, and sometimes they stay for fun. It depends.”

Drifting down so that he was sitting in the air just beside Marinette, Louis looked at her with wide, imploring eyes. “If I leave… Does that mean forever?”

Smiling, Marinette shook her head. “Nope,” she said, popping the ‘p’ sound. “You can come visit whenever you feel like it.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

He turned the slightest bit more opaque, as if flushing with satisfaction. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” Marinette said, turning back to the matter at hand. Now that he seemed to be through with his questions, she looked down at his body, humming a bit. “Now, do you think I should take the pinky finger or one of the toes?”

He made a face. “If you took a toe, wouldn’t that mean you’d have to take off one of my shoes?”

Marinette made a face back at him. “You’re absolutely right. Pinky finger it is.” She focused her energy, pointing her index finger at the corpse’s pinky finger, drawing a circle in the air. A blood red line traced itself onto the pale skin, encircling the finger and glittering softly. “Secare,” she whispered, and the finger severed itself from the rest of the hand.

“Ew,” Louis said. Marinette agreed.

She gestured for the finger, and it floated through the air toward her, glowing in red magic. It hovered over the palm of her hand, and she cupped her other hand over it, giving it a shake. When she opened up her hands, scarlet magic dripped off her skin and into the dirt, sizzling softly. There in her hands were the clean bones of the pinky finger.

“Ew,” Louis said again. Marinette smiled.

Bringing out a small leather pouch from the backpack she’d brought along with her, Marinette dropped the bones into the pouch, showing it to him. “Done,” she said.

Of course, there was the whole “re-burying the coffin” part, but Louis seemed to get the gist.

 

---

 

After finishing up at the graveyard, Marinette had gone back to her shop, taking her time through the small back roads and relishing the thriving nightlife. A light cloud of magic hung in the air, and she breathed it in, feeling all the different types of magic linger in her lungs before she exhaled, letting traces of her own pink and red magic mingle with the rest.

“Ladybug,” said a soft voice beside her, and Marinette looked over, finding Louis’s mother. “I meant to wait until you called, but I…” She trailed off, and Marinette saw the grief pulling down the woman’s shoulders.

“It’s alright, Mrs. Dubois,” she said, and she took the woman’s arm to guide her back to the shop. She could tell the woman was uncomfortable, and she remembered the first conversation they had. She had said that she had no experience with magic, but someone had told her to come to a witch named Ladybug.

It was Marinette’s job to figure out where a ghost was headed, but making sure the woman as comfortable as possible also seemed like a good idea.

She flipped the shop sign to ‘open,’ unlocked the door, and flicked on the lights, guiding Mrs. Dubois inside. “There’s a sitting area over by the windows in the fiction section. You’re welcome to sit there while I grab my materials.”

Mrs. Dubois nodded, drifting over to the sitting area that Marinette had gestured to. Just before Marinette left to grab what she needed, she turned back to her. “Would you like some tea?”

Seeming almost surprised by the offer, Mrs. Dubois slowly shook her head. “No thank you.”

“Are you sure?”

Her insistence seemed to relax Mrs. Dubois a little. “I’m sure.”

Marinette headed to her back room, putting down her backpack and grabbing the leather pouch she had put Louis’s bones in. She placed the pouch in the regular scrying bowl she always used before heading to the magical tomes section of her shop, which was right next to the front counter and shielded by pink, gauzy curtains. The one she needed practically flew into her hands, and she fumbled with it for a second. She hadn’t even meant to call it to her.

Old tomes were fun that way.

When she met back with Mrs. Dubois in the sitting area, she knelt down in front of the coffee table, gesturing for Mrs. Dubois to do the same. She placed the book and the scrying bowl on the table, picking up the leather pouch.

“This is your son’s pinky finger,” she said, holding it up for Mrs. Dubois to see.

Understandably, Mrs. Dubois’s first reaction was disgust, which then melted into horror.

“W-What?”

“If you’d like, you can look away while I start scrying, but I must inform you that your son’s bone was necessary for this.” Marinette set the leather bag beside the bowl and waited.

Mrs. Dubois’s mouth opened and closed for a long moment. “What?” she repeated.

“In order for me to determine which afterlife your son is headed, I have to scry for information. It’s best when you scry with something associated with the object of your information search, and in my experience, bone always works best.” She could see that Mrs. Dubois was heavily debating whether or not to run. Marinette decided to soften up a bit. “Tell me about your son.”

She swallowed thickly, fixing her hands in her lap and staring at the leather bag beside the bowl. “He was a quiet boy. Very curious.” Marinette thought of the boy that had talked quietly to her all while she was digging, and she thought of the bright curiosity in his eyes. She smiled. “When he got sick, he started to talk a lot more. He said it was because he didn’t want to die with words still in his head.”

There were tears gathering in Mrs. Dubois’s eyes. Marinette reached across the coffee table and put her hand on her shoulder. “With this method, I can give you reassurance that your son is going to the place he deserves,” she said softly.

“I… Okay,” Mrs. Dubois finally said, and Marinette let go of her shoulder. She took the leather bag out of the bowl.

“Please don’t be alarmed,” Marinette said, snapping her fingers.

A bright red fire burst to life within the bowl. Mrs. Dubois screamed. Marinette looked up, smiling a little.

“I’m going to look into the fire,” Marinette said. “And I’m going to put your son’s bone into the fire, okay?”

“This will help you, um, see where he’s going?” she asked. Marinette nodded.

“You’re welcome to look away,” Marinette said, opening up the leather bag. Mrs. Dubois averted her gaze as Marinette placed the bones into the red fire, the flames curling around her fingertips.

Keeping her eyes trained on the fire, Marinette pointed at the tome beside her. It opened up and flipped through the pages until it found the one she needed. The page had the details of almost every spiritual world for the deceased and what signals in fire indicated what. Years ago, Marinette had memorized every single sign and world, but she found that keeping the tome next to her while she worked was comforting on the rare chance that she forgot anything.

For the next hour, Marinette sat almost completely still, her eyes never leaving the fire in front of her. She was vaguely aware of a small crowd of customers that were waiting patiently just outside of the sitting area, and of Mrs. Dubois, who was chewing on her nails and staring at Marinette anxiously. But Marinette never let her focus waver.

The fire showed her signs of flower-filled fields and amusement parks and other kids. Marinette described that particular spiritual world to Mrs. Dubois in as much detail as she could, making sure not to leave anything out. “That’s where your son is headed.”

Finally, Marinette closed her eyes, letting the fire die out. She resisted the urge to rub at her eyes since she was still wearing the thin glamour and any excess rubbing could take it off, so she just settled for a few extra seconds of having her eyes closed.

“What’s that?” Mrs. Dubois asked, and Marinette opened her eyes.

Resting in the bowl instead of a finger bone was a small golden flower pendant. Marinette picked it up, examining it before handing it to Mrs. Dubois. “Sometimes, the deceased like to leave gifts for the living through my magic since it’s a little easier to get to this world. It’s their way of saying goodbye.”

“Roses were his favorite,” Mrs. Dubois said, and two large tears slid down her cheeks. She held the pendant to her chest.

Marinette stood, helping Mrs. Dubois to her feet. “I’d say that that pendant works as your personal sight charm.” A confused look was the only reply that Marinette got. “Every mage needs a charm to help see all things magic. If you want to explore more in the world of magic, that pendant could help.”

Mrs. Dubois frowned. “I’m not sure if I…”

“You don’t have to be sure right now,” Marinette assured. “But if you ever want to learn more, I’ll be here. And I can direct you to a charmer in the city that can give you more information on that pendant for if you ever want to come back.” Marinette scribbled the address on a post-it note and handed it to Mrs. Dubois. “She knows more about charms than I ever could."

Taking the post-it note, Mrs. Dubois smiled a little weakly. “I think I’ve seen enough magic tonight to last me for the rest of my life.”

“Might as well see more to last you through your afterlife as well,” Marinette replied, and Mrs. Dubois laughed. Marinette was glad her joke had landed and hadn’t seemed offensive. That always seemed to be the line she crossed when making death jokes.

“It’s been a pleasure, Ladybug,” Mrs. Dubois said, and they shook hands.

“Have a magical night,” Marinette said, smiling a little at her very overused but still charming joke. Mrs. Dubois seemed to appreciate it as well. She waved one last time, and Mrs. Dubois left the shop.

Turning to the small crowd of customers, Marinette took a deep breath.

“Who’s next?”

 

---

 

Marinette breathed a sigh of relief, watching as the last customer of the regular nightly rush left the shop. She plopped into the comfy chair behind the front counter, tugging off her earrings.

Her senses immediately dulled, settling back into a calming blurriness that she had long since accepted as her regular eyesight without the aid of magic. She rubbed her eyes tiredly, dragging her hands down her face and peeling off the itchy glamour that had not made digging up a grave any more pleasant than it sounded.

The melted in her hands, dissipating and mingling with the sweet air of her shop.

But the night was not over yet; dawn was still hours away. And that meant replacing one mask with another less irritating one.

She placed an ornately designed masquerade mask over her eyes, carefully tying the ribbon at the back of her head. As she let out a tired sigh, her hands dropping down to her lap, a curl of magic escaped her lips, glittering in the air before she breathed it back in.

It really said a lot about how tired she really was when magic started to leak out of her.

The front door chimed open just as she started to brew a simple potion to keep herself awake. The scent was cloying and earthy, and she breathed it in, ready to face another customer, if only somewhat.

“Welcome to Lucky Charm,” she greeted, her soft and tired voice cutting through the comfortable silence of the shop. “Let me know if you’d like any assistance.”

“A cup of that tea would do just fine,” came the shriveled voice of a small old man.

The sweet scent of her potion filled up her nose as she took another breath. “This tea is meant for keeping people awake, monsieur. I’d be happy to offer it to you, but only if you’re tired.”

“It is the middle of the night. I’m sure everyone is a bit tired.”

“Not in Paris,” Marinette murmured, grabbing the tea kettle from the back room and pouring two mugs nonetheless. “The night life here is stronger that many of the big cities I’ve been to. The magical population of Paris is quite large, though I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now,” she said, offering the man one mug and taking a small sip of the other.

With her slightly blurred vision, she observed the man carefully as he took the mug, her eyes wandering over the bright colors of his tropical-styled shirt and khakis. He seemed familiar somehow, but she couldn’t quite place him. She watched as his graying hair seemed to turn a shade darker once he took a sip of her brew. She wondered how old the man really was.

“You’ve traveled to many places?” he asked, and she shook her head, pursing her lips.

“I’ve only gone to the places necessary for my studies. Paris is my home. I don’t think I can leave it for too long.” She set her mug on the countertop, picking up her earrings and putting them on. Her vision cleared instantly with the help of the strong magic, and she closed her eyes, giving herself time to adjust.

When she opened her eyes once more, the world was sharpened in excruciating detail, and she looked over the man once more, raising her eyebrows. “Are you in need of any service from me?” she asked, narrowing her eyes and sensing the strong aura of green magic emitting from the man. “I’m not sure I could do anything that you couldn’t.”

The man gave her an appraising look, taking another sip of his tea. “I am not at all practiced in the art of necromancy and speaking to the dead. Nor am I practiced in the art of luck.”

A smile tugged at Marinette’s lips as she tapped her finger against her mug, sparks of red and pink magic flying from her fingertip. “I see you’ve heard of me.”

“I have indeed, Ladybug.”

She took a sip of her tea, breathing in the cloying scent of it. “I’m afraid I can’t offer much in the luck department. It’s an area of magic that I don’t particularly like messing with.” She paused, watching the expression shift on his face. “As for matters with the dead, simple spells and potions, charms, or anything of that sort – I am happy to help.”

“You seem to live up to your reputation as the best witch in Paris.”

“I would only call myself the best necromancer in Paris.”

The man hummed, taking another sip of the tea. “The tea is delicious. And it’s keeping me awake.”

“It serves its purpose.”

He placed the mug down on the counter, and Marinette glanced down at it, noticing that only the leaves were left. “You have treated me nicely, Ladybug, and so I shall not require any sort of service from you. I shall only ask a favor.”

Marinette raised her eyebrows, not saying anything. She didn’t regard accepting favors from strangers particularly strange (it was rather common in the magical community), but a deep tugging in the pit of her stomach made her feel as though this favor was meant to be important.

“A young man will come here soon, and he will ask for help in finding someone. I’d like for you to help him.”

She frowned. “I only deal with the dead.”

The man smiled. “You’re expertise will be needed. Please do not turn the boy away.”

Despite just drinking her brew to stay awake, drowsiness overwhelmed her, and she felt green magic mingling with the air she breathed, pulling at the exhaustion in her bones. “I will help him to the best of my abilities,” she said, a frown still creasing her features. Her body felt unbelievably heavy, and she felt her eyelids start to droop.

“Thank you,” the man said, smiling. He placed a small, glowing red box on the counter top before her. “This should be of some help to you, Ladybug.”

“What is…?” Even her tongue felt heavy. She could feel a strong magical aura pulsating from the box, but she couldn’t bring herself to examine it further. Instead, she slouched in her seat, her body like lead. The last sound she heard before falling into a deep sleep was the sound of the front door chiming closed.

 

Chapter Text

Marinette woke slowly, the soft golden morning light tickling her nose. She opened her eyes, blinking at the pink haze that surrounded her.

Sitting up and waving the cloud of her own magic away, she stretched lazily, scratching at the masquerade mask still on her face. It had loosened some time during her magic induced sleep, and it obstructed half of her vision, slipping down over her cheeks.

One thing about magic induced sleeps: they were not satisfying at all.

Judging by the gray light filtering through her shop windows, the sun was just starting to rise, and it wouldn’t be long until she had to open up her shop again. She sort of dreaded the thought, as she always did after a particularly long night shift.

Her muscles pulled taut as she dragged herself out of her chair, and she winced. It had been a while since she had to do any digging. She’d be feeling this for a few days at least.

The mask slid down her face even more, and she finally pulled it off, leaving her hair to stick up in odd places. She tossed the mask onto the counter, where it slid neatly to a corner that customers would not be able to see. Marinette narrowed her eyes.

Glittering pink magic swirled lazily around the counter.

She’d have to fix that.

But before she could do any fixing of anything, she’d have to take care of the excruciating headache blossoming directly behind her eyes. The combination of the old man’s sleeping spell and her brew to do exactly the opposite, as well as sleeping in her earrings, was not a fun one.

Speaking of the old man, there was the matter of the box he’d left for her when she’d fallen asleep. There it was on the counter top, looking plain and simple in the daytime although she could clearly remember it glowing softly before she’d fallen asleep. The thought of magic and troublesome favors made her sensitive brain punch the smooth inside of her skull repeatedly and without rest. Groaning, she grabbed the box and shoved it to the back of the counter beside her mask where she wouldn’t have to look at it or think about it much.

She’d deal with it later. Preferably when her head wasn’t in the processes of imploding.

As she staggered up the stairs of the shop, her feet tripping over the old wooden steps, she wondered briefly about the familiar old man and why he felt so familiar. But she quickly stopped wondering once she tripped up the stairs twice and nearly crushed her nose against the floor within the same breath.

Her living quarters above the shop were small – just enough for her to live comfortably, but it seemed a tad bit too small now as she tried to maneuver her way around the loft, stubbing her toes more than once on a variety of things that Marinette both cursed at and apologized to. Of course, none of these things were animate, but she did so anyway.

The clock above the stove told her that the shop would have to open in exactly an hour. She ran a tired hand through her hair, making a face as she did so. Even if she was short on time, it seemed as though skipping a shower was not at all an option. Which meant that skipping styling her hair and putting on makeup was entirely an option.

So she climbed into the shower and hoped that her bangs didn’t dry weird.

A quick glance at the clock after her shower told her that she had about thirty minutes to get the shop ready and take care of the still pounding magic-induced headache. She combed her fingers through her damp bangs and grabbed her favorite fluffy pink cardigan.

The stairway was foggy with pink magic, and she groaned, waving a hand through the mist to try to make it go away. The problem with luck, it seemed, was that it never liked to stay inside her.

She tripped three times down the stairs.

As she stumbled into the backroom of her shop, used mostly as a storage area for her tea bags, gemstones, vials, and extra tomes, she pushed the hair back from her forehead and grabbed a tea bag from her box of healing ones. The label said that it was good for migraines, and she threw it in the general direction of a mug. It missed the mug completely and fell onto the floor.

Trying to keep her cool, Marinette filled the tea kettle up with water and placed it on the heater, turning the dial all the way up and sending off a quick prayer to the higher powers that be that nothing caught fire. She scooped up the tea bag from the floor, brushed it off a bit, and carefully placed it in the mug.

Sparing a glance at the tea kettle and the heater, she breathed out another quick prayer before grabbing a large empty jar and uncorking it. She hurried to the front area of her shop, placing the jar on the counter top and trying her best to coax the cloud of magic into the jar.

It didn’t want to be coaxed anywhere.

Marinette growled in frustration, turning around and glaring at the large cloud of magic that had followed her from the stairway. “So you’ll follow me, but you won’t stay inside me?” she demanded, turning back around and trying to grab the glittering tails of her own magic. It evaded her grasp, drifting lazily to the center of the shop. “So much for the magic I’m gifted with,” she grumbled, turning her attention to the larger cloud behind her.

Once she turned around, however, she noticed the smoke drifting out of the back room, which was not at all normal. She let out a small squeak, sprinting through the cloud of luck and bursting into the backroom, snapping the dial of the heater down to zero and lifting the screaming kettle off the metal plate. The flames from the heater fizzled out, and Marinette let out a sigh of relief, pouring the boiling water into the mug she’d put the tea bag in.

She carried the mug to the front, swirling the tea bag in the water as she walked. She didn’t trip once.

There was still a large cloud of pink luck hovering around the counter, swirling around the jar but not quite going into it, but Marinette figured that was fine. Luck didn’t like sticking to anyone in particular (which included herself, of course), and it never seemed to favor anyone over anyone else. She figured the delicate balance of luckiness and unluckiness would be fine, even if she left a cloud of it out in the open. It’s not like regular customers could see it anyway.

The thought suddenly occurred to her that she shouldn’t be able to see it either.

Suddenly her enchanted red studs were heavy on her earlobes, and she set down her mug, carefully taking out the earrings and fastening them to the pocket of her cardigan. She gave herself a moment to adjust, leaning her hip against the counter and groping blindly for her tea. When she found it, she lifted it to her lips, taking a long, slow sip.

Her blistering headache lessened considerably.

She opened her eyes, surveying her shop without the aid of any sort of magic. As always, everything seemed to blur for a moment, as if the world didn’t want to be seen without any magic. But eventually her senses adjusted and the world slid back into focus.

The cloud of luck was still hovering just around the jar; she could tell. Although her sight wasn’t as good without the earrings, she could still sense magic, and the air glowed and shimmered like a mirage where she knew the large clouds of magic hung around.

Before opening her shop for the day, she walked through the shelves, examining the placements of the books to make sure nothing strange had happened to the careful order she had in the shelves. She strode over to the back section last, brushing the thin and gauzy pink curtains to the side and peeking into the special tome section. She hardly bothered organizing that section, given that the old magic in the books got all finicky with age. The books liked being in certain spots, and she didn’t really feel like training them otherwise.

Everything looked to be in order, so she flipped the sign on the door to ‘open.’ The old man must’ve had the courtesy to flip it to ‘closed’ after he’d knocked her out, which she supposed was nice. It would’ve been embarrassing if a customer had walked in and found her passed out and probably drooling all over semi-important paperwork. She took her place behind the counter, settling into her comfy chair and staring at the shimmering cloud of stubborn luck, willing it to get in the jar or at least get inside her . Of course, no such luck.

Not even ten minutes in business hours, and Marinette’s best and closest friend strode through the door, carrying with her a small bag that smelled suspiciously of breakfast pastries.

Alya Césaire set the white paper bag on the countertop, right next to the empty jar. “Got any tequila?” she asked tiredly, leaning against the counter and giving Marinette a lazy smile.

“I’ve got tea and coffee,” Marinette said, as she always did.

“And I’ve got breakfast,” she said, nodding to the bag. “Give me anything to keep me awake.”

“Long shift last night?” Marinette asked, standing up and making her way to the back room, leaving the door open so as to properly converse with her friend.

“More like long shift this week,” Alya called to her, her voice grating against her throat. Marinette stared at the tea bags, chewing on her lips. It seemed as though she’d need something stronger.

“I was wondering why you haven’t been around in a while,” Marinette said, ruffling through her large cardigan pockets for the small vial of ground mint she sort of remembered leaving in this cardigan’s pockets.

“And you didn’t bother to call?”

“You always say that a reporter’s always busy.”

Alya didn’t answer, and Marinette assumed that it meant that she had won the argument. She took a glance over at Alya, wondering just how strong the tea should be.

“Do you still have work today?” Marinette asked, poking her head out the doorway and looking at Alya, who was staring blankly at the pastry bag.

It took her a moment to respond. “I’ve got a week or so off, thank God, but I’d very much like to get on a regular sleeping schedule.” She paused, her eyes drifting closed. “Or at least a better one."

Marinette nodded, slipping back into the back room and picking out the different tea bags to combine. She turned the heater on, only turning the dial a quarter the way up, and then set the still half full tea kettle on the metal plate. She grabbed the travel cup she kept specifically for Alya and an empty tea bag, opening up the others and dumping in just the right amounts of everything to make a special brew. To finish it off, she sprinkled a microscopic pinch of the mint, sealing the tea bag shut.

The tea kettle screamed, and Marinette turned off the heater, removing the tea kettle and dropping the tea bag she’d made into the travel cup before pouring the boiling water into the cup. The water swirled for a moment, then turned a soft orange color. That should do.

“This should keep you up for a couple hours tops,” Marinette said, setting the travel cup onto the counter beside Alya. “But after that, it’s going to wear off, and you’re probably going to feel a bit worse than now.”

Alya grabbed the cup without opening her eyes and gulped down a quarter of the brew. “Should be fine.” After another gulp, she opened her eyes, looking significantly more awake. “Oh, mignonette, I really needed that.”

“Always happy to serve,” Marinette said with a soft smile.

“My thanks to you,” Alya said, nudging the paper bag forward. “And to Ladybug, of course.” Marinette opened the bag, peeking inside. A normal croissant greeted her as well as a fancier pain au chocolat.

She raised her eyebrows. “What did Ladybug do to deserve such a fancy pain au chocolat on a Wednesday?” Marinette asked, taking out the croissant and nibbling on it.

“Ladybug always deserves fancy pastries any day of the week,” Alya said with a sigh, looking over at the curtained-off section of magic books. “She’s always doing such odd jobs in the middle of the night. I mean, last night, I saw her digging up a grave! Did you even know she was out? I didn’t see you out there with her.”

“It was probably one of the more personal jobs,” Marinette said with a shrug, trying to ignore her aching muscles and her deceit to her own best friend. “And you know that I’m only her assistant for the day shop. She’s secretive to everyone.”

“Which is why she’s so intriguing to the magic community!” Alya exclaimed, twirling around once, her expression alight with a curiosity that only a seasoned reporter could have. “We’re normally secretive, but she takes it to the extremes. The best witch in Paris-”

“I would only say the best necromancer in Paris,” Marinette interjected, but Alya continued without skipping a beat.

“And not a living soul knows who she is as a civilian! Experienced in luck and necromancy, as well as all the basic magic, too.” Alya sighed, her eyes sparkling.

Marinette’s eyes wandered to the clouds of luck still shimmering listlessly through the air. “You make her sound so rose-colored,” she said, her eyes catching on a small sliver of luck that had slithered into the jar. A small victory that brightened her mood perhaps a little too much given its pathetic nature.

“I only make her seem like that because I know nothing else,” Alya said with a shrug. “She’s polite enough when I come here at night, but she always declines an interview.” Marinette thought of the many times Alya had come begging in the early hours of the morning, guilt washing over her bones.  “The only one who knows anything more about her would be you.”

Another sliver of luck slipped into the jar, curling around the bottom of the glass. “I have no information to give,” she said truthfully, looking Alya in the eyes.

Alya sighed. “Well, it’s not like the magic community doesn’t like the mystery surrounding their favorite witch. My blog’s doing well enough off of ad revenue.”

“Not to mention you have an actual paying job,” Marinette reminded.

“I’ve got a week off,” Alya said with a playful grin, tipping her cup at Marinette. “For the next week, paying job or not, that blog is going to be my life.” She pushed the paper bag holding only the pain au chocolat closer to Marinette. “Remember to give that to Ladybug when you have the chance.”

“Remember to get a proper night's rest,” Marinette said, watching Alya start to leave, small shimmers of luck sticking to the fibers of her clothes.

“Don’t worry about that, mignonette,” Alya assured, opening up the front door. “I plan to catch up on a week’s worth of missed dinners, and then pass out for a couple days at least.”

“If I call you tomorrow and you’re awake, I’m slipping you a sleeping potion,” Marinette threatened loosely, wondering if she meant it or not. Alya’s laughter bounced around the shop minutes after she had left the premises.

For a moment, Marinette stared at the paper bag, still holding the pain au chocolat. Then she looked down at the croissant and sighed. She stood, her bones creaking a bit, and grabbed the paper bag, taking it to the back room.

When she returned, she glanced at the jar, nearly half full with magic, before setting her gaze on the mysterious box she’d left by her mask. Magic, especially powerful magic, really only brought trouble if used during the day time, and so even though her curiosity was quite close to killing her, Marinette turned away from the box. Even though she really wanted a closer look at the intricate engravings and vaguely archaic symbols. Even though she glanced at it every thirty seconds.

A pile of paperwork was placed quite intentionally in the middle of her desk space behind the counter, and Marinette cursed herself for always putting things off.

And then she set to work.

 

---

 

A soft and sharp tinkling noise filled the shop. Marinette awoke from a nap with a snort. “Welcome to Lucky Charm,” Marinette exclaimed, her head shooting up from behind the counter.

The very attractive man who was her prospective customer stared at her. “Ah, yes, hello,” he said finally, hiding a laugh behind his hand. Marinette was suddenly excruciatingly aware of the fact that a piece of the paperwork she was supposed to be doing was stuck to her cheek.

She peeled the paper off her face, feeling as though she may combust from embarrassment. “My name is Marinette. Please let me know if you’d like any help.”

“Of course,” the man said, practically glowing in the afternoon light.

He wandered away, placing his interest in the many shelves in Marinette’s shop, and the aforementioned owner scurried to the back room, wanting to be swallowed up by the earth itself. She could already feel herself starting to decompose.

She busied herself with preparing a cup of tea. She paid no attention as to what the contents were and for what reason she was preparing it for.

When the tea was finished, she noted the soft pink color of it, wanting to kick herself. She’d made tea for luck, infusing it with her own magic. Which would of course bring trouble.

She brought the mug with her anyway as she walked out of the back room.

Exhaustion was still pulling at her soul, and the thought of paperwork made her want to collapse. The thought of falling asleep in front of a hot customer again also made her want to collapse. So she found herself wandering through the shelves, carrying a mug of tea she wouldn’t be drinking.

In the mystery section, which opened up to join the fantasy and sci-fi sections in a half-circle framed in light from the windows, she found the glowing, attractive customer.

He was standing close to the mystery shelf, leaning in to it as if it was the most interesting thing he’d ever seen. The soft light from the windows seemed to catch in his hair, and it seemed to linger there, braiding itself into the strands. A pastel green scarf, worn with wear, hung loosely around his neck, and he fiddled with the frayed ends of it as he scanned the books on the shelf.

Marinette leaned against the fantasy shelf, which rounded off the semi-circle, watching as the man lowered into a crouch to see the books on the lower shelves.

“The ones on the lower shelves are children’s books,” she said, and the man let out a small exclamation, scrambling to stand up, but only managing to hit against the shelf and knock down a thick book from one of the higher shelves. The book fell and landed directly on the man’s toe with a rather violent thumping noise. He let out a small whimper from the back of his throat, sliding his foot out from under the book.

Marinette, who had watched this all without doing a single thing, was horrified. “Oh, monsieur, I-I didn’t mean to scare you!” she shrieked, finally rushing to the man and kneeling down next to him. She placed a hand on his shoulder, leaning down so as to catch his gaze. “Are you alright?”

The man looked at her, his green eyes alarmingly sharp and bright. “I’m alright, Marinette,” he said, and Marinette felt something lurch in her stomach at the casual use of her name. “But I’ve got a feeling this’ll hurt for a bit.”

“I have some things that might help with the pain,” she said, hurrying to stand up and placing the thick book back into its place. “If you’ll allow me, I can offer you some assistance.”

“Of course I’ll allow you,” the man said, giving her a soft smile.

She offered him her free hand to help him stand and he took it, his palm smooth and warm in hers. “Are you alright to walk on your own?” she asked, once again becoming aware that she was holding a mug of luck tea and had let it spill a bit on the floor. She could already feel it evaporating and floating lazily in the air.

“I should think so,” the man said, taking his hand from Marinette’s to test out his weight. Almost immediately, his leg buckled, and he grabbed onto Marinette for support. “On second thought, I think I’ll need your assistance.”

Marinette furrowed her eyebrows, looking up at the book. It shouldn’t have caused so much damage that a grown man couldn’t even stand on his own feet. On the bottom of the spine of the book, just under the publisher’s name, was a small fox insignia.

Which meant that a certain troublesome witch had placed a charm on it. Ladybug would have to have a few choice words with Volpina about her petty pranks.

But for now, she helped the man to her chair behind the counter, careful with the mug in her hand.

“Sit tight, monsieur-“

“Adrien,” the man interrupted, looking up at Marinette, his sculpted features soft in the warm light. “My name is Adrien.”

“Ah,” Marinette said, her heart beating faster despite the horrid situation she was in. “Yes, Adrien. Please sit tight for the time being while I get you an ice pack, and maybe something else.”

“How vague.”

Marinette shrugged, placing the mug on the counter by Adrien. “Drink this while I prepare things. It might help you.” Volpina’s charms always seemed to have a lasting after-effect on non-magic users, and it was never good. Adrien would need any extra luck he could get for the next couple of days.

She rushed to the back room before Adrien could say anything, flipping open her ice chest and scooping up a thick block of ice. She scrambled around for her vial of clear healing solution, letting a few drops fall onto the ice  before she wrapped it up in several layers of plastic cling wrap. She was just about to hurry back out to Adrien when she caught the distorted reflection of herself in her tea kettle. Her lack of sleep was evident in the purple half-circles under her eyes, and her bangs had dried weird thanks to her shoving them out of her face. Several chunks of her hair stuck straight up in the air.

Looking back on the events since Adrien arrived at her shop, Marinette thought that she has certainly left a lasting impression on the man. Her disheveled appearance probably didn’t help at all.

With a sigh, she ran a hand through her bangs, which only seemed to make them stick out at an even worse angle than before, and then she returned to Adrien, grabbing an orange on her way out of the back room.

“I’m sorry for the wait, monsieur- Adrien. I’m sorry for the wait, Adrien.” He smiled fondly at her, and she was painfully aware of her not-at-all made up face and hair.

Ducking her head, she knelt down by Adrien’s feet. “May I?” she asked, gesturing to his injured foot.

“Be my guest. Though I can’t promise it’ll smell great.” The humor in his voice made a small snort of laughter slip from Marinette’s lips, riding on a thin stream of wavering magic. She was very glad that Adrien didn’t seem to notice or know that magic was even surrounding them in the room.

Marinette removed his shoe, leaving his sock on and carefully ghosting her hands over where she remembered the book had hit. Closing her eyes, she reached for her connection to anatomy.

“I don’t think it’s broken,” Marinette said after a moment and looking up at Adrien. A headache was threatening to pulse just behind her eyes from the effort of using sensing magic without any extra power. “This should help with any lingering pain,” Marinette said, holding up the ice pack and pressing it to Adrien’s foot.

“Ah!” he exclaimed, shrinking back from her touch. “Sorry,” he apologized somewhat shyly, returning his foot to where it had been. “It was a bit cold. And it stung a bit.”

“Which means that it’s working,” Marinette murmured, pressing the ice pack firmly into Adrien’s foot. He shrunk back again, but not as much as the first time. He managed to stay in one place.

After a minute or so, Marinette noticed the water in the ice pack was turning a soft pink color, and she quickly thrust it to Adrien. “Just hold it to your foot where it hurts. Once it’s completely melted, you’ll be able to walk again.” The pink color of it immediately faded once it had left her grasp, and she wiped her hands on her jeans, smearing the invisible excess magic on her thighs.

“How interesting,” Adrien said, pressing the ice pack to his foot. “Was it pink before, or was I imagining things?”

Marinette leaned against the counter, picking up the orange she had grabbed and starting to peel it. “Must’ve been a trick of the light,” she said with a shrug, placing the bits of the orange rind on a napkin. She could use it later.

Adrien hummed softly in agreement, though it sounded absent, as though he didn’t quite believe her. He picked up the mug of tea that Marinette had left for him, making sure to keep his other hand firm over the ice pack. Marinette tried not to look so anxious as he took a sip.

“It’s sweet,” Adrien murmured, a content sort of smile gracing his lips. “Like strawberries.” Of course there was nothing at all resembling strawberries in the tea, only magic, but luck tastes different to everyone. Marinette always thought it tasted a bit sour.

“I’m glad you like it,” she said, accidentally stabbing her nail into part of the orange. A drop of orange juice flew into her eye.

“Are you okay?” Adrien asked after a moment, noticing the stray tear that had slipped out of Marinette’s burning eye as she rubbed at it fiercely.

“Yes, of course,” Marinette said, waving the hand with the orange in it. The orange slipped out of her grasp and plopped onto the floor. She stared at it, wondering what she did to deserve having to live through such loathsome events.

Both she and Adrien stared down at the orange for what seemed like millennia.

“Don’t you want to…?” Adrien started, hesitantly looking up at Marinette and leaving the question open in the air.

“Ah, right.” She bent down and scooped the orange up, turning away to dispose of it and also hide the burning blush that was crawling down her neck. “Anyway,” she said, taking a deep breath to calm herself, “I’ve caused you a lot of trouble. Was there any book you liked? I could give it to you free of charge.”

“Oh, that’s- that’s not necessary,” Adrien spluttered, and when Marinette turned around again, he seemed to be embarrassed. “You’ve already given me a lot. I-I mean, the ice pack” – he pulled it away from his foot and waved it around – “and tea” – he gestured to the tea with the ice pack – “I couldn’t accept anything else.”

Marinette chewed on her bottom lip, playing with her fingers and scanning Adrien’s face. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.”

There seemed to be something else hanging in the air besides the luck. If Marinette could trust her senses, she would think it was opportunity.

But opportunity was not her specialty. Neither was luck, for that matter. She remained silent. 

The ice pack melted quickly, and Adrien took it away from his foot, flexing it carefully. “It doesn’t hurt at all,” he said, his voice tinged with incredulity. “How did you do that?” he asked, turning to Marinette.

She inhaled sharply, the look on his face for some reason too much for her to bear. “I-I don’t think it’s anything particularly amazing. Just a regular ice pack,” she said, her words tumbling over each other and tangling in her mouth.

Adrien stood with ease, slipping his foot back into his shoe and resting an easy hand on Marinette’s shoulder. The heat of it seeped through her skin. “Thank you so much, Marinette.” The use of her name made her face heat up, something light fluttering in her stomach.

“No problem.” Her eyes were still glued to the floor.

“I have to be going now - I only had a time for a short visit anyway, but I’ll come back so that I can actually buy something from you.” He took his hand away, starting to walk towards the door.

What he said to Marinette didn’t register until he was already halfway out the doorway.

“Will you - I mean, you’re back- you’ll come back?” she stuttered, tearing her gaze from the floor and leaning over the counter, something making her words come out faster than either her brain or her tongue could process them.

He turned around, the early afternoon light framing him like he was some ethereal creature. His lips turned up into a soft smile. “Of course. See you later, Marinette.” He turned and walked out of her shop.

Marinette stared at the door, her mouth hanging just the slightest bit open. She collapsed into her chair, pushing her bangs out of her face. What had gotten into her?

 

---

 

That night, just as the sun was setting and the magic of the night was taking over, Marinette finally let herself touch the box. The further the sun sunk, the brighter the box glowed. When the sun was fully asleep, she picked the box up and examined it on all sides. It had glowing red runes on it, and there was a polka-dotted circle on the lid, almost reminiscent of a ladybug.

Squinting at the glowing runes, she tried to decipher them. They were super old, older than any Marinette had seen before, but she did recognize some of the glyphs from some other ancient roots she'd studied. From what she could tell, the box contained an ancient and powerful being. Which pulled at her curiosity, but gave her common sense a red flag.

Yes, a seemingly harmless old man had given this to her and said that it would ‘help’ her in performing his favor of assisting in the search for a living, breathing woman, but this seemingly harmless old man had also emanated a powerful magical aura and had cast a sleeping spell on her without her even noticing. Should she really trust the box from such a character?

She stared at the box. Desire and impulse told her yes. Common sense still told her no, but she decided to not really pay attention to that at the moment.

Upon her decision that yes she wanted to open the box, she decided that she wasn’t so far gone as to not protect herself. There were no obvious weapons around her, but there was a jar full of pens and pencils, so she emptied that and grabbed a rather sharp-looking ball-point pen. She held the jar near the box for trapping the being, and then she popped open the lid.

Out poured a thick red magic fog, and Marinette did the best she could to trap it all in the jar, slamming the opening down onto the counter top. Slowly, the fog coalesced into a small fairy-looking creature, its little hands pressed up against the glass of the jar and staring up at her with wide blue eyes.

“Some sort of sprite?” Marinette asked, mostly to herself, bending down to get a closer look. Its skin was red, and it had speckles of black on it, almost like freckles. She’d never seen anything like it.

“Actually, I’m more of a pixie,” the little thing piped up, and Marinette jumped, leveling the pen at the jar suspiciously. “And I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Then what are you supposed to do?” Marinette asked, and the pixie plopped down on the counter top, sitting with its legs crossed and fluttering its little wings.

“Well, technically speaking, I’m an amplifier. I make my master’s magical abilities more effective. I also provide great company for little cost, and I’d like to think I’m an excellent backgammon player.”

Marinette hummed appreciatively. “What about cards?”

“Depends on the game,” the pixie answered. Marinette nodded in understanding. “Now that that’s settled, do you think you could un-trap me?”

Lowering her pen, Marinette chewed on her bottom lip. “And you’re not going to attack me if I do that?”

The pixie laughed. “If I wanted to attack you, I would’ve. And I could easily break out of this glass jar if I wanted to, but I’m asking out of formality.”

“That’s very kind of you,” Marinette said, finally lowering the pen and taking the glass jar away from the little pixie. “And I’m assuming I’m supposed to be your new master?”

“You assume correct,” it said, stretching its wings and brushing off its legs as it stood. “I’m assuming you’re Marinette Dupain-Cheng, alias Ladybug?”

“Correct,” Marinette said, checking the time and putting on her mask for the night. “What’s your preferred gender? And is there a name I can call you?”

“You can call me Tikki, and I most prefer being a lady.”

“Okay, Tikki,” Marinette said to the little pixie, offering her a finger for her to shake. “It’s very nice to make your acquaintance."

Tikki shook Marinette’s fingertip with both of her tiny hands, smiling warmly at her. “Same to you, Marinette. I think we’ll get along beautifully.”

Marinette cocked her head to the side, smiling a little confusedly. “How can you tell?”

“Because I just can,” Tikki said with a shrug, walking around the counter top and making soft padding noises with her feet. “I hate to impose right away, but I'm absolutely famished right now. Do you happen to have anything sweet?”

“Hm.” Marinette got up from her chair and went to the back room, wondering if she had anything at her immediate disposal. She caught sight of the pastry bag that Alya had brought earlier and decided that a fancy pain au chocolat was sweet enough for a pixie, probably.

She brought out the pastry bag and showed the chocolate croissant to Tikki, whose wide blue eyes sparkled the moment Marinette took the pastry out of the bag. “Will this do?” Marinette asked.

Tikki tore off a piece of the croissant, practically salivating just looking at it. She looked up at Marinette as if she held the whole world in her hands. “This will do fantastically, Marinette,” she said.

Sitting down at her chair again, Marinette leaned her elbows on the table, watching her brand new amplifier eat the pastry meant for Ladybug and smiling softly. Maybe it was too early to say, but she did think that she and Tikki got along beautifully.

Chapter Text

“Can you feel it?" 

Adrien froze, his hand half way to grabbing a box of fruity cereal that was supposed to be his comfort food for the night. He turned his head slowly to the direction of the voice, just enough to glimpse a small old man in a Hawaiian style shirt. It was way too late at night to deal with this.

Feeling only slightly bad, Adrien grabbed the cereal (it was on sale - he could afford the name brand for once; truly a delight) and pretended he hadn’t heard the man. He turned to exit the aisle, and the man spoke again.

“There’s magic in the air at night,” he said. Adrien walked faster. There’s certain things he avoids at night, and on the list next to dark alleys, liquor stores, and Chloe Bourgeois in a party mood was drunk old men talking about magic. This was a surprisingly common occurrence. “There’s a pulse of life in the atmosphere at night, and that pulse is magic,” the old man continued.

“I’m sorry,” Adrien said, walking faster. It was three in the morning at a general store. This is not what he asked for.

“Ah, wait-” the man exclaimed, followed by a hard thumping sound, and Adrien paused, looking back at the old man. He was sprawled out on the floor rather pitifully, the cane he’d been holding a few feet away from his hands. Adrien was immediately overwhelmed with guilt, and he picked up the cane and went over to the man to help him stand. “Thank you, Adrien,” the man said, taking his hand and struggling to his feet.

“You’re wel-” He stooped, unease spilling over his spine. “How do you know my name?”

“I know many things,” the man said, taking his cane and standing up straight. Suddenly, he wasn’t so pitiful anymore, and Adrien wasn’t really a believer in auras, but he could feel it. It was like raw electricity flowing through the air, making the hair on his arms stand up. “I know your name,” the man continued, “and I know that there is much magic in you and around you. All you have to do is open your eyes.”

This, to say the least, was a surreal experience. This guy didn’t seem drunk, which made him crazy, a really good drunk, or a liar.

“Well,” Adrien said, bringing the cereal box up to his chest and smiling, “this has been a pleasure, but I really must get home-”

“Magic in this city is as abundant as people,” the man said, grabbing Adrien’s arm with a surprisingly strong grip. “Won’t you listen?”

Suddenly, all Adrien wanted to was listen. And so he did.


—-


“Are you alright, monsieur?”

Adrien blinked, and he suddenly realized that the old man he’d just been listening to was nowhere to be found. Only seconds ago the man had been talking, but now he wasn’t there, and Adrien was alone, and he was not holding cereal, but rather a weird looking box that didn’t look like it could ever contain cereal. It was overwhelming, to say the least.

“I, um, yeah, thanks,” Adrien said intelligently, looking down at the strange small box in his hands. It was black with bright green swirls and had several weird symbols on it. On the lid was a small paw print insignia, and if Adrien’s eyes weren’t playing him, he could’ve sworn it was glowing.

“What is that?” asked the worker, peering curiously at the box.

“Good question,” Adrien said, stuffing it in his jacket pocket. “The cereal is still on sale, right?”

“Actually no,” she said, walking over to the discount sticker and peeling it off. “I came over to take off the stickers.”

“Oh.” What was to be the highlight of his night was now the… lowlight. He grabbed the off-brand fruity cereal and wondered what in the world happened.

One second he was holding discount name-brand cereal while talking to an old man about magic, and the next he was alone and the cereal wasn’t discount anymore. Life is cruel. He shouldn’t have asked about the discount.

He paid for the cereal and walked home, keeping an eye out for dark alleys, liquor stores, and Chloe Bourgeois. And maybe half an eye out for magic.


—-


The next day, Adrien stepped out into the warm dusk after a few hours at his loathsome job, squinting at the setting sun. His foot throbbed slightly as he walked, and he remembered the quaint little bookshop he’d visited before going into work.

It was supposed to be a magic shop. So the trustworthy old man from the general store had said.

But the shop seemed to be normal and quiet. The worker there – Marinette – seemed too shy and meek to be some sort of witchy necromancer femme fatale. He supposed that’s what he got for relying on an old man wearing a Hawaiian shirt for advice about magic.

For all Adrien knew, magic didn’t even exist.

His one bedroom apartment, pushed to the very back of the top floor of his apartment complex, was a mess when Adrien got home. Toilet paper was shredded and strewn on the stained carpet and across the counters, a broken dish was on the floor of the living space, and exactly thirteen stuffed animals Adrien didn’t even know he had were scattered around the floor.

A small black cat sat on the arm of his couch, seeming to stare at him carefully to see what his reaction would be.

“I’m home, Plagg,” was all Adrien managed to sigh, and the cat, Plagg, immediately lost interest. He jumped off the arm of the couch to lay on a white sweater Adrien had left on the couch cushions. Adrien glanced forlornly at the cat pillow resting unused in the corner of the room.

With a small pat to Plagg’s small head, Adrien set to work on cleaning up the mess that a small cat that weighed less than a milk jug managed to make. He was picking up the broken shards of the one nice plate he had when his phone rang.

“This is Adrien,” Adrien said, tucking the phone between his ear and shoulder, continuing to pick up the larger pieces of glass.

“Dude, at least check the caller ID before you answer all professional-like,” said the voice of Adrien’s best friend, Nino. “I was just calling to check up on you.”

“Sorry, Nino,” Adrien said, shooing Plagg away from the glass. “Everything is going great, although Plagg seems to be going through his terrible twos.”

Nino hummed, and, for a moment, Adrien could hear loud, thumping music. “I’m glad you’re doing okay, man. You know, my mom’s been worried ever since you moved out.”

Adrien stood up, placing the pieces of glass in a paper bag and grabbing the broom. “You can go ahead and tell her that I’m still alive.” He paused, leaning against the broom. “Although customer service is definitely killing me slowly. I don’t know how many more middle-aged soccer moms I can take.”

“Another thing my mom is worried about: you finding yourself a proper job. And I can’t help but agree. You have to quit working at that restaurant and find a place to put your degree to work.”

Plagg tried again to inch closer to glass, and Adrien pushed him softly away with his toe. He started to sweep up the glass. “That’ll be… difficult,” was all Adrien said, and he heard Nino sigh, a rush of static filling Adrien’s ear.

“Listen, Adrien, you can’t keep avoiding-”

“I’m not avoiding anything,” Adrien said, clearly avoiding the topic. “Plagg made a mess in the apartment, and I have to finish cleaning it up, and I’m really tired, Nino, okay?”

There was a beat of silence before Nino responded. “Okay, Adrien. Please take care of yourself, and make sure to come by and visit soon. My mom misses you and Plagg. I miss you.”

The last part was said quietly, a bit hesitantly, and Adrien’s heart warmed a little. “I will. Soon. I promise.” Adrien pushed Plagg away with another gentle nudge. “And I miss you too.”

Nino seemed to breathe out a sigh of relief. “I’ve got to get back to my gig, alright? Talk to you later, man.” And with that, he hung up.

Adrien put down the phone and swept the remaining shards of glass into a pile. He disposed of the glass, much to Plagg’s displeasure, and then slumped over to the couch, flopping down on the old and squishy cushions.

Plagg jumped on him and sat down on his belly. “Why have you been such a nuisance lately?” he asked the small cat, only to get a small motor noise that Adrien assumed was purring in response.

Closing his eyes, Adrien thought about magic.

The old man from the general store at three in the morning had told tales of people who stayed awake during the night and cast spells and helped others and existed in a world more wondrous than the one during the day. He told tales of people who wore masks and kept secrets, but made friends through magical bonds stronger than anything else. He told about fate and luck and magic that beat in people’s hearts and rode the exhales of people’s breaths.

It felt like the world had opened up to him all at once at one in the morning in the middle of the breakfast aisle.

The old man had given Adrien the name of a witch and the place she worked as the solution to his problems, and (probably) that strange small box, decorated with the black and green swirls and glowing green paw print. When morning had come and Adrien had woken up on his couch with a stomach ache from consuming far too much milk with his off-brand sugary cereal and the name ‘Ladybug’ on his mind, the glow from the box had faded.

Plagg got up from Adrien’s stomach and decided that a more comfortable spot was Adrien’s face.

Opening his eyes to fuzzy black fur, Adrien scooped Plagg off his face and sat up, letting the little cat climb onto his shoulder. The light had faded in the room, and all that remained was a green glow from the small box resting on the beat up coffee table.

Adrien leaned forward, taking the box into his hands and examining the patterns on it carefully. It seemed vaguely archaic, and the aura it was giving off seemed far too powerful for a box its size.

So of course Adrien opened it.

Something shadowy and dark flew out of the box the moment the lid unclasped from the box, and Adrien dropped it in surprise, looking around for the thing that had come out of the box.

Plagg let out a startled mew.

Adrien turned to Plagg, petting the soft fur on his back. “Well, that was a bit strange, wasn’t it?”

“It certainly was,” Plagg answered.

“Oh.”

On some level, Adrien knew that cats shouldn’t talk, and he knew that he should be frightened, but all he managed to do was stare at Plagg, or the cat that used to be Plagg.

“Come on, kid,” Plagg groaned, jumping off of Adrien’s shoulder to sit comfortably on his lap. “Don’t you get pissed off by anything?” Plagg narrowed his little green eyes at him accusingly.

“I’m more startled than anything else,” Adrien answered, leaning closer to Plagg and poking him softly on the cheek. “Who are you?”

“None of your business, punk.”

“My name’s Adrien.”

“I already knew that.” Adrien continued to stare at Plagg, examining him from all angles until Plagg’s fur bristled with annoyance. “Man, Fu really chose a strange one this time,” he grumbled, swatting at Adrien’s hand. “It’s like he expects me to get along with whatever weirdo he throws me at.”

“Fu?” Adrien asked, licking his hand where Plagg had scratched him.

“The old weirdo in the Hawaiian shirt.”

“And who exactly are you?”

Plagg climbed onto the arm of the couch, sniffing at the material in disinterest. “You already asked that, kid, and I’m not obligated to tell you. Names have power, you know. That’s why the magic community is all hush-hush with identities.”

“Wait,” Adrien said, picking up Plagg and holding him up to his face. “The magic community? That exists?”

The question was met with a bite to Adrien’s hand. Adrien dropped the cat.

“First off: no man-handling. That’s rude on so many levels. And second: what do you mean ‘that exists’? Are you not at all experienced with magic?” Adrien shook his head. Plagg’s fur bristled, and his piercing eyes squinted in what seemed like frustration and disgust. “Then what did you think your cat was talkin’ for?”

“I’m not sure.”

Plagg stared at Adrien with the same expression for a moment longer, and then he jumped off the couch and started walking towards the front door. “I can’t deal with this,” he muttered, shaking his little cat head. “Fu can’t expect me to have enough patience for some inexperienced kid. Nope, not having that at all.”

Adrien jumped up from the couch and chased after Plagg. “Wait, no! Please don’t go!” The front door slammed open despite no one touching it. Plagg walked out of it without looking back. “Plagg, wait!”

“What the hell is a plagg?” the kitten asked, stopping in the hallway and turning around to face Adrien.

“It’s your name,” Adrien answered, “or rather, my cat’s name. I didn’t mean to call you that, but I don’t want my cat to leave.”

“I’m not your cat anymore, kid,” the cat said, jumping onto the windowsill at the end of the hallway and looking at Adrien with his intelligent green eyes, so different from the cat that Adrien had loved and taken care of.

But Adrien barely even registered what he had said. All he could pay attention to was what he could see through the window.

The city was alight with colors so bright that it made the night look like a new day. People of all kinds were moving lazily through the streets, dressed in elaborate costumes or plain street clothes that still gave off a wondrous sort of aura. The air was glittering with color, and a thin layer of fog seemed to cover most everything, filling the atmosphere with warmth and light.

“What is this place?” Adrien breathed. The Parisian nightlife he’d seen before was nothing like this.

“It’s the magic community, kid,” Plagg said, his voice softer than before. “It’s people you know and people you don’t – all practicing their magic in peace.”

It seemed almost as though Adrien had been put under a spell, completely entranced by the glittering magic of all different colors floating through the air and seeping through the cracked old window. “I… I want to be a part of it,” he whispered, his breath fogging up the glass. “Plagg, can you teach me?”

“Kid, I already said-” Plagg stopped mid-sentence, catching sight of the absolutely love struck expression on Adrien’s face. “Fine. But you can’t go out like that.”


---

 

As it turned out, Plagg didn’t mind being called Plagg, and he could also perform magic even within his current tiny cat body.

“Cat ears?” Adrien asked, holding up the hoodie and staring at it with a look that said he didn’t quite agree with the choice. He picked up the other part of the magical clothing Plagg had summoned, holding it up to his face. “And who wears domino masks? Am I going to be some sort of cat burglar?”

Plagg let out a small scoff from where he was laying on one of Adrien’s white t-shirts. “No, but I wasn’t aware that you were a part of the fashion police.”

Adrien looked into his cracked full-length mirror resting up against his closet door, frowning. The hoodie looked more like a sack than anything else, and he might’ve been able to handle both the hoodie and the mask if they weren’t so plain.

“Geez, kid, there’s no need to look so disgusted. I normally shape my chosen’s disguise after their personalities, but I don’t know too much about you yet, other than that you’re a punk and you don’t get bothered by anything.”

“That’s not true,” Adrien interjected, but Plagg didn’t seem to notice.

“The next time you summon the clothes, they’ll be different because I’ll know you better.” He paused, watching Adrien fiddle with the cat ears on the hoodie and pout. “And the cat ears because most mages model their disguises after their familiar, if they have one. And you’ve got one. Me. And I’m cat. So you’ll have to deal.”

Adrien chewed on the inside of his cheek, and then put on the hoodie, examining the fit in the mirror. It didn’t seem so bad now that it was on his body, but the slacks that he wore for work were ruining the image. He changed into a pair of tight-fitting light-wash jeans.

“You’re walking down town, not down a catwalk.”

“I figure that everywhere I walk with this get up on will be a catwalk,” Adrien replied smartly, and Plagg sneered at him.

“Very funny.”

“I know.”

The domino mask stared at him, and Adrien held it up to his face again, this time pressing it to his skin. “How will it stay?”

“Magic, kid. Duh.”

And sure enough, when Adrien took his hands away from his face, the mask stayed. And a completely different person looked back at him.

He grinned, running his hands through his neatly-styled hair and mussing it up before pulling the hood on, the cat ears flopping slightly. As he watched, the ears stood back up seemingly by their own, and when a stray gnat buzzed by them, the ears twitched.

“I take back what I said earlier,” he said, his grin turning lopsided. “I love the cat ears.” He turned back to Plagg, who was giving him a strange look. “What?”

Plagg stood up, stretching lightly and turning away from Adrien. “Nothing, kid. Just thinking that maybe I underestimated Fu. And you, too. You’re probably not as boring as I thought you’d be.”

“Probably?”

“Probably.”

Adrien hummed to himself, glancing one last time in the mirror before following Plagg out of his apartment.

“Where are you taking me?” Adrien asked, his fingertips skimming along the railing down the stairs of his apartment complex as he followed Plagg obediently.

“Right now, your sight for all things magic isn’t all that clear. You’re only seeing so much right now because I’m with you. What we need to get you is some sort of accessory that helps your sight along.” Adrien noticed that the usual girl that worked behind the counter of the complex had been replaced by what seemed to be a Victorian era duchess reading a thick tome. He blinked.

“Could you explain maybe a bit more?” He picked up Plagg as they left the building, ignoring his small mewls of protest as he placed him carefully on his shoulder. “I’m a newbie, remember?”

Plagg let out a long groan directly into Adrien’s ear, as if the thought of explaining anything was like being forced to climb an impossibly and stupidly high mountain. “There’s this thing called magical sight, or whatever, and a lot of people are born without it. But you can get it when in the presence of magical items or beings, and that way when you’re trying to deal with magical stuff, you’ll be able to see it.”

They passed by a café, and Adrien stared inside, stopping just short of pressing his nose against the glass. Coffee and tea were pouring themselves into floating cups, and he could see women wearing shawls of color-changing mist, men wearing coats of that same mist – explosions of color in the air everywhere he looked.

“What’s that?” Adrien asked, breathless.

“Magic,” Plagg said, sounding vaguely annoyed. “Sometimes it manifests outside of people’s bodies whether people want it to or not.”

A man looked out of the glass window, and he smiled at Adrien. He pulled away from the glass, blushing a little. “There’s so many different colors,” he said as Plagg directed him away from the café and through the oddly full streets.

“That’s how magic is, kid. Everyone has their own color for their magic, and sometimes if they have more than one specialty, their magic has more than one color.”

“Specialties?” Adrien asked, his eyes catching on a woman who was breathing fire, bringing warmth to the cool fall air. As Adrien watched, the fire billowing from her lips twisted and turned into a slithering dragon that roared to life, scorching the air and taking Adrien’s breath away. The woman had an upturned hat in front of her with a few coins and dollar bills in it, and as the dragon flew up into the sky and exploded into a shower of flame and ash, Adrien stopped and threw in some spare change. She smiled at him, licks of fire darting out from between her lips and making her dark eyes seem warm.

“Witches and wizards find an area of magic that they enjoy and learn how to be a master at that. A lot of the time, that area of magic is the area they’re born into, but sometimes it isn’t. All depends on the mage.” Plagg made Adrien stop in front of a jewelry store, and Adrien noticed the cold lighting that normally accompanied jewelry stores had been replaced with warm, almost orange lighting.

“You can be born into an area of magic?” Adrien asked, and Plagg groaned loudly in his ear again.

“God, so many questions. Just walk into the store.”

“But I still want to know.”

“Tough,” Plagg hissed, and Adrien sighed, walking into the store.

There was a pretty girl wearing an orange mask behind the counter, and she perked up when Adrien entered. She was wearing a tight orange and white crop-top, and necklace with a large fox-tail looking pendant hung around her neck.

“Don’t like the look of her,” Plagg muttered under his breath, but Adrien ignored him.

“Hi,” the girl greeted, flipping her long brown hair behind her shoulder, “my name is Volpina. How can I help you?” She bat her eyelashes at Adrien.

Adrien was not unfamiliar with girls who tried to flirt with him immediately after seeing his face. What Adrien was unfamiliar with despite years of this happening was how to deal with it.

He smiled nervously.

Plagg jumped off his shoulder and landed on the counter, directly in front of the girl, Volpina. “Yeah, hi, we’re looking for a charm to help with sight.” Volpina visibly tried to conceal the disgust on her face as she looked down at Plagg.

“New to magic?” she asked Adrien, acting as if Plagg hadn’t spoken.

“You could say that,” Adrien said, scratching at the back of his neck. Plagg rolled his eyes.

“Well, I have been around magic for a long time. I could teach you some things, if you’d like.” Adrien didn’t miss the suggestive tone in her words, and he most definitely didn’t miss the way her lips curled up and her eyes narrowed at him as if she were eyeing him like he was her prey.

“I think a charm will do for now,” he replied, and he could feel his customer service smile slip onto his face. Plagg looked over at him, and Adrien thought that if cats had eyebrows, he’d be raising them.

Volpina hummed, slipping out from behind the counter. Adrien noticed she was wearing slippers instead of actual shoes. He wished his own job would give him that sort of freedom.

She led him over to a section of the store where the display case had been covered with a white sheet and an assortment of jewelry and other items had been arranged on top. Plagg pawed at Adrien’s pant leg, and Adrien lifted him up to rest on his shoulder again.

“I’ve got all sorts of sight charms here in stock. If you’d like some other thing not here as your charm, I can do that, but there’s a waiting list. It might take a week for you to get your charm.” She fixed the chain of a necklace idly. “People normally prefer their charm to be a piece of jewelry, since that makes it harder to lose, you know? But it all depends on what your preference is.”

Everything on display was shining and there were so many different colors of everything and quite honestly Adrien felt a bit overwhelmed. “I… I’m not even sure where to start.”

“That’s how a lot of newbies are,” Volpina said with a laugh. “You can try on different things if you want to until you find something right for you. I’ve heard a lot of people get a certain feeling when they find the right charm.” She rested a hand lightly on Adrien’s elbow, and opened her mouth to say something else, but Plagg hissed at her. She quickly stepped away.

Adrien felt her and Plagg have a glaring contest to see who’d come out on top, and ultimately Plagg won. Volpina retreated to the front counter, where a few other customers were waiting.

“You really need to be more assertive,” Plagg said.

“I’m plenty assertive,” Adrien lied, leaning in to inspect some of the charms. Plagg scoffed.

They ranged from key chains to earrings, each with their own unique design that set them apart from the rest. He touched a simple black choker with the tip of his finger, frowning a little. Something didn’t feel right to him about it.

“Try those,” Plagg said, pointing to a pair of extremely large hoop earrings.

Adrien picked them up and weighed them in his hands. Lighter than he expected, sterling silver, large green gems at the top of them. Didn’t give him a good feeling though. He put them down. “I don’t have my ears pierced.”

“Kid, I was joking.”

“Oh.”

He lost track of time as he looked through all the different charms. He found some that he liked the style of, but when he put them on or picked them up, they never gave him the right sort of feeling. It was like the same ends of a magnet being put together every time he touched a charm - as if both he and the charm couldn’t wait to get away from each other.

Plagg shifted on his shoulder. “Maybe we should try somewhere else, kid. I know some other places that might give you some reaction.” He didn’t sound sure.

“I don’t think there’s any other charmer in Paris that’s better than me, though,” Volpina said, holding a few pieces of jewelry in her hands as she walked up. She didn’t sound exactly like she was boasting, only like she was stating a fact. That in itself was boasting, Adrien supposed.

“I know that,” Plagg grumbled reluctantly, and Volpina grinned in satisfaction.

She set down the jewelry pieces on the display case, showing them to Adrien. “I saw you two struggling, so I looked to see if I had any more charms that I finished recently that I hadn’t put on display. And it seems like you’re lucky.”

Adrien leaned over to look at the pieces of jewelry that Volpina had brought. Among them was a rather large silver ring. It was fairly simple and plain, but Adrien still picked it up to examine it a little more closely, and he gasped.

It was like lightning through his veins, and it traveled all throughout his body until it landed directly in his heart, carefully pulsing alongside his heartbeat.

He let out a breath. “This is it,” he told Plagg, showing him the ring.

Plagg narrowed his eyes at it. “That’s-”

“Strange,” Volpina said. “I didn’t charm that ring myself - some old guy gave it to me. He said it was for a young man who’d come in soon, but that was months ago. No one ever came in asking for it, and the old guy never came back.”

“Is it really okay for me to take it then?” Adrien asked, starting to set the ring down, but know that it was in his hands, he didn’t really want to let it go.

Volpina pushed Adrien’s hand away, shaking her head. “It’s obvious that the guy it was meant for isn’t going to come look for it since so much time has passed. And normally, charms only stick to one person, so if it’s working for you, then it won’t work for the other guy. Keep it.”

He looked over at Plagg, who was still staring at the ring with a strange look on his face. “Alright, I’ll take it.”

After Adrien set up a plan to pay for the ring in installments, he left the store with his hand out in front of him to admire the ring. “It’s so strange that someone gave this up and no one ever came to get it,” he said, watching the way the sterling silver glinted in the yellow street lamps.

“No it’s not,” Plagg grumbled. “Fu just likes to meddle.”

“What do you mean?”

“Exactly what I said.”

Adrien didn’t really find that helpful, but he let it go anyway. “So where to next?”

Plagg looked over at him. “Kid, aren’t you tired?”

“Well.” Adrien looked around that the Parisian streets, simultaneously so familiar to him and so new. It was like everything had been brought into focus, the colors brighter, the shapes sharper, everything so unbelievably alive. “I don’t want to sleep just yet.”

There was a moment of silence in which Plagg seemed to think. “Fu chose you two for a reason. It’s only natural for you guys to meet up at some point,” he mumbled to himself.

“What?”

“None of your business. Ever heard of a bookshop named Lucky Charm?”


---

 

The building that the Lucky Charm bookshop resided in was really just a plain box. It had the Lucky Charm logo on it, which Adrien thought was a pretty solid looking logo, but the building was small and fairly unattractive. He’d been earlier in the day before his shift just to check it out, so the place wasn’t unfamiliar to him, but all he’d managed to do was cause the sweet worker there trouble.

Now, the street lamps cast the building in a little more charming light, and Adrien noticed the large plants by the door placed rather fashionably. Clouds of shimmering pink and red magic hung in the air around the shop, swirling lazily and invitingly.

A woman stepped out of the shop, her back towards Adrien. She wore a plain red sweatshirt and some black shorts, and she had a saggy looking backpack slung haphazardly on her shoulder. She seemed to be locking up the store.

When she turned around, Adrien swore he stopped breathing. Her stunning blue eyes looked out from a detailed masquerade mask, and her dark hair curled slightly around her delicate pale face, so perfect that it looked like a doll’s. She was absolutely beautiful, and when her clear blue eyes found Adrien, he found it hard to think in coherent sentences.

Her red stained lips turned up in a small smile. “Sorry, monsieur, I’m leaving the shop to collect some materials.”

“I-uh, what?” Adrien said smoothly.  

“The shop will be closed for the rest of the night,” she said, and Adrien noticed she didn’t sound the least bit annoyed at having to repeat herself.

“Sorry - who are you?” Adrien managed, finding that his mouth was having a hard time functioning because of the searching look she was giving him with those unbelievably blue eyes.

Her head tilted to the side, as if the notion of him asking her for her name was silly and confusing. “Ladybug,” she replied, and she fished into her bag and brought out a small business card. “My shop is open during these times at night” - she pointed to the times listed (9pm to 4am) - “and during these times during the day” - she moved her thin, dainty finger lower on the card, where the times 10am to 6pm were listed. “Magic services are offered by me at night, and during the day, you can buy a book from my employees.”

Adrien nodded rather dumbly, mesmerized by the movement of her lips and the faint red mist that drifted out from between her teeth. He took the business card from her mechanically, still staring at the subtleties of her face. She had freckles.

“Pleasure meeting you, and I hope to see you around. Have a magical night, monsieur.” She smiled warmly to him, and then she turned to walk down the street. Before she was gone for good, she turned back around and gave Adrien a little wave that made his heart do a little tap-dance.

And then she was gone.

“Smooth going, kid,” Plagg teased, and Adrien put his head in his hands, totally and utterly embarrassed. “You just made a fool of yourself in front of the best witch in Paris.”

Adrien’s head snapped up. “The best witch?! She’s beautiful and talented? How is that fair?”

“It’s not.”

Adrien sighed, dropping his head again and looking down at the beautiful and enchanting business card that he held in his hands. “I want to get to know her.”

“You’re pathetic,” Plagg said, shaking his head.

“I know.”

“Shut up.”

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

A beautiful woman was asleep in a large bed, surrounded by silk sheets and the faint, watery scent of roses. Adrien stepped closer, his eyes catching on the woman’s golden curls with just a small hint of gray and her delicate hands, where a thin and simple wedding band adorned her left ring finger.

Something caught in Adrien’s throat. “Mom?” he called, his voice breaking into a whisper.

The woman stirred, her bright green eyes fluttering open. But something was wrong. The light there wasn’t right - it was too bright, too cold. She stared at Adrien with these eyes, and although her face was his mother’s, he couldn’t help but wonder if her mind was as well.

“Excuse me,” the woman asked, her voice so achingly familiar and oh so soft, “but do you perhaps know me?”


---


Adrien woke up in a cold sweat. His heart was pounding unbearably fast, and he felt almost as if liquid fire was traveling through his veins.

He fumbled to the bedside table where his phone lay, and he searched his contacts with shaking fingers until he found the right one. She answered after two rings.

“Nathalie Sancoeur, assistant to Mr. Gabriel Agreste.” Her tone was just as sharp and dead as he remembered.

“It’s Adrien,” he said, forcing his breathing to regulate. “I called to ask about my mom.”

He could perfectly imagine Nathalie’s signature pursed-lip look in the short silence that followed. “It’s been years, Adrien. There is no new information.”

This was not a surprising fact to Adrien. But his dream felt too vivid and real – he couldn’t not call. He felt his heart sink a little. “I see. That is all.”

“Would you like me to send your regards to your father?” He could hear it in her voice, in her question. She also wanted him to try and reconnect.

“No thank you.”

“I see.” He didn’t miss the disappointment, even if it was faint. “If you’d ever like to schedule a visit with your father, don’t hesitate to let me know. Goodbye, Adrien.”

“Goodbye, Nathalie.” With a sigh, Adrien set down his phone and ran a hand through his hair.

“Rough night’s sleep?”

Adrien almost screamed. Almost.

He looked over at the end of his bed, where Plagg was sitting, calmly licking his paw. “Good morning, Plagg.”

“Yeah, didn’t answer my question.”

“You never answer mine,” he pointed out.

“Fair point.” He stood up and stretched languidly, walking over to Adrien and plopping himself onto Adrien’s lap. “But seriously. Rough night?”

Adrien scrubbed his hands over his face, trying to get the worst parts of the dream out of his mind. “I had a strange dream.”

“About?”

He looked over at his cat from behind his hands, raising his eyebrows. “Why are you so curious about this?”

Plagg yawned, displaying his tiny fangs and bad cat breath. “Dreams are important once you’ve been exposed to magic. They can be windows to other people or events that matter to you. So you have a bad dream the very night you’re exposed to magic. I’d say that’s important.”

A tingly feeling set in the pit of Adrien’s stomach. He brought his hands down from his face. “So, hypothetically, if I were to see someone who’s been missing, and they’re alive in my dream, then they could be alive in real life?”

A beat of searching silence passed between them. “Hypothetically,” Plagg agreed slowly.

“And if this person seemed to have memory loss, then that means they could have memory loss in real life as well?” Adrien asked, his heart starting to sink. “Hypothetically, of course.”

“Hypothetically,” Plagg slowly said once more, and he saw Adrien’s face fall. “But it’s not always that simple,” he rushed on, as if he could see the gears in Adrien’s head already starting to turn in the bad direction.

“How complicated can it be?” Adrien asked, nudging Plagg off his lap as he climbed out of bed. He grabbed his work clothes off his headboard and stared at them for a moment before changing into them slowly and thoughtfully.

“It’s magic, kid. Rules hardly ever apply. It gets complicated as all hell.”

Nevertheless, there was a bad feeling in Adrien’s chest, and he didn’t seem to register Plagg’s words. He looked in the broken mirror leaning up against his closet and fixed his hair into something presentable. He was practically sinking into the ground. He checked his feet just to make sure he wasn’t actually sinking.

“Kid, I think you need to slow down. And I know those are your work clothes, but there’s no reason you should look that down.”

Adrien turned around, dropping to his knees by the bed and grabbing Plagg by his small cat shoulders. “There’s a possibility that my mother is alive, Plagg.” His voice was grave, and Plagg stared, trying to understand. “And that she doesn’t remember anything.”

Plagg didn’t know how to comfort him, or even if he should, so he just wriggled his way out of Adrien’s grasp. “All I’m saying is you shouldn’t jump to conclusions. And you still have to work and get groceries. Don’t think I didn’t look through your fridge while you were asleep. I couldn’t help but notice a severe lack of cheese.”

Standing up and brushing the fuzz off his slacks, Adrien gave Plagg a strange look. “How’d you even open it?” He paused, looking in the mirror again and tucking a stray curl of blond hair behind his ear. “And I’m not jumping to conclusions.”

“Yeah, sure, kid,” Plagg scoffed. “And I’m not an ancient spirit possessing a cat.”


---

 

 

Work was like jumping into cold water and drowning.

Adrien’s off-kilter mood from earlier had been quickly replaced with annoyance as he had to deal with what seemed like the same sort of people over and over again. He smiled serenely as customers yelled at him for stupid things that he had no control over, letting his mind wander to thoughts concerning his mother’s whereabouts.

After dealing with a particularly nasty couple that turned back anything Adrien offered him to get free food, Adrien’s manager called him over. Adrien wished the couple a good day, inwardly praying that several pigeons let loose the entire contents of their bowels on their heads, and then headed towards Kagami, his manager.

She was a pretty girl, leaning up against the wall that lead to the kitchen with her short, dark hair tucked behind one ear and her brown eyes fixing Adrien with a worried gaze. Truth be told, Adrien had been crushing on her a little bit, even though he hardly knew her.

“You’ve been a little distracted today,” Kagami said, furrowing her eyebrows and looking at Adrien with concern. Adrien pulled himself out of his thoughts. “Is there something bothering you?”

“Just a little tired.”

The thing about Kagami that Adrien liked the most wasn’t her looks, though. It was that she didn’t know anything about Adrien. She didn’t know who his parents were, or if she did, she’d never said anything about it. That’s probably how his little crush started, now that he thought about it.

She was still looking at him worriedly. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk about anything? You still look a little lost in your head.”

If Adrien tried to get to know Kagami a little more, Adrien got the feeling that he’d like her a lot. But he never tried.

“Kagami, I’m fine,” he said, smiling a little.

Giving him a look that said she really didn’t believe him, she crossed her arms. “I’m giving you the rest of the day off.”

Despite the fact that this sounded like heaven to Adrien, he felt like it would be bad manners to not argue. “What? Kagami, I promise nothing is wrong.”

She just shook her head. “I can’t have you serving customers as distracted as you are. You’ve had multiple people complain already, so let’s not raise that number, alright?”

“Someone’ll need to cover me.”

“I’ve got you, Adrien,” she said, smiling a little and making a shooing motion with her hands. “Now go home. Rest.”

“Thank you,” Adrien said, and he tried not to skip to the employee exit.

When he walked outside, Plagg was waiting for him atop a dumpster, cat napping. He started to walk towards him, but an obnoxiously pretty girl stepped in his way, her yellow hair shining like gold in the dirty alleyway.

“Who was that girl?” Chloe Bourgeois asked, her hands on her hips.

Adrien sighed. “Hi, Chloe.”

“Are you dating her?”

Plagg woke up, jumping down from the dumpster to rub on Adrien’s previously cat-hair free slacks.

“She’s my manager.”

Chloe huffed, fixing the sunglasses resting on top of her head and narrowing her icy eyes at him. “You two seemed awfully close.”

“She’s my manager,” Adrien repeated.

For a moment, she stared him down, but Adrien apparently had nothing for her to latch on to because she relaxed. She dropped down to a crouch and started petting Plagg softly, looking up at Adrien and dropping her interrogation act. “You would tell me if you started dating somebody, right? Or if you started to like somebody?”

“I have before,” Adrien said, and she frowned.

“Telling me about Nino years ago doesn’t count because I made you talk about it.”

Plagg looked up at Adrien and gave him a look. Adrien gave him a look in return.

“As soon as I have something solid to report, I will, Chloe. I promise.” That seemed to soothe her a little bit, and Adrien crouched down to pick up Plagg and help her up. “What were you here for anyway?”

She shrugged. “I planned on visiting you during your lunch break.”

Adrien checked his phone for the time. It was around the time that he would’ve had his break. “Well, I’ve got the rest of the day off because my manager insists I need to relax, so how about we go out for lunch?”

Tapping a finger to her lips, Chloe started walking, trusting that Adrien would follow. “I know this café I’ve been meaning to try. How about there?”

“Sure. But I have to change.”


---

 

Chloe waited in Adrien’s meek living space while Adrien headed into his room with Plagg to change out if his uniform. Once he’d closed the door, Plagg jumped onto his bed and turned to face him.

“Who is she?”

“A friend I’ve had for a long time,” Adrien said, ruffling through a pile of most likely clean clothes to find a good enough outfit. He pulled out a plain white shirt and a plaid button down from the pile, and then searched in his drawers for a pair of jeans.

“Are you being vague on purpose or is this really your idea of informing someone about a stranger?”

Adrien unbuttoned his work shirt and slid it off before picking up the t-shirt and slipping it on. “Thought you’d prefer a brief answer.”

Plagg huffed, which pretty much told Adrien that he was right.

He finished changing, and just as he was about to open the door, he turned back to Plagg. “You can’t talk in front of her. I don’t think she knows anything about magic, and Plagg was the first cat she was open to being around, so play nice.”

“Are you kidding, kid?” Plagg asked, sounding very offended. “This isn’t my first rodeo. You don’t need to remind me not to act magic in front of non-magic users.”

“Just making sure.”  

Chloe was lounging on Adrien’s sad couch when he and Plagg walked out of his room. She glanced up from her phone, uncrossing her legs and standing up. “Does Plagg plan on going?”

Adrien looked down at Plagg, who was sitting languidly by his feet and licking his paw. “Is he allowed?”

Chloe gave him that same look she always gave Adrien when she thought he was following the rules too much. She picked Plagg up and placed him carefully in her purse. “Ready to go?” she asked, shouldering the purse with a very happy looking Plagg in it and already starting to move to the door.

Despite the fact that Chloe lived in much better conditions than Adrien’s slouching apartment, she never seemed to be bothered by the complex when she came to visit. And Adrien had seen her stick up her nose at suburban houses.

But as they passed by an unidentifiable stain on the wall, Adrien realized that all that had stopped once Adrien had left his father to live on his own. She didn’t even ask why. She just continued with him the way it had always been, and Adrien found that he really appreciated that. He hated difficult questions.

They walked to the cafe, Chloe chattering all along, taking out her camera to film some stuff and idly petting Plagg while she talked. Adrien pitched in every so often, but he could tell he wasn’t acting like himself. And he could tell Chloe could tell, too.

When they sat down at the cafe and Plagg was put in a place the workers wouldn’t notice easily, Chloe leveled with him. “What’s up with you, huh?”

The waiter came by and gave them menus and asked what they wanted to drink, so Adrien was saved for a glorious thirty seconds. And then the waiter left, and Adrien sighed.

“I had a bad dream,” he finally admitted. “About my mom.”

The corners of Chloe’s lips turned down, and she looked down at the table, tracing a perfectly manicured nail over the grooves of the wood. Adrien had been friends with Chloe long enough for her to have known Adrien’s mom, and so when she had gone missing, Chloe remembered what it had been like for Adrien and his family. She also probably grieved herself, since Adrien knew how much Chloe had adored his mom.

Taking a deep breath, Chloe finally looked back up. “Okay, I’m ready. Tell me.”

So Adrien told her about seeing his mom. About the strange feeling he’d gotten, about the question she had asked. “It was like she didn’t remember herself, and she… She didn’t remember me."

Chloe blew out a breath, her hand finding Plagg and running her fingers through his fur. “That’s rough,” she said, looking at him with concern. “Are you okay?”

Adrien shrugged. “I mean, probably. It’s not like it was real,” he said, and then he glanced over at Plagg, who was pointedly not looking at him.

Their drinks arrived, and they both thanked the waiter and gave him their order after a moment of deliberation. After the waiter left, Chloe sighed.

“Let’s do something fun, Adrien,” she said, swirling the straw around in her drink. “We could go to Disney World, or we could finally film that video together that you drunkenly agreed to that one time.” Adrien scoffed. Chloe continued. “It could be something like ‘My HOT, SINGLE, BISEXUAL Best Friend Does My Makeup.’”

“That would be humiliating,” Adrien said. “Absolutely not.”

“What’s turning you off? The title, or the concept?”

He thought for a moment. “The title.”

There was a little snicker that came from the direction of Plagg, and Adrien glared at the little cat, who pretended he had just sneezed. Chloe didn’t seem to notice. “Hm. You said you have the rest of the day off, right? How about we get drunk, and then you do my makeup?”

“That seems like a little much,” Adrien laughed, and Chloe shrugged.

Their food arrived, and Chloe took out her camera, getting a shot of Plagg taking a nap in her bag, and then getting a shot of Adrien with his mouth full. He threw a napkin at her, and she laughed.

When they had finished, Adrien hooked his arm in hers and started walking. “Maybe we will film that video,” he said thoughtfully, and Chloe cheered. “But I want to show you this place I found first. You’ll like it.”

“Oh, how intriguing.”

He led the way to the Lucky Charm bookstore, not really because he thought Chloe would like it, but just because he wanted to go back. There was something drawing him to the place - he could feel it, just like how he’d felt with the ring he kept on a necklace chain around his neck.

Chloe stared at the boring building, taking in the lush houseplants in front that seemed to be placed there in an effort to make the place and general atmosphere look and feel more attractive. “The logo isn’t awful,” she said, as if trying very hard to find something good about it.

“Right?” Adrien asked, opening the door for her and hearing the little bell chime their entrance.

“Welcome to Lucky Charm,” said the girl at the front counter, and as Adrien fully entered, he recognized her. She also seemed to recognize him, her cheeks turning a very bright shade of pink as her eyes widened. “Ah, hey-hello. Hi.”

“Hello,” he greeted, “Marinette, wasn’t it?”

“Y-yes,” she said, smoothing down her hair and glancing between him and Chloe. “Hello, Adrien.”

Chloe glanced between her and Adrien, her eyebrows raised in question. But she didn’t say anything about it.

“This is my friend, Chloe,” he said, and Chloe nodded to Marinette.

“Nice to meet you,” Marinette said, bowing her head and holding out her hand to shake. “I’m Marinette, owner of Lucky Charm.” Chloe stared at her hand until Marinette lowered it, laughing nervously and stuffing her hands in her fluffy pink cardigan’s pockets.

“Do you mind if I film here?” Chloe asked once the silence had gotten a bit weird, and Marinette’s awkward smile brightened.

“Of course not - feel free!” Marinette said brightly, perhaps thankful that the awkward silence had been broken. Chloe immediately wandered off, pulling out her camera and examining the shelves.

“I’m sorry about her,” Adrien said as soon as Chloe was out of earshot. “She’s, um, shy.” This was of course very untrue, but Adrien had to have some sort of excuse for Chloe being so rude.

“It’s not a problem,” Marinette said, tucking a lock of her dark hair behind her ear. “I don’t mind, really.” She rocked back and forth on her heels, her smile contagious enough for Adrien to join in. “So… How’s your foot?”

“Much better,” Adrien said, lifting it up for her to see. “All thanks to you.”

Chloe popped her head out from behind one of the shelves. “Do you have magazines?” she asked, and Marinette jumped.

“Oh, yes, I do,” she said, walking away from Adrien to point Chloe in the right direction. She came back shyer than before. “Um, I suppose you didn’t come here for a social call, so just, um, let me know if you need anything."

It sort of was a social call, but Adrien didn’t say so, smiling and thanking her. He found Chloe taking a shot of the store from a cozy corner with a small table and pillows to sit on. “Your flirting game is so weak,” she said, turning the camera to him, and Adrien raised an eyebrow.

“Flirting? I wasn’t flirting.”

Rolling her eyes, Chloe turned the camera to him. “Of course you weren’t. So what’s the story with her?

Adrien shrugged. “I don’t know. She’s nice. She made me tea once.”

“Wow, that’s, like, second base,” Chloe dead-panned, and Adrien shoved the camera away with a laugh.

“There’s nothing going on,” Adrien promised, taking a step back to examine the books. “I just like the atmosphere.”

Chloe took the camera away from her face, shrugging. “I guess it is nice.”

Adrien pulled a book out of the shelf, reading the back cover to get a better feel of it. It seemed to be a fantasy novel with magic and all that involved. Adrien hadn’t read a fantasy novel in years, but something made him keep the book in his hand. He turned around, only to find Chloe’s camera practically up his nose.

“What’sthatwhat’sthatwhat’sthat?” she asked in rapid succession, no doubt zooming in closer to his nose hairs with the end of each question.

“None of your business,” Adrien said, sticking his tongue out and almost licking the lense in the process. Chloe screeched.

They wrapped up quickly after that, Chloe having chosen a thick anthology of the past twenty years of Vogue magazines and Adrien the fantasy book from before, and they went to the front counter to check out.

Marinette was there, reading a book and drinking some tea, and when she saw them coming, she stuck a folded up post-it note in between the pages to keep her place and sat up in her chair. “Find everything alright?” she asked, smiling sweetly at the both of them.

“Of course.” Adrien saw Chloe started to take her wallet out, but he shook his head. “I’ll pay.” She shrugged, stepping back and examining her nails.

Taking one last sip of her tea, Marinette took the two books off the counter, scanning them and smiling down at the book Adrien chose. “This is a good one,” she said, tapping the cover as she put it in a bag. “One of my favorites, in fact.”

“Really?” Adrien asked.

“Really, really,” Marinette responded, taking his cash and counting out the appropriate change. “I love the story and the characters. The style is what makes it, though.”

“I’ll have to keep that in mind, then,” he said, taking the change from her. Their hands brushed together, and Adrien felt a spark of something run up through his fingertips. He laughed, taking his change and his hand away. “You shocked me.”

“It was totally the other way around,” she shot back, laughing as well, her cheeks pink like her cardigan. She handed him the bag of books, and he took it, saying his thanks. “Tell me how you like the book when you come back,” she said, and then her hands clapped over her mouth as if in surprise at her own words. “If you come back, that is. No pressure. You don’t have to come back ever. I don’t even want you to come back. I mean, I do, but I don’t want to force you. You can come back. If that’s what you wanted, of course.”

Adrien laughed, backing away from the counter with Chloe in tow. “I’ll come back, and I’ll definitely tell you my thoughts.”

Marinette seemed to relax, laughing a little and waving them both goodbye. Chloe pointed her camera at her, a little discreetly. “Bye, bye. Come again soon, both of you.”

“I thought she had forgotten I was there,” Chloe said as they walked out, putting her camera away. “She seemed... nice.”

“What’s with that tone?” Adrien asked, blinking.

“Oh, nothing,” Chloe said, petting Plagg and rolling her eyes. “If you didn’t notice, there’s no point in teasing you about it.”

“What?”

Chloe picked up Plagg from inside her purse, holding him up and talking solely to him. “He’s so oblivious, isn’t he?”

Plagg meowed.


---


Adrien woke up in a cold sweat, his mind reeling from having seen his mom again in his dreams. Chloe was asleep at the foot of his bed, an empty beer bottle dangling from her fingertips. Plagg was curled up against Chloe, and he stretched languidly, popping one eye open to stare at him.

“What’s up, kid?” he whispered, his gruff voice tired and out of place in his tiny cat body.

“I dreamt about my mother again,” Adrien whispered back, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “Same deal. She didn’t remember herself or me.”

Yawning loudly, Plagg got up and clambered over the bedsheets to sit on Adrien’s lap. “Reoccurring dreams normally signify a larger importance,” he said, licking at his paw and grooming his face. “So you should probably do something about this.”

Letting out a soft scoff, Adrien felt probably the most hopeless he’d ever felt, ever. “Where am I even supposed to start?”

Plagg scratched at his ear. “You talked to Fu. You should know what to do.” Adrien stared blankly at him. Plagg sighed heavily. “He told you something, right? About who to turn to if you ever needed help?” He said it as if talking to an especially dumb child.

Adrien thought very hard for a long moment, still a little hazy because of the drinks he’d shared with Chloe. And then he remembered. “Ladybug. I have to talk to Ladybug.”

Chapter Text

Just as Marinette was opening up her shop, her phone rang. She rubbed her eyes, still a little tired from her regular two hour nap between the night and day shifts, and gestured for Tikki to take care of the sign while she took care of the call.

She really hoped it wasn’t that poor man asking for help in finding a living woman again. He’d called every night just as she was opening up for the past couple of weeks, and every night, she had to deny him. Before she picked up the phone, she took a deep breath.

“This is Ladybug, owner of the Lucky Charm magic shop, how may I help you?”

“Hi,” said a familiar voice, sounding a little hesitant. “It’s me again.”

“Ah,” she said, trying not to sound like she was disappointed. So it was him after all. “Good evening again, monsieur.” Tikki flew back from flipping the sign to ‘open,’ raising her eyebrows.

“That guy again,” Marinette whispering, taking the phone away from her face and covering the speaker so that he wouldn’t hear. Tikki sat down on the countertop, her lips twisting to the side in disapproval.

“You’re going to reject him again?” she asked.

Marinette shrugged helplessly, putting the phone back to her face and listening to the man.

“I know you’ve already told me no, but I know you can help me,” the man was saying, a hint of desperation creeping into his sad voice. “My- the woman that I need to find - I was told that you could help me find her.”

“I’ve told you before, monsieur. I’m a necromancer. I can use my most powerful talents on the dead, and I don’t believe that’s what you want. I can give you other names of people that I believe can assist you-”

“No!” the man interrupted, “it has to be you.” He had raised her voice at her, and Marinette jumped, a little taken aback. No matter what this man was - tired, sad, desperate - he’d never yelled at her before. The man made a soft noise, and he sighed. “I-I’m sorry. I just. I just need your help.”

Marinette hated that she still had to tell him no.

“I’m sorry,” she said again, and she hung up before he could protest any more.

She put the phone back into its receiver, letting her head fall into her hands. Her mask pressed into her face, and she couldn’t help but hate the feeling of it on her skin. She tore it off, throwing it onto the countertop and letting out a growl of frustration.

Tikki stared, her small gaze heavy on Marinette’s face. “Sorry, Tikki,” Marinette said softly, picking up the mask again. “It’s just a little hard sometimes.”

She didn’t want to talk about it. She didn’t want to talk about her feelings of inadequacy that this mystery man on the phone drew out of her. What good was it to be the so-called best witch in Paris when she couldn’t help this one man? No, she didn’t want to talk about it.

With mechanical movements, Marinette tied the mask around her face again, adjusting it so that she could see through it properly, and prepared herself for another night. She carefully avoided Tikki’s gaze, not wanting to somehow cause a conversation she didn’t want to take part in. Tikki was still staring at her, and when she spoke, Marinette held her breath. But it wasn’t at all what Marinette was expecting.

“What’s up with that bulky mask?”

Marinette blinked. “Is there something wrong with it?” she asked, raising her eyebrow.

“Oh, no, of course not,” Tikki said, waving her hands. “It’s just that it didn’t quite fit the image I had of you.”

“And what image is that?” Marinette asked, pulling out her phone and looking at her reflection a little self-consciously.

Tikki flew up to Marinette’s head, carefully untying the ribbons of her mask, letting it fall to Marinette’s lap. “Something more like this,” she said, tapping Marinette’s face. With her touch came a red domino mask with black polka-dots that spread across her cheeks with a flourish of pink sparkles of magic. “Isn’t it nice?”

Marinette did like it, a lot, but it didn’t match her outfit. Maybe that was a bit petty, but Marinette was sort of obsessed with fashion, so things like this were extremely important to her. “Thanks, Tikki, but I have to go change now. If any customers come in, just ask them to wait, okay?”

“Got it, Marinette,” Tikki said, flitting up onto the cash register and sitting patiently facing the door.

Retreating up to her home, Marinette rubbed at the mask. It didn’t budge, and it hardly felt like anything on her face. She wondered how it would hold up against a full night of grave-digging.

Her wardrobe was mostly comprised of soft pinks and varying shades of beige and brown, but she did own a decent amount of red clothing, since it was her second most favorite color. She changed into a red sweater and a pair of black jeans, examining herself in the mirror.

She sort of looked like a necromancer now. Not the sweet shop owner she normally looked like. She undid her braid and messed up her hair a little, tucking it behind an ear and fixing her bangs.

It felt like a costume, almost, like she was someone else. She’d adopted the ‘Ladybug’ persona as soon as she was old enough to go out at night alone, but it had never felt as real as it did now. She was two different people smashed into one body, and as she stared in the mirror at her own reflection, the fact was more apparent than ever to her.

She took in a shaky breath, and then smeared on some red lipstick. For bravery. For courage.

When she got back to the shop, Tikki was chatting amicably with a tall man in a black leather jacket, a beanie with cat ears pulled over messy blonde curls. He was idly petting a black cat that was sitting on his shoulder, staring at Tikki in amazement. As Marinette entered, his eyes widened and he coughed violently, sending the small cat flying onto the countertop, where it managed to land gracefully, its tail flicking annoyedly.

“Hey, Ladybug,” Tikki said, turning around when it was obvious the man and the cat were staring at something else. She gave Marinette a small thumbs up that only Marinette could see, her bright eyes flicking over her new outfit with obvious approval. “This is Chat Noir.”

“I helped him with that name,” the cat said, and Marinette gasped. The cat sighed. “Yes, I talk.”

“And that’s his familiar, Plagg,” Tikki finished.

“I gave him that name,” the man, Chat Noir, said, seeming to have recovered from his coughing fit. Plagg rolled his eyes. Marinette didn’t even know cats could roll their eyes.

“I’m Ladybug,” Marinette said, offering her hand for Chat Noir to shake. She offered her hand to Plagg as well, and she shook his paw.

“The best witch in Paris,” he said appraisingly, and Marinette laughed.

“I would only say the best necromancer in Paris,” she responded, and Tikki scoffed. “I believe you have met Tikki,” she said, and Tikki bowed.

“Pretty and humble,” Chat Noir said, leaning an elbow against the counter and smiling in a way that made his intentions very clear. “Chat Noir is a bit much to say, so you can call me Chat. Or anything else you prefer."

“How nice, Chat. You can call me Ladybug.” Plagg and Tikki laughed. Chat was undeterred.

“Alright, Ladybug,” he said, leaning closer. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re the most beautiful woman in Paris?”

“Many have, in fact,” Marinette said, pushing him away in a way she hoped wasn’t rude. “Now, why don’t I make some tea, and you can tell me why you’re here?”

“Sounds great,” Plagg said, interrupting whatever Chat was about to say. “We’ll wait here.”

Tikki followed Marinette to the back room, and Marinette poured some water into the kettle, keeping an ear open to Plagg and Chat whispering to each other.

“I told you to be subtle,” Plagg hissed, and Marinette scoffed out a quiet laugh.

“Not being subtle is being subtle,” Chat replied. “And this way she’ll notice me and not just brush me aside.”

Marinette furrowed her eyebrows as she looked at all the teabags to choose from. Has she ever brushed a customer aside? There was those calls, but… There was nothing she could do about that, even if she wanted to.

Tikki chose some tea bags for her, and Marinette took them, waiting for the tea kettle to scream. “Do you always eavesdrop on your customers?” she whispered.

“Only when I think I need to,” Marinette whispered back.

“It’s your fault for chickening out and not talking to her in person those other times,” Plagg said, and she heard Chat make an offended noise.

The tea kettle screamed. Marinette grabbed a couple of mugs, thought for a moment, and then grabbed a bowl. She looked at Tikki. “Did you want any?”

“Can I share with you?”

“Of course.”

She dropped the three tea bags into the cups and bowl, and then poured the water in, going slowly to catch the rest of the conversation.

“Oh, and, kid, remember. Stay away from anything that can identify you, got it?”

“I got it the first seventeen times, thank you.”

“You counted?”

Marinette came out of the back room, carefully holding the mugs and bowl. “Why don’t we go to the back table so that we can sit and talk?”

Chat rushed to help her, and Marinette gave him the bowl to carry, but kept the two mugs in her hands. She led them to the little table in the fiction section with all the pillows and set the mugs down, settling onto a pillow and gesturing for Chat to sit. He set the bowl down and sat across from her, tucking a tail that was attached to his jeans around him.

“I wasn’t sure if you wanted any, Plagg, but I made you some anyway,” she said, bringing the bowl closer to him. “It’s cat safe.”

Plagg looked between her and the bowl. “I didn’t want any, but since you already made some, I’ll drink it,” he said. He looked as though he was trying to conceal how pleased he was.

“So,” Marinette said, turning back to Chat, who was holding his mug in his hands and blowing softly on it, “what brings you to my shop?”

Chat’s ears perked up, and Marinette stared. She wasn’t aware they were fully-functioning cat ears. “I guess you could say I was told to seek you out,” he said, and Marinette took a sip of her tea, which was still very much hot. He made a face. “Did you even blow on that?” he asked.

“No. Is that a problem?” She took another sip.

“How are you not burning yourself?”

Marinette furrowed her eyebrows. “You burn yourself with tea this low of a temperature?”

He stuck his nose up in the air. “A cat’s tongue is very sensitive.” He gestured over to Plagg, who was sitting patiently as Tikki gently huffed at his tea to cool it off. “Anyway, before you distracted me-”

Marinette resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

“-I was talking about why I’m here.” He paused, seeming to gather himself. “There’s a woman I know that has been missing for years. I have reason to believe that she is alive, but she may be in some sort of trouble. I need help finding her.”

Suddenly his voice was familiar. He sounded like the man on the phone.

“You’ve called me before,” she said, and Chat pressed his lips together.

“Maybe I have.” He said it like a challenge, daring her to reject him again.

Looking down at Tikki, Marinette found that Tikki was already looking at her, as if trying to see what she’d do. Marinette took a sip of her tea, and when she lowered her mug, her eyes caught on the stain of red on the lip of the mug.

Putting the mug down, Marinette leaned her elbows on the table, lacing her fingers together and pressing her lips against her thumbs. “What makes you believe that she’s alive?” she asked softly.

For a moment, Chat blinked, as if he was surprised she was actually asking about it. Marinette could understand how he was feeling, given that she had surprised herself, but she didn’t say anything about it as he took a deep breath and sat up a little straighter.

“I started having dreams where she was alive, trapped somewhere. She didn’t remember who she was or how she’d gotten there.” Chat paused, looking down at his mug of tea. “I’ve been having these dreams every night for a while now.”

“How long have you been practicing magic?” Marinette asked after a moment.

Chat blinked. “I… Not for very long. Only a few weeks, I suppose.”

Nodding, Marinette straightened, biting her lip again and trying to think of the best way possible to say what she was about to say. “I don’t blame you for coming here,” she said slowly. “There are many rumors about me, as I’m sure you’ve heard, and a newcomer can really think that I can do anything.”

“I don’t-”

She held up a hand, and he shut up. “But I can’t to anything. I have two specialties, luck and necromancy, and I’m not even that great at luck. I know basic magic as well, but that’s as far as my abilities go.” She paused, sighing. “As much as I’d like to help you, I really only deal with the dead.”

Chat blew out a breath, slouching sadly. “That’s exactly what you said on the phone.”

“I know,” she said, looking down at her red-stained thumbs and her red-stained mug. It was only temporary, she guessed. “I wish I could help you,” she admitted after a moment, “I really do."

“How do you even know you can’t?” Chat asked, frustration creeping into his voice. Marinette turned her face away from him.

“It’s not fair to you if I lie and promise results when I know the limits of my abilities.” She sighed, rubbing tiredly at her forehead. “Who even told you to come to me?”

Chat and Plagg shared a look. “An old man I met at the convenience store.”

She gave him a look before she could try holding it back, and Chat raised his hands to defend himself. “He’s the one who introduced me to magic in general. He gave me Plagg.”

“This man just gave you a familiar?”

He shrugged helplessly. “He said I needed it. He also said that you’d help me because you owed him a favor.”

Marinette racked her brain for the list of people she owed favors. Almost all of them she’d already repaid, except for one. That old man who’d given her Tikki. He’d asked her to help a young man who wanted to find someone.

“This old man,” Marinette said, “was he sort of small, hair graying? Possibly wearing a Hawaiian shirt?”

Chat nodded.

Groaning, Marinette buried her face in her hands. She’d promised to help him to the best of her abilities. “Yes, I do owe him a favor. I promised I would help you.” Chat visibly brightened. “But I don’t know how I’ll be able to help,” Marinette warned. “And everything I said before still stands.”

“That’s okay,” Chat said, grinning at her. “I’m just glad someone’s finally willing to help.”  

She’d certainly gotten herself into some trouble. This Chat character, although a little theatric and provocative, did seem very serious about finding this woman. Whoever she was to him, she was important, and Marinette wasn’t quite looking forward to having to let him down.

Other customers had started to pour in, and so Marinette left Chat with the promise to talk more after she dealt with the wave. Alya came in just to chat, and Marinette was actually thankful to see her even if she did normally hate seeing her as Ladybug.

“What’s this?” Alya asked, bending over to closely examine Tikki, who was lounging on the cash register.

“A little amplifier that’s imprinted on me. She likes to be called Tikki,” Marinette responded, and Tikki grinned at Alya.

“Cute, very cute,” Alya said, sticking her hand in a paper bag she’d brought and pulling out a chocolate chip cookie. “Want one, Tikki?”

“Ooh, yes,” Tikki said, jumping up and taking the cookie, which looked comically enormous in her tiny hands. “Who’d you say this was, Ladybug?”

“This is Alya,” Marinette said. “A close friend of mine.”

Alya looked very pleased to be called that. She placed the paper bag on the counter. “These are for you, by the way.” Marinette took a cookie out, nibbling on it softly and surveying the people chatting amicably in the shop and asking each other for advice and tips.

“You don’t have a secret identity, Alya?” Tikki asked, smearing her finger in the chocolate of the cookie and licking her finger clean.

“Oh, no,” Alya said with a laugh. “I could never. Magic is super interesting, of course, and I love involving myself in this world, but only as myself.”

“Alya runs the most famous magic community blog,” Marinette explained. “She was born with natural sight, so she decided to use that and her reporting abilities to create a friendly blog for newcomers, which also doubles as a very effective tool for gossip among the community.” She gave Alya a look, and Alya laughed.

“I’m glad that that works for you,” Tikki said, sounding genuine. “Everyone knows how powerful names and identities are.”

“I’ve run into a some little scuffs every now and again,” Alya admitted with a shrug. “But that sort of thing happens with my day job, too. I know how to defend myself well enough.”

Alya and Tikki continued discussing the pros and cons of living a life secret identity-free, and Marinette let her mind and gaze wander.

Chat and Plagg had found the magic tome section, and Chat seemed fascinated that the tomes leapt into his hands if he called them. He kept on calling them over to him and sending them back, and the whole spectacle had sort of gathered a crowd. Chat had a bit too much fun, and all the tomes hurtled toward him all at once. He collapsed into a pile of books, laughing hard while Plagg tried really hard not to look amused.

“Who’s he?” Alya asked, taking a cookie for herself and watching the scene with a smile on her face. “I don’t recognize him as one of your regulars.”

“He calls himself Chat Noir,” Marinette said, finding herself too worried about his request to laugh at his antics or attempt to intervene. “And I actually wanted to talk to you about that.”

“Really?” Alya asked, leaning in conspiratorially. “What’s his deal?”

“We seem to have a mutual friend who’s calling in a favor from me. I have to help him find a missing woman.” Marinette paused, biting her thumbnail and setting her cookie down. “An alive missing woman.”

“That’s not your usual style,” Alya commented. “Are you going to do it?”

“I have to,” Marinette responded, watching as the crowd that had surrounded Chat helped him put away all the tomes. He stared in wonder as the tomes slotted themselves into their favorite places, looking over to Plagg as if to check if he was seeing the same thing he was. “But I’m afraid I won’t succeed.”

“Of course you’ll succeed,” Alya responded without an ounce of hesitation. “He asked you to help because he knows you’re perfect for the job, even if it is a little out of your comfort zone."

“This is a whole lot more than a little,” Marinette breathed, and Tikki shook her head.

“You’re just underestimating your abilities, Ladybug,” Tikki said, tipping over the paper bag to grab another cookie. “And you know I’m here to give you an extra push if you need it.”

“I think everyone just consistently overestimates my abilities,” Marinette said, and Alya playfully punched her shoulder. Marinette rubbed her shoulder after Alya pulled her hand away. Playful or not, it still hurt a lot.

“You always rise up to everyone’s expectations,” Alya said, looking very much like she’d be ready to fight anyone who dared to disagree. “Even if the expectations are super wild, you’re always doing the most to help everyone. And I’m confident that you’ll pull this off and help that cute boy.”

Marinette really wanted to argue just so that she could vent a little more, but Alya’s hands were on her hips, and she was wearing that no-bullshit expression, so all Marinette could do was swallow. “He’s not that cute,” she said, just to get a little argument in.

“He is, and you know it,” Alya replied, and Marinette squinted at Chat. Sure, he was better than average, but still. He definitely wasn’t as attractive as- “Anyway, I’m trying to keep a relatively nice sleeping schedule, so I have to head out.” She paused for a moment, biting her bottom lip, and then she pulled Marinette into a bone-crushing hug. “You can do this, Ladybug. See you later, okay?” She pulled away, waving goodbye as she left the shop.

“Your friend is very wise,” Tikki said after Alya had left. “And she has an excellent taste in cookies.”

Marinette put her head in her heads. She always felt bad after Alya visited when she was Ladybug, and now she also had the added weight of committing to a project she wasn’t certain she could finish. It was a difficult night.

Tikki patted at her head. “I don’t understand why you’re upset, but I’m here for you anyways,” she said, and Marinette laughed a little.

“Thanks,” she said after a long moment of pulling herself together. “I’ll explain later.”

Looking around the shop, she saw that a lot of the crowds had cleared, and everyone seemed to know what they were doing and where to go, so Marinette slipped out from behind the counter to find Chat.

Her new friend was lounging in the cozy corner with the coffee table they had sat at before, a book in his hands that he was reading aloud to Plagg. He seemed to have just pulled it off the shelf, and it just so happened to be one of her favorites.

“‘He tried to reach out for her, to stop her from running away, but it was too late. The damage had been done,’” Chat read aloud, his free hand running through Plagg’s fur. “‘In desperation, he threw his gloved hand to the shape of her retreating figure. ‘Forget,’ he whispered, a beam of magic lighting from his fingertip and finding his love as she ran from him. He knew the moment it struck her, and he knew that this moment was irreversible. The damage had been done. The serious and passionate voice he’d been using dropped away, and he shook his head, looking over to Plagg. “This guy is literally the worst.”

“Why are you reading from the middle?” Marinette asked, interrupting Chat and seeming to startle him.

“Oh, I actually have this book at home, so me and Plagg have been reading it for a while,” he said, closing the book and reaching back to put it back in the shelf. Gesturing to Plagg, Chat leaned in as if sharing a secret. “He likes when I read out loud to him,” he whispered quite loudly.

“Shut up, punk,” Plagg said, swatting at him and getting up.

Laughing, Marinette helped Chat stand. He seemed a little overwhelmed when their hands touched, and Marinette almost pitied him. “Business has slowed down since it’s closer to dawn now, so we can go ahead and go to the back room. There we can start…” Marinette trailed off. She had no idea where to start. “There we can start,” she finished with a shrug.

“That’s certainly a start,” Chat said jokingly as he followed her to the back room, and Plagg groaned.

She sat them down at the old wooden table that was in the back room, and Marinette put fresh water in the kettle, her nerves making her in extra need for tea. She’d finished the cup she’d had before a while ago, and so she decided to brew up more of the same for all of them.

The act of making tea was totally not stalling for coming up with what to do, of course. Except it was. Marinette stared at the kettle blankly.

“You could try scrying,” Tikki whispered from her shoulder, as if reading her mind.

“That’s a good idea,” she murmured, tearing her eyes away from the tea kettle. She rummaged through her cupboards until she found her scrying bowl, which still looked a little scorched from the last time she’d used it. The kettle screamed, and since Chat was closer, she called to him. “Chat could you get that, please?”

“Of course, milady,” he said, mocking a bow as he stood and took the kettle off the burner. He grabbed the cups and bowl they had before, pouring hot water into them. “Do you have the tea bags?”

“Yeah, they’re in the box next to the burner,” Marinette answered, blowing into the bowl to get it clean and coughing a little at the whirls of ashes that flew through the air. “Oh, and turn the burner off.” She really wanted to avoid any cataclysmic situations, including fires.

“Which ones do I choose?” Chat asked, looking at the multitudes of tea bags with what seemed to be loss.

Marinette set the scrying bowl down on the table, coming up to stand next to him and peer into the box. “Those,” she said, pointing to the teabags she had used before. “Unless you want to try something new.”

“Oh, how interesting,” Chat said, looking over to grin at her. They both realized at once that they were a little closer than they thought, and Chat laughed, turning back to the box, his cheeks turning pink under the black domino mask he was wearing. “Something new would be nice.”

Deciding to have mercy on the poor boy, Marinette grabbed some different tea bags and stepped away. “Caramel apple red tea sound okay?” she asked, dropping the teabags in the cups and bowl before he could even answer.

“Sounds perfect.”

They sat across from each other, and Tikki resumed her position of softly huffing at Plagg’s bowl to cool it off for him. Marinette set her cup down on the table after taking a quick sip - she saw Chat make a face again, probably about the temperature - and she stretched out her neck and shoulders.

“So,” she said, turning her attention back to Chat and holding her hands over the scrying bowl. “Let’s get started, shall we?”

Chapter Text

Normally, Marinette did her scrying with fire, but that only worked when she had a piece of the person she was looking for. Said ‘piece’ could be metaphorical, but she was a necromancer, and so she found bone always worked best for her. But now she was trying to find a living being, and she doubted Chat had any bones from this woman on his person.

Water scrying worked better in times like this when there was no helping object, but it was far more annoying.

As she muttered an incantation into the scrying bowl, pure water bubbled out of the wood, puddling inside the bowl and licking at its sides until it was filled to the brim. She looked between the window casting moonlight into the room and the bowl, making sure the moon’s reflection could be seen in the water. Once she’d positioned the bowl correctly, Marinette passed her hand over the water, continuing with the incantation. The moon’s reflection grew larger and larger until all that could be seen was a smooth disk of white. It was complete.

The air smelled faintly of her magic, and Marinette breathed it in, grabbing her mug from the table and taking a sip of her tea.

“That was, like, the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” Chat said, and Marinette looked up, raising her eyebrows. “I mean, the moon just. Expanded.” He looked so totally amazed that Marinette couldn’t help but laugh.

“The moon is still the same size, Chat. It’s just a little manipulation of the reflection.” Chat shook his head, still a little awestruck and looking out the window to check to see if she was telling the truth. “Anyway, the first thing we’re going to try is scrying. With a little luck, we’ll be able to see where she is, but it’s not always that simple.”

“So I’ve been told,” Chat said, giving a pointed look to Plagg.

“Now you know I’m right,” Plagg said. Chat rolled his eyes.

“What’s the name of this woman?” Marinette asked, and Chat looked to Plagg, as if looking for permission. Plagg nodded.

“Emilie Agreste,” Chat said, and Marinette repeated the name to herself. It sounded familiar somehow, but she couldn’t quite place it.

Ignoring it for the time being, Marinette took a deep breath, focusing on the olde scrying tradition that worked best with water; rhymes, otherwise known as the most annoying part of the water scrying process. It took her a little while, but she finally found a phrase to use. Infusing her magic into her words, Marinette held her hands over the scrying water. “Mother Moon, please lift the veil over what I seek, connect world lines so that the present may speak. Though it may be a test, try your very best to find Emilie Agreste.”

The white water rippled, and an image started to appear. But it was extremely blurry, and even the colors were muddied and unclear. Marinette bit her lip, waiting for the image to sharpen, but after several moments, no improvement occurred.

“What happened?” Chat asked, searching the muddy image anxiously. “Why can’t we see it?”

“Maybe the rhyme I used wasn’t strong enough?” Marinette suggested, but she didn’t think that was it. Despite how awful she was at rhymes and how horrid she found them, she had to admit that that one was a success.

“You’re rhyme was fine,” Tikki said, getting up from beside Plagg and examining the water. “It might be that you just don’t know Mrs. Agreste well enough.”

Marinette lowered her hands, and the image in the water dissipated, leaving the water a pure white again. “I suppose I do normally know more about the people I scry for before I scry for them. I never thought that would’ve been a factor.”

“It’s a huge factor,” Tikki said, her wings fluttering. “It creates a bond between you and the person, and that way it’s easier to connect with where they are.”

Nodding, Marinette turned to Chat. “Tell me about Emilie Agreste. What is she like? What does she do? Who is she?”

Chat chewed at his lip, holding his tea and looking down at the table. “She’s a kind woman, always looking out for other people, even if she is a bit higher in status. She loves her son with all her heart, and he loves her even more.” He paused, clearing his throat of thick emotion. “She, uh,  is a prominent actress as well.”

“Ah,” Marinette said, snapping her fingers. “I was wondering why her name sounded so familiar. I must’ve seen one or two of her movies.” She thought for a moment, racking her brain for the right face to match the name.

“I have a picture if that’ll help,” Chat said, taking a well-worn folded up photo out of his jacket pocket. He handed it to Marinette, and she took it gingerly in her hands. “I thought it might help you find her.”

Marinette unfolded the photo, tracing her fingers over the beautiful woman in the photo. The folds in the paper had worn away some of the picture, but Marinette easily recognized the flowing blonde hair, thin face, and warm green eyes. “I recognize her now,” Marinette said softly, handing the picture back to Chat. “I vaguely remember hearing news of her disappearance a long time ago.”

“A little over ten years,” Chat said, his voice sad as he gazed at the picture before folding it back up and putting it in his pocket once more. He cleared his throat. “Do you want to try again?”

“Of course,” Marinette said, holding her hands over the scrying bowl. “What was it I said again?” She paused, thinking hard. “Oh, right. Mother Moon, please lift the veil over what I seek, connect world lines so that the present may speak. Though it may be a test, try your very best to find Emilie Agreste.”

The milky water rippled, swirling gently until it created a smooth picture of a large room, sparsely decorated. Chat gasped, and Marinette caught sight of Emilie Agreste, standing forlornly by the only window in the room, a shawl wrapped around her thin shoulders. They watched as she touched the curtains covering the windows hesitantly before pulling her hand away, dropping her head in what seemed like defeat.

“That’s her,” Chat said, his voice close to a sob. “This is how I see her in my dreams.”

Marinette had to admit, there was something desolate about the sight. She couldn’t blame Chat for being so emotional. She watched as Mrs. Agreste walked away from the window, looking around the room before going to the door. She jiggled the handle, but couldn’t seem to open it. As she knocked gently on the door, her lips moved, but no sound came out for Marinette or Chat to hear.

“Why can’t we hear what she’s saying?” Chat asked, his face so close to the scrying bowl that he was casting a shadow over the water.

“Scrying is always silent. We can watch, but we can never hear,” Marinette replied, focusing on keeping the picture and analyzing it as well.

As Mrs. Agreste continued talking toward the door, Marinette looked around the room she was in. It was rather large and luxurious looking, and there was absolutely nothing personal about it. No pictures, no paintings, not even a T.V., or a bookshelf. The only thing that was there besides the bed, the wardrobe, and the vanity, was a grand piano, sleek and elegant. But the room still didn’t look like a bedroom, or even a hotel room.

Mrs. Agreste’s shoulders sank, and she stepped away from the door, collapsing onto the bed. She sat for a moment, staring at the door, and then she buried her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking with silent tears. Marinette heard Chat let out a quiet noise of despair.

“I’ve seen enough,” Marinette said, taking her hands away from the scrying bowl and letting the picture dissipate. She looked up at Chat, who was trying his best to remain composed. She bit her lip, reaching out and taking Chat’s hand in hers. Tikki flew over to him, and pat his cheek sympathetically, and Plagg got up and rubbed at Chat’s arm.

“Thanks, everyone,” Chat said, taking a deep breath. He smiled, squeezing Marinette’s hand and giving Plagg’s head a loving scratch. “But I’m okay,” he said, letting go of Marinette’s hand and smiling at Tikki. “I just want to find Mrs. Agreste really badly, that’s all.”

“I understand,” Marinette said, waving her hand over the milky water and watching the moon’s reflection shrink back to its original size. She sucked in a breath, causing the water to sink back into the bowl, bubbling and puddling until it was gone.

Despite his mood, Chat still managed to look amazed.

“Anyway, I know you’ve probably already realized this, but I don’t think Mrs. Agreste is in that room because she wants to be,” Marinette said softly, regretfully. She was sort of hoping that they’d see Mrs. Agreste happily living her life in America, or something. Of course, no such luck.

“I know,” Chat agreed. “That’s why I knew I needed help in rescuing her from whoever has her.”

Staring down at the scrying bowl, Marinette thought hard. Sure, she was only a necromancer, but she couldn’t just ignore the situation placed before her. And this Fu character seemed to think she’d be able to help, and for some reason Marinette found herself trusting his judgement. She needed to help.

“Even though I can’t promise results like I can with other clients,” Marinette said slowly, “I accept this job. I’ll carry it through with you.” She looked up, making eye contact with Chat. “I’ll help you find Emilie Agreste, Chat. I swear I will.”

A witch’s swear was no light promise. She hoped she wouldn’t regret it later.

Chat stared at her, and then his lips turned up into a brilliant grin. “So I guess we’re partners now, huh, Ladybug?”

Marinette chewed at the inside of her cheek, nodding. “Yes, we certainly are.”


---


Chat left not long after that with the promise that he’d come back later to get started with their task, and Marinette waved him goodbye from the counter, an uneasy feeling in her gut. “I don’t know about this, Tikki,” Marinette said softly, watching the door to her shop close behind Chat and Plagg.

“You’ll do fine, Marinette,” Tikki said, patting her shoulder. “You’re very powerful and talented, and I’m sure there’s a reason you and Chat were drawn together.”

“I really hope you’re right,” Marinette said with a yawn, stretching her arms above her head. “I should probably get some rest,” she said, turning to head upstairs to her living quarters. “Oh, how do I get rid of the mask?” she asked as she walked up the stairs.

“You can ask,” Tikki said, waving her hand. Marinette felt a peculiar sensation crawl across her face where the mask was, and she saw pink flecks of magic dart around her eyes. “If you want, next time you need to be Ladybug, I can give you a whole disguise.”

“Oh, how interesting,” Marinette said, her exhaustion making her sound less enthusiastic. “Tomorrow night, remind me, and we can try it out.”

“Of course,” Tikki said, seeming to recognize Marinette’s condition. She accompanied Marinette in her bedtime routine, which included washing her face, checking the protective runes on the walls and windows, brushing her teeth, lighting some sage, and changing into her pajamas. “Get some rest, Marinette,” Tikki said gently as Marinette’s laid back in her bed, burrowing deep in her pillows.

“You too, Tikki,” Marinette mumbled from beneath her cocoon, and then she fell asleep.


---


Marinette spent the next morning filling Tikki in on the whole Alya situation.

“So she’s friends with both Marinette and Ladybug, and greatly admires Ladybug, but she’s unaware Marinette and Ladybug are the same person?” she asked, peeking out from the cards she held which only served to dwarf her even more.

“Correct,” Marinette replied, nibbling on her toast. “Got any sevens?”

“Go fish,” Tikki said, and Marinette tsked, drawing from the pile in between them. “Are you ever going to tell her?”

“I’m not sure it would be a good idea,” Marinette said, finishing off her toast and licking her fingers. “Alya’s already in such a tough position just because she doesn’t have a Safe Name, and if I told her my True Name, she could really be in danger.”

Tikki frowned. “You really think you have enemies like that?” she asked, and Marinette shrugged. “Also, do you have any jacks?”

Marinette handed over her jack, and Tikki sorted out her pair. “I don’t know about enemies, but since I am relatively popular, I think many people could gain from knowing my True Name.”

“That’s true,” Tikki said. “It’s a bad situation, but you’ve made the right choice.”

Nodding, Marinette put down her cards for a moment and checked her watch. “It’s almost time to open up the shop, so let’s suspend the game for now, okay?”

“Got it,” Tikki said, putting her cards face down on Marinette’s kitchen table. “Can I come with you to the shop?”

“Of course,” Marinette said, opening her blazer pocket for Tikki to slip into. She wasn’t really sure what Commoners would see if they ever saw Tikki, but they’d both agreed that it would be best for her to stay hidden. Upon realizing that Tikki fit into most of Marinette’s pockets, this arrangement had been made.

“Oh, and grab me a cookie, please?” she asked, peeking her head out of the pocket.

Marinette smiled, grabbing a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie from the plate that she’d made that morning and putting it in her pocket with Tikki. And then she headed downstairs.

When she arrived, she found Alya right outside the front door, her face pressed against the glass rather comically. Marinette bust out laughing, pulling out her phone and taking a picture of the unflattering expression Alya had, and then laughing some more. Alya gestured impatiently for Marinette to unlock the door, which she did after another little moment of laughter.

“Girl, don’t keep me waiting like that,” Alya said as she bustled into the shop. “This is serious.”

“And what exactly is it that has you so awake this morning?” Marinette asked, walking back to the counter with Alya and pulling up the extra stool for both of them to sit.

“So,” Alya started, pulling out her phone, “I’ve finally had some free time to browse YouTube, and I found this from a couple weeks ago,” she said, pulling up the YouTube app on her phone and tapping on her most recently watched video. She paused it before it could actually start. “It’s this vlogging channel that’s run by this chick named Chloe. Her dad used to be the mayor, and now is some big shot diplomat. Chloe herself started her channel in high school and has since gained, like, a bajillion followers because of her social status and her tendency to be the most extra person to ever exist. She got a little better after finishing school, but she’s still a bit much. Anyway, she’s sort of awful, but entertaining.”

“You sound like you know a lot about her,” Marinette commented, and Alya shrugged.

“I might’ve watched all of her other videos to do some research. But anyway, you’ve got to see this.”

She pressed play on the video, and some indie-pop music started playing with an aesthetic background. The video transitioned into showing a familiar girl brushing her teeth and wiggling her eyebrows at the camera.

Marinette gasped. “I know her! She came into the shop a couple weeks ago.”

“Just wait,” Alya said.

The girl, Chloe, went about her day, and then it showed another familiar face in what looked like a cafe.

“I know him, too,” Marinette said, watching Mr. Hot Customer Adrien with his mouth full throw a napkin at the camera. She heard Chloe laugh, and Marinette sort of felt her heart melt at the sight of Adrien’s small smile.

“Just wait,” Alya said again, and Marinette wondered what else there could possibly be.

The video showed Adrien and Chloe going to the supermarket and heading to the makeup aisle. “Can anyone guess what Adrikins finally agreed to?” Chloe asked playfully as the two of them strolled through the makeup aisle.

Marinette made a face. Adrikins?

“This is a nice color,” Adrien said, holding a tube of lipstick and showing it to Chloe. It was an electric purple.

Chloe made a barfing noise. “Adrien, gross.”

Adrien’s face contorted into something rather mischievous as he dropped the tube of lipstick into their basket. “All the more reason to use it.”

“Oh, my God, someone save me,” Chloe whispered into the camera.

The scene transitioned into them walking outside, and Chloe had her arm linked with Adrien’s. “He’s taking me on an adventure,” she said, and Adrien laughed.

And then they were inside a bookstore. Her bookstore.

“Oh, my God,” Marinette said, watching as Chloe filmed walking around the shop and commenting on the atmosphere (“Not awful, I guess.”) and the book selection (“There so much old stuff.”). And then it showed Adrien talking to Marinette.

“Look at you, girl!” Alya squealed, and Marinette gaped in horror. She could see all of her awkward ticks displayed openly, and she sort of felt like burying herself alive.

“You’re flirting game is so weak,” Chloe said to Adrien, and Marinette choked on her spit.

“Flirting?” she cried at the same time as Adrien said it, and Alya laughed.

She heard him deny any flirtatious attitude, feeling a little disappointed despite her total embarrassment, and then she heard Chloe tease him a little more before he pushed the camera away. The scene transitioned into Chloe bugging Adrien about his book choice and screaming when Adrien almost licked her camera, and then it showed them leaving the shop and Marinette herself waving them goodbye.

Alya paused the video before it could continue, and Marinette sat back in her seat, putting her hands over her face. “Oh, my God,” she breathed. “That was so embarrassing.”

“Are you kidding?” Alya said, grabbing Marinette by the shoulders and shaking her. “You’re practically famous now! Everyone in the comments is talking about how cute you are, and they’re all wondering where your shop is so that they can see you.”

Marinette didn’t even know what to say that except groan loudly and flop onto the counter. “But did you see me? I looked like a complete idiot!”

“You did not,” Alya said slapping her shoulder. “You looked adorable. And you were adorable right next to freaking Adrien Agreste.”

“Um,” Marinette said, raising her head, “what?”

“The Adrien Agreste, Marinette!” Alya exclaimed, shaking her again. Marinette blinked. “The guy that used to be a famous teen model?” Marinette blinked again. “Geez, Marinette, you’re crazy if you don’t know about Adrien. He used to be everywhere.”

“Haha, right,” Marinette said, but her mind was racing. Adrien Agreste.

Like Emilie Agreste.

Marinette felt everything inside her sink to the pits of the earth. She glanced down at her feet just to make sure she wasn’t actually sinking.

“I can’t believe you were caught flirting on camera with a former male model who was flirting with you back,” Alya said, turning back to her phone and completely oblivious. “You know, everyone sort of wants you guys to hook up. They want to know your name so that they can come up with a ship name.”

“That’s crazy,” Marinette said faintly, standing up and heading the back room. “Sorry, I, uh, have to go to the bathroom.” Alya waved her off, tapping away at her phone.

Marinette closed the door to the bathroom, pressing her back against the door and opening her pocket for Tikki to fly out. “Please tell me I heard that wrong,” Marinette begged, and Tikki chewed on her lip, fiddling with her little hands.

“It could just be a that they have the same last name,” she suggested. “Maybe they’re not related,” she said, and Marinette sighed.

“I suppose you’re right, but we need to make sure.” She thought for a moment, tapping a finger to her lips. “I hope you’re right and they’re not related, but if they are, then maybe I can get closer with Adrien and find out more about Mrs. Agreste’s situation.”

Tikki considered the idea. “It sounds like a good idea, but you’d have to be right first.”

Taking a deep breath, Marinette nodded decisively. “Right.” She slapped at her cheeks, trying to get herself to focus and get in the right mindset after being thrown such a curveball. “I guess we’ll have to do some research.”

She felt herself start to sink again. “Oh, geez, what have I gotten myself into?”

“What’s wrong now, Marinette?” Tikki asked, flitting around Marinette’s face.

“There was a period of time in high school…” Marinette trailed off, feeling old shames and embarrassments come to the surface. “When I sort of… stalked… the people that I liked.” Just saying the words out loud made her want to die very badly. “I grew out of it, obviously, and I haven’t really liked anyone in a while, but I’m afraid that old habit might come back.”

“Well,” Tikki said, managing to conceal her surprise just enough for Marinette to feel a little better, “it’s not the same now, right? I mean, you don’t even like Adrien that way, right?”

“...Right,” Marinette said after a moment that stretched on for a little too long. Tikki raised her eyebrows. “I don’t know,” Marinette admitted, throwing her hands up. “I don’t know him that well.”

Tikki seemed to think for a moment. “But it was never bad, right? This stalking that you did.”

“No, no, no,” Marinette said, waving her hands back and forth. “I never hurt anyone or did anything crazy. I just had a whole lot of pictures and wanted to know what they did every single minute of their life.” She laughed nervously, realizing how crazy that sounded. “Oh, geez.”

“Don’t worry, Marinette,” Tikki said, recognizing Marinette in distress, given that she’d started hyperventilating and pulling at her hair. “I’ll make sure you don’t go crazy, okay?”

Marinette took a deep breath, and then cupped her hands underneath Tikki, the little pixie landing softly in her hands. “Thanks, Tikki,” she said, smiling.

There was a knock at the door.

“Marinette, are you okay? You’ve been in there a while,” came Alya’s voice from outside the bathroom.

Squeaking, Marinette gestured for Tikki to get back in her pocket. She turned on the faucet and flushed the toilet, hoping it was enough to convince Alya. “Sorry, I’m almost done.”

She washed her hands for good measure, and then came out of the bathroom, standing face to face with her best friend. “I was getting worried,” Alya said, laughing and hugging Marinette. “I’ve gotta split, but I’ll be back soon. How are you feeling about going to see a movie on my next day off?”

“Sounds great,” Marinette said, hugging Alya back and waving her goodbye as she left.

“That was a little close,” Tikki said, peeking out from Marinette’s pocket.

“It always is, Tikki,” Marinette said, staring at where Alya had been.


---


For lunch, Marinette didn’t feel like making anything, so she grabbed her purse from her living room and closed up the shop. Tikki jumped into her purse as she headed out the door, and they both set off to a nearby cafe.

It was more like a coffee shop that happened to sell some sandwiches, but Marinette liked going there because she never felt odd for showing up alone. She ordered a sandwich and a iced tea for herself, and decided to treat herself and Tikki to an icing-covered sugar cookie.

When she took her normal seat by the window, she broke the cookie in half and put it in her purse for Tikki. She pulled out her phone and earbuds as she waited for her sandwich, pulling up YouTube. Telling herself it was for research, she pulled up Chloe’s channel and proceeded to start watching a video that had Adrien in the thumbnail.

The first one that she found was called ‘My HOT, SINGLE, BISEXUAL Best Friend Does My Makeup.’

Adrien being the ‘HOT, SINGLE, BISEXUAL’ best friend.

She had to pause the video to get her sandwich from the front counter, but when she came back, she quickly unpaused it and kept watching. Even though she was trying really hard not to, she felt herself being drawn in by Adrien’s charm and wit. He was perfectly mischievous towards Chloe, and perfectly beautiful every time she called him out on it.

He was nice. Marinette felt like throwing herself down a particularly deep hole.

There was a tap on her shoulder, and Marinette startled, dropping her phone onto her sandwich, which caused her earbuds to rip out of her ears, and her tea almost falling to the floor with her wildly flailing limbs.

“Whoa, ha ha,” said a familiar voice. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Marinette’s head snapped up as she stared at her visitor, who was, of course, Adrien Agreste. “Oh, wow, hey, I mean, hi, I mean, I totally wasn’t watching a video of you on YouTube, I mean. Maybe I was. I mean. I wasn’t; that would be crazy.” Marinette took a deep breath. “Hi.”

Adrien smiled blankly, the perfect expression of friendly confusion. “Okay,” he said with a light laugh. “I was passing by, and I saw you through the window,” he said, gesturing to the window she was sitting next to. “Thought you might like some company.”

It felt like Marinette’s heart leaped out of her chest. She blinked, trying to think of something to say. “Oh.”

“Is that alright?” Adrien asked, like he was genuinely concerned he was being a bother to her.

“Of course it’s alright,” Marinette said, the words stumbling out of her mouth in a hurry to reach him. “I mean, if that’s what you want.”

“Yeah,” he said, brightening visibly, not unlike a puppy. “Let me just order some food, and I’ll be right back.”

“Right,” Marinette said weakly, watching Adrien head to the counter.

After she was sure he was out of earshot, Marinette buried her face in her hands and let out a soft shriek. Hoping that no one was watching her, she pulled her purse up to her face and opened it up, needing some Tikki reassurance. “Tikki, I’m freaking out. I feel all high school-y and nerdy and lame,” Marinette whisper-yelled.

“You’ll be okay,” Tikki whispered back. “Remember, I’m here to help you not go crazy.”

Marinette caught sight of Adrien coming back to her table, and she snapped the purse closed after seeing Tikki give her a reassuring thumbs-up. She tried to reign herself in as Adrien came back, and she could feel herself failing.

She sort of wondered if she’d be able to survive this lunch.

She sort of doubted it.

Chapter Text

Adrien watched as Marinette picked her phone up off her sandwich, brushing off the crumbs and hiding it in her lap a little self-consciously. She fixed the paper wrapped around her sandwich, clearing her throat and fixing her bangs. “So,” she said, “what’s up?”

“I was actually on my way to see you,” Adrien replied, and Marinette’s expression contorted almost painfully before her lips twisted up into a near gruesome smile. “I finished that book I bought, and I promised I would come back and tell you about it.”

“Oh!” Marinette exclaimed, making eye contact with him for what seemed like the first time since he’d walked up to her. “Did you like it? What did you think?”

She didn’t seem so stiff anymore, and Adrien was more than thankful. He was afraid he’d made her uncomfortable by interrupting her lunch. “I really liked it,” he said, unwrapping his own sandwich and taking the cheese out. “The author’s take on magic was pretty intriguing,” he continued, wrapping the cheese in a napkin and setting it to the side.

He’d learned that Plagg had a distinct love for cheese. Adrien himself really didn’t care for it, mostly because it gave him stomach aches, but for the sake of Plagg’s happiness, he ordered all his sandwiches with cheese.

“It is rather interesting,” Marinette said, swirling her straw in her tea and looking off at some distant point. “The idea that the magic stems from the possession of clothing, like cloaks, gloves, or boots. I’ve never seen anything like it, well, except of course charms-” She cut herself off, her eyes widening.

“Charms?” Adrien asked, wondering why she had stopped.

“Um.” She took a huge bite of her sandwich and made a series of noises that were basically unintelligible, shrugging. She swallowed thickly, her eyes flitting to the window and then back to him. “What about the villain, Faucon?” she asked, her words hurried and stumbling. “What’s your take on him? Personally, I think he didn’t deserve to be treated so cruelly in the end, but a lot of people have told me that they thought his death was too merciful. I don’t think getting eaten alive by hawks, no matter how ironic, is very merciful, but-” She stopped herself, shrugging a little sheepishly.

“No, I totally agree with you,” Adrien said, nodding enthusiastically. When he’d neared the end of the novel and Faucon was brought to his grisly end, Adrien had to put the book down and walk to another room in his small apartment. Because he hadn’t read aloud that bit to Plagg at the time, Plagg bothered him for five straight minutes for him to continue. “He was a bad guy, a really bad guy, but after it all, he was just a man in mourning, trying to bring back his one true love.”

Marinette seemed to brighten, her blue eyes sparkling as she leaned forward. “Right? He had lost everything - his lover, his best friend, his family - with one mistake, and all he wanted was to get that back. Of course, that doesn’t excuse murdering people or ruining the space time continuum in an effort to rewind time, but, you know.”

“I have to admit,” Adrien said, feeling a smile pull at his lips as he got more into the book talk, “one of my favorite parts about the whole entire book was the continuing flexibility of the main characters’ moral standing. Adelynne and Moor were the good guys, but they were constantly having to make tough decisions to do what they thought was right.”

“That was my favorite thing, too!” Marinette exclaimed, slamming her hand down onto the table. When several patrons of the cafe glanced in their direction, her cheeks reddened, and she ducked her head down a little. “Um, yeah, those bits where Moor had to face his own incompetencies and make sacrifices to succeed in the long run, even if the sacrifices were human lives, were particularly interesting.”

“And Adelynn coming to terms with the fact that her uncle was the person that they were working so hard to stop, having to choose between her familial loyalty and the greater good,” Adrien said, smiling when he saw Marinette’s head bounce up and down like some bobble-head toy.

“The relationship Adelynne had with her uncle was remarkably real, despite the fantasy setting,” she said, still nodding. Her expression was deathly serious, and Adrien felt kind of bad for being amused. “In fact, all the characters’ relationships with one another were very tangible. Adelynne and Moor’s friendship always felt natural, and their romantic development never felt forced.”

“I might’ve shed a tear when they kissed,” Adrien admitted, and Marinette scoffed loudly.

“Are you kidding? I sobbed my eyes out. I was a mess,” she said casually, rolling her eyes. “And don’t even get me started on how I reacted with Faucon being turned into mincemeat.” She shivered, making the motion last at least four seconds. Adrien imagined that the shiver started at her scalp, went all the way down to her toes, and then traveled all the way back up again.

“Maybe I shed a tear for our hopeless villain, too,” Adrien said with a shrug. He was of course severely understating this. He wept like a widow, handkerchief and all. Plagg had made fun of him for hours.

“Oh, don’t try and fool me, pretty boy,” Marinette said, laughter caught in her eyes and the curve of her mouth. “I bet you were all tears and snot, crying until your eyes hurt and your nose was all red from tissue abuse. The pretty ones are always the snot monsters.” She said this teasingly, and as soon as the last word left her mouth, she clapped her hands over her mouth in horror at the exact same time Adrien burst with surprised laughter.

Adrien laughed a little harder than he meant to, and he stopped when he saw Marinette’s face, which was horror mixed with something else. He swallowed, grinning sheepishly.

“Sorry,” he said. “It’s just that I’ve never been called a snot monster before.”

Something about the words ‘snot monster’ inspired a small snort to escape from behind Marinette’s hands, and then they were laughing together. Like old friends. Or maybe like new friends. Whatever it was, Adrien decided that he liked it.

They continued talking through their lunch, and Adrien’s like for the easy connection he shared with Marinette grew. She was funny and charismatic, even if sometimes it seemed like her brain moved too fast for her mouth. Her hands moved excitedly when she talked, and more than once, she almost knocked down her drink or her food with her exaggerated movements. For some reason, it felt so easy to be relaxed around her, and he found himself joking with her the way he would with Nino or Chloe. It was just… natural.

When they finished up, Adrien offered to take her trash for her, and she blushed furiously, insisting to take it herself. He slipped the napkin-wrapped cheese in his pocket when she wasn’t paying attention, and then they left the little cafe together.

“So do you go there often?” he asked, and Marinette half-shrugged.

“Not everyday,” she replied, looking down at her feet as she tried to walk on the very edge of the sidewalk. “But I do go there sometimes for lunch or for the occasional fancy tea.” She lost her balance, letting out a high-pitched squeak, and Adrien lunged out, catching her before she fell. “Ah. Th-thanks.”

“No problem,” Adrien said, pulling her over to the other side of him before letting go of her hand. “But I think it’s probably safer for you to be on this side now.”

She stared at him for a moment before looking down at her feet, laughing a little. “You’re probably right. Luck’s not really my friend.”

“What do you mean by that?” Adrien asked. It was oddly pessimistic for such a bright girl.

“Ever since I was a kid,” Marinette said with a shrug, digging through her purse to find her keys as they neared the shop, “I’ve been really-” She found her keys, and they slipped out of her hands and into a small puddle that had come from recent rain. “Really unlucky,” she finished, a little defeatedly as she stared down at her keys.

“I think that’s just called being clumsy,” Adrien said, bending down and picking up the wet keys for her, wiping them off on his jeans.

He handed to them her, and she took them with a small smile. “You’re probably right,” she said, laughing in a way that hinted that she didn’t believe him.

She unlocked the shop, flicking on the lights and holding the door open for Adrien. He walked in, and she stood by the door a moment longer, flipping the ‘out to lunch’ sign to ‘open.’ Once she had done that, though, she looked at him a little strangely, as if trying to figure out what to do with him. “I… I have cookies,” she said, making the statement sound more like a suggestion.

“Have any to spare?” Adrien asked a little teasingly, and she relaxed a little.

“Of course. Just give me a second to go and get them,” she disappeared into the back room that Adrien had been in the night before as Chat Noir, and then poked her head out. “Feel free to browse around while I’m gone.” And then she was gone for real.

Adrien stood there for a moment, hands in his pockets, and then he resigned himself to browse around like Marinette had said. The shop was strangely silent, and Adrien found himself missing Plagg’s normal chatter. He’d grown so used to being around his familiar that now silence almost unnerved him.

Of course, he couldn’t really take Plagg to public establishments, so more often than not, he had to leave him at the apartment, but Paris was a bustling city. He had never really been to a place as quiet as Marinette’s shop before.

It was sort of nice, as long as he didn’t think too hard about it. Adrien trailed a finger over the bookshelves, glancing over at the curtained-off section of books he’d found out housed the magical tomes that flew through the air when you called to them. He wandered over to the curtains, taking a glance at the back room that Marinette had disappeared in, and then he reached a hand out to the curtains.

“Oh, those books are very old and prone to falling apart,” came Marinette’s voice from behind the counter, and Adrien jumped back, heart beating fast at being caught. Noticing Adrien’s expression, Marinette tilted her head, smiling sheepishly. “Did I scare you?”

“A little,” Adrien admitted, walking away from the curtains, though he was hyper-aware of the heady presence of magic in the area. He couldn’t see it clearly, not with the ring hanging on his necklace instead of snug on his finger, but he could smell the earthy and sweet scents of magic dancing through the air. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Sorry,” Marinette said, “I didn’t mean to. Scare you, that is. But I meant to come in.” Her smile turned crooked and a little nervous as she set the plate of cookies down and gestured at them. “I brought the cookies down.” He came to stand beside her, looking down at the plate.

“They look homemade,” Adrien said, picking one up and turning it around in his hands.

“They are,” Marinette replied, taking one for herself, and looking it over with not-very-carefully concealed self satisfaction. “I made them the other day.”

He bit into it, and Adrien suddenly felt the entire world open up to him all at once, not unlike how his world had opened up a few weeks ago in the middle of a breakfast aisle at 3 o’clock in the morning. Never had he tasted a chocolate cookie so absolutely divine. “Marinette,” he said, looking over to her very seriously because this was a very serious matter.

“Y-yes?” she stuttered, looking a little startled by his sudden seriousness.

“This is the best cookie I’ve ever had in my entire life,” he said, and he saw her face flicker through a multitude of different emotions before settling on a amused annoyance.

“Don’t scare me like that,” she said, taking another bite of her own cookie. “I was about ready to run to my parents and apologize for my failure.”

He blinked. She blinked back.

“Ah, sorry. I forgot that you probably don’t know. My parents are bakers,” she explained, and he laughed. “It feels like everyone in this city knows by now,” she said with a shrug. “My parents’ bakery is very well known, and since it’s been around since before I was born, a lot of people associate me with my parents.” She didn’t sound bitter about the fact - in fact, she sounded very proud of the it.

“I can sort of relate,” Adrien said, but he couldn’t match her pleasant attitude or expression. He glanced over at her, seeing the questioning look, and sighed. “My father is pretty famous in certain circles. When I was younger, I was… part of the brand, I suppose. Now the people who know my face automatically associate it with him.”

“That doesn’t sound good at all,” Marinette said, picking up on his dissatisfaction. “If it makes you feel any better, I had no idea who you were or who your parents were when I first met you.”

It did, but the wording of it didn’t slip by unnoticed by him. “But now you do?”

Marinette smiled sheepishly, scratching at the back of her head. “Your friend that you brought in posted the video she filmed here, and a friend of mine recognized you.”

Adrien’s shoulders sank. He wondered if her opinion of him was somehow changed because of his relation to his father. He wondered if his chances of friendship with this nice girl were ruined, like it had been countless times before.

Seeing his dismal look, Marinette rushed on, her words tumbling over each other in the air. “But I didn’t - I mean, it’s not - I mean, it isn’t.” She paused, taking a deep breath. “I met you before I knew all that stuff,” she said, seeming to go through great effort to keep her words steady. “So to me, you’re not Adrien Agreste; Super Hot Model Extraordinaire and son to Some Famous Guy” - Adrien was sure that Marinette probably knew his father’s name but chose not to use it, and that fact made him strangely happy - “you’re just Adrien. The guy who got his toe thoroughly smashed by a book in my shop.”

Swallowing, Adrien looked down at the platter of cookies, the half-eaten cookie in his hand, and then up to the girl who saw him as Just Adrien. He smiled. “Is it okay if we become friends?” he asked, and she blinked. “I know it may be a little weird, considering I’m a customer, but…” He trailed off. “I don’t have a lot of friends, and I like for the ones that I do manage to find to be like you.”

Her cheeks reddened considerably, and her mouth opened and closed. And then opened again. “That was really formal,” she finally said, and Adrien found himself laughing. Hesitantly, she joined in, and then they were giggling together over a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Adrien’s phone buzzed, and he took it out of his pocket, his eyes widening. It was his alarm that was supposed to remind him to start heading to work. He still had to go home to change, and he’d actually meant to be home by now.

“Sorry, Marinette, but I’ve got to head to work,” he said, already rushing to the front door of the shop. Just before he left, he turned back, catching her gaze. “Friends, then?” he asked, a little anxious.

“Friends,” she agreed, waving him goodbye as he grinned, turning around and leaving the shop.


---


He practically had to run to home to make it to work on time, barely having time to throw Plagg the near fermenting cheese he’d stuffed in his pocket, and when he got to work, he was very sweaty and very much gross. Kagami looked at him a little strangely, but she didn’t say anything. Adrien was thankful for that.

His shift dragged on, and as a middle aged American man who seemed to think the world revolved around him ranted about some part of his meal that probably wasn’t even that big of a deal, Adrien let his mind wander.

Maybe it was the fact that he’d just finished that book that Marinette had recommended to him, and books always had the lasting side effect of making people discontent with their real lives, but he realized that he couldn’t take working this job much longer. He’d rip his hair out. And he very much liked his hair.

He was young. Supposed to be excited about life. And yet, here he was standing in front of this insufferable middle-aged American man and thinking about he felt nothing at all, not even when this annoying man started yelling and projecting loud enough for the words and spit to slap Adrien across the face.

Adelynne and Moor had lived an adventure, along with countless other young, spry, daring protagonists who cared about living and felt something when they were shouted at. Where was Adrien’s adventure? When did he stop caring when people shouted at him? When was the last time he’d felt young, spry, and daring?

Did he ever?

Kagami stepped in to deal with the man, and Adrien stared down his watch. Only two hours, thirty four minutes, and what looked like twenty one seconds to go.

The second hand ticked by.

Two hours, thirty four minutes, and twenty seconds to go.


---


After his shift, Adrien found Plagg waiting for him by the worker’s entrance, and Adrien didn’t think he’d been more glad to see a cat in his life. “Hurry up, Adrien, I’m starving,” Plagg complained from where he was lounging, and Adrien dropped down to his knees next to him.

“I’m going to quit my job, Plagg,” Adrien said, and Plagg blinked.

“What?” he demanded, once what Adrien had said sunk in. “Kid, that’s your only source of income!”

Adrien stood, picking up Plagg and placing him on his shoulder, and set off walking. “There’s got to be something else out there for me. I can’t stand working at that awful place where awful people go to be…” He trailed off, waving his arms around to find the right word. “Awful,” he finally decided on, throwing his arms up and shaking his head. “I can’t stand it.”

Plagg looked at him, his large green eyes glowing with concern in the growing twilight. “Adrien,” he started, but Adrien cut him off.

“I’m not quitting right now, Plagg,” he said, even though he wished he was. Another day in there was another day in hell. “I’m finding another job first - I’m not stupid.”

Seeming to breathe out a sigh of relief, Plagg settled onto Adrien’s shoulder. “You had me worried there, kid.” He looked around, seeming to notice that Adrien wasn’t heading to his apartment. “Where are you going?”

“I’m heading over to Nino’s,” Adrien replied, watching as the city made the transition from daytime to the magic nights he’d grown fondly used to over the past couple of weeks. He pulled the chain that held his ring out from underneath his shirt, carefully unhooking the clasp and sliding the ring off the chain. He slipped the ring onto his finger, watching as the sparkle in the air turned into fogs of brightly colored magic. He breathed it all in and stuffed the chain into his pocket.

“You don’t need to wear your Sight Charm to see your friend,” Plagg said, after watching all of this silently.

“But I like seeing all this magic,” Adrien said, gesturing to the new varieties of people walking the streets and their unique characteristics. “I’ll take it off when I get to Nino’s.”

“Yeah, sure,” Plagg said sarcastically because he knew of Adrien’s growing fondness and borderline addiction to all things magic.

“Hey, Plagg,” Adrien said, watching as a woman stepped out of a clothing store and then promptly launched herself into the sky, “when can I learn how to do all that?”

“I don’t know,” Plagg quipped back. “When are you going to find your Gift?”

“I thought you were supposed to teach me that,” Adrien said, knowing his voice was sounding like a whine. He’d been watching the magic community from afar for weeks, and he’d yet to perform any magic of his own, other than getting Plagg to transform him, but that didn’t really seem like it counted. Plagg kept telling him to chill out until he found his Gift - that is, the magic that he was supposed to have been ‘gifted’ with at birth - but nothing happened. “Come on, Plagg.”

“There’s nothing I can do,” Plagg replied.

“There’s nothing I can do,” Adrien mimicked under his breath, and Plagg let out a low growl. Adrien stopped mimicking.

They reached Nino’s a few minutes later, and Adrien took in the nice suburban house with its neatly trimmed lawn, modest garden, and small iron gate. Nino lived with his mom, not because he couldn’t afford not to, but because he wanted to take care of her still, and up until a couple months ago, Adrien had called this house his home, too.

“Remember, Plagg,” Adrien said before he knocked. “No talking.”

“You act like I’m stupid,” Plagg muttered, and Adrien knocked on the door, rolling his eyes.

It wasn’t too late, so Adrien was expecting Nino’s mom to answer. But the woman who answered definitely wasn’t Nino’s mom.

A woman about Adrien’s age opened the door, wearing one of Nino’s shirts and a pair of glasses. Her curly brown hair was tied up into a loose bun, and she was yawning. “Hello?” she asked, finally focusing on Adrien, who had absolutely no idea how to act with some random girl answering Nino’s door for him.

“Oh, my god,” the girl said, her eyes widening and taking in Adrien from head to toe. “You’re him.”

“I’m sorry?” Adrien asked, and the girl laughed.

“Alya?” came Nino’s voice from behind the girl. “Who’s at the door?” Nino’s head peeked out from behind the girl, and he grinned. “Hey, Adrien!”

“Hey,” Adrien said weakly, walking inside of the familiar house as the unfamiliar girl stepped aside to let him in. “Um, who’s this?” he asked, gesturing to the girl.

Before Nino could answer, the girl stepped toward him, outstretching her hand to him. “My name is Alya Césaire,” she said, and Adrien took her hand, shaking it. He thought she looked a little familiar, but he couldn’t quite place her. “You must be Adrien Agreste.”

Adrien cast a look to Nino, who smiled encouragingly at him. “You’re right,” Adrien said slowly, looking back to Alya. “That’s me.”

“I’ve heard so much about you from Nino, and I’ve seen you in a few of Chloé Bourgeois’s videos,” she said, and Adrien grimaced a bit. He didn’t really like being in Chloe’s videos - he felt like it drew too much attention to him - and this sort of proved his point. “Nino,” Alya said, turning to Nino, “do you mind if I make some toaster waffles? I’m starving now that I’m awake.”

“Go ahead,” Nino said, and Alya went into the kitchen.

“I’ll make you guys some,” she called, and Adrien felt a little overwhelmed.

He waited until Alya was out of earshot, and then he whirled around to face his friend. “Nino, what?”

“I don’t know,” Nino said a little helplessly, shrugging his shoulders. “I was working at that high-profile wedding I told you about before, and then she started hitting on me, and she’s really nice and pretty, and I invited her back here.” Nino looked to the kitchen, rubbing the back of his neck. “She fell asleep a little after that.”

“Nino!” Adrien gasped. “Where is your mother?”

“She took the week out to Rome with her friends,” Nino said, raising his voice a little and then looking in the direction of the kitchen, quickly lowering his voice again. “And we didn’t even do anything,” he said, giving Adrien a look. “She’s a reporter, and so she doesn’t get a lot of sleep. We were just watching a movie.”

Adrien raised his eyebrows. “Nino, she’s wearing your shirt.”

“What, did you think I was going to let her lounge on my couch in her fancy clothes? You know lounging is sacred to me.”

“I do know that,” Adrien admitted. He sighed, chewing on the inside of his cheek and deciding to relent. “You scared me, Nino.”

Nino laughed, giving Adrien a light punch on the shoulder. “I was going to tell you tomorrow, man. You’ve got nothing to be scared about.” He picked up Plagg from off his shoulder, holding him up and smiling at him. “Man, it’s been a while since I’ve seen this little guy.”

Plagg yowled, and Nino shifted him so that he was holding him properly. Alya came back from the kitchen, holding a plate of toaster waffles, a jar of peanut butter, and a butter knife. “Cute cat,” she said, setting the plate and peanut butter down on the coffee table and sitting down on the carpet. “Is it yours, Adrien?”

“Yeah, he’s mine. His name is…” Adrien trailed off, looking closer at Alya’s face and suddenly realizing why she looked so familiar. He’d seen her at Ladybug’s shop. Talking to Ladybug.

He looked at Plagg in a state of panic, and Plagg also seemed to realize that they’d seen Alya before and divulging Plagg’s name might be a little bit of a crisis.

“What’s his name?” Alya asked, unaware that she was causing Adrien’s brain to have a slight heart attack as it ran a mental marathon to figure out how to fix this situation.

Nino raised an eyebrow at Adrien, not at all noticing that Adrien was crashing and burning. He turned back to Alya. “His name is Pl-”

“Cheese,” Adrien blurted, and Nino looked over at him again, absolutely bewildered. “He used to have a different name, but I decided that Cheese suits him more. And he likes it more.” Plagg was looking at him like he was about ready to commit murder.

“Well,” Nino said, patting the newly-christened Cheese on the head, “if he prefers it, I guess it’s alright.”

“What a unique name,” Alya said, stroking her fingers through Plagg’s soft fur. “How’d you come up with it?”

“Um,” Adrien said, fully aware that he’d come up with it just now in a fit of panic. “It’s his favorite food.”

“Speaking of food,” Alya said, turning to her plate of waffles. She started to slather peanut butter on the waffles, and Nino and Adrien watched her as she filled every waffle square with peanut butter. She bit into one when she was done, sighing happily. “Delicious.”

Adrien had never had such a… delicacy. There was a first time for everything. He took a peanut butter-covered waffle.

It wasn’t too bad, Adrien thought. It just got caught up in his teeth a lot, but it definitely wasn’t bad. He tore off a small piece and gave it to Plagg.

“So,” Alya said once they were all munching on the waffles. “In one of Chloe’s videos, you two went to my friend’s shop.” She was staring at Adrien with intense and inquisitive hazel eyes. Adrien tried to think of all the instances he and Chloe went places for one of her videos. “You know, Lucky Charm? Marinette’s place?”

“Oh, right,” Adrien said, remembering that particular day. When Chloe assumed things at the shop, got drunk at his place, and forced him to do her makeup for a video. “I’d forgotten that she’d put that in a video.”

“Are you two close?” Alya asked, and it sort of felt like a loaded question. Nino raised his eyebrows at him.

“Not extremely,” Adrien admitted. “But she is very nice, and we…” He trailed off, smiling a little to himself. “We’re friends.”

“Interesting,” she said, taking another bite of her peanut butter waffle. “We should hang out sometime.” At the blank looks she got from both Adrien and Nino, she gestured to them. “Like. All of us.”

“Oh,” Nino said, looking a little pleased.

Nino put on the movie him and Alya had been watching, and the three of them settled on the couch together, the waffles mostly gone. After only about ten minutes, Alya had curled up beside Nino and fallen asleep. Adrien saw his chance to finally talk about what he came here for.

He grabbed the remote from the coffee table and turned down the volume until it was almost silent. Nino looked over at him expectantly. “I’m going to quit my job, Nino,” Adrien said quietly, mindful of Alya.

There was a small moment of silence as Nino seemed to think about what Adrien had said. “What are you going to do?” he asked, shifting his position so that he could face Adrien, moving Alya’s head from his shoulder to his lap.

Adrien thought for a moment. “I don’t know. I thought maybe you could help me figure it out.”

“Hm.” Nino absent-mindedly ran his fingers through Alya’s hair, thinking. “It’s hard to figure out what you should do when you consider your education,” he said after a while, and Adrien sighed. He was right, which is why Adrien was having so much difficulty.

“If I could go back in time and slap myself for letting my father bully me into majoring in fashion design, I would,” Adrien said, wondering if that might actually be possible. He’d have to ask Plagg later.

“Well, you also studied business,” Nino said in the way someone did when they were grasping at straws. “So you could work for your choice of corporations, probably.”

The idea wasn’t appealing. Adrien sighed, running his fingers through Plagg’s short hair. “I’ve decided, Nino,” Adrien said after a moment. “I want to be a housewife.”

“Your cooking is subpar, and everything at your place is dusty.”

“Dusting is awful,” Adrien replied, leaning his head back on the couch and staring at the dark ceiling.

Silence stretched between them, and Adrien could tell Nino was working up the courage to say something. “You could always work for your dad again,” he finally said, and Adrien closed his eyes. “You’d be getting serious money, and you can always use that to jump into other companies or careers,” he hurried on, recognizing Adrien shutting down. “I know you don’t hate fashion, so you might be able to find something that you can spend your life doing.”

Adrien rubbed his eyes tiredly. “You’re forgetting something, Nino. My father hates me.”

Patting Adrien on the shoulder, Nino sighed. “It’s been a while since you’ve talked. Maybe he’s changed.”

“The only thing more resistant to change than my father is a slab of stone,” Adrien said, and Nino huffed out a soft laugh. Adrien allowed himself a quick smile, but it faded as he remembered working for his father. “I don’t want things to be the same as it was in high school and university. He had control of my entire life.”

“You’re older now, Adrien,” Nino said. “You can back out whenever you want to, and you can stand up to him.”

Adrien stayed silent. Could he? Could he really, truly stand up to him now?

“I’ll think about it,” Adrien finally said, and Nino breathed out a sigh of relief. “It’s late, though. I have to get going.” He stood up, waking up Plagg, who had been cat-napping on the couch next to him, and turned to Nino, who was giving him a worried look that was taken straight from his mom’s book. “It’ll be fine.”

“Alright, man,” Nino said, relaxing a little. “I would show you out, but…” He gestured down to Alya, who was still sleeping soundly on his lap.

“No worries,” Adrien said, placing Plagg on his shoulder and turning to leave.

“Oh, and Adrien?”

He turned around, raising his eyebrows.

“I’m glad you found yourself a good friend,” he said, and Adrien smiled. He was glad, too.

“Thanks, Nino,” he said, waving to him. “Goodnight.” He closed the front door quietly behind him, breathing in the night air, filled with a multitude of magical scents.

“Fashion design,” Plagg said, and Adrien rolled his eyes.

“Not entirely my idea.”

“It suits you,” he said, and Adrien wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or not. “Let’s go get some cheese.”

“Your namesake,” Adrien said, mostly teasing, and Plagg groaned. “Don’t get too mad at me. I panicked.”

“Don’t be surprised if you find cat puke in your shoes tomorrow.”

Adrien squinted at Plagg. “You wouldn’t.”

Plagg narrowed his eyes back. “I would.” Adrien grimaced. He would. “But I might reconsider if you buy me cheese tonight.”

They went to go buy cheese.

Chapter Text

As Plagg and Adrien walked out of the convenience store, Adrien holding a grocery bag of expensive cheese, a thought occurred to him. He checked his watch, changing his course from going home to going to Lucky Charm.

“Where are we going?” Plagg asked, sounding way too whiny and exhausted for someone who had been hitching a ride on Adrien’s shoulder for their entire walk.

“I want to go see Ladybug,” Adrien said, ducking into a back alley that was seemingly empty.

“And why would you want to do that when your bed is waiting for you?” Plagg paused. “And me, too.”

“Maybe,” Adrien said, taking Plagg off his shoulder and setting him down on top of a pile of empty cardboard boxes, “Ladybug will have some magic advice for me.” It sounded stupid, and Plagg didn’t try and make him feel any better about it.

“Maybe,” Plagg mimicked, looking very unimpressed, “she’ll just tell you the same thing your friend did.”

Go to your father, find something beneficial for your future, blah, blah, blah.

“Well, we won’t know if we don’t ask,” Adrien replied, and Plagg sighed. “So can you Transform me? Please?”

“You owe me another cheese. Camembert, to be precise,” Plagg said, and Adrien nodded. With another sigh, Plagg closed his glowing green eyes, his sleek black tail flicking almost irritably.

A strange and familiar tingling sensation overcame Adrien’s body, a cloud of sparkling green magic clinging to his clothes. His work slacks tightened and tore into a pair of black, ripped jeans cuffed at the ankles; his black work shoes morphed into a pair of comfortable all-black sneakers. The white button-down he wore became leather, the buttons transforming into a zipper that unzipped by itself to reveal a black wife-beater. His hair ruffled in the magic-induced wind, and he felt the familiar weight of the black cat ears emerging from his head, twitching at all the night sounds. For the finishing touches, the black domino mask crawled its way across his face, a golden bell on a black choker tinkled on his neck, and a sleek, black tail rolled out from his jeans.

Such was becoming the regular outfit Adrien found himself Transforming into.

Plagg opened his eyes, taking in the leather jacket with the silver studs and the little bell, both accents that Plagg wasn’t too fond of. “Now I know why it’s so flashy,” he sighed, and Adrien raised an eyebrow, looking down at his Transformed clothes, which he was extremely fond of. “Fashion major,” he said.

Adrien scoffed, scooping Plagg up and putting him on his shoulder. “You don’t need to be a fashion major to have style.”

“Sure, Mr. Fashion Major.”

They continued walking to Lucky Charm, and Adrien was having much difficulty in trying not to be distracted by the magical sights around him. There were street vendors calling to him - “the handsome monsieur in black” - enticing him with magic ice cream and mirrors that could show him his future.

Every time Adrien seemed to get off course, though, Plagg nipped at his ear, and Adrien politely declined the vendors, getting back on track. “You know those things are mostly bogus, right, kid?” Plagg asked.

Adrien looked at him. “What?”

“Cheap tricks for a cheap penny,” Plagg replied, nodding his head to the mirror vendor. “Future Seers are in fact very rare, and actually hate telling anyone the future. Messes with the Time Threads, which is no small thing, mind you.”

That made sense, Adrien supposed. Science fiction told time and time again that messing with time wouldn’t do any good - he’d just finished the tale of Adelynne and Moor and the evil supervillain who messed up time - so that wasn’t so hard to believe. “What about the ice cream?” Adrien asked, glancing over at the kind looking man who was handing a large ice cream to a lovey-dovey couple.

“Ice cream that makes you fall in love?” Plagg scoffed, shaking his head. “Forcing emotions like love is dark stuff, kid. Didn’t you read Harry Potter?”

Blinking, Adrien looked over at Plagg. “You’ve read Harry Potter?”

“Fu reads out loud,” Plagg said, as if that was an explanation. “But anyway, you know Voldy-wart was the product of a relationship built on a love potion. Bad things happen when you meddle with emotions.”

“So what you’re saying,” Adrien said slowly, “is that Harry Potter is real.”

“Not entirely,” Plagg replied, as if this was not ground breaking news. “A lot of the magic aspects are true, but hardly anyone diddles around with sticks for spells anymore, and the characters and story are entirely fiction.”

They were in front of Lucky Charm now, and Adrien stopped with his hand on the door, looking seriously at Plagg because this was a serious question. “Is Hogwarts real?”

Plagg thought for a moment. “Not really.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” came a voice from beside Adrien, “that Hogwarts as an institution doesn’t exist, but many normal schools and universities offer magical classes at night.” Adrien whipped around, finding the source of the voice, which was in fact Ladybug.

“Oh,” Adrien said, finding himself a little tongue-twisted. He hadn’t seen her in a couple of days, restraining himself from coming on too strong and giving her some time to think about their shared task, so the sight of her was a little much for him.

She was practically glowing in the night, her inky black hair seeming to shimmer into blues and purples in the reflection of the night lights and glimmering mists, her blue eyes catching the life of the stars and street lamps. As Adrien looked a little closer, he realized she actually was glowing - her skin was radiating a faint red glow of magic.

“You came at the right time,” she continued, seemingly oblivious to the red glow around her. “I just got back from some errands.” She nudged him aside, pulling out her keys and fumbling with them for a moment before unlocking the door.

They stepped inside, Adrien letting her go first, and Ladybug waved her hand at the door absently. It closed behind them, and the ‘be back later’ sign switched out to ‘closed.’ Adrien tried to pretend such a nonchalant display of magic didn’t amaze him. From the slow smile that slid onto her face, he guessed he didn’t do a good job.

“I’m guessing you came to talk about Mrs. Agreste?” she asked, gesturing for him to follow her to the back room where they had done the scrying.

“Well,” Adrien said, pausing to watch as the little fairy, Tikki, jumped out of Ladybug’s pocket, waving at him. He waved back. “Not just that, I’ll admit.”

He sat down at the old wooden table, lounging on the equally old chair. Plagg jumped onto the table and sat down, and Tikki flew over to sit beside him. Ladybug went over to the kettle, filling it with tap water at the small sink and putting it on the portable burner. There was something about her movements that made Adrien feel like something was off.

“Tea?” she asked, turning around to look at him. She looked tired.

“If it’s not too much to ask,” he replied, and she waved her hand in the air in reply, turning back to the counter and pulling her box of tea bags to her. She rifled through the little bags until she found what she was looking for, and then she set the tea bags aside, going to sit across from Adrien to wait for the water to boil.

She sat for a moment, staring at the table, and then she undid her hair, running her fingers through it and sighing. When the kettle screamed, she moved to stand, but Adrien stood instead.

“I’ll get it,” he said, and she sat back down, giving him a grateful little smile.

“I’m sorry, Chat,” she said as he found a couple mugs and a bowl for Plagg in her cupboards. “It’s been a rough night, I guess.”

“Want to talk about it?” he asked, plopping the tea bags in the cups and bowl. “I swear I’m a good listener.” He turned off the burner and carefully poured the water onto the tea bags.

Ladybug let out a small laugh, watching as he brought her mug first and then grabbed his and Plagg’s. “I bet you say that to all the girls.”

“What other girls?” Adrien replied, sitting down once more. She laughed, but only a little. He blew on his tea, and he observed her expression, trying to catch the emotion that was hiding just below the surface as her smile faded away.

“Hm,” she hummed, taking a sip from her tea without even blowing on it. Adrien wondered if her tongue was fireproof. “Just had a bad dream that put me in a bad mood, that’s all,” she said, and Adrien actually saw her brush it off - lifting the invisible weight of her shoulders and straightening up. “So what’s up?”

“Was there any progress on my… on Mrs. Agreste?” Adrien asked, not being able to help himself.

Ladybug chewed on the inside of her cheek, tracing the rim of her mug. “I did some research. I know that she’s married to the fashion designer Gabriel Agreste and that they have a son, Adrien Agreste.”

Adrien felt a little woozy. His name sounded so good on her lips.

“She disappeared little over a decade ago, and many speculated it was because of her failing marriage with Gabriel,” Ladybug continued, transitioning from chewing on the inside of her cheek to chewing on her thumbnail. “But she was dedicated to her son. I doubt she’d leave him behind.”

Snapping back to himself, Adrien glanced over at Plagg. “You know this just from research?”

“Some articles talked about how Emilie would bring her son to sets she was filming on so that she could be with him,” she said with a shrug. “In interviews, she described her son as the best thing that had ever happened to her.” Her voice grew a little quieter, and she looked down at the table. “She loved him very much.”

“You’re right,” Adrien said, voice hoarse. “She wouldn’t leave him behind.”

“Are you still having those dreams?” she asked, clearing her throat.

“Every night,” he responded, rubbing his head. “Do you know anything else?”

“I’m still trying to brainstorm how to find her,” she said, chewing on her thumbnail again and lapsing into deep thought. “I have some ideas, but I’m not sure how effective they’ll be.”

“Anything helps,” Adrien said, trying to coax the ideas out of her, but to no avail.

“You’re right, Chat,” she responded as she stopped chewing on her thumbnail and smiling a little. “I’ll give you updates when I actually can.” Adrien nodded, wishing there was something they could be doing now. “Didn’t you say you came here for something else?” she asked, running a hand through her bangs and again seeming to brush the invisible weight off her shoulders.

“Well…” Adrien trailed off, starting to think that perhaps troubling her more with details about his mundane life might just burden her more. “I wanted to know how to find out what my Gift is,” he finally said, glancing over at Plagg, who was lounging while Tikki huffed at his tea to cool it down.

“Just that?” Ladybug asked, sitting up and looking a little more genuinely chipper than before. “I would’ve thought that you wanted to work more on finding Mrs. Agreste.”

“I do want to do that,” Adrien said, nodding maybe a little too enthusiastically. “But I don’t want just you to do all the work. It doesn’t seem fair.” She laughed. He frowned. “Why is that funny?”

“Trained witches and wizards commision me for my talents every night,” she said, drinking more of her tea and tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, “and they’ve never offered to help.” Adrien frowned a little more. He was struggling to find the humor in this. She seemed to notice, biting her lip. “Let’s see, it’s like… It’s like offering to help the man who’s going to build you a chair when you have no experience in building furniture.”

“Oh,” he said, still not understanding.

“It’s sweet,” she finally said, smiling softly at him, and his heart thumped.

“Oh,” he said again, his stomach doing a little dance.

She seemed oblivious to the party going on inside Adrien’s heart and stomach as she thought, tapping her pointer finger on her chin. “There’s a few ways to figuring out your Gift that I know of, but most of them are a little dangerous.”

Adrien snapped out of his internal party, glancing over at Plagg. “Like what?”

“Like going through traumatic experiences such as drowning or falling off of buildings to invoke the instinct to save yourself using your magic,” she said as if this was not alarming news. “Or we could duel and see how you respond - basically the same as the traumatic experience one.”

“Um,” Adrien said, suddenly feeling very nervous and almost regretting asking about how to invoke his gift. “If you don’t mind me asking, how’d you discover your own Gift?”

There was a brief moment of silence, and Ladybug looked down at her mug of tea, her finger tapping lightly on the rim of the cup where her red lipstick had left behind an imprint of color.

“When I was about nine years old,” she started softly, as if she didn’t say these words often, “I got into a car crash that could’ve killed me and my parents. All three of us got out without so much as a bruise,”  she paused, lifting up her arms as if to show him that they were unscarred. “My parents saw the magic around me before I even figured out we were safe,” she finished, putting her arms down.

“But I thought…”

“That necromancy was my Gift?” Ladybug asked, tracing the rim of her mug. “Many do. My actual Gift is Luck.” She knocked her mug off the table, and before Adrien could even react, she snapped her fingers, sparks of pink magic bursting from her fingers. The mug landed face up on the floor, not a drop of tea spilled. The air smelled sweet. “It’s not a talent that I enjoy exploiting,” she continued, leaning down and picking up the mug, taking a sip.

“That’s amazing,” Adrien said, staring at the mug and breathing in the sweet scent of her pink magic that drifted lightly through the air. “It smells like candy,” he commented, sighing contently, and Ladybug raised her eyebrows.

“I’ve always thought it smelled like something sour,” she said, her nose wrinkling as she waved her hand to make the pink magic dissipate. “Luck’s not always on my side, even if it is my Gift.”

“What do you mean?” Adrien asked, sipping at his tea.

“It’s a finicky, old type of magic,” she said with a shrug. “Magic like that requires balance. If I had too much luck, I’d offset the balance, and people around me could suffer for it.”

Adrien guessed that made sense. “Is that why you learned necromancy?”

“To make a long story short, yes,” she said, and Adrien got the feeling that particular topic had been skipped on purpose. “But back to the matter at hand. Finding your Gift.”

“I don’t want to fall of a building,” Adrien said, and Ladybug laughed as if that was a joke. Adrien liked the sound of her laugh a lot, but he didn’t really think that falling off a building was a laughing matter.

“We don’t have to go that far yet,” she said, and the ‘yet’ made Adrien feel a little - a lot - nervous. “First, I can do some Sensing. That way I can see how much magic you have in you, what type it is, and how best to bring it out.”

Adrien looked over at Plagg to see if he was paying attention. Him and Tikki were playing a game of solitaire together. He wondered vaguely where they had gotten the cards.

“Sense away,” he said, looking back to Ladybug.

“This table’s going to get in the way,” she said a little absently, getting up from her seat to kneel in front of Adrien’s chair.

“G-get in the way of what?” Adrien stuttered, looking down at Ladybug and feeling more than a little overwhelmed. He heard Plagg and Tikki laughing quietly.

Ladybug looked up at him, seemingly unaware of the compromising position they were in. “For this level of Sensing, I need to be physically touching you in the places where your soul resides,” she said, and Adrien felt like he was having a heart attack.

“Ah,” he said, nodding. He heard Plagg snort rather loudly.

“Lean forward,” Ladybug said, and Adrien obeyed, closing his eyes because he needed to gain at least a little bit of control over himself.

He felt her hand rest gently on the crown of his head, right between his cat ears. Her other hand slid over his shirt, coming to rest right where his his heart was. Heart pumping triple the amount it was used to, Adrien opened his eyes, looking at Ladybug to see if she had noticed.

She was staring at his chest, and then she looked up at him. “Are you nervous?” she asked.

“You could say that,” he responded, his voice a lot more like a whisper than he had intended.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” she said, smiling at him.

He nodded, and she closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. A haze of pink and red magic oozed out of her pores, riding on her exhale, spreading from her fingertips where they rested on him. The air crackled with energy, and the sweet scent of her magic filled the air, along with another scent, more grounded, more earthy. He guessed it was probably the red magic, the necromancy.

They were there for a very long time, so long that Adrien started to worry. Ladybug had one knee on the ground, which meant it probably hurt a lot. He regretted not suggesting for her to get into a more comfortable, less straining position.

Plagg and Tikki had stopped their game of solitaire to sit beside Adrien on the table and watch. Adrien almost felt like asking them what was happening and why it was taking so long and if something was wrong, but he sort of felt like talking would break Ladybug’s focus. So he remained silent, watching Ladybug.

At last, she opened her eyes, and the cloud of magic dissipated. She looked at Adrien, her eyebrows furrowed, and she took her hands away from him. “This is strange,” she said, getting up from her spot on the ground to sit back in her chair.

“That doesn’t sound good,” he said, watching as she leaned her head in her hands, tapping her fingers against her cheeks. “What’s strange?” he asked, glancing over at Plagg, who was pointedly not looking at him.

“You’re filled with magic. Close to bursting with it, in fact,” she said, leaning back in her chair and crossing her arms over her chest, staring at him thoughtfully. “And it’s powerful, too. I couldn’t tell what type, but I know it’s an old, rare type.”

Adrien frowned. “Is that what the strange part is?”

“The strange part is that it’s Locked inside of you,” Ladybug said, her expression filled with concern.

“I don’t understand,” Adrien said slowly.

“It means,” Tikki said, flying up from her place beside Plagg to hovering at Adrien’s eye-level, “that you or someone else has cast a spell on you to make it so that you can’t access your magic,” she said, and Adrien shook his head slowly, still a little baffled.

“But what does that mean?” he asked, looking between Ladybug and Tikki, trying to understand.

“It means,” Plagg said, speaking up for the first time since they’d started, “that there’s nothing that she can do.” They all looked at him, and the little black cat stared down at the wooden table. “To get out of a Lock, the person who did it has to undo it.”

“You knew,” Adrien realized, staring at Plagg as a mixture of emotions overwhelmed him. “This whole time, you knew.” He sat back in his chair, shaking his head. Plagg seemed to sink a little further into the table. “And you didn’t say anything.”

“I did, punk,” Plagg hissed, his ears twitching in annoyance. “I told you that there was nothing I could do, that you had to find it yourself,” he said, acting like he was ready to pounce, and Adrien leaned forward, daring him to.

“But you could’ve said something. A little heads up would’ve been nice,” Adrien growled back, and Ladybug put her hand on his shoulder, and a wave of calm washed over him. He looked at her hand, recognizing the haze of magic around her. “Sorry,” he said, leaning back in his chair and feeling a little embarrassed. “I’m just a little frustrated.”

“As you should be,” she said, retracting her hand and petting Plagg softly. He melted under her touch, though it looked like he tried very hard to not make it so obvious. “Locks are complicated magic, and the fact that you had one put on you without you even knowing it is… worrying to say the least.”

“So what am I supposed to do?” Adrien asked, his voice a little smaller than he meant it to be. He really wanted to help Ladybug out with finding his mother, and he really felt like for the first time, he had the chance to belong somewhere - only to have that chance taken away by a spell he didn’t even know existed until now.

“You have to find the person who Locked your magic,” Ladybug said, glancing over at Tikki.

“That won’t be necessary,” Plagg piped up, and Adrien looked at him. “Chat’s Lock is his own.”

Ladybug nodded slowly, as if this made sense. “I understand now,” she said, looking at Plagg very seriously. “That’s why you told him that only he could do it.” She nodded again, as if confirming that this was still in fact making sense. Adrien still wasn’t understanding. “That’s also why I couldn’t get a closer look in my Sense. Chat himself was pushing me away subconsciously."

“I don’t get it,” Adrien finally said as a mutual understanding seemed to pass between Ladybug, Plagg, and Tikki.

“They’re saying that at some point in your life, you discovered your Gift, but for whatever reason, you ended up Locking it up so that you couldn’t use it,” Tikki explained helpfully. “And the memory of you Locking it was then suppressed.”

Adrien frowned, his frown growing deeper as he thought harder about what this could mean. “I could’ve known about magic for years and years, and you’re telling me that I just… threw it all away?” he asked, and Ladybug looked at him sympathetically.

“Most Gifts manifest during childhood, so…” She trailed off. “Yes.” Adrien blew out a breath, looking up at the ceiling and trying so very hard to understand. “But,” Ladybug continued on, rushing her words a little, “whatever your Gift was, it might’ve been too much for you to handle at the time. And you’re here now. Which means that I can guide you and help you.”

He ran a hand through his hair, clenching his jaw and trying hard not to let her know how upset he was. But she seemed to catch on anyway.

“In a world that’s filled with magic, life is bonded to a larger purpose,” Ladybug said, her comforting blue eyes catching and holding his. “We are made of stardust, soil, and purpose. Everything that happens is not just mere coincidence, but rather what many call fate.” When she saw his frown, she took a deep breath, as if trying to collect better words.  “It’s fate that you found magic now rather than earlier, and it’s fate that brought you here rather than anywhere else. We may not like it, but we must accept it and push forward.”

Adrien stared, the words sinking in, etching into the inside of his skull. He sighed. “Fate sucks.”

Ladybug laughed. “No one ever said it didn’t.”


---


The sun was starting to show its face by the time Adrien and Plagg left Lucky Charm, the sky turning the deep blue of night into shades of pink and orange. They ducked in a back alley for Adrien to DeTransform, and as Adrien was slipping his ring back onto its chain, Plagg sighed.

“I’m sorry, kid,” Plagg said, and Adrien looked at him. “For not telling you about the Lock.”

“Yeah,” Adrien said, picking Plagg up and placing him on his shoulder. “That really sucked.”

“It was kind of fun seeing you get angry, though,” Plagg said, and Adrien chewed on the inside of his cheek. Plagg cocked his head to the side, pawing gently at Adrien’s stomach.

“I really am sorry, kid,” he said, even more gently this time, which told Adrien he really did mean it. “I was hoping you’d UnLock it yourself at some point since I knew you’d be frustrated if you found out like this.”

“It’s okay, Plagg,” Adrien said, giving him a soft scratch on his little cat head. “It’s just… There’s something bothering me.”

“What is it?” Plagg asked, shaking his head and pretending he hadn’t liked Adrien petting him.

“When Ladybug was telling her story of how she’d learned what her Gift was, she said her parents recognized her magic.” Adrien frowned, leaning against the alley wall and staring hard at the dirty bricks on the other side of him.

“Yeah, and?”

“To… Lock my magic away, wouldn’t I have had to use it in the first place?” Adrien asked, looking back to Plagg. “Wouldn’t someone have noticed?”

Plagg’s eyes widened as he started to catch on. “With your amount of power? Definitely.”

Adrien took out his phone from his back pocket, scrolling through his contacts until he got to the one he was looking for. He hesitated for a moment, wondering if this was something he really, truly wanted to do.

And then he pressed the ‘call’ button.

Despite the early hour, she answered on the second ring. “Nathalie Sancoeur, assistant to Mr. Gabriel Agreste.”

“Hey, Nathalie, it’s me,” Adrien said, taking a deep breath. “I’d like to schedule a visit with my father.”

 

Chapter Text

“You aren’t going to sleep?” Tikki asked as Marinette retreated upstairs. Chat had just left, and despite the fact that it was dawn and she should be sleeping, she completely avoided her bedroom.

“DeTransform me, please,” Marinette said, and the red and black ensemble that Tikki had provided her gave way to her pajamas. She rubbed at her eyes, going to the kitchen and grabbing a box of cereal. “And no. I really don’t want to.”

“Marinette,” Tikki said, her voice getting that concerned tone that Marinette had sort of gotten used to ever since Tikki had joined her. “You always sleep for a bit before you open the shop for the day.”

She did. It was her schedule that kept her from collapsing from having to run the shop in the day and the night. Sleep before the day, run the bookstore, sleep before the night, run the magic shop. But sleep wasn’t exactly appealing at the moment.

“I just…” She trailed off, pouring her cereal into a bowl and grabbing the milk from the fridge. She stayed silent for a moment and Tikki came to rest on her shoulder, watching as she poured the milk into her bowl and carried it to the table, grabbing a spoon on her way.

“It’s about that dream you had, isn’t it?” Tikki asked softly, and Marinette sighed, sitting down at the table. Instead of eating her cereal, she stared at it. Tikki came off her shoulder and sat down in front of her bowl.

Frustratingly, she felt tears prick at the back of her eyes, and she scrubbed at her face, tucking her hair behind her ears. “It’s not just the dream, Tikki. That would imply that it was all just in my head.”

The night before had been no walk in the park. During her sleep before the opening the magic shop, she’d had an awful dream about an acquaintance of hers, Stormy Weather. When she’d woken up in a cold sweat, she’d left the shop closed and had Tikki disguise her as she searched for Stormy in all her usual hang outs. No one had known where she was, and Ladybug had ultimately returned to the shop without any news on Stormy only to have her new acquaintance, Chat Noir, bless her with the news that he wanted to help but couldn’t because he’d Locked his magic without being aware of it.

“She could’ve taken the night to rest,” Tikki suggested, but it didn’t seem to soothe either of them.

“It felt so real,” Marinette said with a shiver. “I watched her just… lose control of herself.” The images from her dream came to her, mostly against her will.

Stormy, standing in a bathroom. Stormy, filling up the bathtub. Stormy, sinking under the water. Stormy, turning the water to ice. All the while, a blank expression on her face, her eyes glazed over.

“I should’ve tried harder to find her,” Marinette murmured to herself, and Tikki shook her head.

“You did all that you could,” she said, patting Marinette’s arm. “Stormy will turn up.” But Marinette didn’t miss the doubt in her voice.

By the time Marinette resigned herself to eat her cereal, it was soggy. She ended up throwing it away, and told herself that she’d just get a coffee from the cafe down the street before she opened the shop.

She went about getting ready, washing her face and brushing her teeth, and figuring out what to do with her hair. She crammed it into low pigtails and barely bothered checking if they were even.

As she was leaving her room, she paused at her desk, where she had put the files she’d complied on Emilie Agreste. After a moment’s debate, she grabbed them and headed to the cafe, letting Tikki into her cardigan pocket as she left the shop.

At the cafe, sitting in her usual spot by the windows with a rather large coffee, she read over the files again, trying to find anything at all that could point her in the right direction. There was nothing that wasn’t there before. It seemed the morning wasn’t going any better than the night.

Halfway through her coffee, Marinette took a break from reading and rereading the file to stare blankly at the television up in the corner of the cafe. It was turned on to the news, and the story was dismal, if Marinette was reading the subtitles right. A seemingly happy weather girl had been found dead in her home. Apparent suicide.

Marinette left the cafe in a dismal mood, clutching the half-empty coffee cup. She dropped her keys as she was trying to unlock the shop door and had to gather every ounce of strength before bending down to pick them up again. She spilled the remains of her coffee as she did so.

Sometimes, throwing a fit and cursing like a seasoned sailor at anything and everything seemed like a good option. She took a deep breath.

Barely restraining herself, Marinette finally opened the shop and took her place behind the counter, tossing the Emilie Agreste file to the side and throwing away the coffee. When she checked her pocket for emotional support from Tikki, she found the little pixie in a deep sleep.

She decided to let Tikki sleep, going to her magic books section and grabbing one that she remembered including something about Locks. Might as well try to do some studying to help Chat in this way if she couldn’t the other way - that is, finding Emilie.

Customers came and went, but they were all unusually quiet. Of course, Marinette was used to quiet in her store, but customers normally chattered with her about their lives and books they read and the latest neighborhood gossip. She wondered if they had all caught on to her mood, which was currently resting in the deepest of graves.

Perhaps she should consider building a gravestone for it.

On a nearby sticky note, she doodled a design for her mood’s grave. It read as follows: “Here lies Marinette’s Mood. Was very loved and brought much happiness, ultimately killed by bad luck and suspicious circumstances. Rest in peace.” She thought it looked rather nice.

“Marinette, I think that’s overkill,” Tikki said, staring at the doodle.

“It did make me feel better, though,” Marinette said, standing up and stretching. “It’s just the right amount of overkill.”

It was closing time, and so Marinette flipped the sign to ‘closed’ and locked the front door. She eyed the Agreste file on the counter for a moment, finally deciding to take it up with her. It wouldn’t hurt to read it again before she slept.

As she was getting ready for bed, Marinette turned on some upbeat music, dancing along and singing the lyrics under her breath. Tikki observed from the bed, watching as Marinette picked out matching red and black polka-dotted pajama shorts and tank top. “This is not what I’d expect from someone who spent the entire day moping,” Tikki said.

Marinette slipped into the pajamas, enjoying the luxurious silky feel of them. “I’m a witch, Tikki. Superstitious as they get.” She looked in her mirror and applied her moisturizer. “Going to sleep in a bad mood means waking up in bad mood. I’ve neglected enough customers today because of this bad mood, thank you very much.”

She turned off the lights and the music, climbing into bed and turning on her bedside lamp to read the Agreste file once more.

“Won’t that just make you more upset?” Tikki asked, resting on Marinette’s pillow.

“Not if I don’t think too hard,” Marinette said, opening the file and looking on at Emilie Agreste’s charming face. “And besides, I’m finding that I like her.”

“She was really nice,” Tikki said, and Marinette moved the file so that Tikki could see as well. “The only bad thing people said about her was that she was too casual for someone so famous.”

Marinette flipped idly through the file, skipping over the parts that included Adrien, and skimming over the words. “A millionaire that shops at the local grocery stores, recognizes her fans, and donates most of her own money to charity.” She paused at a paparazzi picture of Emilie at a grocery store buying box of instant noodles. “I think that…” Marinette trailed off, tracing her finger over the picture. “I think that she’s good woman. A good mother.”

“I think that, too,” Tikki said, flipping through the pages just as Marinette had and stopping at a picture of Emilie and Adrien together, taken through the window of a fancy restaurant. Marinette couldn’t decide which of the two was more beautiful. “They look very happy,” Tikki said, leaning closer to the picture. “Adrien has a cute smile,” she said, and Marinette snorted and choked at the same time.

“Tikki!” she exclaimed, slapping the file shut and holding it away from the little pixie. “Are you trying to make me revert to my stalker mode?”

“What?” Tikki asked innocently, blinking her big blue eyes at Marinette. “You can’t admire him without being weird about it?”

It was a logical thing to ask, which is why Marinette hated it. She fumed for a moment, placing the file on her bedside table and turning off her lamp. Burrowing underneath her comforter, Marinette fumed some more.

“He’s… very pretty,” Marinette finally said, regretting it the second it came out of her mouth because she was suddenly bombarded by thoughts of Adrien meeting her in the cafe because he wanted to, of Adrien reading her favorite book, of Adrien smiling and laughing and being absolutely perfect for absolutely no reason.

“I didn’t know blushes could actually make your face glow in the dark,” Tikki laughed, and Marinette squaked, covering her face with her hands.

 

---

 

“Ladybug.”

Marinette stirred, caught somewhere between being awake and being asleep.

“Ladybug, please.”

It was cold. Marinette shivered.

“Ladybug, wake up!”

Bolting upright, Marinette gasped for air, her eyes scanning her dark room wildly. Her breath was coming fast, and she felt as if her very bones were submerged in ice water. She turned on her lamp and then looked around again, but she couldn’t see anyone - or anything - that could’ve called her.

And she could’ve sworn someone called her.

It took a while for her to calm down, and it took even longer for her to get even an ounce of warmth back into her body. Tikki had woken up as well, blinking as Marinette wrapped herself in her blankets and took deep breaths. Still shivering, she looked at Tikki, who was still rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. “T-tell me you heard that,” Marinette said, her teeth chattering.

“Someone called to you,” Tikki said, and Marinette nodded, clutching her blankets a little tighter around herself. At least now she was sure it hadn’t been a dream. “Did you see who it was?”

“N-no,” Marinette said, finally resigning herself to stand and grab her heavy wool sweater from her closet. Added underneath the blanket, it helped, but not enough. “Whoever it was, though, they were a ghost,” she said, trying to control her shivers as she turned off the fan in her room and turned on her lights.

“How do you know?” Tikki asked, following Marinette as she went to the kitchen to grab something to eat before opening up the shop for the night.

“I’ve been Passed Through before by many ghosts,” she said pulling out a packet of porridge from her pantry and skimming over the instructions before setting about to make it. “It’s never fun, and it always leaves me feeling like I’m in the middle of a blizzard.”

She set a pot to boil some water and held her hands over the gradually warming water.

Tikki watched from the countertop, opening up the porridge packet for her. “How long does it last?”

The water started to bubble. Marinette shrugged. “For other people, only a few seconds. But I’ve developed a particular sensitivity to all things death-related, so…” She trailed off, wondering at the back of her mind if she should dip her hands in the boiling water. “The last time I was Passed Through by a ghost, the shivers lasted for 12 hours, give or take.” She decided not to burn her hands, taking the porridge packet from Tikki and pouring in the formula.

“That’s awful,” Tikki said, giving a little shiver of her own.

“Yes, it is,” Marinette replied, shifting the blanket she’d lifted from her bed around her shoulders so that she could grab a spoon to stir her porridge. “But I’ve been Passed Through more than a few times, so even if I hate it, I accept it.”

After the porridge was done, Marinette poured a hefty portion into her bowl and cradled the hot bowl in her hands, her hands getting some feeling back from the heat. She and Tikki sat at the kitchen table, and Marinette was done with her porridge in a matter of seconds - even if she’d feel the repercussions of downing hot porridge on her throat later, it felt like heavenly fire at the moment.

“I wonder who that ghost was” Marinette said, wiping the porridge from her mouth. She didn’t particularly feel like getting out of her chair because she’d found a comfortable position to sit, so she sat there for a moment, thinking. “They called me Ladybug, so it was definitely a mage of some sort.”

“Any recent deaths that come to mind?” Tikki asked, sticking her finger in a small puddle of porridge that Marinette had spilled in her haste and giving it a little taste.

“Not that I can think of,” Marinette said, thinking hard. “And I like to keep tabs on that sort of thing just in case.” She tapped her fingers on the edge of her bowl, humming. “Whoever it was, they seemed desperate. I do hope they come by again.”

She glanced over at the oven clock, sighing. It was close to opening time, so she stood up and washed out the pot and the bowl. When she was done, she turned to Tikki. “Do you mind giving me something warm for tonight?”

“I was way ahead of you,” Tikki said, whizzing over to Marinette and waiting as she put in her earrings. “Just say the magic words.”

Marinette laughed. “Tikki, Transform me.”

Pink and red magic swirled around Marinette’s clothes, stretching out her sleep shorts and turning them into a pair of black leggings. Her slippers thickened and grew up her legs, stopping at her shins as a pair of hefty, fur-lined red boots. Her sleep shirt and woolen sweater merged together, turning into a comfortable and warm sweater with black polka-dots on the red fabric. The blankets around her shoulders tore into three pieces, shrinking down to a wide and shimmering black scarf, a red beanie, which was pulled down over her ears, and a thick black peacoat. For the final touch, a red-spotted-black domino mask crawled over her eyes, the pink and red magic sparking warmly over her face.

Anyone who came into the shop might give her two glances because of her winter gear in this late summer heat, but she didn’t mind. Although she still felt shivers from deep inside, she felt warmer than before, which was good enough for her.

“You’re a lifesaver, Tikki,” Marinette praised, rubbing her hands over her sleeves to give herself a little more warmth. “Outdone yourself as usual.” She looked down at the boots, admiring their style. “I should actually get some like these.”

“You really should,” Tikki said, coming to rest on Marinette’s shoulder. “They look good on you.”

Smiling, Marinette went down to the shop and flipped the sign to ‘open.’ There was still something heavy weighing down the back of her mind - like the air wasn’t fitting the room quite right - but she took a deep breath. She couldn’t stay focused on that; it’d only make her mood die again.

She was still walking back to the counter when the shop door opened and in walked Chat along with his cat friend, Plagg, on his shoulder. “Hey,” he said, and Marinette turned around, stuffing her ice cold hands in her pockets and raising her eyebrows.

“I didn’t expect you back so soon,” she said, looking him over. The cat ears that poked out of his head of messy blonde curls were slightly droopy, and his posture was hesitant, like he was scared she’d tell him to leave. She waved him over. “Not that I mind, of course.”

“Right,” he said, relaxing just the slightest. He followed her to the counter, letting Plagg down. Tikki buzzed over to sit by the cat, petting his fur and chattering quietly while Plagg listened. Chat spared them a glance before looking back to Marinette. “I just… sort of had a rough day.”

“To be quite honest, me too,” Marinette said with a shrug. A wave of shivers overcame her and she tucked her chin into her scarf, closing her eyes and trying to get the smallest hints of warmth back into her body.

“What’s with the winter clothes?” Chat asked, the shivers episode not escaping him. “Not that it’s not cute, but it’s the most humid and gross out that it has been all year.”

“I got Passed Through by a ghost earlier,” she said as the most recent shivers passed by, being replaced by a dull and aching cold that was slightly more bearable. “It’s left me with the shivers.”

“A ghost?” Chat exclaimed, choking a little bit over the word.

“Yes,” Marinette said slowly.

Chat looked at Tikki and Plagg and then back to Marinette. “Is that, like, a normal thing that happens to you?” Marinette laughed.

“Kid, she’s a necromancer,” Plagg said, and Chat squinted at him. “She works with dead people all the time.”

“Right,” Marinette said, momentarily taking a cold hand out of her peacoat pocket to adjust her beanie. “Dead people includes ghosts, which I see quite often. Being Passed Through, however, is a little rarer since it’s unpleasant for ghosts, too. It’s still happened a few more times than I’d like, though,” she admitted, stuffing her hand back into her pocket and trying to bury herself in the clothes that should’ve made her feel a lot warmer.

“So you’re really cold because of it?” he asked, and Marinette nodded. He seemed to think for a second, and then he started to taking off his flashy leather jacket with the silver studs and elaborate seams.

“Chat, you don’t have to-”

“It’s only for style anyway,” Chat interrupted, holding the jacket out to her a little sheepishly. “To be honest, it was making me hot.”

He hardly knew Marinette, really. He only knew that she was talented and that she promised to help him. And yet he was offering her his jacket like it was nothing. Chivalry was not dead, she supposed.

Silently, she slipped off her peacoat, took the jacket from Chat, and then put her peacoat on over it. It helped her feel a little warmer despite the persisting cold. The buttery black leather of the jacket slid over her fingers, and she looked down to see that the sleeves far exceeded that of her peacoat and covered the majority of her hands. Chat laughed. Marinette snorted.

“Let me help you out, yeah?” he asked, reaching forward.

“That’d be much appreciated,” Marinette replied, holding her leather-covered hands out to him.

Still laughing a little, he pushed back the sleeves of her peacoat so that he could fold back the leather of his jacket, pulling the peacoat sleeves back down when he finished. He made a huge show of bowing elaborately, holding her cold hands in his extremely warm ones, his head tilting down a little. “There you are, my lady.”

Marinette snorted, pushing him away and flicking the little bell on the choker he was wearing. “Such a ham,” she said, finding herself more amused by his dumb advances than troubled, like she had been before. He was nice, Marinette thought. She’d been only trusting what she had to about him before, but now she decided that it’d probably be okay to trust him fully.

“Your hands really are cold,” Chat said, rubbing his own hands together to warm them up. “That must be rough.”

“I’m surviving,” Marinette said with a shrug. “Anyway,” she said, deciding it was time to get down to business, “I mentioned last night that I had an idea on how to start finding Emilie.”

Chat nodded. “You did mention that. You thinking about trying one out tonight?”

“Of course,” she said grabbing her night business phone from off the counter and stuffing it into her pocket. “But it requires a field trip.”

“I’d follow you anywhere,” Chat joked, and Marinette gave him a stink eye. “Where do you want to go?”

“The one place most of my jobs begin,” Marinette said, gesturing for Tikki and Plagg to come along. “The cemetery.

 

 

---

 

 

Marinette sat down on one of the benches at the very back of the cemetery so that she’d have a view of it all. Chat sat down next to her, Plagg jumping down from his shoulder to lay down between them. Tikki sat on top of Plagg’s back. 

The walk over was short, and it felt nice outside. Any other night, Marinette would’ve lamented the humidity, but the warm and wet air felt good on her cold body.

“I have to admit,” Chat said, looking around the empty cemetery a little uneasily, his ears flattening against his head, “that I’m not entirely sure why we’re here.”

Another wave of shivers came over Marinette and she brought her legs up on the bench, sitting with her legs crossed. “G-ghosts have free reign over many places that humans may not be able to get to, simply speaking,” Marinette stuttered through her shivers. “There’s more rules than that, obviously, but they’re not important right now. A-anyway, the p-point is that a ghost here may have seen Emilie at some p-point since her disappearance.”

“We just wait around until one comes?” Plagg asked, already sounding bored.

“Yup,” Tikki said, sounding way more enthusiastic. Marinette and her had done this together a couple of times before, and she always seemed to find it very fun to play games while they waited. The company had made the waiting a lot easier for Marinette.

“Oh,” Chat said, only barely hiding his disappointment.

“It’s not very glamorous, but it is a start,” Marinette said, and Chat nodded.

As they waited, Marinette got a few calls on the phone she used for Ladybug business asking why the shop was closed and if she’d be back. She answered each of them within the first ring and quickly explained that she was on a job and that she could be found at the back of the cemetery in case it was an emergency. But people rarely interrupted her on her cemetery business - most likely because the cemetery at night always seemed to unsettle certain people.

Chat, it seemed, was one of those people.

He was sitting stiffly, and his ears rarely left the flattened position they’d taken up when they had first arrived, only lifting briefly when he heard small rustling noises. His tail was flicking around nervously, whacking through the air and making Marinette more tense than she should’ve been. She finished up a phone conversation, tucking her phone in her lap.

“Let’s play a game,” she said, and Tikki cheered.

“I wanna play the one where we list words from categories,” Tikki said, and Marinette nodded.

“That sounds boring,” Plagg said.

“It’s actually very stressful after a while,” Marinette replied, tapping lightly on Chat’s leg so that he’d pay attention. He jerked his leg back, and she thought it was probably a combination of his nerves and her cold hand. “So basically,” she continued, giving Chat a reassuring smile, “someone picks a category, and then we all take turns listing things from that category. The rules are that you can’t hesitate and that you can’t repeat what anyone else has said.”

“Okay,” Chat said, still looking a bit stiff.

“Tikki, pick a category,” Marinette said, and Tikki thought for a moment.

“Warm things,” she said, and Marinette shivered again.

“Warm things it is,” she agreed. “I’ll go first. Blankets.”

“Saunas,” Tikki said.

“Jackets,” Chat said.

“Humans,” Plagg said.

They continued the game, and Chat seemed to stop thinking so hard about the fact that they were in a cemetery, getting into the game. Plagg lost first (with an obstinate proclamation of “this game is stupid”), Tikki following after because she started laughing, and so then it was just Marinette and Chat

Marinette could tell Chat was getting flustered and stressed - he was sitting as if about to pounce, tail flicking back and forth, and he was staring intently at Marinette as if staring hard enough could conjure things into his head.

“Overheated laptops!” Chat exclaimed.

“Tea,” Marinette said, trying to hold back from laughing.

Chat made a prolonged strangled sound, obviously panicking. “Fire - no - the sun!”

“Someone already said fire!” Marinette said, triumphant as she pointed a finger at him accusingly.

“Yeah, it was me,” Plagg said.

“But I changed it!” Chat whined.

“You still hesitated,” Marinette said, smug in her victory. Chat scowled.

“I don’t like this game,” he pouted, crossing his arms and sticking his nose up.

“Oh,” Marinette said, mocking pity, “is the wittle kitty upset?” she asked, rubbing it in.

“Shut up,” Chat said, rolling his eyes.

“I think somebody’s a sore loser,” Marinette said to Tikki and Plagg, and they sniggered at Chat’s expense.

“And I think somebody’s” - he looked pointedly at Marinette, abandoning all subtlety - “a sore winner.”

“A sore winner?” Marinette scoffed, “I don’t think so.”

They bickered in good nature back and forth, Plagg sometimes joining in because he obviously loved discourse. Tikki laughed and made logical points, but Marinette could tell she was enjoying the bickering as much as Plagg did. Chat’s ears were perked up again, and he had shifted on the bench to face towards her, his posture completely relaxed.

After a while, the bickering had slowed down, and Chat yawned, shifting again so that his body was facing the cemetery again and scooting a little closer. “I thought about what you said last night,” he said, voice quiet, all trace of the argumentative and joking tone from before gone.

“Oh?” Marinette asked, not necessarily tired, but letting herself become lulled into the more relaxed atmosphere. Plagg had curled up and closed his eyes, and Tikki seemed to be taking a nap as well.

“Yeah,” Chat said, nodding sluggishly. “And I really am glad that I get to go through this with you,” he said. “You even made a cemetery seem fun.” Marinette smiled a little. “I’m glad fate got me to you, Ladybug” he said quietly.

“You know what?” Marinette asked after a moment, mostly to herself. “Me too, Chat.”

His head rested on her shoulder, warm and heavy, and Marinette blinked. “Chat?” she asked, looking down at his face.

He’d fallen asleep.

Marinette breathed out a quiet laugh, wondering how someone could fall asleep so quickly. She didn’t mind, though. His head and the proximity of his body to hers was giving her a little extra heat. She had been glad for Plagg, who had long since pressed his small furnace of a body to her thigh, and so this felt just as nice.

The only one awake, Marinette surveyed the cemetery, glad for the quiet. She hadn’t wanted to mention anything because her main priority had been getting Chat to chill out, but ghosts are normally pretty shy. They don’t really like loud voices or bickering, and prefered to show themselves when they feel the danger had passed.

About five minutes since Chat fell asleep, a soft fog rolled into the cemetery, and another wave of shivers came over Marinette. The ghosts had started to appear.

Slowly, the ghosts crowded around her, gravitating towards her as they mostly did when she was around. They all sort of recognized her, and if they didn’t, they could somehow recognize that she could see them.

As always, Marinette listened to what they had to say first, waiting patiently as they talked. Some of them asked her to make contact with some loved ones from when they were alive or do odd jobs that they had left unfinished, and so Marinette made a note on her phone of everything they asked of her. And then she asked them for a favor.

“There is someone I’m trying to find,” Marinette said, mindful of her voice because Chat was still very much asleep on her shoulder. Shivers coursed through her, and she paused for a moment, taking a few deep breaths and focusing on the warmth emanating from Chat and Plagg.

“Are you alright, mademoiselle?” asked one of the ghosts who noticed the prolonged pause.

“Just a little cold, thank you,” she responded as the shivers subsided. “Anyway,” she continued, burrowing herself a little deeper in her multiple layers, “I’m trying to find someone, and I’m wondering if anyone of you have seen her.”

“Who?” the ghosts asked, murmuring amongst themselves. It was very rare that Marinette asked anything from them aside from a body part to use for a spell.

“A woman named Emilie Agreste,” Marinette said, watching the ghosts’ faces for any sort of reaction. “She’s an actress, and was relatively famous. Has a son and a husband, both pretty well-known as well.”

“And she’s alive?” asked one of the ghosts. Marinette nodded. Another outburst of murmurs began, as if the very concept of Marinette trying to find someone alive was outrageous. She couldn’t help but agree.

“I was wondering if any of you have seen her in the past few years or any time more recently,” Marinette said, trying to reign them all back in. She opened her phone - which was quickly draining battery - and pulled up a picture of Emilie, showing it to the crowd she’d gathered.

They all pushed closer, and it wasn’t just Marinette that shivered. Chat pressed a little closer to her, snuggling her as if she was a pillow. He didn’t wake up, though, and Marinette was glad. She wasn’t sure how much he’d be able to see of her conversation with the ghosts.

One by one, the ghosts shook their heads, apologizing to her.

“For all that you do for us,” said Fleur, one of the ghosts that Marinette had dealt with a few times, “we’re unable to do anything for you. I’m truly sorry, Ladybug.”

Marinette shook her head, closing her phone once more. “It’s alright everyone. I knew it was a longshot. Thank you for listening, though, and I’ll make sure to do all that you’ve asked.” They bowed their heads, dispersing throughout the cemetery to continue the night. Someone of them floated in that odd way ghosts did outside of cemetery to visit certain places or certain people.

Sighing, Marinette wondered what she should do next. With most of her jobs, everything was clear cut. Find the bones, find the ghost, cast a spell, make a potion, talk to loved ones, deliver a message. She knew how to do all of that so easily, but something like this really was completely outside of her realm. She’d have better luck finding Emilie Agreste’s ghost, which is not what she was supposed to do.

Or.

Maybe.

All this time, Marinette had operated under the assumption that Emilie was alive, but, although the idea isn’t the most comforting, there was still the possibility that she wasn’t. Even the image she saw while scrying could’ve been of Emilie’s ghost trapped in a room - which can sometimes happen to ghosts in certain circumstances. Confusion isn’t too uncommon during ghosthood either, especially when the ghost has been trapped somewhere for a long time.

Chat wouldn’t like it, but she’d have to try it. Just to be sure.

“Ladybug.”

Marinette’s head snapped up, all thoughts quickly evaporating. It was the same voice she’d heard in her bedroom, almost as if it was drifting on a nonexistent wind in the stagnant air, weak and insubstantial.

“Show yourself to me, if you can.” She looked around, eyes trying to catch even the slightest disturbance in the air.

“It’s… hard,” the voice replied after many seconds passed.

“Imagine what you looked like while you were alive,” Marinette helped, realizing that this particular ghost had probably only just died hours ago for them to be so weak. “Every detail. Like you’re looking into a mirror.”

Slowly, ever so slowly, a hazy outline of a person started to form in front of Marinette.

“Good,” she encouraged softly, “you’re almost there.”

Solid features began to appear. Bouncy blonde hair, blue eyes. The glint of an umbrella charm hanging around her neck.

Marinette stood abruptly, causing Chat to tip over on the bench and wake up with a nasty start. But she didn’t see that. All she saw was the girl standing in front of her, scared and desperate.

Her breath caught in her throat. Tears welled up in her eyes. “No,” Marinette sobbed, taking a step closer only to have a devastating wave of shivers overtake her. She crouched down wrapping her arms around herself to get control.

Slowly, reluctantly, she looked back up, praying against everything that she had seen wrong. She hadn’t.

“It can’t be true,” Marinette said, her voice barely above a whisper. “Oh, Stormy, what happened to you?”

Chapter Text

“What… Who is that?” Chat asked, and Marinette came back to herself, looking back to Chat, who was sitting upright on the bench and rubbing the side of his head where it had hit the bench after she had unceremoniously dropped him. He was squinting at the space of where the ghost of Stormy Weather stood.

“This is…” Marinette trailed off, looking back to Stormy, pale, translucent, ghostly. “This is a friend of mine. Stormy.”

“Hello,” Stormy said, her voice still a little weak, as if it was just barely disturbing the air. Chat’s ears twitched and he frowned.

“Hi,” he said slowly, still staring intently at Stormy. “My name is Chat.”

“Good to meet you,” Stormy said quietly, turning back to Marinette. “Ladybug, you must help me.” She reached out as if to grab Marinette’s hands and then seemed to think better of it, clasping her ghostly hands in front of her. “I’m not sure what to do.”

“Tell me what happened,” Marinette said, standing up straight and trying to gain control of her emotions. Chat stood up as well, his eyes never leaving Stormy, his ears sticking straight up and his tail flicking back and forth anxiously.

“I’m not sure,” Stormy said, pacing back and forth and biting her thumbnail. Her feet floated just above the grass. Marinette refused to let that detail bother her. “I… I was getting ready for the night and then I…” She tailed off, stopping in front of Marinette, glass like tears gathering in her eyes. “I,” she repeated, but she didn’t seem to know what to say next. Her figure flickered in and out of sight.

“Calm down, Stormy,” Marinette said, holding her hands out in attempt to steady her. “Take deep breaths and try again.”

Stormy took in a shaky breath, and Chat twitched. She took another and squeezed her eyes shut, putting her hands on her head. “I heard someone talking in my head,” she said, her voice a little stronger than before. “He told me not to worry anymore.”

“Were you upset about anything?” Marinette asked, frowning. She didn’t particularly like the way the story was panning out.

“I was…” Stormy frowned, taking another deep breath. “I was upset. My boss had told me that day that I was being replaced by a newer, more attractive girl. They were demoting me,” she said, opening her eyes and looking at Marinette. “And then the man starting talking inside my head. He told me that everything would be okay.”

“What happened afterwards?” Marinette asked, looking over to Tikki, who looked like she was just as worried as Marinette was.

“I woke up,” Stormy sobbed, burying her face in her hands. “Staring at my body.”

“Were you by any chance,” Tikki said slowly, glancing at Marinette, “in a bathtub?”

Stormy stared at Tikki. “How’d you know?"

Tikki bit her lip, and Marinette shook her head. She knew it. She didn’t want to know it, but she knew it. “I had a dream about you last night. I was hoping it wasn’t true.”

“Ladybug,” Stormy started, drawing ever closer to Marinette, “you must understand. I didn’t do this to myself. I don’t remember everything that happened, but you have to understand-”

“I do,” Marinette said, hating that she had to take a step back to avoid any touch. She was already so cold - she didn’t think she could handle another Pass Through. “I do, Stormy.”

“I-I’m sorry,” Stormy said, seeing Marinette’s step back and seeming to finally truly understand what she was. She started to back away - away from Marinette, away from help. “I hurt you before.”

“It’s okay,” Marinette said, taking a step forward for every step Stormy took backward. “Stay with me.”

Stormy shook her head, her hands pulling at her hair. Her appearance started to flicker in and out of focus again. She was losing control. “Tell my family I loved them.”

“Wait!” Marinette called, watching helplessly as Stormy started to fade away. “I need to know who you are!”

“You’re the best witch in Paris,” Stormy said, smiling despite her rapid disappearance. “I have faith in you.”

“What about the man?” Marinette asked desperately, trying make her stay for longer. “I need hints, I need to know what you know, I need you.”

Stormy faded away, only the slightest disturbance in the air telling Marinette that she hadn’t disappeared for good.

“He called himself Hawkmoth.”

And then she was gone.

Marinette stared at the place Stormy had been, arms limp at her sides. It felt like her lungs had shriveled up, like she had exhaled her last breath the moment Stormy faded to nothing. Like she’s never be able to breathe again.

Ghosts were fragile after just entering ghosthood, and reminders that they weren’t alive anymore made them lose themselves. Marinette knew that. She shouldn’t have backed away, even if she was cold, even if she was scared. She should’ve helped Stormy, should’ve found a way to calm her down.

“Ladybug,” Chat said, warm hand encompassing her shoulder. “You’re shaking.”

“I know,” she said, her teeth chattering. “I know.”

She would’ve stayed there all night if Chat didn’t start to guide her back to the shop. Tikki came and rested on her shoulder, patting her soothingly on the neck. The walk back was quiet and a lot longer than Marinette remembered. People said hi to her as they walked by, and she barely found it in herself to nod back.

Chat was a steely presence beside her, not letting them stop for even an instant, his hand firm on the small of her back. When they reached the shop, he held a hand out, and Marinette fished around in her pockets and handed him the key.

He unlocked the shop, guided her in and made sure that Plagg had come in as well, and then turned around and locked it again. He flipped the ‘be back later’ sign to ‘closed.’

“Hey-”

“No,” Chat interrupted, steering her away from the door. “I may not have any idea what’s going on, but I know you’re not fit to work tonight.”

She glared at him but didn’t protest. He took them to the back room, sitting her down in her chair, picking up Plagg and putting him on the table, and then setting about to make them tea. “I can-”

“No,” he said firmly, filling up the tea kettle and placing it on the burner.

“I can at least-”

“No,” he repeated.

“Chat-”

“No.”

She sat back in a huff, watching as he picked out tea bags from her box and sniffed them to figure out what they were. He made a face at one tea bag and tossed it back into the box where it promptly split open and spilled its contents on the other bags near it. Chat looked back to see if she had noticed. Of course she noticed.

This was ridiculous. Yes, Stormy’s death had shaken her, but she could manage making tea for herself. She moved to stand, but Plagg shook his head. Even Tikki wasn’t taking Marinette’s side.

Marinette plopped back down in her seat, crossing her arms.

Chat finally picked out the tea bags he wanted, cleaning up the spilled contents of the one he spilled as best as possible, and then grabbed their normal tea-drinking essentials. He waited for the kettle to scream, and then carefully poured out some steaming water into each of the cups. Plopping the tea bags in, he gathered the cups and placed them on the table as he sat down in his seat. He pushed one of the cups toward Marinette. “Drink,” he said.

She looked at him, opening her mouth to say something, but he shook his head. “Drink first, talk after.” She rolled her eyes and took a sip from her tea. It was sweet with just a hint of something spicy, and it made her a little warmer than before. She had been shaking the whole walk from the cemetery, and she only realized after she drank the tea that she hadn’t stopped. Taking a deep breath, she felt the shivers subside.

“Better?” Chat asked.

“Much,” she said, although a little reluctantly, taking another sip.

“Now tell me what all that was about.” He blew softly at his own tea, keeping his eyes on her.

Marinette sighed, collecting her thoughts. “Stormy’s a powerful weather witch that I’ve known for a while. Back when she was just starting to realize her powers, I helped her learn how to control them.” The memories were painful now. Marinette tried not dwell on that. “Last night, I dreamt that she submerged herself in a bathtub and froze the water while she was still submerged. I tried to find her that night before you came along to make sure she was alright, but I didn’t have any luck.”

What a phrase. Marinette couldn’t help the scoff that came out of her mouth at her own ironic life. Arguably the luckiest girl alive, and she never had any luck.

“Earlier, when I was sleeping before the night, I woke up to being Passed Through. I didn’t know who did it at the time.” She paused, shivering. “I know now it was Stormy.”

“She didn’t show herself to you?” Chat asked, his hand idly stroking Plagg’s fur.

“She couldn’t,” Marinette said, shaking her head. “New ghosts are weak and fragile. It takes a lot of energy to appear in front of someone, even me.” She paused, frowning. “Back at the cemetery… You could see her.”

Chat shook his head. “Not really. I could see a shape in the air. I thought that since you were talking to it and that I could hear it talking back that it was a... ghost.”

“You could hear her?” she asked, raising her eyebrows. Even that was impressive.

“Since I’m a cat, he gets some cat abilities,” Plagg said. “Which includes advanced hearing and sight.” Marinette nodded. That made sense - cats were always sensitive to magic and all things concerning the dead.

“So you heard what she said.”

“Yes,” Chat said lowly. “I can’t say that I wish I had, though.” His tea sufficiently cooled, he took a sip, looking down at the table. “She’s saying that some… man… went around in her head and made her…” He trailed off, running a hand through his hair. “Christ,” he swore, and Marinette couldn’t help but agree.

“Hawkmoth,” Marinette said quietly, tracing her finger around the rim of her cup. “I’ve never heard about him.” She was fairly certain she would remember hearing about a man who used mind control to murder people. She fixed her bangs under the beanie, sighing. “What am I even supposed to do?”

“Stormy said it herself,” Chat said, looking up from the table and fixing his bright, determined eyes on her. “We find her.”

Marinette frowned. “We?”

“Yes, we,” Chat said as if that was obvious.

“But what about Emilie? And you’re still all Locked up, and you don’t know much about magic or Stormy or-”

“Ladybug,” Chat interrupted for what seemed like the thousandth time that night. “I remember telling you that we were partners.”

“For Emilie’s case,” Marinette said, shaking her head. Chat held up a hand, and she stopped talking.

“And I also remember telling you that I was glad fate brought me to you.” Marinette shook her head again, but Chat kept pushing forward, not pausing long enough for her to get a word in. “You said it yourself. Everything is bonded to fate, right? So it’s fate that this is happening right now, and it’s fate that I’m here and not anywhere else.”

She thought this was probably what Chat had felt like the night before. She frowned. He took a deep breath.

“I know I’m lame and not nearly as cool and powerful as you” - she scoffed - “but I’m here for a reason, right? Would if it’s not just to find Mrs. Agreste, but would if it’s to help you find Stormy’s killer? I’m here, Ladybug. I can help.”

He was begging her now, and Marinette knew that there was no way she could refuse him without discrediting her own words, which she was not a fan of doing. “Chat,” she said, sighing it out as she tried to think of something she could say to discourage him.

But he was not to be discouraged. “We’re partners, Ladybug. And you know what? I’d even go so far as to say we’re friends.” Marinette blinked at him. “Of course if that’s not true, then partners is just fine,” he rushed on, his cheeks turning a little pink. “But the point of being partners or friends is that we’re here for each other even if it’s hard. You’re here for me with Mrs. Agreste, even though I know it’s not something you’re used to. And I’ll be here for you with Stormy, even though I have no clue what I’m doing. Do you get it?” he asked, leaning forward and not breaking eye contact. “I’m not leaving you out to dry on this one, sorry.”

Marinette thought hard. She’d already decided it was okay to trust him, and his insistence on helping her only strengthened that trust, even if she didn’t like it. This guy had seen her at arguably the weakest she’d been in a long while and instead of taking the easiest way out, he’d taken her back to safety and had insisted on knowing what was happening. Heck, she was even wearing his jacket because he’d offered it to her. He was so good without any conditions attached, and Marinette had always been drawn to people like that. She had no idea what fate had in store for her, but maybe it really was this strange cat guy that sat before her.

“There’s nothing that I can say to make you change your mind?” Marinette asked.

“Absolutely not.”

She looked to Tikki, who nodded enthusiastically. She sighed. “Okay,” she said, nodding. “Okay. We’re partners.”

Chat breathed out a sigh of relief. “For a second I thought you were going to tell me to leave.”

Marinette raised an eyebrow. “Why would I tell a friend to leave?”

“Oh,” Chat said, getting pink again. “You make a good point,” he said quietly, and Marinette laughed.

 

---

 

Once again, Marinette woke up shivering. Daylight was filtering through her back room window, and Marinette realized that she’d fallen asleep while she and Chat had been talking. She sat up and stretched, feeling a crick in her neck that would no doubt be giving her trouble for the next couple of days.

Still shivering, she saw that Tikki had at some point DeTransformed her during her sleep and that she was wearing her pajamas with her blankets wrapped around her. A plain white button down was draped around her shoulders.

And Marinette just about had a heart attack.

If she was right and the button down had been Chat’s jacket before he also did his version of DeTransforming and it was still here, did that mean that Chat was still here? Sure, she trusted him and they were friends now, but she couldn’t risk having her identity revealed to anyone. She couldn’t let anyone have that power over her.

Plagg wasn’t anywhere to be seen, and neither was Chat. Tikki was asleep next to a pad of paper with a pencil by it, and Marinette saw that someone had written a note on it. She carefully lifted Tikki off the note, pulling the pad of paper towards her and scanning over the neat and carefully slanted handwriting.

Dear Sleeping Beauty,

Marinette rolled her eyes. She kept reading.

 

Tikki told me that she couldn’t hold your Transformation for much longer after you fell asleep. She’s tired, too. And to be honest, so am I. Long day and night and all that. I feel bad for leaving without saying goodbye, but I’d also feel bad if I woke you up. So I’m leaving this note. Keep the jacket for tonight, since you’re still cold. Plagg says it’ll turn back when I do, so don’t freak out if you see a horribly un-stylish shirt instead of my super fashionable jacket. I promise I don’t wear it because I want to. You can give it back to me tomorrow night. Sweet dreams, my lady.

 

Sincerely,

Chat Noir and Plagg

 

His name was signed with a big and unnecessary flourish and Plagg’s name was added in a less flashy manner. Marinette thought that it suited them both quite well.

She had been hoping that the shivers would go away during the night, but it seemed even now they persisted. She shivered, trying so very hard not to think so much about the events of the night. She couldn’t let herself surrender to an awful morning, even if it felt like it was warranted.

Drawing the blankets closer to her, her fingers brushed up against the soft cotton of Chat’s shirt. A slow smile spread across her lips, and she looked down at the note.

“You know,” Tikki said, and Marinette jumped, looking down at Tikki, who had woken up without a sound. “Chat’s very handsome.”

“What are you even talking about?” Marinette scoffed, standing up and starting to go upstairs to her rooms. Tikki followed after her, fluttering softly in the air.

“I’m talking about how nice he is,” Tikki said, her tone suggesting something else.

Marinette rolled her eyes, which turned out to be a mistake because the moment her eyes left the stairs, her feet stumbled over the blankets dragging on the floor and almost caused her to have an early death. Steadying herself with a hand on the wall, Marinette looked at Tikki. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that he’s handsome and nice,” Tikki said nonchalantly, shrugging her tiny shoulders.

“Nice? Sure,” Marinette admitted. “But handsome?” She made a face, continuing up the stairs. “Not my type.”

She went through her morning routine, making sure to get dressed into something warm, leaving Chat’s shirt on the bed (newly made) for when he’d come to pick it up. When she came back downstairs, she saw a very handsome man standing outside the front door, peering in curiously.

“Adrien!” she cried, rushing to the door and quickly unlocking it, her heart beating faster despite herself. “I’m so sorry,” she said as he walked in a little sheepishly.

He was wearing a clearly well-loved green scarf loosely around his neck, and Marinette sort of recognized it. She thought maybe he’d been wearing it when they first met, but mentioning it now would’ve made it seem creepy, so she just smiled. “Nice scarf,” she said, except when she  said ‘nice’ her tongue couldn’t decide between ‘nice’ or ‘cool’ so it sounded more like ‘nool.’ Marinette blushed.

Adrien smiled, touching the worn green scarf fondly. “Thanks, it was my mother’s.”

A stab of reality pierced Marinette and she cleared her throat, tucking her hair behind her ears. “She’s got good taste,” she said softly, and Adrien nodded, seemingly unbothered.

“I know I’m wearing this scarf for style” - it was in fact very stylish with the outfit he paired it with - “but what about you? You look like you’re ready to go snowboarding.”

The reminder of her ever present cold made her shiver, and she tried to bury herself in her clothes like she had been able to the night before. It didn’t work so well without a scarf or a high-necked jacket. “I might be getting a summer cold or something,” Marinette said, making a big deal out of wiping her nose purely for appearance. “I’ve been cold all night.”

“Oh, don’t tell me you’re contagious,” Adrien joked, taking a step back. “I’ll have to leave if that’s the case.”

“No!” Marinette said a little too desperately, and she blushed. Why couldn’t she be at least a little smooth? “I-I mean, nope, I’m not contagious. I don’t think. I mean I’m not.” She laughed nervously, wishing she could crawl into a hole. She’d have to design another tombstone for herself after this.

“So I’ve got some news,” Adrien said, as if he didn’t notice her trying to disappear into thin air without using actual magic.

“O-oh, really?” Marinette asked, trying to gain control of herself. Her stomach rumbled loudly, and she shivered again quite violently. Adrien stared at her. “Sorry,” she said, her face blazing.

“Have you eaten breakfast?” he asked, and Marinette shook her head, switching from trying to disappear to trying to sink into the ground. “Why don’t we go to that cafe from before? To be honest, I left my house in a rush and didn’t eat either.”

“Sure, you’re, I mean, that’s cool. Great plan.” Adrien turned to walk out of the shop, and Marinette followed after him, facepalming herself as she fumbled with the keys to lock the door.

It was a nice day, Marinette thought, but she only wished she could enjoy it more. There was a slight breeze, and just that extra cold air made her shiver even more. She wondered when the shivers would go away, praying that it would be soon.

“Killer cold, huh?” Adrien asked, sounding a little sympathetic as he unwound his scarf from around his neck and wrapped it gently around hers.

Marinette thought that dying was a very real possibility. “I couldn’t possibly-” Marinette said, starting to take off the scarf that Adrien had just said was Emilie’s.

“It’s okay, Marinette,” he said, rewrapping the scarf around her. “It was only for style, anyway. And besides, it was getting a little hot.”

“Oh,” Marinette said, touching the scarf lightly, looking down at the ground as they started to walk. “Thank you.” In truth, it felt nice to wear the scarf - not just because it had just been around Adrien, which was indeed a plus - but also because it was warm despite how thin it was. She tucked her chin into it, sighing contently.

They walked to the cafe in what Marinette assumed was supposed to be amicable silence, but in reality she was trying to very hard to figure out what to say. She glanced over at Adrien, seeing that he seemed totally at ease and not at all bothered by the lack of conversation.

Maybe that meant that he didn’t want to talk to have a conversation, which in turn meant that he didn’t want to have a conversation with her, which in turn meant that he hated her and that they weren’t friends. Obviously.

Marinette started to hyperventilate.

“Are you alright?” Adrien asked, glancing over at her as he opened the door of the cafe for her.

“Of course,” she replied, feeling very much like she needed a paper bag. “Let’s go order.”

She went up to the counter, managing to stumble through her order with the knowledge of Adrien standing directly behind her while she was wearing his scarf that was given to him by his mother that he had willingly given to her for the moment. The barista gave her a strange look no doubt because of her winter attire and order of a hot tea in the middle of one last, brutal heat wave before winter, but didn’t say anything about it.

Adrien himself ordered a chilled tea and a rather large pastry that made Marinette realize that she’d forgotten to order actual food for her to eat for breakfast. But it would be weird to go back up to the counter after she had just ordered, so when her name was called, she picked up her hot tea and sighed.

They sat down at a table next to the windows, and Marinette tapped at the sides of her cup, trying to figure out what to say as Adrien unwrapped the pastry and put it on the table. “I hope you don’t mind, but I actually bought this for the both of us,” he said, pushing the pastry towards her.

Marinette had to take a full ten seconds to keep herself from floating up through the ceiling. “You didn’t have to,” she finally said, and Adrien shrugged.

“I wanted to, though,” he said, and Marinette had to physically grip the sides of the table to stop herself from ascending straight through this dimension. “To be quite honest, something simple like this happening in my life won’t be happening so often from now on.”

She paused in her physical grounding, frowning at the melancholy expression that had come over Adrien’s face. “Why not?” she asked.

He sighed, picking off a piece of the pastry and popping it into his mouth, looking out the window. “Remember when I said I had some news?” Marinette nodded. “Well, one piece of that news is that I started working for my father again.”

“What?” From everything that she knew about Adrien’s relationship with his father, both from Adrien’s mouth and the information she’d gained from her research, this was the last thing that she expected. “Why?"

“Main reason is that I needed something different,” he said with a shrug, looking back to his tea and twirling the straw around. “Second main reason is that I need money.”

“Oh,” Marinette said. She wasn’t sure why, but she’d always sort of assumed that Adrien’s well-off background had translated over to his current life. It was a stupid assumption, but Adrien sort of exuded the pretty rich boy vibe that one would expect. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

“It’s alright,” he replied, waving his hand and taking a sip of his tea. “Not a lot of people actually know my current situation, which is how I like it.” He let out a small laugh, but Marinette didn’t think it was funny. “I guess it’s not going to be like that anymore.”

“Are you saying that you’re going to model again?” Marinette asked, somewhat upset that she was a little happy about it. Adrien obviously didn’t like the idea, so she shouldn’t be fond of it either.

“Among other things,” he said, and Marinette bit her lip, watching as he put on a fake smile. “Well, expect to see my face plastered on some billboards in the next couple weeks.”

Panicking and wanting to make him feel better, Marinette scoffed. “Your face? On billboards? Ew.” It was only after the words had left her mouth that she realized that they were lies and that they were very offensive lies. She started panicking even more. “I mean-”

Adrien snorted rather unattractively. And then laughed in a way that sounded like it caught in his throat and forced its way out of his nose.

Marinette knew at that moment that she had probably never liked a boy more in her life. The thought was at once thrilling and terrifying, and she got the overwhelming urge to vomit up any and all of her stomach contents.

“I’m glad I came to talk to you,” Adrien said after his laughing fit was over. “To be honest,” he said, suddenly getting a little shy (which of course made Marinette feel like screaming, but she only just managed to control herself with a small whimper), “you’re the first person I’ve really told.”

“Oh,” Marinette said, because that was the only semi-intelligent thing she could think to say. After the span of awkward silence it took for Marinette to compose herself, she cleared her throat. “Why?”

Adrien bit his lip, looking out the cafe windows and shrugging a little. “It’s easier?” he said, making the statement sound more like a question. “The friends that I have right now have known me for too long. Talking to them about this would be… difficult.”

“I understand,” Marinette said, thinking of Alya, whom she’s known since high school and still couldn’t tell some of her secrets to. But it was slightly different, Marinette guessed, because she didn’t really tell her secrets to anyone. Except Tikki, but that had only recently started happening.

“It’ll be different this time,” Adrien said, seeming to come to some sort of conclusion on his own, his face setting in determination.

“What will?” Marinette asked, picking at the pastry between them. She managed to slip a piece of it into her pocket for Tikki without Adrien noticing.

“The last time I worked with my father, I wasn’t old enough to stand up for what I wanted,” Adrien said after a moment’s worth of hesitation, as if saying the words out loud made them too true and too painful. “Or maybe it wasn’t about age, but rather…” He trailed off, his shoulders sinking.

She couldn’t imagine. Her parents had always supported her in all of her dreams and fantasies, and because of that, she was who she was now. They’d allowed her the freedom to be who she wanted and to be what she wanted without fear or hesitation. She felt unbelievably bad for Adrien in that moment, and her motivation to be a good friend to him increased tenfold. He needed an ally against whatever it was with his father he fought for, and Marinette was ready to give it to him.

“It’ll be different this time,” she said, repeating what he himself had promised, her voice gentle and even. Adrien looked up at her, his eyebrows raised and opening up his face like he was a classical painting of hope and hurt and loss and love.

He was devastating, Marinette couldn’t help but notice, and the open stare of his spring green eyes was too much for her.

“A-and if you ever need me- or you know not me, I’m here. Or not here. You know, depending,” Marinette stuttered, staring at her coffee cup and praying that luck would be nice to her just this once and send her straight to a coffin for instant delivery to the rosy plane of death by embarrassment. “O-or if you need someone to, like, um, egg your dad’s car, I know a girl whose fear of the police has long since died out.”

When Marinette felt strong enough to look back up at Adrien, he was laughing at her. This seemed to be becoming a common occurrence, and Marinette wasn’t entirely sure if she was pleased about it or not. After all, it was at her expense, but his laugh was very beautiful. It was a battle of pride and her stupid crush.

“Why are you laughing?” Marinette asked, trying very hard to suppress her own smile and failing miserably.

“I just tried to imagine you egging my father’s car and then running from the police,” Adrien said, gathering himself and then promptly descending into another fit of laughter.

This, to say the least, was a bit offensive.

“First of all,” Marinette said hotly, “I wasn’t talking about me” - she had of course been talking about Alya - “second of all, I could totally egg a car and get away with it.”

“Okay,” Adrien relented, putting his hands up in the air in defeat, “I believe you.”

God, Marinette thought he was beautiful.

Adrien’s phone beeped, and he picked it up, checking the notification. Almost instantly, the smile dropped from his face. Marinette mourned its death, hating that it had disappeared so quickly.

“Ah,” he said, clearing his throat. “It looks like I need to head into work.” He said the word as if it was new and bitter. He looked back up at Marinette and gave her a bittersweet smile. “You almost made me late.”

“Sorry,” Marinette said faintly, watching as he gathered himself to leave.

He pushed the pastry he’d bought over to her. “Here, you can have the rest.” There was still the majority of it, and Marinette couldn’t remember him ever taking a piece.

“Adrien-”

“It’s cool,” he said, pushing it even closer to her as if he could tell what she’d been about to say. “I wasn’t that hungry anyway.”

Before he could leave, Marinette took his arm, the touch of his skin sending sparks through her veins. “Wait,” she said, and then wondered what the heck she was making him wait for. He stared down at her expectantly. “I, um, how about, I mean, if you want, we could.” She stopped, taking a deep breath and took out her phone. “Number,” she said weakly, and she felt as though it wouldn’t be too bad if Death herself came to take her away right at this instant.

Adrien visibly brightened. “Yeah!” he said, and Marinette thought of the miracle of him being able to understand her.

They traded phone numbers, and Marinette saved Adrien into her contacts as ‘The Death of Me.’ She hoped he didn’t notice.

“Now you can tell me all about your car egging heists,” Adrien said playfully, and Marinette added the gravestone emoji next to his name.

“Yeah, and now you can send me ugly pictures of your face on billboards,” she replied because that’s all she could think to say other than the very embarrassing ‘please text me or call me whenever, wherever you feel like it because I’ll answer in a heartbeat.’

He laughed, absolutely glowing in the subdued light of the cafe. “You don’t need ugliness like that on your phone.”

“Oh, and before I forget,” Marinette said, unraveling the green scarf from around her neck and handing it back to him. “I’m not so cold anymore. Thank you.”

Adrien took the scarf gingerly, smiling down at it like there was no one around to see. “No, thank you, Marinette.” He left the cafe. Marinette added the dying rose emoji next to the gravestone in his contact name.

Marinette was just finishing the pastry when one of the customers at the cafe called out to one of the baristas. “Hey, could you turn that up?”

Having been broken out of her fantasy of marrying Adrien and having minimum three gerbils, Marinette looked up from the pastry as the barista turned up the volume on the television up in the corner of the room.

It was set to the news, and it seemed to be a continuation of a story Marinette had remembered seeing before. About that weather girl who’d committed suicide.

“Local authorities are still withholding information on the death of Aurore Beauréal, beloved Parisian weather girl, but many are now theorizing that her death may not have been a tragic suicide, but rather a deliberate murder.”

“That’s just awful,” said one of the customers, but Marinette couldn’t hear. She couldn’t breathe.

The news had shown a picture of Aurore, bright and happy, with her familiar bouncy blonde curls and shining blue eyes. And around her neck was a small, glinting umbrella charm. That was.

Just.

Like.

“Oh,” Marinette said, covering her mouth with her hands. “Oh, no.”

Chapter Text

As Adrien walked toward his father’s mansion, he once again wondered if he was making the right decision. His meeting with his father the day before had been dismal at best, resulting in his father making up a whole schedule on his own without pausing for Adrien’s input. It had been like being in high school all over again.

He saw Plagg lounging by some bushes nearby, and his eyes drifted up to the brilliant blue sky, its hue glinting like a gemstone dipped in water. A bright sky, a sky that promised bright things. He took a deep breath. It was different this time. He was older, more confident, and… He’d said so.

His phone buzzed.

 

From: Marinette

 

good luck, adrien!! i believe in you!!

 

Adrien smiled, tapping out a quick reply of a couple of thumbs-ups and stuffing his phone back in his pocket. And there was Marinette, too. His new friend that believed in him, apparently. He could do this.

Nathalie opened the door for him when he rang the bell. She frowned at him, checking her watch. “You’re late,” she said, warm as ever.

“Sorry,” Adrien said, stepping into the cold mansion that he remembered all too well. “Is Father in yet?”

“He got caught up in some business matters, so you will have to wait in the second office until he is finished,” she said, tapping something out on her tablet and then looking back up at him. “Would you like me to escort you?”

“No, thanks, Nathalie. I remember the way.”

She nodded once, like a dismissal, and then walked away to another part of the mansion, her heels clicking softly on the black and white tile. Adrien was left alone, and he looked around the empty, cold atrium of the mansion, his eyes lingering on the warm portrait of his mother hanging in the center of everything.

“Home sweet home,” he said softly to himself, and his voice echoed throughout the empty space.

Since Nathalie had said that his father had gotten caught up in business, Adrien figured he wouldn’t actually get around to meeting Adrien until a few hours later. And Nathalie had reprimanded him for being late.

He had time, he supposed, and so he ascended the marble staircase and went up to his old room rather than the second office where he’d no doubt wait until his brains fell out of his ears due to boredom.

His room was just as he left it, exuding the dismal feeling of a prettied-up cage for a prettied-up boy. The rock wall was collecting dust, and so were the many gaming tables that Adrien never really used. He swiped absent fingers over his desk and bookcase, a weight heavy on his heart.

When he turned to look at his old bed, he froze.

Plagg was laying directly in the center, cleaning off his paws.

“How’d you get up here?” Adrien asked slowly, and Plagg looked up at him lazily.

“Kid, I’m magic, and I’m a cat. You do the math,” Plagg replied, and Adrien breathed out a laugh, shaking his head and sitting down on the bed next to Plagg. “So this was your room?” Plagg asked, feigning boredom when Adrien was sure he was quite curious.

“Yeah,” Adrien said, looking around the room and sighing.

“And you traded this in for…” Plagg trailed off, seeming to think of the right words to say. “For your dumpster-shit quality of an apartment?”

Adrien could've taken offense to that, but he knew it was true. He shrugged. “My life here wasn’t good,” he said, looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows. Constant reminders to his younger self that there was a whole world out there, and he hadn’t been living in it. “No amount of money could change that.”

“I guess so,” Plagg said, though he didn’t sound like he believed it very much. But that didn’t really matter to Adrien. If he hadn’t been the one living his own life, he didn’t think he’d believe it very much, either. “So are you happy where you are now?” Plagg asked, looking up at Adrien.

Looking down at his lap, Adrien picked at his fingernails. “I’m back here, aren’t I?”

Before Plagg could respond, the door to the room was pushed open, and both of them quickly shut up. In the doorway stood Adrien’s father, Gabriel Agreste, stern and cold as ever. His hair was far grayer than Adrien remembered, and there were a lot more wrinkles on his face, but there he was. Clad in his armor of a pinstriped casual suit with shiny black shoes and a brooch that probably cost more than Adrien’s current rent, Gabriel looked around the room until his eyes rested on Adrien.

For a moment, Adrien just stared at him, and Gabriel stared at him back, expression as inscrutable as ever.

And then.

“You were told to wait in the second office.”

Adrien sighed, breaking the eye contact and looking over to Plagg, who was lounging on the blankets as if he had thousands of better places to be. “I figured you’d be a while.”

“You figured wrong,” Gabriel said, and Adrien burned. “Follow me,” he said, not waiting to see if Adrien would actually follow, instead simply turning around and walking briskly away. Adrien hesitated, looking over to Plagg, who was gazing up at him with vaguely concerned eyes.

“I’ll be okay,” Adrien decided, sounding more sure than he actually felt. “I’ll meet up with you later.”

Plagg put his head down, and Adrien followed after his father.

“As discussed yesterday,” Gabriel said, pushing open the door to the second office, “I will do some preliminary assessments of your current skill level. You will be analyzing requests from fabricated clients, and creating designs that suit their needs. And then you will complete five original designs.”

Nathalie was there in the office, standing by the desk, and she gestured for Adrien to sit down. There was no computer, no phone. Only a sketchbook and an organized tray of markers. “I have printed out the guidelines of the imaginary clients,” Nathalie said, gesturing to a sheet of paper that rested on top of the sketchbook. “There are three clients in total, with a variety of requests that must be fulfilled.”

Adrien looked over the plain desk, gripping the armrests of the plush chair he felt like he was forced to sit in. Already, dread spilled over his bones, and he looked up at his father. “How much time are you giving me?”

“These will only be rough sketches, so I will be reviewing the designs in two weeks,” Gabriel responded, clasping his hands behind his back. He looked so anxious to leave, it was almost funny. “In the meantime, I have also arranged a number of preliminary photo shoots for certain brands that have heard of your desire to continue this line of work.”

Frowning, Adrien leaned forward. “But I haven’t quit my old job yet. If I’m supposed to be doing the design sketches, then I won’t have time to go to work and do the photo shoots.”

Gabriel was already turning to leave. “I can have your job there terminated immediately.”

The way he said it was so flippant, so privileged that Adrien snapped out of his ‘sit back and take it’ trance. “No,” he said, and his father jerked to a stop in the doorway, as if that one word was the most surprising he’d ever heard.

“No?” he asked as he turned around, more surprised that anything else.

“Yes, no,” Adrien replied, trying to make himself look taller even though he was sitting down. “I planned to put in my two weeks and leave the place peacefully,” he said, trying very hard to sound more confident than he felt. “And I will do that."

Raising an eyebrow, Gabriel looked over to Nathalie, who in turn looked down at her tablet, scrolling through a calendar. “We could potentially postpone the photo shoots. Given that the advertisements weren’t set to be released until two months from now.” She looked up at Gabriel, and he sighed.

“We could,” Gabriel said, looking back to Adrien. “If you think that would benefit you in some way.”

“It would,” Adrien said.

The stare that followed was designed to try and break Adrien, and Adrien knew it. But he had decided it would be different this time, and so he held his ground no matter how much he wanted to curl up and give in.

“Fine,” Gabriel finally said, turning his back to Adrien. “Nathalie, reschedule the photoshoots.”

“Yes, sir.”

He left without a word, and Adrien sat back in the chair, breathing out a sigh that released all the tension in his body. Until he realized that Nathalie was still very much in the room.

She had taken up position on the couch in the office, sitting with her back straight and her legs neatly crossed. As always, her eyes were glued to the tablet in her lap, and she was intensely typing something out, as if it was a matter of life or death.

“Don’t you have a better place to work?” Adrien asked.

“Mr. Agreste asked me to stay behind and watch over you,” Nathalie replied without looking up.

Adrien stared up at the ceiling, wondering for perhaps the millionth time if he was truly making the best decision for himself.

Too late for second guessing, he supposed. If he was going to be treated like a kid, he might as well act like it.

He got up from the chair, picking up the sketchbook and paper with the imaginary client requests and plopping them down on the floor in front of the couch. Nathalie looked up from the tablet, raising her eyebrows. Adrien grabbed the tray of markers.

“What are you doing?” Nathalie asked.

“I’m going to work on the floor,” Adrien replied, placing the tray of markers next to the sketchbook. “You take the desk.”

“Adrien-”

“I work better on the floor anyways,” he said, sitting down in front of the sketchbook. “Could you toss me that pencil from the desk?”

Nathalie frowned at him, and then she got up from her place on the couch, picking up the pencil and handing it to Adrien. And then she walked back over to the couch and sat down.

Adrien eyed her for a moment, and then shook his head, looking back down at the sketchbook. Nathalie was stubborn in her own rights, and Adrien didn’t ever really feel like pushing her.

It had been a while since he’d drawn anything - in fact, he was pretty sure the last time he sketched out a design was when he was still in school - and he was sort of unsure of where to start.

The door to the office pushed open, and for a moment, Adrien froze in something akin to fear. But when he looked up, it was only Plagg, sauntering in as if he’d spent an eternity getting familiar with the place. He padded over to Adrien and laid down beside him, his little body a furnace against Adrien’s thigh.

He looked up at Nathalie to see her reaction, but he might as well been staring at a blank wall. Adrien looked down at Plagg, and Plagg blinked up at him. Well. If no one else was questioning it.

Turning back to the sketchbook, Adrien took a deep breath. He opened it up to completely plain white pages, just begging to be filled. Inspiration didn’t hit Adrien like a ton of bricks, but it did find him slowly after Adrien spent a few minutes sketching out Nathalie and her severe pantsuit.

He sketched out Plagg, just because he could, and then he flipped to a clean page. Time to get to work.


---


Adrien became aware of the passing of time when his legs started to cramp. He’d been sitting cross-legged and hunched over since he’d started working, and the growing ache in his spine as well as the tightness of his thighs were the evidence.

Sitting up straight, Adrien stretched out his legs, and then twisted around to pop his back. When his spine released a series of somewhat worrying cracks, Nathalie seemed to come out of her own work-induced haze. She stretched, too, checking the watch she had on her wrist. “It’s about time for lunch,” she said, turning to Adrien. “Are you hungry?”

Was he hungry?

He thought for a second. His stomach rumbled.

“Yes,” he said, rolling out his wrists and stretching his fingers. He hadn’t spent so long drawing in a long time, and no part of his body was used to it.

“I’ll have the chefs make us all something light. Your father wants for you to attend a party tonight for one of his associates.” She stood, stretching out as well.

“Ah, I have a shift this evening,” Adrien said, petting the still-sleeping Plagg idly. “Since I’m already putting in my two weeks, I don’t think I should take any days off.”

“Very well,” Nathalie said with a nod. “Will you be eating lunch here?”

He thought of the meals eaten at the long dining table, always quiet, always alone.

“No,” Adrien said, looking down at his lap. “I had plans to eat with a friend today.” This was false, but it was better than admitting he’d rather do anything else than eat at that table again. He’d have to call Nino just in case his father kept tabs on him.

“I will inform your father of the changes,” Nathalie said, ever the professional. “The sketchbook is yours, as are the markers. I will have a chauffeur arranged to take you back to your apartment.”

It was almost laughable - one of his father’s sleek black cars sliding though his slouching neighborhood. “That’s not necessary. I’ll walk.”

“Your father-”

“Is not here at the moment,” Adrien interrupted. “I’ve been walking around the city for years, and it won’t kill him if I do that some more.”

“Of course,” Nathalie said, after a carefully measured pause that Adrien supposed she’d planned to make it seem like she actually cared whether he walked or not. She was stubborn about things like work spaces and the way she dressed and carried herself, but Adrien knew (and had always known) that she didn’t care much for keeping Adrien on a tight leash.

Adrien gathered up all the markers and placed them in the tray, and then he stood, picking up the tray and the sketchbook. It was quite awkward to carry, given that the tray was so big, and he sort of regretted that he didn’t take up Nathalie’s offer of a chauffeur.

“You’re welcome to the old stuff in your room, as well,” Nathalie said, watching him with something that almost seemed close to pity.

“Thanks,” Adrien said, and Nathalie nodded.

She walked out of the office, not looking back once, and left Adrien alone. That is, alone with Plagg.

“Real warm and loving environment,” Plagg said, sitting up and stretching out his limbs.

“Hey, why didn’t either of them say anything about you?” Adrien asked, starting the walk back to his old room with Plagg at his heels.

Plagg made a movement with his cat shoulders that seemed almost like a shrug. “Every time you’ve gone to work or somewhere where I can’t follow, I’ve come here.” Adrien stopped walking, staring at Plagg.

“You what?”

“The first few times they tried to kick me out, but after they realized that I’d always find a way in, they just kind of accepted it,” Plagg continued, walking ahead of Adrien and then looking back to see why Adrien wasn’t following. “What?”

Adrien shook his head, walking to catch up with him. “You didn’t think to tell me?”

“Well.” He seemed to think for a moment. “No. I was just doing it at first because I wanted to figure out more about why you are” - he paused, gesturing at him with his paw - “the way you are-"

“Why did that sound like an insult?”

“-And then I discovered that your chefs are throwing away perfectly good cheese. So I kept coming back.”

Pushing open his old bedroom door with his foot, Adrien shook his head again. It was strange to think that there was now someone else who knew the strange, cold dynamic of the mansion like Adrien did - when there were no crowds to please or business associates to charm. It was uncomfortable, but also strangely comforting. “I can’t believe you.” He dumped the stuff in his arms on his bed, and then moved over to the closet, where he remembered keeping some old backpacks. Before he opened the door, he tossed his phone on the bed, looking over to Plagg. “Hey, could you call Nino for me?”

“What do I look like to you?” Plagg asked. “A stupid human with opposable thumbs?”

“More like a grumpy cat with magic paws,” Adrien said, opening up the closet and stepping inside.

A second later, Adrien heard the phone ringing. He smiled.

“Sup, bro?” came Nino’s voice, tiny and far away, from the phone.

“Hey,” Adrien called from the closet, reaching behind the clothes blindly for his stash of bags. “Are you doing anything for lunch?”

“Me and Alya were going out with one of her friends. You thinking about tagging along?”

“Yes!” Adrien shouted, not only because his plans matched up with Nino’s, but also because he found his old backpack from high school that he thought he lost.

“Whoa, man, you sound super excited. Anyway, we’re gonna meet up at that cafe you went to with Chloe in one of her vlogs or whatever. Alya said she wanted to try it.”

“Perfect,” Adrien said, emerging from his closet victorious and crouching down next to his phone. “See you in a bit.”

“Can’t wait, dude.”

Adrien hung up, and then stuffed the sketchbook inside his backpack. He looked at the tray of markers, and then decided to just pile the markers in the bag and disregard the tray. It’s not like he really cared about keeping the markers in the nice order they’d been in anyway.

“Do I get to go, too?” Plagg asked, his tail swishing back and forth as he watched Adrien slip the backpack onto his back.

“You’re going anyway aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

Rolling his eyes, Adrien turned away, walking out of his old bedroom. “They why ask?”

“It was a courtesy thing,” Plagg said, following after him, and then leaping on his shoulders. Adrien stumbled under the unexpected weight, and then glared at Plagg as he perched on his shoulder. Plagg licked his paw. “Onward, trusty steed.”

No one stopped him as he left the mansion, or even questioned his leaving, and Adrien couldn’t really decide if he felt good about that or not. Deciding to push those complicated feelings to the side for the moment, Adrien left the cold mansion with his head held high and his mind comfortably blasting elevator music to block out any stray thoughts.


---


Nino and Alya were already there at the cafe when Adrien arrived, and Adrien was surprised to see another familiar face there at the table. Marinette sat gazing out the window, her mind somewhere else entirely.

Alya elbowed Marinette, and she jumped (somewhat belatedly), her gaze catching on Adrien, and her eyes widened. Adrien slid into the seat beside Nino, placing his backpack carefully on the ground and giving Nino a fist bump for a greeting. “Hey, bro,” Nino said, moving over a little to make more room for Adrien. “You remember Alya, and this is her friend Marinette, who I’m pretty sure you also know.”

“Yeah,” Adrien said, smiling over to Marinette. “We’re friends.”

A look of pure panic traveled over her face, and for a moment, Adrien was afraid that he’d assumed wrong in saying that they were friends. And then she cleared her throat, staring hard at the wood grain of the table. “Yup, we’re real friends. That’s us. Buddies, pals, bros.” She winced, and Alya raised her eyebrows at her.

“Dude, it’s so cool that we all sort of know each other,” Nino said, grinning widely. “I honestly can’t believe it. Crazy coincidence, huh?”

“I’m starting to believe more in fate, though,” Adrien admitted, even though his brushes with what Ladybug had called fate weren’t exactly the most friendly.

“Fate?” Marinette asked, her voice high-pitched and squeaky.

“Yeah, girl,” Alya said. “It’s fate that we’re all going to be best friends,” she continued with a smile that was certifiably wicked. Something about the way she said it made Adrien kind of wonder what she actually meant.

“That’s cool,” Marinette stuttered. “Like, really cool. I love when fate does this - it’s actually my favorite thing, you know. And I also love making friends, so it’s just great that I’m getting a couple more who are pretty cool a-and you know what would be fantastic right now? If someone else decided to talk and change the subject. Does anyone volunteer?”

Adrien raised his hand, laughing a little. Marinette really was funny.

He picked up his backpack, and unzipped the biggest pocket. “Do you guys want to know a secret?”

The three of them stared at him. He tilted the backpack so that they could see what was inside.

“Dude, you brought Cheese?” Nino asked when Plagg lifted his head up a little.

“Cheese?” Marinette asked, eyeing Plagg somewhat suspiciously.

“Yeah, that’s his name.” Plagg glared back at Adrien. “It’s his name that he responds to and also enjoys immensely,” Adrien said, for Plagg’s benefit. Plagg stuffed himself deeper into the backpack, obviously pouting.

“He’s cute,” Marinette said as Adrien zipped up the backpack again and put it back on the floor. “I can’t believe you brought him in your backpack.”

“He has attachment issues,” Adrien said, knowing Plagg could hear. “He wouldn’t let me leave him behind.” Claws stuck through the material of the backpack and stabbed into Adrien’s leg. Adrien kept a straight face, kicking the bag lightly. The claws retracted.

“That’s cute,” Alya said as the waiter came by to take their orders. They all said what they wanted, and when the waiter left, they continued. “My cat might as well hate me with the way she avoids me.”

“I wish I had a cat,” Marinette said, and then she frowned. “Maybe a dog. Actually, I’m more of a hamster person.”

“Well, I like turtles,” Nino said. “Me and my mom have one, and he’s an absolute legend.”

Alya smiled at him, leaning her chin on her hand. “Oh, yeah? And what did he do to deserve that title?”

Nino leaned forward, smiling back at her. “He’s just gotta breathe. He’s that legendary.” Alya laughed, and Nino sat back, his smile turning goofy and liquid. Adrien looked at Marinette, and Marinette looked back at him, raising her eyebrows.

When it became clear that Adrien wasn’t going to ask the question, Marinette cleared her throat, catching the attention of their two googly-eyed friends. “So are you two… a thing?” she asked tentatively.

“We’re taking it slow for now,” Alya said, sharing a look with Nino. “But yeah, you could say we’re a thing.”

“That’s great,” Adrien said because Marinette didn’t seem to be the best in situations like these. “I approve.”

“Oh, yeah,” Nino said, rolling his eyes, “because I was definitely looking for Mr. Perfect Bone Structure’s approval.”

“Is that even an insult?” Alya asked, looking at Nino strangely.

“Yeah, it is,” Adrien said, nodding his head solemnly. “My perfect bone structure is something I’m really self-conscious about.”

Marinette giggled, and Adrien smiled at her. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nino and Alya share a Look, but there’s no way to tell what that was about, so he ignored it.

The lunch continued, and Adrien couldn’t help but marvel at the complete warmth in the atmosphere, considering where he’d just come from. The air in the mansion was like breathing loneliness, thick and cold, while here, in the yellow light of the cafe, he was breathing in laughter and smiles. His chest, which had been feeling heavy since leaving the mansion, lifted, and it felt like he could breathe easier. Everything was easier.

After they’d finished, they all walked outside of the cafe. Nino and Alya started talking quietly between them, and so Marinette drifted over to Adrien, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear.

“How was it with your father?” she asked, and Adrien sighed, some of the weight from the morning returning to his shoulders.

“Better than yesterday,” he admitted. “It’s still a bit rough, but I think it’ll be okay.”

“Well, that’s good at least,” she said with a shrug. “You seem more confident than you did this morning, so…” She trailed off, giving him a shy smile. Adrien watched her expression for a moment, taking note of the way her smile faded and her eyes drifted to the ground, as if her mind was wandering elsewhere, and that elsewhere wasn’t good.

“Are you alright?” Adrien asked. “You seem like something is bothering you.”

She blinked, looking back up at him, as if surprised he was able to tell. “Um.” For a moment, she didn’t say anything else, looking around wildly as if she would find her answer on the street or the fire hydrant they were standing beside. “Well. No, not really. I just…” She paused, her expression tightening a little and her shoulders drawing up the slightest bit. “I just found out that a friend of mine… passed away.”

Oh.

“Oh,” Adrien said, because what else was he supposed to say? “Oh, Marinette, I’m so sorry.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Marinette said, waving her hands and shaking her head. She smiled a little ruefully, as if she regretted telling him.

“If you need someone to talk to, then-” He stopped, smiling a little. “I’m here. Or not. You know, depending.”

She breathed out a laugh, looking down at her shoes. “Very funny.” When she looked back up at him, she seemed to be a little more in control, a little more like herself. “I have to get back to the shop, so I guess I’ll see you later, then.” She started to walk backwards in the direction of where Nino and Alya were standing, giving him a little wave.

“Of course,” Adrien said, nodding. “Text me if you feel like it.”

Something about that sentence seemed to take her by surprise, and she stumbled over her own feet. Her face turned a bright pink, and she turned around abruptly, hurrying to Alya and tugging on her sleeve.

Alya and Nino said their goodbyes (Adrien noticed that Alya gave him a kiss on the cheek - a ‘thing’ indeed), and Alya waved goodbye to Adrien. And then Marinette grabbed her and dragged her to a nice red car that was parked nearby.

Nino came to stand beside Adrien, touching the cheek that Alya had kissed. He looked positively lovestruck.

Adrien gave him a look.

“Shut up,” Nino said, punching Adrien on the shoulder.

“I didn’t say anything,” Adrien said, putting his hands up in defense. He and Nino started to walk side by side, and Adrien unzipped his backpack so that Plagg could come out.

“You and Cheese seem closer than ever,” Nino said as Plagg climbed onto Adrien’s shoulder and laid across his neck.

“Must be the name change,” Adrien said.

“Must be.”

They climbed onto a bus waiting at the bus stop, paying the fare and sitting down on two seats next to each other. “So remember the other night when I talked about quitting my job?” Adrien asked, deciding to jump right into the thing that he needed to say.

“Don’t tell me,” Nino said, narrowing his eyes at him.

“Not yet,” Adrien said. “But in my shift tonight I’m going to. And…” He trailed off, looking down at his lap. “I’ve started working for my father again.”

Nino leaned back, staring at the ceiling of the bus. He was quiet for a moment, and then his eyes slid over to look at Adrien. “That’s big,” he finally said, and Adrien breathed out a laugh.

“Huge,” he said, voice soft.

“And that’s what you want?”

“For right now,” he admitted with a shrug.

“Alright,” Nino said with a nod. “But just know, if you ever need someone to egg your dad’s car or something, then I know a girl.”

Adrien laughed. “Funny, that’s exactly what Marinette said.”

“I think we have in mind the same girl then,” Nino said, smiling a little, and then the smile turned a little mischievous. “You and Marinette?” he asked.

“Me and Marinette what?” What was that question even supposed to mean?

“She’s nice, and pretty,” Nino said, drawing out the words and wiggling his eyebrows.

“Yeah,” Adrien said with a shrug. “So?”

Nino rolled his eyes. “I never thought me and Chloe would have something in common, but.” He shook his head.

“You make no sense,” Adrien said, and Nino shook his head again.

“You’re just super oblivious- whoa!”

The bus had jerked to a stop, and all the passengers, including Adrien and Nino lurched forward. Plagg woke up from his catnap with a start, his claws digging into Adrien’s shirt in an effort to keep his position around his shoulders.

“What’s going on?” Adrien called up to the bus driving, standing up and looking out the windows.

“There’s a crowd out on the street,” the bus driver said, shaking his head. “I can’t go forward without injuring anybody.”

Adrien looked out the window, frowning. There really was a crowd out on the street, and they all seemed to be staring at the same distant point. The fearful look on all their faces made a chill go down Adrien’s spine, and he squinted through the window, trying to find what they were looking at.

“What’s going on?” he asked again softly, more to himself than anything else.

Nino’s phone dinged, and the both of them looked down at the offending machine. “It’s from Alya,” he said, opening up his phone. “Oh, God.”

“What? What is it?”

“She says there’s someone trying to jump off a building,” Nino said, looking up to Adrien. The fear on his face was the same as the one on the crowd’s faces, and Adrien found his legs moving before his mind. He was out in the street, among the crowd when his brain started working again.

He could see the person standing on the ledge of a nearby building, the breeze making her pink dress ripple gently in the wind.

“This is awful,” a woman beside him said.

He needed to help. He needed to get up there somehow-

“What’s that?”

There was line of red light running up the side of the building, completely parallel to the surface of the wall. It reached the woman standing on the ledge, and it was then, collectively that the crowd realized that it had been a woman.

Even from so far away, Adrien could see the red and black attire, the black hair so dark it seemed almost blue in the sunlight.

“Ladybug,” he whispered.

She seemed to try talking to the woman on the ledge, but the woman didn’t seem to be responding to anything that Ladybug was saying. And then.

And then.

(***) The woman jumped.

Ladybug lunged out. Her hand missed the woman, and she tumbled over the ledge after the woman, only just managing to grasp the ledge of a window a couple stories down.

But the woman was still falling, falling. Her body had twisted so that she was facing the sky, the bright blue, the cheery sun. Falling, falling, falling.

A flash of pink magic erupted from Ladybug’s free hand, and a line of black burst from her fingertips, racing, racing, racing to catch up with the woman, whose arms reached up to the sun, reached up for the magic, reached up for Ladybug.

“Please,” Adrien found himself saying, praying, begging.

Adrien was too far away to see what happened, but the crowd around him grew silent in a final, bone-chilling instant. For a moment, Adrien was frozen, unable to move or think or breathe, and then his body brought one arm up, and then the other, and then he was pushing his way to the front of the crowd.

A line of police was holding everyone back, but Adrien could still see.

The woman was hanging by the wire, her eyes open and staring at the sky but not seeing a thing. Her arms were thrown open, as if awaiting an embrace, as if welcoming an end. They weren’t reaching for anything anymore.

Ladybug landed on the ground beside her, a cloud of magic erupting at her feet, and some of the police pulled their guns. She held her hands up, chest heaving, fingers shaking, as she looked around at everyone staring at her, staring at the body. “Please,” she said, her voice breaking. “I was trying to save her. I was trying-” Her voice broke off entirely, and she collapsed next to the woman’s body.

(***) “Identify yourself,” one of the policemen said, and Ladybug’s head jerked up. She looked around, as if finally realizing the situation, her blue eyes wild and heartbroken.

“I’m sorry,” she said, and she supported the woman in one arm and summoned whatever she’d used to catch her from the ledge. The wire came down to her and retracted into what looked like a yo-yo, unraveling gently from the woman’s body. “I’m sorry,” she said again, but this one was quieter, gentler, as she laid the woman down to rest on the cold sidewalk.

“Identify yourself,” the policeman repeated, firmer.

Ladybug stood, wiping away the tears that stained her red and black polka dotted domino mask. She looked around with glassy eyes, and she took a deep breath. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save her. I truly am.”

And then she threw the yo-yo, and she swung away on its wire, leaving a cloud of pink magic in her wake.

Chapter Text

“I’m putting in my two weeks.”

Kagami blinked at him, putting down the menus she was stacking. “What?”

“I’m quitting,” Adrien said, hollow.

She frowned, her warm brown eyes searching through him. Adrien couldn’t really see her, though. All he could see was the blue sky in the window behind her, cheery and bright. It felt wrong. The sky had no business being beautiful when it had stood by and watched, never taking hold of the hand that reached for it.

“Is everything okay, Adrien?” Kagami asked, and Adrien’s eyes slid over from the window back to her face, pretty and concerned.

“Yeah,” he answered, but he was lying. They both knew it.

“Okay,” she said slowly, turning back to the menus although her eyes never left him. “You have my number. Just call or text me if you ever want to talk about it.” He didn’t, but the sentiment was nice. “Let’s get through this shift, okay?”

“Yeah,” he said again, and he turned away from her, and he breathed. In his mind, he saw the blue sky eyes of a woman who’d never breathe again.


---


He didn’t even bother resting at home after his shift. He had Plagg Transform him in an alleyway and headed straight for Ladybug’s. More people than usual were out, and they were all talking loudly and worriedly. The noise was different than the warm chatter of other nights - it was different and overbearing and foreboding.

It wasn’t hard to guess what everyone was talking about.

“-Did you see?”

“Yes, that poor girl-”

“-We’re all dead-”

“-Because of her-”

“-She did her best-”

“-If she’s so powerful-”

“-Why couldn’t she stop it?”

Adrien leaned down, scooping Plagg into his arms, and he ran.

Everything was so messed up - that at least, everyone, even Adrien, could agree on. Magic out in the open, during the day time (a taboo Adrien still didn’t fully understand); a pretty girl, dead; Ladybug, the most powerful, the most capable, failing. Everything was so messed up.

He had seen her face when her feet had landed on the cement of the pavement, he had seen her eyes when she gazed down at that dead woman’s body, and he had seen her grief as plainly as he had seen the glittering cloud of magic around her. She’d been a mess, a wreck. If she could hear everyone now-

If she could hear everyone now-

He ran faster.

By the time Adrien arrived at the shop, breathless and heaving, a crowd had gathered. Murmuring mages mingling, wondering what was going on with their beloved witch. Adrien turned to the girl standing closest to him, her skin lilac colored and dreadlocks with every shade of the rainbow in them. “Do you know where she is?”

The girl shook her head, wringing her hands out. “No, monsieur. We’ve been waiting here quite a while, but she hasn’t come down.”

“She revealed magic in front of all of Paris,” said a familiar voice. “If I were her, I wouldn’t want to show my face either.”

Adrien turned, recognizing the devilish girl clad in orange and white leaning against the wall of the shop. Volpina. “She did it to save someone’s life,” he said before he could stop himself, and he said it much louder than he’d intended. The crowd around him went quiet. Plagg wriggled out his grasp to land nimbly at his feet, glaring menacingly at the crowd that stood gaping at his audacity.

“Oh, yeah, and what a success that was,” Volpina said with a scoff, rolling her eyes. “She ended up killing the poor girl” - she waved her hand, a small branch appearing out of sparkling orange mist - “snapping her spine like a twig.” Her fingers closed around the wood, and with a crack, the twig broke in two, the pieces falling to the pavement with a clatter. Adrien’s jaw clenched, his fingers curling into fists. “And now she’s endangered the one demographic of people that loved her the most.” She shook her head, clicking her tongue softly. “How sad.”

“Don’t you care that she was trying to help that woman?” Adrien demanded.

“She killed her,” Volpina snarled, her lips curling up at Adrien. “She killed us all,” she said, throwing her arms open to the crowd surrounding them. “There’s going to be a witch hunt, and we’re all going to have the precious Ladybug to blame."

Adrien lunged forward, but suddenly he couldn’t move his arms anymore, or his legs. He was suspended in mid-air, trapped staring at a glaring Volpina.

“That’s enough,” said a quiet voice behind him, and the crowd gasped. Ladybug came to stand beside Volpina and Adrien. She snapped her fingers, and his feet landed on the ground once more. He was about to say something, but she held her hand up, and his mouth closed on its own. “I said. That’s enough.”

Her hand came up and waved through Volpina’s body. The figure of the snarling girl disappeared into a cloud of orange smoke, and Adrien took a step back in surprise. Ladybug ignored him, turning to the crowd with all eyes on her.

“I know many of you may be upset with what I did earlier today,” she said, raising her voice so that everyone could hear. “But please be aware that I wouldn’t have done it if I thought there were any other choice. I know you’re scared for the repercussions of my actions, but as of now, the Commons only know of me. I will do everything in my ability to protect your existence, and the existences of your loved ones.”

The crowd parted for her as she moved to the front door, and she tapped Adrien’s arm lightly so that he would follow. A stunned silence moved like a living thing through the crowd, and finally, someone spoke. It was that girl that Adrien had talked to before.

“What’s happening, Ladybug?” she asked.

Ladybug looked at her, taking a deep breath. “I will have more information later, but right now, all I can say is…” She trailed off, closing her eyes to the crowd before she opened them, cold and determined, and found the girl’s eyes once more. “Stay away from a man called Hawkmoth.”

Almost instantaneously people were shouting questions and demands in the hopes of getting more answers, but Ladybug just unlocked the door to her shop and pushed inside, grabbing Adrien’s arm and dragging him in as well. She held the door open long enough for Plagg to get through, and then she closed it to the crowd, locking it tight. “Seal,” she whispered, and red runes crawled to life on the windows and walls, filling up every available space, throwing blood red light across the dark and empty bookstore.

“Come,” she said, and Adrien followed as she entered the back room and started up the stairs. Even apart from the bookstore, the red light of the runes pervaded, glowing up the stairwell and up into the living space that the stairs opened up to. It was kind of messy, from what Adrien could see in the dark splashed with red light, but it was the sort of messy that just said someone lived in a place. Various books were left in different places, as well as cardigans and bottles of strange sparkling liquids or glowing plants.

Adrien thought about saying something, but when he tried, he couldn’t open his mouth. He looked down at Plagg, but Plagg didn’t say anything either.

Ladybug led him to what looked like the kitchen table, making him and Plagg sit at the table as she opened up the cabinets for a couple of mugs (and a bowl) and filled a pink teapot with tap water. She stood by the stove, staring at the teapot in silence as the stove heat up. She looked completely empty, and when the teapot screamed, she barely reacted.

She seemed to come to herself after a moment, pouring the hot water into the mugs and then opening up a drawer for tea bags. But she didn’t seem to carefully consider them like Adrien had seen her do before, instead grabbing three random ones and plopping them into the water. She carried the mugs over to the table and then sat down across from Adrien. Tikki came out of her pocket and sat on the table, looking up at Ladybug worriedly.

They sat in silence for a while, and Ladybug made no move to drink the tea in front of her, even though she was the absolutely insane type and always drank her tea almost immediately. But now she hardly moved. She hardly breathed.

In the red glow of the runes, she looked positively ghostly. Her skin was white, and the shadows of her face were bathed in red. There were no traces of makeup on her skin, although Adrien had never seen her without her signature red lipstick. But now her lips were chapped and devoid of any pigment.

Deciding that he’d sat in silence for too long, Adrien tapped the table softly. Ladybug’s empty eyes looked up from the tea in front of her to gaze at him. He gestured to his mouth. “Sorry,” she said, her voice coming out as a whisper. She leaned forward and tapped a finger to his lips. He was too worried to even spare a thought to that.

But now that he had his speaking ability back, he couldn’t think of the right thing to say. “Do you live here?” he asked, and she shook her head.

“A friend does,” she said softly, clearing her throat. “She lets me use the shop downstairs and the resources she has up here.”

“Oh.”

They lapsed into silence. Adrien looked down at Plagg and Tikki for help. They looked at him for the same thing. He cleared his throat.

“I… I was there,” Adrien found himself saying, and her lips pursed. “I saw.”

“A lot of people did,” she said, running a hand over her face.

“What happened?” Adrien asked, and she sighed, looking over at the rune-stained windows.

“I was in the area when I got this strange feeling,” she said, her soft voice penetrating the heavy air like a knife. “When I looked around, I saw the woman. I Transformed before I even thought about it, and I ran.” Her eyes dropped to the table, and she ran her fingers over the grain of the wood.

“You tried to talk her down.”

“Yeah,” she said, taking a deep breath. “I tried. She wouldn’t look at me. She barely even recognized that I was there.” Her nails scratched against the wood, her dainty hand curling into a fist. “She told me Hawkmoth told her everything would be okay. And then she…” She trailed off, her bottom lip trembling.

“This girl is like Stormy?” Adrien asked, and Ladybug nodded, sniffing and looking away. “So she was part of the magic community, too?”

“Yeah,” Ladybug said with a nod, uncurling her fist and wiping her nose. Her gaze drifted to her mug of quickly cooling tea, dark red and thick in the uneasy light of the runes.

Adrien watched her. She was sitting with her shoulders hunched over, her head bent.

“You shouldn’t blame yourself,” he said, which seemed to be the wrong thing to say. She leapt to her feet, as if ready to fight him and the table and the air and the whole world.

“How could I not?” she demanded, starting to pace back and forth and curling her fists in her messy hair. “I had every chance to save her, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t fast enough, or strong enough, or smart enough, or convincing enough. I wasn’t enough.”

Swallowing, Adrien fought to keep himself steady. She didn’t need him getting emotional now, too. “You did everything you could.”

“I didn’t!” she shouted, whirling on him. Her eyes were glassy and fierce, her hair wild. Red magic flooded the air around her, making the air sting of earth and spice. The shadows of her face were deeper than ever, and although she wore a mask, it didn’t hide the raw red of her icy eyes or the bags that hung from them. “I didn’t do everything I could’ve because if I had, she wouldn’t be dead.” She spat the word out like it was a curse, and then she turned away from him, her figure tense and solid, like a fighter. Like a warrior.

“Volpina was right,” she said, poisonous. The line of her shoulders dropped, and she hung her head. “I killed her.”

“No,” Adrien said, getting up from the table and standing behind her. He reached out to touch her, but stopped himself short, curling his hand and letting it drop to his side. “You tried to save her, and even though… even though it turned out the way it did, she would’ve died anyway if you hadn’t tried to save her. You tried, and that’s more than I can say for anybody else.”

“I killed her,” she said, as if she hadn’t heard him at all. “And now I’ve killed everybody else.”

Adrien burned. He grabbed her wrist, whirling her around to face him. “You can’t possibly believe the things that Volpina said,” Adrien said, and she avoided his gaze, her arm limp in his grasp. “She’s wrong. You said yourself-”

“Do you know how easy it is to fake confidence?” she interrupted, shaking her head. “I do it every night, pretending to be someone I’m not, some witch that can solve everybody’s problems. Hell, I even promised I’d help you, and I have no clue what to do for you. I’m not what everybody thinks I am.”

“Maybe not,” Adrien admitted, ducking to catch her eyes. “But you are powerful, and you use that power to help people. That has to count for something.”

“It doesn’t. It doesn’t count for anything if I couldn’t…” A tear slipped down her cheek. “I can’t… I can’t stop seeing her,” she whispered, a soft confession, a heart wrenching admission. Adrien pulled her into a hug so tight, so fast, he was afraid she stopped breathing. Until she shook in his arms, pressing her face into his chest and letting heartbreaking sobs tear through her. She was so small, so fragile in his arms. It was like holding glass.

“I see her, too,” he said softly, and she wrapped her arms around him, squeezing him just as tight as he was her.

“I knew her,” she sobbed, the words pressing into his chest and wrapping around his heart. “She was my friend. I knew her.”

“I’m so sorry,” Adrien said, leaning his head on hers and running his hands through her hair. He was crying, too, he realized, and he felt the burn in his throat and in his heart.

They stayed like that for a while, and then Adrien gently led her to the couch, sitting her down and grabbing a blanket that had been discarded over the armrest. He sat down next to her, wrapping her up in the blanket and using its corners to wipe her face. Something about the simple action seemed to make her cry harder, and she leaned her face against his shoulder.

“I’m a murderer,” she said.

“No,” he answered, and she cried more.

His heart broke for her, and he put his arms around her again, wishing there was some way for him to ease the pain inside her. But all he could do was wait for the tears to dry up while running his fingers through her hair and whispering that she was good, that she tried, that that was enough.

He was in love with her, he realized.

Her face shifted a bit against his shoulder, and there was a rather suspicious sniffing noise paired with a wet feeling on his shirt. Adrien frowned, looking down at her. “Did you just wipe your snot on my shoulder?” he asked, and she avoided his gaze.

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” he said, tucking her hair behind her ear. She was absolutely beautiful in the red-tinged light, even hurt and broken and ghostly, and it hurt because nothing about this was the right time to realize that he was in love. “I’ll give you a snot pass since I got some in your hair earlier.”

She recoiled, making a face and putting a hand on the top of her head.

“I’m kidding,” he said, taking her hand and kissing her knuckles. “But it’s still okay that you wiped snot on my nice shirt.” She smiled a little bit, and it was like the biggest victory he’d ever experienced. She pulled her hand away, her smile fading. Adrien mourned its death.

“I’m sorry for breaking down,” she said, wiping her cheeks and looking down at her lap.

“I think you’re allowed to do that after what you went through.”

“Yeah,” she said with a shrug. “Maybe.”

“I mean it, my lady.”

“Yeah,” she said again, a stray tear dropping from her eye. She swiped it away so quick that Adrien wondered if he’d imagined it. “We have to figure out what’s happening,” she said, her shoulders drawing back and her chin lifting up. Her eyes were still raw, but she was no longer made of glass, no longer fragile or breakable.

Adrien thought about how she’d said she was good at pretending.

“We do,” Adrien agreed, soft, open. Ready to step forward or back, wherever she took him.

“And we have to figure out how to stop it,” she said. The determined line of her shoulders was growing tense.

“That too.”

“And somehow keep the Commons from finding out too much out about magic,” she continued.

“And that.”

She dropped her head in her hands, and, just like that, the act was over.

He took her hands in his, cradling them gently as if they was something precious, valuable. They were.

She looked up at him, eyebrows furrowed, weight of the world on her shoulders. Adrien couldn’t resist reaching over and tucking a lock of her wild, red-tinged hair behind her ear.

“Let’s start slow,” he said softly, taking her hands again and doing his best to smile gently. “What was her name?”

She swallowed, open and vulnerable as she searched their hands, and then his face, his eyes. He hoped she found what he was looking for. “Rose,” she said finally, voice low and weak, “her name was Rose.”

Chapter Text

Chat Noir sat in front of her, gentle and good, and she looked away. She took her hands away from his grasp, folding them neatly in her lap, and she swallowed. He didn’t seem to mind, and, for some reason, that was worse. She stood.

“I suppose I should tell you everything,” she said, wrapping her arms around herself and pretending to examine the Sealing runes that decorated the windows and walls and served as their light source.

“You could,” she heard him say, open, forgiving.

Everything sucked.

“Rose was her civilian name,” she said, squeezing herself a little to get herself to focus. “She is - was - a school teacher. As a witch, she specialized in perfumes that had varying abilities.”

“You knew her real name, too?” Chat asked, not moving from the couch even as Marinette paced slowly through her living room.

“Unlike Stormy, I met Rose before she got into magic.” Another wave of guilt and grief rushed over her, and she chewed on her bottom lip and fiddled with the frizzy ends of her hair. “I helped ease her through the beginning of it.” Her lip, sensitive from all the abuse she’d given it during the day as well, stung, and she forced herself to stop. Instead, she chewed on her nails, an awful habit that she thought she’d gotten rid of in high school.

Chat Noir watched her in silence.

“She went by Fragrancia among mages,” she continued, her teeth scraping against her nail absently. “She was popular and well liked, because that’s just how Rose was” - it was like a constant heartbreak, to know that she was gone, gone because of her - “so it won’t be long until people realize that Rose and Fragrancia were the same person.”

“Slow down,” Chat said, and Marinette stopped her pacing, turning to look at him. “Don’t think about anything else right now. Just…” He took a deep breath, bringing his shoulders up to his ears and lowering them back again as if to show her how to relax. “Just tell me what happened earlier today.”

Earlier today.

Earlier.

Today.

There she was, beautiful, pale, and dead.

Dead.

Gone.

Never again to take in air into her lungs.

Staring.

Broken.

“Get out of your head,” Chat said, and Marinette blinked, coming back to herself. She took her thumbnail out of her mouth and looked over to him. “I could see you spiralling. Your thoughts are quite loud, my lady.” His lips were twisted in a wry smile, unhumorous and burdened.

He shouldn’t be here, she realized.

This poor man was only looking for a woman that meant something to him - he wasn’t here to play supernatural detective to a couple of suicides that weren’t really suicides. He didn’t have to be sitting on her couch watching her try and function like a human should, and yet here he was. Another wave of guilt crashed into her.

She forced herself to look away from him.

“I’m sorry,” she said, wrapping her arms around herself. “I know this isn’t something that you… were expecting when you came to me.”

“Maybe not,” Chat said. He was still sitting on the couch, completely grounded, completely calm. The exact opposite of Marinette’s restless energy. “But I’m not going to leave you out to dry.” When her only response was chewing more on her nails, he sighed. “I told you before, Ladybug. I’m going to help you figure out what to do with this Hawkmoth guy. I meant it.”

“I know you did,” Marinette said before she could stop herself. “But things are different now.”

It wasn’t just one person now, and it wasn’t a death that Marinette had only seen in her dreams. It was more than likely serial, and it was a death that Marinette had inadvertently caused. Her failure was on display. Her head was a mess. She shouldn’t drag another person, a person who knew less about magic than the average mage, into whatever horror show this was. It wasn’t fair.

“I don’t know what you’re thinking, but stop that,” Chat said, and Marinette pursed her lips. He watched her for a moment, bright green eyes luminous in the low light. And then he finally stood, going to the kitchen table and picking up their long-forgotten mugs of cold tea. He washed them out in the sink, and then looked over at Marinette. “Do you have milk, honey, and cinnamon?”

“Why?”

“So that you can calm down,” he answered.

“I… Yeah, I do.” She took out the milk, honey, and cinnamon from their respective places and put them on the counter. There were a lot of potions and spells for calming down, but as she racked her brain, she couldn’t think of a single one that used only milk, honey, and cinnamon. And she hadn’t known Chat could perform spells yet.

“Do you have a small pot I can use?” he asked, and Marinette obediently got one out for him, still thinking about potions and spells. He poured some milk into the pan and then set it on the stove, turning it on and waiting patiently. “Could you put the honey in the mugs?” he asked as he waited, and Marinette startled out of her speculations on spells.

“Yeah,” she answered, picking up the bottle of honey and going over to the mugs. “How much?”

“Just enough to coat the bottom.”

Marinette did as she was told, and then when the milk was sufficiently heated, Chat turned off the stove and brought the pot of warm milk to the mugs. He poured it in over the honey, and then took the little container of cinnamon, sprinkling a bit in each mug.

“Here,” he said, handing her back her mug and keeping his in his hand. “Drink.”

She took the mug, sniffing it and furrowing her eyebrows. It didn’t really smell like anything magic. It just smelled like milk and honey and cinnamon. “What spell is this?”

Chat raised an eyebrow. “It isn’t.”

Marinette felt like an idiot.

He made her sit down at the kitchen table, and he sat down, too. But this time he sat right next to her, not across from her. “My mom used to make it for me when I was a kid,” Chat explained, blowing at the drink before taking a small sip. “She would always make it when I was sad and needed cheering up, or when I couldn’t sleep, or when things got a bit much. It always helped me, so…” He trailed off, giving her a shrug.

Staring down at her mug, Marinette found a small inkling of herself that she hadn’t felt since the day before. She took a sip and let the warm, sweet mixture slide easily down her sore throat. It brought the barest feeling of a smile to her, and it was like some of the load that she had carried since Rose lifted, but only minutely.

“You know,” she said, voice soft as she put the mug down and looked up at Chat, “there are many different forms of magic that aren’t always recognized.” He waited for her to continue, shifting a leg up and tucking one of his feet under his thigh. Marinette got comfortable, too, bringing her feet up to sit cross-legged. “The sound of a beloved song not listened to in a while, the colors of the first flower to bloom after a cold winter, the feeling of rain on skin, the smell of fresh baked bread.” She paused, looking down at the warm mug she still had her cold hands wrapped around. “One doesn’t always have to know magic to feel it, to experience it, to make it.”

Chat smiled at her, tentatively, as if he was afraid this less-fragile and more like herself version of her wouldn’t last very long. “I like that.”

“Thank your mother for me.”

His smile turned a little sad. “I will.”

Against her will, Marinette’s bottom lip trembled, and she looked down into her mug, taking a shaky breath. Her rage was gone, mostly, and so was her choking grief, and now came the gentle drowning. The grief that never quite went away, that came in the quiet moments or any moment at all.

She hated all this crying. But she couldn’t stop the tear that rolled down her cheek.

“You were there, right?” she asked quietly, not looking up from her mug. “You saw?”

“Yes,” Chat said. She could feel his eyes on her.

“I was there so fast. I hardly even knew what I was doing. I hardly even knew the mistake I was making.” The magic that tore through her in the back alleyway filled with bright, drowning sunlight, still tore through her now. She could feel its remnants, its uncomfortable stretch just beneath her skin. Sore. Aching. Painful.

“Mistake?” Chat asked. But she hardly heard him, her mind in that glaring sun, in that moment before.

“There was just this feeling. This dread, this warning,” she continued, and she felt her body shaking. “I was in a car with a friend, and as soon as I felt it, I… I made her stop the car in the middle of the road. And I ran.” A bitter laugh fell clumsily over her lips. “I didn’t even know where I was going.”

She started chewing on her thumbnail, shifting her gaze to the red runes on the windows. Red like the sparks that pounded into the side of a building as she ran towards a feeling, towards a fear.

“It was Stormy,” she finally said, her lips trembling harder, the runes in her vision blurring with the force of her tears. “She still couldn’t show herself to me, but she was the one who warned me.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I know it.”

Tikki stared at her. She hadn’t said anything about her feeling Stormy was behind the warning, and she couldn’t quite place why she was saying it now, but she was.

“Her name was Aurore,” she said. “I found out this morning.”

Chat took this information in silence, a hand absentmindedly running through Plagg’s fur. “This isn’t your fault,” he finally said, breaking the heavy air with his soft words. “Aurore and Rose. It’s not your fault.”

It was.

But she forced herself to smile, and she didn’t miss the way that Chat’s lips turned down in a frown. “Maybe,” she said, and Chat’s frown deepened.


---


Marinette was exhausted beyond belief. Her whole body and all her insides felt wrong from using magic during the day, and her soul was tired from crying, from raging, from existing. Chat had fallen asleep on her couch after he’d tried to get her to talk about Rose a little more, and Plagg had curled protectively around his head, dozing gently.

Dawn was breaking, and Marinette hadn’t slept a wink. She still had her Transformation on because Chat was still there, but she knew Tikki was getting tired, too.

Just as the beginnings of sunlight started to change the sky to a bleeding gray, she whispered the small incantation that made the red runes on the windows fade, leaving nothing behind except the faint tang of earth in the air as they went dormant. It left the living room dark, and Marinette slipped out of the room, hoping Chat or Plagg didn’t wake up any time soon.

When Marinette released her Transformation and then immediately started getting ready for her day shift, Tikki frowned, yawning. “You’re not going to sleep?” she asked, disapproving.

Her jaw clenched, and she turned away to look through the clothes in her closet. “You know I can’t right now,” she said softly. “And I have to get a certain cat out of my house.”

She pulled out the washed and ironed white button down shirt that she’d been holding on to, as well as clothes for the day. Tikki settled onto the bed and almost immediately fell asleep as Marinette started getting changed. Marinette suddenly felt awful for forcing Tikki to stay up. Just because she couldn’t find it in herself to sleep didn’t mean she should force her poor friend to stay up and suffer with her.

Her plan was to go to see her parents today anyway, so she decided to pilfer some of her parents’ homemade chocolate chip cookies and raspberry macaroons for Tikki.

After she got changed she went back out to the living room, holding the white button down, and tried to gently shake Chat awake. He didn’t stir. She shook a little harder. Still, he didn’t wake. She analyzed her options.

“Chat,” she whispered, shaking him far rougher than before. “Chat Noir, wake up.”

He groaned, the sound deep within his throat and reminiscent of a small cat’s growl.

She tried the same process again, but when he still didn’t wake up, she abandoned the nice side of her that was begging her to try a little harder to wake him up nicely. Setting his shirt to the side, she grabbed one of her throw pillows and held it over his face. She started to swing down, but stopped when she realized Plagg was there.

“Plagg,” she whispered. Plagg popped an eye open and eyed her suspiciously. “You might want to move to the side.” He didn’t say anything - for good reason, Marinette supposed, given that she wasn’t wearing the mask anymore and looked just like any commoner - and got up languidly, stretching out thoroughly before jumping off the couch. He sat beside her feet and looked up at her with his luminous green eyes, waiting.

“Last chance, Chat Noir,” she said loudly, and when he simply smacked his lips, she swung down. Hard.

The pillow hit his face with little mercy, and Chat sat up with a start, a pathetic noise slipping from his throat.

“Good morning,” Marinette said, and he frowned, rubbing his eyes.

“Ladybug?”

“Not Ladybug,” Marinette said, voice smooth and even despite the panic that gripped her stomach with the utterance of such a small question. Chat looked over at her - really looked over at her - and blinked some more.

“Oh, sorry,” he said, still blinking and rubbing his eyes, “my contacts are all blurry.”

“Ladybug left a little bit ago. She wanted me to wake you when dawn came, and she wanted me to give you this.” Marinette handed him his shirt, and upon seeing it, his expression warmed almost painfully.

“She ironed it?” he asked, voice made of honey.

“The least she could do considering all you’ve done for her,” Marinette replied, handing him the shirt. He took the shirt and smiled down at it. The expression was too much for Marinette to even try to think about now, and so she cleared her throat. “It’s dawn now, so you should be on your way.”

“Of course,” he said, standing up and stretching out his limbs much in the way Plagg had done. “Thank you for your hospitality, m-” His eyes widened minutely, his lips drawing out the ‘m’ sound for a couple seconds longer than Marinette thought was normal. “My princess,” he finished, bowing low and deftly taking her hand to brush a feather-light kiss over her knuckles.

This guy.

Marinette took her hand away, giving him a smile that she hoped wasn’t too forced. “Marinette will do just fine.”

He stood up straight, smiling sheepishly. “Got it, Marinette.” Crouching down, he let Plagg jump onto his shoulders, and then nodded rather formally to her. “I apologize for overstaying my welcome and for using some of your kitchen without your explicit permission.”

So polite it was painful. “It’s alright,” she said, shaking her head.

She led him to the stairs that went down to the shop and walked him down to the back entrance of the store. That way when he left, no one would see him - just in case there were people still outside from the mob from the night.

“Thank you again,” Chat said, bowing his head to her as he opened up the door.

“It was really no trouble,” she said, although it was. She’d debated what to do with Chat for hours after he’d fallen asleep. But she’d never tell him that - he’d been too nice to her through her breakdown.

Chat turned to leave, and then paused, fingers drumming the side of the door. He looked back to her, his bright green cat eyes looking over her pensively. “You’re friends with Ladybug, right?”

She blinked. “Yes, I am.” In a manner of speaking, she supposed.

“Will you…” He trailed off,  pressing his lips together and looking down at his shoes before looking back to her. “Will you tell her that this whole Hawkmoth thing isn’t her fault?” he asked, gentle and soft. “I tried to tell her last night, but maybe it would mean more from someone who’s closer to her.”

Marinette’s bottom lip trembled, and she had the overwhelming urge to just wrap Chat in a crushing hug and apologize profusely to him. No one deserved to have such a huge secondhand burden of witnessing the supposed best witch in Paris succumb to her insecurities - least of all this poor boy who was arguably one of the sweetest she’d ever met.

But she just smiled wanly, bringing her shoulders up to her ears as she crossed her arms. “I think she just needs some time to process what’s happened. Maybe then she’ll think a little more clearly.” Chat nodded seriously, chewing on his bottom lip. Marinette bit the inside of her cheek. “But I’ll tell her.”

The look of gratefulness that lit up Chat’s features had Marinette thinking gently to herself: This isn’t your fault. Just take some time to think clearly.

“You’re a gift, Marinette,” Chat said, placing a hand on her shoulder and squeezing lightly. “Thank you for everything.”

He turned and left, and Marinette heard him whispering to Plagg as she shut the door after him. This boy didn’t deserve this, Marinette found herself thinking for perhaps the millionth time. He shouldn’t be in this mess with her.

But he was. She supposed having such a guy on her side through this wasn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to her.

Her mind involuntarily flashed to the pavement, the cheery blue sky, the ever-staring eyes.

Definitely not the worst thing that’s ever happened to her.

A wave of tears threatened to overcome her, and she took a deep breath in, although it didn’t feel like she breathed at all. She released the breath and pushed her hair out of her face, trying to get past the tightness in her chest and throat. But it was there anyway, and with it came the burning wet in her eyes and the growing heat on her face.

She turned away from the backdoor, slapping her cheeks in an attempt to get herself under control. She didn’t plan on opening the shop for the day - even she knew she was in no condition to work - but she couldn’t help the glance at the front section of her shop just to check if all was in order.

And that’s when she saw the figure sitting with their back to the door, unbearably small. Marinette recognized the clothes from the day before.

Her feet couldn’t take her to the door fast enough, and she fumbled with the lock on the door, ripping it open once she’d struggled through it. “Alya!” Marinette cried, dropping to her knees and enveloping her surprised friend in a hug. “What are you doing here so early?”

Alya shifted in her arms, rubbing sleep from her eyes and smearing her already smudged eye makeup from the day before. “Marinette? What time is it?”

Marinette checked her wristwatch, leaning back a bit to give Alya her space. “A little after five. How long have you been here, crazy chérie? You’ll get yourself a cold!” It was true that during the day time it was still quite warm, but during the nights, the temperature dropped considerably, hinting at the growing winter season. Even now, as the sun was starting to show its face, the brisk in the air was palpable. Alya’s skin was chilled to the touch.

“I’ve been here since late last night,” Alya said as Marinette stood up and helped her to her feet.

“What on earth for?” Marinette demanded, leading Alya inside and locking the shop door behind her. They went into the back room, and Marinette started up a cup of warming tea for the both of them. “You should’ve called me!"

“I wanted to see Ladybug,” Alya said, taking off her glasses and rubbing her eyes some more. Now that Marinette had gotten a proper look at her, she saw the way that Alya’s mascara had pooled underneath her eyes and then dried, and she saw the red swell of her eyes, not unlike Marinette’s own. “And you weren’t answering your phone,” she answered a little more quietly, lowering her head.

Taking the lump of machinery out of her pocket, Marinette checked the useless black screen. The battery had died. There was no telling how long it’d been out.

“Oh, Alya,” Marinette near sobbed, coming to sit across from her and grabbing her hands. “I’m so sorry. I was a mess last night; I-I didn’t even notice that my phone died.”

“It’s alright, mignonette,” Alya said, squeezing her hands and giving her a small smile. “I don’t blame you. Yesterday was too much for the both of us.”

It was yesterday again, and Marinette was screaming for Alya to stop the car. Bursting out into the bustling street and running, running. Falling. Devastated. Finding Alya among the crowd and sobbing into her shoulder, unable to think, unable to breathe, unable to exist. Spending the rest of the day, empty, a shell, at Alya’s place, until she dragged herself back home to see a mob at her front door.

The tea kettle screamed, and Marinette blinked back to today. She let go of Alya’s hands and turned away to attend to the kettle. “You’re right. It was too much.”

“By the time I came around looking for Ladybug, there was this awful crowd here,” Alya said as Marinette assembled their cups and poured the hot water over the tea bags. “And Ladybug had locked herself in.”

“It was for the best,” Marinette said, bringing a mug to Alya and keeping one for herself as she sat down again. “Ladybug is a person, too. People tend to forget that.” She wasn’t the best witch to ever live. She wasn’t their Messiah. She was just a girl in Paris, grieving and living like anyone else. A face in the crowd.

“How is she?” Alya asked, wrapping her strong hands around the mug and leaning down into it. The steam fogged up her glasses, and she lifted her face a bit. “From what we saw yesterday and from what I heard last night, she seemed to be in a rough shape.”

“I…” Marinette trailed off, fiddling with the tea bag in her cup.

“You were here last night weren’t you? You saw her?”

“Yes,” Marinette finally said, looking away.

“That bad?” Alya asked, shaking her head.

“As bad as you’d expect, I think?” What was one supposed to expect in this instance? What level of anger or grief was acceptable here? How was anyone supposed to know?

“She has a lot on her shoulders already, and this…” Alya trailed off, tapping her manicured fingers against the porcelain of the mug. “This can’t have been too good for her. A lot of mages are worried about how she exposed the magic community with her actions.”

“She did the right thing,” Marinette said, the words bitter in her mouth. Did I? Did I really do the right thing? How could the right thing possibly end up with the person you’re trying to save dead anyway?

“I know that,” Alya said, looking up at Marinette with a fierceness in her eyes that didn’t allow for any sort of questioning in her statement. She sighed, looking down at her mug and tracing its lip with a careful finger. “But not everyone else thinks so. They’re saying that she acted too rashly, and now she’s doomed them all. And they don’t care much for the cryptic message she left them with before Sealing the walls of this place.”

Marinette winced. “You heard about that?”

“People were talking about it for hours, Marinette,” Alya said, deeming her tea efficiently cooled and taking a sip. “None of them had ever heard of this ‘ Hawkmoth’ guy, and none of them knew how to connect it to the situation at hand.” Alya chewed on the inside of her cheek, looking at Marinette and narrowing her eyes a little. “I don’t suppose you know anything about it?”

Shifting her gaze to the side, Marinette shifted uncomfortably. “Nothing really,” she said, not necessarily untruthfully. She really didn’t know that much about this Hawkmoth guy. “Only that Ladybug believes that he’s involved somehow.” She shook her head in a way that she hoped conveyed some level of bewilderment, shrugging her shoulders. “Like you could guess, Ladybug wasn’t very… forthcoming last night.”

“I can imagine,” Alya said, sighing deeply. “Trying to help and then having something like that happen... It can’t be good for someone’s mental state.”

No, Marinette thought, looking down into her untouched tea, it’s really not.

“I do hope she’s alright. I wish I could’ve helped her last night,” Alya said softly, looking out the window, as if behind the glass, she saw an image of Ladybug. She looked back to Marinette and mustered up a warm smile that made Marinette’s chest hurt. “I am glad that you were here for her, though.”

Marinette tried to smile back, but fell just short. What a flimsy comfort, and Alya didn’t even know how flimsy. She stared down at the liquid in her mug, and she focused on breathing in the way she tried to remember as normal.

But she even failed at that.


---


Seeing her parents was a gift. She hadn’t gone to visit in a couple of weeks, but it was like she hadn’t seen them in years with the way her heart swelled just at the sight of them.

When she told them about the events of the day before, Tom had enveloped her in a bone-crushing hug, and Sabine had brushed the tears from her eyes with her delicate fingers. They let her help in the baking of their various sweet treats and breads, keeping the tense job of oven watching that they normally left her to themselves. She was grateful for that - they knew that such a job allowed for unnecessary thinking, unlike the counting, measuring, folding, beating, or decorating jobs they gave her. She was grateful for them.

When it was finally closing time, the three of them retreated to the house above the bakery, curling up on the couch and putting on some cooking show for background noise.

“How is my other daughter?” Sabine asked, referring to Ladybug. Marinette’s parents didn’t know a lot of the specifics of Marinette’s place in the magic world - a secret born of necessity - but because she was their daughter, they had already guessed her witch name and heard of her infamy, although they weren’t active in the magic community that much anymore. But they still knew the rules, and so they never called Marinette’s alter-ego by name. Always, Ladybug was affectionately referred to as Tom and Sabine’s ‘other daughter.’ “How is she doing with this?” she asked, tucking a lock of hair behind Marinette’s ear.

“Oh, Maman,” Marinette breathed, closing her eyes. “So bad. It’s so awful. I don’t know how I’ll live.”

“But you will anyway,” Sabine said, kissing Marinette on the forehead. “It’s difficult now, but you and my other daughter are strong, Marinette. Strong girl with strong bones and a strong heart.”

A tear rolled down Marinette’s cheek. “It doesn’t feel like it.”

“Grieving doesn’t make you weak, petit sucre rose,” Tom said, bumping his large shoulder with Marinette’s small one. It was hard not to feel like a little kid, surrounded by her parents in this moment. “It simply means that you are sad, and everyone is allowed to be that.”

“I’ve messed up, Papa,” she whispered, shaking her head and not knowing what else to say.

“I know, Marinette,” he said, and his honesty was like a slap as well as a kiss. “But what can you do now?”

She blinked, trying to find the answer, trying to find a solution. But it was out of her grasp. There was no way she could reach it.

“Move forward,” Sabine whispered, pulling the solution closer to her, wrapping her fingers around it and giving it to Marinette. “That is all, chamallow. Move forward.”


---


Later that night, after her parents had drifted off and Marinette herself was in danger of doing the same, there was a knock on the door of the bakery, small and distant. Frowning, she extracted herself from the couch and her parents’ grasp, creeping down the stairs and peering into the dark shop.

There was a figure standing behind the glass, backlit by the Parisian nightlife that Marinette wouldn’t be venturing out into this night. Apprehensive - because she was quite sure it wasn’t normal for her parents to be getting visitors so late - Marinette padded into the shop, wrapping her old sweater tight around herself and keeping her hands at the ready. Tikki couldn’t disguise her now - the poor thing was exhausted from the day before and had been sleeping all day - but Marinette was willing to risk her identity for the safety of her parents, dozing only a floor above. Pink and red magic pooled at her fingertips.

She took a deep breath, unlocking the door and pulling it open.

There stood a familiar face, tight with grief, and the magic at her fingertips dissipated as soon as she saw his lips break into a relieved, crooked, familiar smile. He towered over her, even as he slouched, and he leaned forward, wrapping his lanky arms around her and leaning his cheek against the top of her head.

“Marinette,” he said, voice smooth and low, “I was hoping I’d find you here.”

She couldn’t help but breathe in his familiar scent of woodsmoke and lavender, relaxing into his embrace and wrapping her arms around him. “It’s been so long,” she whispered, and he squeezed her a little tighter.

“I know. I’m sorry.”

She couldn’t even find in herself to get angry with him. “I’m so glad you’re here, Luka.”

He pulled away, smile sad, eyes wet. “It’s good to be home.”

 

Chapter Text

“I went by the store,” Luka said as Marinette pulled him into the bakery and locked the door behind him, “but no one was there.”

Grabbing a sweet roll from the display counter, Marinette handed it to Luka and gestured for him to follow her up the stairs, putting a finger to her lips to tell him to be quiet as they ascended. They passed by the living room, where her parents were still sleeping with the television running quietly, and went up into Marinette’s old bedroom.

“I didn’t work today,” Marinette said as she closed the door to her bedroom, largely untouched from her high school days. She sat down on her bed, crossing her legs and watching as Luka carefully settled himself into her pink desk chair, long fingers picking absently at the roll.

He looked absolutely ridiculous in her chair. He hadn’t been up in Marinette’s bedroom since high school, before his last growth spurt that had him looking like a giraffe turned human, complete with the knobby joints and absurd height. In her chair meant for her small stature, he looked like a giant sitting in a dollhouse.

“I figured as much,” he said with a wry smile, looking down at the long-forgotten post-it notes on her desk telling her not to forget something she’d probably forgotten anyway. His long fingers drummed lightly against the armrests of the seat, full of restless energy. He turned back to her, his deep blue eyes brimming with emotion unsaid. “Is it because…?”

Marinette looked away, pulling her knees up to her chest. “It’s probably the same reason you’re home in the middle of your and Juleka’s world tour.”

She snuck a glance at Luka, and she saw the way his chest caved in, the way his shoulders slumped.

“It’s like a bad dream,” he said quietly, voice a rasp against his throat. “I keep on expecting to wake up.”

The feeling was mutual.

“How’s Juleka?” Marinette asked, not really expecting any sort of good answer. “She’s back home, too, right?”

“She’s home,” Luka said, nodding but not meeting her eyes. “But it’s… It’s hard on her. She was expecting to come home to Rose.”

A new wave of guilt rolled over Marinette, and she couldn’t stop the tears that gathered in her eyes. So much crying. There was no end to it. There’d never be an end to it.

Not when she’d taken her friend’s wife away.

Just give yourself time to think clearly. Move forward.

But the words were feeble in her mind. She tried to summon the strength her parents had given her earlier, but for now it eluded her, and all she could do was tuck her face into her knees and hope Luka didn’t notice.

“It’s okay, Mari,” he said, his voice a comfort to her ears, “I’m crying, too.”

Of course he noticed.

She looked up, and sure enough, tears were gathered in his eyes, making them turn to glass just before a tear slipped out and fell to his ripped jeans. He sniffed, rubbing his already red nose and looked out her window. “She was the best person,” he said, throat thick with emotion. “Not a selfish bone in her body. And Juleka loved her so much.”

“They don’t deserve this,” Marinette said quietly.

“But it’s what they got,” Luka said, and Marinette turned her face to her knees because even though she knew logically it wasn’t her fault, it was her fault now. She could spend the rest of eternity trying to convince herself that this wasn’t her fault, but for now, just for right now, she let herself fester.

“I’m so sorry,” Marinette whispered, but Luka didn’t seem to hear her. All for the better - apologies were never the right thing to give when a loved one passed.

They were quiet for a long time, Marinette drowning in the silence while Luka picked at the sweet roll, never bringing it up to his lips as he continued to stare out at the stars. And then he spoke up, his eyes unbearably honest. “Marinette, do you know that I love you?”

It was a silly time to think about her unrequited high school crush, but still her treacherous heart skipped a beat until she bat it down and blinked. “I think so?”

He unfolded himself from her chair and came to sit beside her on the bed, taking her hand with the hand that wasn’t holding the sweet roll. His gaze never left hers, achingly earnest. “Ever since we heard about Rose, I couldn’t stop telling Juleka, my parents, my friends how much I love them.” He squeezed her hand lightly, and she furrowed her eyebrows. “I don’t want to be in the same position now with Rose, never knowing if she knew how much I appreciated her in my sister’s life - hell, in my life, too. Do you get it?”

Marinette nodded, her heart growing warm.

“The word ‘love’ is always taken so seriously now, what with how people have started to believe that you can’t say it unless stupid unsaid requirements are met, and I hate it.” He paused, calloused grip tight on her hand, conveying all the passion that he was trying to keep contained in his words. “I just want to tell my friends I love them before I can’t anymore.”

Instead of attempting to formulate some wordy reply, Marinette leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “I love you, Luka.”

His relief was physical - she could see it in his instantly relaxed shoulders, in the gleam in his eyes, in the loosening of his grip. He leaned his forehead against her shoulder, his two-toned black and blue hair tickling her neck. “I love you, too, Mari.” When he looked up again, he was smiling - softly, sadly - but he was smiling. “I love you so much. Now let’s eat this roll.”

He tore the sweet bread she’d given him in two, handing her half. They sat on her bed, not needing to say a word as she leaned her head against his shoulder and he leaned his head against hers. When she bit into the bread, its flavor blossomed on her tongue in the way that no food had for the past 36 hours.

She closed her eyes to the night, and she let herself breathe.



---


When Marinette woke up, the sun had already risen high up into the sky, spreading its warm fingers through her window. Tikki was sitting by her side, eating the crumbs of the sweet bread Marinette had only just barely finished before falling asleep.

Before falling asleep next to-

“Luka?” Marinette asked, rubbing her eyes tiredly. She wasn’t sure if she was calling for him or simply asking where he was, but regardless, Tikki shook her head.

“He left a little after you went to sleep,” she said, licking her fingers clean. “I think he left a note.”

Marinette said as she sat up and got up from her bed. A blanket had been draped over her while she slept, and a warmth bloomed in her heart as she shrugged it off. “I’m sorry, Tikki,” she said as she walked to her desk. “I’ll make sure to get you a proper meal from the bakery today.”

“That would be wonderful, Marinette,” Tikki said, fluttering up to hover near her shoulder.

They both paused to read the note, written in Luka’s painfully familiar chicken scratch.

 

Mari -

 

I’ll come by tomorrow afternoon for a proper hello. Bringing Julie too. Sweet dreams.

 

Luka

 

It was written almost like each sentence was an afterthought, like his mind was already running somewhere else. Marinette smiled to herself. Luka was never one to waste too much time on words. At least, not the ones that he didn’t sing.

“He’s very nice,” Tikki noted, looking up at Marinette. “Who is he?”

Marinette scratched her neck, laughing a little. “A friend from high school.”

“Just a friend?” Tikki asked. She could see through Marinette as easily as she could see through glass, and they both knew it.

“Well,” Marinette said, playing with the corners of Luka’s note and fighting down an embarrassed blush, “he worked for my parents for a bit because his sister, who is also one of my old friends, told me he was looking for a job. Of course I hadn’t met him before then, I just wanted to help a friend out, and so I asked my parents if they’d like extra help at the shop, and then Luka showed up, and you know, as a girl who was slightly younger than him, he seemed pretty cool and-”

“You had a crush on him,” Tikki finished, and Marinette sighed, covering her face with her hands.

“I had a crush on him,” she mumbled through her fingers, collapsing onto her desk chair. “A very embarrassing, very obsessive, very stupid crush on him.” Marinette shook her head, dragging her hands over her face and looking up at the ceiling. “That was a very dark time in the Life and Times of Marinette.” She couldn’t say this time was very bright in the Life and Times of Marinette either, but she didn’t mention that. Bad thoughts in the morning bring bad thoughts through the day.

“So you don’t like him anymore?” Tikki asked, and Marinette shook her head.

“I got over him after a while of embarrassing one-sided crushing that literally everyone  but him knew about, so I can at least thank my heart for that.” Begrudgingly. It took three years and Luka dating a variety of pretty girls and boys who looked nothing like Marinette for her heart to give up.

“Well, it’s good that you’re still friends with him,” Tikki said, and Marinette looked at her, smiling a little.

Was it?

If she wasn’t close with Luka or Juleka anymore, then she wouldn’t have to see their grief close up now. It was enough to murder someone and deal with that on her own, but it was a whole different beast entirely to murder someone and then have to face their loved ones as if you didn’t just commit murder.

She frowned at her own thoughts, shaking her head. It wasn’t murder. Not really. It was…

“God, Tikki,” Marinette breathed, turning to her desk and letting her head fall onto the cool wood. “How can I be a necromancer when I can’t even deal with death?”

This was the second biggest irony of her life, aside from having a Gift in luck and being entirely unlucky. Even her reason for learning the art of necromancy was a selfish one. She was so ready to dispense logic and wisdom to grieving children-less mothers and wife-less husbands and whoever else ended up on her doorstep, but she was ultimately a huge hypocrite who couldn’t follow her own advice if her own life depended on it.

“Marinette,” Tikki said softly, fluttering to the desk and resting one of her tiny warm hands on Marinette’s head, “let yourself grieve. Death is not something to take lightly, and even though I know you know that, it’s good to hear it from someone else.” Marinette turned her head so that she was facing Tikki, her cheek resting on the desk. “It’s only been two days,” Tikki continued, sitting down on the desk and giving her a sympathetic smile, “it’s okay if moving forward seems impossible right now.”

“But would if it never feels possible?” Marinette asked, her voice barely above a whisper. “Would if I’m stuck here forever?”

“That won’t happen,” Tikki said, patting Marinette’s nose. “You have your parents, your friends, and me to push you forward when you start to doubt yourself. Just be sad now, and worry about the rest later.”

There was a soft knock on the trapdoor that led up to Marinette’s room, and both Marinette and Tikki startled. Tikki zipped into Marinette’s cardigan pocket, and Marinette squeaked a small “come in,” trying to act natural.

Tom pushed open the trapdoor, comically large in the small frame, smiling warmly at her. “Our friends Juleka and Luka have come to see us,” he said, and Marinette felt her stomach drop. Tom must’ve seen something change on her face, and so he frowned. “Are you not feeling well, Marinette?”

She knew she was going to have to face Juleka soon - she’d read it in Luka’s note - but she hadn’t realized she was going to have to so soon. She thought she’d have more time to prepare, more time to reign herself in, more time to put on the mask of an innocent, more time to-

“I’m fine, Papa,” she said, her lips twitching up in what she hoped was a convincing smile. “I’ll be down in a second.”

“Take your time,” he said, worry clear on his face as he retreated back and let the trapdoor fall closed.

“It’s alright,” Tikki said, peeking out from her pocket.

“I killed her wife,” Marinette said, shaking her head. “It’ll never be alright for her ever again.”

“Marinette,” Tikki breathed, coming out of her pocket to flutter in front of Marinette’s face. “You know it wasn’t your fault.”

It was.

It wasn’t.

It was.

“I know,” Marinette said, looking away and standing up from her desk. “Let’s see what clothes I have here to change into.”


---


After finding an old blouse and skirt in her closet that still fit her, Marinette proceeded down the trapdoor to the living room, which was empty. Everyone was probably down in the bakery, and so Marinette steeled herself one last time, climbing down the stairs to the bakery and making sure to breathe deeply. Tikki peeked out from her hideaway in the cardigan that Marinette had thrown over her makeshift outfit, giving her a thumbs up.

Forcing her shoulders to relax, Marinette entered the bakery.

Luka was there, talking nicely with her parents, and Juleka stood beside him, eyes turned to the floor, fingers picking at each other. Every so often, Sabine glanced over at her, kind eyes pinched in worry.

Marinette wiped her sweaty hands on her skirt, and then walked over to Juleka and placed a newly dry hand on the small of her back. “Hey,” she said quietly, and Juleka looked up at her, blinking in confusion as if she’d forgotten where she was. And then her lips turned up just as her eyebrows furrowed, as if the action was painful and wrong under her skin.

“Hey, Marinette. It’s so good to see you.” Her voice was rough. Her eyes were red.

Tom, Sabine, and Luka’s conversation stopped in its tracks, all of their eyes shifting to Juleka, and she turned her eyes back to the floor, her teeth biting her bottom lip.

“Ah, I have the perfect job for you three,” Sabine said after just a beat too long of silence, and everyone turned their eyes to her. “How about you all go put those pastries in the oven and watch them for me?”

“Sounds like old times,” Luka said with a small, encouraging smile. “Which pastries?”

Sabine pointed out the right tray to him, and he and Juleka went to one of the ovens. Just as Marinette was about to follow, Sabine caught her arm, pulling her to the side.

“Remember,” she said, patting Marinette’s cheek, “strong girl.”

A little of the strength from the night before bloomed in her heart, and she smiled. “Thanks, Maman.” Sabine nodded, letting go of her arm.

“Now go to your friends. And take care of each other.”

Marinette nodded, going over to the oven where Luka and Juleka were, finding them already sitting down cross-legged on the ground. The oven light was on, of course, and neither of them were saying anything, eyes trained on the slowly cooking pastries. Juleka’s hand was in Luka’s.

She sat down beside Juleka, looping her arm through hers and leaning her head on her shoulder. Juleka leaned back after a moment, and Marinette closed her eyes. The moment was too much like high school, back when the three of them would sit in front of the oven watching breads and sweets brown and bicker about anything, everything. Back when Luka and Marinette would tease Juleka about her obvious crush on a bold and sweet Rose, back when Juleka would shake her head and insist that she’d marry that Rose someday.

Juleka started to shake, and Marinette scooted closer to her, lacing her fingers through Juleka’s and hoping that was enough because she didn’t trust herself to say anything at all.

“I miss her so much,” Juleka whispered, hot tears dripping into Marinette’s hair, down Marinette’s face.

Neither Luka nor Marinette said anything in response. What could they possibly say? What could they possibly say to ease her pain?

They sat there, watching the pastries bake, watching their own reflections stare back at them.


---


After a day of helping at the bakery and lounging around in quiet company, Juleka and Luka decided to head back. As Luka went with Tom and Sabine to pick out some of Paris’s finest sweets to take home, Marinette walked Juleka to the door, guilt still heavy in her chest even as she hugged Juleka tight.

“I-” Marinette started, and then stopped, holding Juleka even tighter and squeezing her eyes shut. “I’m sorry there’s not more I can do for you.”

Juleka pushed Marinette away lightly, taking her shoulders in her cold hands and smiling weakly down at her. “Just you being here is more than I could ever ask for,” she said, and Marinette’s heart broke into a million pieces.

All she could do was take Juleka’s thin face in her hands and pull her down so that she could press a kiss to her forehead. “If there’s anything - anything - that you need,” Marinette whispered, finding her voice weak as she leveled her gaze with Juleka’s, “don’t hesitate to come to me.”

“Thank you, Marinette,” Juleka said, her smile growing a little stronger, and just that was enough to lift Marinette’s spirits exponentially. If Juleka could find it within herself to smile, then surely everything would sort itself out.

Surely.

“Ready to go, Julie-butt?” Luka asked, bumping her with his hip and ruffling Marinette’s hair. The phrase, along with the two actions that came with it, were so achingly familiar that Marinette got whiplash, sure that they were all in high school again. Sure that whatever had happened had all just been an awful dream.

But then Luka turned to Marinette and gave her a side-hug, warm and present in the way that he never was back then. “Love you, Mari.”

It was sick irony. She would’ve given anything to hear that back in high school, but now it was a painful reminder of the tragedy of the present.

She forced herself to smile. “Love you guys, too. Come by the shop soon, okay?”

“Of course,” Luka said with a lopsided smile, and then both he and Juleka waved goodbye, walking into the growing twilight. Marinette watched as Luka gave Juleka the box of sweets to rifle through as they grew further and further away, and then she turned away, wrapping her arms around herself.

“Are you staying the night again?” Sabine asked, coming out from the kitchen and wiping her hands on her apron.

Marinette pulled herself out of her thoughts, dropping her arms and shaking her head. “I really shouldn’t. I’ve closed the shop the past couple of days, and I think I’m ready to open it again."

“If you’re sure,” Sabine said, worry making a crease form between her eyebrows.

“It’ll be better for me,” Marinette said, forcing confidence into her words. She wasn’t actually sure if it would be better, but she was sure that it would be better than wallowing. “But, anyway, I should be getting home."

Tom emerged from the kitchen, frosting and dye all over his large hands from decorating one of their pre-ordered cakes, holding a box exactly the same as the one Juleka and Luka had walked out with. “I put all your favorites in their already, but there’s room for more,” he said, handing Marinette the box.

It was astonishingly heavy, and Marinette knew that over half of it would be gone within a day.

“Thanks, Maman and Papa,” she said, giving her both Tom and Sabine a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll come by again next week, or sooner if I run out of pastries.”

She said one last goodbye to her parents and then she left the bakery, walking out into the street, the faintest cloying scents of a variety of magics already starting to infect the air. Above, the sun was breathing its last for the day, crawling beneath the horizon as the moon and stars took its place.

Marinette chewed on her thumbnail, looking around. She wasn’t wearing her earrings - they were pinned to the pocket of her cardigan - but she could just see the glimmer of magic in the air, tempting even as it caused dread to pool in the pit of her stomach. She couldn’t walk the streets as Ladybug, not if everyone still wanted answers from her, and yet…And yet her body was dying to do magic. Dying to feel power.

Without much other thought, Marinette ducked into a nearby alley, setting down the box of sweets from the bakery and opening up her pocket for Tikki to fly out. “Oh,” Tikki cooed, whizzing by the bakery box, “I can’t wait to try some of those sweets. They all seem delicious.”

“And they will be,” Marinette said as she put on her earrings. “Is there any way for you to Transform me and not have me look like, um, me?”

Tikki looked up from the box, seeming to think for a moment. “Well, yes, but considering that all the Transformations I give you are largely influenced by you, then there’ll still be some things that I won’t be able to change.” She paused, flying up so that she was eye-level with Marinette. “Oh, and the polka-dots, red, and black don’t go away.”

That was the most recognizable thing about Ladybug, unfortunately. “Is there any way to… make it less like how it normally is?” Marinette revised, glancing out at the filling street.

“Only one way to find out,” Tikki said with a shrug. “Say the magic words.”

“Tikki, Transform me,” Marinette said dutifully, and red and pink magic swirled around her, changing the shape and color of her clothes and filling the air with the sweet and bitter scents of her magic. She breathed it in, relishing in it, even when she knew she shouldn’t.

When the magic cleared, Marinette looked down at herself. The normal Ladybug clothing, which was always a healthy mix of red and black with a sprinkling of polka-dots, was replaced with nearly all black. Black jeans, black sweatshirt, and black boots. The only red that Marinette could see was the inside of the sweatshirt’s hood, which she slipped over her head.

Looking over her handiwork, Tikki hummed to herself. “I don’t think anyone would be able to recognize this Ladybug,” she said, nodding her head. “But the mask is the same, and if my instinct’s correct then...” She trailed off, pointing to the bottom of her foot.

At first, Marinette was confused, and then she lifted up her foot. The soles of her boots were a blood red, same as the inside of the sweatshirt, but they were dotted with black as well.

“Cute touch,” Marinette said. “Ever think of becoming a fashion designer?” she asked as she picked up the box from the bakery and walked out into the street, keeping her head low.

“Regular humans would never appreciate me,” Tikki sniffed, and Marinette laughed.

As she walked home, she couldn’t resist letting her magical auras coalesce around her, even though she knew many could recognize her magic. She just hoped nobody was paying enough attention as she relaxed into what felt good, what felt right.

Ever since Rose, her body had felt all wrong, like her bones had been stretched out while her skin remained the same. It was a by-product of the day-time magic, and she knew of its dangerous after-effects of becoming too addicted to the new feeling of magnified power, but the events of that day had mostly warded her off from that. But still, she saw no repercussions to filling her stretched magical muscles when it was safe, when the moon was out.

She found herself humming lightly as she slid her key into the lock of the door, feeling content after her walk. And then guilt over her own contentment crashed through her, and she faltered. What business did she have being happy now? Was that allowed?

“Are you alright?” Tikki asked, seeming to notice the shift in her mood.

“That’s just it, Tikki. I don’t know if I should be,” Marinette admitted, looking down at her. Before she could say anything else, there was a tap on her shoulder.

“Excuse me,” said a timid voice, “but are you by any chance Ladybug?”

She knew using magic had been a bad idea.

Turning around, Marinette tried to brace herself for any sort of unwanted conversation. But she was met with empty air. She frowned, looking a little closer.

There, shimmering in the air before her, was the faint outline of a woman. There was the cool pinch of lavender in the air, a scent of magic, and Marinette tilted her head to the side. “I can’t see you."

“Oh, gosh,” the voice said, and the outline of the woman started to become more solid. “That’s embarrassing.”

Slowly but surely, a woman dressed in a tweed sweater appeared in front of her, smiling a little nervously. She had a pair of glasses that made her inquisitive eyes look rather large and owlish, and short hair pinned neatly back. Her eyes flit between the ground and her fingers, almost never meeting Marinette’s gaze.

“Who are you?” Marinette asked, and the woman cleared her throat, completely visible now, and stood a little straighter.

“My name is Sabrina Raincomprix,” she said, clasping her hands behind her back. “And I’m a detective for the Paris police department.”

“Identify yourself,” the police officer said, but she didn’t answer. She couldn’t answer.

A sick combination of suspicion, dread, and fear curled in Marinette’s insides, but she kept her face clear even as she glanced over at Tikki. “And why have you come looking for Ladybug?”

Detective Raincomprix’s eyes widened, and she shook her head. “It’s not for what you think, I assure you,” she said quickly. “I’m coming to you as a fellow, um, magic user.”

Raising an eyebrow, Marinette pushed open the door to the shop, letting Detective Raincomprix step inside as she turned on the lights with a flick of her wrist. Once they were both inside, she closed the door behind her, locking it so that no one else would come in thinking that the magic shop was open for business.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, Detective Raincomprix?” Marinette asked, turning to face the detective and crossing her arms. Just because she’d let her inside didn’t mean she trusted her intentions. It was out of curiosity and hospitality alone.

“Oh, you can just call me Sabrina,” the detective said, waving her hands. “And it’s about the recent death of Rose Lavillant, which you were involved in.”

Marinette pursed her lips, and she could feel the aura around her pulse dangerously. Tikki rested on her shoulder, steadying her. “I thought you said this wasn’t about what I thought it was,” Marinette said after she had taken a deep breath.

“It’s not,” Detective Raincomprix said, shaking her head. “I personally believe you tried to do the right thing, especially considering what I know about the case.”

“And what is it that you know?”

“I’m…” She trailed off, looking to the side. “I can’t speak candidly, but I’m coming to you less about what I know and more about what I don’t know.”

It felt like they were dancing in circles, and Marinette’s jaw clenched. She wasn’t in the mood for dancing with a detective. “So what is it that you don’t know, Detective Raincomprix?”

Seeming to realize that Marinette wanted to get to the point, the detective took in a breath. “Is there any reason that Rose Lavillant wouldn’t have her magical charm on her person?”

Marinette blinked. “Are you assuming that she was a witch?”

“Please don’t play dumb, Ms. Ladybug,” Detective Raincomprix said, a little sadly, as if disappointed by Marinette’s actions. “I’m a detective. I’m also familiar in the practice of magic. I know Mrs. Lavillant was a witch, and I know that her alter ego was Fragrancia.” She took a deep breath, fixing the sleeves of her sweater. “Now, do you know of any reason as to why Ms. Lavillant wouldn’t have her magical charm on her person or anywhere in her home upon her death?”

This felt an awful lot like an accusation, and Marinette already felt uneasy knowing that Detective Raincomprix could figure out someone’s identity, and so she felt her face harden, even as her mind raced to figure out what was going on.

“No,” she said icily. Why wouldn’t Rose have her charm? She hardly ever took off the necklace with a little bottle of fragrant oils, and when she did, she would keep it safely tucked in her purse. Now that she thought of it, she couldn’t remember seeing the necklace on Rose that day, but maybe that was just because her mind had been such a mess. “I don’t know of any reason."

“I’m not accusing you of taking it, if that’s what you’re thinking,” the detective said gently, a crack in the all-business attitude she’d adopted when they had started talking about Rose. “I’m asking because another victim, Aurore Beauréal, who was also a witch, also seemed to be missing her charm.”

“She was?”

Stormy’s signature umbrella necklace. Rose’s essential oils necklace.

“What does this mean?” Marinette asked, her hands dropping to her sides.

Detective Raincomprix sighed, pushing up her glasses. “That, Ms. Ladybug, is the million dollar question.”

Chapter Text

Adrien leaned back, pushing his hair away from his face and sighing in frustration. It had two days since his father had given him the assignment of designing eight original outfits, and he hadn’t even completed one. He’d done rough sketches of the three designs with imaginary clients just because those had guidelines, but the rest of them that he was supposed to come up with on his own were barely making it onto the paper before being thrown into the trash can.

“This is stupid,” Adrien said, ripping the page out from the cheap journal he was using and crumpling it into a ball. “All of them have looked like utter crap.” At the last word, he hurled the balled-up paper across the room. Plagg jumped up, catching it in his paws and dropping back to the ground, pawing it open.

Plagg looked over the wrinkled design for a moment, and then picked it up with his mouth, jumping onto Adrien’s lap and dropping it on his desk. “Kid, they’ve all looked fine,” Plagg said, looking back to Adrien.

“That’s just it, Plagg,” Adrien exclaimed, throwing his arms up. “Fine isn’t good enough. Fine will never get me a job. Fine is something my father will throw away!”

His legs were cramping from sitting cross-legged on the chair for so long, his back was aching from hunching over, his head throbbed with every new thought, but most of all, his heart hurt.

“I need eight exceptional designs,” Adrien sighed, leaning over Plagg to rest his forehead on the desk. “Anything less than that, and my father will not hesitate to kick me to the curb.”

“You can’t be sure of that,” Plagg said, pushing his head up against Adrien’s chest so that he would sit up.

“Yes, I can,” Adrien said, sitting up and dragging his hands over his face. “You don’t know my father like I do. He’s ruthless about business, and if anybody fails to reach his expectations, he’s the first to either fire them, or put them in placebo offices to work at nothing until they get the courage to leave, or until he finally gets tired of them.” He paused, rolling the pencil on his desk back and forth. “I’ve seen it happen again and again.”

“But you’re his son,” Plagg said, voice confused and angry.

Adrien looked up at the ceiling. “It’s never mattered to him before.”

The silence in the room was nearly alive in its weight, threatening to strangle them both with its thick fingers. Plagg pawed on his shirt. “I think you need a break, kid.”

“I’ve already taken too many breaks,” Adrien said, shaking his head and picking up his pencil again. He leaned forward, looking down at the blank page of his journal.

“No, you haven’t,” Plagg said, jumping onto his desk so that his view of the journal was blocked. “You’ve gotten up from your desk twice in the past three hours, and you haven’t eaten since yesterday.” At Adrien’s scoff, Plagg swatted his hand, forcing him to look at him. “Kid, if you don’t take a break, I’m pissing in all of your shoes. I’m not letting you kill yourself like this.”

“I’m not killing myself,” Adrien said, rolling his eyes. But he pushed himself away from the desk anyway and stood up, stretching out his aching limbs. “And I’m not hungry.”

It’s true that he wasn’t. When he got stressed, it was harder for him to eat, even if he knew he should. And the level of stress he’d been through in the past few days were through the roof, so he figured skipping a few meals felt more justified than ever.

“Eat some cereal or something,” Plagg insisted, and Adrien groaned, slouching out of his bedroom and to the kitchen. He didn’t feel like dealing with the stomach ache that came with drinking milk, so he poured some dry cereal into a bowl and sat down at the table, picking at it with his fingers.

Plagg jumped up onto the table, starting to clean his fur. Adrien watched, only just managing to force a bit of the dry cereal down his throat. “Can you not do the cat-equivalent of showering right in front of me?”

“How about you just don’t watch?” Plagg snapped, and Adrien sighed dramatically. He got up from the table, starting to slouch back to the bedroom, but Plagg blocked his way. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Adrien raised an eyebrow at him. “Going to get my journal. I might as well try and sketch out a few concepts while I eat.” He started to step around Plagg, but Plagg cut in front of him again, hissing until Adrien stumbled back, alarmed. “What is wrong with you?”

“What don’t you understand about the word ‘break?’” Plagg demanded, swatting at Adrien’s ankles until he turned around and went back to the table. “It doesn’t mean go to a different place and think about the same thing. It means not thinking about it at all. Letting your mind rest. Don’t you get it, punk?”

“Why are you angry about this?” Adrien asked, utterly perplexed as he sat back down.

“Because I’m the one who has to watch you drive yourself into the dirt,” Plagg responded, jumping back onto the table and sitting down right in front of him. “But I ain’t gonna let it happen so easily. You’ve still got a lot to do, and I’m not letting you burn out from a job you don’t even have yet.”

“Whatever,” Adrien said, but he sat down and ate the rest of his cereal.

It hurt to admit, but Plagg was right. Adrien knew that what he was doing wasn’t the right way to go about it, but now that his father was involved, he couldn’t help but spiral into old habits. But it was different this time, more stressful. Because now he wasn’t fighting to keep his head above the water, he was fighting to escape the water entirely. It was one thing to beg for approval, but it was a whole different beast to strive not just for base level acceptance, but for real and true confidence.

When he was done, he washed out the cereal dust in the sink and placed it on the counter to put away later. He knew he should probably not do that since the half-washed dishes were piling up, but he couldn’t find it in himself to go through the process of cleaning them all and putting them away. He felt exhausted all of a sudden, and he really wanted nothing more than to take a substantial nap.

He went back into his bedroom, collapsing on top of his bed and burying his face into his pillow until it became a little hard to breathe, making him move his head to the side and come face to face with Plagg. He was peering at him curiously with his wide green eyes, his pupils blown out in that way that told Adrien he was up to something. It was the exact look he got after that one time when he’d ordered a whole bunch of smelly cheese online with express delivery without Adrien knowing.

“What?” Adrien asked, closing his eyes.

“Were you just going to take a nap?”

“That was the plan, yeah.”

“I have a better idea.”

“What’s a better idea than taking a nap?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe possibly... UnLocking your gift?”

Adrien’s eyes creaked open, and he furrowed his eyebrows at Plagg. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” Plagg said, licking his paw leisurely, “that I should’ve thought about this a long time ago. And that there may be a way for you to UnLock your gift without you probably almost dying.”

“Sounds safe,” Adrien said cautiously, sitting up and crossing his legs. “What’s the way?”

Plagg kneaded his claws into the bedsheets, looking quite satisfied before answering. “Meditating.”

“I’m taking a nap,” Adrien said immediately, flopping back onto his pillows and closing his eyes.

“No, you’re not,” Plagg said, jumping onto Adrien’s stomach and knocking the wind out of him. “You’re going to meditate like a good little boy and UnLock your gift.”

Adrien glared at him. “All this time we’ve been struggling to find an answer to this impossible question, and you’re telling me that this whole time, it was meditating?” He scoffed, shaking his head. “It can’t be that easy.”

“And here I thought you never listened to me,” Plagg said, wiping a fake tear from his eyes. “You’re right, kid, it isn’t that easy. But it is the first step. And I’ve added a little twist that should spur things along.”

Judging by the word choice, Adrien guessed he was supposed to be excited by this fact. But the way that Plagg’s pupils were expanding and the manic mad scientist look encompassing his face had Adrien feeling more suspicious and scared than anything else.

“So,” Plagg started, beginning to pace across the bed, “it’s daytime, as I’m sure you’re aware.”

“So I’ve noticed,” Adrien replied, still feeling suspicious.

“And you know that most mages aren’t a big fan of magic during the day,” he continued, pausing to look towards Adrien’s cheap paper blinds to the bright day. “But I don’t think anyone’s ever told you why that is yet.”

“I wonder whose fault that is,” Adrien grumbled, rolling his eyes. He’d asked Plagg several times, but he’d always just been ignored.

“It’s because,” Plagg continued, acting as if Adrien hadn’t spoken, “the day amplifies magical power.” He looked at Adrien with a dramatic flourish, as if this information was supposed to be particularly impactful.

“I don’t understand,” Adrien said, and Plagg sighed.

“Oh, gods, I forgot that you don’t know anything,” he complained.

“Again. I wonder whose fault that is,” Adrien said, and Plagg rolled his eyes.

“Well, whatever. The gist is that all magical power given to humans originated from the moon goddess or being or whatever it is you want to call her,” Plagg said, dropping his dramatic act to wave his paw around. “And as you may have learned in your little human science classes, all the moon’s light is basically just a reflection of the sun’s light. So the origin of magic in humans comes from a reflection that isn’t as powerful as the original. Get it?”

Maybe. Probably. Adrien sighed. “Not really.”

Plagg sighed dramatically before re-composing himself. “Think about it this way, kid. You’ve got the sun, right? You can’t look at it straight on, or else you’ll go blind. And then every night, you’ve got the moon filtering the sun into something you can see better. It’s the same with magic.”

Adrien frowned. “I think I get it, but… If the sun makes magic so much more powerful, why not use it during the day?”

“Now you’re asking the real questions,” Plagg said, sounding a little proud. “The simple reason? It hurts your tiny human bodies. Just like how you’ll go blind if you look directly at the sun, you’ll combust if you try and use too much power in the day. Of course, it’s not impossible to use magic during the day - you can do it in small doses - but that’s just it. That’s all human bodies can handle.”

“You keep on saying ‘humans.’ Does that mean things that aren’t… human… Does that mean it doesn’t apply to them?”

Plagg tapped Adrien’s nose with his paw. “Now we’re getting somewhere. The less simple reason as to why humans can’t use magic during the day is because it’s a fail-safe. Back when the universe was still being created and beings like yours truly and our little friend Tikki were bouncing around unguarded, magic was an abundant thing. Anyone could use it, and there were no limits. And then, of course, humans came along and ruined it.” He paused, seeming to grow bored. “Can’t we just skip to you actually doing something? I’m tired of explaining.”

“What? No!” Adrien exclaimed. “It was just starting to get interesting.”

“Ugh. Fine.” Plagg sighed and folded himself down into a bread loaf shape, wrapping his tail around himself and getting comfortable. “So anyway, humans came along and ruined shit, as per usual. They were using magic without caring about the balance of the universe, which is a very delicate thing. Although all of the beings like me went around doing fun stuff and wreaking havoc, we still understood that with every action, there needs to be an equal and opposite reaction. It’s the basic law of everything. And humans weren’t following that rule. They didn’t even seem to care about it. They were addicted to the power of the infinite magic the sun granted them and began to create and destroy mercilessly, without ever bothering to limit themselves.  So naturally, we wiped them out and started again.”

Adrien blinked. “You mean you killed all the first humans?”

“Trust me, you wouldn't have missed them. Awful bunch. Anyway, we started again, and for the first time, we put limits on magic. Instead of being created in the light of the sun, they were created in the weaker light of the moon. This meant that they couldn’t exceed the power given to them by our friend Ms. Moon, which meant they would never threaten the balance of the universe ever again. The end.”

“Okay,” Adrien said slowly, drawing out the last syllable. “So what does that have to do with me meditating?”

“Oh, well, basically that was all just to say that you’re more powerful during the day and that if you meditate during the day, your chances of UnLocking your gift are more likely.”

“What? But you said earlier that I could either combust or ruin the balance of the universe.”

“I also said it was fine in small doses,” Plagg replied with a shrug. “And trust me, meditating uses a very small dose.” He paused, thinking for a moment. “I mean, there is always the chance that you become addicted to the power the day gives you and end up pressing your own self-destruct button, but you know, that’s a very small chance-”

“What?” Adrien exclaimed. “I thought you said this wouldn’t get me killed!”

“I remember saying ‘probably,’” Plagg said. “And like I said, the chances of that are very small. Practically nonexistent! As long as you keep aware of your own mind and never cross the line between need and desire, you’ll be fine.”

“Oh, yeah, that doesn’t sound dangerous at all,” Adrien said sarcastically, and Plagg shrugged.

“Kid, it’s either this or you almost die in a different, more dangerous way. You choose.”

Adrien shook his head incredulously, pushing his hair back from his face and looking up at the ceiling. He could do something crazy like duel an experienced witch or put himself intentionally in harm’s way like Ladybug had suggested when they first discovered the Lock, or he could do this. Rely on his own mind to tell him the difference between too much and not enough. He sighed, looking back at Plagg.

“Okay, so how do I meditate?”


---


“This is impossible,” Adrien groaned at the ceiling, opening his eyes and throwing his arms up. “I can’t feel anything, and I haven’t felt anything for the past two hours.”

“Feel in a different direction,” Plagg suggested, and Adrien glared at him.

“What even is that supposed to mean?” he demanded, and Plagg shrugged, digging his claws into a slice of large and smelly cheese. “And how am I supposed to focus with you eating that disgusting garbage right under my nose?”

“First of all,” Plagg said, holding up a paw, “this cheese is a delicacy. It’s not my fault you’re uncultured.” Adrien scoffed and rolled his eyes. “Second of all, you’re too angry. You’re not expecting it to work, and so it doesn’t.”

Adrien growled out a sigh of frustration, turning his glare to his window. He didn’t understand how the stupid sun could help him now, or how he was supposed to find his stupid Gift by sitting in complete silence for hours, and he definitely didn’t understand why he was sitting on his bed wasting his time with something that didn’t produce results when he could be doing infinitely more important things with his time. Like maybe taking a nap. Or working on the stupid designs for his stupid father.

“Hey,” Plagg said, jumping onto Adrien’s lap and pawing at his shirt so that he would look at him. When he did, after a long moment of steadying, Plagg sat down. “I need you to take a deep breath.”

He did.

“Now I need you to tell me what’s really bothering you.”

A hot wave of suffocating emotion surged up his throat, and he sighed, pressing the heels of his palms against his eyes. “It feels like I can’t do anything right,” he managed to say, his voice thick and uneven.

“That’s not true, and you know it,” Plagg said immediately. “You can do way more than the average unemployed Parisian adult. Hell, you’re even fluent in, like, three languages.”

“Four,” Adrien corrected softly, removing his hands from his eyes.

“See?” Plagg asked, and Adrien looked down at him. “You can do stuff right, kid.”

“But I can’t…” He trailed off, moving his hands around as if by swatting the air, he’d find the right words to say. “I can’t design like my father can, and I can’t do magic like countless other people can, and I…” He bit his lip, turning his eyes to his useless hands. “And that night, when Ladybug was telling me about Rose. She said she didn’t even think. She just…ran to help. Without a second thought. And I just stood there.”

“You’re not your father, and maybe you can’t do magic like other people can right now. But those are just bullshit excuses for not letting yourself do what you’re capable of.” Adrien blinked. Plagg continued. “And so what if you’re not some Parisian superhero like Ladybug? Who cares? Countless other people aren’t, and they aren’t sitting here moping about it. She’s got years of experience over you, and unlike you, she could actually do something about the situation. How do you know you wouldn’t have done the same thing if you had the ability?”

Adrien thought about that moment when he first ran out of the bus. When he first caught sight of Rose leaning over the edge of life. When he stared up at her, mind racing, trying desperately to find something that would help, something he could do.

“I don’t know,” he finally admitted, and Plagg nodded.

“That’s right. You don’t.” He jumped off his lap and settled down in front of Adrien once more, sticking his claws into the still very smelly cheese. “Now if you really want to be a superhero sidekick to the legendary Ladybug, we have to get to work on getting you your superpowers. Capice?”

“Ca-posh,” Adrien replied, and Plagg made a face.

“I’ll choose to ignore that since I don’t want to hurt your feelings after I just gave you the best pep talk ever.” Adrien rolled his eyes. “Now close your eyes.”

Sighing, he closed his eyes, fixing his legs into a more comfortable position and trying to relax his upper body. “Now what?”

“Now you tell yourself that this is going to work.” Before Adrien could offer some sly remark, Plagg continued. “The most important part of magic isn’t waving around your hands and saying nonsense words, unlike what everyone tries to shove down your throat. It’s seeing what you want to happen and believing that it will happen. So take a moment to just believe, Adrien.”

It was hard to believe something was going to happen when he didn’t even know what that something was, but Adrien took a deep breath. Plagg was obviously going through a lot of trouble to lead Adrien through this, so it would be stupid not to follow his directions, especially when they were so rare an occurrence.

So he bit his lip, and he told himself he believed.

“What am I supposed to be feeling for?” Adrien asked, frowning a little. He could do it, he just needed a point of reference. Something that told him he was doing it right.

“Some sort of blockage to your thoughts,” Plagg said, and Adrien’s frown deepened. “You’ll know it when you feel it,” he continued, as if that helped everything make sense.

 

Not knowing what else to do, Adrien let his mind wander. He thought about Rose and Ladybug and Marinette, who he just remembered had told him she’d lost a friend. He should try and talk with her soon, just to make sure she was alright. He thought about Chloe and Nino and Kagami, who he wondered if he should try to get to know better. Inevitably, his mind fell to his mother, and memories of her bubbled up to the surface of his thoughts, washing over him with their bittersweet nostalgia.

His mother, kissing his skinned elbows better after he fell out of the apple tree in the garden. His mother, buying cheap sugary cereal for him, winking and making him promise not to tell his father. His mother, telling the chefs to take the day off while she and Adrien made his father’s birthday cake, laughing as they got food dye and frosting stuck in their hair for days. His mother, kneeling down and telling him…

Telling him…

Adrien frowned. What did she tell him?

He could see her so clearly in his mind’s eye, her delicate hands holding his, her wedding ring pressing into his skin as she looked up at him earnestly. Her hair pinned away from her face and curling gently around her shoulders, her green eyes holding his in the softest embrace. He could see her lips moving, and he could feel tears at the back of his throat and on his cheeks. What was she saying?

“There’s something,” Adrien said quietly, only just audible for fear of disturbing the fragile memory he was clinging to.

Her voice was there, warm and familiar, but it was as if he was hearing it underwater, distorted and strange and distant. But it was becoming clearer with each second, and he could almost hear her now, hear the words from her slow-moving lips.

“It’s okay that you’re scared, mon petit chaton. I can help you.”

Electricity sparked through his body, alive in his veins, and he reached forward, certain there was a door in front of him, a door he could open.

A shrill ringing filled the room, and Adrien jolted, feeling the electricity inside him surge until it was almost painful. And then it left his body all at once just as a harsh pop burst through the air. The room went dark.

Breathing heavily, Adrien’s eyes darted around the dark room, his heartbeat pounding in his ears. He turned his face up toward the ceiling, squinting through the weak sunlight filtering through the blinds to the light fixture hanging above his head. All four of the light bulbs had shattered, and the remains of the bulbs were scattered around him on the bed sheets. When he shook his hair out, several pieces of glass clattered onto the glass that had fallen into his lap.

Belatedly, he remembered the shrill ringing, and he looked over to his phone, which had been the source of the noise that had startled him. He glanced over to Plagg, who was watching him with a strange glint in his eyes, and then picked up the phone.

“Hello?”

“It’s Kagami,” said the voice on the other line. “What are you doing right now?”

Adrien looked up at the shattered remains of his light bulbs, and then around at the rest of his dark room. The stinky scent of the cheese that Plagg has long since finished had been replaced by a strange citrus scent, and he vaguely wondered where it had come from. Perhaps one of his neighbors lit a candle - his walls were thin enough, and there had just been some sort of power surge. It made sense.

“Nothing really,” he replied. He’d have to go to the store to get more light bulbs. “Did you need me to come in?” And there was the mess around him to be cleaned.

“No, I was actually wondering if you wanted to go to dinner with me.”

He blinked.

“Um, yeah, sure. Where are we going to go?” This was probably the last thing he expected. Even though Kagami was nice and Adrien did think about getting to know her a lot, he never really thought it was possible. She was always so firm and businesslike - it made her a fantastic manager, but it also made it hard to try and get close.

“That one place by the Louvre,” she responded, “the one that sells the best pizzas.”

“I think I know what you’re talking about,” Adrien said, racking his brain. He hadn’t really gone out to eat lately, but he sort of remembered Chloe dragging him to a pizza place near the Louvre for some video a while back. “When should I head over?”

“Well, I’m already on the way there,” she said, and Adrien felt a small surge of panic.

“I better head over right away then,” Adrien said, scrambling off his bed, careful of the broken glass.

“No rush,” Kagami said, but it didn’t do much to soothe Adrien’s nerves. He was still dressed in his pajamas.

“I’ll text you when I’m close by,” he said, waiting for her confirmation before hanging up and stumbling to his closet. When he tried to flick the closet light on so that he could choose a decent enough outfit and nothing happened, he looked up at the light bulb. It was just as shattered as the ones hanging above his bed.

“Heck of a power surge,” he grumbled, grabbing a t-shirt and a pair of clean enough jeans. As he was changing, he looked over to Plagg. “I’m going to hang out with Kagami from work for a bit, so you can… do whatever it is you do when I’m not around.”

“So this Kagami chick is the one who interrupted you?” Plagg asked, while Adrien pulled the clean shirt over his head, shrugging his shoulders.

“I’m happy that she called me, but it is sort of a shame. I was starting to feel something.” He stuck a leg through a pant leg.

“And you don’t anymore?” Plagg asked slowly, as if he couldn’t believe it.

“Nope,” Adrien said, stuffing his feet into a pair of shoes and grabbing the jean jacket hanging off his desk chair. “I guess the phone call and the power surge just broke my focus too much.”

“R iiiii ght,” Plagg said, and Adrien raised his eyebrows.

“What?”

“Nothing, I guess.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” When Plagg offered no reply other than a shrug of his small cat shoulders, Adrien shook his head. “Whatever. I’m heading out. Is there any way for you to…” He trailed off, gesturing to the mess of the massacred light bulbs. “Fix that up while I’m gone?”

Plagg snorted. “I’m not your maid."

“Maybe not, but you are magic.”

“So are you.”

“It doesn’t count because I can’t do it right now.”

“Ooh,” Plagg cooed in a falsetto, “I’m punk ass Adrien and I demand poor, innocent, adorable cats to clean up after me because I can’t take care of my own messes.”

“I’ve never once asked a poor, innocent, adorable cat to clean up after me,” Adrien said, a mischievous smile already tugging at his mouth. “But I have asked you to clean up after me.” When he got the desired effect of Plagg scoffing in exaggerated offence, he continued. “And besides, how is a random power surge my fault?”

“First of all,” Plagg said, sniffing up at the citrus-scented air, “screw you. I am poor, innocent, and adorable. Second of all, if I’m right, then you’re an idiot.”

“Ooh,” Adrien cooed, mimicking Plagg, “I’m Plagg and I like saying cryptic things to make that poor, innocent, devilishly handsome Adrien confused.”

“It’s not hard to confuse an idiot.”

“Fix the lights, cat.”

“Not happening, human.”

Adrien shook his head, starting on his way out. “I’ll be back soon,” he called, and Plagg grunted in reply. As he hurried out of his bedroom, the strong citrus scent faded. He wondered if his neighbor would tell him what candle they had lit because Adrien found that he quite liked the smell, liked the power of it. He considered asking his neighbor about the candle and risk sounding like a stalker.

He decided to just look at citrus-scented candles when he bought new light bulbs.

Chapter Text

Kagami was already sitting at a table when Adrien walked into the pizza place, a little out of breath thanks to practically sprinting from the bus stop. She was looking out the window, careful fingers fiddling with the straw to her drink. She didn’t notice Adrien until he sat down across from her.

“Hey,” he greeted, and she startled a little, the motion reserved in nature. Just the slightest widening of eyes, the barest tension in her shoulders. And then she relaxed, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.

“I’m sorry about the last-minute invitation,” she said, leaning back in her seat and crossing her arms. Adrien got the vague sense that he was being analyzed. “I was just on my way to eat and thought I’d like some company.”

“It’s totally fine,” Adrien said, waving his hands. “Just a little unexpected.” He wondered why he of all people was the first she called for company. Why not call a closer friend? Or maybe he wasn’t the first she called? He wondered if he felt disappointed by that possible fact.

“Well, I figured since you weren’t going to be working with me anymore…” She trailed off, shrugging her shoulders. “Might as well.”

He had no idea what that meant, but he smiled and shrugged along with her. Their waitress came by to get his drink order and give him a menu. When she left, Kagami tapped her arms lightly, regarding Adrien with a cool gaze.

“So have you found a new job?”

A small bit of discomfort tugged at his stomach. “Actually, the reason I put in my two weeks was because I found a new job.” He studied his hands, chewing on his bottom lip. “I’m just hoping it’ll work out.”

“Is it a job in your preferred field?” she asked, tilting her head to the side. “From what I’ve heard, that can be a little nerve-wracking.”

“It’s…sort of like that,” he responded, scratching the back of his neck. “If you haven’t gotten a job in your preferred field, does that mean you’re still in school?”

“Yeah, I’m going to be a neurologist, so it’s taking a while to get through all the required classes.” Her words were sure and unwavering. She didn’t say she was trying to be a neurologist, she said she was going to be.

“That’s insane,” Adrien couldn’t help but say. When she raised her eyebrows, he hurried on. “In a good way. It’s just that a job like that requires a lot of ambition.”

She smiled, her amber eyes sparkling. “And I’ve got a lot of it.”

The waitress returned to give Adrien his water and to take their order. After she had left, Kagami looked back to Adrien, narrowing her eyes for a moment as if deciding something, before fiddling with her straw again.

“Believe it or not, my mother wasn’t too happy with my decision to become a neurologist.”

“I thought every parent would be happy to find out their child wants to be a doctor of some sort.”

Kagami hummed, amusement glinting in her eyes. “Not when said parent would rather their child take over the family business.”

It’s not like Adrien couldn’t relate.

“Well,” he said, shrugging his shoulders, “there’s not much you can do about that except do what you want to.” If Plagg were here, he’d probably call him a hypocrite. Hell, even he thought he was being a hypocrite. What kind of person dishes out advice they couldn’t take?

“I agree,” Kagami said with a slight nod, smiling as if he’d passed some sort of test. “And what about you? Are you doing what you want to?”

That’s a good question.

“I…” He trailed off, looking down at his glass of water and tracing a finger through the condensation on the glass. “Is it bad to say I haven’t decided yet?” he asked with a small laugh, looking back up at her. “I mean, I think I might be in the right field with this new job because I do enjoy what it may entail, but I…”

“May not like your boss?” she suggested, and Adrien shrugged helplessly. She tilted her head at him, looking at him as if he was a puzzle she was trying to solve, a brain she was trying to fix. And then she shrugged her shoulders dramatically, picking up her glass and taking a sip of her drink. “I understand not wanting to work with your parent. It’s the whole reason I decided to do something else. It’s not fun being under the thumb of the same person you have been your whole life.”

Adrien blinked. She was watching him carefully, waiting for a response.

He suddenly remembered why he wanted to get to know her in the first place. He thought she didn’t know who his father was, who Adrien himself had been, and he’d been drawn to that anonymity. She had treated him just as she had treated the rest of the staff at the restaurant - firmly, but fairly. But now as he sat across from her, he realized that had probably been an act. She knew who his father was, and she definitely knew who he was.

Biting his lip, he looked away. “No, I guess it’s not.” He wondered if it would be inappropriate to leave now, to make up some excuse to go home. He wasn’t really in the mood for company anymore.

She frowned, placing her drink back down on the table. “Did I say something wrong?”

“No, of course not,” Adrien said, waving his hands and smiling at her. “It’s just that I… I didn’t know you knew who my father was.”

“To be fair, I didn’t until you quit,” she said with a shrug. “My mother told me that Mr. Agreste’s son was working with him again that same day.” She twirled the straw around in her glass, looking down at the ice cubes. “I had always thought your name was familiar, and then it clicked.”

“Oh.” He felt like apologizing for jumping to conclusions, but the apology wouldn’t make sense. And she hopefully didn’t know that he had just been planning to make up some elaborate story about Cheese, his loving cat, and an angry cat sitter. “Is that why you wanted to meet with me today? To confirm your suspicions?”

She laughed. Softly. Like she was holding a secret between her lips that she didn’t want to escape. Adrien’s stomach did a small twist. “No, not at all. I already knew I was right,” she said, leaning her elbow on the table and placing her chin in her hand. “You don’t know why I invited you to eat dinner with me?”

“Uh… Because you wanted company?” He wondered if this was a test.

Her smile widened a little, making her hazel colored eyes sparkle. “You’re a very funny guy, Adrien.”

He didn’t really get what was funny - he hadn’t even told a really good joke yet - but he smiled anyway. At least she liked his company.


---


“I slid down the whole hallway in my socks, but I couldn’t stop, and so I crashed right into Gorilla!” Adrien said, throwing his hands up in the air. Kagami laughed, covering her mouth with her hands, and Adrien smiled a little before he continued. “Of course, I was still pretty terrified of him at the time - I mean, the guy’s 6’5 and probably around 300 pounds - and so I bolted back to my room. Except I was still in my best slippery socks and ended up falling on my face.”

“And what did Gorilla do?” she asked, wrapping her arms around herself and looking up at him as they walked around the Louvre.

“Well, he picked me up from the floor. I was practically crying, begging him not to tell my father, but he didn’t say anything and just walked away.” Adrien shook his head, laughing at the memory. “That night I was scared I would get a scolding from my father, but nothing happened. I look over at Gorilla, and this huge man just winked at me. I was utterly baffled and absolutely terrified.”

“So he didn’t tell your father?” she asked, and Adrien saw her shiver. It was a rather cold night, and it looked like Kagami’s shirt was sort of thin. If they were going to continue their walk, Adrien didn’t want her to catch a cold, and so he took off his jacket and draped it around her shoulders. Her steps faltered for a moment, but she merely smiled a little, wrapping it tighter around herself.

“He didn’t,” Adrien said, giving her a smile back. “Gorilla isn’t as scary of a guy as I thought he was when I was a kid. He’s actually a big softie.”

“He sounds wonderful,” she said, and Adrien felt his heart grow warm. If anything was good about working with his father again, it would be seeing Gorilla again. He had missed the big guy more than he realized. “My mother didn’t keep assistants for very long when I was a child, and so I’m afraid I’m lacking in fun stories like that.”

“I think my father would’ve been like that, too, but my mom was probably the one who stopped him. She liked Nathalie and Gorilla, and so they stayed.” He paused, looking down at his shoes. “My father liked doing things like that to please my mom. He never said so out loud, but I think he liked it when he could make her smile.”

His memories of both his mother and his father together had faded significantly in the years since her disappearance, and now he wondered if he even saw them together that often before she disappeared. But strange rose-colored childhood memories stayed in his head, reminding him of the times when he would see his father kiss his mom’s head or tuck her hair behind her ear or put his hand on hers. Little glimpses of moments that seemed so distant from now, as if they were only a dream.

“Are you worried?” Kagami asked, stopping to look up at him. Adrien stopped with her, raising his eyebrows in question. “To be working with your father again, I mean. Are you worried?”

He gazed out at the growing night as he thought about how to answer, observing the sun just starting to slip behind the shadows of the city buildings. During dinner and now their walk, Adrien had found a strange kinship with Kagami in their shared backgrounds. It was a different kinship than what he had with Chloe, whom he had initially become friends with out of a distinct lack of other options. Chloe had always basked in her elite background while Adrien had shied away from it, and it was in this way that he felt similar to Kagami. She wasn’t ashamed of her upbringing in the way that Adrien was, but she was determined to become her own person outside of it. He felt like he had become more honest with her, and he felt like he could trust her. He took a deep breath.

“I am,” he said, nodding his head and looking back to her. She was still staring up at him, patient. “My father is a very...intense person, and I’m worried that even now I won’t be any match for him.”

Kagami nodded seriously. “Who cares?”

Adrien blinked. “What?”

“I’m saying who cares if you aren’t able to beat your father.” Something about the face he made must’ve been funny because she threw her head back and laughed - a beautiful sound that she didn’t hide until she seemed to reign herself in, covering her mouth with her hand as she gazed up at Adrien. He was surprised by how much he wished she would take her hand away so that he could see her smile. “You don’t have to be intense in the way that your father is to be better than him,” she finally said. “And I think everyone else would like it that way, too. Trust me, I’ve met your father, and I prefer you much more.”

He found himself laughing, and she laughed along with him. “You know what, Kagami? I think you’re right.”

She bit her bottom lip, stepping closer and placing a hand on his chest. “You know what, Adrien? I almost always am.”

This, to say the least, was a surprising turn of events. He didn’t really understand it, but now Kagami was leaning in as if to kiss him, and he could see the freckles dusting her cheeks, and he thought maybe if he kissed her back it wouldn’t be a bad thing.

But then his brain supplied him an image of Ladybug, kneeling in front of of him with her hand on his chest, smiling up at him as magic pooled around her. Ladybug, asleep at her table with his jacket draped around her shoulders, curved lips exhaling glittering pink mist. Ladybug, soft and vulnerable in his arms, smearing snot into his shoulder.

He placed his hands on Kagami’s shoulders, gently pushing her away. She went willingly, although her hands stayed on him, and she blinked up at him, obviously confused. “Kagami, I-”

A searing pain shot through his chest as if he’d just been shot with an arrow and then someone had begun tugging at the shaft. He stumbled back, doubling over and groaning in pain.

“Adrien?” Kagami asked, voice panicked.

“I have to go,” he managed to grunt out, staggering in the direction he felt his chest pulling towards. “I have, um, heartburn?” Or was whatever this was a heart attack?

“Should I take you to the hospital?”

That was a good question. But then his chest pulled him again, and his ring hanging around his neck started to burn his skin, and he began to get the feeling that the reason was less medical and more magical. “No!” he exclaimed, his legs forcing his body around to follow the strange tugging in his chest. “Sorry, I just - ow - I just have to, uh, go feed my cat.”

A+ excuse, Adrien. Great job.

“What about your jacket?” Kagami called, and Adrien looked back at her lonely figure, wishing he could stop whatever this was to give her a proper explanation.

“I’ll call you,” he tried to say, but he wasn’t sure if she heard because he was running now, and he was panicking.

He tore off his necklace and only just managed to slip his ring on his finger without dropping it while he ran. He blinked hard, his eyes getting used to the change. Around him, he could now see the different types of magic dancing around the air, but he couldn’t stop to appreciate any of it because he was too busy staring helplessly at the bold red line of sparkling magic sticking out of his chest and pulling him towards his mystery destination.

“Freeze!” shouted a familiar voice, and Adrien quite literally froze mid-run, both his feet hovering over the ground. When he looked down, he saw Plagg standing at his feet, chest heaving as he stared up at Adrien.

“What’s happening?” Adrien attempted to ask, but his jaw was clenched from being Frozen, and it sounded less intelligible than he would’ve liked.

“Sorry,” Plagg said, taking a deep breath. “But if I UnFreeze you, you’ll start running again, so I gotta talk now, and you gotta listen to me.” Adrien simply blinked in response. It was all he could do. Plagg continued. “You’re being Summoned, and I’m guessing by Ladybug since it’s a pretty powerful Summon and the magic sticking out of your chest looks like that. So when I UnFreeze you, you have to shout the magic words, and I’m gonna have to do some magic while you run. Got it?” This was of course met with silence from Adrien, and Plagg sighed. “I hope you got it, or else this is gonna get a little messy. UnFreeze.”

Adrien’s feet hit the ground, and he was running again. “Plagg!” he shouted, his voice cracking into an octave he didn’t even think he could reach in his panic. “Transform me!”

“Nice job, kid!” he heard Plagg say behind him, and then he was surrounded by green magic that slid over his clothes and changed them into something more fitting for Chat Noir. He felt the familiar tickle of the magic around his eyes creating his mask, and then the magic faded, leaving only the thick line of red from his chest and his own heaving breaths.

Plagg’s suspicions about the magic pulling him along were soon proved to be correct as he neared Lucky Charm at an alarming pace, unable to stop himself as he barreled straight toward the firmly closed door. He braced himself for impact.

However, instead of his body meeting with the glass of the door, he found his body connecting with something far softer that smelled vaguely like freshly baked pie, or something similarly sweet and warm. The pulling sensation in his chest eased, and he heard soft murmuring in his ear that made the pain disappear entirely. Gentle arms wrapped around him, and he went almost totally limp, exhausted from running such a long way.

“Hey,” said a familiar voice after a long moment, “sorry for that, but it’s an emergency.”

Adrien pushed himself away from the arms that held him, finding himself face to face with Ladybug, red lips curved up into a small smile even as her eyebrows pinched in worry. She looked different somehow - more intense. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

“You Summoned me,” he said as she let go of him completely, stepping back to give him some space. He was still a little out of breath, but it was just starting to hit him just what he’d been whisked away from. “I was in the middle of something important.”

At least, he was pretty sure it was important.

“I’m sure whatever date you had will forgive you,” she said, waving her hand a little, and Adrien found himself crossing his arms.

“It wasn’t a-” He stopped.

Wait.

Had he just been on a date?

“I Summoned you because I honestly wasn’t sure what else to do,” she said, wrapping her arms around herself. “I don’t have any other way to contact you, so…” She trailed off, shrugging.

“You decided to forcibly remove me from whatever situation I was in so that I would come to you?” he finished, and she nodded.

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“Well, you’re lucky I’m at your beck and call regardless,” he said, and she rolled her eyes. He wasn’t sure if it was because of the pun or the weak attempt at flirting. It was probably both. “So what’s this emergency about?”

“It’s about…” She trailed off, glancing to the side, where a familiar-looking woman in a tweed sweater was standing, seemingly at a loss. “It’s about Rose. And Aurore. And maybe that thing we’ve talked about before,” she said, giving him a meaningful look.

“You mean Haw-”

“Yes, that,” she interrupted quickly, her eyes shifting to the woman again. “This is Detective Sabrina Raincomprix. She works with the police department,” she said, formally acknowledging the woman’s presence for the first time. “Detective, this is my friend that I was telling you about before.”

The puzzle pieces in Adrien’s mind fit together, and his eyes widened as he looked back over at the detective again. Sabrina Raincomprix. Suddenly the familiarity of the tweed sweater, large glasses, and orange hair made sense. He knew her once, a long time ago.

Sabrina stepped forward, offering her hand which Adrien took after a brief amazed moment. He never imagined he’d come across Sabrina in this situation. “It’s a pleasure Chat Noir. I wish we were meeting under different circumstances.”

“The same to you,” Adrien said politely - carefully - looking back over to Ladybug. “And what are these circumstances, exactly?”

Ladybug took a deep breath as if about to begin, and then her eyes seemed to catch on some flicker of movement through the window of the shop. Adrien looked over to see what it was that had caused her attention to waver, finding nothing out of the ordinary. “Let’s go to the back room,” Ladybug said, eyes still narrowed as she gestured for them all to go. Adrien didn’t miss the shared look between her and Tikki.

As Sabrina and Adrien settled into the seats of the small table, Adrien let Plagg jump onto the table. Ladybug remained standing. She closed the door behind them - something Adrien never remembered her doing before - and then leaned against the counter, crossing her arms. Now that the novelty of being Summoned had worn off, Adrien looked over Ladybug again, trying to figure out what about her was different than normal.

There was a firmer set to her jaw, but that wasn’t anything that Adrien hadn’t seen before. Maybe it was the distinct lack of color. Her outfit was almost entirely black, making the lines of her body harsher, the white of her skin ethereal. With that sharp look in her eyes as she regarded Sabrina, she looked like… Like a witch. Like a necromancer.

“Detective Raincomprix is the lead detective in the case involving Rose,” Ladybug started, and Adrien looked over at Sabrina. She wasn’t the timid high schooler Adrien once knew, that much was for sure now. “She’s aware that both Rose and Aurore were mages, and she’s come across something rather interesting during her investigation.”

“And this ‘something interesting’ would be?” Adrien asked, looking between the two women.

“Both Ms. Lavillant and Ms. Beauréal were missing their magical charms,” Sabrina said, and Adrien frowned.

“But what does that mean?”

“We don’t know,” Ladybug said, shaking her head in frustration. “Charms are unique items, specific to the mage they work for.” One of her hands went to her ear, thumbing at the glowing red stud that hung from her ear lobe as she thought. “No one can use someone else’s charm without consequences, so I wouldn’t know of any reason as to why…” She trailed off, her eyes drifting to the side as she retreated further into her own mind.

A silence lapsed over them, and Adrien found himself thinking about his own charm. His eyes found his hand, where the heavy and familiar weight of his ring wrapped around his finger. It was glowing now, pulsing with its familiar green magic, and he frowned down at it. “Charms are supposed to…help a mage with magic right?” he asked, looking back up at Ladybug.

She furrowed her eyebrows, her hand dropping from her ear. “In the simplest way, yes,” she said, her lips twisting to the side. “But it’s not just that. They’re personal amplifiers for magic, small items filled with power that a mage can call upon when and where they need it.”

“So,” Sabrina started, and both Adrien and Ladybug looked over at her, waiting for her to continue. “So if charms are so personal, what happens when” - she paused, chewing at her bottom lip - “what happens when the person that the charm is made for dies?”

“Sometimes they lose their power,” Ladybug said, her eyebrows knitting together as she seemed to compose her thoughts. “Without the life they’re bound to, they could simply go back to being regular objects. Or sometimes they…” She trailed off, her eyes widening and her red-stained lips forming an ‘o’ shape - the face of an epiphany.

Without warning, she ran out of the room, back into the shop. Adrien and Sabrina looked at each other before pushing out of their seats and following her, Plagg and Tikki at their heels.

They found her kneeling in the back section dedicated to old magic books, the gauzy pink curtain pushed to the side. There was a thick tome in front of her, and she was hastily flicking through the pages, moving so fast it hardly looked as if her fingers were touching the paper at all. When she found whatever page she was looking for, she hunched over, her finger tracing over the runes on the page, her lips moving silently. And then she looked up at both of them, a satisfied smile hinting at the corners of her mouth.

“‘Once the host dies, the Charmed item will either lose its power or become attached to a new host,’” she recited, lifting up the book and pointing at the supposed line she was reading from for them to see. It was in a language that Adrien didn’t know, similar to the runes that had adorned her windows the other night, and so he just took her word for it. “The person responsible for this is hoping that by killing the host of a charm, they’ll in turn be able to harness the power of that charm. Why they’d want to obtain a charm in this way is still a mystery, but if we find the charms, we’ll find-”

“But how will we find the charms?” Sabrina interrupted, raising her hands in an effort to slow down Ladybug’s excited rambling. “Is there some sort of magical” - she waved her arms around, trying to find the right word - “aura or something we can track?”

The light that had sparked in Ladybug’s eyes died down, and she bit her lip, lowering the book back to the floor. “I… Not that I know of, I don’t think. The only way I could think of finding a charm would be to find its host, but that’s not possible now.”

Adrien hated seeing her so discouraged, especially after he saw how just the slightest bit of progress had made her light up so brightly. He racked his brain, trying to think of something that could help this situation they were in. “What about Rose or Aurore?” he asked, a sudden thought occurring to him. All eyes turned to him, confused. “I mean, they’re ghosts. You could try and talk to them, right, Ladybug?”

This only seemed to further dampen Ladybug’s mood. “Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to speak with Aurore since that night in the cemetery. Whether that’s on purpose or not I don’t know, but that’s beside the point. And as for Rose…” She trailed off, her expression pained. “I’m afraid I haven’t heard from her either.”

“There must be some way you could communicate with them,” Sabrina said, tapping a finger to her chin as she chewed on her lip. “Like some sort of séance, or…” She trailed off, looking to Ladybug for help, but Ladybug shook her head.

“It doesn’t work like that,” she said firmly, slamming the book shut. As soon as her fingers left it, the book flew through the air, sliding back into its place in the bookshelf. She stood, crossing her arms and regarding Sabrina coolly. “I can’t just wiggle my fingers and conjure up the exact ghost I want. Ghosts used to be people, and just like living people, they don’t take kindly to being forced to do something.”

Adrien found a strange irony in this, considering he’d been forced into this situation now, what with being Summoned. But he decided to let that one slide.

“I’ve built a good relationship with the ghosts I’ve come across because I don’t go around disregarding their humanity like most others do,” she continued, and Adrien saw the moment Sabrina realized that she’d said something wrong. Her shoulders drew up, and she reached her hand out - a gesture achingly familiar to Adrien. But Ladybug barged on. “I won’t betray their trust like that. Not when I’ve spent my career getting into their good graces. And besides, séances don’t work. More often than not, they’re a fluke, and when they do turn out to be real, they bring something other than ghosts to your door.”

“I… I didn’t mean any offence,” Sabrina started, voice small, and Ladybug looked her over as if trying to find some other fault in her.

“I’m sure you didn’t,” she said, voice sharp, and Adrien frowned. What was making her so cold?

“There’s gotta be another way to contact Aurore or Rose,” Adrien said, making his tone overly gentle in an effort to soothe the tense air. “Something that we can do now that won’t be encroaching on any boundaries."

“Ladybug,” Tikki said softly, and Ladybug looked over at her, expression softening into something akin to guilt. But Tikki shook her head almost imperceptibly, as if to say that now wasn’t the time, before continuing. “There is something that you could do.”

“I know,” she said, wrapping her arms around herself and looking down at her boots. “But I don’t…”

“What is it?” Sabrina asked, but Ladybug simply bit her lip, avoiding her gaze.

“If it’s something that could help,” Adrien said, placing a hand on her shoulder and squeezing gently to get her to look at him. When her eyes met his, he continued. “Don’t you think you should share it with us to see what we think, too?”

He saw her protests in her eyes, saw the moment she bit them back in favor of a sigh. “If I could gain access to Rose’s body, I could bring her back to life long enough to see if she remembers what happened to her charm.”

“Oh,” Adrien said because he wasn’t really sure what else to say to that. “Oh.”

Sabrina chewed on her lip, tapping a finger to her chin as she thought. “Ms. Lavillant’s body is still in autopsy because of the investigation, but the chances are that soon the death will be ruled as a suicide, and her body will be given back to her family for burial. We may not have a lot of time.”

Ladybug’s eyebrows lifted. “You’d actually let me do this?”

“Yes,” Sabrina answered with hesitation, her hand dropping back to her side as she met Ladybug’s gaze. “I want to find the truth as much as you do, and I am ready to do it by any means necessary.”

“But how will you explain finding out the information we may get from this to your colleagues?” Ladybug asked, shaking her head. “Something tells me they won’t find necromancy to be a viable source.”

“I made my choice the moment I came to you for magical assistance,” Sabrina responded, holding her chin high. She really was so different than the girl Adrien remembered. He couldn’t help but feel a sting of pride shoot through his heart. “Let me figure out what to do about my job.”

Ladybug seemed to search Sabrina’s face, looking for any chink in the confident armor. But Adrien himself couldn’t even find one, and he knew a time when that confident armor had been full of flaws. She sighed, running a hand through her hair. “Fine. If you’re going to let me do this, then when? You said our time frame is already thin as it is.”

“Well,” Sabrina said, her shoulders going up to her ears before she lowered them back down and looked between Adrien and Ladybug, “if we’re going to do this, we might as well do it tonight.”

Adrien couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled up from his chest. Might as well help raise the dead tonight - what else did he have planned?

“Might as well,” he said with a shrug and a smile when Ladybug gave him a weird look.

She took a deep breath, her jaw settling into a hard line. “Yeah. Might as well.”

Chapter Text

As they left the shop, Marinette pulled the hood of her jacket over her head and held Chat back a little so that they were walking slightly behind the detective. Raincomprix continued walking ahead of them, leading the way to the police department. Marinette waited until she was out of earshot before turning to Chat.

“There’s something I have to tell you about what we’re about to do,” she started, but then she saw the look on his face. Like he was caught somewhere between suspicion and vague disappointment. “What?” she asked, feeling somewhat offended, although she wasn’t sure why yet.

“Why are you acting like this?” he asked, keeping his voice down and glancing over at the steady figure of the detective.

“What?” Acting like what? As far as she knew, she’d just been acting like herself.

“You’ve been all” - he wiggled his fingers around - “weird with Sa- ah, Detective Raincomprix. You didn’t have to get so mad at her back there.”

“I wasn’t mad at her,” Marinette snapped, knowing that it was a lie. Even if she’d decided that working with the detective would be in their best interests, she still recognized that her bias against her had been showing. She was just a little struck that Chat had noticed.

“You were,” Chat said, and Marinette scowled. “But not just that. What was that with Haw-”

“Don’t talk so loud,” she hissed, pulling her hood lower and shifting her gaze around to see if anyone had noticed. Thankfully, she couldn’t see any wandering eyes lingering on them for too long, and she sighed in relief. When she looked at Chat again, he was giving her a look. She sighed. “Look, I’m sorry.”

“I’m not looking for an apology,” Chat said, shaking his head. “I’m looking for an explanation.”

Marinette looked over at Tikki, worrying at her bottom lip with her teeth. Tikki simply stared back at her, waiting for her to be reasonable about this whole situation. She found herself sighing again, rubbing her hands over her face. “It’s just that I don’t… I don’t trust Detective Raincomprix.”

Chat’s eyebrows furrowed, and he glanced at the detective, who was seemingly content in walking alone. “Why not? She’s helping us.”

“Yes,” Marinette admitted, giving him a half-hearted shrug, “but there’s a chance that she didn’t just come to me for help in the investigation, but rather as a part of her investigation.” Chat shook his head, uncomprehending. She bit her lip, looking away from him. “Technically, I’m responsible for Rose’s death. Or at least that’s what the general populace might think,” she rushed on when she saw the protest already forming on his lips. “The police weren’t too kind to me that day, and I don’t think they’ve given up on finding me.”

“So you think Detective Raincomprix is like them?” he asked, doubt creeping into his voice. “But she said herself that she wants to find the truth. That doesn’t sound like someone who’s already made up their mind.”

“I know,” Marinette said because she did know. It wasn’t fair to be cold towards the detective because of her own insecurity, but she didn’t know how to stop herself from putting up that wall. “I’m just…” Scared.

It’s one thing to blame herself for something, but it’s a whole different thing entirely to have someone with the power to lock her up blame her for that same thing. It’s far more dangerous, far more risky. And right now, she didn’t know if she could afford any excess risk.

Something must’ve shown on her face because Chat seemed to soften, his posture relaxing. “I get it, Ladybug. Just give her a chance, okay?”

“I will,” she said, sighing.

“So what were you trying to say before?”

Oh, right. That.

“Chat,” she started, taking hold of his arm and pulling him to a stop. He frowned, glancing over to the detective, but she tugged at his sleeve, making him turn his attention back to her. “About bringing Rose back to life. I can’t…” She trailed off. It had been so long since she’d used her talents to the fullest, and this was why. These rules. It was too much to ask for, and so the words died in her throat. She stared up at Chat - this innocent man that had been infinitely kind to her - and she was at a loss.

“What is it?” he asked, a crease forming between his eyebrows when she still didn’t speak up. “Ladybug, what is it?” he repeated, firmer this time.

“There are rules,” she said, managing to find her voice and forcing herself to keep her gaze trained on his. “I can’t bring a life back without consequences.”

He shook his head, obviously confused. “And these consequences would be...?”

“It has to be a fair trade. A life for a life.”

She saw the sick realization crawl onto his face, but still he asked. “What does that mean?”

“It means that if I bring Rose back to life, then someone will have to die.” He blew out a breath, running his hands through his already messy hair and turning away from her. “Not permanently,” she continued, touching his shoulder lightly to get him to look back at her. “It’ll only be for a few minutes while I talk to Rose, and then when I let her pass on again, the life will be returned.”

He regarded her with his bright green eyes, his lips forming a tight line. “But someone will be dead for those few minutes.”

Marinette took a breath. “Yes.”

For a moment, the weight of that implication stretched between them, and Chat looked up to the dark sky, not a star to be seen through the light pollution. And then his gaze found hers again, the beginnings of a smile glimmering in his eyes. “I’m assuming you’re telling me this because I’m gonna be the dead one.”

Her heart nearly broke with how easily he said it, but she nodded. “Only for a few minutes, and only if you agree.”

“My lady,” he laughed, shaking his head, “what are we going to do if I say no?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted truthfully, unsure how he found the nerve to find this situation funny but finding that his smile was slightly contagious. “But we’ll figure something out. I won’t take that choice away from you.”

His smile became something between reckless and affectionate, and Marinette found herself struck by the sheer power of it. “Well, you are the best witch in Paris. I think I trust you with one of my precious nine lives.”

“Best necromancer in Paris,” she found herself correcting out of habit. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, the glow from the streetlamps and the glittering magical mists in the air tangling in the gleam in his eyes.

“That’ll do for tonight, bugaboo.”

Before Marinette could think of something to say in response, the detective was beside them, a little out of breath. “I’m so sorry,” she said, pushing her glasses up and glancing between her and Chat, “I didn’t realize that I had left you both behind.”

Guilt washed over Marinette, and she found her heart softening toward the detective. She seemed so earnest, so genuine. And Marinette had treated her like an enemy. “It’s my fault,” she said, bringing her hand up to stop the detective from apologizing further. “I should’ve told you we had stopped.”

A confused smile flickered on the detective’s face, as if she couldn’t quite decide if Marinette was serious or not. But she left it at that, instead motioning for them to continue. “Why did you two stop?” she asked as they started walking again, staying beside them rather than moving ahead like Marinette had let her do before.

“When I suggested bringing Rose back to life, I left out a very important part of the process,” Marinette admitted, glancing over to Chat. He nodded at her, encouraging her with a small smile. She took a deep breath and explained the rules, what must happen in order for the necromancy to work. When she was finished, Sabrina’s lips were pressed into a thin line, her dismay clear in her expression.

“You’re okay with this?” she asked Chat. “With… dying temporarily?”

“Yes,” Chat said without hesitation. “I trust Ladybug.”

His honesty was written plain on his face, and Marinette had to stop herself from turning around, marching straight back to the shop, and locking the door behind her. The last time a life had been trusted to her, she’d messed up. Done the exact opposite of what she had needed to.

“Stop thinking like that,” Tikki said in her ear, only loud enough for the two of them to hear. The detective and Chat continued forward, Chat asking about the detective’s work and what it was like for her. Marinette hung back, looking over at Tikki.

“Can you read minds now, too?” Marinette asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No, but I’ve seen that look enough in the past few days. You’re spiralling,” Tikki said, and Marinette looked away. “You’re a skilled necromancer, the best in Paris.”

“I…” She trailed off, shaking her head. There were so many thoughts swirling around her mind, and they were all too difficult to even attempt to voice. She sighed. “I know you’re right.”

“But you’re still scared,” Tikki said for her, and Marinette tugged at her hood, staring down at her boots.

“I’m still scared,” she agreed.

“That’s okay,” Tikki said. Looking back up at her, Marinette bit at her thumbnail, the desire for power pumping through her veins as much as the nerves were. “I’m going to be right there for you when you get scared, for when you need me, and for when you don’t. Nothing will go wrong.”

She closed her eyes, taking her nail out from between her teeth, and took a deep breath, attempting to quiet the storm inside her. When she opened her eyes again, she nodded resolutely. “I believe you.”

Nothing would go wrong. Nothing could go wrong.

She needed to believe it with every fiber of her being in order for it to be true, and so she did.


---


Detective Raincomprix motioned for them to stop when the police station came into view, turning to face the both of them. “It wouldn’t be wise for us to waltz in - there are cameras everywhere, and they’re all in perfect condition.”

This would’ve been useful information to know before they started waltzing over to the station, but Marinette pushed down her annoyance. She wasn’t going to snap at the detective again, even if this time it felt like she deserved it. “So what are your suggestions?”

“My Gift is invisibility,” the detective said. “I can get us in without anyone noticing, but it’ll be more difficult when we get down into autopsy because a previously dead body reanimating will still show up on the cameras.”

“I’m guessing turning them off isn’t a great idea,” Chat said, and the detective shook her head.

“Missing video feed will be noticed. It’ll raise questions that we wouldn’t want answered.”

Marinette took a deep breath, bringing her hand up to her mouth and biting her nails as she thought. The cameras were a definite issue. She knew that asking Sabrina to make Rose’s body invisible as well as the rest of them wouldn’t solve anything - then there would just be a disappearing body on tape. Somehow duping the cameras with photographs or looped feed would’ve worked if they’d taken more time to plan and prepare, but the detective had made it clear that their time window was narrow. So what could they do to make sure that nothing suspicious showed up on camera?

“I have an idea,” Marinette said, taking her nail out from between her teeth and looking up at both Chat and the detective. “I could cast an Illusion on Rose’s body so that to the cameras remains inanimate while you” - she looked pointedly at the detective - “keep us invisible.”

“But won’t that be difficult?” the detective asked, frowning and shaking her head. “The focus needed for an Illusion is taxing enough, but you’re also going to be performing necromancy and interviewing Ms. Lavillant?”

It would be difficult. Illusions were a pain on the best of days, but having to upkeep a believable Illusion while also focusing on the necromancy of the plan would be no easy task. Necromancy was a delicate art that required absolute attention in order to get right, and Illusions were the same way. Getting tired or losing focus in either of the magics would result in disaster.

She looked over to Tikki, and the little sprite nodded her head. Even though Marinette had known Tikki would support her, it was still a relief to see. “I won’t be doing it entirely on my own. Does your invisibility include sound masking?”

“No, but I can do that,” the detective responded, still looking uneasy about the plan that Marinette had come up with.

“Good, then that’s what we’ll do,” Marinette said, nodding resolutely. “Ready?”

The detective chewed on her bottom lip, but she let out a quick breath after only a moment’s hesitation. “I’ll have to keep contact with both of you to keep us all invisible at first, but when we’re safely inside, we’ll be able to let go of each other.”

“Why would you not keep in contact with us the entire time?” Marinette asked, frowning.

“While we’re going in, I’d be sharing my Gift with you through contact, which is the only way it can be shared,” Sabrina explained, shrugging a little. “Once we’re inside and need to move around, I’ll cast an Invisibility spell on the both of you before I let go.”

It didn’t seem efficient. Marinette couldn’t help but question a little more. “And you can’t do that here because?”

“I won’t be able to see you or hear you after I cast the spell since my Gift and the Invisibility spell I know don’t work together. We’ll only be able to see outlines of each other when I cast the spell on you two,” the detective said, looking down at her feet for a moment in apparent embarrassment before straightening her shoulders and meeting Marinette’s gaze once more. “I need to be able to guide you through the station while I can still see both of you clearly.”

“So then how will you know when we need to leave?” Chat asked, shaking his head. The more they seemed to question the plan, the less sure Marinette became. She was only one more set-back from abandoning the plan altogether in favor of something better organized. Something she wouldn’t have to rely on a detective for.

“Tap me twice on the shoulder and hold on to me,” Sabrina said, making the gestures for them to see. “We’ll still be able to feel each other, and the outlines of our bodies will still be visible to us.”

Marinette rubbed her face. It was risky. Too risky. There were far too many variables in the plan. She was used to simple things - digging up a grave, brewing together a potion, working through a spell. Straightforward things that had straightforward results. Nothing about this was straightforward.

“Well, are we gonna do it or not?” Plagg asked, climbing up Chat’s clothes and looking between the rest of them.

“There’s not a lot of other options,” Tikki said, and everyone looked over at her. She straightened her small body, glowing a little brighter as she met everyone’s gaze. “If we don’t do this, we might not make progress until weeks from now, maybe months. If we do, we have the chance to figure out what’s happening quickly enough to stop something awful from happening again.”

“Well,” Chat said when no one else spoke, “although I am perfectly fine with dying tonight, I’d rather not get arrested. Sabrina, if we get caught, promise you won’t put me in chains?” He said it like it was some sort of joke, but no one laughed. Marinette did admire his effort, though.

The detective was silent for a moment, and then her pale blue eyes met both Marinette’s and Chat’s, her gaze surprisingly fierce. “We won’t get caught.”

Believing is being, right?

“Then, the first step is physical contact,” Marinette said, and the detective nodded.

“I vote holding hands,” Chat said, taking one of Marinette’s hands in his own and grinning at her. Marinette rolled her eyes, but didn’t take her hand away, instead offering her other hand to the detective, who took it without a moment’s delay. She closed her eyes, and then Marinette felt a strange tingling sensation crawl up her body.

“Whoa,” Chat whispered, looking down at himself. Although they could still see each other perfectly fine, there was a faint outline of sparking fuchsia magic outlining their bodies, indicating that the spell was complete. The detective led them toward the police station, and when they went inside and were looked over by every single one of the night shift officers, not a single one acknowledging their presence, Chat whistled lowly. “This is way better than the date I was so rudely torn away from,” he whispered, seeming to forget that the detective had also made them silent.

An apology was already on Marinette’s lips, but when she looked over at Chat, she only saw amusement glimmering in his eyes. She couldn’t help the upward twist of her mouth in response. “So it was a date,” she said, and he squeezed her hand, leaning in and giving her a lopsided smile.

“What, are you jealous?” he asked, but she snorted, nudging him away.

“Of course not. I only feel sorry for the poor girl you managed to trick into spending time with you.”

“Technically, I think she tricked me into spending time with her,” Chat said, and Marinette raised her eyebrows. He shrugged. “Besides, aren’t you spending time with me right now? Willingly?”

“I don’t think sneaking into a police station to kill you and bring a dead girl back to life temporarily counts as spending time together,” Marinette said, and she felt Tikki giggle lightly from where she was perched on her shoulder.

“Sneaking into a police station to kill me and bring a dead girl back to life definitely counts as spending time together,” Chat responded.

“Gods, could you two, like, stop flirting with each other right now?” Plagg demanded, and Marinette’s eyebrows shot up as she glanced over at the cat, who had draped himself around Chat’s neck.

“That wasn’t flirting,” she said because it wasn’t. Probably.

“It was a little bit flirting,” Chat said, and Marinette’s eyebrows went up a little further.

“You just said you were on a date earlier.”

“I mean, I didn’t know it was a date until afterwards.”

“We’re here,” the detective said before Marinette could even think up a suitable response to address whatever in the hell Chat’s love life was. They’d arrived in a basement level of the station, just in front of a glass door labeled ‘Autopsy.’ The detective pushed it open, stepping into the room’s chilled air and taking Marinette and Chat along with her.

There in the middle of the room was a metal table, a body shrouded in white cloth laying on its surface. As soon as Marinette laid eyes on it, her breath hitched. Tikki placed a small, comforting hand on her neck.

“That’s her,” the detective said, nodding to the shrouded body. “When you’re finished, remember to tap me twice on the shoulder. You can tell me about what you found out after we leave.”

“Got it,” Marinette said, and the detective led them to the middle of the room. She used her free hand to take Chat’s and closed her eyes, her lips moving silently as she went through the spell. Slowly, Sabrina herself started to disappear to them, only the faint line of fuschia magic surrounding her body remaining. The detective’s hands left theirs.

Once that was done, Marinette let go of Chat’s hand, turning to him and taking her phone out of her back pocket. She pulled up the clock app and typed in four minutes in the timer widget. “The longest I’ve ever kept someone dead before was six minutes, and so we’re aiming for four,” she said, kneeling down and placing her phone on the floor. “That’ll give me some leeway.”

“I’m dying to see this work out, my lady.”

“That’s not funny at all.”

“Then why are you smiling?”

“Leave me alone while I focus on the Illusion,” Marinette snapped, turning her back to him and facing the body on the autopsy table. She scanned every detail of the sight, memorizing the folds of the fabric, the shape of the body underneath, the position of the feet poking out from underneath the sheet. When she could close her eyes and see every tiny detail in her mind’s eye, even the scribbles of writing on the tag looped around the big toe of the right foot, Marinette took a deep breath, raising her hands. She created the Illusion over the real thing, each line and shadow and curve tracing the image before her. The sweet tang of her magic filled the room.

A buzz filled her insides when she was done, and she turned back to Chat, keeping the Illusion clear in her mind even as she shifted her thoughts. “Sit down,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Chat responded, immediately dropping down to the ground and sitting cross-legged. Marinette kneeled down across from him, placing one hand on his shoulder and the other on the back of his neck.

“I’m sorry for this.”

Chat’s expression softened. “Ladybug, I agreed to it. It’s fine.”

She leaned in, and she kissed him.

His surprise was physical - she could feel him tense beneath her hands before relaxing, even tilting his head closer to hers. He brought one of his hands up to her face, cupping her cheek gently, and he placed the other just above her hip, his thumb tracing the curve of her waist. But she couldn’t afford to focus on that, or how soft his lips were, or how solid his figure was. She held back any unnecessary thoughts, keeping the Illusion clear in her mind, and she began to do what she needed to.

Her eyes were closed, and so she couldn’t see the blood red of her magic, but she could feel its sparks beneath her fingertips. She moved her hands, sliding the one on his neck up to cradle the back of his head and moving the one on his shoulder down to press against his heart. The pulse there was fast, alive. Her magic pressed into him.

The pulse beneath her hand began to slow, and Chat exhaled against her lips. She took that exhale into herself, taking more and more until his hands fell off of her, no longer strong enough to keep their position. Bristling life buzzed inside her mouth, pressing against her lips, longing for a place to go. Chat went limp in her arms, the pulse that had previously thumped hard against the palm of her hand gone.

Pulling away from him and laying him carefully down onto the ground, Marinette turned to the timer on her phone, already set and ready. Keeping her lips pressed tightly together and the image of the Illusion in her mind, she pressed the start button.

When she stood, she wasted no time in going to Rose’s body, taking one last moment to secure the Illusion before lifting the sheet. She took Rose’s newly exposed face, cold and devoid of any color, into her hands, and she placed her lips against hers, the ice of them disconcerting. But just as she didn’t waste any extra thought on Chat’s warmth, she didn’t waste any on Rose’s cold. She simply did it, focusing on the Illusion, on breathing out the life inside of her into Rose’s mouth. The Kiss of Life.

Slowly, Rose’s lips turned warm, and Marinette could feel the flush return to her cheeks, the pulse of her heart begin again. Rose’s hands came up, clumsily holding onto the back of Marinette’s hoodie. Marinette pulled away, her lips still buzzing with the remnants of the life they’d held.

“Julie?” Rose whispered, voice scratchy, as her eyes fluttered open. Confusion twisted at her features, and Marinette stepped back to give her some space as she sat up, holding the sheet to cover herself. In Marinette’s mind, the image of the still body on the table remained. She forced it to remain. “What… Where am I?”

“The autopsy room of the Paris police department,” Marinette said, and Rose let out a shaky breath, blinking at the cold metal around her. At the stitched ‘v’ on her chest.

“Autopsy,” she said slowly, nodding her head. “I… I shouldn’t be… I shouldn’t be alive.” She looked up at Marinette, her sky blue eyes finding Marinette’s. “Why am I alive?”

“I needed to speak with you,” Marinette said, ignoring the pain in her heart. She couldn’t afford it now. “I’m not sure how much you remember, but I was there when you died.”

“I…” Rose trailed off and shook her head. She frowned, squeezing her eyes shut. “I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

“That’s okay,” Marinette soothed, holding her hands up. She could tell that Rose was beginning to feel frustrated, and she needed this conversation to go as smoothly as possible. “Could you tell me what you do remember?”

Opening her eyes and blinking at Marinette, Rose took a deep breath, pressing a hand to her head. “I was… I was about to call Julie. It was bad news. Our surrogate mother backed out on us.” Tears filled Rose’s eyes, dribbling down her cheeks entirely unchecked as she looked up at Marinette. “Oh, God, Julie,” she sobbed. “I didn’t want to die, Ladybug. I didn’t want to leave her.”

“I know,” Marinette said, rushing forward and taking Rose’s hand in hers. The pain in her chest was hard to ignore now, and she couldn’t stop her own tears from breaking free from her eyes, but she kept the Illusion working, and she kept Rose’s pulse beating. “I know that, Rose. Someone bad made this happen, and I’m trying to find him. So you need to help me, Rose. You need to help me find him.”

“How do I do that?” Rose cried, shaking her head.

“Your charm wasn’t found on you or anywhere in your possession,” Marinette said, and Rose shook her head, confused. “Do you know what happened to it?”

For a moment, Rose was silent, her eyes searching the floor, as if there she would find her answer. But then her hand squeezed Marinette’s, and her eyes widened. “There was a man talking in my head. Hawkmoth. He said everything was going to be okay if I listened to him.”

“Is there anything else?”

Rose’s jaw clenched, her thin eyebrows knitting together as she struggled to remember. “A… A butterfly of some sort.” Her frown deepened for a moment, and then she looked back up at Ladybug, the words spilling out of her. “He told me to give my charm to it.”

“What did it look like? What happened to the butterfly?” Marinette asked, her heart beating faster.

“I-I don’t know,” Rose stuttered, her shoulders falling. “It might’ve been white? And it...flew away?  I can’t remember, Ladybug, I wish I did, but I-”

“It’s alright,” Marinette said, trying to keep the disappointment from her voice. But she should’ve expected this. Stormy hadn’t remembered much, either. “You’ve helped me enough, Rose.”

A long moment passed in silence, and the energy spent on both the Illusion and the necromancy started to gnaw at Marinette. She should probably end this soon.

“Rose,” she murmured softly, frowning down at the floor. “He called me Rose.”

“What?”

“That man. He called me Rose. And then he called me Fragancia.”

“He knew both of your identities,” Marinette breathed, and then a piercing alarm rang through the room. Both of them jumped, but Marinette recovered faster.

Rose whipped her head around fast, trying to find the source of the noise. “What is that? What does that mean?”

“It’s my timer,” Marinette said, letting go of Rose’s hand to turn it off. As soon as she left her side, Rose gasped. Marinette looked up, concerned, but then she saw that Rose’s eyes were fixed onto Chat’s dead body, which apparently Marinette’s figure had been blocking. “A life for a life,” Marinette explained, standing up and stepping in front of Chat’s body again so that Rose would pay attention to her. “I have to send you back.”

“So that he can live?” she asked, and Marinette nodded. Tears filled Rose’s eyes once more, but this time she turned her face away from Marinette’s in an attempt to hide them. “I wish it wasn’t like this,” she whispered, so softly that Marinette almost didn’t hear it. But she did.

“I’m sorry, Rose,” Marinette said, her voice thick and blocked by the lump in her throat. “I should’ve tried harder to save you.”

Turning her face back to her and wiping her face with her free hand, Rose shook her head. “I may not remember everything, but I know that whatever you did to try and save me was everything that you could possibly do,” she said, and the tears in Marinette’s eyes dripped down onto her cheeks. Marinette swiped them away, trying to keep her mind focused. “You don’t have to be sorry for trying, Ladybug. That’s all I could’ve asked for.”

“I wish you could stay,” Marinette whispered, her voice catching in her throat.

“Me too,” Rose said softly. “But you have to let me go.” Marinette’s bottom lip trembled, and she pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes, struggling to regain her focus.

Tikki came to her rescue after remaining silent this whole time, knowing that now was the time that Marinette truly needed her. She pressed her small hands on Marinette’s head, and the Illusion in her mind strengthened. Slowly, Marinette’s focus came back to her, a new rush of magic filling her veins with Tikki’s power flowing through her. She removed her hands from her eyes, giving Tikki a grateful smile before turning back to Rose, who had laid back down on the metal autopsy table.

“Let Julie know that I love her,” she said, looking back up at Marinette with her warm blue eyes, unbelievably alive in this room of death, “that I will always love her.”

“I will,” Marinette said, and she leaned in, pressing her lips to Rose’s.

The life flowed out of Rose willingly, rushing back to Marinette’s mouth within seconds. It was always easier afterwards, when the life recognized that it had been inside a dead host. When Marinette pulled away, Rose’s last exhale held between her lips, the body was already cold, its lips already blue.

After she fixed the sheet that covered Rose to match the Illusion as best as she could, she fell to her knees beside Chat, releasing the Illusion in a heartbeat. And then she was cradling Chat’s head in one hand, her other hand pressing in his chest, just like before. But it was different this time because he was cold, and there was no pulse, and she had gone over the time limit, and she was scared.

“It’ll work,” Tikki whispered in her ear, and Marinette nodded resolutely. It had to.

Red magic spilled from her fingertips, enveloping Chat as she pressed her lips to his, exhaling his life back into him. She pulled away when the last of it had left her mouth, searching for the signs of life regained, for the signs of Chat.

“Come on, mon petit chaton,” she whispered, panic seizing her heart, “wake up for me.”

But he didn’t.

Chapter Text

“He’s not waking up,” Plagg said, his voice eerily calm. “Why isn’t he waking up?”

Swallowing down her own panic with difficulty, Marinette kept her hands on Chat’s pulse points, waiting for any beat, any rhythm at all. “This has happened a few times in my experience,” she said, praying that her expression didn’t betray her true feelings. “Host bodies taking a few moments to accept life again once it’s been in another body. It’s normal.”

“But he’s not waking up,” Plagg said again, and Marinette looked up from Chat’s face, her eyes locking onto Plagg. He was sitting just by Chat’s hair, the gold of it just tickling the inky black of his fur, and he was staring at Chat’s cold, unmoving body. “He’s not waking up.”

“He will,” Tikki said firmly, flying over to hover in front of Plagg’s eyes, blocking his view of Chat.

“I know,” Plagg said, his empty green gaze meeting Tikki’s. “But right now. He’s not waking up.”

Marinette searched Chat’s features, pressing her cold fingers into his skin, and she waited. But he wasn’t waking up, and her fear had melted into frustration. “Stupid cat,” she muttered, sitting back and rubbing her hands together. “Causing me trouble with the whole Mrs. Agreste situation, jumping in on something that isn’t your business, and then dying like you didn’t promise to help me.”

Red electricity crackled between the palms of her hands, lighting up the air with the steaming scent of earth and spice, making the hairs on her arms stand up straight. She looked over to Tikki and Plagg, lit up by the bloody lightning beneath her skin. “Move back,” she said, generating the power she needed even as exhaustion weighed heavy on her bones. “I’m going to jumpstart his heart.”

They did as they were told, and Marinette pulled her hands apart, igniting the air with sizzling electricity, and she slammed her palms down on Chat’s chest. Wake,” she hissed, shoving the lightning into his skin, his muscle, his heart. His body jolted upwards, his back arching toward her, his eyes fluttering, but when he landed on the ground again, his pulse was still and dead.

Rage coursed through her veins, and she slid her palms together once - because that was enough this time - and repeated the process. “Wake,” she spat from between clenched teeth, pushing all her weight, all her soul, all her power into his lifeless body.

His back arched, his eyes flew open, and air rushed through his mouth.

She pulled her charged hands off him, heart racing, and he landed on the ground once more, his eyes rolling shut. A small groan climbed up his throat, and that was enough to have Marinette pressing her face to his chest, nearly choking on her relief.

“Everything hurts,” Chat groaned, voice low and scratchy as he shifted slightly underneath her. One weak hand went up to the small of her back - a comforting warmth. “Think you might have to kiss it all better, my lady,” he murmured into her hair, and Marinette pulled away, shaking her head.

“Been there, done that,” she said, not bothering to hide the laughter that bubbled up from her stomach.

“What?” he asked, but she shifted herself off of him, nodding to Plagg, who almost immediately took her place. “Oh, hey, buddy,” he said casually, scratching a clumsy hand through Plagg’s fur.

“Screw you,” Plagg answered, and Chat laughed.

“I just totally punched Death in the face and all you have to say is ‘screw you’?” He shook his head, clicking his tongue. “That’s not polite at all.”

“Well, what am I supposed to say?” Plagg demanded, swatting at Chat’s hand as he tried to pet him again. “Congratulations on being alive? That’s what birthdays are for.”

“Then I expect the biggest birthday party ever for my next birthday,” Chat replied, and Plagg rolled his eyes. But Marinette saw the gentle pushing and pulling of his paws against the fabric of Chat’s jeans, and she definitely saw the happy squint of his eyes as he looked up at his ward.

“Let’s get out of here,” Marinette said, helping Chat stand on shaky legs before making sure that everyone was in contact with each other. Chat still seemed rather unsteady on his feet, and so she wrapped an arm around his waist, moving closer to the faint outline of the detective. She did what she had been instructed to do - tap the detective’s shoulder twice - and then the detective’s warm hand fell on top of hers. A few moments later, the detective came into view, her face pinched with worry.

“Did it work?” she asked, searching both Chat and Marinette for a reply.

“As well as I suspected,” Marinette said just as Chat’s weight on her nearly tripled. She staggered under his weight, looking up at him in alarm.

“Ow,” he murmured, plucking Plagg’s claws out of his shoulder as he attempted to right himself.

“Are you okay?” the detective asked, touching a frantic hand to Chat’s shoulder as she turned her wide eyes to Marinette. “Is he okay?”

“‘M fine,” Chat mumbled, his head falling against Marinette’s. “I’m jus’ tired. I just died. Why’m I so tired?”

“Because you just died, idiot,” Marinette snapped, and he sighed, leaning against her a little more. “Your body needs to rest.” She turned to the detective, trying to look as serious as possible with Chat clinging to her like she was his favorite teddy bear. “We need to go. Detective, please take his other side and lead us out of here.”

But the detective didn’t move, staring at Chat like he’d just grown a second head. Marinette glanced over at him, just to be sure, but only saw his eyes sliding shut. “No, Chat,” she said, jabbing her elbow into his ribcage, “you need to stay awake for now. And detective, take his other side.”

“You really…?” She trailed off, staring at Chat in wonder.

The door to the room opened, and they froze, turning to look at the medical examiner as he casually entered, unaware of the other hearts beating behind him. Their eyes followed him as he hung up his jacket and proceeded to a desk in the corner of the room, stretching his arms and leaning over to read something on the desk. He hadn’t seen them of course - the detective’s Gift was still enveloping all of them - but the fear that drove through Marinette’s stomach was real and present.

“Detective,” she said again, knowing that their voices were Masked, but the detective didn’t tear her eyes away from the medical examiner as he turned toward the metal table where Rose’s body lay, where they were standing. He rubbed his jaw and sighed, taking a step closer. The detective took a step back. “Sabrina,” Marinette hissed, and Sabrina snapped out of it, taking Chat’s other side and leading them out the door that the medical examiner had left ajar.

Walking back to Lucky Charm was no easy task. Chat was surprisingly heavy for his lithe figure, and it seemed like he would fall asleep every few steps. Both Marinette and Sabrina had experience carrying heavy things - Marinette with her gravedigging and necromancy, Sabrina with her history of detective and police work - but moving deadweight that reanimated to make snide remarks every so often was decidedly difficult.

“He eats sandbags for breakfast,” Marinette grumbled, and Sabrina laughed. The both of them were breathless, nearly to the shop, but the last stretch was proving the hardest.

“Nah,” Chat said, his head lolling to the side as he grinned sleepily up at her, “I’m just so muscly.”

“Oh, is that how you got that date that wasn’t a date to happen?” Marinette asked. “Because you were just so muscly?”

Chat looked over at Sabrina, still smiling, still dragging his feet behind them. “She’s just jealous,” he whispered loudly.

“I’m sure she is,” Sabrina said, making eye contact with Marinette as a rather beautiful smile pulled at her lips. Marinette couldn’t help but smile back, even as she rolled her eyes.

“Keep dreaming, kitty cat.”

“Oh, I will.”

“If you have the energy to run that mouth of yours, then you should have the energy to move those useless feet of yours.”

He was quiet for a moment, but Marinette felt his weight ease a little bit. When she looked down, she saw the clumsy motion of his feet, shuffling as they attempted to take on some of his weight.

“This makes me more tired,” Chat said after he noticed she was looking.

“How do you think we feel?” Marinette shot back, and he sighed.

“I just died. I think I have a pass.”

There was no way Marinette could deny that, and so she and Sabrina trudged on.


---


When they got back to the shop, Marinette didn’t bother with turning the lights on until she and Sabrina dumped Chat into a chair in the back room. But even still, she didn’t turn the lights on in the front part of the shop, casting a cursory glance out the windows. She couldn’t see anything, but that didn’t mean nothing was there.

Sabrina sat down in the other chair, wiping her face with her shirt-sleeve and letting out a soft sigh. “Chat, how are you doing?” she asked, and Chat brought his hands up to his heart.

“Alive,” he answered, looking over at Marinette.

There was something full of gravity in his gaze, and Marinette looked away, turning to the countertop. She filled her teapot with water and put it on the small burner before moving toward the box of tea bags. She found the ones they needed and then cleared her throat. “It’s been a long night for all of us. I think we need to rest now before we try anything else.”

“What about what you found out from Mrs. Lavillant?” Sabrina asked, placing her palm on the table and moving as if to stand.

Marinette looked at her tiredly, shaking her head. “It’s late, Sabrina. We can talk tomorrow night.”

Sabrina frowned, her jaw clenching. “But I need-”

“Rest,” Marinette interrupted, tilting her head to the side. “I know keeping everyone invisible was no easy task, especially with it being two separate spells. You’re not going to achieve much of anything in this state.” When she saw a fire spark in Sabrina’s eyes, Marinette felt her lips quirk up into a small smile. “None of us are, detective. Mercy on you is mercy on us all."

With that, Sabrina sat back in her chair, looking down at the ground. “Right, sorry. I’m sure you’re tired as well.”

Tired was an understatement. Marinette felt like she might collapse, and Chat didn’t look much better.

The kettle screamed, and Marinette got out the regular cups that she used when Chat and Plagg were there, plus one extra for Sabrina, pouring the hot water into each of them. She plopped the tea bags in and handed them their respective mugs, setting Plagg’s bowl down on the ground next to where he and Tikki were sitting.

“This should keep everyone awake in time for you to reach home,” Marinette explained, dunking her own tea bag in the hot water. “After that, you’ll be more tired than you are now. You’ll wake up refreshed in the morning.”

“Thank you,” Sabrina said, blowing softly on the steam curling out of her mug.

For a while, they were silent, and then Sabrina rose, having finished her cup of tea. Marinette herself had hardly drank any of hers, not wanting to put a time limit on herself, and she looked up at Sabrina. “Are you going?”

“I am,” she said with a nod, a smile twitching onto her lips. “I’ll see you tomorrow night, Ladybug?”

Marinette gave her a half-shrug. “You know where to find me, Sabrina.”

The detective gathered herself, tucking her orange hair behind her ears and opening the back door. Just before she moved across the threshold, she turned around, her water-colored eyes searching Marinette’s face. “I’ll convince my colleagues of your innocence,” she said, and Marinette blinked. There was no ‘try’ in that sentence. Before Marinette could say anything in response, Sabrina left.

“Told you she wasn’t so bad,” Chat said, and Marinette rolled her eyes.

“Oh, so you’re an ‘I told you so’ sort of person.”

“And proud of it.”

He fell silent, and Marinette looked back at him, watching the way his smile fell slowly from his mouth, the way his eyes found something neither of them could see. She sat down across from him, setting her mug down on the table. She waited.

“Hey, Ladybug,” he said softly, eyes finding hers. “I just died.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Sorry about that.”

“Don’t be,” he said, shaking his head. “I agreed to it, and I’m not regretting it. It just feels weird.”

“I think I’d be a little concerned if it felt normal.”

He breathed out a small laugh, his fingers fiddling with the string of the tea bag. “I’ve never been more aware of my heart beating,” he said, placing a hand on his heart and closing his eyes. “It works so hard for me.”

She didn’t know what to say, so she settled for closing her eyes and mirroring him, putting her hand on her heart and feeling its pulse. She’d never paid much attention to it before, not in moments like these when its rhythm was so steady, but she should. It beat for her, and only for her.

“Do people… remember what they saw? After they come back?” Chat asked, and Marinette opened her eyes. He still had his closed, still feeling his heart beat, and Marinette thought that maybe it was just so that she wouldn’t see whatever was in his eyes.

“Sometimes. Did you?”

“Maybe,” he said, but he didn’t say anything else, opening his eyes and taking his hand off his heart. He tapped the edge of his mug steadily, staring at his fingers.

“The time immediately after death is a confusing one,” Marinette said gently, leaning forward. “You don’t have to tell me what you saw, but I can tell you that sometimes what you see is real. But only sometimes. Other times it’s dreams, desires. Some see their god, some see their loved one, some see nothing at all. Whatever it was for you, don’t…” She trailed off, trying to find the best way to put it. “Don’t let it consume you.”

He hummed a little, rubbing his pointer finger over the mug’s edge and staring down at the pale liquid inside. “Thanks, my lady. For bringing me back to life,” he said, looking up at her, his lips finding a smile at the same time his eyes did.

She smiled. “Any time.”

A laugh climbed out of his throat, and he shook his head. “Hopefully just this once.”

“Well,” she said as they both stood up, wrapping her arms around herself and shrugging, “you’ve got eight more lives left. You can probably handle it on your own.”

The light bouncing off his eyes lingered as he looked at her, the weight in his gaze hard to comprehend. And then he bent down, scooping Plagg into his arms and hugging him tight to his chest. Plagg didn’t even squirm. “Tomorrow?” he asked.

“Tomorrow,” she agreed. She opened the back door for him, but he remained where he stood, his eyebrows pulling together as he looked down at his shoes. “What’s wrong?”

“I…” He trailed off, turning his face away. “I don’t want to go to sleep,” he said softly, and Marinette’s heart clenched.

She stepped forward, taking Plagg from his arms. He crawled onto her shoulder, looking at her curiously. She gave him a small pat before taking one of Chat’s hands in her own, pressing it to his chest. “Feel it?” she asked. He nodded. “It’s still beating. And it’s not going to stop tonight. Someday, yes, but not tonight.” Plagg jumped from her shoulder to Chat’s, and she mustered up a smile for them both. “You’ll wake up.”

For a moment, Marinette was scared Chat might try something, but he just laughed, taking her hand and bringing it up to his lips. “You’re something else, my lady,” he said, his lips brushing against her knuckles. He kissed her hand, and she pulled away, her heart beating.

“Go home, cat.”

“As you wish, bugaboo,” he said, giving her a wink, and then he left, closing the door behind him.

Marinette let out a small sigh, rubbing her hand over her face. She felt like she could sleep for days. Any remaining power hunger from the day with Rose had left tonight, what with her pushing herself nearly past her limits with the Illusion and the Kiss of Life.

“Come on, Tikki,” she said, locking the back door as Tikki flew up to sit on her shoulder. “Our bed awaits.”

She turned toward the stairs and froze, her blood running cold.

“Cute pet,” Volpina said, nodding her chin to the back door. “Is he my replacement?”

“How did you get in here?” Marinette asked, and Volpina’s bottom lip jutted out. She pushed herself off from where she was leaning against the doorframe and sat down at the table.

“What, no hello? No offering of a cup of tea? I’m feeling a little parched, Ladybug.” When Marinette didn’t say anything, she rolled her eyes, digging her manicured nails into the grooves of the wooden table. “You left the door unlocked dragging the cat and the detective in. Not that a lock would’ve stopped me.”

Marinette sat down across from her, her limbs stiff. She ignored the confused, worried glances Tikki was shooting her. “What are you doing here?”

“I can’t stop by for a little chat?” she asked, batting her eyelashes innocently. When she saw the look on Marinette’s face, she dropped the act, leaning back in the chair and glaring at her. “Fine. Let’s play this game. I came to figure out what the hell is going on. You haven’t explained anything since Fragancia.”

“I don’t need to explain anything to you.”

“And I’m supposing you feel the same way about all the people you handed a death sentence?”

“I didn’t-”

“You did,” she interrupted, her voice eerily calm. “It’s only a matter of time before shit hits the fan and the fingers come pointing to you. You’re only mad that I was the first to point.”

“Or maybe,” Marinette started, her insides seething, “I’m mad because you accused me of murder.”

“Don’t act like you didn’t accuse yourself of the same thing,” Volpina said, rolling her eyes. “I know you, Ladybug.” Marinette clenched her jaw, looking away. Volpina’s voice went quiet. “Or at least, I know you as well as you let me.”

Marinette shook her head, rubbing her eyes. “Volpina, don’t-”

“Don’t call me that,” she snapped, and Marinette looked at her, weary. She was angry. Marinette could see it in the curve of her jaw, the line of her lips, the fire of her eyes. “You know my name. Say it.”

“No,” Marinette answered, looking away.

“Say it.”

“No,” Marinette said, firmer this time. “Not like this.”

“You’re a coward,” Volpina spat, shaking her head. “I can’t believe this wretched city loves you as much as they do. They obviously haven’t seen you like I have.”

“Leave,” Marinette said, her voice just above a whisper.

“You owe this city an explanation,” Volpina said, slamming her hands on the table as she stood. Marinette couldn’t hold back the way her body jerked against the sound, and she didn’t dare look at Volpina, didn’t dare see the look of contempt on her face. “They’re all blind sheep without their precious Ladybug, but you’re sitting inside your paper castle, flirting with your knight in kitten armor. They’re going to die because of you, and you’ll just sit here. A coward until the last breath.”

Marinette was shaking. Her hands were shaking, her bones were shaking, her heart was shaking. “You’re wrong,” she whispered.

“Am I?”

The next time Marinette looked up, Volpina was gone.

With shaking knees, Marinette stood, walking over to the front door. It was indeed unlocked, and so she locked it with trembling fingers before turning back. She climbed up the stairs, each step a gamble on whether or not she’d collapse. But she made it to her room somehow.

“Tikki,” she said as she closed the bedroom door behind her, “DeTransform me.” Tikki did as she was told, and before the magic even had the chance to bubble off her skin, Marinette was trading her clothes for pajamas.

She climbed into her bed, wrapping herself in her covers, swallowing down the lump in her throat.

“Marinette,” Tikki said softly, sitting down on her pillow. “Who was that?”

“I’m tired, Tikki,” Marinette said in response, turning away.

“You shouldn’t go to sleep upset,” Tikki said, and Marinette squeezed her eyes shut as a tear bit into her pillow.

“Yeah,” she whispered. “Goodnight, Tikki.”

She didn’t miss Tikki’s small sigh in the dark. “Goodnight, Marinette. Sweet dreams.”

Exhaustion outweighed her thoughts; Marinette fell asleep.

Chapter Text

 "Come on, mon petit chaton. Wake up for me.”

Adrien woke slowly, languid and sweet as honey, and the first thing his eyes landed on was the sun of his mother’s face. She was golden, her eyes emeralds set into her gilding, and she was smiling.

“Are you awake now, lazy boy?” she asked, her voice a laugh.

He groaned and squeezed his eyes shut, pulling the blankets over his head. “No.”

“Bummer,” she said, laying down on the bed beside him, her warmth seeping through his blankets. “I was thinking about going to the theater today. I suppose I’ll just have to go by myself.”

An easy silence stretched between them as Emilie let him decide. When he didn’t speak, she let out a long sigh, wrapping her arms around his blanket cocoon and squeezing tight. “I’ll just get Mr. Gorilla or Nathalie to wake you up while I go see that new movie. What is it again? The one with the magical superheroes and that talking cat?”

Still, Adrien remained silent, hesitant to leave his bed behind even if he’d been wanting to see that movie for weeks.

“Oh, well,” Emilie said, releasing him from her grasp, the warmth of her arms leaving him. “I’ll just have to see your favorite movie without you and then give you and your father all the details and spoilers tonight at dinner.” Her weight left the bed entirely, and with it went her warmth.

He decided.

“Wait, Mom, I’m coming for you.”

He threw the blankets off to chase after her.


---


Adrien woke up with a jolt, throwing the blankets that had him swallowed in a suffocating trap across the room. Cold sweat beaded his forehead, and he put a hand to his chest, feeling his heart race.

Plagg disentangled himself from the mess of bedsheets, glaring at him. “What’s got your panties all in a twist? You woke me up from my beauty sleep.”

“Sorry,” Adrien managed to say, rubbing the tender area of his chest. His whole body felt vaguely sore, as if he’d done a full body workout the night before and had overstepped his limits. Moving felt like hell, and Adrien had half a mind to lay back down and ignore the day’s obligations.

“Hey, kid,” Plagg started, padding over to Adrien and settling himself onto his lap, “are you all good?”

Sighing, Adrien pushed his damp hair out of his face, looking to the dull light filtering through his blinds. “I don’t know. I had a dream about my mother.”

“No offense, but what else is new?”

Plagg had a point. Ever since the dream Adrien had weeks ago of Emilie trapped in that plain bedroom, he’d rarely been given a reprieve from that same dream except for subtle variations. Sometimes he sat and watched her play the piano, in need of tuning, or he’d watch her braid her hair, still gold even after so many years, or he’d watch her stare at the window, never pushing aside the curtains to look outside. The dreams had become so common that Adrien nearly looked forward to them - just so that he could see her, be near her. But this dream was different.

“When I died,” Adrien said, and then stopped. What a sentence. He wondered if he would ever get used to saying it, or if he should even say it at all. “When I died, I saw this… memory, I guess. Of my mother. Just one simple moment. And I dreamt about it again.”

“Could be important,” Plagg said with a noncommittal shrug. “Could be a residual aftereffect of dying. Whatever it is, you heard Ladybug last night. Best not to dwell on it.”

“Yeah,” Adrien said, but he wasn’t very convinced. He couldn’t stop thinking about the shape of Emilie’s smile, the gold of her, the warm green of her eyes. In the dreams he’d been plagued with so far, she didn’t smile. She wasn’t warm. She was gold, but only just so. Adrien had nearly forgotten the woman he remembered his mother to be, and he hadn’t even realized it until now. He wondered what else he’d forgotten about her, what else his childhood brain had failed to commit to memory.

He was scheduled to go in for work, and although he felt well rested just as Ladybug had promised the night before, he couldn’t think of something he wanted to do less. He couldn’t remember if Kagami was scheduled with him today, and he couldn’t decide if he wanted her to be or not. On the one hand, he could have the opportunity to talk to her. On the other, he wasn’t sure if she’d even want to see him after he left so rudely.

The indecision alone was enough to have him flop back into bed and wish he’d accepted his father’s offer in quitting without the two weeks. He knew then that accepting the offer would’ve been the coward’s way out, but he was starting to realize now that refusing the offer was Adrien’s version of cowardice. He’d thought he’d been doing the right thing, playing by some sense of duty born from working in customer service, but really he’d just been too scared to jump into working with his father.

“The light bulbs,” Adrien said, staring up at the shattered remains that still clung to the sad light fixture on his ceiling. “I forgot about that.”

“I cleaned up the glass, but I’m not picking out light bulbs for you.”

“Thanks, Plagg. May I remind you that I died last night?”

“And may I remind you that I’m still not your maid?”

Adrien sighed. He’d just have to get the light bulbs on his way home from work. Work that may or may not include a confrontation with Kagami.

This was going to be a long day.


---


Kagami handed Adrien extra napkins and silverware, already turning around before he could even attempt eye contact. “Take those to table five.”

“Got it,” Adrien said, his shoulders sinking.

It was obvious she was mad at him. Ever since his shift had started, she’d barely spared him a glance, let alone a smile. And his shift had started hours ago. He should’ve called her to give at least some sort of apology last night, but he’d been so exhausted from dying that he’d fallen asleep almost immediately after getting home. He’d barely even given Plagg time to clean up the broken glass from the light bulbs before collapsing into his bed.

And there was also that whole thing with Ladybug - the flirting back and forth that had made Adrien’s heart flutter - and Kagami had just… slipped his mind. Even though he’d thought she was pretty. Even though he’d been about to kiss her.

Adrien never thought he was the type to lead people on - he always thought he was respectful toward people's feelings any time they approached him like that - but he couldn’t help but think that he’d lead Kagami on. He should’ve been more aware of his actions, should’ve realized sooner that she’d invited him on a date, should’ve turned her down when he had the chance.

Because that’s what he wanted to do. Turn her down.

She was pretty, and he’d almost kissed her, but… But the feeling that he had for her was kinship rather than any romance. He’d been craving some sort of closeness with someone, and Kagami had just been close by. And he had feelings for Ladybug.

He was pretty sure.

She was there, constant, and she was strong, stronger than any iron or metal or diamond. She’d promised to help him even when she was afraid, and she pushed herself to help people even if she may fail. She could do things Adrien had never even thought possible - freeze him in mid-air, call the moon itself to her service, bring the dead back to life - and she did it all to help other people. A person that beautiful on the inside could only be beautiful on the outside, too, and she was. God, she was.

Yeah, Adrien thought. I have feelings for her.

On his break, he found Kagami in the back alley, a cigarette between her lips and a lighter in a hand. Adrien blinked in surprise.

“Adrien,” she said, her eyes widening as she lowered her lighter. “What are you doing out here?”

“Looking for you,” Adrien said, watching as she took the cigarette out from between her lips and stuck it and the lighter into her apron pocket. “I didn’t know you smoked.”

“You don’t know a lot of things about me,” she said, crossing her arms and turning to face him. “Why did you bail last night?”

“Wow, getting straight to the point, huh?”

“I’m not a big fan of wasting time,” Kagami said, voice hard. “Don’t waste mine.”

Taking a deep breath, Adrien leaned on the wall beside her, looking up at the cloudy sky. “Something came up that I couldn’t ignore.” Literally. “I’m sorry, Kagami.”

“I thought we were getting closer,” she said, her voice softening. “Was I wrong?”

“No,” Adrien said, sighing and dropping his head. “You weren’t wrong that we were getting closer, but… I just want to be your friend.”

She squinted at him. “I wasn’t the only one leaning in last night.”

“Yeah,” Adrien said, pushing off the wall and shaking his head, “I know. But that was my mistake. I shouldn’t have lead you on like that.”

Grabbing his wrist, Kagami shoved him up against the wall. She didn’t shove him hard, and her grip was loose enough that Adrien knew she would let go if he wanted her to, and so he let her pin him to the wall as she searched his face. “I thought you liked me,” she said after a moment, apparently not finding what she was looking for, letting him go and stepping back.

“I like what we have in common,” Adrien offered, and her eyebrows furrowed.

“That’s not the same,” she said, and Adrien sighed, running his fingers through his hair.

“I know,” he said. He felt terrible.

A small laugh escaped her, and she leaned against the wall next to him, taking the cigarette and the lighter out of her apron pocket. “You’re a funny guy, Adrien.”

“I’m not getting the joke,” he admitted. She flicked the lighter to life, touching the dancing flame to the end of the cigarette dangling from her lips and casting him a sideways glance with amused amber eyes.

“For a former teenage heartthrob, you’re exceptionally bad at turning girls down,” she said around the cigarette, pocketing the lighter and letting smoke curl around her lips.

“If it’s any consolation, I’m not any better at turning boys down, either.” Even now, after years spent fading into the background of Paris’s celebrity scene and doing everything he could to distance himself from his old life, people still came up to him and asked for a number, a dinner, a night. It never got any easier to stumble his way through a ‘no.’

“I figured as much,” Kagami said, and Adrien raised an eyebrow at her.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

She shrugged. “You don’t seem like the type to like letting people down.” She paused, looking him up and down and taking a drag from her cigarette. “You’re like a puppy.”

“That feels strangely like an insult,” Adrien said, and Kagami laughed, smoke curling over the sound as it left her throat.

“I’m a dog person, Adrien,” she said, snuffing out the cigarette on the bricks of the wall and flicking it into the dumpster, “always have been, and always will be.” She turned, moving to go back into the restaurant.

There was something heavy in her eyes as she gazed at him one last time that made him touch her shoulder before she opened the door. She looked back at him, raising an eyebrow. “We’re okay, right?” he asked, feeling strangely desperate. Even if he didn’t have romantic feelings for Kagami, he didn’t want to lose her entirely when he left this job for good. “We can still be friends?”

“I don’t know,” she said, tilting her head to the side and narrowing her eyes at him, “you might have to bribe me with some ice cream later.”

Relief crashed through him. “Name the time and the place,” he said, retracting his hand. “It’s a done deal.”

“Slow down,” she said, “I’m going to need some time to call every person I know and bitch about how you broke my heart, watch minimum ten chick-flicks on Netflix and binge eat discount chocolates, and finally cry my eyes out and shave my head.”

“Seriously?”

“No.” She opened the door, smirking at him. “Get back to work.”


---


After work, Adrien went to the supermarket, intent on buying light bulbs and something easy to make for dinner. Not that he really anticipated actually making anything. He was just planning to pick up more of his favorite cereal since Plagg had eaten the last of his stash.

Before he could get either of the things he wanted, he caught sight of a discount candle display at the front of the store, advertising a three-for-one deal. He found himself stopping, a thought he’d nearly forgotten returning to him. He’d wanted a citrus-scented candle. Like the one that his neighbor had lit after the power surge.

Most of the candle names didn’t have any real descriptor of what it would smell like, so Adrien started with the first candle he caught sight of. It smelled so strongly of cologne that he coughed, instantly shoving it back onto the shelf. Definitely not that one.

Methodically, he went through the candle scents, trying to find one for the smell he had in mind - that sharp tang of lime with an undertone of spearmint. Smells that he didn’t think would ever go together, but did.

He’d gone through most of the shelf, utterly discouraged and a little bit embarrassed. He was fairly certain a worker had been watching him smell the different candles for the past five minutes. But he might as well just get through the rest of the candles since he was already this far.

Out of obligation, Adrien picked up the next candle, which advertised for ‘Warm Chocolate Chip Cookies.’ He knew this definitely wouldn’t be the citrus scent he was looking for, but he opened up the lid of the candle, wondering if it would actually smell warm.

The scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies invaded his nostrils, and he was suddenly thinking about Marinette. She’d offered him home-baked cookies once, and they’d smelled just like this - warm, sweet, genuine. Like her.

Thinking about his friend made him smile, and he kept the chocolate chip cookie candle in his hands as he reached for the next one, which was supposed to smell like ‘Spring Blossom Dew.’ It smelled like cherry blossoms, watery and soft, and the scent only served to make him think more about Marinette. He hadn’t gone to see her in a while. Not since that lunch with her, Nino, and Alya.

That was the day she’d been acting strange. The day she’d told him a friend of hers had just passed away.

“Oh, God,” Adrien said, grabbing one last candle which apparently smelled like ‘Forest Rain’ so that he could get the three-for-one deal, “I’m a terrible friend.” He juggled the three candles in his arms and nearly sprinted to the cash register, buying all three for a reasonably low price (it really was a fantastic deal), and then rushing out of the store.

He sprinted home, bursting into his apartment and not even bothering to call around for Plagg. Chances were that he was hanging out at the Agreste mansion or making trouble in whatever other places he goes to when he’s not hanging around Adrien.

He left the plastic bag of candles by the door so that he wouldn’t forget them when he left, making sure to take out the ‘Forest Rain’ candle, and then rushed into his bedroom. He attempted flicking at the light switch, which of course did absolutely nothing.

“Light bulbs,” he muttered to himself, opening his blinds and hoping the natural light from the overcast afternoon would be enough for him to find clean street clothes. “I forgot the stupid light bulbs,” he grumbled, rooting around his drawers for something that wasn’t wrinkled.

He found a white sweater covered in black cat fur, a pair of ripped jeans that smelled relatively clean, shoes that weren’t begging to fall apart, and a jacket for the chilly night that was sure to come. As an afterthought, he grabbed the his mother’s old pale green scarf that was hanging from his desk chair and wound it loosely around his neck.

And then he sprinted out of his apartment, grabbing the bag of candles and making sure to lock the door behind him.

Logically, he knew that Marinette’s shop would be open until six, but he was kicking himself for putting off going to see her for so long. Granted, it had only been a couple of days since she’d told him about her friend, but it had felt like an eternity after everything that had happened. With Rose and Kagami and Ladybug and the dying-and-coming-back-to-life thing. He felt like he’d lived a lifetime in just two days.

As he got off the bus at the stop closest to Lucky Charm, he caught sight of a street vendor selling flowers and realized that candles weren’t a very good ‘sorry for your loss’ gift. He made time to stop by the vendor, picking out a bouquet of peonies and carnations with little tufts of baby’s breath, handing it to the vendor to inspect.

The vendor checked the bouquet over, adjusting the flowers and glancing at Adrien. “Lucky girl,” he said, and Adrien smiled because he had literally no idea what that was supposed to mean.

He paid for the flowers, walking away from the vendor who gave him a wink and a thumbs-up. Strange guy.

Now that he had the candles and the delicate flowers, Adrien didn’t run like he had been doing. He was too afraid of damaging the candles or the flowers in some way, and so he allowed himself time to catch his breath before he arrived at Marinette’s.

When Lucky Charm was in sight, Adrien stopped, holding up the bouquet and giving it a once over. He hadn’t really looked at it much before he’d bought it from the street vendor, too eager to hurry to Marinette’s, but now he saw he’d chosen probably the most perfect bouquet he could for Marinette. It was gentle, the flowers all pale pink or white, and it somehow reminded him of Marinette in the same way the candles had.

He smiled to himself, continuing on and placing his hand on the door handle into Lucky Charm. He hoped she liked the flowers, but more than that, he hoped he could make her smile.

Chapter Text

At the exact same time that the bell above the front door tinkled, there was a resounding crash somewhere within the shop. Adrien abandoned almost every other thought and sprinted towards where the crash had come from, his hands still gripping the flowers and the bag of candles.

He found Marinette sitting in the middle of an aisle, surrounded by books strewn about the ground. She hadn’t noticed him, her eyes trained to the books around her, and he watched her drop her head into her hands, a small sound escaping her like it had been pushed out.

“Damn it,” he heard her whisper, the two words full of frustration and anger and countless other emotions that Adrien couldn’t identify.

“Marinette?” he asked, and she jumped, her head snapping up. When her eyes met his, Adrien saw that her normally bright eyes were glassy with tears, and he watched as a tear broke free and slipped down her cheek.

“Oh, gosh,” she said, rubbing her hands furiously over her eyes and pushing her hair out of her face. She quickly stood, looking down at the mess of books on the ground. “Adrien, what are you- are those flowers?”

“What?” He looked down at the flowers that he was indeed holding. “Oh, yeah. What happened? Are you hurt?”

“N-no,” she stuttered, again glancing around at the books encircling her, wiping her hands over her eyes again. “I’m not hurt, and some books just, um. Fell. On accident.”

“Why were you crying?”

She looked away, her lips forming a tight line. “Why do you have flowers?” she asked, and even though Adrien knew she was only asking to avoid talking about what had upset her, he still answered her.

“They’re for you,” he said, shrugging a little. A breath left her as if she’d been punched, and something seemed to break on her face. Panicking, Adrien rushed on. “I have candles, too. They reminded me of you, and I remembered you telling me that a friend of yours passed away, so I just brought these for you. As a gift.”

Her eyes went glassy again, and suddenly she was crying, and Adrien had literally no idea what to do. Panicking a little more, Adrien stepped closer, nudging his toe through the piles of books to reach her. He shifted his hold on the candles and the flowers so that he could hold his hands out as if in some sort of truce.

“Hey, hey,” he said, touching her arm lightly, “what’s wrong? Is it the flowers? Are you allergic? Or is it the candles? I can keep them; I really don’t mind if you don’t like them.”

“No,” she said in between sobs, leaning forward and dropping her head onto his chest. “No, they’re perfect.”

Adrien put his arm around her, rubbing her back. “You haven’t even smelled the candles yet.”

“I trust you,” she said, and Adrien smiled.

“They could be poop-scented.”

She pulled away from him, raising an eyebrow. “Are they poop-scented?”

“No,” he said, carefully tucking a lock of her hair behind her ear, smiling down at her. “They actually smell like vomit.”

A laugh bubbled up from her throat, and Adrien let go of her, glad to see her smiling, the tears gone. “That’s disgusting, Adrien,” she said, wiping her eyes again.

“Yeah,” he said, handing her both the flowers and the bag of candles, which she took gratefully, pressing her nose into the bouquet and smiling softly. “Will you tell me what’s wrong, Marinette? Will you tell me what made you cry?”

“I…” Her expression fell slightly, her grip on the bouquet tightening. “I have had a very rough day,” she finally said, sighing.

“I can be a great listener,” Adrien said, not wanting to push her into talking about something she didn’t want to, but also wanting to be there for her if she needed him to be. Marinette had always seemed so bright to him, a figure in his life that he could rely on to see smiling, and seeing her cry had been like… It had been like seeing Ladybug cry.

She took a deep breath, chewing on her bottom lip. And then she looked down at her feet, surrounded by books. “I have to pick these up,” she said, but she made no move to do so.

“We can do that later,” Adrien suggested, and she raised her eyebrow at him.

“We?”

“You thought I was just going to sit back and watch you pick them up all by yourself?” he asked, taking her elbow and guiding her to the back room. She shrugged.

“I just didn’t know if you would stay long.”

He smiled, leaning against the table. “I’ll stay as long as you need, Marinette.”

Something about that made her laugh, just a small sound that burst out from her chest as if she herself hadn’t even expected it. Her cheeks turned a bright pink, and she turned away, setting the bag of candles and the flowers on the counter. She opened up the cupboards, finding a large enough mason jar, and then busied herself with taking the paper off the flowers. The crackling of the paper filled up the silence of the room, and it felt a little bit like Marinette was purposefully taking a longer time than needed to put the flowers in the jar.

Adrien let her take as much time as she needed, watching her fix the flowers into specific positions until she finally turned back to him, taking a deep breath. “I’m sorry you had to see me like that,” she said, a sheepish smile pulling at her mouth, her eyes on the ground.

“That’s not something you have to apologize for,” Adrien said, and she shrugged. “It’s okay if you don’t want to tell me what happened.”

“It’s not that,” she said quickly, waving her hands and going to sit across from him. “It’s just that I’ve been going through a lot of um, highly stressful things lately, and it’s all just been kind of building up and up and when those books fell, I just kind of. Lost it, I guess."

“How did the books fall?” he asked, deciding to pick the easiest of all she’d said to start with, for her sake.

She winced, clearing her throat. “Clumsy hands,” she said after a moment, holding up her hands as if to show him. “It’s a curse, really.”

Something about the way she’d said it felt off to Adrien, as if she was lying, but he didn’t really see any reason for her to lie. He let it slide. “I don’t doubt it.”

“Have you eaten?” she asked when the silence had stretched on for just a bit too long. “Dinner, I mean. Or lunch.” She paused, looking over to a clock that hung on the wall. “It’s that weird in-between time of lunch and dinner, so I suppose if we were to eat now, we’d be having linner. Or dunch. That is, if you want to eat. I want to because I skipped actual lunch, but it’s cool if you don’t.”

“Dunch sounds great,” he said because he realized he was hungry and he’d not only forgotten to get light bulbs at the store but also food, and she seemed to relax.

“I have to keep the store open for a couple more hours, so I was just planning on ordering pizza. Is that okay?”

“Only if we get pineapple on the pizza,” he said, and she made a face, her nose scrunching up as she frowned at him.

“I’ll order half good pizza for me and half disgusting pizza for you,” she said, going to the stairway that led up to her living space. When he laughed, her face softened. “I’ll be right back. Sang tight. Hit tight. I mean. Sit tight. Or hang tight. Whichever comes first.” She hurried up the stairs, a small thunk followed by a muttered curse telling Adrien that she’d tripped. Adrien smiled.

While he waited, Adrien got up from his seat, taking the candles out of the bag and placing them by the mason jar of flowers. He turned to her tea kettle, filling it up with water from the sink, and then placing it on the burner for it to heat up. The little box of tea bags was tucked back on the counter, and Adrien pulled it closer, sorting through her wide variety to find some green tea, which he heard was quite calming. It felt strange to look through her cupboard while she wasn’t there, but he did anyway, finding two mugs for them and placing the tea bags inside so that they’d be ready by the time the water heated up.

After that was done, Adrien still itched for something to do, so he moved to the main part of the store, finding the aisle where the books had fallen. The least he could do was start helping Marinette with the mess. After all, she had said that she’d been under a lot of stress, so he figured that doing small things like making her tea or picking up small messes would help her feel better.

He bent down, stacking up the books. There was some sort of order to the shelves, but he wasn’t sure what kind. When Marinette came down, he’d ask so that he could put them back into their proper place, but for now he busied himself with making the stacks neat.

As he was running his hand over the spines of the books, his fingers brushed over something rough on each of them. Frowning, Adrien picked up the book on the top of the stack, examining the spine for whatever the rough patch was. There, just beneath the title of the book, was a small orange insignia, shining and catching the light that seemed slightly strange. When he looked a little closer, he saw that the insignia seemed to be in the shape of a fox.

“Oh, you didn’t have to do that.”

Adrien looked up, finding Marinette standing in the aisle holding two steaming mugs of tea. “I told you I would help,” he responded, getting up off his knees and showing the fox insignia to her. “Did you know this was on here?”

Something in her expression hardened, but a smile forced its way up her mouth. “Just some little graffiti some kids like to do,” she said, handing him his mug in exchange for the book. “It’s annoying, but easy enough to remove.” She set her own mug down on the shelf, swiping her thumb over her tongue and rubbing at the insignia, whispering something under her breath. “See?” she said, showing him the now-clean spine of the book. “Good as new.”

“They’re on all of the books,” Adrien said, leaning down and looking at the books he’d stacked up. “I wonder who did them.”

Marinette put the book she’d been holding in its proper place on the shelf. “No need to worry about it,” she said just a little bit too quickly, “now will you hand me the next book?”

They continued on, Adrien handing Marinette the books while she rubbed off the insignias and placed the books on the shelf. For each book, Adrien heard her mutter something as she scrubbed at the insignia, but whatever it was, she said it too softly for him to catch. It was probably some little curse at whoever had done the graffiti - who even would do such a thing?

After they finished, Adrien stood up straight, taking a sip from his now lukewarm tea. “There. All clean.”

“Thank you so much, Adrien,” Marinette said, her hands reaching for her own mug that she’d left on the shelf next to her. Time seemed to slow down as Adrien saw her hands hit the mug rather than grab it, her face contorting as she realized that the mug was going to fall and was in fact already falling.

Lunging forward, Adrien tried to grab the mug before it hit the floor, and he succeeded. At the cost of spilling both his tea and Marinette’s tea all over himself.

“Oh, my God,” Marinette said, her hands flying up to cover her mouth and then reaching out to him, frantically patting at his now sopping scarf and sweater. “I-I am so sorry; I can’t believe I dropped it and now you’re all wet and-”

“It’s okay,” Adrien said, laughing a little and stepping back so that Marinette would stop fussing. “It wasn’t hot, so I think I’m all good.”

“But your clothes,” Marinette said, gesturing to his white sweater, which was not really white in some places anymore because of the dark color of the tea.

“It was an old sweater anyway,” Adrien said with a shrug.

“Your scarf,” she said, bringing her hands up to her mouth again, tears filling her eyes. Adrien looked down at his mother’s scarf, which indeed had taken the brunt of the spill, already staining. A pang went through his heart at the sight - he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get the stains out - but for the sake of Marinette, he smiled.

“It’s alright, Marinette.”

“It’s not alright,” she said, shaking her head. “Isn’t that your mother’s scarf? And I just ruined it!”

“Hey,” he said, wanting to comfort her, but not knowing what to do with their mugs in his hands, “this wasn’t your fault.”

“Of course it is!” she exclaimed, throwing her hands up, her voice breaking. “All of this is my fault! I ruin everything because of this rotten luck, and now I’ve brought you into it, and I just hate this and everything and especially my-” She stopped, covering her face and turning away from him.

“Marinette,” he said softly, at a complete loss.

“I’m sorry,” she said, still facing away from him. “I’m so sorry for everything, Adrien.”

There was a lot more to Marinette than Adrien had realized. He knew they’d only known each other for a short amount of time and that there was still a lot more to learn about her, but it had never occurred to him that so much was hidden behind her gentle smiles. She probably had closer, more intimate friends to lean on, but… Adrien was here. He was here right now, and he had the ability to help Marinette feel at least a little bit better.

“Come on,” he said, bumping her with his shoulder as he walked by her. “You don’t happen to have a shirt or sweater I could wear, do you?” When she didn’t follow or answer immediately, Adrien looked back, making sure to smile reassuringly at her.

“Maybe,” she said slowly, following after him as if she was afraid he’d suddenly explode. Metaphorically or literally.

“Great,” he said as they entered the back room again and he set the mugs down on the countertop by the sink.

“I’ll just, um,” she paused, pointing at the staircase, “go find something now.”

“And I’ll be down here,” he said, and she nodded maybe a little too enthusiastically, disappearing up the staircase.

While he waited, Adrien washed his hands and the mugs of tea. He took off his scarf, laying it down on the countertop gently. He stroked the silken fabric, sighing. Against his will, images of his mother jumped into his mind of her wearing this scarf - it had been her favorite. It had made her look like an old 50’s model when she had tied it around her hair, and she knew it. He remembered watching her tie it around her hair in the mornings, winking at him in the mirror and saying “just like the classics, right?”

The memory was nearly too much, especially after the dream he’d had the night before of her radiance, devastatingly blazing even in the early mornings when nothing but the sun shone that bright.

A tear slipped from his eye, dropping onto the scarf next to the tea stains. Adrien blinked, surprised. He hadn’t even realized he was starting to cry.

“I knew it.” Adrien turned, finding Marinette standing hesitantly by the staircase, a neatly folded sweatshirt in her arms. He wiped his eyes, blinking a little to clear up the rest of his tears. “You were just being nice earlier, but you really are upset.” She hugged the sweatshirt closer to her chest, looking down at her feet.

“I’m not upset,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m not even sure why I’m” - he stopped, waving his hand around. It felt a little embarrassing to say he’d been crying, so he just shrugged.

“Because I just ruined a precious remnant of your mother?” she suggested, and he shook his head again, harder this time.

“That wasn’t your fault. I’m the one who reached out to grab it.”

“I’m the one who knocked it down.”

“And I’m the one who made the tea in the first place,” he said, and she frowned, chewing on her lip as if trying to find some way to pin it on herself again. “Marinette, let’s not play the blame game. It happened. And it’s okay.”

“Okay,” she said slowly, drawing out each syllable. “But it’s also okay to admit that you’re sad. It won’t break me.”

“I know,” he said, his lips twitching up as she handed him the sweatshirt. “Is there a place I can change?”

“Yeah, just around the stairs,” she said, pointing him in the right direction and chewing at her thumbnail.

“Thanks,” he said, going into the bathroom and shutting the door behind him. He sighed, taking off his sweater and holding it up for inspection. It really wasn’t that bad - just a few splotches of color here and there - but he accepted the fact that he’d probably never wear it again. The sweater really was old, and it had been used more as one of Plagg’s cushions than clothing lately. He would just donate it to Plagg permanently.

He unfolded the sweatshirt that Marinette had given him, his eyebrows going up to the ceiling when he saw how unreasonably large it was. This was definitely not what he’d expected when he asked for another shirt to wear. Marinette was a small girl, at least a whole head shorter than him, and she had a sweatshirt that went down to Adrien’s thighs in her closet? Was this some new fashion trend he didn’t know about?

On the front of the sweatshirt was an image of two bread rolls with the text ‘nice buns’ printed underneath it. Adrien snorted, pushing up the sleeves. Wherever Marinette found this, he definitely had to ask.

“Where did you even get this?” Adrien asked as he exited the bathroom, finding Marinette leaning against the countertop with one of the candles he brought her in her hands.

“It’s my dad’s,” she said as she looked up at him, her eyes widening in horror. “I forgot that was on there. Oh, my God, that’s embarrassing.”

“I thought it was funny,” he said looking down at the sweatshirt and smiling. “Your parents own a bakery, right? The bread pun makes sense.”

Marinette hid her face behind the candle, letting out a small groan. “If we could stop talking about this now, that would be great.”

“Alright, alright,” Adrien said, putting his hands up and sitting down at the table, “but if you could ask your dad where he got this and let me know, that would be great.”

“My mom ordered it for him for their anniversary a few years ago,” she said, still hiding behind her candle. “Which makes all of this somehow worse.”

“I think it’s cute,” Adrien said, and she groaned again. He laughed.

“Anyway,” she said, placing the candle down on the countertop and tucking her hair behind her ears, “I haven’t, uh, said thank you for the candles. Or the flowers. So. Thank you, Adrien.”

Adrien smiled. “It was the least I could do.”

“Thank you especially for not giving me poop or vomit-scented candles,” she said, fiddling with the hem of her shirt.

“I don’t even things like that really exist,” Adrien admitted, and she laughed lightly.

“I’m sure it wouldn’t be so hard to find, what with how strange people are. One search on Amazon would probably be fruitful.”

“Don’t tempt me.”

“You’re actually disgusting,” she said, but she was smiling at him. There was a small space of silence, and Marinette’s smile faded. She looked down at her shoes and then over to the flowers in the mason jar. “I feel like you deserve an explanation,” she said, her eyes finding his once more.

“Marinette, I don’t deserve anything you aren’t willing to give me,” he said, and she took in a breath, her expression folding as if he’d said something surprising. “You’ve already told me that you’ve had a rough day. That’s enough for me.”

“But,” she said, looking down at the ground again as she took the seat opposite of him, “but it’s not enough for me.”

“Then I can listen,” he said, and she looked up at him, her lips pulling up just the slightest at the corners. And then her eyes and mouth fell again, her fingernail digging into the grain of the wood on the table.

“Last night someone I love - loved - paid me an unexpected visit,” she said, digging harder at the wood as if scratching hard enough would reveal some sort of treasure. “It’s like every time I think I’m getting into a place where the things she did or said to me don’t get to me anymore, she comes back and just. Pushes me back to where I started.”

Adrien frowned. “What kind of things did this person say to you?”

Her shoulders went up to her ears and then dropped back down again. “Things that make me feel useless. Powerless. Like every decision I’ve ever made has been wrong.” She bit her lip, ceasing digging at the table to fiddle with her nails. “I know she’s wrong, but sometimes… Sometimes my brain just betrays me, and I believe her.” She hugged herself, looking out the window. “She’s under my skin.”

For a moment, Adrien was silent, trying to think of the best thing to say. This girl who had hurt Marinette - whoever she was, she’d done far too much damage on someone who didn’t deserve it. How could he even begin to help her when the person who hurt her had done their job and had continued doing their job so efficiently?

“Have you talked to anyone about this? About her?”

Marinette shook her head, looking down at the table. “Our relationship was...complicated. And secret. After it was over, I couldn’t really talk to anyone about it because of it."

Adrien reached out, placing one of his hands over hers. This, at least, he could do. “Thank you for telling me, Marinette.” She looked up, meeting his eyes for the first time since they’d started talking about this, her lips twitching up in a sorrowful smile. “I know you said that you already know that she’s wrong, but I think in situations like this, it sometimes helps to hear it from someone else. You’re not useless. You’ve been there for me about working for my father again, and you’ve made me smile and laugh about it even when I had no idea how to feel. You’ve been genuine and nice since the day I met you, and I think that has to count for something. You’re powerful, Marinette. Anyone who makes rooms brighten like you do have to be, don’t they?”

She seemed to be at a loss for words, her mouth opening and closing as her cheeks colored. “You are- I am-”

“Pizza delivery for a Marinette Dupain-Cheng?” asked a voice from the door to the shop, and they both looked up, equally surprised. In the door to the backroom stood a teenage pizza delivery guy, holding their pizza and looked expectantly at them.

“Oh, yes, right, of course,” Marinette said, standing abruptly and patting the pockets of her cardigan. “Wallet for money because I need to pay. Where’s my wallet?”

“I can-” Adrien started to say, but Marinette whirled around.

“No,” she interrupted a little forcefully, and Adrien sat back in his chair, raising his eyebrows. She looked between both the pizza boy and him before running up the stairs. “Let me just- Merlin’s underpants!” A rather loud thunk resounded from the staircase.

“Marinette?” Adrien called, getting up from his seat. “Are you okay?"

“Yes!” she responded, voice frazzled. When Adrien peeked into the stairwell, he saw Marinette sprawled out on the stairs, her hand gripping the rail. She stood, glancing back at Adrien with a bright red face. “I’ll just get my fallet. Wallet.” She raced up the rest of the stairs.

Adrien turned back to the pizza boy, who was standing in the doorway, looking at once lost and bored. “Let me get that for you,” he said, reaching out and taking the pizza from the boy’s hands.

“Sure, man,” the boy said.

The silence stretched on.

Marinette came racing down the stairs, wallet in hand. She fumbled through it until she found a bill to give the boy, her face still blazing red.

“Would you like your change?” the boy asked, already unzipping his fanny pack to count it out.

“No, you,” Marinette said, and then laughed nervously. “Sorry. No, thank you. Um, thank you, so much.”

“Yeah,” the boy said, seemingly unbothered. “No problem.” He left.

They stood in silence. Adrien bit back a grin.

“‘Merlin’s underpants?’” he asked. Marinette put her face in her hands.

Chapter Text

“You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to,” Marinette started, drumming her fingertips on the countertop while she waited for the tea kettle to scream. Adrien looked up, raising his eyebrows as he placed two pieces of pizza on both of the plates she’d grabbed from upstairs. Marinette bit her lip. “But how are things going with your father?”

Adrien breathed out something that Marinette assumed was supposed to be a laugh as he turned his face away from her. “Hard to say. I haven’t seen him since that first day I met up with him.”

“Why not?” she asked, frowning.

The corners of his lips turned down, his eyebrows furrowing as he wiped his hands on a napkin. “I had to finish working at my current job properly. But in about a week and a half, I’ll have to face him again.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

His shoulders drew up into a half shrug. “When I saw him, he told me he had to test my current skill level. He gave me two weeks to come up with three designs that follow an imaginary client’s wants and five original designs, eight designs in total.” He sighed heavily, shaking his head. “That’s a lot for someone who hasn’t even thought about designing anything for, like, five years.”

Marinette hummed, trying to do the math of how he’d be able to complete eight designs in two weeks. He’d only have… roughly two days for each design. She knew hardly anything about all the ins and outs of the fashion world, but she figured that two days was very little time to create something you’d be proud of. And then to do it eight times? Gabriel Agreste was going to run Adrien into the ground.

The kettle screamed, and Marinette jumped. She took it off the burner and poured the steaming water into the two cups she’d prepared. “I promise I won’t drop them,” she joked, picking them up carefully and bringing them over to the table. Adrien laughed, taking his mug as she sat down. “Sorry again about that, by the way.”

“I told you, Marinette. It’s fine,” he said, blowing softly at his tea. “And besides, now I get to wear your dad’s super cool shirt.”

Marinette felt her cheeks burn as her eyes flicked down to the stupid design on the shirt. She should’ve unfolded it to check what was on it, but she’d been so flustered that she hadn’t even thought about it. So now she had to sit and act like she was fine with speaking normally to Adrien, one of the most beautiful people she’d ever met, while he wore a shirt that advertised for his ‘nice buns.’ Alya would die of laughter when she heard about this.

“Anyway,” Marinette said, clearing her throat as she carefully folded her pizza in half, “about your dad. Or the designs. How have you been doing with those?”

Adrien took a bite out of his pizza. “Absolutely terrible,” he said, covering his mouth while he chewed. “Every design I make, I have to scrap.”

“You have to?”

“Yes,” he said, swallowing. “They’re all awful. Or not awful,” he corrected as if someone had forced him to make the correction many times, “just not up to my standards. Or rather, my father’s standards.”

“Hm,” Marinette hummed, taking a bite out of her pizza. “Well, which is it, then?”

“Which is what?”

“Are the designs not up to your standards, or are they not up to your father’s?”

He blinked as if he’d never even thought about it. “I don’t know. Both, maybe.”

“I think,” she started, wiping her hands on her napkin and taking a sip of her tea, “that there’s where your problem lies. Or where part of your problem is. You may be thinking so much about what your father is going to think about the designs that you forget to think about how you like the designs.”

“Oh,” he said, lowering his pizza and looking at her as if she was the smartest person in the world.

“Here, let me just-” She stood, going over to the front part of the shop and grabbing a pad of paper and a pen from the front desk, returning to the back room and placing them both in front of Adrien. “Sketch out something right now.”

“Right now?” he asked, blinking with wide eyes like a deer in headlights.

“Yeah, right now,” she said, sitting back down and nodding. “It doesn’t have to be perfect.”

He took the pen in his hand reluctantly, looking down at it like it may bite him, and then he looked up at Marinette. “Can I get a pencil instead?”

“Nope,” she said, taking a sip of her tea. “No erasing.”

“What? Why not?”

Marinette couldn’t help but laugh. This was probably the most uncomposed she had ever seen him, and she liked how his expressions didn’t seem to have gone through a careful filter before being allowed onto his handsome face. She liked this new side of him.

“Because,” she said, trying to hide her smile behind her hand, “I’m trying to teach you a lesson right now.”

“You own a bookshop, not a school,” he said, but he started sketching with the pen anyway.

While he sketched, Marinette tried really hard not to stare. She thought it might make him nervous, and she figured it was probably really weird to stare, but she couldn’t help herself. He was just so… pretty. The way light bounced off his golden hair, the way locks of his hair swept over his forehead, the way his eyebrows pinched together in concentration, the way the angles of his cheekbones and jaw shaped his face. She felt like if she took a picture of him right then, it would be a perfect picture. Even if her hands were shaky, even if her phone was broken. If he was in the picture, then it would be perfect.

No wonder he had been a model.

“Ugh,” Adrien said, tearing off the sheet he’d been drawing on and starting to crinkle it up.

“Waitwaitwait,” Marinette said, waving her hands back and forth. “What are you doing?”

“Throwing it away,” he said, continuing to crumple the paper in his hands. “Where’s your trashcan?”

“No.”

“No?”

“Yeah,” she said. “No. Give me your sketch.”

Adrien frowned, holding the crumpled ball of paper close to his chest. “But… it’s bad.”

“Maybe,” she said with a shrug. “Give it to me anyway.”

He twisted his lips to the side, looking down at the paper before slowly holding it out to her. Marinette took it in her hands and then smoothed it out on the table, leaning down to examine it closely.

The lines were a bit messy, but Marinette didn’t mind. It was supposed to be a sketch, after all. Adrien had sketched out the figure of a woman, giving her a crop top, a jacket pushed up to the elbows overtop, and a pair of high-waisted pants with patches of polka-dotted print. There was what looked like an ascot tied around her neck, and what looked like loafers on her feet. It was modern, fashionable, and different in a way that Marinette liked. She looked up at Adrien, raising her eyebrows.

“You think this is bad?”

He chewed on the inside of his cheek, rubbing his eyebrow. “Yes?”

She slid the paper back to him. “It’s not. I actually like it a lot.”

His eyebrows pushed together, as if the very idea was absurd. “You do?”

“I do,” she said, nodding and pushing the paper even closer to him. “I like the pants and the jacket and really just the whole thing. I’d definitely wear it.” He looked down at the drawing as if trying to see what she saw in it. “It’s a good sketch, Adrien,” she said softly, pushing the paper the rest of the way to him before taking her hand back. “It may not be done, and it may not be perfect, but it’s good.”

Slowly, Adrien smoothed out the paper even more, looking over it with slightly narrowed eyes. This too was another side of Adrien, she thought. His eyes were pure business as he looked over the sketch, and she watched him trace his finger over the messy lines as if smoothing them out in his mind to see what it would look like finished.

He looked up, eyes softening out of the business gaze as they landed on her. “You’re amazing, Marinette.”

It took her less than a second to become a mess.

“I’m - what? No, I didn’t even, like, do anything. If - if anything you’re the amazing one, all talented and pretty” - she really wished she could turn her mouth off sometimes - “p-pretty awesome -   that’s what I was going to say - all I did was, you know, say some stuff and…” She trailed off, her brain finally catching up to her mouth and putting a stop to the madness.

“We’re the same,” Adrien said, a laugh bubbling up from his chest and throwing sunshine around the room. Marinette felt her knees go weak. She was really glad she wasn’t standing.

“Wh...What?”

“I think we both underestimate ourselves,” he explained, completely oblivious to her face attempting to burn off her skin. “I don’t think I’m that good at work, and you don’t think you’re amazing. We both have to work on believing in ourselves a little more, don’t we?”

She was recovering, slowly, and so his words hit the inside of her skull delayed, cycling through her brain until she realized that he was right. Her heart warmed, and she had to bite back a smile. “You’re absolutely right, Adrien. We have to make a promise.” She stuck out her pinky finger, and his face lit up. She nearly had to look away with how bright he shone, but she managed, and he hooked his pinky with hers.

“To believing in ourselves,” he said.

“To believing in ourselves,” she agreed, and they pinky swore.


---


Marinette woke up slowly, her neck screaming in protest. She groaned, sitting up from where she’d fallen asleep on her couch and rubbing the twinging muscles that hadn’t enjoyed whatever position she’d forced upon them during her nap.

It was a little before she had to prepare for Sabrina and Chat coming over, and she sighed looking around her cluttered living space as she gathered her wits.

“Officials have begun to draw lines connecting-”

She looked up at her T.V. that she’d left on, her eyes following the news reporter and the headlines running underneath her. Her chest tightened.

“-the recent upsetting death of Rose Lavillant and the masked woman who attempted to save her with Aurore Beauréal’s now suspicious suicide. While the detectives handling the case have remained tight-lipped on the two cases, sources claim that the masked woman in red is being investigated as a person of interest.”

Behind the newscaster, a low-quality video of the streak of red that had been Ladybug soaring up the side of the building to rescue Rose played, and then it faded into a video of Ladybug surrounded by police officers, obviously taken when she’d been standing over Rose’s body, although the body wasn’t in the shot. In the video, it was hard to tell what her expression was, but Marinette remembered. She remembered the panic, the grief, the guilt. She could see it all clearly, even through the pixelated mess of the video. She could see it all in her head as it played out again, as she remembered her mistake, her foolishness, her incompetence. But the average news watcher would only see a suspect on their screen.

The T.V. clicked off, and Marinette looked down at where the remote laid amongst the cushions and blankets thrown about the couch. Tikki was sitting on the power button of the remote, her tiny face pinched and grim. Then she looked over at Marinette, her expression softening as she smiled. “I’m really glad Adrien came to see you today,” she said, her smile just a few shades too sad.

“Me too, Tikki,” Marinette answered, getting up from the couch and stretching her limbs. Tikki followed after, whizzing up to rest on Marinette’s shoulder as she proceeded to the kitchen. “I needed to see someone like him after the mess of a day I was having.”

As Marinette whipped herself up a simple sandwich, Tikki remained silent, even when Marinette gave her one of the cookies from her parents’ bakery. Marinette could tell she was thinking hard about something, so she didn’t disturb her, even if the little pixie’s silence was worrying.

Finally, when Marinette had nearly finished her sandwich, Tikki spoke. She was sitting on the edge of the flower vase that Marinette had on her table, and she looked up at Marinette, her bright blue eyes imploring. “You’ll tell me about Volpina when you’re ready to, right?” she asked.

It wasn’t like Marinette hadn’t been expecting that exact question, but hearing it still sent a shock through her heart. She looked down at her nearly finished sandwich, pushing the plate away and hugging her waist. “I can’t right now, Tikki,” she said softly. Between seeing her the night before and talking the bare minimum about her with Adrien today, she had gone through enough Volpina that she could handle for the day. She didn’t want to cry again, and she definitely didn’t want to think about Volpina for the next century at least.

“I know it doesn’t have to be now,” Tikki said gently, and Marinette found it within herself to look her in the eye. “I just don’t want you to have to hold that in for any longer.”

Marinette drew her legs up to her chest, resting her chin on her knees. “I’m sorry I kept her a secret from you, Tikki,” she said because she knew that had been what Tikki had been bothered by. They may not have known each other for very long, but already Marinette couldn’t imagine life without her little companion, without her tiny best friend. She’d told Tikki nearly everything about her, but there were some things that… “It’s just difficult for me. To face. To think about.”

“I’m here for you,” Tikki said, shrugging her shoulders and mirroring Marinette’s position. “You know that, right?”

“Of course,” Marinette replied without hesitation. She knew Tikki was there for her, would always be there for her even if they had only been bound together because of magic. Marinette loved her, and she was pretty sure she felt the same way.

She unfolded herself from her seat and took her unfinished sandwich to the countertop, sighing heavily. “There’s so many troubles now, Tikki. And you’ve been there for me through all of them. Sometimes I wish I had found you before all this mess so that we could just have fun together.”

“Unfortunately that’s not how it works,” Tikki said, flying over to rest on the countertop as Marinette cleared off her plate, throwing the uneaten food into the garbage. “But I’ll help you get through whatever’s happening, and then we’ll have fun afterwards, deal?”

“Deal,” Marinette agreed.

“Although,” Tikki said, drawing the word out as Marinette rinsed off her plate, “it would be a lot easier to get through this if we face the problem head-on.”

Marinette looked up, setting the plate on the drying rack and drying off her hands. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Right now, you’re avoiding the magic community because of what happened with Rose,” Tikki said, and Marinette crossed her arms. “People are scared, Marinette,” Tikki rushed on, seeing the stubborn expression brewing on Marinette’s face. “They need to know why you did what you did. They need to know what’s happening.”

“May I remind you that I don’t even know what’s happening?” Marinette asked, and Tikki gave her a look.

“You know more than you did before,” she said, and Marinette knew she was right. She’d learned something more about what Hawkmoth’s intentions may be from her conversation with Rose and from simply talking it out with Sabrina and Chat. “It doesn’t help that now the common people are getting scared of Ladybug , too, from what the authorities think.”

“Thanks for mentioning it, Tikki,” Marinette said sarcastically. “I really hadn’t noticed.”

“I’m just saying,” Tikki said, sticking her chin up in the air. “You need to face the problem head-on.”

Marinette threw her hands up, letting out a rude scoff. “So what are you proposing I do?”

Tikki grinned, a mischievous glint in her bright eyes. “I have an idea.”


---


“Okay,” Chat said slowly, his hands tight fists on his knees as he processed all that Marinette had told him. Sabrina sat in the seat across from him, her eyebrows furrowed. Marinette could practically see the gears working in her head. “So what you’re saying is that this Hawkmoth guy talking in Rose’s head like he did with Stormy’s, and she just gave a little white butterfly her charm?”

“He must have cast some spell that allows people to do his bidding,” Marinette said, shrugging her shoulders as she took a sip of her tea. She’d been too distracted during the day to properly research, and so she tapped her temple twice with her index finger, whispering softly to herself to not forget. “This spell must’ve been amplified by him knowing both of Rose’s names.”

“Right,” Chat said, nodding as if he didn’t understand. “The names. Those are important; I know that. But, um, why exactly?”

Marinette set her mug down on the countertop behind her, thinking about the best way to explain. “Names are… the essence of a person. What a person is called determines much about their character, about their soul.” She paused, making sure that Chat was following. “It’s why Plagg made you call yourself Chat Noir and wear a mask, and it’s why I disguise my face and call myself Ladybug. Because magic is about essence, and essence is power.”

“So because this Hawkmoth guy knew Rose’s real name,” Chat started, beginning to catch on.

“He was able to harness her essence,” Marinette said, nodding gravely. “A person’s true name holds a lot of power, and Hawkmoth was able to exploit that and use it for himself.”

“Aurore Beauréal had just been notified of a demotion at her workplace,” Sabrina said, and both Marinette and Chat looked over at her.

“What?” Marinette asked.

“The reason why her death was ruled as a suicide at first,” Sabrina said, looking up at them with wide eyes. “The detectives in charge of her case assumed that she’d committed suicide because she had been devastated by the situation at her work.”

“Right,” Chat said, shaking his head. “But that’s not true. Hawkmoth got into her head.”

“Exactly,” Sabrina said, snapping her fingers. Chat jumped at the sound. He looked over at Marinette.

“I gotta admit. I’m lost.”

Marinette tilted her head to the side, watching Sabrina’s face. “I think I might understand,” she said slowly, and Sabrina nodded vigorously, her eyes bright with her realization. “But say what’s on your mind just in case.”

Sabrina stood from her seat, pushing her orange hair behind her ears and nudging her glasses up. “Mlle. Beauréal was given difficult news prior to Hawkmoth killing her. You say that Mlle. Lavillant had just been given difficult news as well?”

Despite the grim subject and its implications, Marinette still felt a smile pull at her lips. It felt so good - to be one step closer to figuring out what was going on. “Yes, I did say that.”

Chat looked between the two of them, shaking his head incredulously. “I’m so confused right now.”

“Both Rose and Stormy had been given news that would’ve broken them,” Marinette explained. “Aurore loved her job more than anything. Rose wanted nothing more than to start a family with her wife. The news of those things falling apart would’ve been… debilitating for them.” Marinette looked down at her shoes. Even if it felt good to be one step closer to finding out the truth, the knowledge of her friends dying alone and heartbroken was hard to handle.

“In their weakened mental state,” Sabrina continued when it was clear Marinette wouldn’t go on, “Hawkmoth was able to use whatever spell he did to make them submit to his desires. That, combined with the use of their true names - because no doubt Hawkmoth knew Mlle. Beauréal’s true name - made their death all the easier for him.”

“But why?” Chat asked, his expression tightening into a frown as he shook his head. “Why would someone do something like this? For what? For some charm? Is that a fair trade for a human life?”

“No,” Marinette said firmly, her hands clenching into fists. “That’s why we need to stop him.”

“I’ll look for connections in Mlle. Beauréal and Mlle. Lavillant’s lives,” Sabrina said, grabbing her coat off the back of her chair and slipping it on. “I doubt someone meticulous like Hawkmoth would leave a trail, but it’s worth a try.” She nodded once, turning to leave.

“Wait,” Marinette called, grabbing her elbow to stop her from leaving. Sabrina turned back, an eyebrow raised in question. “I have a favor to ask you.”

“Anything,” she said, and then frowned, her lips twisting to the side, “within reason. What can I do for you?”

“I need you to arrange a press conference for me,” Marinette said, and Sabrina’s eyebrows shot up.

“Why?”

“I’m considered a suspect in Rose and Stormy’s cases, right?” she asked, and Sabrina’s jaw clenched as if she was reluctant to say what they both knew. “I need them to know that I have am not responsible, and that I’m trying to help.”

“You’ll need to talk to the police first,” she said, frowning. “Do you have a plan?”

“I…” Marinette looked over at Tikki, who was lounging next to Plagg on the countertop. She gave her an encouraging nod, and Marinette took a deep breath. “I do.”

Sabrina narrowed her eyes, crossing her arms as she surveyed Marinette. “What exactly did you have in mind, Ladybug?” she asked.

Marinette looked at Tikki, Plagg, Chat. She closed her eyes, releasing a breath and counting to ten. When she opened her eyes, she felt sure, surer than she’d felt in what seemed like months. This was the right thing to do. She felt it.

“I’m going to expose magic to the common people.”

Chapter Text

Chat made a loud spluttering noise. Sabrina narrowed her eyes.

“You know what could happen?” Sabrina asked, crossing her arms. “You know what the consequences will be?”

Marinette raised her chin. “I do.”

For a moment, Marinette thought Sabrina would reject the ridiculous plan, but then she tilted her head to the side, her clear eyes sparkling. “Fine then. I’ll call you in a few days’ time with details.”

Releasing a breath, Marinette nodded. “Thank you.”

Sabrina gave her one last nod, and then she was gone.

“Excuse me,” Chat said, holding up his hand as if he was in a classroom.

Marinette raised an eyebrow. “Yes?”

“Isn’t that the complete opposite of what everyone wants to do?” he asked, throwing his hands up and shaking his head incredulously. “You know, with all the secrets and masks and code names? All the” - he waved his arms around to the window and then back to her - “that?”

“Yes,” Marinette agreed with a sigh, sitting down at the table with a sigh. “It’s probably the craziest and riskiest plan I’ve been a part of.” She frowned. Within the past week, she’d run up the side of a building on impulse in the middle of the day and had broken into a police department in the middle of the night. “One of the craziest and riskiest plans I’ve ever been a part of,” she corrected.

Chat was still shaking his head in disbelief. “I mean, I know I’m still new to this whole magic thing and can’t even really do magic, and I trust you, really, but like...” He trailed off, looking over to Plagg for help, who was sitting with his ears straight up in alarm as he flicked his glowing eyes between Marinette and Tikki.

“This shit’s batshit crazy,” Plagg said.

“We’re struggling to see how it could be the solution,” Chat amended, shooting a glare over at Plagg.

Marinette looked over at Tikki, and she flew up to sit on the table, gesturing for Plagg to follow. When they were all together, Marinette took a deep breath.

“Right now, we know that Hawkmoth may be after mages’ charms. But we don’t know if that’s all he’s after.” She folded her hands together, forcing them to her lap so that she wouldn’t chew on her nails. “There is a possibility that commoners will be in danger, too. Because right now we just have theories and a name. No face, no motive. We’re still in the dark.”

“Okay,” Chat said slowly, bringing his shoulders up to his ears. “Sure. You want to warn the common people. That makes sense.” He didn’t sound very sure.

“No,” Plagg said firmly. “It doesn’t. For centuries the magic community has contained its issues from commoners. Why should it be any different for some jackass named after a bug?” Marinette sincerely hoped he was talking about Hawkmoth.

“It’s different because the bad mages in the past have also contained their issues to the magic community,” Tikki argued, crossing her arms. “Hawkmoth is killing people out in the open, and he isn’t bothering to hide evidence of magic.”

“He is, though,” Plagg shot back, baring his fangs. “Both Stormy and Rose’s deaths were designed to look like suicides. The only thing that made it weird and suspicious to commoners was a glowing lady sprinting up the side of a building and zip-lining away on a fucking magic yo-yo!”

“Plagg!” Tikki and Chat scolded at the same time, eyes and voices sharp.

Marinette clenched her jaw, looking down at her hands in her lap. Since she hadn’t been biting her nails, her fingers had started picking at the skin around her them. She laid her hands down flat on the table.

“The police found weird stuff for Stormy,” Tikki said hotly, “they would’ve found weird stuff for Rose, too.”

“We don’t know that,” Plagg hissed.

“So what are we supposed to do?” Tikki exclaimed, baring her teeth at Plagg. “Wait around for someone else to die?”

“Stop,” Marinette said, and everyone turned their eyes to her. “Plagg is right. All of this is partly my fault. I know I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did on that day.”

“I’ll say,” Plagg grumbled. Chat flicked him in the ear.

“But that’s the reason I’m trying to fix this,” she continued, looking between Chat and Plagg. “The plan for the press conference is not to expose every person who hides within the magic community. It’s to recognize the existence of magic and the threat that confronts us all. It’s for me to own up to my mistake.”

“I still don’t like it,” Plagg said, but he sounded less aggressive than before.

“I don’t, either,” Marinette said softly, looking over at Tikki. “But everyone deserves to know."

 

---

 

Marinette had just finished helping a couple of customers when Luka came walking through the door, thumbs tucked into his jeans' pockets, a guitar slung across his back. When he caught sight of her, his face brightened, a small smile pulling at his lips.

“Hey,” Marinette said, waving him over to the front counter. “What are you doing over here?”

“Figured I’d meet you for lunch,” he said with a half-shrug, looking around the bustling bookshop. It was Saturday, her busiest day, and so every aisle was filled with customers, laughing and gossiping and recommending books to each other. “But it looks like I came a bit too early.”

Checking the watch around her wrist, Marinette laughed. “Actually, you’re right on time for my normal lunch hours, but it’s a busy day.” She looked around at the people filling her shop with their warm energy, basking in the smiles and laughter. “On days like today I normally have only a snack for lunch, or I skip it entirely,” she said, looking back to him.

“Oh, that just won’t do,” Luka said, shaking his head. “I’m getting us lunch.”

“Really?” Marinette asked, starting to realize how hungry she was. “That would be fantastic! Let me get some money for you.” She started to open the cash register, but he placed his hand over hers, stopping her.

“It’s on me,” he said, pulling his hand away and sticking it back in his pocket.

“Well, who am I to argue with a gentleman?” Marinette asked, punching him lightly on the shoulder. The truth was that ever since she’d closed down the night shift of Lucky Charm, money had been tight. And it hadn’t even been that long - she’d never realized how much she needed both the commoners and the mages in order for her to live comfortably. Luka and his generosity was a godsend.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, starting to turn around.

“Wait,” Marinette said, pulling him back. “You haven’t asked what I want.”

“I was just going to get your usual from that cafe down the street,” he said, nodding his head in the general direction of the aforementioned cafe. “The toasted panini and a green tea with honey in it?”

“Oh,” Marinette said, letting go of him and smiling. “Yeah, sure.”

“Then I’m off now,” he said, ruffling her hair. She swatted at his hand, and he laughed. “Love you, Mari.”

“Love you, too,” Marinette said back, the words still strange and awkward on her tongue. High school Marinette surely would’ve died of happiness as soon as the words had left Luka’s mouth. She watched him go, smiling after him, even when he left the shop and all she could see was his lanky figure moving past the windows.

“Marinette,” gasped one of the regulars, Mylene, as she brought up her books to the counter. “You didn’t tell me you had a boyfriend.”

“I don’t,” Marinette said, waving her hand as she scanned the books and collected the money. “That’s just my friend.”

Mylene cooed, only to be elbowed to the side by another customer, Alix. “Yeah, she’s dating that other guy. The famous model boy.”

“Adrien Agreste?” Mylene gasped, and Alix nodded.

“Duh. It was all over Chloe Bourgeois’s YouTube a while ago.”

“No way-”

“H-he’s not my boyfriend, either,” Marinette stuttered, scanning Alix’s book - most likely a gift for her scholarly brother - with shaking hands. “He’s also just. Someone I know. A friend.”

Alix raised an eyebrow. “Someone you know or just a friend?” she asked.

“That is a very important distinction,” Mylene agreed.

Marinette felt her cheeks coloring. She took Alix’s money, counting out the change. “J-just a friend,” she mumbled, and Mylene squealed.

“You’re in love with a model!”

“No, I-I’m not in love with him! Or in like with him! I’m in- in nothing with him,” Marinette said, thrusting Alix’s change to her. “And besides, Adrien stopped modeling a while ago.”

“I heard he was going to start working for his father again,” Alix said, grabbing the book and tucking it under her arm. “It’s not gonna be long until all of Paris is bombarded with his face again."

“You don’t know that,” Marinette said, shaking her head. And then her brain processed what Alix had said. “Wait. ‘Again?’”

Alix blinked. “You don’t remember? A while ago, you couldn’t walk a block without seeing Adrien Agreste’s face in some big ad, and he was always on the news for collaborating with whatever new celebrity hit the charts that week. It was wild.”

Marinette did not remember that even in the slightest. “How long ago was that?” Marinette asked.

Mylene tapped a finger to her chin. “Probably about the time when we were all in high school?”

Ah. That made sense. In high school, Marinette’s eyes had never strayed from Luka. She hardly paid attention to her own feet in those days, she was so hyper-fixated on daydreaming about her crush. It was no wonder she hadn’t remembered seeing Adrien anywhere.

“You seriously don’t remember?” Alix asked, raising an eyebrow.

She smiled sheepishly. “I must’ve been… focusing on other things, I guess.”

“Figures you were a good student,” Alix said, rolling her eyes. Marinette laughed.

After Alix and Mylene left, Luka came back from the cafe with their lunches. Because there were still customers in the shop, they couldn’t retreat to the back room like Marinette normally did with her guests, so she brought out an extra chair and they both ate at the front desk.

“How’s Juleka doing?” Marinette asked, smoothing out the paper wrapped around her panini nervously, looking over at Luka. His eyebrows furrowed, and he shook his head.

“Sometimes it gets better. And then other times it’s like it just happened,” he said, lifting one of his shoulders in a half-shrug. “It’s not like I blame her, though.”

“I don’t either,” Marinette said, hanging her head. Grief was a formidable foe. It took a break some days, but other days, it was back as if it had never left. “She’s not alone, though, right?”

“Nah, she’s hanging out with Ivan today,” Luka replied, fiddling with the straw of his drink, “otherwise I wouldn’t be here.” He gave her a sidelong glance, a smile pulling up the corners of his mouth. “Not that I don’t like spending time with you.”

“I understand,” Marinette said, nudging him with her shoulder. “I just hope that she can get through this.”

Luka sighed, looking up at the ceiling as if he might find some sort of solution there. “You and me both, Marinette.”

 

---

 

“This candle’s nice,” Luka said, sniffing at one of the candles Adrien had given her. “It reminds me of you.”

He had stayed for the rest of the day at the shop and then had joined Marinette up in her living space, hanging out with her while she tried to sort through the mess of her living room. She looked up from the stack of books she was sorting, trying to push back the fluttery smile fighting its way onto her face.

“Thanks. A friend gave it to me.”

“Your friend has good taste,” he said, putting the candle down on the countertop. “Mind if I light it?”

“Go ahead,” Marinette replied, and he pulled out a lighter from his pocket, flicking it to life and holding the dancing flame over the wick until it caught the flame. Marinette watched the easy movement carefully, and when Luka looked back at her, she raised her eyebrows. “You carry that around?” she asked, and he rubbed the back of his neck.

“Not usually?” he tried, but when Marinette didn’t budge, he sighed heavily. “Yeah, I do.”

“I thought you quit,” Marinette said, sitting back on her heels and crossing her arms.

“I did,” he said sincerely, and then grimaced. “Mostly. It’s just that things have been really stressful lately.” He dug out the pack of cigarettes from his back pocket, walking over and handing it to Marinette. “And it’s only one or two if things get really bad. Look, I haven’t even had any today.”

Marinette took the cigarette pack in her hands, examining the amount before looking back at him. “There’s one missing.”

“Because I had one yesterday,” Luka said, kneeling down across from her. “I swear, Marinette. I’m not bad like before.”

His sincere eyes were pleading with her, and she knew he was telling the truth, really. She sighed, setting aside the pack of cigarettes. “I believe you, Luka.”

He tilted his head to the side, his eyes turning sad. “You’re disappointed in me.”

“No,” Marinette said, shaking her head. “I know you know what’s good for you and how best to deal with your problems. I just thought…” She trailed off, shrugging her shoulders. “I just thought you had made a promise to yourself.”

“Yeah,” he scoffed, sitting down and folding his legs, “me too.” He slung his guitar across his body so that it rested in his lap, and he strummed idly at the strings. “But Rose’s death really shook me up.” He fiddled with the tuning, not looking her in the eye. “It hurt me nearly as much as it hurt Julie. She lost her love, and I… I lost my second sister.” He played a melancholic tune, something that pulled at Marinette’s heart, bringing out the tears she’d tried to push down. “And sometimes it feels like I lost Julie, too. She’s so far away sometimes, Mari.” He looked up at her, his eyes piercing and filled with loss. “She looks out the window or up at the sky or at the top of a building, and I get scared. I’m scared I’ll lose her, too.”

“You won’t,” Marinette said, placing her hand on his so that the melancholic sound of his heart ceased. “She’s in a tough place right now, but she knows there’s a lot for her here.”

“You’re right,” he said, shifting his hand so that his fingers laced with hers. Her heart swelled with emotion, and then her phone chimed.

“Sorry,” Marinette said, untangling their hands to grab her phone from where it rested on the couch. She glanced up at Luka, but it seemed he had receded into his thoughts, frowning down at his guitar as his fingers strummed out something slow and poignant. She smiled, looking down at her phone to see what that the message was from that chat app she downloaded for communication between her and the magic community.

 

From: Chat Noir

 

it’s a lovely night, and i’m thinking of you :) you sure you don’t want me to stop by for a visit?

 

Marinette rolled her eyes. She’d given Chat the information to download the app the night before so that they’d have a way to contact each other, but she remembered explicitly telling him it was only for emergencies. 

 

To: Chat Noir

 

Yes, I’m sure. And I don’t think you thinking of me qualifies as an emergency.

 

His reply was immediate. 

 

From: Chat Noir

 

it IS an emergency!!!!!! an emergency of the heart!!!!!!!!!

 

Marinette couldn’t help but laugh, and Luka glanced up from his guitar, raising his eyebrows. She waved her hand, typing out a reply to her flirty friend.

 

To: Chat Noir

 

Real emergencies only, please.

 

She’d barely hit send before he had replied, and Marinette scoffed.

 

From: Chat Noir.

 

:( u wound me milady

 

The reply was followed by several weeping cat emojis and gifs that Marinette chose to ignore. Luka stopped the vibration of the guitar strings with the palm of his hand. “Your friend?” he asked, nodding to her phone.

“Yeah,” she replied, tossing her phone to the side, and he hummed.

“The candle one?"

“No, a different one,” she said, waving her hands back and forth. “My friend Adrien gave me the candle. This friend is, um. He’s just someone I met because of work.”

“Ah,” Luka said, nodding and plucking at the guitar strings. “I’m hungry.”

Marinette blinked. “You’re staying for dinner?”

Luka’s hand stilled. He looked up at her. “Am I allowed to?”

“Of course,” she said, standing up and offering him a hand. “I just expected you to have gone back to Juleka by now.” He took her hand and heaved himself up, laying a protective hand over his guitar and looking down at his battered sneakers.

“I have a confession to make,” he said, avoiding her eyes.

“What?” Marinette asked, already walking to the kitchen. “And how does mac and cheese sound? The boxed kind, of course.”

“That sounds great,” he said, following after her and fiddling with his guitar as he leaned against the countertop. “Juleka’s mad at me.”

Marinette looked up from filling a pot with water, raising her eyebrows at him. “Why?” She suspected she already knew the reason.

He strummed something mischievous and sad on the guitar, hiding his face with his messy hair. “She caught me smoking last night. Wouldn’t let me hear the end of it this morning.” He shrugged half-heartedly. “It sucks disappointing her.”

Pursing her lips, Marinette finished filling the pot with water, placing it on the stove and turning the burner on. She turned back to Luka, crossing her arms and waiting for him to look at her.

When he finally did, he winced. “Yeah, I know, I’m an awful person.”

“No, you’re a good person being an idiot.”

“Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.” She stepped closer to him, smoothing his hair back from his face and watching his expression falter. “Luka, Julie’s worried about you, just as much as you’re worried about her,” she said, cupping his cheek in her hand. He leaned his face against her hand, closing his eyes. “You both just lost someone very important to you, and that’s very scary. You dealt with it how you thought would help, and maybe that was right. Or maybe it wasn’t. I don’t know.”

“Great pep talk, Mari,” he scoffed, his smile gentle relief from the pain creasing his features.

“I’m not done and you know it,” she replied, taking her hand off his cheek and flicking his forehead. He laughed. “The point is that you’re both scared right now. Instead of arguing, I think you should share each other’s strengths to avoid resorting to possibly harmful coping mechanisms.” He hugged his guitar to his chest, regarding her as if seeing her in a new light. “I think Juleka’s just as scared of losing you as you are of losing her.”

He slipped off the guitar, setting it down on the countertop and enveloping her in a bone-crushing hug. “Since when did you get so wise, Mari-bug?”

“Since forever, Loogey-boy,” she replied, pushing him away and watching his soft expression sour. “It’s only taken you this long to listen.”

“I gave you a cute nickname,” he said, and she laughed, going over to the pantry to find a box of mac and cheese. “Why was I repaid with literally one of the grossest nicknames ever? I swear, Juleka put you up to it.”

“Fourteen-year-old Juleka may have had an influence on fourteen-year-old Marinette choosing Loogey-boy as your designated nickname,” Marinette replied, setting the box of mac and cheese on the countertop. “But you will never know.”

“A mystery for the ages,” he said, shaking his head. He opened up the box, sorting out the contents for her while she grabbed something from the living room. When she came back, he was sitting at the table, guitar in hand, and he was strumming something light and airy.

“I like that,” she said, sitting down and arranging her knitting materials on the table. “New song?”

“Nah,” he said, not looking up from his guitar and smiling faintly, “just what I feel.”

Marinette started her project, moving the knitting needles deftly in her hands despite not having practiced in a while. A light sizzling sound filled the air.

“The water,” Luka said gently, not looking up from the guitar, and Marinette blinked. The pot of water was nearly boiling over.

“Why do I have to get it?” she whined, setting down her needles all the same and concealing the quick seize of panic that had accompanied the sight of the bubbling water.

“I’m the guest,” Luka replied, and Marinette let out a loud fake guffaw. “I’ll stir in the cheese,” he said, and she glanced over to see a smile stretching out the words.

“You better,” she said, adding the noodles to the water and lowering the heat. She stirred it once or twice, then sat back down at the table, picking up her needles once more.

“Who’s it for?” Luka asked, nodding to her project. Marinette looked down, stroking her hand over the soft, pale green yarn she was using.

“A friend,” she said.

“Candle friend or phone friend?”

“It could be Alya.”

“Alya doesn’t wear green stuff.”

“Such a pity - it looks great with her skin.”

“Marinette,” Luka said, drawing out the vowels of her name.

“Luka,” Marinette said, mimicking him.

“Is it a secret?” he asked, ceasing his strumming on the guitar to lean towards her and wiggle his eyebrows.

“No,” she said, swatting at him. He leaned back just in time. “I’m just” - embarrassed - “teasing with you. It’s for the candle friend. Adrien.”

He hummed, standing up and ruffling her hair. “Wasn’t so hard,” he said, and Marinette rolled her eyes. He stuck the spoon in the noodles, stirring them around and checking on their softness. “Your candle friend’s a lucky guy if he’s getting anything knitted by you.”

Marinette looked over at the lit candle on the table, giving off the gently, watery scent of cherry blossoms. She turned her attention back to the fuzzy yarn in her hands, admiring the green color as Luka’s words reverberated in her skull. A lucky guy.

What a fantastic idea.

Chapter Text

“This makes for very dull content,” Chloe said, panning her vlog camera over the aisle of black fabrics that Adrien was closely examining.

“Sorry I’m not as riveting as you are,” Adrien murmured, taking a lighter black fabric between his fingers and rubbing it softly. It was soft and lightweight, but it wasn’t a true black. He needed that fabric type, but in a darker shade of black - which was proving to be quite difficult to find.

“Your dad didn’t even ask for fabric samples,” she whined, flicking at the sequins of one of the fabrics, dropping her camera. “Why are you doing this?”

“It helps me see it clearer in my head,” Adrien said, skipping the next fabric spool with a frown. It was leather. He wasn’t looking for leather. At least, he wasn’t looking for leather right now. He paused, half reaching for the next spool. On second thought, he should check the leather just in case. Chloe groaned.

“We’ve been in the most boringest aisle of fabric for millennia,” she announced up at the fluorescent lights on the ceiling. “It’s utterly ridiculous - can’t we look at the patterned ones at least?”

“I need to find the right black,” he said, moving to the next spool. “You’re more than welcome to leave me alone and look at the patterned fabrics.”

“Maybe I will.”

“Okay.”

She didn’t move.

“I literally hate you,” she said as he moved on to the next fabric.

“And I just found it,” Adrien said, holding up the swath of black fabric to Chloe. It was soft like the other one, stretchy, and most importantly, a true black. “If this is the sort of material that the client wants, then the accents will have to be textured. Nothing overpowering, maybe just” - he squinted, his mind moving fast through different options - “embroidery,” he breathed. He looked over to Chloe, who was utterly unimpressed, and waved the swath of black fabric in her face. “Embroidery, Chloe! It’ll add a subtle texture and accent, and it fulfills the client’s requirement for detail work!”

“Fantastic,” she deadpanned. “Are we done in the blacks?”

“Let me just grab a sample,” Adrien said, waving one of the employees over to cut him a square of the black fabric. When he was holding the square in his hands - along with a square of red leather, pink satin, and maroon suede that he’d gotten before entering the black aisle - he turned back to Chloe with renewed excitement. “Let’s go look at the threads.”

“Yay,” Chloe said unenthusiastically, following him through the different aisles. Her lack of excitement was neither surprising or able to bring Adrien’s mood down - he had finally been making progress on the designs his father had given him. And despite Chloe’s gripes and groans about being in the “boring preconception clothes store with elevator music,” he knew she was getting some shots she could set aesthetic music behind for her vlog.

It was a win for both of them.

“So what are your designs based off of?” Chloe asked as Adrien leaned in close to the threads on display, squinting at the varying colors. He glanced at her, surprised that she was showing interest, only to find the camera lens right in his nose.

“I was wondering why you sounded so nice,” Adrien said, pushing the camera out of his face, “you’re only nice to me on camera.”

“Untrue,” Chloe said, moving the camera further away but not putting it away entirely. “I just feel like many of my followers would like to know what’s going on in the mind of their second favorite blond beauty.”

“Their first favorite being…?”

She flipped her blonde ponytail over her shoulder. “Me, of course.”

“Of course,” Adrien scoffed, turning back to the threads.

“Well?” Chloe prompted, nudging him with her designer shoe. “What got your little design panties in a twist?”

He shrugged, picking up a spool of maroon thread and turning it over in his hands. “Nothing, really.”

“That’s a big fat lie, and we both know it,” she said, flicking at the spools. “Like, a week ago you were calling me in the middle of the night lamenting your design block.”

“I wasn’t lamenting anything,” Adrien snapped, putting away the maroon thread and moving on to a different shade. “I was just frustrated.”

“Well, whatever you call it. All I’m saying is that you’re different now.”

“Different how?” He picked up a spool of deep red thread, the color of blood. He twisted it around in his hands, watching it shimmer in the fluorescent lights.

“Like you’ve got motivation,” Chloe said with a shrug, and Adrien looked over at her, raising his eyebrows. “Like someone kicked your ass in gear.”

Before Adrien could think of a response, he heard a familiar voice drawing closer. He closed his mouth, looking in the direction of the voice, and Chloe followed suit, moving her camera minutely.

“I thought we were just here for the yarn.”

“Me too, Alya, but being here is very- oh!” Marinette froze, clutching a ball of pale green yarn close to her chest before hurriedly hiding it behind her back. “Adrien! Hi! Hey, I didn’t expect to see you here.” Her bright eyes flicked anxiously around, landing on Chloe. “Oh, and you’re Adrien’s friend, right? Chloe? It’s very nice to see you again.”

Chloe made a noise in her throat, not looking up from her camera view screen. Marinette cleared her throat, tucking her hair behind her ears.

“Oh, and you remember Alya?” Marinette said, gesturing to her friend and also Nino’s girlfriend-not-girlfriend.

“Of course,” Adrien said, elbowing Chloe hard in the ribs. “Nino’s treating you alright?”

“Makes me playlists and everything,” Alya said, smiling at him before bumping Marinette’s shoulder with her own. “So you’re friends with Chloe Bourgeois?” She turned her green eyes to Chloe, and Chloe finally looked up, settling her icy eyes on Alya.

“Who are you again?”

“Chloe,” Adrien chastised, but Chloe only rolled her eyes.

“Alya Césaire,” Alya said, undeterred. “I’m a reporter for the Parisian Herald.” Chloe nodded, not betraying how impressed she was aside from the slight twinkle in her eye that Adrien caught. “I’ve seen a few of your videos,” Alya continued, “and your camera quality is always fantastic. I’ve been wondering for a while now what you use.”

Within a millisecond, Chloe had brightened. She stood up straighter, setting her shoulders back to make her look even taller than she already was. “Well, I use-”

Alya hooked her arm with Chloe’s, leading her away from Adrien and Marinette as the chattered about cameras. Marinette laughed nervously. “I didn’t think they would hit it off so easily.”

“I agree,” Adrien said, looking curiously over at the two as they walked through an aisle of patterned quilt fabrics while Chloe showed Alya her camera. “Chloe’s a bit… abrasive to strangers, but then again, Alya did mention the one thing that makes her happy.”

“Cameras?” Marinette asked, raising her eyebrows.

“Videography,” Adrien replied. “Cameras are a part of it, of course.”

“Interesting,” Marinette said, rocking forward and back on her feet. “So if I want Chloe to stop hating me, I have to talk about videography?”

“Chloe doesn’t hate you,” Adrien said, waving his hand. Marinette raised her eyebrows. “Okay, so maybe she’s not good at being openly kind,” he amended with a shrug. “But I don’t see a reason why she wouldn’t actually like you. She just doesn’t know you yet.”

“Remind me to study up on videography,” Marinette said, and Adrien laughed. “So what are you doing here anyway?”

“Collecting some fabric samples for the designs I’m working on,” Adrien said, showing her the colors he had so far. “My father didn’t require the samples, but I like to get them so that I can better understand the design and the logistics of it.”

“Very thorough of you,” Marinette said, rubbing the pink satin between her forefinger and thumb. “So you’re making progress on your designs?”

“Yes,” Adrien said, and then he laughed, a strange feeling overwhelming his chest. “Yes, ever since the other day when we spoke, I got this crazy kick of motivation and inspiration.”

“That’s good,” she said, and he saw in her eyes that she meant it, that she was happy for him. “What’s your inspiration?”

“I realized that trying to make something no one’s ever seen before is not my style,” he said with a small chuckle. He remembered sitting at his desk, Plagg in his lap, and realizing that he was a colossal idiot. “All I really needed to do was make something for the people around me.”

Marinette’s smile turned soft, shining in her eyes. “Oh, really? And what does that mean?”

“Well, that design you made me draw” - she snorted, and he grinned, feeling jittery after finally being able to talk about his designs with someone who wasn’t telling him to shut up - “I actually realized was something I imagined a friend of mine would wear. And then I got the idea of centering my designs around the people in my life. Designs that they could wear and be proud of.”

“Adrien,” she said, and there seemed to be a lot in his name that he couldn’t quite identify, “that’s very sweet.” She lifted a hand as if to lay it on his arm and then hesitated, curling it into a fist and hitting him gently on the shoulder. “I’m sure the people you’re designing for would be thrilled to wear your clothes, especially after seeing the thought you put into them.”

“My father has to like them first,” Adrien said with a shrug, but he found that he wasn’t as worried about that as he had been. “And there’s no guarantee that these designs will ever see the light of day.”

She hummed, shrugging her shoulders and seeming to catch on to Adrien’s easy mood. “Still.”

“So what about you, Marinette? What brings you to the fabrics store?” He attempted to peer over her shoulder to the green yarn she’d been hiding from him, but she took a step back, laughing a little bit too loudly.

“Nothing, really,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ve just been thinking about, um, embroidery recently.” She gestured to the thread they were standing next to, clearing her throat.

“Really? Do you do it as a hobby?”

She seemed to relax, breathing out a small sigh. “Um, not recently? I used to do it a lot, but I dropped it once I got out of school. Busy and all that.”

“And you’re thinking about picking it back up again?” he asked, looking over at the thread.

She hummed, reaching over and running her finger over the smooth spools of thread. “Yeah, I think so. My grandmother taught me, and I’ve been thinking about her a lot, so… Yeah. I think I will.”

“Maybe I’ll ask you for tips,” Adrien said, and she looked back to him, furrowing her eyebrows. “One of my designs might feature embroidery. I’m a bit rusty myself, so I think I might need guidance from an expert.”

“I’m sure I could fake expertise enough to be useful,” Marinette said with a shrug, and Adrien laughed.

“Sorry for leaving you two,” Alya said, appearing by Marinette’s side as Chloe stepped in beside Adrien. “But I think you were just fine without us, right?”

“Looked that way to me,” Chloe said, fiddling with her camera.

Adrien looked between the two of them. “Chloe, did you make a new friend?”

“Shut up, Adrien,” Chloe snapped, and Adrien laughed.

“We better get going,” Alya said, linking arms with Marinette. “Marinette promised to buy me lunch.”

“I did no such thing,” Marinette replied, grabbing a few spools of thread from the display and holding them gently in her hands along with the yarn. “But she’s right, we do have to go. It was nice to see you, Adrien.”

“Always a pleasure with you, Marinette,” he replied, and her cheeks colored.

“And I’m glad to have seen you again, Chloe,” Marinette said, smiling at her even as Chloe ignored her. Adrien saw her lips twitch down before she turned back to Adrien. “Text about the progress of your designs,” she said, and then she and Alya left.

“Would it kill you to be nice to her?” Adrien asked, and Chloe shrugged.

“Yeah, maybe,” she said. “Also, I continue to be tired of you and your utterly ridiculous obliviousness.” She tucked her camera into its protective pouch. “Are we done here?”


---


“How do I always end up getting roped into your videos?” Adrien asked, closing his eyes as Chloe dusted eyeshadow over his eyelids.

“Because you love me,” she replied cheekily, lifting the brush off his eyelid. “Open.” He opened his eyes. Her lips twisted to the side. “Close.” He closed his eyes. The brush returned.

“To Chloe’s audience,” he started, still with his eyes closed, “I’m being held against my will. Please send help.”

“Oh, shut up,” she snapped, digging the brush harder into his eyelid than what was probably necessary. “You whined until we picked up your cat from your apartment because you said you wanted him to have fun, too.”

“I need him for emotional support,” Adrien replied, stroking Plagg’s fur. “After you kidnapped me.”

“Well, I’m a gracious kidnapper for making you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crust cut off and picking up your emotional support cat.”

Adrien leaned back, opening his eyes. “You’re not putting that in the video.”

She laughed, dusting off the brush on the palm of her hand. “Watch me.”

“Chloe-”

“The people of the internet need to know the truth,” she said as if she was some new-age messiah for the digital following she’d gathered. “You know, that you act basically like a five-year-old. I bet you still think girls have cooties.”

“They do,” Adrien said, and he heard Plagg disguise a snort as a sneeze. “Of course, boys do too.”

“A twenty-first century boy,” Chloe sneered, gathering a bright purple shade of eyeshadow on her brush. “How quaint. Close your eyes.” He closed them. “I wonder what all the girls and boys who’ve hit on you may think about you thinking everyone has cooties.”

“I wonder why you’re wondering that.”

He heard her hum, and then her cool hand was on his chin, making him move his face from side to side. “You’re close with that bookshop girl,” she said, and he started to open his eyes to look at her, but she made a series of harsh noises in her throat, so he kept them firmly shut.

“Is that what this is about?” he asked as she let go of his chin. “Marinette is a friend of mine.”

“You don’t have friends.”

“Thanks for reminding me.”

“No problem.” Her fingertip touched his eyelid, gentle and practiced. “Why are you so close to her?”

Adrien shrugged. “I don’t know. She’s nice to me. She listens. She recommended a really good book to me once-”

Chloe made a gross fake-puking sound, and Adrien opened his eyes to glare at her. “Adrikins, do you even know what you’re saying?”

“Chlo-chlo,” he mocked, “do you even know what this video is supposed to be about?”

“Me having fun playing with makeup while you suffer,” she replied instantly, picking up the eyeshadow brush again.

“Joke’s on you,” he said, closing his eyes and letting her buff out the colors she’d laid out on his eyelid. “I like makeup and hanging out with you. There’s nothing you can do to make me suffer.”

“Bold of you to challenge me like that.”

“Bold of you to assume I’ll lose.”


---


“Hanging out with you makes me want to drink more than I already do,” Chloe said, putting away her makeup supplies in neatly organized drawers and tossing him a package of makeup wipes. “You’re going to make me die of alcohol poisoning.”

Adrien admired his appearance in her camera’s viewfinder one last time, taking a moment to appreciate the shades of shimmering purple and deep burgundy she’d painted on his eyes. “You don’t need me for that.”

“I hate it when you’re right,” she said, swiping a hand over her immaculate desk as if to clean it off. “A.A. makes me want to die of alcohol poisoning, so I hardly even need you anymore.”

“You’re actually going to the meetings?” Adrien asked, scrubbing his face with a makeup wipe.

“Dad’s forcing me to,” she said, rolling her eyes and clearing off a space on her soft couch for her to flop down on. “Spouted some bull about me ‘having a problem’ that my mom actually agreed to.”

Adrien paused in his scrubbing, looking over at Chloe through her brightly lit vanity mirror. “Are you going to follow the program?”

She picked at her fingernails, shrugging her shoulders. “I mean, I don’t know if I believe all that stuff they try and shove down my throat about God or whatever, and I definitely don’t like certain members getting a little too handsy.”

“But?” Adrien asked, somehow managing to smear the electric purple lipstick Chloe had put on him all the way up to his eye.

“But I don’t know.” She shrugged again, her hands flopping down on the couch as she turned her gaze up to the ceiling. “I haven’t drank since the meeting I went to.”

“And how do you feel about that?” Adrien was starting to believe he may be stained purple for the rest of his life.

“Nice try, Adrikins. I’m saving that for my therapist.”

“Fair,” Adrien said, grabbing another wipe in order to try and fix the mess he’d made on his face. “It was worth a shot.”

“All I know right now is that a cheap little plastic coin as congratulations for going one month sober definitely doesn’t seem worth it.”

“You never know,” Adrien said, finally managing to clear off the lipstick from his cheek. “You may feel different when you get the coin.”

“Whatever.” She continued to stare up at the ceiling, seemingly lost in thought. “Hey, Adrien?”

“What?” he asked, giving his face one last wipe before tossing the used makeup wipes.

“You’d tell me if you were in love with that little homely bookshop girl, right?” She said ‘little homely bookshop girl’ as if it was an insult.

Adrien stood up from the vanity, letting Plagg jump off his lap to wander around Chloe’s luxuriously messy loft, and sat down next to her. “Why do you care so much about who I love?”

“Because you deserve to be in love,” she said, and Adrien frowned.

“Are you sure you’re not drunk?”

“Annoyingly sober, unfortunately,” she replied, and then shifted so that her head was leaning against his shoulder, her thick floral perfume crawling up his nose. “How come I’m the only one in this friendship who has to suffer through love? It’s so unfair.”

“Wow, I thought you were being nice to me.”

She snorted. “In your dreams.” She fell into silence.

“What, so you’re not going to elaborate on your love issues?”

“Gross, why would I?”

“Because you constantly pester me about mine, whether they exist or not.”

“You definitely had a thing for your manager, and this whole bookshop-girl-thing definitely exists. I have eyes.”

“You should get them checked.” He hadn’t told her about Kagami - what even was there to tell? That he’d been tricked into going on a date, had almost kissed her only to remember the witch that he was falling in love with, and then been forcibly pulled away from the situation by said witch? Not an easy conversation.

“It’s nothing new, Adrien,” she sighed, crossing her legs for Plagg as he jumped up into her lap. “Same stupid story, same stupid regret.”

“I’ll listen,” he offered, and she breathed out a laugh, stroking her fingers through Plagg’s fur.

“I know.”


---


“I’m confused,” Plagg whispered. “Why didn’t she tell you? I was curious.”

“Can you not talk while Chloe’s right here?” Adrien whispered back, nodding his head over to where Chloe had curled up on the couch with Plagg laying right by her head.

“She’s asleep,” Plagg said, and Adrien assumed that if cats could roll their eyes, he’d be doing so right now. “So why didn’t she talk?”

“Chloe’s like that. She doesn’t like talking a lot about the things that upset her,” Adrien said, resigned to the fact that he and Plagg were really going to have this conversation while Chloe could wake up at any moment.

“It seemed juicy,” Plagg said, and Adrien flicked him in the ear. “What? You act like I have anyone to spill gossip to.”

“Still,” Adrien said. He looked back to the T.V., where the news station was relaying updates on Rose’s death - or rather the lack of updates. It seemed the police were no closer to getting to Ladybug, which seemed like a good thing. Except Ladybug wanted them to find her, to know magic exists. “I’m worried about her.”

“Who, this one?” Plagg asked, nodding his head to Chloe’s sleeping face. “She’ll be fine.”

“No, I know that,” Adrien said, adjusting the blanket he’d placed over her. “I mean Ladybug.”

“Oh. Her.”

“Do you think she’s making the right decision?” he asked, watching the low-quality video of Ladybug at the site of Rose’s murder play out on the screen.

“Personally, I think she’s batshit insane, but if the humans want to cause the apocalypse again, who am I to get in their way?” Plagg asked, licking his paw. “And besides, Tikki seemed to like the plan, and I don’t particularly like being on her bad side.”

Adrien hummed, looking down at his phone. “I want to talk to her.”

“What’s stopping you?” Plagg asked, gnawing on something that was stuck underneath his claws. “Human life is so short.”

“The last time I tried to talk to her through that messaging app, she shut me down.”

“That’s because you were just trying to flirt with her, kid,” Plagg said, and Adrien’s cheeks flushed.

“No! I just wanted to-” He stopped, trying to find a valid reason. “Okay so maybe I just wanted to have a conversation with her that didn’t involve people being dead or magic or my mom.”

“Flirting.”

Adrien gave him a look, then sighed, shaking his head. “I don’t want her to shut me down again.”

“She won’t,” Plagg said with such certainty that Adrien raised his eyebrows. “You want to talk about the whole press conference plan. It’s business. She’ll talk about it.”

He bit his lip, reaching for his phone and tapping on the messaging app. It took him a moment, but he finally tapped out a message he felt like he could send.

 

To: Ladybug

 

not an emergency - im just not feeling great about your plan… could you explain the details to me?

 

Immediately after sending the message, he closed out of the app and locked his phone. Otherwise, he’d end up staring at the screen until she responded.

“So what are we going to do while we wait?” Plagg asked, as if Adrien needed any more reminders of the fact that they were waiting.

“Plagg-”

His phone chimed. Adrien snatched it up.

 

From: Ladybug

 

Meet me on the balcony of Lucky Charm.

 

“What did she say?” Plagg asked, stretching languidly and padding over to read the message on Adrien’s phone. “Oh, a little late-night rendezvous. I’m sure that’s gotten your little maiden heart pounding.”

“Shut up.” His heart was indeed pounding, but Plagg didn’t need to know that. “What should I do?”

Plagg swatted him. “Is that even a question, kid? You were the one getting all moony-eyed about seeing her. Just go.”

“But Chloe-”

“Will survive without you here. Leave a note or something just in case she wakes up before you get back.”

“Good idea,” he said, grabbing the notepad off her kitchen counter that had her grocery list on it and scribbled a note about wanting to grab something from the store. Plagg jumped onto his shoulder, getting himself comfortable. “Alright, let’s go.”

He pulled out his phone, sending a quick message to Ladybug, and then he was out the door and into the night.

Chapter Text

“You want me to do what?” Adrien demanded, looking at Plagg incredulously.

“Just use that staff to vault yourself across the city. Ever walked on stilts? Like that. But different.” He said it like it would be easy. Adrien stared down at the little metal bar that had materialized in his hand when he Transformed.

“Plagg,” Adrien said, keeping his voice even. “This metal bar is only a foot long.”

“Yeah, so extend it.”

“Extend it?” Adrien near shouted, throwing his hands up. “How am I supposed to-” His thumb pressed something on the bar that made a small click, and suddenly he was in the air, Plagg was digging his claws into his shoulders, and Adrien was maybe screaming a lot.

“Chill out!” Plagg shouted, sounding very un-chill. They were beginning to fall, their weight making the staff tilt to the side. Adrien screamed louder. “It’s like Spider-man!” Plagg yelled in his ear, “but with a staff!”

This statement made absolutely sense to Adrien in terms of logic, but logic was not the first thing on his mind in the current situation of being at least 3 stories off the ground and falling fast. Instinct took over.

He pressed the button that had made the staff elongate, retracting into its original size.

“Now throw it,” Plagg shouted in his ear as they were free falling to the cement sidewalk.

“I’m not throwing it!” Adrien yelled back, angling the staff and then pressing the button again. The staff hit the ground, Adrien threw his body weight in the direction he wanted to go in, and he repeated the process.

“This is what I meant,” Plagg said once Adrien had found a rhythm with the staff and was vaulting through the city.

“You’re awful at explaining things,” Adrien replied, quite sure he’d left his stomach outside of Chloe’s snazzy apartment building. Sure, he’d found what he needed to do, but his entire body was clenched, and he was fairly certain he was shaking. “This isn’t like Spider-man at all.”

“Yeah it is,” Plagg said, nearly completely relaxed on Adrien’s shoulder save for the claws digging into Adrien’s jacket and the tail wrapped protectively around Adrien’s neck. “Like the whole web-release thing. Like that.”

“Yes, but this is a staff, and you had just told me it was like stilts.”

“Because it is.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Semantics,” Plagg said flippantly, waving his paw.

“I could’ve died.”

“But you didn’t,” he said, and Adrien rolled his eyes. “Besides, fear is good for you. Keeps you on your toes.”

“Hey, Plagg,” Adrien said as he saw Lucky Charm in the distance. “How am I supposed to land safely?”

“Don’t think about it too much, kid,” Plagg replied as if that was a good tip for the current situation.

Lucky Charm grew nearer. Adrien maneuvered the staff to take him to the back of the building where he saw the balcony Ladybug had mentioned. She was already there, her elbows on the railing, and he got close enough to her to see her pretty face twist in surprise, her red lips forming an ‘o.’

Adrien’s mind went blank. He tipped to the side, only registering that he was falling when it was too late to do anything about it.

“I said don’t think about it too much, not stop thinking entirely!” Plagg yelled as they plummeted into a very conveniently placed dumpster. The garbage was not nearly as soft as cartoons portrayed, and Adrien silently thanked any gods that may be that it wasn’t summer - otherwise the already awful stink of the trash would’ve been even worse than it already was.

“This is gonna hurt tomorrow,” Adrien groaned, pressing the button on the staff and pulling himself out of the dumpster. Plagg leaped out behind him, shaking off a rotten banana peel.

“Are you two all right?” Ladybug called, leaning out over the railing.

“Just peachy,” Adrien called back, scooping up Plagg and positioning the staff. When he pressed the button, he shot up to the balcony’s height, face even and quite close to Ladybug’s. “Hey,” he said, and she rolled her eyes, stepping back and giving him room to carefully climb onto the balcony.

“You’re not hurt?” she asked, giving Plagg a scratch on the chin as Tikki flew over to sit by him.

“If you count my pride, yes,” Adrien said, and she laughed.

“That was quite an entrance. I take it you learned a new trick?” She gestured to the mini-staff still in his hand, and Adrien shrugged.

“In the loosest sense of the word ‘learned.’ I could’ve died.” He said that last part pointedly at Plagg, who was sitting idly while Tikki plucked garbage from his fur.

“But you didn’t.”

“I’m glad you got here in one piece,” Ladybug said, brushing off his jacket. “I’ve actually been meaning to talk with you since the other day when we came up with the plan.”

“The feeling is mutual,” Adrien said, watching her fiddle with the zipper of his jacket. And then she seemed to realize what she was doing, quickly stepping back and clearing her throat. He missed her proximity almost immediately.

“I know it’s a crazy plan,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ears and leaning against the railing.

“I’ll say,” Plagg said, and Tikki flicked him in the nose. “Ow- fine. I’m being quiet now.”

“And?” Tikki prompted.

“And listening,” Plagg said, and Adrien raised his eyebrows. He couldn’t believe Plagg was being so obedient.

“I’m having doubts about it myself,” Ladybug said, glancing over at Plagg. “It seems like every moment I’m questioning whether or not I should call Sabrina and tell her it’s all off.” She stared out at the view, partially blocked by the surrounding buildings, but beautiful all the same.

“And?” Adrien asked, leaning against the railing next to her, his eyes on the only view he wanted to see. “Are you going to call her?”

Ladybug drew her shoulders up, looking up at the winking stars that could be seen through the light pollution and the wisps of clouds meandering through the air. “I can’t,” she finally said, shaking her head and blowing out a breath. “It’s the right thing to do. I know it.”

“What if no one believes you?” If Ladybug just up and told all of Paris that magic was real and there was some big bad mystery supervillain, how many people would believe her? How many people would be on her side?

She turned her eyes down to her hands, curled up on the rail. “Magic is subjective. People see what they want to see, and that’s how a lot of magic is hidden from the commoners. They look at the world through non-magic lenses, and so all they see is what seems plausible to them.” She paused, flexing her hands, sparks of pink and red magic igniting at her fingertips. “I can’t guarantee that everyone will believe me, but…”

“But?” Chat asked when Ladybug didn’t speak after a long moment.

“But believing there’s a magic bad guy out there who killed a happy weather girl and a sweet schoolteacher is a lot nicer to believe than such bright people committing suicide,” Ladybug finally said, lowering her head. “That’ll be enough. It’ll have to be.”

Adrien watched the planes of her face, softened by the gentle lights from the night. It felt like so long ago that he saw her pain on display because of the deaths of her friends, but really it was only a little over a week ago. And he could see it there in the way she blinked, in the way her shoulders hung from her petite frame, in the way she breathed. This grief is what was motivating her to this plan, this crazy plan that could potentially start a new age witch hunt starting with the infamous witch herself - she didn’t want anyone else to suffer.

“Will you…” He trailed off, trying to find the right words to say. “Will you show them? Magic, I mean.”

She glanced over at Tikki, who nodded encouragingly to her. “I think I’ll have to. Even though the sketchy deaths and Sabrina’s credibility will be backing me up, I’ll still probably have to prove myself to the cops and to the commoners.”

“What are you going to do?” he asked, and her eyebrows pushed together, her lips pursing. She looked away from him.

“I don’t know.”

“Are you scared?”

She wrapped her arms around herself. “I don’t know.”

He reached out for her, closing the near insurmountable distance between them even if just by a small amount. His entire body hesitated, and then he placed his hand on her shoulder, making her face him. “I know I’m still new to this compared to you, and I know I don’t really have a place here in the magic community” - he couldn’t help but notice that not only did Ladybug frown at his words, but Plagg and Tikki did, too - “but I promised I would be here for you. It seems like you’re trying to face this all alone, but you don’t have to, not really. Tikki’s here for you, and so is Plagg, and so am I.” Her expression softened. He struggled to remember what other words he’d been planning on saying. “A-and I’m sure that there are people out there who have your back, too. The point is, Ladybug… You can be honest with me.”

Her careful mask shattered, and she smiled a sad, awful smile. “I’m scared out of my mind, Chat.”

It was a physical task to keep himself from drowning her in a bear hug. He settled for tightening his grip on her shoulder. “Do you want me to come with you to the press conference? To the police station?”

“You don’t have to-”

“Honesty, my lady,” Chat interrupted, taking his hand off her shoulder and waving it around as if to dismiss the words she’d just spoken. “Tell me honestly. Do you want me to come with you?”

“Yes,” she said, and it was like the word had left her lips without her brain knowing it. For a moment, she seemed surprised at herself, and then she blinked, continuing. “Yes, I want you to come with me. But not to the police station. That’s something I think I have to face myself.” He frowned. A smile pulled at the corners of her lips. “If things go sideways, I’m not about to have you kicked into the loony bin with me.”

“What a shame,” Adrien said, picking at nonexistent dirt under his fingernails. “Because I’m crazy into you.”

“That wasn’t funny.”

“Then why are you smiling?”

“I’m not.”

But he could see the smile shining in her eyes, brighter than any of the stars, brighter than the sun. Something tingly swelled in his heart, and he couldn’t help the strange, jittery smile that buzzed onto his lips. He wanted to live in this moment forever.

“Do you want to come in for tea?” Ladybug asked, pulling her red cardigan around herself.

“Oh, my, are you seducing me?”

She scoffed. “Yeah, in your dreams.”

“Entirely correct,” he said, and she rolled her eyes. “And as much as I’d love to be seduced by you over midnight tea, I’m afraid I left company waiting.” Chloe was still asleep at her apartment, and he’d promised he’d be back - something that he was starting to regret doing.

“Another date-but-not-really-a-date?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“That was an accident,” Adrien pointed out, nodding to Plagg and readying the staff. “And you’re the only lady in my eyes, bugaboo.” Plagg jumped onto his shoulder, and Adrien held the staff over the edge of the railing, pressing the button and feeling it hit the pavement of the ground below. He was just about ready to place his life in the metaphorical hands of a thin metal bar for the second time that night when Ladybug stopped him, placing a delicate hand on his arm.

“Before you go,” she said, surveying him with her soft blue eyes. “You said earlier that you didn’t have a place in the magic community.”

He did say that. Because he couldn’t do magic. It seemed like a fair thing to say. “Yes, and?” he asked, careful not to let his bitterness creep into his tone of voice.

“And you’re wrong.” She squeezed his arm, and electricity shot through his veins, the sharp tang of lime and spearmint tinging the air. “You belong here more than you realize.”

“If this is your way of saying I belong in your arms, I accept.”

She released an annoyed grunt, rolling her eyes. “Go home, Chat.”

“Not even a goodbye kiss?” he asked, climbing onto the staff and carefully balancing his weight to stay steady.

“Not again,” she replied, and he nearly fell into the dumpster again. Her laugh rang out in the cool night air, warming it up with the light of her smile. “Try not to lose one of your lives on the way home.” And with that, she and Tikki retreated inside, leaving him to struggle to survive on the tiny death trap he was clinging to.

“What did she mean by that?” Adrien asked, vaulting across Paris and letting the chilled air cool down his heated cheeks.

“This is so sad,” Plagg said, as if that was an answer.

“It’s like she thinks she’s kissed me before.” Adrien shook his head - just the thought nearly had him plummeting to his death with the force of the butterflies that jittered around his ribcage. “I would remember that.”

“Yeah, of course,” Plagg assured in a tone that sounded more than a little sarcastic. “Unless you died.”

“Right? It’s ridicu- wait.” Adrien stopped, clicking the button on the staff and letting it carry him to the ground in front of a supermarket. He looked over at Plagg. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“Where do you think the term ‘kiss of life’ came from?” Plagg asked in reply, and Adrien felt the world shatter around him.

“I’ve kissed her?” Adrien asked, covering his face with his hands. “And I don’t remember?”

“Technically, you’ve kissed her twice. Or rather, she kissed you twice.”

“Twice?” How dare his brain forget something so important. Twice.

“See, I didn’t want to tell you because I knew you’d freak out,” Plagg said.

“I’m not freaking out,” Adrien said, obviously freaking out as he walked into the supermarket. “It’s just that it feels a little important that the prettiest and strongest and most talented girl I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing has kissed me twice and I don’t remember.”

“Keep in mind that those kisses were to kill you and then bring you back to life.”

“Semantics.”

Adrien grabbed a bag of Chloe’s favorite chips and a few candy bars from the front before paying and continuing out of the store.

“I can’t believe you didn’t buy me cheese,” Plagg whined as the continued to Chloe’s apartment.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me the girl I’m in lo-” - he stopped, his face burning - “in like with kissed me twice.”

“In like with?” Plagg asked, giving Adrien a look. “Merlin and Morgana, you’re pathetic.”

“Thanks so much, Plagg.”

Just as he was walking into Chloe’s apartment building, he stumbled over some rubble on the pavement. “What the-?” He frowned, looking down at the circular pit of debris, as if a small meteorite had landed there. “This wasn’t here when I first came out for the night.”

“Hey, kid, isn’t this where you went all Spider-man with the staff?” Plagg asked, and Adrien frowned deeper.

“First of all, the staff and Spider-man have nothing in common,” he said, side-stepping the pit and proceeding to the apartment building. “Second of all, that has literally nothing to do with that dent in the ground.”

“Sure, kid.”


---


“You’re going to do great.”

Adrien took a deep breath, hugging his design folder close to his chest as he pressed his phone to his ear. “Is it lame that I’m shaking a little bit?”

“No,” Marinette said, her sweet laugh filtering through the tiny speaker of his phone. “Maybe you’re just excited.”

“‘Excited’ is not the word I’d use,” he said, looking up at the bright white mansion looming over him. This used to be home, but now he was shaking like a leaf at just the thought of going inside.

“It’s the word you should use,” Marinette replied, and Adrien laughed, nervous energy forcing it out of him. “Come on, your designs are great.”

“You haven’t even seen them.”

“I don’t need to. I’m totally magic.”

“Then cast me a spell for luck or something,” Adrien said, stepping forward. Just one step, and then he was walking up the stairs, and then he was at the door.

“Something tells me you won’t need it,” Marinette said, and he could hear the smile in her warm voice. It was contagious. There was a voice on the other side of the line that said something that Adrien couldn’t decipher, and he heard Marinette’s polite reply - “Of course, monsieur. Right away.”

“A customer?” Adrien asked, suddenly feeling bad for pulling Marinette away from her work.

“Ah, no. I’m facing some nerves of my own today. While I think you don’t need luck, I probably might, so forgive me if I borrow some from your stash.”

“Borrow away,” Adrien replied. “But you’re magic, Marinette. You’ll be fine.”

“Right,” she said, seeming to rouse herself up. “I’m magic. Thanks, Adrien.”

“Right back at you, Marinette.”

“I’ll talk to you later, then. And remember - you’ve got a little magic on your side, too.” She hung up, leaving Adrien alone with his thoughts and the door in front of him.

Do I really have magic on my side?

The door opened, revealing Nathalie’s perfectly groomed blank expression. “You’re two minutes late,” she said, checking her watch.

“My apologies,” he said, annoyance ticking at his nerves. How often did his father make him wait when he was younger? How often was he minutes late, hours late? “I hope I didn’t keep Father waiting.”

Nathalie said nothing in reply, leading Adrien to his father’s study. Gabriel was sitting there at his desk, seemingly unbothered as Nathalie and Adrien walked inside, continuing to work on the paperwork neatly stacked on his desk.

“Mr. Agreste, Adrien is here to show you his designs,” Nathalie said, and it was only then he looked up. His cold eyes glanced to the clock ticking on his wall before settling back on Adrien.  

“You’re late,” he said, and Adrien clenched his jaw.

“So I’ve noticed.”

Gabriel held out his hand without another word, and Adrien stepped forward, handing him the folder with his finished designs. He stepped back once more, his heart in his throat as he watched his father open up the folder, his eyes trailing up and down the designs, his fingers rubbing the fabric samples Adrien had provided.

The imaginary client ones were on top, and Gabriel flipped through them after only a few seconds of looking at them. It was the original designs that he stared at, that Adrien knew he was picking apart. The first was the one he had made for Kagami - a maroon pantsuit accented by gold detail work on the cuffs and lapels. The second was for Chloe - a sun-colored romper with black pinstripes and an accent belt and pockets. The third was for Marinette - a pink satin blouse paired with an earth-toned skirt with embroidery along the edge. The fourth was for Ladybug - a red leather jacket with polka-dot accents overtop a black sleeveless top and black slacks with the same polka-dot accents as the jacket.

The fifth made Gabriel pause even longer than he did the others. Adrien knew it would - what with the delicate green silk fabric sample and the simple gown with flowers cascading down the bodice. It was obvious whom this design was for.

Gabriel fixed the designs into a neat stack, placing them on his desk but not before hiding the fifth and final design beneath the others. When he had finished, he finally looked up at Adrien, narrowing his eyes. “You think these designs are worthy of this company?”

Fear clenched at Adrien’s throat. He could see the rejection in his father’s eyes, the disappointment. Suddenly, he was staring down at the design on the top of the stack, finding imperfections that he was foolish to not have seen sooner. How could he ever think anything that he had made over the past two weeks was good enough?

And then Marinette’s voice was in his head.

You may be thinking so much about what your father is going to think about the designs that you forget to think about how you like the designs.

Every design he had made he liked - no, he loved. And it didn’t matter what his father thought. He worked hard, and he deserved to be here.

Adrien stuck his chin out, gathering up his courage. “Yes,” he said, and his father sat back in his chair, crossing his arms. “I really do think my designs are worthy of this company.”

For a stiff moment, Gabriel said nothing. And then he nodded once. “I agree. You start tomorrow.”

“I- what?”

“You’re training begins tomorrow, Adrien,” Gabriel said, standing up from his desk and fixing his suit jacket. “But a little tip before you start - I don’t like repeating myself.”

“Yes, father,” Adrien said, bowing his head and trying to decipher the conflicting emotions whizzing around his mind.

On the one hand, he’d finally earned his father’s approval after years of reaching for it. On the other, he was working for his father again. And he’d chosen that. Willingly.

Merlin and Morgana - what have I done?

Chapter Text

“You’re going to do great.” Marinette bounced her knee, her teeth worrying at the rough edges of her thumbnail. Over the phone, she heard Adrien take a deep breath - a shaking, laborious sound that Marinette felt deep in her soul.

“Is it lame that I’m shaking a little bit?”

“No,” she said, her nerves pushing out a laugh from her stomach as her eyes wandered around the bustling police department. “Maybe you’re just excited.”

“‘Excited’ is not the word I’d use,” Adrien replied, and Marinette’s eyes met with a gruff looking police officer. She snapped her head down, her shaking hands brushing over the magic domino mask concealing her identity.

“It’s the word you should use,” she said, struggling to hide the fear from her voice. When Adrien’s gentle laugh sounded through the phone, Marinette somehow managed to relax just the slightest. “Come on, your designs are great.”

“You haven’t even seen them.”

“I don’t need to. I’m totally magic.” Ha ha.

“Then cast me a spell for luck or something,” Adrien said, and Marinette needed to take a moment to appreciate how ironic that phrase was. As if she could cast a spell for luck.

“Something tells me you won’t need it,” Marinette said, which she truly believed. Adrien was talented, and despite what Adrien had told her and what she’d discovered about Gabriel Agreste during her research on Emilie Agreste, she was sure Gabriel would accept Adrien. There was no way he wouldn’t.

The gruff police officer she’d made eye contact with before towered over her, and she looked up at him, her heart beating out of her chest. She saw the way his eyes looked over her with clear suspicion, lingering over the mask covering half her face. “Follow me.”

“Of course, monsieur. Right away,” she replied, hoping she didn’t sound as scared as she felt.

“A customer?” Adrien asked, and Marinette stood from the uncomfortable seat she’d been waiting in.

“Ah, no. I’m facing some nerves of my own today,” she said, following after the police officer and dropping her voice so that he wouldn’t be able to hear her. “While I think you don’t need luck, I probably might, so forgive me if I borrow some from your stash.”

“Borrow away,” Adrien replied. “But you’re magic, Marinette. You’ll be fine.”

“Right,” she said, rousing herself up. “I’m magic. Thanks, Adrien.” She covered her mouth when she said his name, and she didn’t miss the glance the police officer threw her. He’d definitely been listening.

“Right back at you, Marinette.”

“I’ll talk to you later, then. And remember - you’ve got a little magic on your side, too.” She hung up the phone just as the officer stopped in front of a closed door labeled ‘Interrogation.’ Her jaw clenched, and she looked over at the officer, struggling to keep her cool. “I was told this was going to be a friendly conversation.”

“That depends on you,” the officer replied, opening the door for her and waiting until she had crossed the threshold before he spoke again. “Someone’ll be in to speak with you in a few moments.” He closed the door, leaving her alone in the empty room.

She took in a shaky breath, rubbing her clammy palms on her slacks as she observed her surroundings. It was a small box of a room - entirely gray to emphasize this fact - decorated only by a slate gray table, two chairs, and a large mirror overtaking one of the walls. She wondered if there was someone behind the mirror now, watching her sweat.

Approaching the mirror, she stared at her reflection. She’d asked Tikki for professional clothes, and so her reflection stared back at her with a red and black polka-dotted blouse, black slacks, and an expression that betrayed none of the nerves she was feeling.

Something beat behind the mirror - a heartbeat. She turned her head to the steady noise, moving to stand in front of the sound and staring at the glass there, pretending to look past her own reflection. Someone was on the other side was watching her sweat after all; it was only fair she at least pretended to return the favor.

After a moment, she leaned in, fixing her blood red lipstick and arranging the neat curls of her hair into something better. And then she turned around from the mirror, working herself into portraying a bravado she didn’t feel.

“How long do you plan on watching me?” she asked, taking the seat facing the mirror and picking at her fingernails. “I can’t promise I’m very interesting when I’m bored.” Silence answered her, and she leaned her chin on her hands, tilting her head as she felt another heartbeat enter the room on the other side of the mirror. “Oh, you’ve invited a friend. I do hope you’re eating popcorn and enjoying yourselves back there.”

An hour passed. Marinette kept herself busy by tracing figures on the metal table and listening to the heartbeats that watched her. The more she sat, the more confident she felt, and the more she felt her body need to perform some magic. She didn’t know how much longer she could sit there before she wasn’t able to make rational decisions anymore.

But she refused to let that show.

Finally, the door opened, and Sabrina came in accompanied by a man Marinette didn’t recognize. The man sat down across from her, placing a file on the table, while Sabrina leaned against the wall. When Marinette looked at her, she saw the way Sabrina’s eyes flashed in warning, as if warning her to tread lightly. Marinette turned back to the man.

“Have you watched me long enough?” she asked, and she saw Sabrina close her eyes.

The man opened up the file, grabbing a pen from his suit jacket. “Name?” he asked.

“Ladybug,” Marinette replied.

He looked up at her, unimpressed. “Name,” he repeated.

“Ladybug.”

“Your real name.”

“Ladybug.” His jaw clenched, and he put down his pen, leaning back in his seat and crossing his arms. She mirrored him, a smile pulling at her lips. “If you’re going to ask the same question, you’re going to get the same answer.”

He narrowed his eyes at her, analyzing her. “Occupation?”

“Many call me the best witch in Paris, but I only consider myself the best necromancer.” She didn’t have time for these questions - her limbs were shaking with desire just from being Transformed for little under two hours. She needed magic soon, or else she was afraid she’d burst.

The man looked back at Sabrina, who had a hand over her face. When she noticed he was looking, she removed her hand, fixing her expression into blank indifference.

“I’m going to need you to be serious, mademoiselle,” the man said, and Marinette itched at her arms beneath the table.

“I’m going to need you to ask the questions that need to be asked,” she replied, desperately trying to hold herself back. With Rose it was so different - she’d acted immediately upon Transforming, performing magic and then almost immediately DeTransforming. It was quick; she’d hardly had time to notice the time of day or its effects on her. But here she felt like she was going insane. The waiting, the irrelevant questions - control was slipping through her fingers like sand.

The man stood, closing the file. “This is a waste of our time,” he said to Sabrina, his hand reaching for the door handle.

“Explain what happened the day of Rose Lavillant’s death,” Sabrina said to Marinette, and the man stopped, sharp eyes finding Sabrina.

“I tried to help her,” Marinette said without hesitation, and the man turned back to Marinette, jaw clenched and eyes on fire.

“Is that what you call helping someone?” he demanded, slamming the file down on the table. Pictures of Rose’s broken body spilled out onto the table, her lifeless eyes staring up through the glossy paper and straight into Marinette. “Snapping an innocent woman’s spine in half?”

Tears gathered in Marinette’s eyes as she stared at Rose’s broken corpse - a pretty doll that had been thrown aside. With shaking hands, she flipped the pictures over, pushing them over to the man.

“I went up to her to try and talk her out of jumping,” Marinette said, curling her hands in her lap and picking at the skin around her nails. “But she jumped. I tried to catch her. It didn’t end the way I wanted it to.”

“How did you want it to end?” he asked, sitting back down and flipping the pictures back over. He pushed them to her once more, but she didn’t look at them, simply focusing her gaze on his steel gray eyes.

“With Rose living peacefully with her wife and family, just as she had before,” Marinette said, and he tilted his head, watching her face as if he’d find something there.

“Why should I believe you when you’re wearing that mask? When you haven’t even told me your name?”

Marinette leaned back in her chair, smoothing the wrinkles of her slacks. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“It’s different.”

“Is it?” she asked, her eyes carefully avoiding the pictures in front of her. “You say I’m wearing a mask, which is true, but it’s only to protect myself. Do you wear your true face when you sit in these rooms talking to criminals? I should hope not.”

“Ladybug-” Sabrina started, and Marinette held up her hand, Silencing Sabrina before she could say anything else. Sabrina opened and closed her mouth, but no sound came out. Marinette continued.

“And as for the name, I think we both know the power that names have. I gave you the name I wear while wearing this mask because my other name will give you power over me that I’d prefer you not to have. You did not give me your name when you came in because you’d rather not have a suspicious person becoming familiar with you.” Marinette smiled sympathetically. “Believe me, I understand.”

She put down the hand Silencing Sabrina, her body pounding with power, and Sabrina glared at her. “Don’t do that again.”

“Desperate times, desperate measures, Detective Raincomprix,” she replied. “Now,” she said, turning back to the man sitting before her, “are we going to have a proper conversation now?”

“That was a good speech,” the man said. “It doesn’t make me trust you.”

“Kim,” Sabrina sighed, rubbing at the bridge of her nose, “I’m the one who found her. I’m the one who let you put her in an interrogation room. I’m the one who let you get out all your bias. Now it’s your turn to contribute.” The man who was apparently called Kim turned to shoot a glare at Sabrina. “I vouched for her,” she said, matching Kim’s glare with one of her own. “That should be enough for you.”

“So it’s Kim, huh?” Marinette asked, and Kim turned back to her, steel eyes blazing. “Is it detective? Inspector? Something else?”

“Detective,” he spat, and Marinette smiled.

“Detective Kim,” she said, “as much as I’d love to waste time on pleasantries, I’m afraid I don’t have time for that. I’m here to inform you that I’m not responsible for Rose’s death, nor for Aurore’s. But I know who is.”

“Who?” Kim asked.

“A mage who goes by the name Hawkmoth. The working theory is that he has some powers of persuasion that allowed him to get into the minds of Rose and Aurore in order to obtain their magical charms to gain more power for himself. Such charms can only be obtained in the event of death, of course, and I have no idea what he wants the power for.”

“Of course,” Kim said, standing up and gathering the pictures into the file. “We’re done here.”

He reached for the door handle.

“No,” Marinette said calmly, “we’re not.”

Kim’s wide eyes darted around, finding Marinette as she stood and walked over to him. The tang of earth and spice filled the room, red light seeping from her pores.

“Ladybug,” Sabrina said, her tone warning.

“Don’t worry,” she said, stopping beside Kim. “I’m only trying to be listened to.” His eyes glared at her, but she knew he couldn’t move, couldn’t even try to move. “I had originally wanted to introduce magic to you slowly, but I’m afraid the day is catching up with me, and my patience is running thin.”

Her veins felt as if they were on fire, her body was singing with power.

“I believe I told you that many consider me the best witch in Paris,” she continued, leaning against the wall. “And what better person to tell you magic is real?” He was starting to sweat. Marinette let go of the Freezing spell.

“What the hell?” Kim breathed, backing away from her.

“Magic is real, Detective Kim, and the world is full of it.” He was gripping the table now, and Sabrina was beside him, her hand on his arm. “And there are people like me who try to help people with the abilities we have, and then there are people like the man I’ve just told you about who use their power to take what other people have and use it for themselves.”

“Impossible,” Kim whispered, and Marinette’s anger sparked.

“But I’m telling you it’s possible, and it’s happening,” she said, and the table he was holding lifted into the air as if weightless, the chairs following soon after. Kim and Sabrina backed away from the table, watching as it hit the ceiling. “There is a man out there killing people and thinking that he can get away with it because magic is on his side. But I’m here to tell you that magic can be on your side, too, on everyone’s side.”

Kim tore his eyes away from the floating furniture, staring at her as if she was the person to fear. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because I don’t want to watch any more of my friends die!” Marinette yelled, and the tables and chairs slammed into the ground and the air was suffocating with the bloody scent of her magic and she was breathing it all into her lungs and her body was screaming for more more more.

“Ladybug,” Sabrina said, reaching forward and placing her gentle hand on Marinette’s electric skin. “Come back down.”

Marinette blinked, breathing out and watching her sparkling magic follow her breath. Her mind cleared, and suddenly she felt as if she was about to pass out. “I-I’m sorry,” she stuttered, placing a hand on her forehead and feeling her veins throb against her skin. “I’ve just been here so long.”

“I know,” Sabrina said gently. “I know it’s been very hard for you. Go home. I’ll tell everyone else the rest.”

“But it was my job to-”

“What was it you said?” she asked, smiling softly at her. “‘Mercy on you is mercy on us all’? I’ll take care of the rest. I’ll call you when everything’s arranged.”

Unfair to use her own words against her - there was no way she could argue with that. “Okay,” she finally said, shaking her head to clear the rest of the fog out of it. She turned to Kim, who was staring at her as if she had a second head. Guilt panged at her chest. “I apologize for my behavior. I promise I’m not normally like this.”

Kim said nothing, which Marinette felt was fair, and Marinette turned and left the interrogation room. She hardly even noticed the officers whose eyes followed her exit. She hardly even noticed anything at all.


---


“That was a colossal mess,” Marinette said, massaging her temples where a headache was blossoming.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Tikki assured, patting Marinette’s cheek. “That angry detective man probably believes you know.”

“Yes, but I only wanted him to believe me. Not fear me.” She let out a long sigh, pressing her hot forehead against the cool surface of her table. “I really screwed this up.”

“No, you didn’t,” Tikki said, fluttering down to sit by her head. “It may not have gone the way we wanted it to, but now we can be confident that Sabrina will bring the department around.” Marinette turned to look at her, pouting. “They have proof because of you that magic exists. You made it easier for Sabrina to tell everyone that,” she continued.

“But I made it all the more difficult because now she has to convince people that I’m good.” Frustrated tears welled up in her eyes, and her mind conjured up the broken pictures of Rose, the images she was trying to forget. “How is she going to be able to convince people I’m good, when I’m not even sure I believe it?” she whispered, a tear slipping out of her eye and dripping onto the table.

Tikki frowned, scooting closer to Marinette and using her tiny hands to wipe her eyes. “You’re good, Marinette,” she said softly, her small hand lingering on Marinette’s cheek. “You’re good at baking, you’re good at appreciating the world around you, and you’re good at making the people around you feel good. Bad people can’t do those kinds of things.”

A slow smile pulled at Marinette’s face. “Bad people can’t bake?”

“Not like you can,” Tikki said, patting Marinette’s cheek one last time. “Do you want to make some cookies?”

Sniffing, Marinette sat up, wiping her eyes and taking a deep breath. She couldn’t sit and wallow forever - if she wanted good things to happen, she needed to believe that they could happen. Wallowing for the day was officially over.

“I should call Adrien, too. Just to make sure everything went okay with his dad,” she said, standing up and going to the pantry to grab the ingredients for making cookies.

“That’s a great idea, Marinette,” Tikki said, sitting on the edge of the bowl she was going to use.

“Alright, let me just…” She pulled out her phone, placing on the countertop and finding Adrien’s contact name: ‘The Death of Me’ with the gravestone and dying rose emojis. Before she pressed ‘call,’ she froze, biting at her bottom lip. “Maybe I should just wait,” she said to Tikki, backing away from the phone. “I mean, for him to call me. What if he’s still with his dad? Or like, doing something really important? I mean, he definitely wouldn’t want me disturbing him if he was doing something important-”

The phone droned, calling The Death of Me with the gravestone and dying rose emojis. Marinette squeaked, looking over at Tikki, whose hand was still hovering over the phone. Tikki smiled. The line connected.

“Hey, Marinette!”

Marinette danced around the kitchen, her hands over her mouth as she struggled to figure out what to do.

“Marinette? Are you there?”

“Yes!” she squawked, returning to the phone in a rush. “I mean. Yes. I’m here. Hi. How, um, how are you?” Tikki giggled, and Marinette made a face at her, fanning her heated cheeks.

“I’m doing pretty okay,” Adrien answered, and even in her flustered state, she could hear the doubt in his voice. “I think.”

“You think?” she asked, frowning and organizing the ingredients for the cookies. Slowly, she started to place the correct amounts of dry ingredients into the bowl, the measurements coming as second nature.

“Yeah,” Adrien sighed, his breath static over the phone. “My father thought my designs were great.” He paused, a small and bitter laugh breaking the small space of silence. “Or at least, he said that they were worthy of his company.”

“That’s good,” Marinette said, biting her lip. Gabriel Agreste was a real piece of work, wasn’t he? “And how do you feel?”

“Happy?” Adrien said, the word sounding like a question. “I don’t know, Marinette.”

“Well,” Marinette said, drawing out the word as she searched for a whisk. There was one at the back of the dishwasher, and as she reached for it, the muscles of her arm screamed. Already it seemed that the effects of daytime magic were catching up to her. “Maybe if you tell me about it it’ll be a little easier to know,” she continued, bringing the whisk back to the bowl and rubbing her arm.

“I like that I made something to be proud of,” he said, and Marinette gently mixed together the dry ingredients and then took out another bowl for the rest of the ingredients. “I mean, I know I made good designs, and I forgot how good that felt.”

“So that’s why you’re kind of happy,” she said, measuring the rest of the ingredients into the bowl and whisking it all away from the phone. “Which are some really good reasons, by the way. I’m really happy that you made something you’re proud of.”

“Me too,” Adrien said softly, and Marinette’s heart skipped a beat - she could just imagine the little smile that had pulled at his lips along with those words.

“S-so why are you kind of not happy?” Marinette stuttered, nearly spilling the contents of the bowl onto the floor. She caught it just in time.

“Well,” Adrien said, and she could tell by just the sound of his voice that the little smile was gone. “When my father said I was going to actually start working soon, I realized that I’m actually going to start working with him.”

“And that’s...bad?” Marinette asked, pouring some of the dry ingredients into the bowl and starting to whisk that in.

“No,” Adrien said. “Yes.” He paused. “I don’t know.”

“Work me through it,” she said, pouring the rest of the dry ingredients into the bowl. She really should’ve pulled out the electric mixer for the batter, but she didn’t want all that noise to mess with the phone call. So she resigned herself to have sore muscles from day magic and whisking batter for at least a week.

“My father is… a difficult man,” Adrien started, his voice weak. “When I had to work for the Agreste company as a kid, it was hard. Hard to deal with my father, not just the workload. And so pretty much as soon as I got the chance, I left.” He paused, and Marinette set down the bowl, looking over at Tikki, who seemed to be sharing her hurting heart for him.

“Adrien…”

“I’ve avoided him for so long, and it’s always felt so wrong,” Adrien rushed on, not letting her say anything else. “I hated that I had to leave him, but I didn’t think I could ever go back. And now I’m…” He trailed off, and Marinette wiped her hands on a dishrag, picking up the phone and holding it close to her like if she hugged the phone, she would be able to hug him over the distance between them.

“It’s alright, Adrien,” she said, Tikki flying up to sit on Marinette’s shoulder to be closer to the phone. “When you got the idea of meeting with your father again, you told me it would be different this time.”

“I did say that,” he said, voice unsure.

“You have to believe it in order for it to happen,” she said, setting the phone back down and finishing up the batter. “You’re not a kid anymore, and your father may have missed you just as much as you missed him.”

Adrien was silent. She could tell what that silence meant.

It doesn’t seem like it.

“I can’t pretend to know what your father is thinking,” Marinette continued, wondering if it was possible to hug someone with words alone as she stirred in the chocolate chips. “But I think you’re strong enough to get through to him. If anyone can do it, it’s you.”

“Why, because I’m his son?” There was a bitterness to the words that made Marinette’s heart break.

“No,” she said, scooping out balls of cookie batter and placing them on the cookie sheets. “Because you’re Adrien.”

He said nothing, letting the silence between them stretch on to the point that Marinette wondered if he was still on the line. She was halfway done with putting the batter on the sheets when he spoke again. “Marinette,” he said, his voice soft and gentle and sending shivers down her spine, “how do you always know the right thing to say?”

She laughed, feeling as if a swarm of butterflies were ricocheting off her stomach walls. “Trust me, Adrien, I don’t.”

He hummed, as if he didn’t quite believe her. “So how did your thing go today? You used my stash of luck, right?”

Marinette couldn’t help the bitter laugh that escaped her mouth as she put the cookie sheets in the oven. “Unfortunately, I think I lost your luck.”

“It couldn’t have been that bad,” Adrien said.

“It wasn’t,” Tikki whispered in her ear.

“It was,” Marinette told Adrien. Tikki sighed. “I think I messed it all up.”

“Well,” Adrien said, drawing out the word as Marinette closed the oven and set the timer, “you’ve been my listening ear for the day. How about I return the favor?”

Standing up straight, Marinette wiped her hands on her pajama pants. “Adrien, I-”

A chill ran down her spine.

She frowned, turning around. Her blood ran cold.

“Rose,” she whispered, her limbs going weak.

Because there she was, standing in her kitchen. Her feet hovered just above the tile floor, her figure translucent, ghostly.

“Marinette? Marinette, are you there?” Adrien.

“I have to go,” Marinette said, her voice shaking.

“Okay,” Adrien said, confused. “Is everything alright?”

“Sorry,” she said, her hand fumbling back to the countertop to find her phone, her eyes never leaving Rose’s wispy figure. “I just have to go.”

“Marinette, wait-” She hung up.

She stared at Rose, clutching the phone in her hands. “What are you doing here?”

Rose held her hands up, her features contorting in desperation. She opened and closed her mouth, trying to get out a sound that Marinette could hear.

“It’s okay,” Marinette said, trying desperately to keep her voice even. “Just relax.”

Her words seemed to agitate her, and she threw her hands up, frustrated tears gathering in her pale eyes. She reached forward.

“Rose, you can’t-”

She grabbed onto Marinette’s arms before Marinette could react. An overwhelming cold swept into Marinette’s body, chilling her bones and the blood in her veins. Rose’s face contorted in pain, the effort of contact hurting her just as much as it hurt Marinette.

“R-rose,” Marinette shuddered, and Rose let go of her arm, touching a finger to her lips. The cold worsened. Marinette flinched back, painful tears gathering in her eyes.

“Juleka,” Rose managed to say, and then she was gone.

Marinette collapsed to the ground, hugging herself as cold racked through her body. And then Tikki was in front of her face, her eyes wide. “Juleka,” she said, and fear tore through her as violently as the cold.

“Something’s ha-happened to J-Juleka,” Marinette stuttered, grabbing the countertop to stand. “Th-that’s why sh-she came.”

“We have to go.”

Nodding, Marinette released a shaking breath. “T-Tikki, transform me.”

Red and pink magic enveloped her, clothing her in warm clothes that she couldn’t feel. Her yo-yo strapped itself around her hips, and she took it off before the magic even faded away, holding it in her hands as she opened up the balcony into the cool night. She swung it once, twice, and then threw it, pulling it tight as it caught on the rooftop next to hers.

She needed to find Juleka.

Chapter Text

“I have to c-call Chat,” Marinette said as she swung through the air. “W-whatever’s happening with Juleka, there’s no g-guarantee that I’ll be able to take care of it by myself.” She was exhausted from her stunt at the police station - her whole body ached as if she’d been stretched out of her skin - and added to that was the piercing cold overtaking her nervous system; she wasn’t sure if she could rely on herself in a true crisis.

“I’ll help,” Tikki said, watching as Marinette paused on a rooftop to get Chat on the line. Tikki grabbed Marinette’s phone and pressed it against her ear, holding it steady so that Marinette could focus on getting to Juleka’s place with her yo-yo.

“My lady?” Chat asked over the phone. “Is something wrong?”

“You have to help me,” Marinette said, the cold air slicing through her shivering body. “I th-think Juleka Lavillant is in danger.”

“Rose’s wife?”

“Y-yes! Meet me at-” She rattled off Juleka’s address, managing to stutter through it in a way she hoped Chat could understand.

“I’ll be there, Ladybug,” Chat assured, voice calm where she felt like a frazzled mess. “But I have to know, my lady - are you okay?”

“J-just get there fast,” Marinette said, grabbing the phone from Tikki to hang up and stuff it in her pocket. She couldn’t care about herself right now. She couldn’t think about the ache of her bones, how much it hurt just to breathe. She couldn’t think about the freezing chill in her veins. She couldn’t think about anything except getting to Juleka.

That was all that mattered.

“Marinette!” Tikki cried, struggling to keep up with her as she swung through the black sky. “You have to slow down or else you’ll hurt yourself.”

“I can’t,” she said between clenched teeth, throwing her yo-yo and wincing as the muscles in her arms screamed. “I can’t.”



---


Chat was pacing outside the apartment building when Marinette arrived, his baton clutched tightly in his hands. When he saw her, he visibly relaxed, running over to her as she landed harshly on the pavement.

“I came as quickly as I could,” he said, placing a hand on her shoulder. He flinched, taking his hand away to cradle it against his chest. “You’re cold as ice.”

“I kn-know,” Marinette stuttered. “B-but we can’t talk r-right now. We have to g-get to her.”

She wrapped the yo-yo around her waist as she ran into the building, taking the stairs two at a time in favor of waiting for the elevator. Chat was beside her, Plagg on his shoulder, and he looked at her with concern in his bright eyes. “Ladybug…”

He didn’t say anything else, and so she ignored him until they reached the fourth floor, where the Couffaines lived. “Th-this is it,” she said, sprinting down the hallway and skidding to a halt in front of the right door. She slammed her fist against it, trying the doorknob. “Juleka! I-It’s me, Ladybug! Let me in!”

“She knows you?” Chat asked, nudging her to the side as he tried the knob in her place.

“W-we were all friends,” Marinette said, wrapping her arms around herself. “Fragancia, Reflekta, and me.” Rose, Juleka, and Marinette. They didn’t know of her real identity, of course. But they were friends. They were all friends.

Chat shoved his shoulder against the door, jiggling the door handle. “It won’t open,” he said, shaking his head even as he tried to force the door open again.

There was a crash.

Marinette shoved Chat away from the door, slamming her palm against the wood. “Break,” she hissed, and searing magic shot through her arm, tearing through her. The door shattered, and she ran inside, holding her throbbing arm close to her chest.

“Ladybug!” Chat called, running after her. “You’re hurt.”

“D-doesn’t matter,” she said, barreling through the apartment. It didn’t seem like anyone was home - Juleka was nowhere to be seen. “Where is she?” she muttered, her hands pulling at her hair as she stood helplessly in the living room. “Where is she?”

A white butterfly flew in through an open window, its path clear and purposeful. Marinette’s heart stopped.

“Oh, God,” she whispered, watching as it flew into Juleka’s room.

Chat looked over at her, eyes wide. “Doesn’t that mean…?”

Marinette stumbled into a run, following after the butterfly even as all of her body seemed to be rejecting movement. She needed to follow, needed to save her, needed to be there.

The butterfly slipped through the crack beneath the bathroom door, and Marinette shoved herself against it, desperate but not strong enough, never strong enough. Chat was beside her then, and his scent of lime and spearmint invaded her nose, and the door gave beneath her weight.

Broken glass slid beneath their feet, and Marinette’s wild eyes found the shattered mirror consuming the bathroom. Juleka was on the floor, her bloody hands shaking as she removed her charm from her pinky finger.

“Juleka, no!”

She handed the little ring to the butterfly. It started its flight back the way it came.

“C-chat, get the charm,” Marinette said, already pushing him towards the butterfly as she fell to her knees beside her friend, broken glass cutting into the fabric of her leggings. “I’ll save her.”

“Ladybug-”

“Go,” she shouted, and her throat hurt because she’d used magic and Chat was going and she was alone just like with Rose.

“Everything will be okay,” Juleka said, her voice empty and blank as she reached for a shard of broken glass.

(***)“Nonononono,” Marinette murmured, her throat raw. She took Juleka’s hands in hers, feeling their warmth against her cold, the wet slide of blood against her fingers. “Julie, love, look at me - look at me, darling. Do you see me?”

A tear slid down Juleka’s cheek, the only betrayal of emotion. “I miss her so much.”

“Rose?” Marinette asked, trying to catch Juleka’s blank gaze. “Yes! I m-miss her too. I miss her, but she’s not gone. She’s looking after you. She s-still loves you.”

She should’ve come sooner to deliver Rose’s message. Now it was falling on deaf ears. A sob escaped Marinette’s chest.

“I hated myself for leaving her alone for so long,” Juleka continued, as if Marinette hadn’t spoken. “Leaving her to deal with the fallout when our birth mother walked out on us.” Another tear fell. “But it’s okay. Hawkmoth said it was okay.” She pulled her hands out of Marinette’s grasp.

“No,” Marinette said, snatching a shard of glass out of Juleka’s hands, wincing at it cut through her flesh. “W-what about your parents? Your friends? Luka?”

Juleka paused, a flicker of confusion crossing her features. “Lu...ka…”

“Yes,” Marinette said, nodding vigorously, throwing the shard of glass to the side and taking Juleka’s shoulders in her hands. “Luka, y-your brother. Will he be okay with you g-gone?”

“Gone…” Juleka frowned, her shoulders drawing up. Marinette held her tightly, so tightly her hands went numb, her blood soaking Juleka’s shirt. “He… He left me first,” she said, her features relaxing. “He left me alone.”

“No,” Marinette sobbed, pressing her forehead to Juleka’s collarbone. “He loves you. He loves you more than anything else. He wants you to be safe, and he wants you to forgive him.” Juleka’s breathing was smooth, even, detached. “Come back to me, Julie-butt. Please just come back to me.”

“Where’s my sister? Get out of my way - where’s my sister?”

No.

Marinette turned around just in time to see Luka burst into Juleka’s room, Chat close on his heels. His wide blue eyes darted around, finding the open bathroom door, the scattered glass, the drops of blood on the floor. She could feel her heart break in tandem with his.

“Monsieur, you have to stay back,” Chat said, grabbing hold of Luka’s arm as he fought to get closer.

“You,”   Luka said, his eyes meeting with Marinette’s, “you were there with Rose.”

Marinette froze.

Juleka pushed her away. Hard.

“Everything will be okay.” She took a shard of glass. She smiled.

Luka screamed. A wild, guttural noise. Barely human.

And Marinette couldn’t move.

She couldn’t move as she watched Juleka’s body hit the tile floor, as hot blood splattered Marinette’s ice cold cheeks, as Luka tore himself from Chat’s grasp and hit the ground beside her, cradling his sister’s limp body, crying, screaming, begging for her to wake up, for her to see him.

She couldn’t move because all she could see was Rose’s body. The blue sky. Juleka’s smile. Her red blood.

(***)White noise.

Warm hands on her shoulders. Fumbling legs. Whispered assurances. Red and blue lights. People people people. Luka.

Marinette was standing in the Couffaine’s living room, a blanket around her shoulders. Luka was on the couch, blood on his hands, eyes red. Police officers swarmed the apartment.

Chat was beside her, she realized, one arm around her waist. Plagg was heavy on her shoulder, soft tail curled around her neck. She shrugged them both off, handing Plagg to Chat. He took him without saying a word, his eyes dim and distant. She wondered if she looked the same.

It was cold still. Freezing. But she took the blanket off her shoulders and wrapped it around Luka’s. He didn’t look up. She kneeled in front of him.

Her throat was a mess. So was her head. Neither of them said anything. She took his hand. He held on like his life depended on it. And he cried.

And he cried.

And he cried.

“Ladybug.”

She looked up. Sabrina.

“It was him, wasn’t it?”

She nodded.

“Go home. We’ll talk later.”

She looked at Luka. Fragile. Broken. His watery blue eyes met hers. He let go of her hand.

It felt like she needed to say something. But she didn’t.

She stood. Every muscle, every fiber, every bone screamed in agony. She took Chat’s arm, and they left.

The night air was torture on her shivering body, but it got her mouth to work. “Go home,” she told Chat, her voice scraping against her throat.

He reached a hand up, brushing her hair away from her face. A tender movement. She flinched away. “You can’t be alone right now,” he said, voice caught somewhere between a whisper and nothing at all.

“Go home,” she repeated, and his face crumpled. His hand dropped. He backed away.

“Just…” He shook his head. “Just call me if you need anything.”

She said nothing. He left.

Her movements were mechanical as she unstrapped her yo-yo from her hip and started the journey home. Each swing felt like dying, each breath like suffocating.

And then she was on her balcony. The doors had been left open, and smoke billowed out from inside, carrying with it the rancid smell of something burnt. She could hear the timer she’d set screaming.

It didn’t even occur to her to run. She walked into the smoke numbly, finding the oven in the haze and opening it up. More smoke. She reached inside and grabbed the cookie sheets. Pain.

She dropped the cookie sheets, the burnt crisps clattering onto the floor. She closed the oven door, her ice cold hands throbbing.

Tikki left her shoulder, giving her a concerned glance before turning off the screaming timer.

The silence was deafening.

Her knees gave out, and suddenly she was on the ground next to the steaming black rocks that came out of her oven and her cheeks burned with the searing heat of her tears and she was filling up the silence with awful sounds. Guttural. Barely human.

She was dying.

Dead.

Gone.

Chapter Text

Adrien stood in his apartment, his lungs half the size they should be.

“Plagg,” he said, his voice hoarse. Plagg stared up at him, his green eyes luminescent in the dark. “This isn’t right.”

“What about it, kid?” Plagg asked, jumping on the beat-up couch and settling into the cushions. “The girl we just saw kill herself? The man who’s behind it? The brother who saw it all?” He sighed, closing his eyes. “Take your pick, Adrien. Nothing about this is right.”

He was right, of course. That girl, all that blood - and for what? A little ring? It wasn’t right. And that guy, the one who said he was Juleka’s brother. Adrien could still hear his screams.

“I know,” he said weakly, running a hand through his hair. “But I… I should be…”

“With her,” Plagg finished, and Adrien looked over at him, his chest hurting.

“With her,” Adrien agreed. “She shouldn’t be alone.”

Getting up from his spot on the couch, Plagg jumped onto Adrien’s shoulder, looking at him expectantly. “Then don’t let her be.”


---


The doors to the balcony were open when Adrien arrived, and a thin haze of smoke drifted out, meandering lazily through the air. Adrien frowned, waving away the smoke and peeking through the doors.

“Ladybug?” he called, squinting through the smog. “Are you there? It’s me, Chat.” No answer. He exchanged a worried glance with Plagg. Stepping inside, he paused, suddenly feeling guilty. There was no guarantee Ladybug was actually there - it’s not like she lived there. He was walking into Marinette’s house without permission.

“What are you waiting for?” Plagg asked, and Adrien made up his mind. Even if Ladybug wasn’t there, being around Marinette could help him, if only for a little while. He could use some of her positivity.

Adrien took a deep breath, and then he walked inside, leaving the doors to the balcony open so that the rest of the smoke from inside could drift out. “Marinette,” he called, just in case, “if you’re here, I promise I’m not breaking in.”

Tikki came through the haze to hover in front of his face, her lips pinched together. “It kind of looks like you’re breaking in.”

“The door was open,” Plagg said with a small shrug. Tikki frowned.

“Is Ladybug here?” Adrien asked, looking around her. She moved so that she was blocking his line of sight, her little face pulling into a frown.

“She is, but I don’t think you should be here,” she said, lowering her voice and glancing behind her towards the kitchen.

“I know, I know,” Adrien said, dropping his voice to match her volume. “She told me to go home, but I don’t think she should be alone right now.”

Biting her lip, Tikki glanced again at the kitchen, her shoulders drawing up to her ears. “I agree with you, Chat,” she said, even quieter than before. “Just… be prepared.”

Nodding, Adrien walked past her into the kitchen, waving away the haze in the air. “Ladybug?”

“Go away,” she said, her voice low and hoarse and painful.

“No,” Adrien replied, finding the source of her voice on the ground. She was leaning against the oven - where the smoke was coming from - with her legs stretched out in front of her, her arms limp on the ground, her palms facing the ceiling. She stared up at him, her eyes red and tired, her expression empty, but drooping, as if portraying any emotion would’ve taken too much out of her.

She closed her eyes, stray tears falling down her cheeks. He saw her swallow. “I told you to go home.”

“I did,” he said, kneeling down and frowning at the metal cookie sheets and burnt black cookies strewn about the ground. “You never told me I couldn’t come find you.” She said nothing in response, her chin trembling.

Now that he was closer to her, he took another look at her. He could see the tear tracks her still on her cheeks, the tangles in her messy hair, and the blood on her clothes, on her face. He glanced down at her hands, and his heart clenched at the sight of blooming splotches of bubbling skin and the angry red cuts slicing through her palms and fingers.

“My lady,” he said softly, taking one of her ruined hands carefully in his - and even though he had been trying to be so gentle, so careful, she still flinched, a hiss of pain crawling through her teeth - “what did you do?”

She stared up at the ceiling, new tears pooling at the edges of her eyes. “I failed,” she whispered, and his heart broke. “I couldn’t keep my best friend alive. I couldn’t save her. I failed. I watched her die, I couldn’t save her, I failed I failed I failed.” She clenched her hands into fists, a painful sight, and tears squeezed out of her eyes.

“This isn’t your fault,” Adrien said, touching her icy cheeks and wiping away her tears. She jerked her head away, as if that little brush of intimacy revolted her.

“Don’t,” she hissed, taking her hand out of his and scooting away from him. “Don’t even try to say something like that. I couldn’t save Juleka, but before that, I couldn’t save Rose. If I hadn’t killed Rose, both of them would still be alive.”

Adrien stayed where he was, even if his entire being was screaming to hold her, to comfort her, to make her see what he saw. “You didn’t kill Rose.”

“Didn’t I?” she asked, shaking her head. “She may have jumped, but I’m the one who snapped her spine in half.”

“But Hawkmoth is the one who-”

“I know!” she screamed, pulling at the tangled mess of her hair. “I know Hawkmoth is behind this, but I should’ve been able to stop him! I’m supposed to be the best witch in Paris, and yet I’ve managed to kill my best friend and then let my other friend slit her throat while her brother watched . And I couldn’t do a damn thing to stop it.” An awful sob escaped her chest, and she curled up into a ball, hiding her face in her arms. “What sort of witch am I, to let a murderer best me?”

Plagg closed the space between them, walking over to Ladybug and headbutting her legs. “He only bests you when he gets into your head, kiddo,” he said, his voice more gentle than Adrien has ever heard it. “Don’t let him get you, too.”

Ladybug shifted, looking over to Plagg and sniffing. For a moment, she was silent, and then her expression softened into something familiar, something less broken. “I would pet you, but…” She trailed off, holding out her bleeding hands.

“Come here,” Adrien said, standing up and grabbing her cold forearms to help her stand. “Let’s get you fixed up.” He led her over to the couch and sat her down. “Do you have a first-aid kit?” he asked, and she nodded.

“Under the kitchen sink.”

He walked back to the kitchen, grabbing the first-aid kit, and then returning to her. He sat down beside her on the couch and gestured for her to hold out her hands. “I know you’re hurting right now,” he said, taking out the wraps in the kit and starting to wind them around her palms, “and that’s okay, but you can’t turn that hurt onto yourself.”

She stared down at their hands. “Normally, I would just heal myself,” she said quietly, watching a trickle of blood seep out from one of her wounds. “But I can’t. I exhausted myself before I even got to Juleka’s.”

Adrien frowned, waiting for her to continue.

“I went to the police station during the day and used magic,” she said, her voice dropping lower. “Just to show that I was telling the truth. But it hurt me. I was tired.” Adrien finished one hand and started on the other. “And then Rose came to me, and she touched me.”

“That’s why you’re so cold,” Adrien realized, and she nodded. He had been wondering about her icy skin and her stuttering at Juleka’s, but she hadn’t answered him then. There hadn’t been any time.

“She warned me about Juleka.” She looked away from their hands, closing her eyes. “I knew I wouldn’t be strong enough, and I wasn’t. I could hardly use any magic.” He finished up the wrap on her hand, but he didn’t take his hands away, even if the cold seeping through the bandages burned him like fire. “And I let her die,” she whispered, and Adrien shook his head.

“No, Ladybug,” he said, bringing up her bandaged hands to his mouth and pressing a kiss to her knuckles. “You fought for her life.”

“But it wasn’t enough,” she said, taking her hands away from him and shaking her head. “It’s never enough.” She was crying again, tears dripping down her chin. “And Luka,” she sobbed, pressing the heels of her hands to her eyes, “Luka, Luka, Luka.”

The tall, pale man with the dark hair. The man Adrien had seen break.

“The brother?” Adrien asked, and she nodded. “Is he…” He frowned, trying to find the right word. “Is he a mage?”

“Not that I know of,” she said, wiping her face and sniffing. “Which means he doesn’t even understand why his sister and his sister-in-law are dead. He doesn’t even get it.” Her chin trembled. “He knew I was there with Rose. He saw me there with Julie. He probably thinks that I-” She broke off, covering her mouth with a bandaged hand to stifle a sob.

“No,” Adrien said before he could even think about what to say. “No,” he repeated a little softer, taking a blanket that was on the couch and wrapping it around her shoulders. “I saw you there with him,” he said, using the blanket to wipe her tears, “just like this. There’s no way he thinks you’re to blame.”

He saw the way he had looked at her when she had kneeled before him back at the Couffaine residence. She had been a statue of shock, impervious to anything Adrien, Tikki, or any of the officers had said to her - until she saw Luka there on the couch. Adrien had watched her walk over to him, watched her take the blanket off her shoulders and wrap them around his. The look on his face when she’d taken his hand hadn’t been one of blame or hate - it had been shared grief. Understanding. Adrien saw the way Luka had gripped Ladybug’s hand, the way she gripped his. They held on like they were going to hold on forever.

“He may not understand everything,” Adrien continued, carefully taking one of Ladybug’s hands in his, mimicking the way she and Luka had held on to each other, “but he understands you, I think. He knows that you were trying to help, and he knows that you’re in pain, too.”

“How do you know?” she asked, her glass eyes finding him, clear and painful.

“Because I saw you tell him,” he said, his voice caught in his throat. He looked down at their hands, rubbing his thumb over hers. “Like this.” And she cried.

And she cried.

And she cried.

And Adrien held her.

He didn’t hug her tight like his mind, body, and soul were screaming to - he just held her hand and hoped that was enough. Nothing he could ever do would be able to make the death and the hurt less painful, but from the way her bandaged hand held his, sharing the warmth and the cold alike, being there for her was a magic in itself. A spell to make the pain fade.

His thumb brushed against her cheek, wiping away some of the flood of tears. His fingers tucked her hair behind her ear, revealing her face that was so full of life and emotion. His hand lingered by her head, hesitating in this touch because his heart didn’t want to pull away.

“Ladybug, I…” His voice was hoarse, as if he hadn’t spoken in centuries. His chest was overflowing, and when she looked at him, he felt as if he might burst into a million pieces just from the force of her electric blue eyes.

This feeling - it was wrong. This overpowering, soul-wrenching feeling. It had no place here in this smokey room after the death of a woman who should’ve lived for much longer. And yet.

And yet he was feeling it.

“I…”

There were so many secrets. He didn’t even know her name or what her face looked like without that mask over her eyes. But he wanted to know. He wanted to say her name and have her say his, to know what it felt like to hear his name roll off her lips. He wanted to know what sort of food she liked and what movies she saw in her free time. He wanted to know her without the secrets.

“What is it, Chat?” she asked, wiping her eyes.

It was impossible. Plagg had told him time and time again about the risks, and now there was a mysterious villain taking advantage of secrets not kept under lock and key. And yet…

“Ladybug, I have something to tell you,” he said, and his chest welled up. She frowned. He took a deep breath. “I didn’t get the ring.”

Impossible, indeed.

“I didn’t tell you before because of what happened with Juleka - we were all in shock. And then you told me to go home, and when I came back to you, there was a lot that needed to be said, and-”

She held up a hand to stop him. “You didn’t get Juleka’s charm?”

He looked away from her. “No.”

The tears were all gone now. She was business. “Tell me what happened.”

Adrien ran a hand through his hair, blowing out a sigh and standing up from the couch. “You told me to go get the charm. So I followed after the butterfly that was carrying it.” He paced back and forth, thinking about the stupid white butterfly. “I chased it through the apartment, but every time I got close, it just danced away from me. I couldn’t lay a finger on it. And then Luka came inside, and I realized that he shouldn’t be a witness to what was happening with Juleka, so I tried to hold him back.” He stopped pacing, his ears ringing with Luka’s screams. He squeezed his eyes shut, rubbing his forehead as if that would make the sound stop. “I was the one who failed tonight, my lady.”

“No,” Ladybug replied immediately, and Adrien opened his eyes, raising his eyebrows. “That was too much for you to handle. It wasn’t your fault.”

“But now Hawkmoth has another charm to do only God knows what with and…” He trailed off, the image of that poor man with his clothes covered in his sister’s blood, his arms cradling his sister’s lifeless body creeping into his mind. “And that man has to live with what he saw tonight for the rest of his life.”

Ladybug pulled him down to sit on the couch once more, shaking her head. “You can’t blame yourself for something you had no control over.”

He laughed, scrubbing his face with his hands. “You give very good advice, my lady. Ever think about taking it?”

Her expression turned bitter even as her lips turned up in a smile. “All the time.”

There was a loud knocking sound from the shop downstairs. Ladybug frowned, standing up and gesturing for Adrien to follow. Plagg and Tikki came out from the kitchen, following after them as they went down the stairs.

Another knock sounded, and Ladybug turned toward the back door, opening it up to find a tired-looking Sabrina standing in the doorway. “It’s been approved,” she said, her hand still poised in the air as if she was about to knock again.

“What?” Ladybug asked, stepping aside to let her in.

“I’ve spoken to the department, to the big boss, to the even bigger bosses,” Sabrina said, rubbing her eyes beneath her glasses. “Using the security tapes from the interrogation room earlier today, the Beauréal case, and the Lavillant deaths, I’ve been able to persuade everyone. It helped that Mssr. Luka Couffaine, the brother of Juleka Couffaine, vouched for you,” she said, nodding over to Ladybug. She tucked her hair behind her ears, looking between the both of them.

“What are you talking about, Sabrina?” Adrien asked, and she leaned forward, her tired eyes flashing.

“The press conference. It’s been approved.”

Chapter Text

“I’m itchy.”

“Yeah.”

“But like. Not on my skin. My bones. Can bones be itchy? My bones are itchy.”

“Yeah.”

Adrien bounced his knee, scratching at his forearms. He glanced over at Ladybug, sitting next to him in the uncomfortable police precinct waiting chairs. She was perfectly still, her back straight, her hands clasped together in her lap. Her eyes were trained straight forward, skipping past all the bustling noise of the precinct. She was the image of normalcy, even if she was wearing that mask and people around the precinct were giving the both of them funny looks.

He cleared his throat, suddenly realizing how ridiculous he must look next to her. If the magic cat ears sticking out of his hair weren’t enough, he might as well be signaling to everyone in the immediate vicinity that he didn’t belong with all the twitchy itching he was doing. He felt slightly ashamed - he spent the majority of his childhood life learning how to fake appearances to benefit any situation, and here he was acting like some sort of monkey with ticks.

Giving his arms one last rub, he arranged his body into a relaxed position, ignoring the strange and uncomfortable tingling sensation crawling through his bone marrow. “So,” he said, fixing his hair, “you’re looking awfully calm right now.”

The barest hint of a smile twitched at the corner of her mouth. “Ha.”

“I’m being serious,” he said, glancing at Plagg for a thumbs-up on his hair. Plagg rolled his eyes. Adrien assumed it was fine. “You said you wanted me to accompany you the other day - and I am more than happy to oblige - but I think you would’ve been fine on your own.”

A few days ago when Juleka had died and Sabrina had come over, the three of them had discussed the logistics of the press conference. Ladybug had said that she’d be more comfortable if Adrien joined her, which was extremely flattering, but not very necessary. He wasn’t sure what he could provide for the conference that Ladybug couldn’t.

“I don’t agree,” she replied, and Adrien looked over at her, eyebrows raised. She looked down at her hands, unclasping them to reveal the healed scars from the cuts and burns that had marred them before. “I don’t think I would’ve been fine on my own,” she finished, her voice softer. She closed her hands into fists.

“To be honest, my lady,” Adrien said, glancing out at the precinct before looking back at her. “I feel a little bit like a fraud.” Here he was waiting at a police precinct to take part in a press conference about magic, a skill that he has yet to show any understanding of whatsoever. He wasn’t necessarily regretting calling in sick to his glamorous new job with his father (which consisted of looking over designers’ shoulders between grabbing said designers coffee, lunch, and extra markers), but he was feeling just as left out here as he did there.

Ladybug turned her eyes towards him for the first time since he’d arrived at the precinct. “If you don’t want to be here, that’s okay.” She sounded like she meant it. But she also sounded like she was scared.

“That’s not what I mean,” Adrien said, shaking his head and taking one of her hands. He glanced down at her scars, no doubt healed by magic. “It’s just that I can’t…” He trailed off, tracing a finger over one of the scars. “I’m not like you.” I can’t do magic.

“No one’s like me,” she said, and Adrien laughed.

“You’ve got me there, bugaboo.”

“But no one’s like you either.” She caught his gaze with her own, her warm blue eyes cutting through him. “Just because you haven’t found the magic that you can offer this world doesn’t mean that you don’t offer anything at all. You have a perspective on this whole situation that I think people may find worth listening to.”

“Sabrina said that you’re going to do most of the talking.”

“And I will,” she said. He didn’t miss the anxiety tinging her words. “But you’re going to be there right beside me. People will want to know who you are.”

“I haven’t prepared a speech.” His bone itchiness was getting worse. He wondered if it was linked to his nerves.

“You’re very good at being charming,” she said with a shrug.

“Does that mean my charms have worked on you?” he asked because he absolutely could not resist.

“Case in point,” she said instead of responding to the question he had asked. “Although I don’t recommend flirting with the reporters if they ask you questions. It might damage our credibility.”

“Duly noted,” he said, scratching an itch on his nose. “But I have to point out that I have no desire to flirt with anyone other than you.” Plagg made an awful gagging sound. Adrien flicked him in the side.

Ladybug’s lips twitched up into a smile - a real one. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said, and Adrien’s heart went into a painful double time.

“Please warn me the next time you’re going to say something so sweet, my lady,” Adrien said, touching a hand to his chest, “otherwise I might go into cardiac arrest.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “You’re laying it on awfully thick today.”

“Maybe it’s because you’re looking especially beautiful today” - she really was - the billowy red blouse tucked into tight slacks was doing much to accentuate her figure, and the makeup she was wearing had her looking nearly ethereal - “or maybe I’m just very nervous.” His knee started bouncing again.

She laughed.

“Also my bones are still very itchy.”

“One of the many perks of using magic during the day time.”

Before Adrien could respond, a man who didn’t seem very happy stalked over to them, his steel gray eyes wary. Ladybug’s face blanched just the slightest - a small change that she quickly fixed, but not quick enough for Adrien to miss it.

“Detective Kim,” she said, smiling politely. “It’s a pleasure to see you again.”

The detective looked her over, disdain clear on his face. “Raincomprix says to head out.”

“Of course,” Ladybug replied, standing up and gesturing for Adrien to do the same. He followed her lead, giving the detective a curious glance as they proceeded to the front of the precinct, where the press conference was set to be held.

“Hey,” the detective called just as Ladybug placed her hand on the door to leave. They both turned around, and the detective narrowed his eyes at them both. “You better do a hell of a lot better convincing them than you did me.”

Adrien furrowed his eyebrows, looking over at Ladybug. She simply pursed her lips and nodded once, opening the door and proceeding out into the bitter cold day.

“It was nice to meet you,” Adrien said to the detective, thoroughly confused. The detective glared at him, then walked away.

“Nice guy,” Plagg said, and Adrien picked him up to sling him around his shoulders.

“Maybe that’s just his detective persona,” Adrien said, pushing open the door to follow after Ladybug. Immediately the sharp air stung his cheeks, and he pulled his jacket closer around himself. “Of course they decided to have this press conference outside.”

Plagg curled his tail around Adrien’s shoulder, looking up at the sky. “It looks like it’s going to rain, too.”

“Perfect.”

Ladybug was standing near the podium the precinct had set up and talking with Sabrina. A crowd of reporters stood in front of the podium, and already the air was filled with the incessant click of camera shutters. Adrien breathed out a sigh, walking over to Ladybug and Sabrina.

“Two fifty-nine,” Sabrina said, checking her watch. She looked back up at them, her determined gaze slicing through them. “Are you two ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Ladybug said.

If he was being honest with himself, the prospect of possibly having to talk without preparing a speech was making Adrien distinctively not ready, but he nodded anyway.

Sabrina walked over to the podium, and Adrien followed Ladybug’s suit by standing just behind her. For a moment, Sabrina looked over the crowd of reporters, her jaw set. He knew he’d thought it before, but he was once again struck by how different she was now compared to the timid Sabrina he’d known years ago. He wondered what it was that had made her change.

“Good afternoon,” she started, making eye contact with several reporters. Adrien looked out at the crowd, really starting to look at their faces, and he saw Alya there in the front row, her blazing hazel eyes fixed on Ladybug. “I’m Detective Sabrina Raincomprix, and on behalf of the Paris Police Department and all of its representatives, I am here to inform you that the recent deaths of Aurore Beauréal, Rose Lavillant, and Juleka Lavillant are not suicides as previously thought.”

There was an uproar in the crowd, and Sabrina paused, holding her hand up to get control. “Please save questions for the end, thank you.” When the reporters had died down, Adrien caught sight of Alya once more, her eyes still fixed on Ladybug, who seemed to be purposefully avoiding her gaze.

“It is believed that the recent deaths are homicides caused by a man orchestrating them in the shadows,” Sabrina continued. “This man is believed to go by the moniker ‘Hawkmoth,’ and little is known about him at this time.” She paused, taking a deep breath. “To speak further on the deaths and the suspect Hawkmoth, a P.P.D. associate who goes by the name Ladybug is here.”

Another uproar in the crowd sounded, the loudest voice of which shouted, “isn’t this the woman who was a suspect in the death of Rose Lavillant?”

Sabrina raised her hand again for order, and once the voices had died down, she responded. “Ladybug was at the scene of the murders of both Rose and Juleka Lavillant, but her presence at those scenes was to attempt to save both women’s lives. The P.P.D. has investigated and proven this.”

More questions were shouted, but Sabrina ignored them, gesturing for Ladybug to take her place. Ladybug took a deep breath, taking out a neatly folded piece of paper from her pocket and smoothing it out on the podium. She ran her fingers over the paper, blinking hard and looking out at the crowd of reporters. Adrien watched her turn the paper over.

“My name is Ladybug, and I was close friends with Aurore, Rose, and Juleka.” She folded up the paper once more, sticking it back into her pocket. “I knew a side of them that many of you probably did not. I taught them things that made them happy.” She bowed her head, biting her lip. “And I saw two of them die.

“The man who is responsible for their deaths is a man who targeted them for being like me.” She paused, and Adrien saw the confusion twist at many of the reporters’ faces. “I’m here for the people like me, who are awake at night and who have been asking for answers for a long time. Hawkmoth is a threat to us, a threat to our lives, and that is why I’ve chosen to out myself like this.” It was here that Ladybug finally made eye contact with Alya, and Adrien saw Alya’s jaw clench. “I hope that you can forgive me.

“Our belief is that Hawkmoth has a gift in persuasion and has gotten into the minds of the victims by learning their true names and by exploiting them during times of vulnerability. He does this in order to steal and gain the power of the victims’ charms,” she said, and Adrien saw many reporters shaking their heads in bewilderment. “The people like me need to be extra vigilant-”

“You keep saying ‘the people like you,’” a reporter interrupted, raising their hand after the fact as if that excused the interruption. ‘Who exactly are the people like you?”

Adrien looked up at the sky. Dark storm clouds had started to gather, and he breathed in the cold air. It felt like history going down his throat.

“Witches,” Ladybug said, her voice clear and ringing. A raindrop fell. “Wizards. Mages.” Another raindrop. “The people like me are the people who can perform magic.”

And suddenly the sky opened up and rain was falling and reporters were shouting and Ladybug was standing amidst it all, her chin raised, her eyes sad.

She lifted her hand, like Sabrina did when she got the reporters to calm down earlier, but it didn’t work. The noise and clamoring had no end, and the rain wasn’t making it any better. The droplets were cold and loud as they slapped the pavement, Adrien’s skin, the cameras of the reporters. He looked over at Alya, and he saw that she was silent, a statue that mirrored Ladybug in the chaos.

Ladybug looked up at the sky, closing her eyes to the weeping sky. And then she raised her hand higher, and Adrien saw the pink and red mist twist around her fingers, smelled the earthy scent of her magic. It curled around her fingertips, creeping skyward, and the rain stopped.

Silence tumbled over the crowd slowly, and with it came the realization that the rain hadn’t stopped - they were all just being protected from it. Ladybug had created a translucent dome of magic, and the rain fell and slid over the sides, pattering onto the pavement outside of the crowd.

“Magic is real,” she said, her voice breaking into the awed silence of the crowd. “It’s in the world around you as abundantly as there is air in the atmosphere, and, more importantly, it’s in the people around you as well. It’s in you, whether you use it or not.” She paused, looking around the crowd. Slowly, she lowered her hand, but the dome stayed in place. “The people like me have lived alongside you peacefully and naturally for longer than you can imagine, and we keep our identities secret for fear of someone taking advantage of the power of our names.

“But now our worst fear come to pass. And people we love have been killed.”

Everyone in the crowd was as silent and still as Alya now, absorbing Ladybug’s words. Every so often, there was a click of a camera shutter, but no one dared interrupt now.

“I’m not asking you to leave the night like I have,” she continued, shaking her head. “In fact, I’m asking you to do the opposite. The day is as dangerous as it’s always been, and now even more so because of the threat Hawkmoth is on our peace. Guard your names, your charms, and most importantly, yourselves.” She paused, letting out a soft breath and closing her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, there was something softer there, something that made the smile that graced her lips feel warm. “And for the people that are just finding out about magic, do not be afraid. We are people just like you, people who’ve lived beside you, people who you may love. Now is the time to be aware of the people different from you and protect them from a man who does not care for the boundaries generations have upheld. Who does not care for the lives of good people. Who will kill to get what he wants.

“Trust in the police department, which is doing everything it can to understand and apprehend Hawkmoth, and trust in the people around you to help you.” She bit her lip, her shoulders drawing up. “I know it may be a lot to ask for trust in me, but I can promise you that I’m doing everything that I can to help. That is, me and my friend Chat Noir are doing everything we can to help.” She glanced back at him and smiled, and he smiled back, even if he felt the cameras shift over to him. “We don’t want any more friends, sisters, wives - any more innocent people to die at the hands of Hawkmoth. And we would be a whole lot stronger if all of Paris stands behind us.”

She nodded once, and sound burst over the crowd once more as the reporters started to throw questions at her. Questions about magic, about Hawkmoth, about her. Adrien watched her sift through the questions neatly, answering them, but not betraying too many details. She looked… professional. Powerful.

When the hour was up, Sabrina replaced Ladybug at the podium, raising her hand for the reporters to quiet down. “If you have any further questions or information regarding Hawkmoth or the existence of magic, please call the P.P.D. hotline.” She listed the number two times and then herded Ladybug and Adrien away from the crowd, even as it followed after them. Ladybug waved her hand and the dome protecting them from the rain disappeared, but still that didn’t deter the reporters.

One of them blocked Adrien’s way, preventing him from getting into the precinct. “Monsieur Noir, what is your role in this case?”

Good question.

He looked over at Ladybug and Sabrina for help, but they were too far away.

“I…” There was a camera in his face. Reporters were staring at him. Plagg was getting wet. Ladybug caught his eye and nodded once. “I am Ladybug’s friend, but I’m also like a lot of other people in this city. I haven’t known about magic for long, but…” He trailed off, glancing down at Plagg. “But it already feels like a part of me. My role here is to help Ladybug with what little I can do now and to help the people of this city with this new part of me.”

“And what magic can you perform? Are your abilities similar to Ladybug’s? To Hawkmoth’s?”

Adrien smiled, even though his heart ached. “I can perform the same magic that everybody else can. I can fight for what’s right.”

He pushed past the reporter and the slew that took his place, joining Sabrina and Ladybug by the entrance to the precinct. The three of them went inside, the officers that had watched over the press conference staying outside to do crowd control.

Once inside, Ladybug turned to him, smiling softly. “I know that must’ve been hard, but you did a good job with what you said.”

Why was she the one praising him for saying just a couple of sentences?

Shaking his head, he started to speak, and then stopped, catching sight of her hands.

They were shaking.

“You too,” he said, looking back up at her face. “You were great up there. I mean it.”

She wrapped her arms around herself, looking away. “I can only hope I was enough.”

“You were more than enough,” Adrien said, taking her hands in his. “You made history.”

Her scarred hands shook. “I didn’t want to.”


---


“I know that it must be difficult for you two to be out in the day so long,” Sabrina said, tucking a lock of her orange hair behind her ear, “so I won’t keep you here. You can both go home, and I’ll contact you if we need anything, or if any new information comes up.”

“Thank you,” Adrien said, finishing wrapping a P.P.D. towel around Plagg, who was still rather damp. His bones were getting itchier by the minute, and he wasn’t sure how much longer he could continue without… without doing something.

“Thanks for everything, Sabrina,” Ladybug said, bowing her head.

“You’re welcome,” Sabrina replied before walking over to talk to that grumpy detective they’d seen before the press conference.

“So,” Adrien said, turning to Ladybug. “Do you want some company for a bit?”

She looked over at him, her arms wrapped tightly around herself. “No,” she said after a moment, “you need to go home and get out of your magic clothes, and so do I.”

“You make a good point there,” Adrien said, hugging the bundled up Plagg to his chest. “Will I see you tonight?” Plagg made a faint noise of disgust.

“If there’s an emergency,” she said, touching a finger to Plagg’s exposed head. The water that had been sticking to his fur floated out into the air, coalescing into a ball. She blew on it, red magic riding on her breath, and the water ball evaporated into thin air. “Thinking of me doesn’t count as an emergency.”

“Thank you,” Plagg said, and it was unclear whether it was for her drying him off or for her saying what she did. Either way, Adrien ignored him.

“Does loneliness count as an emergency?”

She smiled, starting to walk away. “Bye, Chat.”

“She didn’t say no,” Adrien said to Plagg, and Plagg gagged.

His phone rang, and Adrien shifted Plagg onto his shoulder, taking the towel off him and fishing his phone out of his pocket. It was Nathalie.

“Nathalie?” Adrien answered. “I thought I called in sick today.”

“You did,” Nathalie answered in her cool and even tone. “However one of your father’s interns left early, and Mr. Agreste believed you would be feeling better by now.”

“He wants me to come into work,” Adrien said, disappointed, but not at all surprised.

“That’s correct.” He heard her hesitate. “But if you are still feeling unwell, I can inform your father and you can continue to have the day off.”

Adrien sighed. “No, that’s okay, Nathalie. Thank you, though. Tell my father I’ll be there in an hour.”

“Of course.” She hung up.

“You should’ve taken her offer,” Plagg said as they left the precinct and Adrien DeTransformed in an alleyway.

When the green magic dissipated and a wave of exhaustion overcame him, he groaned. “I really should have.”

But he went to work anyway.

Chapter Text

Marinette breathed out a long sigh, exhaustion creeping into her bones. If the press conference during the day wasn’t enough, her first night shift since Rose’s death had been overrun with people - mages and commoners alike. She had been bombarded with questions about Hawkmoth, magic, her motivations, her abilities, her role in the deaths of her friends. 

Closing time didn’t come soon enough.

“It was admirable of you to talk to everyone individually,” Tikki said, giving Marinette a pat on the cheek. 

“It’s what they deserved,” she replied, flipping the sign on the door to ‘closed,’ locking the door, and retreating into the calming silence of her shop. Books and papers had been left lying around because of the commotion and chaos that had invaded the place in the past few hours. “After everything that I’ve done, it’s only fair that I give them all a proper explanation.”

She started to pick up the books, piling them into her sore arms and stacking them neatly by the front counter so that she could deal with them in the morning. Tikki helped her gather up the papers and stuff them in the trash bin, both of them working in silence for fear of touching on the topic they were trying to avoid.

After sorting through most of the mess in the shop, Marinette sat in her chair at the front counter, taking off the black gloves Tikki had given her from her Transformation. She flexed her pale, scarred hands, a hot lump forming in the back of her throat.

“They were angry after all, huh, Tikki?” Marinette whispered, closing her hands into fists. Tears gathered in her eyes, but she held them back, fighting for just a little bit of control.

“There was only a few of them,” Tikki said, landing on Marinette’s fists and trying to catch her gaze. “A lot of people were very understanding of your decision. Those are the people that you should focus on.”

“But the others,” Marinette said, shaking her head. She gently placed Tikki on the counter and then scrubbed her eyes with her scarred hands. “The others that were so angry - they were right. They were all right.”

Mages that she’d known for years, mages that she’d trusted with her life had come in and yelled at her, slapped her, thrown hexes at her. She’d made a horrible mistake, they’d said. Disrupted an eternity of tradition, an eternity of peaceful livelihood. And they were right.

“And here I thought you couldn’t get any more pathetic.”

Marinette sucked in a breath, hiding her hands. Volpina was leaning against the nearest bookcase, twirling the ‘closed’ sign around her finger. As Marinette watched, she let it fling across the shop and hit another bookcase.

“I saw your performance on the news today,” Volpina said, sauntering closer and running a finger over the stack of books that Marinette had made in front of the counter. The stack toppled over. Underneath the counter, Marinette tugged on her gloves. “You know, along with the whole rest of the world,” she continued, moving behind the counter and shoving aside her paperwork and pens to hop on and sit where Marinette had no choice but to look at her. “You put on quite the show.”

“What are you doing here?” Marinette asked, pushing her chair away only to have Volpina hook her foot through the armrest and pull her back. Tikki raised an eyebrow at Marinette, but she shook her head minutely. No use causing trouble she didn’t want.

Volpina made a show of looking around the shop, her foot firmly stuck in the armrest. “No kitten around to play?” she asked, tilting her head at Marinette. “He was by your side so valiantly during the day, though.”

“Say what you want and go,” Marinette said, even if she knew it was useless.

“Didn’t want him to see you get humiliated by the masses that were supposed to love you?” she asked, pretending as if Marinette hadn’t spoken. “Understandable. He doesn’t seem the type to react well to hexes.”

Marinette pursed her lips, but didn’t say anything. Volpina was right. Of course she hadn’t invited Chat tonight so that he could rest after using some magic during the day, but she also knew she was going to get some backlash. She hadn’t wanted to subject Chat to that, especially since it wasn’t his fault.

“And what about your reporter friend?” Volpina tapped a finger to her chin, pretending to think. “What was it again? Alysa? Alondra? Alicia?”

“Alya,” Marinette said through gritted teeth.

“That’s it,” Volpina said, snapping her fingers. “Alya. Has she been around since your scoop at the P.P.D.?” She paused, her smile growing as she watched Marinette’s hard expression falter. “I don’t see why she wouldn’t be here supporting her idol. You would’ve let her know about your little plan to out the magic community, right?”

Marinette clenched her jaw. Volpina feigned surprise.

“You didn’t? Oh, I can’t imagine how betrayed she must feel,” she said, shaking her head in fake sympathy. “She stuck around you after you snapped an innocent woman’s spine, but now she’s getting the cold shoulder after you kick-started a modern witch hunt.”

“Volpina.”

“That must burn, no pun intended, of course. And knowing you, you won’t go and apologize first since you’ve got the pride of a Greek hero who gets killed because of it hiding behind those pretty blue eyes. I wonder if poor Alya knows that she’s latched herself onto a prideful ass of Grecian proportions.” 

“Volpina.”

“And now you’ve got your cute little kitten friend by your side to hiss and spit at everyone who spites you. But considering how easily you kick loyal followers like Alya to the side, it’s only a matter of time before your sidekick gets side kicked to the curb. The poor thing will probably thank you for it - anything to get touched by the beautiful and alluring Ladybug since you’re probably giving him blue balls-”

“Lila.”

Within a millisecond, Lila had Marinette’s face in her hand, her manicured nails digging into Marinette’s cheeks. For a moment, they simply stared at each other, faces close like they hadn’t been since they fell apart. Marinette saw the anger and the hurt flash in Lila’s eyes, brandished like a weapon.

“Say what you came here for,” Marinette said, meeting Lila’s anger with her own. “Stop beating around the bush.”

“I came here to see you killing yourself over what you’ve done,” she hissed, pulling Marinette’s face closer, close enough that Marinette could feel the poison rolling off her tongue. “I came here to watch you bathe in your mistake, to witness your fucking downfall.”

“What, so you could kick me when I’m down?” Marinette had poison of her own.

“Not just kick,” Lila said, her voice smooth as honey as she smiled, all teeth and snarl. “Bite, punch, ruin.”

“You think you can ruin me?” Marinette asked, pulling her face out of Lila’s hands and barking out a laugh. “Only a force of the gods can ruin me.” 

“You’ve run yourself into the ground hating yourself for the deaths of those women,” Lila said, tucking a lock of hair behind Marinette’s ear. Marinette jerked her head away. “You’ve spent your whole life hating yourself and everything that’s inside you. A force of the gods, you say?” Lila huffed out a laugh, leaning in close to Marinette once more. “Those are bold words for a ruined woman.”

She hopped off the counter, waltzing toward the front door. “But I suppose you can continue to live in your fantasies of grandeur. I can’t wait to watch it all burn.” She turned to leave.

“Lila.” 

She froze, her head turning to stare at Marinette as she stood from her chair. 

“You can talk as if you know me, Lila, but we both know the truth,” Marinette said, watching her words form into arrows in Lila’s eyes. “You can’t ruin me, you never could.” She felt the arrows notch on her tongue, felt them launch from her lips. “You can’t ruin me, Lila, because you don’t know me well enough.”

The arrows struck home.

Rage burned in Lila’s eyes, and then she was out the door.

Marinette waited until her silhouette no longer stormed across the shop windows to collapse into her chair, breathing out a long sigh heavy with emotion. She waved her finger and the ‘closed’ sign that Lila had tossed across the shop soared back into its rightful place. 

“Let’s go upstairs,” Tikki said softly, and Marinette nodded, waving her hand carelessly for the lights to turn off as she followed Tikki upstairs. When they were safe in the darkened living room, surrounded by the soft glow of calming potions and herbs, Tikki turned to Marinette. “You have to tell me,” she said, and Marinette knew what she was talking about. She looked away. “You can’t keep bottling it up. You have to tell me.”

“Tikki…” She trailed off, her head and heart in turmoil. “DeTransform me.” Tikki waved her small hand, and magic gathered around her as she sat on the couch, watching as her black gloves dissipated into red mist. 

Her pale, shaking, scarred hands stared at her.

“You’re right,” she whispered. “I have to tell you about her. About how much I loved her.”


---


“Hey.”

“Hey, Maribug.”

Luka stepped aside to let Marinette into his bedroom, and she situated herself on his desk chair. “I brought you sweets.” She held out a box from her parents’ bakery.

A ghost of a smile twitched at his lips. He took the box. “Tell your parents I said thank you.”

“I will.”

They lapsed into silence, and Luka sat down on the bed, his eyes trained on nothing in particular. Marinette looked around the room. A photo frame on his nightstand had been turned over. His guitar was leaning against the wall, unused. A pack of cigarettes, almost completely full, was sitting in the trash bin.

Marinette tucked her knees up to her chest, her eyes falling onto the shell of the Luka she had known. The last time she’d seen him, it had been the day after Juleka’s murder. He had been inconsolable - they didn’t talk at all that day. Only grieved.

But now he was silent, and Marinette worried.

“Loogey-boy,” she said, and he looked over at her. “I love you.”

His expression and his grip on the pastry box tightened. “I love you, too, Marinette.”

She unfolded herself from the chair, taking the pastry box from him and setting it to the side as she sat down beside him. He watched her take his hand in hers. “You can tell me.”

“Tell you what?” he asked, and Marinette saw the chaos in his sky blue eyes, saw the clouds covering them.

“Anything you want to,” she replied, brushing her thumb over his knuckles.

He let out a breath, looking away from her. “I feel…” He trailed off, his free hand forming a fist over his heart. “I feel so empty.” A sob escaped his throat, and Marinette pulled him into a hug, holding him as he cried into her neck. “I left her alone that day,” he said, and Marinette closed her eyes, running her fingers through his hair. “I left her alone because I smoked and we fought, even though I knew I should’ve taken your advice and stayed with her. I left and when I came back- when I came back-” His voice broke, and Marinette held him tighter.

They stayed like that until Marinette heard his cries fade and his breathing slow. She laid him down on the bed, frowning at the dark semi-circles under his closed eyes. At least he was sleeping now.

Carefully, she draped some blankets over him, pulling them up to his neck and brushing the hair out of his face. She moved away from him, picking up his guitar. It had been gathering dust.

She didn’t know very much about playing, but over the years, both Luka and Juleka had attempted to show her chords, and so with clumsy fingers she tried to remember. There was no power in the shaky sounds her hands produced like Juleka, no heart like Luka. Only noise. But she tried anyway.

“You’ll make your fingers bleed like that.”

Marinette looked up. The light had changed in the room, and, rather belatedly, she realized that her fingers really did hurt a lot from attempting to make the guitar sound nice. 

“Wouldn’t want to get scars like me,” Luka said, holding up his calloused fingertips as he sat up from his blanket cocoon.

She hugged the guitar, looking down at her unscarred hands, courtesy of a strong concealment spell. “Guess not.”

Luka stared at her, through her, and Marinette knew there was something he wanted to say. She waited for him.

“That masked woman from the news. Ladybug.”

Marinette’s heart froze.

“I saw her there with Juleka.” Marinette rubbed the skin of her palms where she knew the scars were, closing her eyes. “She was trying to help.”

She blinked. “How do you know?”

“After,” he said, clasping his hands together and staring down at the place where his hands met, “she put a blanket over me, and she held my hand. She didn’t try to say anything to me - I don’t think I would’ve listened - but she stayed with me, even though she didn’t have to.”

“You trust her,” Marinette breathed, incredulous.

“She was cold,” Luka continued, unclasping his hands and staring at the hand Marinette had held that night. “She gave me her blanket.” He shook his head slowly. “I can’t believe someone like that could be a bad person.”

“Do you believe her?” Marinette asked, leaning forward. “Everything that she said on the news. Do you believe it?”

Luka seemed to chew on his thoughts, fiddling with his fingers. “I saw things that I didn’t understand. I saw my sister act in a way that didn’t make sense. I have to believe it or else…” He trailed off, blinking hard. “Or else nothing will ever make sense.”

Marinette handed him the guitar, standing up and taking the upside-down picture frame in her hands. It was a picture of the band - Rose, Juleka, Luka, and their friend Ivan. The four of them were laughing, like someone had told a joke right before the picture was taken. 

“I think you’re right,” she said, sitting down next to him. She traced a finger over the happy faces in the photograph. “And I think… I think Ladybug will do everything it takes to find the man responsible.”

He looked down at the guitar in his lap, running his fingers over the strings. 

“You should play,” she said, propping up the photo frame on his nightstand. 

“I don’t know if I can anymore,” he whispered.

She felt her heart break. “That’s okay, too,” she said, leaning her head on his shoulder and wrapping her arms around his waist. “Just promise that if you do play again, that it’ll be from your heart. Like you always have.”

“I promise.” He leaned his head against hers.

“Pinky swear?” She held her pinky up.

“The pinkiest of swears,” he replied, hooking his pinky with hers. She smiled, unhooking their pinkies to replace her hand on his waist. 

They sat like that for a few moments, and then Luka shifted, positioning the guitar like he was going to play it. Marinette shifted with him, giving him a little space. 

Softly, gently, he started to strum out a melody. It was slow and heartfelt, sad and hopeful. Marinette closed her eyes, listening to the sound of Luka’s heart.


---


“I have to get going,” she said, letting go of Luka and standing up. He looked up at her, his eyes clear of the storm but cloudy with something else. She took his face in her hands, rubbing her thumbs on his cheeks. “Please get some rest, Loogey-boy.”

“Marinette,” he started, and then stopped, his eyebrows knitting together. He chewed on his bottom lip for a moment, his features pinched in a small frown. “Marinette,” he started, softer this time, “being with you… It makes it all seem like… Like I can breathe. Like things will get better.”

She smiled, brushing his hair out of his face. “That’s because they will. But only if you’re not paying attention.” She kissed his forehead, tucking his hair behind his ears. “Call me if you need anything.” 

“You too,” he said, and Marinette pulled away, walking toward the door.

“Don’t forget to eat the sweets. My papa said they’ll help.”

“He’s probably right,” he said, laughing a little. “And Marinette?”

She paused, her hand on the door. “Yeah?”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Once she said goodbye to Luka’s parents, Marinette stepped outside, breathing in the twilight air. She had stayed with Luka for longer than she meant to, but she liked being with him, even if it was hard. She couldn’t save his sister-in-law or his sister, but being with him and sharing his grief made the burden seem lighter. 

As she started her walk back to the shop, her phone rang. She pulled it out of her pocket, checking the caller I.D. and taking a deep breath. She straightened her posture and put on a brave smile before answering.

“Hey, Alya, what’s up?”

“Marinette, I’m about to explode.”

“Why?” she asked, even though she was guessing she already knew the answer.

“Girl, you saw the news yesterday right? That press conference with Ladybug?”

“I did,” Marinette said, putting extra effort into sounding like she wasn’t actually there. “That was crazy.”

“The craziest,” Alya said. “And you know what’s even more crazy? The fact that she didn’t even give the magic community a warning.”

Marinette flinched. “She didn’t?”

“No, not even a clue!” Alya exclaimed, and Marinette rubbed at her forehead. “I didn’t talk to her at the press conference because I was just so freakin’ baffled, and I didn’t go see her last night because I realized I was upset, and I probably wasn’t the only one. I’m sure it was crazy there at the shop. Did you go down to see what was happening?”

“B-briefly,” Marinette stuttered, chewing on her thumbnail. “It seemed like a lot of people were upset, but they did seem like they understood why she did it. There were a few angry ones, though.”

“I’ll bet,” Alya scoffed, pushing static into the phone. “I know you two are friends, but I think I should go over and give her a piece of my mind tonight. I need you to-” She broke off, letting out a noise of frustration. “I don’t know if I want you to talk me out of it or talk me in to it. I’m just so upset.”

Marinette looked up at the darkening sky, quickening her pace. “I think… I think you should. I have a feeling she wants to talk with you too.”

“You really think so?” There was another voice on the other end of the line, and Alya sighed. “Sorry, mignonette. I gotta talk to my boss. Let’s go drinking when all this mess calms down.” She didn’t even wait for Marinette to agree before hanging up.

When Marinette got to the shop, she immediately called for a Transformation from Tikki, readying the place for another busy night. She didn’t expect it to be as chaotic as the night before, but she knew she would probably still get a lot of people coming through the door with questions. 

After, she put some water in the kettle for tea and waited for it to boil.

She took off the gloves Tikki had given her - red this time - and stared down at her hands. The concealment spell that she’d cast on her scars had faded with the Transformation - one of the conditions of the spell - and so her scars were loud on her palms, displayed for anyone to see.

“Do you think Alya will come tonight?” Tikki asked, ruffling through the tea bag box.

“I know she will.” It was a miracle that she’d stayed away for so long.

“What are you going to say?” Tikki handed her one of the tea bags, and Marinette didn’t fail to notice that she’d picked out one of the calming ones.

“I don’t know,” Marinette admitted, putting her gloves back on. “I don’t know how I’ll explain to her why I did what I did.”

“I’ll help you,” Tikki said, and Marinette smiled. 

“You always do.”

The tea kettle screamed, and Marinette pulled it off, grabbing two mugs. She poured the hot water in and placed two of the calming tea bags Tikki had picked out inside. 

“Two?” Tikki asked.

“I have a feeling,” Marinette answered.

She walked back to the front part of the shop, sitting down at the front counter and waiting. Not a minute later, Alya stepped inside, her face grim.

“Hey,” Marinette greeted, her chest full of apprehension as she held up the extra mug. “Fancy some tea?”

 

Chapter Text

Alya held the mug of tea in her hands, her fingers tapping lightly on the edges as she stared at Marinette with sharp eyes. Marinette took a sip of her own tea, waiting.

“My boss at Parisian Daily found out about my magic blog,” Alya said, setting down her mug of tea. Marinette waited a little longer. “She asked me to interview you on the current issues and write an article about you and the magic community in general.”

Marinette took a sip. “Oh, really?”

“Yes, really.” She was angry. Marinette could see it. But she wasn’t going to talk about it if Alya wasn’t going to. “Are you interested in an interview?”

“I’d be happy to do an interview with you,” Marinette replied. She picked up Alya’s mug for her, gesturing for her to follow as she walked over to the sitting area in the fiction section. She set their mugs down on the table and then sat down, looking up at Alya for her to do the same. Alya clenched her jaw. “Forgive me for the rather public interview setting,” Marinette said, gesturing for Alya to sit, “but I’m keeping my shop open just in case someone in need comes.”

“Of course,” Alya said, sitting down. She pulled out a notepad, a pen, and her phone from her bag. “Would it be alright if I record this conversation?”

“Yes.” Marinette watched as she opened up the recording app on her phone, pressing the ‘record’ button and taking a deep breath.

“How did you first become aware of the man you refer to as Hawkmoth?”

She really wasn’t wasting any time, was she?

“Aurore Beauréal, known to me as Stormy Weather, came to me as a ghost. She told me she’d been forced to commit suicide by a man she claimed called himself Hawkmoth.”

“Do ghosts come to you often?” Alya asked, writing something down in the notepad. Marinette knew Alya knew the answer to the question she had just asked, but she also knew she was going to cooperate with the interview even if it felt tense and awful.

“Only when they need my help. They recognize me as a necromancer and a person who is sensitive to their energies, and so when they need to communicate with living family members or take care of business that they couldn’t when they were alive, they come to me.”

“You say you’re a necromancer.” Alya looked up from her notepad, her eyes cutting through Marinette. “Does that mean that you’ve brought people back to life?”

“Yes,” Marinette said, her teeth clenching. They were being so cold with each other - it was wrong. “But only long enough to earn the title. The balance of life and death is something that shouldn’t be messed with easily.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean that I can’t bring anyone back to life without taking another life. It’s an even exchange. In the instances where I’ve made such an exchange, it’s always been from a willing living participant, and I’ve always sent the dead back to where they belong.”

Alya nodded once - cold, professional. “How did you come to be on the ledge that Rose Lavillant jumped from?”

“I-” Marinette faltered. That day she’d been with Alya. She took a sip of her tea, taking a deep breath. “I became overwhelmed with a bad feeling, and I ran in the direction my legs took me. The next thing I knew, I was standing beside Rose.”

“And why are you certain that Mme. Lavillant is a victim of Hawkmoth?”

“She told me so herself.” Alya raised her eyebrows. Marinette itched at her gloves. “On the ledge… On the ledge she told me that everything was going to be okay because Hawkmoth had told her so.” She decided to keep her conversation with Rose’s corpse a secret, for her sake and for Chat and Sabrina’s.

“And what about Juleka Lavillant?”

Marinette closed her eyes, forcing her fingers to clasp together instead of itch. “Rose’s ghost warned me that Juleka was in trouble, and so I went. Juleka spoke in the same manner Rose did before she died - claiming everything was going to be okay because Hawkmoth told her so.”

“Just to confirm - you were present during both Rose and Juleka Lavillant’s deaths?”

Blue sky, blue eyes, red blood. “Yes.”

Alya was silent for a moment. “If you’d like to take a break, that’s alright.”

Marinette opened her eyes, forcing a brave smile. “No, but thank you.”

There was a flicker of the Alya that wasn’t angry with Ladybug - just a second of a smile returned. Marinette felt a little stutter of hope. But then it was gone. “How do you plan to combat Hawkmoth from now on?”

“The P.P.D. have asked me to aid them in their investigation involving Hawkmoth,” Marinette responded, “so I plan to help them out as best I can. And I think now that everyone knows about him, it’ll be harder for him to find minds to manipulate.”

“So you believe informing all of Paris about the existence of magic was a way to keep Hawkmoth from killing any others?” There was a challenge in her eyes.

Marinette raised her chin. “Yes, I do.”

“Please elaborate, if you don’t mind.”

“As of now, we have little idea of what exactly it is Hawkmoth wants from these murders, what exactly he has to gain. But we do know that he’s killed three people and that there’s no indication of him stopping. It’s true that all three of the people killed were witches and were involved in the magic community, but there’s no guarantee he’s confined himself to this type. 

“The mages of Paris are a community, but a secretive one. In attempting to keep the issue between us, there would always be the risk of a few individuals remaining unaware of the threat and, in their ignorance, becoming targeted.

“And finally, in the world of commoners - that is, people who don’t use magic - there would be an unprecedented increase in deaths that appear to be suicides, and the capable authorities would be lacking a vital connection between the deaths. They wouldn’t be able to solve the cases without the mages help, and I believe the mages wouldn’t be able to capture Hawkmoth without the police department’s help.”

Alya made the face that normally meant she was trying to see through any bullshit before she wrote down some notes on her pad, letting out a small breath. And then she stopped the recording on her phone, putting down her pen and levelling Marinette with a hard gaze. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Marinette took a sip of her tea, steadying herself. “Why didn’t I tell you what?” Tikki looked up at her from her lap, waiting for a signal to jump in.

“About your plan. About the press conference. Why didn’t you let me warn anybody?”

She set her cup down on the coffee table, shaking her head minutely to Tikki. “The faster we could get the information out, the faster people would be able to-”

“Nope,” Alya interrupted, waving her hand as if to dismiss Marinette’s words. “That’s bullshit, and I’m not buying it.” Marinette raised her eyebrows. “I’m absolutely certain that from the day you decided to do this to the day the press conference actually happened, there was at least a little bit of time for you to communicate some sort of warning to the community. So why didn’t you?”

Of course Alya was right. She started to pick at the seams of the gloves. “I-”

“It was my fault,” Tikki said, zooming up from Marinette’s lap to place herself in Alya’s view. “I was the one who told Ladybug not to-”

“Tikki,” Marinette said, and Tikki stopped, looking back at her. “There’s no use lying to her.”

“There isn’t,” Alya said, crossing her arms and pursing her lips. “Tell me the truth, Ladybug.”

“Sorry, Ladybug,” Tikki said, sitting down on the coffee table dejectedly.

“There’s nothing you should be sorry for,” Marinette assured, giving Tikki a small pat with the tip of her finger. She looked back up at Alya, taking a deep breath. “I know you’re right, and I know now that I should’ve done better in warning everybody.” She shook her head, taking off her gloves and baring her shaking hands for Alya to see. “And it’s not an excuse at all, but the reason I didn’t do more was because… Because I was terrified.”

“Terrified?” Alya asked, blinking in surprise. Tikki fluttered over to Marinette’s shoulder, tucking her hair behind her ear and letting a pulse of her power course through Marinette’s veins. “Why would you be terrified?”

Marinette looked down at her hands, shaking and pale and scarred. “For so long people have seen me as the backbone of this community, the witch to solve all problems,” she said, her voice soft. “But I saw my friends die, and I was powerless to stop it. Absolutely powerless.” She covered her face with her hands, closing her eyes and trying to get herself under control. Tikki took over.

“I haven’t known Ladybug for as long as many of you here have,” she said, patting Marinette’s hands and giving her another spark of reassuring power, “but I do know from my experience with her that she’s expected to do so much because of the reputation that people have built around her. Something like that… It takes its toll on you.”

“That’s also not an excuse, by the way,” Marinette said, uncovering her face and giving Tikki a grateful look. She was sort of ashamed that she had to tell Alya all of her insecurities, but it was the only proper explanation she could give. She would just have to deal with it. “I just would like you to understand that there’s a lot of pressure for me to make the right decisions.”

“‘With great power comes great responsibility’?” Alya asked, her right eyebrow nearly in her hairline. She still wasn’t buying it. Marinette didn’t blame her.

“Right, sort of like that,” Marinette said with a half shrug, picking at the skin by her thumbs. “So when Tikki suggested a press conference, I… I knew it was the right choice. I knew it was what would help everyone.”

“So you decided to act on that choice without telling anybody,” Alya said, and Marinette pulled hard enough at her skin for her to wince. She smoothed her hands out on her lap, clearing her throat.

“I knew I was going to get backlash and mages that didn’t want me to reveal everything, and I… I was scared that it would be so much that I wouldn’t be able to do what was right."

“Ladybug,” Alya said, rubbing the bridge of her nose underneath her glasses and letting out a long sigh. “Do you realize how many people in this community would follow you to their deaths if you asked? If you said it was what was right?”

“I don’t want that,” Marinette said, shaking her head. I never wanted that.

“But it’s true anyway,” Alya continued. “So many people trust you. If you had told them what you had in mind, yes, there would have been people against you, but so many more would trust you. But instead you betrayed their trust.”

“I know!” Marinette exclaimed, throwing her hands up in the air. “I know I did because I felt it that day, I felt it the air, I felt it in the words they threw at me that night.” She ran her fingers through her hair, clutching at the roots and squeezing her eyes shut. “I betrayed their trust when Stormy died with hardly a whisper, when I ran up the side of a building and killed my friend, when I locked myself away instead of answering questions, when I wasn’t there for Juleka when she needed me.” She paused, taking a deep breath and combing her hair behind her ears. “I know,” she said, her voice shaky even as she tried to keep it steady. “I want to protect everyone, and I can’t fail - not when failing means people I love die - and I’m… I have to do it all alone.”

Something she hadn’t said out loud before, not even in front of Tikki.

“Ladybug-” Tikki started, and Marinette could already hear the lecture in her stern voice.

“Are you kidding me?” Alya cried, slamming her hands down on the table. Both Tikki and Marinette jumped. “Since when did you decide something so stupid? I thought all this time that we were friends-”

“We are friends-”

“And yet you’ve been walking around like you have to carry the world all by yourself? You have me, you have Tikki, you have Chat Noir, you have Marinette . Why do you still think you’re alone? Why are you still insisting on doing everything by yourself like there’s no one to support you?” Her face was getting red now with anger, and Marinette really and truly regretted ever saying something so stupid in Alya’s presence. “You made the most difficult decision in all of history because you felt alone?”

“It’s not an excuse-”

“Damn right, it’s not,” Alya replied hotly, reaching across the table and grabbing Marinette’s scarred hands. “But I get it. People do stupid things when we feel alone.” She squeezed her hands fiercely, her eyes fire burning through Marinette. “But the next time you’re thinking about rewriting history, remember that you have hoards of people supporting you. Remember you have me.”

Marinette blinked. “I can’t tell if you’re mad at me or not.”

“Oh, I’m pissed,” Alya said, a small laugh softening the edges of the words, “but I see now what you’ve had to deal with.” She glanced at Marinette’s gloves, at the scars on her hands. “I know you’ve been in pain, maybe more pain than a lot of other people lately, and I know pain can make you crazy.”

Relief tore through Marinette like a knife. “I’m so sorry, Alya. I should’ve- I should’ve come to you before. I should’ve told you everything.”

“What’s done is done,” Alya said, leaning forward and pressing a soft kiss to Marinette’s forehead. “I’m glad we talked.”

Marinette let out a breath, a smile riding the edges of her lips. “Me too.”

Alya pulled away, giving Marinette’s hands one last squeeze before letting go. “I have a paper to write,” she said, putting her things back into her bag and standing up. Marinette stood up with her, seeing a few customers had come inside and were milling about, waiting for her attention. She sincerely hoped none of them heard too much of her and Alya’s conversation. “I’ve taken up enough of your time already.”

“You can take up as much time as you like,” Marinette said, putting her gloves back on and picking up Alya’s mug of untouched and cold tea. “I’ll see you later?”

“Yeah, for sure,” Alya said, flashing her a genuine smile. “Oh, is Marinette home?”

“She is,” Marinette said. “Why, what’s up?”

“Well,” Alya said, scratching the back of her neck, “she’s the one who convinced me to talk nicely with you. I just wanted to let her know how it went.”

The front door chimed open. Luka stood in the doorway, hands stuffed in his pockets.

Marinette’s breath caught in her chest. “Go ahead and go on up,” she said, faintly, forcing a light smile on her face. Tikki gave her a small look of panic. “Just give her a little warning.”

“For sure,” she said, not noticing Luka and giving Marinette a pat on the shoulder. She went to the back room where the stairs were.

“Ladybug,” Tikki hissed, flying behind a bookshelf and out of view of the other people around the store. Marinette followed after, her eyes still caught on Luka, who was gingerly stepping inside, his eyes bouncing around to the strangely dressed customers in their masks with their familiars draped around their necks or lounging by their feet. “Ladybug,” Tikki hissed, and Marinette tore her eyes away, hiding behind the bookshelf with Tikki. “Don’t we have a problem?” She looked pointedly at the back room and Alya, who disappeared in the back room.

“It’ll be fine,” Marinette said, clearing the message on her phone from Alya telling her that she was on her way up. “I’ve done this before, and it’ll only be easier with your help.”

Tikki frowned, searching Marinette’s eyes for an explanation until it seemed to dawn on her. “Oh,” she said, her big blue eyes widening. “Ooh. Wait - you’ve done this before without the help of a familiar or amplifier?”

“Less talk, more magic,” Marinette whispered, closing her eyes and concentrating. Tikki dutifully latched onto Marinette’s shoulder, pushing power into her veins. Marinette took a deep breath through her nose, imagining a perfect image of herself sitting on the couch, re-reading her favorite book - the one with Adelynne and Moor. She felt the pages touching her unscarred hands, the cracked spine of the book ridges against her fingertips. She felt the soft fuzz of her pajama pants against her skin, the slight chill on her exposed arms. She felt the looseness of her messy twin braids, felt the haphazardness of her bangs.

“Twin bodies, Twin minds, Twin hearts, Twin souls,” she chanted under her breath, and she felt the surge of magic around her, the sharp scent of something sour and something earthy.

When she opened her eyes, she was in two places at once.

“You decent?” Alya called from outside the door, and Marinette laughed, sticking a nearby post-it note in the book to mark her place.

“Yeah, come on in.”

Alya burst inside, letting out a large sigh. “Girl, you know I love you, right?”

Marinette raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure.”

“Well, in case you forgot, I love you tons and tons.”

Down at the shop, Marinette stepped out from behind the bookcase, Tikki firm on her shoulder. She bit her lip, clutching at the handles of the mugs in her hands as she watched Luka drift around her shop. She knew she had to talk to him - and talking to her is likely what he came to the shop for - but first she scampered to the back room, dumping out the cold tea in the sink and pouring a fresh mug for Luka. He might not want it, but she was going to be prepared for him just in case.

“Alright,” she whispered to herself. “You got this.” She took a sip from her tea and strutted back out into the shop, nodding to her other customers and approaching Luka. His eyes widened when he saw her. “Hey,” she said because she was totally a witch with words.

“Hi,” he replied, his voice soft and nervous.

“It’s nice to see you here,” she said, keeping her tone soothing, like she might scare him away if she spoke too loud. “I have tea if you want it.” She held out the extra mug.

“Thank you,” he said, taking the tea gingerly. “You’re Ladybug, right?”

“I am. And you’re Juleka’s brother?” He nodded. She smiled gently. “I wish we could formally meet in better circumstances.”

“What did I do to deserve that praise?” Marinette asked with a laugh as Alya plopped down on the couch next to her. “I mean, I know I deserve it, but what is it for this time?”

“For convincing me to talk to Ladybug.”

“Technically, I didn’t really convince you to do anything. I only told you she’d probably want to talk to you,” Marinette replied, setting the book aside and curling up next to Alya. “I take it the conversation went well?”

“It was awful at first. My boss wants me to do an article about magic and Ladybug to ‘debunk’ it or whatever, so I did an interview with her.” Alya groaned, flopping onto Marinette and squeezing her eyes shut. “My first interview with the Ladybug, and I spent the majority of it pissed out of my freaking mind!”

“But you talked with her right?” Marinette asked, running her fingers through Alya’s hair. “Like, really talked to her?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I did.”

“My name is Luka,” Luka said, holding the warm mug close to his face but not taking a sip.

“Luka,” she said, and he blinked, frowning as his name left her lips. “I’m assuming you came here with questions?”

“A lot of them,” he said, nodding his head vigorously.

“Hopefully I have enough answers for your questions,” she said, drinking from her tea and glancing around the shop. “But I think our conversation might last longer than the others here, so do you mind waiting for a little bit?”

“Of course I don’t mind,” he said, giving her the barest hint of a smile. It was a start at least.

“Feel free to look around and drink your tea while you wait for me,” she said, resisting the urge to reach out and give him a reassuring shoulder squeeze or something like she would if she was Marinette. “I recommend checking out the magic books. Those are fun for first-timers.”

“Magic books?” Luka asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Magic books,” Marinette said, pointing at the gauzy pink curtains sectioning off the old collection of tomes she had from the rest of the store. On cue, a book flew out from the section, landing in her outstretched hand.

“Magic books,” he breathed as Marinette handed him the book.

“I promise I won’t be long.”

“I never knew she was so vulnerable,” Alya said, shaking her head. Marinette remained silent, keeping her fingers moving through Alya’s hair to resist biting her fingernails or picking at the skin on her thumbs. “She always seemed so strong and reliable - not to say that she isn’t anymore - but you would never be able to tell that she carries such a burden. That she’s in so much pain.”

“She’s human, too,” Marinette said, and Alya breathed out something that could’ve been a laugh.

“Yeah. I guess I forget that sometimes. I guess we all do.”

“I don’t.”

Alya opened her eyes, giving Marinette a searching look. “No, I guess you don’t. You’re the person who’s closest to her, after all. The person she trusts the most.”

“Maybe,” Marinette said with a shrug, her eyes sliding away from Alya’s burning eyes. “But I think it’s more to do with the fact that I’ve seen her sleep at the counter and get papers stuck to her cheeks with drool. Hard to not see someone as human after that happens at least three times a week.”

“That’s true, too,” Alya relented, closing her eyes again. “But that in itself is a form of trust. I’ve never seen her like that, and I’m sure the only reason you’ve seen her like that is because she trusts you.”

“Maybe,” Marinette said again. “But what about Chat Noir? She trusts him, too.”

“Oh, Chat Noir,” Alya said, slapping a palm to her forehead and sitting up. “Thanks for reminding me.”

“Reminding you?”

“I want to interview him for the article, too,” she said, searching around for something to write with until Marinette handed her a pen from the coffee table. “Thanks. I have to remember to get his contact info from Ladybug when I leave.” She scribbled down a reminder on the back of her hand, setting the pen back down on the coffee table when she was finished. “I’m glad you reminded me.”

“Well, I didn’t mean to, but I’m glad I did, too,” Marinette said as Alya leaned back on the couch once more. Alya let out a small but tired sigh, closing her eyes for just a moment. She was tired. Marinette could tell. “Alya, you should-”

“That book again?” Alya asked, gesturing to the book Marinette had been reading that was sitting on the armrest. “How many times have you reread that?”

“Sorry I took so long,” Marinette said, tucking her hair behind her ear and meeting Luka by the counter. She had finished her tea, so she set the empty mug down by the register, nearly melting in her chair. She was starting to get tired, and Alya didn’t seem like she was going to leave in the immediate future. Sitting down would help both her and Tikki.

“No worries,” Luka said, setting down his mug as well. She gestured for him to sit down on the extra stool she kept by the counter. He sat. “The magic books were interesting.”

“I don’t mind lending one to you,” she said, giving Tikki a small pat for encouragement. “I’d have to have it back, though. They get nervous when they’re separated from the others for too long.”

“Oh,” Luka said, already shaking his head, “I don’t know if I…” He trailed off, looking a bit lost.

“That’s okay,” Marinette assured, guessing what he meant. “You don’t have to immerse yourself in the community if you don’t want to.”

“Okay.” He ran his palms over his thighs, looking around the now empty shop. He was nervous - antsy. Marinette took her gloves off, giving him time to adjust. The movement seemed to catch his eye, and he stared at the scars on them. “Are those from… from that night?”

Marinette looked down at her hands, flexing them and watching the scars pull taut. “Yes, they are.”

“They’re already healed,” he said, and she smiled softly, giving him jazz hands.

“Magic,” she said.

“Magic,” he repeated. He blew out a breath, running a hand through his hair. “It’s really real?”

“As real as you and me.”

“I lost count,” Marinette replied, running her fingers over the worn cover of the book. “I’ve had this copy for years, and I just love it so much.”

“I know you do,” Alya said, her voice a smile. “You’ve told me so countless times.” Alya took the book from Marinette, looking over the cover and flipping through the pages. “What is it about this book? I know it’s good since you made me read it, but what is it that makes you reread it over and over? Don’t you get tired of seeing the same thing happen?”

Marinette frowned, tucking her legs up against her chest. “It’s strange. Even though I know everything that happens, it still feels like something new. I see something I didn’t before every time I read it.”

“Is that why you read it? To see something new?”

“No,” Marinette said, shaking her head slowly as she thought. She blinked at the familiar cover, displaying the silhouettes of Adelynne and Moor reaching for each other against a twisted and mutilated clock. “It’s not that.” She let out a small breath, struggling to find the words to describe why she went back to this book above all the others she loved. “It’s… It’s the humanity of it.”

“Julie and… and Rose,” Luka said, his fingers picking at the rips in his jeans absently. “They were witches.”

“They were.”

He frowned, looking away from her. “And you knew them.”

“I did. I was friends with them.”

“Why…” He trailed off, biting his lip and shaking his head. “Why didn’t they tell me?”

He sounded so heartbroken, so confused, so lost. Marinette couldn’t resist reaching forward and taking his hand, waiting for him to look at her before she spoke. “It’s not because they didn’t want you to know. They talked so much about you, and they always wondered when the best time was to tell you, to introduce you to all this.”

“Any time would’ve been good,” he said, using his free hand to wipe at his glassy eyes. “Any time at all.”

“I know,” Marinette said, giving his hand a small squeeze. “But don’t blame them for their secrets. It’s hard to tell people you’re a witch and magic is real, even people you love. Trust me, I would know."

“Because you did it in a press conference in front of the whole world,” he said, a smile creeping into his voice as he looked back at her.

“Yeah,” Marinette said, sharing his smile. “Because I did that.”

“The humanity?” Alya asked.

“Yes,” Marinette said, nodding her head because that was it. The reason she loved this book and read it more times than she could count, the reason she wanted every word of it tattooed on her heart. “The humanity.”

“You’re going to have to explain a little, mignonette, ” Alya said, laughing a little.

“Every word is so honest and human,” Marinette said, letting her legs down and shifting to face Alya. “Adelynne and Moor make mistakes and have flaws - they’re so undeniably human. They fight and cry and bleed and scream and do things that sometimes heroes shouldn’t do.”

“I remember,” Alya said, nodding her head sagely. “Isn’t this book supposed to be YA? It’s kind of dark.”

“It is,” Marinette admitted, “but a lot of YA and children’s literature is, even though most of the time it slips over your head since it’s written nicely.” She opened her mouth to go on an extended rant on themes of children’s literature, and then paused, giving Alya a playful glare. “You’re distracting me from my point.”

Alya laughed. “Sorry, sorry.”

“My point is that you shouldn’t dwell on the things Juleka and Rose didn’t tell you,” Marinette said, and Luka pulled his lips to the side. “I mean it,” she warned, giving his hand a light pat before taking hers away. “It’s not healthy.”

“So what is healthy?” Luka asked, raising his eyebrows and jutting his chin out. Marinette forgot how much of a douche he seemed like to people he didn’t know very well. She resisted the urge to laugh.

“Remembering the love between you and the people you’ve lost and moving forward even if it hurts.” Saying things like this only reminded her of how much of a hypocrite she was, but she forced herself not to think about it too much. “It’ll get better for you, but only if you’re not paying attention.”

He hummed, narrowing his eyes at her. “You remind me of someone I know.”

Marinette smiled. “I get that a lot.”

“Anyway, the humanity applies to the villain as well. Faucon is the antagonist and does some bad stuff, but he’s also someone you can’t help but feel for. He’s a broken man with a broken family and broken feelings. And all he wants to do is fix his mistakes and right his wrongs.”

“But he kills, like, a ton of people.”

“Fair point, but he’s doing it because it’s what he thinks is right. How is that different from Adelynne and Moor, who sometimes do bad things for the greater good?”

“I don’t know,” Alya said with a shrug, looking down at the book in her hands with new eyes. “I guess it’s because they’re the heroes.”

“Exactly,” Marinette said, a triumphant smile pulling at her lips. “It’s because they’re the heroes. The lines between good and bad are constantly being blurred, and it’s fascinating. It’s real. It’s human.”

“Sounds complicated,” Alya said, handing the book back to Marinette.

“Nothing’s as simple as you want it to be,” Marinette said with a shrug.

“Don’t get philosophical on me.”

“Do you know the owner of this shop?” Luka asked, and Marinette raised her eyebrows.

“You mean Marinette?”

“Yeah.”

“I do know her,” Marinette said, tracing the lip of her empty mug absently. “She lets me use the shop during the nights. You could say we’re friends.”

“So Marinette knew about magic, too?”

“You’re close with her, right?” she asked, and Luka nodded his head without hesitation. Marinette’s heart warmed. “Yes, she knew about magic, too. But I wouldn’t get mad at her so easily,” she said, noticing the way his features tightened. “She kept it from you to protect me and the other mages that come here.”

“I’m not mad at her,” Luka said, shaking his head. “I’m just… frustrated.”

Marinette tilted her head to the side. “Why?”

“The people I love have been keeping such a big secret from me because they were afraid of me ridiculing them. Not believing them.”

“Not true,” Marinette said immediately. Luka raised his eyebrows. “Magic is a big conversation to have, and people don’t like big conversations. They can get difficult and messy, and sometimes it’s easier to avoid them.”

“You don’t seem like the type to avoid big conversations,” Luka said with a small laugh, and Marinette blinked.

“You’d be surprised."

“It’s getting late,” Alya said, stretching and letting out a big yawn. “And I want to get started on planning for that article.”

“Don’t push yourself too hard,” Marinette said as Alya stood. “Do you want me to walk you down?”

“You don’t have to,” Alya said, but Marinette stood up anyway. Luka was down there, and, even if he seemed okay, she was sure seeing a familiar face would comfort him. And she was sure he would have some questions for her, too.

“I’m going to anyway.”

“But I’m willing to have some big conversations with you any time,” she said, her voice soft. “It’s the least I can do.”

“Ladybug,” Luka said, taking a deep breath, “I just want you to know that I… I don’t blame you for what happened with Julie. Or with Rose. I really don’t.” Marinette blinked. She’d already known that, but it somehow meant more for him to say it to Ladybug instead of Marinette. “That’s what I came here to say, actually. That I don’t blame you because I know you were trying to do the right thing.”

“You came here to say that to me?” Marinette breathed.

“Yeah,” Luka said with a shrug. “I just… figured you needed to know.”

“Thank you, Luka,” Marinette said, her heart warm. “It means a lot.”

He smiled at her - a genuine Luka smile. “Also, I have a question. How come it feels weird when you say my name?” he asked, and then his face reddened. “I mean, like, in a… magic way?”

“Names are a powerful thing,” Marinette said, holding back a laugh. “If you decide to get into magic, I recommend coming up with another name to call yourself by.”

“Like Ladybug?”

“Like Ladybug,” Marinette said with a nod. “Except I’m the one and only, so please don’t steal my nickname.”

He laughed, and the door to the back room opened, revealing Alya and Marinette’s twin. The copy’s eyes widened in feigned surprise. “Luka?”

Luka took it stride, standing up from the stool and giving the twin a half hug. “Hey, Maribug. Hey, Alya.”

“H-hi,” the twin stuttered, looking between Luka and Marinette. 

“We’ll talk later, okay?” he said, giving her a quick kiss on the temple. “But it’s late now. Love you.”

“Love you too,” the twin said, looking at a loss. 

Luka turned back to Marinette, his lips resting in an easy smile. “Thank you, Ladybug.”

“Come back any time,” she replied, and he nodded, giving her one last smile before leaving the shop.

“Oh, Ladybug, I need Chat’s contact info. I want to interview him for the article, too.”

“Of course,” Marinette said, grabbing a straw piece of paper and scribbling down Chat’s username for the MageComm app. She handed the paper to Alya.

“Thanks, bug. And thanks for the conversation today, too.”

“No problem. It was a pleasure.”

Alya stuffed the paper in her back pocket and gave the twin a tight hug. “Remember, we’re getting drinks soon.”

“Right,” the twin said faintly, hugging Alya back.

“And don’t worry about Luka,” Alya said, pulling away and giving the twin a pat on the shoulder. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“Wish me luck,” the twin said, shaking her head.

“Not my specialty,” Alya said, winking at Marinette. “Bye, you two.”

Both Marinette and the twin waved goodbye as Alya left the shop. When she was out of sight, both of them breathed a sigh of relief.

“I’m exhausted,” the twin said, and Marinette laughed.

“You took the words right out of my mouth.”

Marinette waved her hand, and the sign on the front door flipped to ‘closed’ and the lights turned off. The two walked to the back room, shutting the door behind them.

“Good job, Tikki,” the twin said, giving Tikki a gentle rub. “Thank you for your hard work.”

“Alright, let’s do this,” Marinette said, and she and the twin joined hands, closing their eyes.

“One body, One mind, One heart, One soul,” they chanted, their voices forming into one. When Marinette opened her eyes, she was alone with Tikki, who was looking especially tired.

“I think I could sleep for a day and a half,” Marinette said, stretching and letting out a big yawn that had glittering magic riding on its breath. She trudged up the stairs, rubbing at her eyes. “Tikki, DeTransform me.”

The magic surrounding Marinette dissipated, the mask turning to mist on her face. Marinette yawned again, nearly tripping on the stairs.

“How in Merlin’s name have you done that before without help?” Tikki asked, shaking her small head in disbelief.

“With great difficulty,” Marinette said, actually tripping on the stairs and flopping onto the steps, closing her eyes in defeat. “With so much difficulty.”

Chapter Text

Adrien shouldered his bag, carefully balancing a tray of drinks in his arms as he climbed the stairs of the EA Fashion building. He was running late - he’d overslept and there was a long line at his usual coffee place as a result - and this fact was only drilled in by the sudden appearance of Nathalie behind the big glass doors. Her cold eyes met his. He kept his wince on the inside.

“You’re late,” she said, opening the door for him.

“I know,” he said, picking up the coffee with two sugars and a splash of almond milk from the middle of the tray and handing it to her. “Long line.” He didn’t mention the oversleeping part. He didn’t feel like getting lectured.

She frowned down at the cup of coffee. Ever since Adrien had gotten stuck being the coffee runner, he never failed to get her one just the way he always remembered seeing her make it, but she always acted like it was the first time. “You don’t have to get me coffee every day.”

“Okay,” Adrien said like he had the day before, and the day before that. “Do you know where Gorilla is?” He was also a receiver of a daily morning drink from Adrien.

Nathalie checked her tablet. “He should be coordinating with the security department now,” she said, and Adrien said his thanks, speed walking over to the security office. Which just so happened to be across the whole building and maybe one of the furthest points from where he was actually supposed to be.

He checked his watch. Théo was going to kill him. 

Adrien knocked twice on the security office’s door, waiting a very impatient two seconds before opening the door. Gorilla and the head of security at the EA main building looked up. “Hey, Gorilla,” Adrien said, not waiting for a reply to walk in since both men weren’t very big on words. “Morning, Jacques.”

The two nodded their hellos.

“I got you a chai tea like always,” Adrien said, handing Gorilla a drink from the tray. Gorilla’s mouth twitched into something that could’ve been a smile. “I didn’t know I was going to be running into you this morning, Jacques, so I didn’t get you anything. Unless you like green tea with honey?”

Jacques’s lips twisted to the side. 

“Lunch is on me, then,” Adrien said, and Jacques gave him a rather nice half-smile. “See you guys later,” he said, waving goodbye and then sprinting out of the office.

“Late again, Mr. Agreste?” one of the older designers asked as Adrien slammed his palm on the ‘elevator up’ button.

“I told you to call me Adrien, Fleur,” Adrien said, making sure the drinks were okay because he was bouncing on his heels as they waited for the elevator. “And yes. I’m very late.” 

The elevator came, and he and Fleur stepped inside. “Thirteenth floor?” Fleur asked, already pressing the button before Adrien could nod. She didn’t push another button.

“I thought you were working on the fifth floor now,” Adrien said, fixing his unruly bed hair in the reflective metal of the elevator door and raising his eyebrow at Fleur. “Are you meeting with someone on the thirteenth?”

“No,” she said, trying to hold back a smile. “I just figured you didn’t want any stops since you’re so late.”

Adrien laughed. “You’re a lifesaver.” The elevator soared up to the thirteenth floor within no time, and as Adrien stepped onto his floor he turned back to Fleur, sticking his hand in front of the elevator doors to keep them from closing. “I’m having lunch with Jacques today. Do you want to join?”

Her face contorted in amusement. “Why?”

“Why not?” Adrien asked, shrugging.

“Is that my very late intern Adrien Agreste that I see?”

Merlin’s boxers. 

“I think you should head to work now,” Fleur said, and Adrien’s lungs expelled a wheezy sort of laughter.

“Right, see you at lunch.” He let the doors close fully, watching Fleur wave him a pitiful goodbye as Théo’s annoyed reflection came into view in the polished metal doors. He turned slowly, offering up the drink he’d gotten Théo. “Good morning, Théo,” he said, putting on his best smile.

“It might as well be afternoon,” Théo responded, snatching the large, extra hot sugar-free caramel macchiato with an extra shot of espresso and extra whipped cream out of Adrien’s hand and taking a sip. He made a face, throwing it in the nearest trash can. “Cold,” he said, even though Adrien had just been holding it and it was not cold.

Adrien raised his eyes to the ceiling as soon as Théo’s back was turned and threw away the drink carrier, holding onto his green tea. Which was not made extra hot and was still a nice warm temperature.

“Who’s butt were you kissing this time?” Théo asked very loudly in front of all the open cubicles. Adrien silently smiled his hello to all his fellow staring interns and didn’t answer until they were inside Théo’s glass-walled office.

“I was just inviting Fleur out to lunch with Jacques and me,” he said, controlling his tone to a neutrality that even Nathalie would be proud of.

Théo snorted. “Like you’re going to have time for lunch.” He picked up a pile of folders that were clearly unorganized and shoved them into Adrien’s arms. “Organize these alphabetically and by color. When you’re done with that, make copies of everything - everything - and put the originals in the storeroom. Which will also have to be organized.”

Adrien felt his chest well up with black emotion. “Of course.”

“The other interns are busy with their own work, so don’t even think about disturbing them.”

“I wouldn’t dare.”

“Are you sassing me?”

“Of course not.”

A second passed, and Théo narrowed his eyes at Adrien, folding his arms and scratching his very unfashionable soul patch. “Get to work,” he sneered, and Adrien bowed, shifting the overwhelming pile of folders in his arms and only just managing to push open the door to the office with the folders and his tea in his hands.

“Oh, and Adrien?” Théo said, sitting down in his desk chair and smiling. “Don’t be late again. You’ll regret it.” 

Adrien nodded, not trusting himself to say anything else as he walked over to his cubicle and set the folders and his cup down. He ran his hand through his hair and sighed, plopping down in his chair and telling himself it wasn’t that awful of a morning.

Through the glass walls of his cubicle, he saw the intern that sat next to him giving him worried glances. He smiled, giving her a wave, and she pushed her chair back to face him without the glass between them.

“Hi.”

“Hi,” Adrien answered. They hadn’t really talked - Adrien was always so busy with the work that Théo threw at him - but he was pretty sure her name was Bridgette. “What’s up?”

She drummed her fingers on her thighs, chewing on her lip. “Do you… need any help? It looks like Théo gave you a lot.” There was an implied like usual tacked on to the end of her sentence.

Looking back at the pile of work Théo had given him, the obvious answer was ‘yes,’ but Adrien knew that if he let Bridgette help him, she would probably get in trouble. “No,” Adrien said, shaking his head, “you probably already have a lot of work, and I wouldn’t want to trouble you.”

Bridgette shrugged. “I mean, yeah, but Théo didn’t give me as much as you. I can help you when I’m done.”

Adrien shook his head, more firm this time. “I’ve got it on my own,” he said, and Bridgette’s eyebrows shot up. “Really.”

“You’re totally lying, but okay,” she said, shrugging again and pulling herself back into her own cubicle. Just when Adrien was sure she was going to leave him alone, she poked her head back out from behind the glass. “But if you change your mind, I’ll for real help you.”

“Thanks, Bridgette,” he said, and her mouth dropped open in surprise. “What?”

“You know my name?”

“Of course I do. I work right next to you,” Adrien said, and Bridgette laughed, pumping her fist in victory.

“Oh, man, Félix owes me five bucks.” Adrien raised his eyebrows. “I told him you weren’t a stuck-up jerk.”

“Thanks?”

“You’re totally welcome. I’m going to text him right now.” She pushed herself back into her cubicle and pulled out her phone. Adrien assumed this meant the conversation was over and turned back to the mess of folders on his desk.

He opened up the first folder, taking a sip of his tea. Not only were the contents unorganized - they didn’t even seem to be related to each other. There were designs for the modern everyday line next to descriptions for the EA specialty line that were stuck to sketches signed by Théo that had no correlation to the other two groups.

It was going to be a long day.


---


Maybe it was Adrien’s own dislike for Théo showing through, but the plethora of sketches that Adrien was forced to organize were… not great. They were mediocre at best. He had seen interns make more dynamic and inclusive designs.

When the lunch hour came around, Bridgette wrote her number down on a sticky note and taped it to the glass separating their cubicles, labelling it the ‘Bridgette Help Hotline.’

“I’m going out to lunch with Félix, but if you need my help, just call. Got it, Mr. Agreste?” she asked, locking her computer and slinging her purse around her shoulders. Adrien winced.

“Just call me Adrien,” he said. “I’m just an intern.”

“Félix might as well owe me ten bucks and lunch,” Bridgette said, slapping him rather hard on the shoulder. “Don’t work too hard, Adrien.”

“Thanks, Bridgette,” he said, and she gave him a peace sign before skipping over to the elevator doors.

Adrien turned back to the neatly organized stack of folders on his desk. He’d separated them between the everyday line and the specialty line, putting Théo’s sketches off to the side. All three piles were sorted first alphabetically and then by color, per Théo’s orders.

His stomach grumbled, and he stretched. He probably would’ve worked through the lunch break if he hadn’t already promised Jacques and Fleur lunch, so that was out of the question. With how he remembered the storeroom the last time he’d been, Adrien guessed he would’ve been working late anyway, so he decided to give himself a break.

Théo had gone out to lunch an hour earlier than everybody else and was still gone, so Adrien got up from his desk, gathering the folder that held the sketches and leaving them on Théo’s desk. He grabbed a sticky note and scribbled ‘let me know if you want these filed, too - A.A.’ on it, sticking it to the front of the folder. Théo would probably get mad at him later.

Oh, well.

He met Fleur and Jacques at the front of the building. When he approached, rubbing the knot that was forming in his upper back, Fleur laughed. “Adrien, you look absolutely exhausted.”

“If you say it, then it’ll make it worse,” Adrien said, rolling his shoulders and wincing. “So where do you two feel like eating?”

Fleur tapped a finger to her chin, humming lightly. “I’m not particularly hungry, so something light would be fine. Jacques?”

Jacques shrugged.

“I know a place,” Adrien said. “It might be a bit of a walk though.”


---


The walk was shorter than Adrien anticipated because of the fact that both Fleur and Jacques were tall and walked like there was a fire behind them. Fleur chattered the whole way, and Adrien was content to listen to his elder. Jacques offered a few understanding grunts.

“Cute little shop,” Fleur said, nodding her head over to Lucky Charm.

“My friend Marinette owns it,” Adrien said, pushing open the door to the cafe he’d suggested. “It’s a really cool bookstore.”

“Maybe I’ll check it out,” Fleur said.

They ordered their food and drinks from the counter and sat down at a table big enough for the three of them. Their food was ready soon after, and so they sat talking. Or rather, Fleur was talking, and Adrien and Jacques were listening.

As Fleur was going into a rant on the disadvantages of satin in her current project, the door to the cafe opened. Adrien looked over, feeling his mouth turn up in an involuntary smile.

Marinette walked up to the line behind the counter, gathering up her messy hair into a half-hearted bun. She was wearing a big, fuzzy cardigan and cat slippers, and as Adrien watched, she released a rather large yawn. When she stepped up to the counter, she stifled another yawn before placing her order. After she was done, she sat down at a free table, resting her chin on her hands and scanning the cafe with tired eyes.

Her eyes met Adrien’s. Adrien waved. Her chin slipped out of her hands.

Fleur paused in her crusade against satin, looking back at Marinette, who was using one hand to run her fingers through her messy bangs and the other to wave cheesily back at Adrien. “Who’s this?” Fleur asked. Marinette’s order was called from the counter, and Marinette jumped out of her seat, her knees banging against the table and her feet only just catching her before she fell onto the floor. She made a face, turning away from Adrien and hurrying to the counter.

“That’s my friend Marinette, the bookstore owner I mentioned before.” 

The three of them watched Marinette grab her food and turn to leave.

“Hey, Marinette,” Adrien said, waving her over. She seemed to go through several stages of decision making before she finally settled on walking over to the table Adrien was sitting at. 

“Hi,” she said weakly, running her fingers through her still messy bangs and tucking a long strand of hair that hadn’t made it into her bun behind her ear. “Fancy seeing you here.”

“It was my lunch break over at my dad’s office,” Adrien explained, and she shuffled her feet in place, glancing nervously at Fleur and Jacques. “Oh, this is Fleur and Jacques. Fleur has been working as a designer at EA for about 13 years, and Jacques is the current head of security at the main building.”

“Nice to meet you,” Marinette said sweetly, setting down her bag of food and sticking out her hand for Fleur and Jacques to shake. “I’m Marinette, Adrien’s friend.”

“And the owner of Lucky Charm,” Fleur said as she let go of Marinette’s hand, smiling kindly. “Adrien just mentioned you.”

“H-he did?” Marinette stuttered, her wide blue eyes flicking over to Adrien before looking back at Fleur. “That’s grool.” Her face melted into something akin to horror. “Cort. I mean. Great. Cool. Super.”

“How’s the shop today?” Adrien asked, and Marinette cleared her throat.

“Only just opening,” she said, smiling sheepishly. “I had a late start.” She glanced down at her slippers and her graphic t-shirt that said “I met a necromancer and all I got was this stupid t-shirt” on it. Her face reddened. “Speaking of that, I should. Um. Get back there. Nice seeing you. And meeting you. Bye.” She scurried away.

“Nice girl,” Fleur said.

“She forgot her food,” Jacques said.

“I’ll go give it to her,” Adrien said, standing up and grabbing Marinette’s food. “I’ll be right back.”

“No rush,” Fleur said, giving him a wave and a weird smile.

Adrien ran after Marinette, grabbing her arm to steady her as she tripped over one of her cat slippers in the middle of the sidewalk. “You alright?” Adrien asked as Marinette slipped her fuzzy sock-covered foot back into her slipper.

“Yup. Oh, yeah, I’m great. Thanks.” Her face was almost alarmingly red.

He let go of her arm, handing her the bag of food. “You forgot it inside,” Adrien said, and her face got redder.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, and Adrien laughed.

“Why are you apologizing for forgetting your food?”

“Because that’s super lame, and I probably embarrassed you in front of your cool work friends.”

“I think you made a great impression,” Adrien said, starting to walk her over to Lucky Charm. Marinette followed after, shuffling carefully in her slippers.

“You’re saying that to be nice because you’re nice,” she said, rolling her eyes. “And you don’t have to walk me back. I don’t want to take you away from your lunch.”

“It’s fine,” Adrien said with a shrug. “I’m sure Fleur and Jacques don’t mind.”

“But they’re your cool work friends.”

“But you’re my cool not-work friend.”

Marinette didn’t seem to have anything to say to that.

Instead she fished out her keys from one of the large pockets on her cardigan, fumbling with them for a moment. “So how is it? Work, I mean. Is it… good for you?”

Adrien desperately wanted to tell her the truth, but he felt like doing so would only trouble her. He smiled. “It’s mostly okay,” he said, which was true-ish. 

She hummed, twirling the key ring thoughtfully around her finger. The keys flew into the air, and she let out a screech, jumping away from the airborne keys. Adrien caught them just before they hit the ground.

“Thanks,” she said as he handed them back to her, her face red. She chewed on her lip, looking at him with her genuine eyes. “And Adrien?”

“Yes, Marinette?”

Turning away from him to unlock the door to Lucky Charm, she took a deep breath. “I don’t know why you’re lying to me about work, but just know you can tell me anything you feel like.” She smiled at him, pushing open the door and stumbling over the threshold. “Frick- just when I said something cool.”

“It didn’t diminish your level of cool,” Adrien said, his heart still beating happily from the words she’d said. 

“There you are being nice again,” she said, clicking her tongue and shaking her head. “Oh,” she said, snapping her fingers and touching Adrien lightly on the shoulder, “before you go back to your cool work friends, come inside for a second. I have something for you.”

“You do?” he asked, stepping inside. “Why?”

“You’ll see. Give me, like” - she paused, thinking for a moment - “twenty-seven seconds. No, twenty-three.” She set down her cup from the cafe on the front counter and sprinted to the back room. He heard her feet thumping up the stairs as she called back, “start counting!”

Adrien set her food down on the counter and started counting.

Marinette came back twenty-four seconds later wearing a different graphic t-shirt under her cardigan (this one said “hot buns” on it - she was definitely a baker’s daughter) and holding something behind her back.

“One second late,” he said, and she groaned.

“I knew the shirt change was pushing it. I should’ve stuck to twenty-seven.”

“So is the shirt what you wanted to show me?” he asked, taking a moment to appreciate the “hot buns” shirt she was wearing that was similar to the sweatshirt Adrien had worn that time she accidentally spilled tea on him. “It’s a nice shirt.”

“What?” she asked, looking down on her shirt. “Oh, my God, I thought I put on a different shirt. Oh, my God.” Her face was getting redder by the second.

“It’s super cool,” Adrien said, letting out a laugh as Marinette’s face melted in acute horror. “But seriously, what was it that made you run upstairs and change shirts in twenty-four seconds?”

“Well, I changed shirts to look better for the rest of the day,” she said, letting out a laugh that originated no lower than her throat. “But other than that, I wanted to… I wanted to give you this.” 

She took her hands out from behind her back, revealing a pale green knit scarf. Adrien’s heart clenched.

“I know it’s nothing like your mother’s, and that this could never replace it in terms of emotional value, and honestly I’m not even that sure if it’s fashionable or not, but I ruined your mother’s, and I felt like maybe this would help.” She took a breath, launching into another word vomit before Adrien could even try speaking. “I made it myself which explains some of the mistakes in the knitting, and I’m really sorry about that, but I figured this would help convey my sincerity, and I really don’t mind if you hate it and don’t accept it - well, actually, I would be a little upset, but I would totally understand your decision if it was, like, for emotional payback since I ruined your mother’s scarf, and…” She trailed off, looking down at the scarf in defeat. “Basically, this is for you.”

Adrien felt weird heat prick at the backs of his eyes. When was the last time he’d gotten a gift like this? Nino and Chloe weren’t big gift-givers - they always preferred spending time together - which Adrien was more than okay with, but he realized that he hadn’t gotten a material gift from someone he cared about in a long time. A material gift that had so much meaning behind it.

“Oh, my God, you hate it,” Marinette said, and Adrien immediately shook his head.

“No,” he said, shaking his head a little more before taking the scarf out of Marinette’s hands. “No, I love it. Thank you, Marinette.” He held it in his hands, feeling the soft material of the yarn and running his fingers over the little tells that it was handmade. “I’ll cherish it.”

Marinette wheezed out a laugh. “Fanderful.”

She didn’t seem to catch her mistake. “You mean fantastic?” Adrien asked. Or was it ‘wonderful’?

“Yeah, wondastic, that’s what I said,” she said, tucking the hair that was quickly falling out of its bun behind her ears. “Anyway, you should probably get back to your cool work friends.”

Adrien had nearly forgotten about that. “You’re right,” he said, wrapping the scarf loosely around his neck. “It was great seeing you, Marinette. And thank you.” He started to walk to the door.

“Yeah, you too,” she said, giving him a thumbs-up. “Thanks for…” She gestured in his general direction. Adrien couldn’t help but smile. 

“See you later, Marinette.”

“Right. Cool. Later.” It seemed her energy was rapidly decaying. He left the store just as she slammed her forehead down on the counter. He hoped she would get more rest.

When Adrien got back to the cafe, Fleur and Jacques did not seem to miss him in the slightest. Fleur was talking animatedly, and Jacques was listening with a rather fond look on his face. Adrien told them to enjoy the rest of their lunch while he went back to the office - he had too much work to catch up on anyway.

They readily agreed.

Bridgette was in her cubicle with her earbuds in and dancing to music only she could hear when Adrien arrived back at the office. One of her elaborate dance moves had her facing Adrien, and she brightened, waving excitedly at him. He waved back.

He sat down, finding the folder he’d made of Théo’s sketches on top of all the others. There was no note attached, and Adrien sighed. Bridgette pushed herself out of her cubicle, taking out an earbud and twirling it around her finger.

“So Théo’s in a meeting right now which means he can’t yell at you, which in turn means I’m supposed to relay his message,” she said, and Adrien nodded.

“Do your worst.”

“Basically he called you an idiot,” she said, wincing for him. “He said those sketches were supposed to go into the folders you organized as examples, and he said a bunch of other mean stuff, but you don’t deserve that.”

Adrien resisted the urge to make a face at the folder of Théo’s sketches. They didn’t belong in the folders he’d made. There was no way anyone would believe that.

He made no effort to begin sifting through the sketches. He turned to Bridgette. “How was your lunch?”

“Fun,” she said immediately, the worried expression on her face cracking into a bright grin. “I told Félix you were nice, and he was, in fact, totally pissed. He gave me ten bucks and paid for my lunch. It was the best hour of my life.”

“I’m glad,” he said, even though Bridgette had been talking about Félix since the morning and had yet to elaborate on who he was other than someone she made bets with regarding Adrien’s character.

“I see you have a new super cute scarf,” Bridgette said, leaning back in her chair and twirling it back and forth as she grinned at him. “You had a good lunch break, too, I’m guessing?”

“Yeah,” Adrien said, touching the scarf still around his neck. It was lightweight and the perfect length - and it smelled faintly of something sweet. Like Strawberries. Or candy.

“Where’d you get it? I’m kinda digging it.”

“My friend made it for me, actually,” Adrien said, and Bridgett’s eyebrows shot up.

“One of a kind. Even cuter. You’ve got a great friend.”

“I really do,” he said, standing up and gathering all the folders in his arms. “When Théo asks where I am, tell him I’m organizing the storeroom like he told me to this morning.”

“For sure,” Bridgette said, and then seemed to choke on her spit. “Wait- Organizing the storeroom? Are you trying to die?”

“No, but Théo’s trying to kill me,” he said, and Bridgette shook her head in amazement.

“And you’re not even going to ask for help?” She gestured wildly to the ‘Bridgette Help Hotline.’ “Like, at all?”

“It’ll be fine,” Adrien said, giving her a shrug. “I’ll see you later, Bridgette.”

He was feeling good. Powerful. He took a deep breath, his nose taking in the sweet scent drifting from the soft scarf around his neck. And then he headed to the storeroom.


---


Bridgette attempted to help him multiple times, even going so far as slamming sticky notes of the ‘Bridgette Help Hotline’ on Adrien’s forehead. It took him sitting her down amidst the chaos of the storeroom and telling her that Théo specifically told him not to ask for help and that he was afraid Théo might do something bad to anybody who helped him for her to finally give it a rest.

By the time Adrien was finished, it was nearing midnight, and the custodians had asked him three times if he was almost done. He apologized for troubling them, promised to get them a coffee or tea of their choice within the next couple of weeks, and gathered his stuff from his desk.

He was looking forward to going home and venting to Plagg and wishing his job didn’t make him want to quit and live in a forest.

“Today’s the day,” Adrien said as he opened the door to his slouching apartment and tossed his bag on the couch. Plagg stirred from his sleep on Adrien’s former-favorite white sweater. “I’m going to go rogue and live in the forest.”

“Like you could survive in a forest,” Plagg said, stretching languidly.

“Great pep talk. I feel so much better.”

“You’re welcome.”

Adrien plopped down on the couch, the tense muscles in his back screaming. “I really don’t like Théo,” he said, closing his eyes and letting out a long sigh.

“It’s okay to say you hate him,” Plagg said. “In fact, I’ll say it for you. I hate your stupid mediocre boss Théo.”

“Thanks.”

There was a light knock on the door, and Adrien groaned. Plagg jumped off the couch and swaggered over to the kitchen where his food bowl was. Another light knock sounded, and Adrien dragged himself upright.

“Coming.” He got up from the couch, pushing his hair out of his face and opening the door. His heart caught in his chest. “Ladybug.”

She was standing right there in the doorway to his slouching apartment looking entirely like she didn’t belong. Her hair was sleek and curled like rose petals, her lips ruby red, her bright eyes sincere. “Hi,” she said, her voice music, “can I come in?”

Chapter Text

Adrien stepped aside, his heart beating out of his chest. He was nervous, and he realized his palms were sweating, and he remembered he’d just spent the whole day doing Théo’s dirty work, and he probably looked disgusting. Ladybug smiled at him like she didn’t notice any of this, her lips soft and gentle, and she stepped into his apartment.

He would’ve thought that he was dreaming if it wasn’t for the fact that he’d only dreamt about his mother for the past few months.

Plagg peeked his head out from behind the kitchen counter, his eyes wide. Ladybug saw him and smiled, bending down and reaching her hand out to him. “Cute cat,” she said as Plagg did the normal cat thing and walked over to sniff her fingers. “I have a friend who has one just like this.”

“That’s Cheese,” Adrien said because he wasn’t sure what else to say. “My one-of-a-kind cat. There’s only one of him. And his name is Cheese.”

Plagg shot him a look.

Adrien shrugged, obviously panicking.

Ladybug gave Plagg a soft pat, standing up straight and clasping her gloved hands behind her back. It was clear she wanted to say something, but the words didn’t seem to be coming out. Adrien figured he should be a better host.

“Do you want, um” - he was about to offer tea, since he knew Ladybug liked tea, but then he realized that he didn’t have tea and only had a half-empty carton of milk that Plagg yelled at him for buying and maybe orange juice - “tap water?”

“Thank you,” she said, her face relaxing even though Adrien had just asked if she wanted tap water. “That would be great.”

“I have orange juice, too,” he said, like that was any better than tap water.

“Sure,” she said, and Adrien was struck by how surreal this was. 

“You can...sit on the couch, if you want,” he said, picking up his old favorite white sweater that was covered in Plagg’s cat hair and tossing it in the general vicinity of his bedroom. She sat down gingerly, crossing her ankles and folding her hands in her lap. She looked up at him, and her eyes were big and blue and perfect and Adrien scuttled to the kitchen because he realized that he couldn’t quite handle her at the moment.

He got two not-broken mugs out from the cupboard, pouring orange juice in both of them. He gave Ladybug the one that Nino had given him after Adrien looked after his turtle for a week (that said “World’s Greatest Uncle” on it) because it looked more clean than the others. Ladybug took the mug, her gloved finger tracing the rim, taking a deep breath.

“I’m assuming that if you know my name, then you know who I am.”

“Ladybug,” Adrien said, and then realized that he shouldn’t be that familiar with her, “from… from the news.”

“Yeah,” she said, an almost painful smile falling over her lips. “From the news.”

She didn’t say anything for a moment, and Adrien’s brain took that moment to realize that he didn’t actually know why she was in his apartment. He hadn’t gotten a message from her about doing this, not that he expected her to tell Chat every time she wanted to do something, but maybe it would’ve been nice. Unless she didn’t want Chat to know, which made Adrien feel guilty for some reason.

“So,” Adrien said because his thoughts were killing him, “why are you here? Not that I don’t want you here, of course.” Great job, Adrien.

Her lips quirked up in a sweet smile. “I know it must be strange to have the crazy lady from the news come looking for you. I hope I haven’t freaked you out.”

“Well” - he wasn’t sure if ‘freaked out’ would adequately describe what he was feeling - “not really. And I don’t think you’re crazy.”

“Good to know.” She looked away, taking a sip from her orange juice. When she took her mouth away, there was a red lipstick stain on the rim of the mug. Adrien closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “You probably don’t know this, but people come to me for help with certain things. Like spells, or potions, or…” She trailed off, and Adrien opened his eyes to look at her, watching the words form on her lips before they made it to the air. “Or finding people.”

“Finding people,” Adrien repeated, and he started to get an inkling of why she’d come.

She nodded, her white teeth biting at her bottom lip. “My friend Chat, he… The reason we met is because he asked me to find someone.” She placed her mug on the coffee table, untying the black bows at the wrists of her gloves and taking them off, holding them tightly in her pale hands. “He wanted me to find your mother, Emilie Agreste.”

Adrien tried to act surprised. He went to an improv class once - granted it was so Chloe could laugh at how lame it was - but he hoped he was convincing. He took a distressed sip from his orange juice, making sure to frown and blink a lot. “My mom? Did he say why?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “And I didn’t want to press. All I know is that he seems to care about her a lot, and he believes that she’s alive."

“It’s been so long,” Adrien said, looking down into his orange juice. “The police stopped looking.”

“I know,” she said softly.

“Why are you telling me this?” Adrien asked. After all this time, why would she only seek Adrien out now? “Have you… have you found her?”

Her expression broke, and she reached over, placing her hand on his shoulder. “Not yet. I haven’t found her yet. But I will.” She took her hand away, the place where she touched burning through his clothes, and she brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “I just wanted to tell you because… Because with all this crazy stuff happening with the serial killer, I didn’t want to forget about finding Emilie. I didn’t want to let you down.”

Adrien blinked. “You don’t even know me.”

“I-I know,” she said, squeezing the gloves in her hands. “I just… If I told you, it would be a promise. To you, to Chat, to myself.”

“You didn’t have to make that sort of promise,” Adrien said. He knew how busy she was, how taken up emotionally she was with Hawkmoth. He knew he wanted to find his mom, but he also knew he cared about Ladybug and her well-being. She didn’t have to do this.

“It wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t,” she said, and Adrien’s chest swelled. “I’m going to find her, Adrien. I swear it.”

His name. On her lips. In her throat. He closed his eyes, feeling a rush of something trickle through his veins, take root in his heart. It felt good, it felt wrong, it felt right.

“My name,” he breathed, opening his eyes and finding her eyes on him, blue and intoxicating. “Say it again.”

There was something vulnerable about her expression, about the way she was looking at him. “Adrien,” she whispered, and there it was again. That feeling of something, something, something. 

He leaned closer, and she didn’t back away, and he could see the freckles on the tip of her nose and dusting her cheeks, and he could feel her breath, sweet and warm, mixing with his. “Again."

Her lips were forming his name and she was leaning closer and her eyes were fluttering closed and Adrien felt like this was about to be the most right thing he’d done in a long time and he was leaning closer and-

Britney Spears’s ‘Toxic’ started playing. Loudly.

Ladybug screamed, jumping away from him and falling off the couch. Adrien snapped out of whatever haze he had been in and cleared his throat, feeling his cheeks get hot.

“Is that your-”

“It’s my-”

She fished her phone out of her pocket, her face red. “S-sorry,” she stuttered, not looking at him as she answered the call and pressed the phone to her ear. “Lila, why are you-”

The person on the other end said something, and Ladybug’s face contorted in fear. She scrambled up from the floor, grabbing her gloves and tugging them on. “Wait, Lila, let me come to you, let me-” The line went dead, and Ladybug cursed, her voice breaking.

“What’s wrong?” Adrien asked, taking her shoulders in his hands and making her look at him. “What happened?”

“I have to go,” she said, shaking her head and pulling away from him. “I’m sorry I - I shouldn’t have-”

“It’s not your fault-”

“Names are too powerful for me to have done something so stupid,” she said, shaking her head and rushing to the door. “I’m sorry for-” She cut herself off, looking at him like she was in pain. “I’m sorry. I have to go.”

She left, slamming the door behind her.

Adrien blew out a breath, squeezing his eyes shut and running his hands through his hair. “Oh, my God, Plagg, what did I almost just do?” he asked, falling back on the couch and dragging his fingers over his cheeks. “I almost- Plagg, I really almost-”

He couldn’t even bring himself to say it.

“Not the smartest move you’ve ever made,” Plagg said, creeping out from behind the couch where he was eavesdropping. “But I don’t think it’s all your fault.”

“Are you saying-”

His phone buzzed, and he frowned. It was a message from Ladybug.

XXX Papillon St. Apartment 713. Hawkmoth

“This must be why she left in such a hurry,” Adrien said, standing up and scooping up Plagg. He was almost out of the door when he looked down, remembering the scarf Marinette had made for him still draped around his neck. He knew it would be Transformed into something else, but he didn’t want to risk it getting dirty or damaged. 

He took it off, hanging it on his coat hanger. 

“Wait, Adrien, I don’t think…” Plagg trailed off, his eyes trained on the scarf, his nose twitching.

“What, Plagg?” Adrien asked. “I’m pretty sure we should be hurrying now, too.”

Plagg stayed silent for a moment longer, nose still twitching at the scarf. “Never mind,” he said, looking away. “Let’s go.”

Adrien Transformed on the way over, following the maps app on his phone as he ran. It wasn’t long before he caught up with Ladybug, her hair wild, her face desperate.

“What’s going on?” he asked, stuffing the phone in his pocket and readjusting Plagg in his arms.

“Got a call,” she said, panting. “Bad.”

Good enough for him.

When they reached the apartment building, nothing seemed to be wrong. But that didn’t seem to deter her. She didn’t bother asking to be rung in, the red sparks that crackled at her fingertips when she pushed open the door telling Adrien that she’d simply magicked her way in.

She started to head for the stairwell, but Adrien pulled her back, going to the elevator. “Chat,” she protested, trying to drag him to the stairwell, but he refused, slamming his hand on the button.

“You’re already running on fumes,” he said, looking over at her red face, her hair wet with sweat. “Literally. There’s no way you’re making it up seven flights of stairs like this.”

“I could,” she said, setting her jaw and glaring at him.

“Fine,” Adrien said because he believed her. “There’s no way you’re making it up seven flights of stairs fast.”

The elevator came, and Ladybug stepped inside, pushing the ‘seven’ button at least ten times. Chat got in beside her, watching the silence fill up the metal box. The elevator doors closed. Ladybug wiped her face with the sleeve of her shirt, red lipstick dragging across her cheek.

“Who is it?” Adrien finally asked as the elevator rattled through the floors.

She looked up at the numbers above the door, lighting up as they passed them by. “Lila Rossi.”

They reached the seventh floor, and Ladybug was out of the elevator before the doors were even fully open. Chat followed after her, noticing the way she seemed to know exactly where she was going.

When they got to the right apartment, Ladybug used the same trick with the lock, bursting inside. “Lila!” she shouted, and Chat followed her into the apartment. There was something wrong. Something smelled too… 

“Six minutes,” a voice said, and Chat whipped his head around to see a woman walking out of what he assumed was the bedroom, a can of gasoline in her hand. “Fast even for you, Ladybug.”

Gasoline.

“Plagg,” Adrien said, looking around the apartment, his eyes catching on the gasoline-slick walls and floors.

“I know,” Plagg answered, and Adrien came to stand beside Ladybug, his hand reaching out for her wrist.

“Ladybug-”

“And you brought your little kitten toy, too,” the woman said, tossing the gasoline can aside. It clattered on the wooden floor, empty. “Cute.” She picked up another can, twisting the cap.

“Put that down,” Ladybug said, stepping towards Lila. “You don’t have to do this.”

“I know I don’t have to,” Lila said, flicking the cap off the can. “But my friend Hawkmoth said I should, and I’m inclined to agree.”

“He’s messing with your mind,” Ladybug said. “He’s making you do this.”

“No,” Lila said, shaking her head. “He’s not making me do anything.”

A scorching laugh burst out of Ladybug’s throat, and Adrien frowned at the cold light he saw in her eyes. “So, what?” she asked. “A man got in your head and started telling you what to do, and you agreed? That doesn’t sound like you at all.”

Lila’s eyes flashed angrily, her hands tightening on the can of gasoline. “You don’t know me, Ladybug. And besides, this was all my idea.”

“Killing yourself?” Ladybug snapped. “That’s your idea? You’ve had a lot of shitty ideas, Lila, but this has got to be the worst.”

Adrien shifted uncomfortably. There was something so wrong about the situation. The evidence of Ladybug’s desperation was still clear in her red cheeks and sweat-matted hair. But now there was no trace of it in her voice, in her eyes.

“I’m not going to kill myself,” Lila said, and a swarm of white butterflies came out from behind her, surrounding her. “Not if you give me your charms.”

There was a crack in Ladybug’s anger. She blinked. “What?”

“Your charms,” Lila repeated, and a couple of the butterflies came over to them, gathering around Ladybug’s ears and Adrien’s hand. Adrien swatted them away, watching them swarm around his ring in vain. “I’ve informed Hawkmoth of the value of both of your charms, and he’s decided he wants yours.”

“Why?” Adrien asked, shaking the butterflies away from his hand, away from his ring. 

“‘Why’ he asks,” Lila mocked, rolling her eyes. “Because they’re old and powerful.”

“We’re not giving them to you,” Ladybug said before Adrien could even begin to say that he’d bought his ring a couple of months ago from a regular jewelry shop.

“Then I’ll die, and I’ll bring everyone in this building with me,” Lila said, shrugging her shoulders and tipping the gasoline can over her head. 

“Lila, stop,” Ladybug said, and Adrien could hear a hint of her desperation from before edging into her tone. “What do you get out of this? What could Hawkmoth possible have promised you that you would trade your life for?"

“Besides the weird, vague promise of ‘everything will be fine’?” Lila asked, tossing the empty can aside and wiping her eyes. She hummed, pretending to think. “What was it? Oh, that’s right. Your destruction.”

Alarm raced through Adrien’s veins. They weren’t going to win this. He felt it.

“You’re willing to die for that?” Ladybug asked incredulously, her face twisting into something akin to pain. “Why?”

“Because I hate you,” Lila said, her voice eerily calm. “I hate you and your lies and the power that you don’t use. I hate what you did to me, and I hate your cheap replacement for me.” Her eyes turned on Adrien then, and he was struck by the amount of hatred in them. Hatred from a girl he’d never met.

“Lila, I never meant to hurt you.” The bravado was gone. Ladybug was begging now, her hands reaching out, her eyes pleading.

“That’s a lie,” Lila snarled, and she pulled out a lighter from her pocket, flicking a flame to life in her hands. “Now give the nice butterflies your charms, or everyone here dies.”

“There’s nothing for you if you die,” Ladybug said, shaking her head. “There’s no way you can win.”

Lila laughed, throwing her head back and baring her teeth. “You know better than I do that life doesn’t always end after death,” she said, watching the flame flicker in her hands. “And besides,” she continued, looking back at Ladybug. “How fantastic would it be for me to die and for you to know that it’s all. Your. Fault.”

“Stop,” Ladybug pleaded, and Adrien saw a tear slip down her cheek. “It’s Hawkmoth. He’s- he’s the one making you say this. Just… Just fight it.”

“You’re pathetic,” Lila said, shaking her head in mock pity. “Hawkmoth’s just a man. He could never make me do something I didn’t want to.”

“He was controlling Aurore, Rose, Juleka,” Ladybug said, seemingly more to herself than to anyone else, covering her ears. “He’s controlling you, too.”

“Aurore, Rose, Juleka?” Lila scoffed, the tiny flame in her hands flickering. “Don’t make me laugh. They were all weak. Pretty little dolls to get what he wanted. But I’m not a doll. I’m making him get what I want.”

“No,” Ladybug said, shaking her head and squeezing her eyes shut.

“Just hand over your charms,” Lila said, unbothered by Ladybug’s distress. 

“No,” Ladybug said again, the word a sob.

“So you’re going to kill me?” Lila asked, a twisted smile growing on her lips. “I thought you were the hero. The best witch in Paris.” Ladybug turned her face away, her body shaking. “But you’re just going to let me die. Just like you did with your friends.”

“Stop that!” Adrien yelled, fed up with Lila’s awful taunting. “Can’t you see what you’re doing to her? Don’t you have any heart at all?”

***Lila’s smile curled into a scowl. “No,” she growled. “She took my heart. And my life.”

She dropped the lighter.

The fire hit the ground, licking at Lila’s gasoline-drenched feet. The butterflies that had filled the room flew out of the room, escaping the fire. Lila laughed, the fire traveling up her legs, up her chest.

“NO!” Ladybug screamed, wild, guttural. She lunged forward, the fire engulfing Lila’s figure reflected in her eyes.

“You can’t,” Adrien cried, wrapping his arms around her waist to hold her back as she kicked and fought him, screaming, begging. The fire spread around the room, and it wouldn’t be long until it reached them, until it spread to the whole building. “We have to go, we have to get everyone out.”

From the flames came a scream, piercing and triumphant even in its pain. Ladybug fought harder, scratching at Adrien’s arms, the material of her gloves scraping against his skin.

“I have to save her,” she sobbed, yanking her gloves off and pushing against him as he dragged her away from the fast-spreading fire. “I have to get her out!”

***Adrien looked at the fire, his cheeks burning just from the proximity of it.

“It’s too late,” Tikki said softly, saying the words so that Adrien wouldn’t have to. “We have to leave.” Ladybug stopped her fighting, looking over at Tikki with eyes full of fire and pain. “We have to save everyone else."

“We have to go,” Adrien said, not wanting to push her but knowing that the longer they stayed in the room, the higher the risk of them not being able to get everyone out of the building.

Ladybug looked at him, her eyes red. And then she looked back to the place where Lila had been, and Adrien saw the moment her heart broke, heard it shatter above the roar of the flames. 

The fire reached the gloves she’d thrown, and Adrien pulled her out into the hallway. This time, she didn’t resist.

“Okay,” Tikki said as soon as they were out, “Chat and Plagg, you two go down into the lobby. Ladybug and I will wake everyone up and direct them down to you. Make sure they get out safely.”

“That’s too dangerous,” Plagg said, shaking his head.

“There’s no other way,” Tikki said, flying over and giving Plagg a kiss on the forehead. “We’ll be done in no time.” She turned to Adrien, giving him a feather-light kiss on the cheek. “Be careful. Use the stairs.”

“I will,” Adrien answered, smiling at her. He turned to Ladybug, who was staring into Lila’s apartment, watching the fire get closer. He took her hand, squeezing so hard he was afraid it hurt her. Her eyes found him, and he lifted her hand to his lips, pressing a soft kiss to her knuckles. “Be safe,” he said because he didn’t know what else to say.

“Go,” she said, her voice hoarse, and he did.

He ran to the stairwell, cradling Plagg in his arms, and before he could even reach the ground floor, he heard the pounding of feet behind him. How Ladybug got people to follow him so fast was a mystery to him, but he figured magic was involved. The fire alarm blaring probably helped.

When he got down to the lobby, he stood by the stairway entrance, pushing the flood of people to the doors. Smoke started to fill the stairway, and more and more people came down with soot streaked across their faces, coughing and crying.

Plagg jumped out of Adrien’s arms to direct traffic at the exit of the building, holding the door open and telling everyone to hurry. Adrien stared up the stairwell and begged any gods that may exist to see Ladybug’s face.

And finally he saw her, at the back of the last group of soot-covered people. Her face was black with ash, but she looked unhurt. Adrien breathed a sigh of relief.

They were almost there. They could make it.

The columns near the entrance collapsed, tearing holes in the ceiling and blocking the entrance.

“Plagg!” Adrien screamed, and the cat jumped over the columns, running towards Adrien just as the last group of people flooded into the lobby, trapped because of the newly fallen columns. 

“It’s bad,” Plagg said, shaking his head. “There’s no way that many people can get through those columns.”

“It’s worse upstairs,” Tikki said, shaking the soot off her wings. “Lila must’ve put a charm on the fire because it’s spreading fast.”

“Then where do we go?” Adrien asked, looking over at the mass of people screaming and praying and holding their small children. “What do we do to save them?”

“We can’t,” Ladybug said, and Adrien blinked at her. Her shoulders were hung in defeat, her eyes downcast.

“There has to be a way.”

“There isn’t,” Ladybug said, fresh tears streaking through the soot on her face. “I exhausted myself running and waking everyone up and putting direction and calming spells on them. I can’t…” She trailed off, rubbing at her face with her hands. “I can’t cast a protection spell big enough.”

“We have to try,” Adrien insisted, taking her hand and leading her to the center of the group of people. “Tikki can help you. Plagg- Plagg can help you, right?”

There was a rumbling sound above. Fire poured from the holes in the ceiling like liquid, and the clamor of noise and destruction crescendoed to a maximum.

“Ladybug, please,” Adrien begged, and shook her head, tears gathering in her eyes. Plagg jumped onto her shoulder, rubbing his head against her cheek.

Tikki landed on her other shoulder, pressing her hands to her neck. She looked tired, too, Adrien could tell. 

“It’s not going to work,” she said, but she closed her eyes and her lips started moving and a pink barrier began to form above them. Relief started to flood through Adrien’s veins, but then he saw the strain on Ladybug’s face, the shaking of her legs. The barrier flickered once, and then it was gone.

Ladybug fell to her knees, letting out a gasp of exhaustion. Above them, the ceiling started to crack.

“It’s going to come down!” someone screamed from the crowd, and then everyone was screaming and yelling and Adrien watched the crack widen. 

“Kid,” Plagg said from the floor, and Adrien tore his eyes away from the deteriorating ceiling. “Use your magic.” 

“I-I can’t,” Adrien stuttered, but Plagg shook his head.

“You can.”

“It’s Locked,” Adrien said, hearing the rumble of the ceiling, thinking about being buried alive in fire and rubble. “I can’t.”

“You UnLocked it a long time ago,” Plagg said, and Ladybug looked up, her face streaked with tears and sweat. “So just put your hands up and tell yourself what to do.”

Doubt and hope filled his blood like something solid. “I-”

Ladybug gripped his ankle. “Do it."

The ceiling opened up.

Adrien thrust his arms up and he thought about the people around him. He thought about Nino and Chloe and Marinette and his father and his mother and all the other people he wanted to see again. He thought about Ladybug and how hard she fought, even when she was too tired to stand.

He thought about a long-forgotten memory. Of ash in the palms of his hands, of his mother wiping away his tears.

The ceiling met his fingertips.

Chapter Text

 Marinette stared at Chat. He was glowing. Literally.

His skin was glittering green, and even from yards away, she could smell the sting of spearmint and lime in the air. She looked over at the ruins of the apartment building, watching the ash of ten stories drift in the midnight breeze.

“Ladybug?”

She looked back at Sabrina, forcing herself to pay attention. “Sorry, where was I?”

“You were explaining the conversation that occurred between you and Lila Rossi,” Sabrina said, frowning. Marinette looked away, the red and blue lights flashing behind Sabrina overwhelming her. She was tired and she was…

“Can we do this later?” Marinette asked, bringing a shaking hand up to wipe at her grime-covered face. “I’m just… really tired.”

Sabrina looked her over, chewing on the inside of her cheek before flipping her notepad closed. “Yeah,” she finally said, glancing over to where Detective Kim was talking to Chat. “We can do this later. Do you want a ride home?”

Marinette shook her head, and Sabrina let her go. She looked over at Chat, at the green magic around him, and she turned away. She went home.

Tikki was quiet, letting Marinette breathe in the silence. She took a bath in the sink while Marinette used the shower.

The water that ran off her body and into the drain was black with grit, and she scrubbed at herself hard enough that her skin was pink. But when she turned the water off and dried herself off, she could still smell the smoke.

There were thirteen messages from Chat on her phone, but she ignored them all, sending him a quick text that she was fine and that he shouldn’t bother Marinette at Lucky Charm. He tried to call her, but she turned her phone off.

“Marinette,” Tikki said, breaking the silence between them, “can we talk?”

“Later,” Marinette said, turning off the lights in her room and crawling into her bed.

“You shouldn’t go to sleep upset,” Tikki said softly, and Marinette pulled the blankets over her head, squeezing her eyes shut and praying for everything to stop.

She felt Tikki lay down on her pillow. “I love you, Marinette,” she said, and Marinette curled herself into a ball and wished she could forget the flames.


---


“You look beautiful.”

She was sitting at the table in the back room of the shop, a glittering red dress hanging off her shoulders and her cheeks heavy with a mask. She looked around, trying to find the source of the voice.

Lila appeared in the doorway, her figure clad in a tight-fitting black suit. Marinette felt a wave of emotion run over her as Lila stepped closer, the large orange pendant on her throat glittering in the low light. 

“You’re alive,” Marinette said, and she couldn’t help the relief in her voice.

“Figures you would protect yourself in a dream,” Lila said, hopping onto the table and flicking the mask tied around Marinette’s head. 

Her heart dropped. “I’m dreaming?”

Humming, Lila crossed her legs, drumming her fingers on the table. “Being dead is nice so far, in case you were wondering.”

Marinette couldn’t take this. She started to stand - there had to be a way out of the dream - but Lila laid a warm hand on her bare shoulder, pushing her gently back down.

“Don’t do that,” she chided, tracing a finger over Marinette’s jaw. “Here I thought we could have some quality time together.”

“You killed yourself to get back at me,” Marinette said, her voice hard and cold in a way she didn’t feel. “I don’t want to spend time with you.”

“Then wake up,” Lila said, as if that was all it took. “Tell me to go away. Make me go away.” Marinette closed her eyes, but she couldn’t even bring herself to try. Lila laughed. “I knew it. You should drop that act, Ladybug. I know you still love me."

Marinette glared at her.

“Our good friend Hawkmoth has changed gears, by the way,” Lila said, tucking a lock of hair behind Marinette’s ear. “Thanks to me, of course. He’s done looking for any charms he can get his hands on. He wants yours.” She played with the red stud on Marinette’s ear. “And your little pet’s, too. That ring of his.”

“Why?”

“You’ll figure it out,” Lila said with a shrug, letting go of her earring to play with the ribbons keeping Marinette’s mask in place. “Oh, and speaking of your kitten, that was a neat trick he pulled. Turning the apartment building to ash to save everyone. I wasn’t counting on that. I guess he’s not useless after all.” She paused, a cruel smile tugging at the corners of her lips. “But I guess eye candy is never truly useless.”

“You always bring him up just to make fun of him when he doesn’t deserve it,” Marinette said, and Lila clicked her tongue, rolling her eyes. “It’s rude,” she pushed on, but Lila just sighed dramatically.

“Let’s not fight, bug. I just wanted to have a nice chat.”

Marinette burned, clenching her jaw.

“If he could see you now, all dressed up in the clothes I’ve picked for you,” Lila said, cupping Marinette’s face in her hands, her eyes dragging over Marinette’s body, and suddenly Marinette was hyper-aware of the tight fit of the dress, of the way it exposed so much of her. “I wonder what he would think.”

“Who?”

“Your cat,” Lila replied, baring her teeth on the word. “He probably wouldn’t be able to think at all.” She shifted so that her whole body was facing Marinette, her other hand tracing the line of Marinette’s shoulder, catching in the off the shoulder sleeve and dragging it lower. “Or maybe he would think. Just to undress you with his eyes.”

“Stop talking about him like that,” Marinette said, and Lila laughed.

“What, are you in love with him?”

“He’s my friend.”

“Poor guy,” she said, her voice overflowing with mock pity. “You’ll never let him see you like I have, will you?”

“You never saw me,” Marinette said, looking away. 

“Liar,” she said, and then her lips were on Marinette’s, hungry and familiar. 

Marinette tried to pull away, but Lila’s grip was firm and it felt good and it felt wrong, wrong, wrong. She reached up, her hand wrapping around Lila’s wrist, but there was no force in her grip. She was holding on for life.

Lila’s teeth clashed at hers, and it felt like they were fighting - fighting for breath, fighting for control, fighting for each other. 

Her fingernails scraped over Marinette’s scalp, tangling in her hair, and Marinette felt like she was on fire, like she was dying. And then she felt a tug on the ribbon holding her mask to her face.

She gasped, tearing herself away from Lila, feeling the scratch of teeth against her lip, the drip of new blood on her chin, and then she was falling and she was burning, burning, burning.

Marinette bolted upright, her chest heaving, her blood boiling. She threw the blankets off herself, stalking through the dark and snatching the big container of salt from underneath the sink. And then she poured a thick line of salt over each windowsill, each doorway, each tiny crevice that could open to the outside. 

“What’s wrong?” Tikki asked groggily, rubbing her eyes as she drifted out of the bedroom. “Why are you awake?”

“Bad dream,” Marinette replied, finding the exact middle of the apartment (on top of her coffee table) and sitting down cross-legged, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. She muttered the incantation against unwanted spirits, feeling the stretch of her tired magic against her veins. She should wait until she was more rested, more capable of thinking straight. 

But she didn’t want to fall asleep and see her face again. 

When she’d finished the incantation, she opened her eyes, looking around at the glowing red salt lining her home. She climbed off the coffee table, nudging a line of glowing salt with her finger. It didn’t budge.

She brushed her hair out of her face, still damp from the shower she’d taken. She’d probably only slept for an hour or so.

Instead of going to bed like her body was begging her to, she walked back over to the kitchen, putting away the salt and filling the kettle with water. She turned on the stove and leaned against the counter, staring at nothing. Feeling nothing.

“Marinette,” Tikki said softly, and she closed her eyes.

“I can’t right now, Tikki,” Marinette said, rubbing her tired eyes and refusing to meet Tikki’s gaze.

“You have to at some point.”

I don’t want to.

“You should go back to bed.”

“You should, too.”

I can’t.

The kettle screamed, and Marinette took it off the burner, pouring some of the water into a clean enough mug and dropping a random tea bag into it. She sat down at the table, her fingers fiddling with the string of the tea bag. Tikki watched her for a moment, and she seemed to sense that Marinette wasn’t planning on going to bed or talking any time soon. She sat down by the flower vase, and before long, she was asleep.

Marinette took a sip from her tea, swallowing and waiting to see if it would fill the emptiness she felt in her ribcage.

She took out her phone, empty and black since she’d turned it off. Feeling guilty for shutting Chat out, she turned it on to at least think about giving him a better explanation.

As soon as it was on, her phone buzzed with an incoming call. She’d turned it to silent after what had happened at Adrien’s.

Adrien.

She picked her phone up and tried to avoid thinking about that particular disaster.

“Hello?”

“I hope I didn’t wake you.” Luka.

“No, you didn’t,” Marinette said, rubbing her eyes. “What’s up? Why are you awake at” - she glanced over at the oven clock - “4:13 in the morning?”

She heard Luka shift. “Bad dream,” he said, his voice soft. “What about you?”

“Long night,” she answered, and then sighed. “And a bad dream.”

Luka was silent for a moment. “I want to see you."

“Do you want me to come over?”

“I’ll come to you,” he said, and Marinette frowned. She could’ve used the walk. “I’ll be there soon. I love you.”

“Love you, too,” she said, and then she hung up. She looked around at her paranoia, displayed in the ring of salt along the walls and windows. A concealment spell would make her look less strange, but it was Luka - he wouldn’t push questions on her that she didn’t want to answer.

She realized that she wanted to see him, too. She wanted to be alone, but she wanted to be alone with someone else. Chat, however well meaning and sweet, would’ve only wanted her to talk, and she couldn’t… she couldn’t do that right now. Even if it would probably be better for her. Same with Tikki.

But Luka didn’t know about the fire, or Lila, or anything. She wouldn’t have to tell him that she’d talk about it later. And being with him always felt so easy.

Easy would be a blessing right now.

She put on a fuzzy cardigan, picking up Tikki, who was still asleep, and gently placing her in one of the pockets.

Luka came twenty minutes later, sporting purple rings under his eyes and a head of bed hair. As soon as he stepped inside, he frowned, reaching out and brushing his thumb over her chin. “Is this blood?” he asked, and Marinette took out her phone, examining her reflection in the glass.

Sure enough, there was dried blood on her chin.

“What happened?” he asked, gently pulling her face to him so that he could get a closer look. He traced the dried trail of blood to a cut on her bottom lip, still tender to the touch. She winced. He immediately moved his thumb to the corner of her mouth, but he didn’t stop touching her completely. “Where did you get this cut?”

Lila. 

She’d been so concerned about keeping Lila’s ghost out of her home and thoughts that she hadn’t even noticed the soft throbbing of the cut.

“I must’ve hit myself on something,” she said with a shrug, turning around and gesturing for him to follow her up the stairs. “I had a bad dream earlier, so it must’ve been then.”

He hummed, following after her.

When they got upstairs, she told him to sit on the couch while she washed off her face and poured him some tea. She retreated into the bathroom, flicking the light on and wincing at her reflection. She looked understandably awful - wild, half-damp hair, dark circles, red eyes, dried blood on her chin. No wonder Luka had been so concerned when he first saw her.

She washed off the blood on her chin and tied her hair in a low bun at the nape of her neck. And then she went to the kitchen, pouring Luka a mug of tea before realizing the water had gotten cold. Rubbing her eyes, she put the mug in the microwave and heated it up for 45 seconds. Good enough.

“Microwave tea?” Luka asked as she handed him his warm mug.

“Do you want to wait for the kettle to get hot again?” she asked, sitting down beside him and raising an eyebrow. His mouth quirked up in a smile, and he shook his head. “Good,” Marinette said, leaning back on the couch and bringing her legs up to her chest, “because I wasn’t going to do it no matter what you said.”

“You’re a fantastic host.”

“Thanks, I get that a lot.”

They sat in silence for a while, and Marinette watched Luka drink his microwaved tea, and he watched her watch him. When he was done, he set the mug on the coffee table, and she swallowed.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked gently. Because being awake at four in the morning and saying you had a bad dream and having a murdered sister and sister-in-law makes for a lot of things to talk about.

“No,” he said, leaning back against the couch and crossing his long legs into a pretzel shape. “You?” Because he could tell there was something she should talk about and she said she’d had a bad dream and four people were dead because of her (but he didn’t know that last part).

“Not really,” she said, and he nodded, breathing out a sigh of relief.

“You know what I do want to talk about, though?” he asked, and she raised her eyebrows.

“What?”

“Magic.”

“Magic, huh?” Marinette asked, glancing around at the softly glowing salt lining her home. She would’ve preferred to avoid the conversation for tonight, but Luka didn’t deserve that. 

“That’s what that is, right?” he asked, nodding his chin to the salt lines. “Because I’m pretty sure salt doesn’t glow.”

Marinette looked back at him. “How’d you know it was salt?”

“Smells like it,” he said, and Marinette took a deep breath through her nose. The air did kind of have a salty tang to it. She got up from the couch, grabbing a candle from the kitchen table - the cherry blossom one Adrien had given her - and lit it with her finger out of Luka’s sight.

“Sorry,” she said, returning to the couch and setting the candle down on the coffee table.

“I don’t mind,” he answered, shaking his head. “What’s it for? The salt, I mean.”

Marinette tucked her knees up to her chest. “To keep out unwanted spirits,” she whispered, tugging her cardigan tighter around her body. 

Luka nodded sagely, as if this was very normal to him. “I see; so that’s something that you have to worry about,” he said, and Marinette let out a small laugh. He looked at her, moving so that he was facing her more squarely. “How’d you find out about all this? How’d you get involved?”

She picked at the fuzz on her cardigan. “Ladybug,” she said, rolling a piece of fuzz between her fingertips. “When I opened up Lucky Charm, she came to me and said that she liked the place my shop was for her own sort of shop. She asked for my permission to use it for her needs.” Luka said nothing, and Marinette pushed on with her story. “She showed me the world of magic so that I would understand. And I did. I do. I’ve been letting her use my shop as her base since then.”

He chewed on his lip, looking around at the salt. “Are you…” He trailed off, gesturing to the salt, and then frowned. “Do you…” He made a vague wiggling gesture with his fingers.

“No,” Marinette said, catching his drift. “Ladybug just leaves things behind to protect me.”

“Ah,” he said, dropping his hands. He twisted his lips to the side. “Would you have told me? If you were?”

Guilt flooded through her. She looked away.

“Okay,” he said. Not angry, not upset. Just ‘okay.’

“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” she said, reaching over and taking his hand. “But if - and I mean a very big if - I was a witch, then… It’d have to stay a secret. There’s a reason nobody knew until now that magic existed, and it’s because it’s dangerous.” She squeezed his hand. “Once you involve yourself in the magical world, there are so many risks.”

He smiled down at their joined hands, squeezing her hand back before looking up at her. “I’m not upset, Marinette,” he said gently, genuinely. “Remember when I came over? And you saw me talking to Ladybug?”

She nodded.

“Well, she explained some things to me. I didn’t blame you before, you know, and I definitely don’t blame you now.” He paused, looking down at their hands again and running his thumb over her knuckles. “I trust you, Marinette.”

Her bottom lip trembled, and she leaned her forehead against his shoulder, trying desperately to hold herself back. He was too good, certainly too good to be anywhere near her. “I’m sorry,” she whispered around the lump in her throat. “I don’t deserve you.”

“What’s that about?” he asked, running his fingers through her hair. “Of course you do.” She let out a small laugh that sounded more like a sob. His fingers stilled in her hair, cradling the back of her head like she was something precious. “You’ve had a really rough night, huh?” he asked, his voice low and close to his heart.

She nodded.

“How can I help?” he asked, pulling away just a little so that he could see her face. He tucked her hair behind her ear, furrowing his eyebrows. “What can I do to make it not so bad?”

“I don’t know,” Marinette said, her voice coming out as a whisper. “Stay with me?”

“Okay,” he said without even a breath of hesitation. “Do you want me to talk?”

“Yes,” she said, and he nodded. “About anything. Anything you want.”

“Okay. You don’t have to listen.” He gently pulled her over to him, letting her lean against him as he started to talk. For a while, Marinette listened because she didn’t trust herself not to. He was talking about music - different songs he liked and classical pieces that inspired him. And then his voice turned into music, and Marinette closed her eyes.

She didn’t sleep, but she let herself rest, if only for that moment.


---


Luka had fallen asleep leaning against her.

She carefully moved him so that he was leaning against the couch, starting to stand. He stirred, and she paused, looking back at him to check if he was still asleep. He was.

Once standing, she padded to the kitchen, mindful of the sound of her footsteps, and rubbing her face with her hands. She sighed, long and slow, and she could see the barest hint of glittering magic on her exhale. 

She turned away, pouring herself a glass of water and taking a few half-hearted sips. Through the window, she could see dawn breaking.

When Luka woke up, she would pretend she’d slept. They’d go get breakfast. She’d send him home, and then she would open up the shop. It would be a regular day.

She left her half-empty glass of water on the kitchen counter, returning to the couch and sitting down. On the coffee table, the cherry blossom candle burned, the flaming wick surrounded by liquid wax.

She thought about Adrien.

He deserved an apology.

Beside her, Luka made a soft noise in his sleep. She blew out the candle, and then looked over at Luka. She reached over, brushing his hair off his forehead and smoothing out the frown between his eyebrows.

His eyes fluttered open. She took her hand away, and for a second, she saw something heavy in his eyes, something vulnerable and soft in the way he looked at her. Fear gripped at her chest, but then he smiled, and the heavy thing in his eyes was gone. “Good morning,” he said, his voice new and raspy.

“Morning,” she replied, smiling. “Breakfast?”


---


Marinette stood in front of the ruins of the apartment building, a yellow line of police tape separating her from the debris. Above, the sky was dark. No stars, only a sliver of the moon.

“You’re her, aren’t you?”

She looked away from the ruins, finding a police officer staring at her. 

“The one from the news? The one who said magic was real?”

Looking back to the ruins, she let out a breath, ignoring the pink mist that accompanied the exhale. “Are you in charge of this area?” she asked, giving the police officer a glance.

He nodded. “Yes, mademoiselle.”

“Could you let me in?”

He blinked. “E-excuse me?”

“Could you let me in?” she repeated, gesturing to the police tape. “There’s something I have to do.”

The police officer stuttered. “I am under strict orders to not let anybody-”

“I understand,” she replied, nodding her head. It would make sense, and she hadn’t really been expecting to be let in so easily. “I suppose I’ll just have to make do here.” She sat down on the sidewalk, making sure to get comfortable.

“What are you doing?” the police officer asked as she took off her gloves, setting them down on the pavement beside her.

“We won’t cause you any trouble, monsieur,” Tikki said, and the police officer blinked at the little pixie. She smiled sympathetically at him.

“If what we’re about to do does cause trouble for you,” Marinette said, rubbing warmth and magic into her scarred hands, “then contact Detective Sabrina Raincomprix. Tell her it was Ladybug’s fault.”

Tikki settled down at Marinette’s shoulder. “Are you sure we can do this?” she asked, glancing over at the ruins of the building, at the ash littering the space. “Chat really… He really did a number on the place.”

Marinette bit her lip, remembering the sight of the ceiling turning to ash with the touch of Chat’s fingertips from the night before. “It shouldn’t hurt to try.”

“Try what?” the police officer demanded.

She looked up at him. “To fix it.”

He stared at her like she was insane, and she turned away from him, rubbing her hands together one last time. 

And then she placed her hands on the pavement, closing her eyes and focusing. 

A Restoration spell was no easy task - and not knowing how everything looked before would only make it harder, but she had to try. For the sake of the people who lost their homes in a fire that they didn’t start.

The scent of earth and sour candy filled the air, and she felt her pulse heavy in her palms. Her arms started to tremble, and her bones started to ache, but she was close - she felt it. Even though there was so much ash for her magic to repair, she was close.

She opened her eyes to a flabbergasted police officer and a noisy crowd of people she was surprised she’d managed to block out for so long.

“Of course we could do it,” Tikki said, shaking her head in awe. “Of course you could do it.”

Marinette stared up at the apartment building in front of her, completely Restored, and waited to see if it would fall once more.

 

Chapter Text

“Witch,” the police officer breathed, and Marinette tore her eyes away from the building, looking over to him. His eyes were wide, his hands shaking. He was afraid.

Frowning, Marinette looked around at the crowd that had gathered around her. There were people who stared at her with fearful eyes, and then there were others - the ones who had their phone cameras at her, the ones who were shouting questions or praises. 

Suddenly, she couldn’t breathe.

She scrambled to her feet, snatching her gloves from off the ground and yanking them onto her trembling hands. She closed her eyes, but that only made the noise louder and her chest tighter. 

“Ladybug?” Tikki asked gently as Marinette tucked her hair behind her ears and tried to breathe, breathe, breathe. “Sweetie?”

“How did you do that?” asked a voice too close.

“Don’t you think that’s a little scary?” asked a small voice to someone Marinette couldn’t see.

“She’s showing off,” someone said.

“She’s trying to fix her mistake.”

“Is this what all witches can do?”

“I didn’t believe it before, but now-”

“That’s a little much, even for a witch-”

“It’s really her-”

“Ladybug-”

Marinette Summoned her yo-yo, painting a smile on her face and nodding to the crowd, and then she escaped. 

The cold air snapped at her face as she swung to the nearest rooftop. She planted her feet on the roof, backing away from the view of the crowd and doubling over, panting out breaths that were too little, too frequent.

“Breathe with me, Mari,” Tikki whispered in her ear, and Marinette nodded her head, falling to her knees and clutching her chest with her shaking hands. “In-two-three, out-two-three,” Tikki murmured slowly, and Marinette followed her directions, squeezing her eyes shut and trying to get control of herself.

Tikki’s counts got longer, and Marinette’s breaths got slower. The world got a little less big.

“Marinette?” Tikki asked gently as Marinette opened her eyes and turned her face to the sky.

“I’m alright,” Marinette said softly, blinking dry eyes at the featureless darkness above. “I just got a little overwhelmed.”

“Has that happened to you before?” Tikki asked, and Marinette stood, smoothing down her hair and fixing her gloves.

“A few times,” she said, brushing off her slacks. “Like… like in the fire,” she continued, her voice a little quieter. “It happened then, and there’s been times before.”

“Have you seen someone for help?” Tikki asked, and Marinette looked away. She didn’t want to talk about it now - not on a cold rooftop in the middle of the night. Tikki sighed. “Are you feeling better now?”

“Yeah,” Marinette said, nodding her head resolutely. “Just a little tired.”

And she was. Restoring the apartment building from mostly the ash that Chat had caused had taken a lot out of her, as did the situation with the crowd. And of course there was the fact that she hadn’t slept since the night before. But she had to meet with Sabrina at the police department - she couldn’t miss that appointment, and she couldn’t rest. Not now.

She let out a small sigh, and a cloud of glittery magic stumbled into the air. 

“How about we walk?” Tikki asked.

Marinette waved away the cloud of red and pink magic, readying her yo-yo. “It’ll be fine.

 

---


Sabrina closed her notepad, putting down her pencil and fixing Marinette with a hard stare. Marinette stared back. 

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“You tried to talk both Rose and Juleka Lavillant out of their trance and didn’t work either time,” Sabrina said, and Marinette looked at the door of the conference room. “Ah, wait, I’m not blaming you,” Sabrina rushed on, and Marinette looked back at her, taking in her guilty expression and sympathetic eyes. “I just wanted to ask - if you’d been through the same situation twice before, then why did you try to talk Mlle. Rossi down?”

Marinette played with the ribbons on her gloves. “I’m not a police officer, Sabrina,” she said, making her voice even. “I’m not trained for these situations. I see my friends, people I loved, being a danger to themselves, and I want to stop them. I want to talk to them.” She paused, taking a deep breath. “And as a witch, I’ve been trained to recognize the importance of words.”

Sabrina furrowed her eyebrows. “I know I can turn myself and others invisible,” she said, fiddling with her pencil, “but I don’t really dabble that much with magic. So I don’t quite know what you mean.”

“Invisibility is your Gift,” Marinette said. “It’s the power that you were born with that you don’t need words to summon. But all other magic you learn, you learn by connecting the outcome of what you want to happen to a trigger word.” She held up her pointer finger. “Fire,” she said, and a tiny flame sparked on her fingertip. Sabrina’s eyes widened, and Marinette blew out the little flame. “If you get used to performing simple magic with simple outcomes, you can start creating outcomes without trigger words,” she said, and another flame lit up on her finger.

Marinette stared at it for a moment, watching the flicker of orange and yellow. And then she closed her hand into a fist, extinguishing the flame.

“But the roots are still there,” she continued, looking back at Sabrina. “All magic began with words.”

“You’re saying that, theoretically, we could get through to people Hawkmoth has influenced with words,” Sabrina said, and Marinette bowed her head.

“Theoretically,” she said softly. “It hasn’t worked so far.”

She didn’t mention that with Rose, Juleka, Lila her mind had stopped working. She didn’t mention how scared she’d been, how all logic had left her. She didn’t mention how her mouth had moved on its own while her body had refused to move. She didn’t mention that. She couldn’t.

“Thank you for coming in,” Sabrina said, standing and grabbing her notepad and pencil. “I know it must’ve been hard.”

“It’s alright,” Marinette said, standing up as well. 

Sabrina’s lips turned down in the slightest frown. “Chat said that you and Mlle. Rossi seemed close. I’m sorry for your loss.”

Marinette clenched her jaw, an empty smile twisting at the corners of her mouth. “Thank you.”

Opening the door for her, Sabrina gave Marinette one last smile. “I have some other business to take care of, but I trust you to see your own way out. Try to get some rest, Ladybug.”

She walked away, and Marinette watched her for a moment, watching the way her shoulders hung off her, the way she rolled her neck and rubbed at her eyes. She should practice what she preached, Marinette thought, and then nearly laughed from the irony of the thought.

“Let’s go home, Tikki,” she said, and Tikki nodded.

“It was a long day,” she replied, yawning and stretching on Marinette’s shoulder as Marinette started her walk to the exit of the police department. “We should take Sabrina’s advice.”

Nodding, Marinette rubbed at a knot in her shoulder - a product of sitting hunched while Restoring the apartment building - and glanced over to the side. A man in a lab coat met her gaze, clutching a manila folder to his chest, and then turned away.

Marinette frowned, changing her course to follow the man. She’d gotten many strange gazes while in the police station, but there was something different about the way this man had looked at her. He looked guilty.

“We shouldn’t follow him,” Tikki said quietly in her ear as they passed by Detective Kim. Marinette smiled and nodded to him even as he frowned at her, and continued following the man in the lab coat like she wasn’t doing something she shouldn’t.

“He seemed like he had something to say,” Marinette replied, and Tikki sighed.

The man got into an elevator, turning around and pushing up his glasses. Marinette didn’t walk any faster, instead slowing down and smiling politely at the man as the elevator doors closed. He didn’t meet her gaze. She looked up at the numbers above the elevator, watching them reach their destination. And then she pressed the button by the door, calling the elevator back up.

When it came back, she stepped inside and pressed the number she watched it go to before - a basement level.

“I’m very tired,” Tikki said as the elevator moved.

“We’ll go home,” Marinette responded as they reached the basement level. “After this.”

If the man’s guilty look was nothing, then it was nothing. But if it was something, she’d rather not ignore it.

Once the elevator doors opened, Marinette stepped out, looking around. There were a few different offices immediately by the elevator, and there was a hallway that stretched out and seemed to have other hallways branching out from it. A sign on the wall pointed the forensics department to the left.

Forensics, Marinette thought. Lab coat.

Following the sign, she walked down to the end of the hallway before it turned in a different direction and found a door labelled ‘Forensics.’ There was a window with the blinds closed looking out into the hallway, and as Marinette glanced at them, she saw the blinds shift. As if someone had been watching her.

She knocked on the door.

Nobody answered her.

She opened the door.

The man in the lab coat jumped away from the blinds, hiding the manila folder from before behind his back. Marinette stayed in the doorway, watching him for a moment.

“Hi,” she finally said. 

“Hi,” he responded. He didn’t look less alarmed.

“I’m Ladybug,” she said.

“I know,” the man responded. Marinette nodded slowly. He said nothing else.

“Can I come in?”

For a moment, it seemed like he was going to tell her no, but then he appeared to attempt to relax, shoving the folder amongst other paperwork and beckoning her inside.

“Thank you,” she said, stepping inside and making sure to leave the door open behind her. For his sake and hers. “This is my friend Tikki, by the way,” she said, pointing to Tikki, who had been sitting judgmentally on her shoulder since the elevator.

The man seemed to brighten, coming closer and examining Tikki as she fluttered her wings and smiled at him. “Amazing,” he said, pushing up his glasses. “What is it? Is it capable of human speaking? Where does it originate from?”

“Pleasure to meet you,” Tikki said, and the man gasped in awe. “I’m a pixie, I am more than able to talk like a human, and I come from stardust and other cosmic energies.”

“Fantastic,” the man said as Tikki began to fly, leaving Marinette’s shoulder. “Capable of flight, conversation, and manners. Absolutely stunning.” He let Tikki settle on his cupped hands, smiling politely up at him. “I’d love to study you.”

Tikki laughed. “Maybe some other time. I think Ladybug would like to talk to you.”

The man tore his gaze away from Tikki, looking back over to Marinette. “Ah. Right.” He moved his hands over to a polished metal table, letting Tikki jump off him and stand there instead. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, taking a deep breath before giving Marinette a smile that looked as if it pained him. “How can I help you?”

“How about a name?” she asked. “I gave you mine, after all.”

He looked away guiltily, and Marinette narrowed her eyes. “Max Kanté,” he said, holding out his hand for her to shake. “Forensic scientist.”

Marinette took his hand, giving it a modest shake. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Kanté. Or is it Dr.?”

He let go of her hand, smiling a little. “Not yet. And just Max is fine.”

“Well, Max,” Marinette said, taking a deep breath, “I’m going to be honest with you and say I followed you down here.” 

“I figured,” he said, giving her a resigned nod.

“I didn’t mean to intimidate or scare you, I just thought you might have something to say to me,” she said with a small shrug. “Judging by the way you looked at me before.”

Max bit at his lip, shoving his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. “I’ve been doing some research on magic culture,” he said, taking a step back and leaning against the table behind him where the manila folder he’d tried to hide from her was. “And it seems like the general rule is to hide your true name.”

“Do you know why?” Marinette asked, starting to get a hint of what was going on.

“Something about power and trust?” he asked, his shoulders meeting his ears. “Nothing that I’ve read is very specific.”

Marinette nodded, relaxing in Max’s own apparent ease and leaning her hip against the table Tikki was sitting on. “A name is a powerful thing,” she said, crossing her arms. “It’s a connection to your soul. When you practice magic, that connection is heightened to a near dangerous point. In the wrong mouth, a name holds too much power over the person it belongs to.”

Her thoughts brought her to Adrien, warm and close. Adrien, who’d gotten so close because she’d said his name. She had watched his pupils blow wide with his name on her lips, had watched his cheeks color. And she’d wanted more of it.

She rubbed her forehead, kicking herself. Adrien definitely deserved an apology. A proper one. Not one she hurled at him as she was sprinting out the door.

A thought occurred to her.

When you practice magic…

She frowned, staring down at the floor and thinking about Adrien’s reaction to his name in her mouth, and thinking about how that wasn’t the reaction of a commoner. 

“So that’s how it is,” Max said, and Marinette snapped out of her thoughts, looking back at Max. He was holding the folder, looking down at it as if it was heavy in his hands. 

“What’s in the folder, Max?” she asked, already dreading the answer.

Max looked up at her, furrowing his eyebrows. “Fingerprint results.” He paused, chewing on his lip. “From the Couffaine residence.”

Marinette’s fingerprints must have been all over there - she hadn’t been thinking about fingerprints and forensics when she’d been on the bathroom floor in front of Juleka. She hadn’t been thinking at all.

“And you have a name,” she said, closing her eyes and bowing her head.

“Your partner’s, too,” Max said quietly, and Marinette opened her eyes, looking back at Max. It made sense that Chat hadn’t been thinking much about fingerprints either. But it still stung. 

“What are you going to do with them?”

Max looked away from her. “I was going to deliver the results to Kim.”

Marinette blinked. “Was?”

He nodded. “But then I saw you. And I remembered what you looked like that night after the Couffaine murder. And I remembered reading that stuff about names and magic. And I got confused.”

“You saw me after Juleka…?”

“I was called on scene to take evidence,” he said, gripping the folder tight in his hands. “You know, Kim once told me that you barely seem human, but I couldn’t believe him. I just thought about then. I saw you. There’s no way you’re not human.” He paused, meeting her gaze. “Sabrina told everyone how you were trying to help, trying to do good.”

“Max…” Marinette trailed off, shaking her head. “This is your job. Even if… Even if it’s not ideal for me, you should still do it.”

He opened his mouth to say something else, but a quick knock on the door interrupted him. Detective Kim stood in the doorway, his eyes glued to the phone in his hands.

“Yo, Max, are you almost done? I wanted to go-” He looked up from his phone and stopped, his features souring when he saw Marinette. “Why are you down here?”

“She was just showing me her pixie friend,” Max said, gesturing to Tikki with one hand while his other hand threw the folder he’d been holding into a trash can. Marinette’s eyes widened, but Max continued on. “You know how fascinating this magic culture is to me, and it turns out that they have entire species we knew nothing about! Isn’t that amazing?”

“Yeah,” Detective Kim said, not taking his eyes off Marinette, “amazing.”

“Nice to see you again, Detective Kim,” Marinette said, smiling politely.

“Right,” he said slowly. She saw his hand travel to the gun strapped to his hip.

“Come on, Lê Chiến,” Max said, walking over to Detective Kim’s side and giving him a light slap on the back. “Loosen up. We’re still gonna go get burgers, right?”

The detective’s expression softened when he looked down at Max. “Of course, bro.”

“Ladybug should come too.”

“Absolutely not,” Detective Kim snapped, the soft expression he’d been sporting souring instantly.

“I should be getting home anyway,” Marinette said, waving her hands. Tikki breathed out a sigh of relief, returning to Marinette’s shoulder.

“Well, let’s walk out together, then. Give me a minute to put everything to sleep,” Max said, and if possible, Detective Kim’s expression darkened even more. Max was unphased, humming to himself as he turned off various machines in the room, leaving the detective and Marinette to themselves.

“Thank you for talking with Chat last night,” Marinette said, remembering that Detective Kim was the one who took Chat’s statement.

“It was just my job,” the detective replied tersely, and Marinette smiled, not even a little bit sure how to save the situation. The detective looked her over with cool gray eyes, and she looked away. “You left him behind,” he said, and Marinette looked back at him, furrowing her eyebrows in confusion. “You didn’t tell him you were leaving last night. He was worried about you.”

“Ah…” Marinette avoided his cold gaze, pulling at a strand of her hair. “I wasn’t feeling very well, and he was still talking with you, so…”

The detective was silent, and Marinette could feel his judgement in the air. She fiddled with her gloves, chewing on her lip.

“Detective,” she started, and then she sighed, finding the nerve to look him in the eye. “I’m sorry about the way I acted when we first met. I know I wasn’t very kind to you, and I hope that you’ll find a way to forgive me.”

He blinked, as if he hadn’t been expecting an apology from her. His posture seemed to relax, and his hand dropped from the gun on his hip, clenching and unclenching at his side. She felt a shift in the air around him, like he was considering the possibility that she wasn’t as bad as she had seemed that first time they’d met.

Max came back, slipping off his lab coat and hanging it up on a hook by the door. He picked up a leather satchel and slung it over his shoulder, looking between Marinette and Detective Kim like he was a little proud. “Ready?”

“Yeah,” the detective said, planting a hand on the small of Max’s back and giving Marinette a glance out of the corner of his eye as they walked out of the lab. Marinette paused to let Tikki fly up onto her shoulder and then followed closely behind.

On the way back to the elevator, Max started chattering about a game he had been playing recently - one of the Mecha Strikes that had recently gotten popular. Detective Kim seemed to soften further, giving Max fond looks even as he asked Marinette questions that actively made her participate in the conversation.

“Have you ever played?” he asked, pressing the button to call the elevator.

“Sometimes when I get together with my family,” she said, and the detective raised his eyebrows. “I’m actually very good at it,” she said, mostly directed at the detective.

“There’s no way you’re better than me,” Max said as the elevator doors opened. “I’m the Mecha Strike king. Nearly completely undefeated.”

“Nearly?” Marinette asked as they all got inside the elevator.

“I lost once because my mom kept on calling me, and I knew she’d kill me if I let her get to voicemail for a fifth time.”

“He’s basically a god,” Detective Kim said, obviously boasting for Max.

Marinette couldn’t help but smile. “Sounds like you’re pretty good,” she said to Max.

“The best,” Detective Kim said before Max could even say anything. Max elbowed him in the ribs.

“Maybe some time we could play together,” Max said.

“Maybe,” Marinette said,

“Absolutely not,” the detective said.

It sounded less hostile than before. Marinette considered that progress.

They walked out of the station together, and Marinette waved them goodbye as she unstrapped her yo-yo from around her hips. When she was on top of the police station out of sight, she saw Max bump the detective’s shoulder.

“Come on,  Lê Chiến. She’s super cool.”

“Shut up,” the detective said, nudging him back.

“You’re only saying ‘shut up’ because you’re too stubborn to admit you were wrong.”

“Shut up.” There was no force behind his words. “By the way, what was that file you threw away earlier?”

Max groaned, starting to walk. Marinette followed their movements on the rooftop, careful to remain unseen. “I should’ve known Monsieur Super Smart Detective would’ve found me out.” The detective shoved him gently, and Max laughed. “It was an empty one that my nephew had gotten a hold of and doodled all over. I figured it would be unprofessional to put important police info in, so I threw it away.”

“Don’t you normally hang up your nephew’s stuff?”

“Am I being interrogated now?” Max asked, his voice mockingly offended. “And yeah, I do. But the kid’s discovering some things about his body. It’s not worth hanging up.”

“You’re saying you don’t want a dick hanging up on your wall?”

“Oh, yeah, a dick drawn in purple crayon on a police file-folder would really spice up my apartment.”

“Totally, dude.” Marinette saw the detective slip his hand into Max’s. Simply, easily. Like it was the most natural thing in the world. “It would be, like, a commentary on the police’s role in modern society and shit.”

“Kim, dude, we are the police. Aren’t we supposed to like us?”

“We can like what we stand for and still criticize the failings of the bad people in our organization, babe,” the detective said. “It’s what the kids call being awake.”

“You were so close,” Max said with a laugh. “So, so close.”

“What? What did I say that was wrong?”

Max laughed.

Marinette didn’t follow them anymore, feeling like she was intruding on their personal moment. She was fairly certain Max wasn’t going to divulge her or Chat’s identities, and so there was no reason for following him. And the detective didn’t seem so cold now. She didn’t think she’d have to worry about him, either.

Also Tikki was practically burning a hole in her shoulder with pure judgement energy alone.

“Alright,” she said. “We’re going home for real this time.”

“We better be,” Tikki grumbled.


---


Marinette woke up with a start, her breathing heavy. She’d had a nightmare, but it was already starting to fade from her mind. Just in case, she checked her arms, chest, and face for new bruises or scratches. There were none.

Sighing, Marinette extricated herself from her sheets, careful not to disturb Tikki, who was still sleeping. She rubbed her eyes and checked the clock, squinting so that the glowing numbers would focus.

Just before five in the morning. She’d slept for two hours.

There was no use going back to sleep, so she gathered up some folders and papers on her desk and headed to the kitchen table. She lit some candles instead of turning on the lights and looked down at the papers in front of her.

She couldn’t call Luka to distract her from her terrors. Not two mornings in a row. So she’d have to distract herself another way.

The beautiful face of Emilie Agreste stared up at her from the papers on the table.

She got to work.

Chapter Text

“I can tell you’re not paying attention.”

Adrien looked away from his phone. “I totally am, I promise.”

“You’re totally not.”

“Totally am.”

His phone vibrated, and Adrien grabbed it before the buzz from the notification had even finished. It was just an email from Théo telling him to come in early the next morning. He sighed.

“...Totally not,” Plagg said, giving Adrien a look. “If you were paying attention something would’ve happened by now.”

Flopping onto his back, Adrien frowned up at his ceiling fan. “I’ve been paying attention for two weeks,” he grumbled. “Nothing’s happened.”

“No,” Plagg said, picking up the pencil Adrien had not been paying attention to in his teeth and climbing onto Adrien’s chest. He sat down, dropping the pencil on Adrien’s nose.

“Ow,” Adrien said.

“Nothing you wanted has happened,” Plagg said, ignoring him. “You’re not paying attention to the right things, kid.”

“I am,” Adrien insisted, throwing his hands over his eyes. “It’s just not working. I can’t do it.”

“Try.”

Adrien glared at Plagg, grabbing the pencil and holding it tightly with both hands. “Break,” he commanded. “Be destroyed. Turn to ash. Do something.”

The pencil did nothing.

“See?”

“You weren’t trying.”

Adrien let out a frustrated groan, throwing the pencil to the side and pushing Plagg off him. “Yes, I was. I was trying. I’ve been trying for two weeks.”

His phone vibrated. He snatched it up. It was another email from Théo, this time telling him to stay late the next day as well. Adrien nearly shouted, hurling his phone across the room.

“Kid…” Plagg said, his voice full of pity or sympathy or some other emotion that was heavy and awful. 

“It’s been two weeks, Plagg,” Adrien said, scrubbing his hands over his face and trying to get himself under control. “I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, and there’s-” His voice broke off. “She hasn’t said a word. Not. A. Word.”

Plagg crawled into his lap, waiting for Adrien to look at him. “She’s messaged you back, you know.”

“I know,” Adrien said, shaking his head. “But it’s not her. It’s- it’s like her, but it’s not. She’s distant. She doesn’t want to see me. She won’t talk about what happened at the apartment building. And she rarely messages back.” He let out a breath, running a hand through his hair. “I just… I just want her to talk to me.”

“Then go see her.”

“I don’t want to intrude or rush her, and I don’t even know where she is-”

“Merlin and Morgana, kid,” Plagg groaned, jumping off his lap and onto the floor. “It’s killing you. Just go to her little shop and talk to her. Then you can feel better and actually focus on practicing your magic.”

If Plagg was telling him to go see her, then he meant business. For the past two weeks he’d been telling him to let things run their course - which meant Adrien must seem really pathetic now. 

“Come on,” Plagg said, and Adrien got the feeling that if he had fingers, he would snap them. “Say the magic words, and let’s go.”

Scratch that. He must seem excessively pathetic.

“Alright, alright,” Adrien said, getting up from his bed and scooping his phone up from the floor. It had a nice new crack through the screen protector which made him feel a little embarrassed. “Plagg, Transform me.”

Over the two weeks that he’d been doing awfully at practicing magic, he’d been doing pretty well at practicing using his baton to get around the city. It was relaxing, albeit a little dangerous for the people walking on the sidewalks. But he’d gotten better at finding routes that would avoid large traffic areas.

The sky was darkening above him, not quite night. As the sun lowered into the horizon, Adrien could feel that spark of something electric grow stronger in his veins. It was that same spark he’d felt when he’d accidentally destroyed his light bulbs (Plagg finally explained to him that was the moment he’d UnLocked his magic, which would’ve been very nice to know prior to two weeks ago), the same spark he’d felt the night he’d touched the ceiling of a collapsing building and turned it to ash, the same spark he’d felt every night since. The same spark he couldn’t seem to use.

He’d destroyed an entire building, but he couldn’t destroy a pencil.

Typical.

They passed by the apartment building that had burned down, newly rebuilt. It had been all over the news two weeks ago, and even now there were still people who were talking about it. The night after the fire, Ladybug had gone back and somehow restored the entire building. The people praised her for giving people back their homes. The news feared her for her display of power.

Videos of her performing magic on the building had circulated, and Adrien had watched them all. They were far more amazing than all the videos of him turning the same building to ash. There was something wondrous, something beautiful about the decimation he’d caused being rebuilt in a bewitching red light.

But at the end of the videos, the feeling was always cut short. Anyone else may not have noticed. But Adrien did.

He saw the way Ladybug had recognized the crowd, the way she had scrambled to her feet. He saw the way she placed a mask of a smile on her face before she zipped away on her yo-yo. He saw the fear in her eyes.

He needed to talk to her. He needed to make sure she was okay.

When he reached Lucky Charm, he saw a familiar head of black hair near the front door. He clicked the button on his baton, dropping down to the ground and landing nimbly on his feet. “Hey, Marinette.”

She shrieked, the groceries in her arms tumbling to the sidewalk as she jumped back. The keys that she’d been using to unlock the shop flew into the air, and Adrien reached out, grabbing them before they could fall. He handed them back to her. She took them, her eyes wide with shock.

“What’s wrong, princess?” he asked, leaning down and starting to gather her groceries. “Cat got your tongue?”

“Oh, shut up,” she said, quickly recovering and stuffing her groceries into the paper bags. “You shouldn’t have snuck up on me like that.”

They stood, each holding a bag of her groceries as she unlocked the door. She walked in and held the door open with her foot, nodding her head for him to come inside. He thought she was going to tell him to leave the groceries in the backroom and leave, but instead she led him upstairs to her living space.

For some reason, it felt a little embarrassing.

As he walked into her place, he couldn’t help but notice the salt lining the floors and windows, glowing red. It was a little bit of a mess, papers and books scattered everywhere, and as he followed her into the kitchen, he saw that one of the candles he’d given her - the chocolate chip cookie one - was burning sweetly on the table. 

“You can sit,” she said, nodding her head to the table after they put the groceries on the countertop. Plagg didn’t have to be told twice, jumping off Adrien’s shoulder to lay down on one of the chairs, curling up and half-closing his eyes for a little cat nap. Adrien looked back to Marinette.

“I could help-”

“Sit.”

He sat.

She put water in the kettle to boil and then went about putting away the groceries. After she’d finished, she grabbed a mug from the sink and scrubbed it clean with a sponge and dish soap. She set it to the side and then looked at a mug sitting on the counter that had lipstick stains on the rim. She rubbed at the stains with her thumb.

When the water was ready, she poured some into the two mugs, digging out teabags from a box shoved to the side on the counter and plopping them in. She gave Adrien the mug she’d cleaned, sitting down at the table across from him and taking a sip from her tea. 

The silence stretched on, and, although it wasn’t uncomfortable, he still noticed a certain... heaviness. He saw how Marinette’s shoulders were tense, and he couldn’t help but notice the dark circles under her eyes, accented by smudges of mascara or eyeliner or both.

She looked up at him. He realized he’d been caught staring.

“Sorry.”

“Why are you here?”

It was a valid question, and yet the bluntness of it stung. He took a sip of his tea. It was bitter. “I wanted to see Ladybug. Since it’s twilight, I figured she would be opening the shop now.”

Marinette looked down at her mug, tracing her thumb over the lipstick smudges. “She’s not here today.”

Adrien sat back in the chair, looking over at the line of glowing salt on the window sill. “Are you saying that because she’s really not here or because she told you not to tell me where she is?”

“She’s really not here.”

“But she’s avoiding me, right?”

“I’m the last person you should ask about what she’s feeling.”

Frowning, Adrien looked over at her. She was staring down at her tea, obviously avoiding eye contact with him. “I thought you were the closest to her,” he said, and the barest hint of a smile pulled at her lips.

“In a way.”

“Has she talked to you at all about what happened two weeks ago?” he asked because maybe, just maybe, if he couldn’t see for himself that Ladybug was okay, then Marinette could tell him. If she had talked with Marinette, then he wouldn’t be as worried. Marinette was a great listener, and an even better friend to count on. “Does she seem okay?”

Marinette shifted, drawing a knee up and hugging it to her chest. “I get the feeling she doesn’t want to talk about it.”

“I’m really worried about her,” Adrien said, shaking his head.

“She’ll be okay.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Did she tell you that?”

She looked away.

“I know you must be worried about her, too,” Adrien said, and her eyebrows lifted in surprise. “There’s no way you’re not. You know her better than I do. She’s not okay.”

“So maybe she’s not,” Marinette admitted softly, shrugging her shoulders. 

“She’s been pushing me away,” Adrien continued. “Hardly answering my messages, not giving me updates - did you know she even left me alone the night of the fire? She left before I’d finished giving my statement to the police.” Marinette winced. “I just… I just want to make sure she’s not trying to handle everything by herself.”

“Ladybug has…” She trailed off, pursing her lips. “She has trouble with things like this.”

“I was trying to give her space,” Adrien said, finding that he was rambling out his frustrations after two weeks of not having anyone who would listen. Plagg didn’t count, of course. He was always telling Adrien to focus on something else. “You know, because she seemed really messed up after the fire and she wasn’t responding to my messages then, so I figured she just wanted some time alone. And I didn’t want to push her, but every time I asked to meet up, she told me she was busy, which, I mean, that’s fine, but… But a person died, you know? And it seemed to really get to her. I feel like she’s pretending to be fine so that she won’t have to face it.”

Marinette stared down at the table, tracing circles on the wood. “Very perceptive of you.”

“So you agree with me?”

“I’m not saying you’re wrong.”

“I know Ladybug has probably told you not to talk so much about her, but I just- I really lo- care about her. I really care about her.” He took a sip of his bitter tea, looking up to find Marinette’s heavy blue eyes on him. He set down his mug, looking over to the chocolate chip cookie candle, the wick floating over a puddle of sweet-smelling wax. “I know you’re a good person, Marinette. If she won’t talk to me, then I think… I think she would talk to you. You make talking easy.”

She wiped a hand over her eyes, letting out a shaky sigh. “And you know this from, what? Two conversations with me?”

“I’m a fantastic judge of character.”

Something in her expression faltered, and she leaned her chin against her knee, turning her eyes towards the floor. “I’m sorry,” she said to the ground. “I’m sorry I have to disappoint you.”

“Marinette?”

“Thanks for coming by, Chat. I’m sure Ladybug appreciates it.” She still wasn’t looking at him.

Adrien frowned. “You’re telling me to leave.”

She didn’t answer.

“Is…” He trailed off, looking over her again. She looked so tired, so defeated. Almost like that time he’d seen her cry in the bookstore - that same heavy emotion that had clung to her shoulders and to the skin under her eyes. “Marinette, are you okay?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t believe you.”

She looked up at him, her jaw set. “You don’t even know me.”

“Maybe I don’t,” Adrien said, realizing that he’d been too blunt as he saw the fire kindle in her eyes. “But I know what a person looks like when they’re having a rough time. That’s all.” She put her leg down, straightening in her seat and narrowing her eyes at him. A pain struck through his chest - Marinette had never looked at him like that before. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“You-” She cut herself off, pushing back her hair and taking a deep breath. “You didn’t. I’m sorry.”

“I know we hardly know each other, but… I can listen if you want to talk.”

“I don’t,” she said, just a little too quickly. “But thanks. It means a lot.”

Recognizing that Marinette probably didn’t want him in her home anymore, Adrien stood, waking up the cat-napping Plagg with a tap. She stood as well, leading him to the balcony doors. She pushed them open for him, staying by the doors as he stepped out into the cold night. The wind cut through his skin, his bones. 

“I’m sorry you came all this way for nothing,” she said, wrapping her cardigan around her waist and tucking a wind-blown lock of hair behind her ear. 

“It wasn’t for nothing,” Adrien said, bending down and picking up Plagg so that he could get settled on his shoulder. “I got to see you.”

“I’m not good company right now.”

“You listened,” Adrien said with a shrug, taking out his baton. “That’s good enough company for me.”

She was silent for a moment, seeming to regard him with her tired blue eyes. “You deserve a lot more than you get, Chat Noir,” she finally said, and Adrien raised an eyebrow.

“I’ve been telling Plagg that for months,” he said, giving her a smile. “He still stashes his cheese in my socks, though.”

“That’s really gross.”

“You have a very pretty smile.”

“Do you always flirt with everything that breathes?”

“This isn’t flirting, princess,” he said, laughing a little. “It’s just stating facts.” She rolled her eyes, and he stepped back toward the railing. “I’m glad I got to see you, and if you hear from Ladybug, tell her… Tell her that I’m here for her, just like always and that… and that I lov- care about her. A lot.”

He saw the way her eyebrows shoot up at his slip-up. His cheeks burned.

“Also tell her that Plagg misses her.”

Her expression softened. “I’m sure she already knows.”

He nodded, clicking the button on his button as he held it over the ledge. He climbed on, looking back at Marinette. “Goodnight, princess.”

“Goodnight, Chat,” she said, giving him a small wave.

He started to move, traveling further and further away from her. When he looked back, she was still standing on the balcony, looking up at the cold, dark sky.


---


The leaves were falling. 

He was standing underneath the brown tree with the red and orange and brown leaves, stomping on the crunchy leaves with his light-up sneakers his mom had gotten him. He watched the green lights play along the broken leaves, jumping and laughing.

“Are you Adrien Agreste?”

Adrien looked up at the big, tall man standing over him. He cast a shadow over the brown leaves, over Adrien. “I’m not supposed to talk to st