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The Work of Witches and Familiars

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Marinette Dupain-Cheng was nine the first time she manifested a Spark. It wasn’t wild or fearsome or inherently amazing to witness as was often the case. It was soft. It was humble. It was nothing like Chloé Bourgeois who lit an entire bouquet stand on fire in a temper or Alya Césaire who was able to corral children and adults alike into some semblance of functional.

She could talk to cats. And create things that did more than they would have. More than they should have.

Papa Dupain was ecstatic! His grandmama had been a wise, powerful witch even as a child and now his daughter was showing to be as powerful and wise as she! Though Chloé was lauded by her father and the town and Alya was reputed to be astute and fierce, his little Marinette was like warm sunshine on a Spring morning, drawing the land back to life. She warmed the world with her very presence, brought light and comfort, fed those around her with genuine sincerity of love and patience. She was brilliant like the first bloom, and as tireless as the stout tree with embracing limbs.

Subtle magicks were, as always, the most powerful.

It was fortunate that Marinette had been channeling her powers into her desire to be a fashion designer. Even if it would, had the word gotten out that she was a witch, bar her from her dream career. It was doubly fortunate that she was so kind, so generous. A power like hers on the bodies of others… could bring terrible consequences.

Papa brought out every book and tome and grimoire his grandmama had kept or written. Mari learned from the teachings of a well beloved witch, Kiki Takaya. Her Papa wasn’t full 100 percent Parisian, but that might be why Maman had been so taken with the odd man when she visited Paris on a Student Visa. Papa didn’t quite have magic, but he had something and it showed in the delicate pastries he made.

Then again, Maman probably married him for his cooking. She did have a terrible sweet tooth.

At ten, Mari could fly particularly well on just about any broom… and more than once a bicycle. Her feet were light and soft in the slippers she made, ever clean and dry, allowing her to fly along the chimney stacks and rooftops with abandon. There was only one time she stitched actual wings into her shoes. Never again .

By eleven, she could orchestrate the whole bakery into the daily fare, dishes lining up to wash and cookies dancing from the baking sheets. Muffins bounced and cakes pirouetted across sparkling counters while ingredients waited their turn. This was dangerous, but everything in the bakery was made and what better way to tame your love than by providing for the many.

Marinette was meant to create .

That was the shape of her magic, her soul.

So, Papa and Maman taught her as much as they could to help fulfill her need alongside her sewing. Mari loved them.

At twelve, she had learned how to make cat treats. So much so that on her balcony, there was a dish of treats always full for the stray cats. Many spoke to her kindly, bringing her news of the world around her from a very new perspective. The few that did not were often attached to other witches. Marinette had to turn to many away from her balcony as Familiars because she had a feeling so deep and strong that if she were to bind one to her, it would harm the cat. She couldn’t stand the thought, but loved them all gently.

Thirteen was, of course, the year she should have journeyed. She didn’t.

“If I want to make things for people, I can’t be outed as a witch,” she told an old alley-wise tom. “Because I have to try to go out as far as I can. I can’t do that and be a proper witch. They wouldn’t let me make anything for anyone.”

So she stayed. She made collars, ones to attract help and generosity. Some to bring luck, especially for the cats with the deepest black fur. Some to bring love and a home. Kittens were brought to her to bless and, though she didn’t understand why, she did.

The cats of Paris grew with her, smarter and more loyal than any seen before. And then she went to the zoo. Lions. Tigers. Leopards and a jaguar of deepest blue-black. There was a Lynx pair with cubs and a wildly fierce Clouded Leopard. They saw her at first and she definitely saw them . In time, she learned names, made allies, and fell in love with them all as only a child could love something. Pure and soft and unaltered.

Sometimes, she would even get gifts, tufts of fur, that she would spin and weave into ornaments and jewelry to wear and, most often, share.

Then she turned fourteen and something shifted. She found a boy who stole her breath, made a friend with a girl who had a witch’s pin, and stumbled blindly into the grasp of a small red god.

Not entirely in that order.



CHAPTER ONE

She found the earrings in her purse. They didn’t feel like they belonged to anyone, but the magic of them was so old, all she could feel at first was the shifting of tectonic plates beneath her feet. It was inconceivable that they were that old. Maybe.

Put me in , whispered like Spring and growth and new life. It was like a Beginning . It was like Rebirth.

It was terrifying amounts of magick so old that she wasn’t sure it had an age. She would have denied it, would have turned from it had the magick had an ounce of anger, of cruelty, or apathy of any kind. It did not and she felt how desperate it was to be used, to be needed, to be awake.

She knew better. Things that think for themselves were always dangerous, too strong to be overthrown with ease. She still put the earrings in and felt the living soul of Creation . Held open her hands for a body to shape within her palms.

Cried when she felt such a being welcoming her home .

“Hello,” crooned the Voice of Ages, the Voice of Creation.

“I know you,” whispered the softest croon of a child, Marinette unable to speak louder, to force her voice to say more. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re a witch,” She breathed, Her voice surprised and concerned. “You’re not supposed to be a witch.”

Marinette felt her hands shake, her shoulders hunching. She was a witch and it hurt more right at this moment than at any other time. Because the god of her power did not want her . A witch full of Creation rejected out of hand by the penultimate being of Creation.

“I’m sorry ,” the girl cried, tears welling. “I found them in my purse. I can release you, I am so sorry .”

Her eyes closed and face turned, she felt her lip tremble with the force of holding back her sorrow. She didn’t see the bright eyes as blue as her own, as filled with visible magic, stare at the child who was at loose ends and without a Familiar even at this age and felt the deep hopes inside her, the soft wish of being more than she showed the world. To be wanted as all of her. Oh, dear child, crooned the tiny god to Herself.

Her soul was like the First Light.

She was a witch.

The magicks shouldn’t be possible.

“I am Tikki.” Power rippled from the Named god, curling over the earrings and through the witch. “I am your Miraculous. You are my wielder.”

Blue eyes glowing to match the exposed energy of the Kwami, the girl gave a breathless shiver. “I am Marinette Dupain-Cheng.” She took a deep breath, arms steadying as the Names curled around each other, her hands curling close to her breasts. “And breath that is the source of life , Abella. Thank you, Tikki.”

The Name of Marinette’s soul reverberated within the mind and magick and heart of the tiny god, eyes going wide. Not many souls were named as sharply true as that anymore. Many soul names didn’t even match the person they represented. The one who rises was also a thoughtful name, one that suited her. The entire idea of her being a Miraculous Wielder was suited to her.

Tikki was suited to her.

She would make it possible.

 

The first time Mari became One with Tikki, the earth herself took a deep breath.

The first time they became One, Tikki knew she probably should have picked another Champion. But Marinette ( Abella ) was an extension of Herself, their Good Luck never stronger than in that instant. Mortal and tiny god breathing into Existence something so wild and powerful as to be made of the Creator Himself.

Marinette Named them. Set them a course. Created them as One. Tikki felt the Power and fell in love with her charge like a mother would a child set in her arms for the first time. Ladybug.

Protector. Portent of Good Luck. Doused in the colors of Luck and Beloved. Incapable of holding a more traditional weapon in such loving hands. It was a child’s toy. Maybe used once to fight, but not now. Tikki looked, sought the information, was blindsided by such components as youtube in particular and the Internet in general, and saw how pure her girl was. How kind. How good.

Saw something she had never seen in any of her previous wielders.

Saw a determination to better not just her (young, prosperous) life but the world even beyond her borders. Felt a genuine love for strangers never met. Knew a genuine comfort even for ones opposers.

Saw and Felt and Knew depths of loneliness ignored for the betterment of the world. The abstinence of magic bonds. The hollow space carved in a young heart who loved so much (too much). The bereft sorrow tucked away for quiet reflection instead of being thrust into the faces of others in a bid for sympathy.

Tikki did what her child could not. She wept.

 

Six months, for a kwami, is a long time to wait and no time at all in the grand scheme. In this time, Marinette fought masked monsters, souls of the world crammed under the influence of a childish rage and adult fear. She attended school and worked hard and met her best friend.

A girl with a Witch’s pin.

Alya, with hair in shades of copper and bronze, skin like that of a nymph, glittering eyes filled with joy and mirth in pale measures of the determination and vitality that made the young lady so amazing. She was beautiful inside and out and maybe Marinette would have felt less if she hadn’t instantly been a little in genuine love with Alya, friend and rock and port of safety. The friendship came easy and stayed true, two souls alike as sisters, maybe.

Marinette only knew she loved this girl and gifted her early on with a bracelet. One that was woven with skill and love and admiration. One that wrapped tenderly along a honey toasted wrist like a benediction. Threads brought together to comfort and soothe a brilliant young witch.

The aching hollow in her chest didn’t echo as deeply as before, though the girl child holding the Name of a small god did not know nor notice.

Nino, like the mountains, was a quiet sentinel, visual and noticed and grand but rather subtle. He was just loud enough to pull attention to himself, but neither conceited nor flagrant in demands. He came with Alya. And with him came…

Adrien.

He was quiet and soft and gentle. He was pampered and immaculate and hated every second of it. He was as lonely as a child could be and yet still shone with kindness, generosity, hope. Marinette felt her heart lurch towards him without her consent, fibrous fingers pressing into his sternum like silk blossoms. Beyond his physical beauty lay a most wondrous loving heart and tempered soul.

Marinette wept. Not for herself, but for him .

And with her cries, the sky fell open. The streets slicked with rain and the clouds thunder dark and spring gentle. She wished to kiss him, to drink his sorrow and pour into him comfort. Love. Herself and her magic.

And then along came a Kitten, carrying with him deconstruction. De struction. Rot . Age beyond humanity trapped in one little ring bound to his hand. She never could mistake him for Akuma. He was as she was. Little gods binding themselves by Name and deed to those too young and too old in one. That first time, she gave him a hug and felt his heart hammer between them as his arms came awkwardly around her shoulders.

What a lonely Kitten.

She set to work immediately, crafting for him something she wouldn’t quite regret, but certainly think about. A choker necklace with her insignia twisted into the beads and strands. It would be a while before she gathered her courage to give it to him, worry and fear of rejection—though about what she could never say.

Tikki still laughs with Plagg over it.

How a young Creation Witch girl accidentally bonded with a Black Cat boy.

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWO:

Alya was world wise in a way Marinette was not. She had not been as sheltered and never once hid herself, Witch or not. She had siblings, a maybe-boyfriend-maybe-just-friends interest, and three cats named Es, Car, and Got.

“I have a cat I want to give something to,” Mari started one day that she was over, all three felines in her lap, purring as she let her fingers brush over their fur. She bit her lip, unsure of how to ask. “But I’m scared.”

Alya was, as always, able to come up with something if not the right thing. “Then give it to them! I mean, a bonded cat won’t take it and a regular cat will definitely let you know if it wants it or not.”

Which, um, didn’t really help but what was she going to do, hide her present? Shaking her head at the absurd thought, the teen girl sighed as she gathered the felines in her lap just a little closer to their vast enjoyment. And Alya’s vastly amused frustration. Her cats were never like this with her , blast it!

“You’re thinking about this too hard. They will or will not. It’s their choice and you should let them choose. I mean,” she leaned over, curling one hand through the curly, kitten-soft fur of Car, “I woke up one day with Es, Car, Got on my bed at ten and a deep refusal to leave. Ironic considering my abilities.”

Marinette smiled as the trio told her that Alya had been so sad and lonely in such a full house, how they had waited for weeks before deciding they wanted one Witch and then coming into her life to bond with her. If she could be kind to human kittens invading her den, they felt sure she would be fine with them inviting themselves into her life. They had certainly learned much by her side, they offered and Alya blushed because she could understand her own familiars, thank you very much. She just didn’t know Marinette could too. That her friend was holding every story they told with reverence inside her heart. That in three days, all three would have new collars attuned to them and Alya and no one else, not even Marinette.

(In time, Alya would learn and she would cry softly into folded ears and curly hair and striped fur. She would thank Magick itself for her best friend. But that is still a ways off.)

“Maybe they were what you needed,” she whispered, the words carrying a weight of Truth on the tongue.

“... Yeah,” is whispered right back, the word little more than a puff of air. “Yeah, I did. I needed them and didn’t even know it.”

The two laid on the (mostly) made bed, three cats between them as the girls (the Witches) spoke of colors and clothes and boys (Nino and Adrien). For a little while, they were just teenagers who were hanging out and maybe figuring out what they needed to.

Marinette knew she had come to a conclusion. So, that night, she swung up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, beaded choker (collar) in her hand as a few thousand fears surfed in the back of her mind, and smiled at the Boy Who Was a Cat as he waited for her. Her , quiet Marinette with fear in her skin and determination in her bones. Her , Ladybug with resolution in her hands and protection in her heart. He was Good and he was Kind and she maybe kind of loved him.

“I made you something,” she started before he could open his mouth and deliver a terrible pun (that she always laughed at). “Here. If you want it.”

Black, glass beads minuscule and arranged into an acid green cat eye right in the center… and a daring ladybug off to the side, smaller and less visible. A subtle claiming. It was a heavy thing, folded fabric over a woven metal mesh with a big heavy clasp on the back and a finger’s length of chain to adjust with. Chat’s jaw unhinged, eyes wide as he barely felt able to reach for the piece of handcrafted jewelry. He swallowed twice before he could speak, and even then, it was a rash of uncertainty.

“Are you sure? For me?”

Marinette, not Ladybug, smiled like a warm summer rain, soft but felt. “Always, mon chaton. There is no one else.”

He blushed atomic red, the same color as her suit, and fumbled for a minute with the clasp. Claws were not conductive to working small mechanisms.

“Would you like me to…?”

He didn’t even pause at her entreaty, handing her the collar and kneeling, back to her. “Please, My Lady. I just…” he lifted a hand to stare at the frustrating points. “I am not equipped for delicate work.”

Tittering at him, she stepped closer, draping the choker around his throat and fastening it snuggly to his neck. She couldn’t resist pressing a kiss to the top of his head, nor running her fingers through disheveled locks. “There, all done,” she murmured in a voice that took his breath away, words ghosting his ear. “I hope it brings you luck, mon minou.”

She pulled away then and he sprung up, spinning on his heel to embrace her. Marinette was Ladybug was Marinette and she coiled her arms around his ribs, letting his head press into her neck and held him. She wanted him to know her. She wanted him to be curled inside her arms for as long as he could stand and beyond. She was utterly terrified if he ever did know. But she maybe kind of loved him almost as much as she did Adrien.

Stil, the night was young and the world was a low roaring of civilization on a Friday evening. There was plenty that could go wrong at any time. Sure, people have learned to speak before they shout, but a quiet hurt was still a wound for a butterfly to find. Taint would always find weakness, after all.

They were, however, lucky and by midnight, bid adieu as the crowds dispersed to the pubs with good cheer and bright, tipsy laughter. Marinette thought is was a bit like champagne bubbles how the world moved and looked, softly golden and with the haze of the lights in the wispy silk curtain of fog.

That night, tucked as snug as a bug in a rug, she smiled as the magic of the world around her danced as it followed her in candy floss dreams.

 

Adrien felt like his heart would cease beating or burst altogether as he swung to the sill of his window. Ladybug had gifted him something! Ladybug! Heart tapping against his ribs like an impatient bird within a cage, he released the transformation. Smooth fingers reached up to touch his throat, the chill of glass beads smaller than even what the most dedicated fashion designer would use sending a jolt of adrenaline. His heart thudded and he couldn’t hold back the bubbly champagne joy.

Plagg… was far more wary.

“That is strong magic, kid,” he stated with a tilted head. “That’s Witch magic.”

Adrien blinked at his kwami, his mentor and friend and the one that helped give him courage for another day. It’s easy to love someone when they give you freedom to be yourself. Smiling like the first streak of false dawn, he held his hands up for Plagg the alight in his palms.

“It’s Ladybug’s magic.”

The words were whispered and euphoric. They were the sound of the greatest desire fulfilled. They were the warmth of an adult with nothing so grand and the joy of a child promised the all the stars.

“It’s Ladybug’s magic, can’t you tell?”

The small feline couldn't help that he was happy for the boy even as he worried. That necklace was a collar and he was not a pet. Adrien was not a pet. He was Destruction, Decay, the Ending. The boy was none of that and so full of Hope and unrequited love of every stripe that it tempered the very nature of his own ancient Named god self. How did he get so lucky this time?

“It’s still Witch magic.” And yet, that brought up more questions than it answered. What was Tikki playing at? Witches were the worst sort for this, greedy and hungry for power. Surely not so much would have changed in just a thousand years. Tikki was a Named god, nothing could force her name nor force her compliance. Papillion was a Named god, but also a child in comparison to them, the Yin and Yang, the Good and Bad, Lucky and Luckless.

“Just, hey, let me look it over, okay?”

Adrien was more than happy to have the kwami look at it, to see the craftsmanship in every careful, loving stitch. This would not hurt him anymore than Plagg would set out to do so. He knew it. Knew it like the earth knew the sky. Like the light touching the highest peak first before all others, he knew. The gaping maw of his affections loosed from muzzle, now opened wide to croon and roar with abandon his love.

Fingers curving over the ladybug he could feel distinctly, he thought of his Ladybug. His goddess queen upon mortal plane, full of light and joy and his every breath in supplication. He smiled with such joy that it physically hurt where his cheeks stretched so hard.

He was interrupted, as always, by Plagg being especially noisy. Whistle of astonishment, the tiny god sat dazed with his boy.

“Kid, whoever that Ladybug is, she is strong. And she is good . Like, I don’t think Tikki could have picked anyone else even with her being a Witch. Pure souls like that don’t exactly exist on dime store racks.”

The young teen turned to his friend and stretched out on his bed, blinking slowly as warmth filled him up, like an embrace with his Lady. “It’s Ladybug , Plagg. She is the sun.” He felt his mouth twitch with a small secret grin. “She shines with warmth and light. Of course she is good .”

It was the only Truth he had ever felt on his tongue. It would not be the last, he was sure.

 

Marinette had one and a half days of nothing to do. Adrien was away on a weekend photo shoot with a man she couldn’t quite trust and shrouded in a way to make him alone and lonely. Alya was talking with her family about her Witching Visa which allowed the Italian family to move here to be with her in the town she chose. She had to renew for a duration of her preference. Anywhere from a few more days to the rest of her life, it was flexible and the mark of a great city if at least one Witch (or more) decided to reside there.

A capital W Witch and not Marinette’s little w witch.

Nino was fretting over Adrien. A small forlorn smile curled soft pink lips as she finished the last stitch on a turtle shell pack, grazing loving fingers over the black and iridescent stitching like gossamer wings. The hat to match had a black body and a green bill, music notes embroidered with the joy of music and the sincerity of timeless enjoyment. And inside… well, every single line was made with protection in mind. Of body and heart. Emotions because those were so fragile, like panes of stained glass within a rotten wood frame. Of delicate moonbeam Hope.

Ah, that. That had taken her the longest, fingers blistered and bleeding and mouth dry from telling the thread and fabric what was most important indeed. She had crooned the desire into existence and wept the warning of letting it break. Her magic had pushed so hard, pressed from her skin like static, left limbs numb at making sure that the pack would Know.

She had to let her hands rest, now. Let the skin close and the nerves quiet. It was as if angry bees buzzed under her skin, each little move another sting, every pressure as if she shoved her nerves into a bowl of stick pins.

Maman worried, wrapping salve and bandages around each hurt with care and love and worry. She would feel wonder later, once her child was not crying with each ache made worse by the drain of magic. For now, an almost sorrow, an almost terror fluttered across her heart as she helped her child, fed her and dressed and cried in the night at the measures her daughter went through to appease the creature called Creation. The creature of her magic, of her soul. Papa held her tight the nights she could no longer ignore her sorrows. Could no longer contain her terrors.

Yet, Marinette did not rail nor become angry. She smiled, kissed her mother with child love and child adoration, little thank yous and pleases on her child mouth. She hugged like sunshine and kissed like blossom petals brushing cheeks. She hummed and sang her happiness at creating something so important to someone else. She gave her joy not only voice but to others with every smile that lit up her eyes.

“Maman, look . It knows what it should do and it is happy. It will protect. It will shelter. That is so very important, Maman. It is loving magic and I made it . How could I be upset when I have brought to existence something that will love and care for someone else?”

And, really, how do you argue with sunlight and blossom petals?

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THREE:

Nino stared at his phone, worry like a damp towel smelling of mildew choking him slowly. Whenever he thought of his best friend , the boy made of golden rays and star dust, too pretty to be handsome just yet and too young to be used as he was, he felt the wrath of protection warble up his throat like the roar of a Titan. Hands clutching the only lifeline he had to him, the teen took a deep breath before slowly peeling his fingers from the edges of his phone. Monday morning was shaping up to be one of those days . The ones he had to watch himself or he would bundle Adrien up and steal him away.

He was early, even, standing on the curb as the car pulled up and the young teen model stepped out. Oh. Adrien. Wrapping an arm around his best friend’s shoulders, he pulled him into a hug. Shaking hands pressed into his jacket before fisting and tugging the larger boy closer.

Nino had to remind himself not to murder Gabriel Agreste with a mantra. Maybe if he repeated it enough, he would stop feeling like flying off the handle in a homicidal rage.

“I thought this was supposed to go until Tuesday,” he stated with an almost questioning lilt. The Gorilla opened his door to deposit the book bag of his charge, a not-frown on his broad face. A worried crease pressed between his heavy brows, barely discernible. Nino nodded at the man before tucking Adrien closer under his chin. “Not that I’m complaining, but what happened?”

It took awhile for the blonde to stop shaking, breaths soft puffs into the collar of his friend. Nino took no notice of it, his hands firm and gentle as he allowed the young man to soak up the attention. He was in no hurry, class could wait.

“Something happened. The cameras…” he whispered, voice like leaves rustling on sidewalks. “Something happened , Nino, and I didn’t do it.”

Which, no fucking duh , thought the mocha teen. If Nino had his way, Gabriel would pay dividends for every moment he made this sunshine summer child think something was wrong with him, that it was his fault. Adrien had gotten the very short end of a very shitty stick and he was going to change that for his best friend.

“It’s okay, dude, not your fault,” he murmured firmly, conviction in his words like the legs of the Eiffel Tower — powerful and strong and tall no matter the weight. Adrien was the star on the very tip, whimsical like a fairytale and as delicate as crystal. Nino had to trouble holding him up. “It’s never your fault. If anyone says it is, that it is you , they are wrong . They are liars. Lying liars who lie .”

It took a moment but there was a definite giggle. Sloppy and wet and a little hysterical, but it was there. Nino felt something in his chest loosen, a great ball of anxiety unraveling like a ball of yarn gently plucked from the knots. Pressing a kiss to a blond crown of a young prince, he leaned down just enough to grab the strap of Adrien’s bag and sling it over his free shoulder. This was his friend, his best friend, like hell was he letting him do anything after probably not eating for over forty-eight hours . France would be soaked in Revolutionary blood again if anyone tried to say something today. His patience was as thin as rice paper and about as delicate.

“Come on, bro,” he croons like a songbird, melodic and bright to dispel the lingering fog. “Let’s go sit. I brought extra for breakfast.”

He brought extra everything, but he knew it wouldn’t be enough now. He needed help. He needed sensible recommendations. He needed…

Alya Césaire.

 

Alya immediately saw an opportunity. Adrien needed stable, adult influences in his life. Who better than the two most put together adults she had ever seen in her life? That they were the parents of her best friend was never no mind. (Lies, lies. It was a very large consideration.) And, bonus, they would all get to eat some amazing food from the couple.

And, miracle of miracles, Marinette was too concerned with Adrien to gag over her crush on the teen model. “Invite him to the bakery.”

Blinking from a stupor, the raven haired girl gave a look to the auburn teen. Alya smiled as innocent as syrup and just about as sappy sweet. Adrien, listless and drained, leaned harder into Nino. Alya had told him the reason at least a third of the school believed the two boys to be dating was because of things like that.

“Adrien,” Marinette called, soft as down and as gentle as a mother with a newborn. When he didn’t respond, the raven got up from her seat and knelt by his, out of character for her but so much like her. “Adrien?”

Green eyes opened and she had a sudden insight, as if something in her sat up, took notice. She brushed it away for another day. “Adrien, my parents own a bakery. Come with Alya and Nino if you want, I can stay here if I make you uncomfortable.”

His hand reached out and she took it in her own, calm, assured. For once, she was strong and implacable in the face of her crush because no one should feel so weary, so desperately out of place and mind. She held his hand in the warmth of her own as his seemed to be too chilled to even function. Just what had happened?

“Please,” he managed in a low whisper. “Please don’t leave.”

She wanted to run from that plea, to hide her face in fear and joy. She wanted to hold him in her arms, wrap him with so many blankets and covers. She wanted to fill him up with food of her own hand, fill him with vitality he was missing. Would not. Could not. Should not.

Looking into too pale features and dull eyes, she felt furious determination settle in her skin, curl like a thousand webs of silk around muscle, pour into her veins and spill from her bones. Just try and stop her. Behind her, front row seat, Alya watched that particular look settle into vivid blue eyes like one would watch a hurricane: with awe and fear.

She knew her friend was a lit stick of dynamite beneath the soft padding, she just hadn’t counted on the strength of the blast. She glanced at Nino, his eyes wide at such a look. It was the first time he had ever seen it, the girl knew, and she discreetly pointed at the couple-that-weren’t. Yet. He blinked in incredulous awe, unknowing of the scale this small raven would go for someone.

Neither knew she was a witch, so there would be some miscalculation and miscommunication along the way.

But that was far and away from the moment and right now, the four were going to head to a quiet lunch. One where there would be far reaching consequences very shortly.

 

Marinette was worried. Very, very, entirely worried. Adrien looked as if he had spent the weekend with a Hag. Not a Sea Hag, thankfully, but a Hag all the same. Unlike in stories, Hags weren’t just female, strictly ugly, nor all that likely to eat a human body. They did go after children and the virgin, both of which the blond fell under, and they were unlikely to be caught before someone died. Usually.

Adrien had been on a photo shoot. He had been around a very select set of people. He was lucky enough to be removed before he was drained of life. It… wasn’t adding up, exactly, but she was going to find out plenty very shortly.

“Maman! Papa! I brought guests!” The merry sound of the bell above the door was reassuring and a few late breakfast, early lunch customers waved warmly at the raven haired teen. Smiling, she led the other three into the kitchen where her father was finishing up an order of personal cakes. From the palette and design, they were for a high tea. Probably a party. Waving the thought away, she pushed her friends and crush to the table and got to work grabbing knives and food from the fridge. “I’m making lunch today. Would you and Maman like curry as well, Papa?”

“Ah, you are always so good to us, ma douce fille! Of course, of course. Feed us laborers the nectar of your generosity.” He bowed, great and grand, purple smeared over his cheek (probably Maman, if Marinette was being honest) only highlighting the silly antics and his broad grin.

Clapping and resisting her magic to dance, she set about putting all that restless energy and need into her cooking. It didn’t take long before the bakery smelled of glorious, rich delights unlike what it usually held, less sugar, more savory. The magic of her popped and bubbled in a pot, vibrant pink and green sparks. Magic of a Witch and a Familiar. Magic of a Bonding Pair.

She didn’t know. Didn’t ask. Didn’t seek an answer for the unusual display. Accidents happen and sorry never erases the final product.

Dishing up four bowls, the teen put them out on the table in a specific order: Adrien, Alya, Nino. She had hummed a soothing song to the curry, had whispered for it to being health and strength, to forge protections within the body against Hags and cruelty. She had pled for it to give life and vitality with every sip. And now here it was, a warm bowl of warm curry, and her smiling at her father as he dropped off a bowl of prepared rice from the night before. Handing over chopsticks and spoons, the teen girl sat.

 

Lunch was fast over and by the time they were ready to leave, Adrien didn’t look like a walking corpse. Nino figured that whatever Mari had done, he was going to have to replicate. He glanced at his best friend, finally bright eyed and bushy tailed. Or maybe just bring the blond around more often because Nino wasn’t sure he could replicate that.

Slinging an arm over his Best Girl, he kissed the side of her curls. “Thanks for this. I didn’t think he would bounce back so fast.”

Alya was uncharacteristically silent, leaning her head on his shoulder, eyes narrowed on the baseboard. Nino held tighter, unsure what she was thinking so hard about. He was probably the only one not questioning the good food and good fortune and he was happy to keep it that way. He would know if he should know or would not if he didn’t need to. Perhaps he was too content to leave it be, but for once he didn’t want to question every good thing to come into his friends’ life nor one of his friends.

“Oh!” Mari gave a smile. “One moment! I made Nino something!”

Up the stairs she went, things making a clatter like soft bells. Nino looked at the suddenly alert Alya, her eyes watching the hatch her friend went up. Down came the girl, hands full of a stunning turtle shell shaped backpack and a hat. The mocha teen took it, gladly replacing his hat and letting his hands wander over the backpack. “Wow, Mari! This is great!”

Blushing, she stuttered a no big deal . Nino was reminded of Alya when she flinched beside him, small and barely there. He instantly transferred his attention, slipping the bag over his shoulders with ease. As if it had been made with him in mind.

“Come on, guys, lunch is ending,” he announced calmly, slinging his arm around Alya and walking with her out the door. He walked with the Italian girl, keeping her close as the other two trailed behind, one stuttering thanks as the other gave accolades for the fine meal. Shaking his head he looked to the pensive girl he held. She would say when she would say and he hoped that his maybe-girlfriend would actually say so to him.

He pressed a reassuring kiss to her temple and led her up the stairs as the first bell rang. Time for learning. Or pretending to learn.

Chapter Text

Marinette put the finishing touches on the friendship bracelets she had made for the four of them. Luck and love and health. She had made the yarn herself, putting a bit of her hair into each strand to strengthen the magic. Akuma were everywhere. She just hoped her magic was enough to keep them away from her friends.

Tucking them into her pocket, she grabbed her school bag, her purse, and a muffin. “Bye, Maman! Bye, Papa!”

Their goodbyes were lost to the tinkle of the bell and the morning rush just outside the door. Today was going to be a great day! She just knew it!

 

Alya pinned her hair up, mind awash in lethargic, circular thought. She couldn’t think of any logical explanation for what she was thinking. She could not warp it nor wrap it into a different idea. It was as it was and now she had to make sense of it all.

Es twined around her legs, purring. “ What is it, Kitten?”

Car groomed a foreleg. “ It is a human problem. We do not fool with silly things like that.

Got swatted Car, getting up to strut over to their human. “ Ignore Car, Kitten. Tell me what is bothering you.

Alya ran her hand through her hair, the artfully tousled curls just falling naturally in a lovely way. Tummy churning with indecision, she paced the small confines of her room. “My best friend might be a witch. Marionette! A witch! But…!” She turned hard enough on a pivot that she wobbled. “She isn’t a Witch, I checked! The archives don’t even say if there was a witch in her family! Unless her mother is, but I haven’t even felt anything from her! Her dad, maybe!?” Her heart beat was loud and yet soft, her emotions a riot as her three Familiars watched her diligently. “Escargot, what do I do ? Do I confront my best friend? I can’t tell the authorities! They would destroy her dreams!”

The three exchanged looks. This was a Serious Human Problem. Especially since they actually knew. “ Bring her to the den, Kitten. The sweet Pride Mother will understand.

That nickname again. Alya wanted to yell and cry and be angry. She just felt hurt and timid. She didn’t like feeling like a mouse when she was a Lioness! Wrapping her arms around her body, she sighed low and soft and quiet.

She didn’t want to be upset. Not with Marinette. Not with the soft curl of hair like the space between stars and eyes like forget-me-nots and a smile of moon beams. Not with a heart so big as to hold the world. Why would she lie? Was she not proud to be a witch? Did Alya being a witch bother her?

Her thoughts went into a spiral again and it took Es and Got rubbing against her bare legs before she snapped out of it again. Car held up the ribbon Marinette had given her and she reached for it without thought, her hand freezing when she held it and immediately calmed down. She was quick to drop it and the rush of thoughts came back. Alya gasped, eyes widening in shock.

Scrambling to pick the ribbon back up, everything slid back into focus, sharpening, all the extra mess pushed away. She had focus and clarity of thought as though she was working on a scoop for her blog. Her fingers clenched, heart a drum in her ribs.

“Oh no.”

This did not mean that Mari was a witch. It did not . Clutching the ribbon, Alya took a breath. She would have answers. Soon.

 

Tapping her toe as she waited for the bell to ring, Alya nibbled her lip, ribbon in her pocket and lunch minutes from sounding. Mari had come up to her, offered a bracelet within seconds, and the young woman had taken it in hand with only the smallest hesitation. The wash of Luck and Love was overwhelming when her Witch Sense was turned on, like an ocean within a raindrop. She hadn’t put it on, but had put it in her pocket for the time being.

Lunch rang. Finally.

Grabbing her bag, Alya turned to Marinette, smile small and strained. “Can we talk over lunch? Just you and me?”

Concerned but sweet, Mari agreed with a gentle smile. “Of course, Alya.”

Grabbing her lunch, Marinette led the way to the bakery, calling out to her parents as Alya followed with a single-minded intensity. In the attic room, the two sat on the floor, their meals between them.

How did she do this?

“... Are you a witch?”

Or… she could just, you know, blurt it out. Way to go Alya.

Mari sucked in a breath, eyes wide and scared. The ombré haired teen felt her heart drop into her shoes, her magic curling under her skin. Marinette was soft. Was sweet. Was everything the world could only hope for.

She was a witch.

“My cats call you Pride Mother , Mari. What is going on ?”

Biting her lip, the raven-haired girl twisted her fingers together in a painful looking tangle. Alya couldn’t stop herself reaching for her friend if she tried. She knew for a fact that this did hurt her friend. Had been confessed to like it was of the highest sins. Oh…. dadblast it!

Wrapping her arms around the other, the brunette held Marinette in a tight hug over their lunches, head on her lithe shoulder. Hesitant arms came up to hold on too, before her dainty hands clenched in the light jacket Alya wore. Tears soaked her shoulder, little shuddery sighs signaling the gentle, relieved sobs. The blogger felt her own eyes welling up before resolutely ignoring it. She had come with a confrontation in mind, not a relieved joy. And, oh, how odd it felt, to know this, to feel such emotions not her own.

Her little sister of the heart was so soft. So kind. With her Witch Sense turned wide open, she could tell that this room was meant for love and kindness and generosity. There was not one speck of anger or hate. Some sorrow… but Alya understood why.

It would be hard to hide being a witch.

Her best friend wanted to be a fashion designer. Merde.

“Oh, Marinette,” the girl crooned, finally pulling back. “After school, we need to talk.”

 

After school didn’t happen. And kept from happening. First because an Akuma roared through the streets, angry and sad about their dog, the child no more than seven. After saving the child and comforting them until their sobs quieted, Marinette was needed at the bakery.

Then, as if the universe was conspiring, it kept getting put off. Until, finally, Alya put her foot down, bespelled a day of “going her way”, and dragged her sister and best friend into her room the moment the last bell sounded. Escargot purred and piled upon the dainty witch while their Witch closed and locked the door.

Pride Mother ,” purriped one, soft heads bumping Marinette’s hands and arms tenderly. Curly furred Car slid sinuously around her shoulders, striped Got taking over lap, folded eared Es settling by her hip. Marinette felt warm, felt welcomed and loved. If these three did not rescind her, push her away, then she knew Alya would not for these three were an extension of the Witch. She had lied and been silently cruel of her own abilities out of fear and her sister in all but blood still loved her, still wanted her and sought her.

Alya barely got close to the bed before thin arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her in between Mari’s legs so the smaller girl could hug her friend, her heart bound sister with all the love and appreciation she deserved. Got grumbled but moved to the other hip, head on her thigh. A soft, amused huffed was the only reaction to being ousted from the best seat in the house.

“Oh, my gentle Mari,” crooned the Witch.

Time turned slowly for them, the two wrapped around each other as the idea of what the other knew bled over. Marinette was a witch. She was love and tenderness and generosity. She was kind to everyone, including Chloé since the blonde hadn’t been zapped with a spell or curse yet.

And Mari was courting a cat.

Oh.

Sitting, finally, taking Es into her arms, the ombré haired teen turned and looked to her friend. At the soft, serene blue of forget-me-nots. At the fragile way she held herself. At the deeper reaches with Witch Sense to see . How lonely Marinette must have been, was, still so without a companion who shared her very essence. She probably should advise her away from doing so… but the very thought of denying her something, someone so important sat bitter and hard on her tongue.

They had more to discuss, anyway.

“So,” murmured the Italian. “Tell me about the things you have made.”

The world visibly brightened when Mari turned to do just that. Letting the rush of words flow over her, Alya thought and remembered and her heart soared. Because the world was so much better with Marinette in it.

 

Chat sat on the Arc de Triomphe , hand over his neck where the choker sat. Glass beads and soft cloth. It didn’t change over, not once, and it sat like a heavy weight. As Adrien, it seemed to be ignored - something he attributed to Plagg - but as le Chat Noir, it stood out. Like the magic was too much for Plagg to hide.

That thought should scare him .

Instead, it comforted him all the way to his bare bones.

Checking the time on his baton, he rose languidly. It was time to meet his Lady.

Leaping swift and sure over the roofs of the Parisians he and Ladybug worked so hard to keep safe, the darker half of the duo extended his baton to vault from housing to shops to the plaza of the Eiffel Tower. One grand leap and he was high above the skyline, stepping nimbly onto a beam and into the shadow of his Lady.

Bright blue sought him, her eyes red-rimmed from crying but oh so soft. Like she loved him. Something in his chest lurched and he stumbled and, as she had been since the first, she was there for him, catching him, shoring him up with effortless ease. Her arms were around him as she pressed his head to her shoulder, one so tight around his waist, he felt he could melt into her where they touched. Every breath was felt and his hammering heart soon followed the example of her own; never had he felt such patient, simple, platonic intimacy since his mother’s embrace.

He felt like he could cry.

His hands held tight to her, wrapping around her back to cup her sides. He had never felt so tall and yet so young and small as he did right that moment. Tears blurred his vision and he snuggled into her neck, breathing through his mouth so that the perk of being a cat was more intense. She tasted-smelled of vanilla and sugar and home . She was home, if the definition was anything to go by. How had he lived before her?

“Oh, mon minou,” she crooned and he felt his heart trip all over again. Hers . She called him hers so much and every time was a miracle in and of itself. “I’m so sorry. I…”

He felt himself still as worry filled him, his legs finally gaining strength. “My Lady,” he whispered, voice more breathy exhale than words. “What is it?”

What had happened to upset her so?

She let her hand cup his cheek, thumb brushing over the highest point. To be honest, he needed the contact too, but not like before. This felt deeper, more tenuous and fragile than even the loneliest midnight before he met her or accepted her gift.

She took a breath. Looked him in the eye. “I am a witch. My… sister, she…” her lips trembled, “I didn’t mean to start binding you to me. But I have started courting you, mon chaton. As… as my Familiar. And… and my sister, she, she told me that the gift I gave you… that you accepted it, meant you are welcome to courting as a Familiar. Oh, Chat Noir, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. I am so sorry .”

His entire world paused, everything but her blue eyes and red suit graying out as sound became little more than white static noise. Oh. A hand unwrapped, came to his chest to press over the choker. The collar . He supposed he should be upset, angry even. He should be furious. All he felt was a slight disappointment twining around the giddy joy. He… he belonged to his Lady . Or. He could.

He wanted to.

Pressing his brow to hers, he breathed out. “Does… does that mean you don’t want me? Or that you do?”

“I,” she stopped, thumb stroking his face. “I have a crush on a boy who doesn’t even know. And I maybe have one on you. I can’t do this to you or him. I can’t trap you. I can’t even speak to him . I love you both. And that’s not fair to either of you.”

Chat sighed softly. “But you didn’t tell me if you wanted me. As a Familiar.”

Her lips part, eyes going vivid and wide in surprise. “I…” her hand slid to his neck, curling through his hair. “I cannot ask you to. You are a boy and you deserve better than me. I’m not even a proper witch.”

He stared, blinking slowly. His heart was so full, warmth spilling out to fill his body with the heat of a forge. “Oh, my Lady. Don’t you know? You already have all of me.”

Ladybug blinked before she sniffed, eyes closing. Tears slid down her face as he gathered her close, her shoulders tense with sobs and arms around his waist. He smiled gently, softly as she clutched him as close as she could, hands like clamps as she tried to hold him tighter. His heart aches for her yet it soared. He was hers. He was becoming hers . She had a claim upon him like no other would. And as he stood there and held his Lady as she had held him, he couldn’t stop smiling.

(She loved him too.)

(But what boy wouldn’t notice her?)

Chapter Text

Marinette sat at her desk, watching the sun rise through the space between bed and wall, the skylight barely glowing orange. Otherwise, it was dark in her cave-like corner, her heart a heavy weight in her chest. Guilt warred with sorrow as she clutched the book Alya had lended her, one about Familiars and Contracts. One that blazed words behind her eyes with hellish intensity, spelling out every moment of her failures regarding Chat Noir.

How could he not hate her? Loathe her very existence? She had taken so much from him in ignorance, as if that was an excuse for what she had done.

 

… and in taking the Familiar, be it Beast or Skinwalker or Man, a Witch owns them entirely. All that they have is now within legal rights of their Witch to keep or redistribute as they see fit. No Familiar shall keep business, property, or land without the Witch…

 

She had made him little more than a slave . It sickened her how one instance of wanting her Partner as close as she could manage… that she could destroy everything for him. And she hadn’t even known. She was so stupid. She didn’t deserve her magic; not if she did things like this.

Pulling up her phone, she called the one person outside of her family (and le Chat Noir) that knew.

“Alya,” she murmured softly, trying to lessen the tears in her words once the drowsy voice answered. “Alya, I messed up so bad.” Then her breath caught on a sob and she crumpled.

Tikki woke, disoriented and confused before spotting her little witch and flew to her Miraculous Holder, alarmed. Marinette looked… tired. Bone and sinew and skin tired. Looked heart sick and soul weary. Her eyes were dark and dull, her skin too pale. The little red god held her small mortal witch in her arms, tucked into her neck as she hugged as tight as she could. It wasn’t nearly enough and frustration filled her.

But…

Her witch ( hers like so few have ever been; hers like she had given hand in the Creation and wasn’t that telling ) brought a hand up to hold her back just as tight.

“I me-messed up so haaaaaard. I a-asked mon Minou to be m-mine, and, and, and,” she hiccuped and stuttered, unable to catch her breath. “ I bound l-le Chat Noir to meeeee… ” whimpering, sniffling, hand on her phone, Marinette jerked as she tried to gather breath. “I-I t-took away h-hi-his rights , ‘Lya! I’m, I’m, I’m a t-terrib-ble pe-person!”

Oh, Mari ,” she cooed through the line, very awake now. “ No, ma petite chou, you are not. Oh, Mari, did you sleep at all?

The heroine of Paris sniffled. “Noooo…”

The ombré haired teen sighed through tinny speakers with a crackle. Time was so slow this early, the sun valiantly crawling upward, the moon teasing them with a chase as she vanished beyond the horizon. Dew sparkled like a glitter bomb had gone off over the entire city, light reflecting on even the darkest corners. Marinette cuddled her cat pillow and her Tikki and her phone and hoped that she could just… cease. For a while. Have the day swallow her up until tomorrow.

She wasn’t that lucky.

Get dressed, Mari. It’s early enough for you to make your cinnamon rolls and I think they can help. ” The sound of rustling came over the phone as the Italian girl went about her morning. “ I will be over soon. Just… take a deep breath and bake. Create. Fill your house with all that love that’s in you, okay?

She nodded even if Alya couldn’t see and forced herself to don a soft, mixed medium maxi-dress she made herself. Black with three large green buttons between her breasts, the imperial waist gave way to a flowing chiffon that would billow the moment wind touched the edge, and a sheath of black cotton straight to the floor made sure the sheer material wouldn’t give away that her panties matched. Pulling her hair into a bun, the little witchling donned an apron as she entered the kitchen and started breakfast.

Twenty-two minutes later — she counted — Alya breezed through the backdoor with her key and started setting the table. Marinette’s parents worked around them, faces drawn in soft parental worry but keeping quiet. Their daughter was smart and sensible, they thought. She would do as she needed.

They were right and wrong, but that was okay. Tikki was a bit beside herself as well, curling into the small cleavage of her charge, glad the magic of her kind kept her from making an unseemly lump. Mari would at times cup a hand around her through her dress, eyes red and tired and full of a subtle, pervasive sorrow. Alya gave her hugs, her chin over one thin shoulder, arms wrapped around her trim waist as the blogger cuddled her fellow witch and hopefully soon to be Witch from behind.

Marinette didn’t speak once, going through the motions and barely able to call on any magic in her state. It felt like something of a blessing. It’s not like Mari wanted to accidentally enthrall her best friend. She didn’t want to cause so much worse consequences than even le Chat Noir.

“Tell me about… about Familiars,” she finally requested, voice rough and low, husky with as yet to be shed tears and the so very many before, already gone in the name of this guilty, softly horrified sadness. Sorrow .

Humming as they rocked, Alya closed her eyes. “Familiars are… amazing. They’re more than what people give them credit for and that book is so out of date, it’s not even funny, so no dwelling .” Mari snorted, clasping her flour-covered hands over Alya’s as they rested on her belly. “Seriously. It is soooooo out of date. Laws for the Familiars have been updated, but they’re harder to come by than old Family Magick books like mine.”

The lines and tension in delicate shoulders eased considerably and the Italian felt her own relax. “So, Familiars. They are a lot of things. Stabilizers, elementals, caches of power, foci, opposites -- there is no one definition because each Familiar performs a function specific to a Witch. My three, which is nearly unheard of from someone like my family, are elementals and foci and stabilizers and caches and opposites . They are everything I am not and that is what my beloved Escargot are to me.”

Marinette nibbled her lip, considerably less horrified and more accepting… but just barely. She had still enslaved someone . “But you can’t… can’t force them to do something. Can you?”

“Oh, Mari,” murmured the taller girl, squeezing her friend. “Never. Never-never. Familiars are their own person. Forcing a Familiar breaks the bond they have with a Witch. It turns them into Thralls and I know you. You would never .” Placing a comforting kiss in her hair, Alya continued. “Breaking a bond with a Familiar only happens two ways: death or Betrayal. Both have some mean backlash, too. And, with your magic specifically, the first is pretty unlikely. That second one? Betrayal? That’s so unlike you that it’s almost mentally impossible for me to think of that word and you in the same sentence.”

“... Alya,” the hidden heroine whispered. “Thank you.”

And promptly burst into tears again while the timer went off.

 

The leftover cinnamon rolls went into a box as Mari went upstairs to wash and grab her things. Alya shared a worried glance with Sabine as she helped tuck little favorites of the smaller girl inside, tissue dividing them all gracefully. Marinette herself returned with a newer satchel, still small but black with green and silver accents. The charms were small, a ladybug and a black cat, and Alya knew the inside was red satin and black dots. She had found the fabric herself, actually.

“Come, ma petite minette ,” crooned the Italian girl. Looping her arm around the thin shoulders, the two stepped out the door, a pastry box in one hand and a girl trying to figure things out in the other. “Today awaits.”

Mari’s breath was a stuttering not-sob, but Alya counted it as a win. Small steps. Pressing a kiss to the raven dark hair pulled into a loose bun, she tipped her head to press against the strands.

“Sometimes, sister, we mess up.” She licked her lips, voice low. “Some people have a bad day and the world rolls steadily on. Some, like us, have to be careful. Some, like us, can rend that which must never be and do not take caution. Some, like us, affect the world at large. And some, like us, are connected to the very heart of the city.”

She squeezed her friend, her sister tighter for a moment as they walked quietly. “And, honestly, I know you are a bigger part of the city than even Chloé. She is a part of the life of her father’s hotel. You? You are Pride Mother, the Queen of the cats here of Paris. So much more, too. I noticed how the sky keeps dribbling rain when you cry.”

Laughing a little at such a silly description, the raven-haired heroine finally seemed to perk up a bit, a lance of sunlight beaming at the world as it created a warm path before them. Alya very carefully didn’t let her best friend and sister know that she was shaken. Marinette wasn’t even a full Witch and already she was more Paris than all the dozens of Witches that lived there.

This girl could destroy the world. Instead, she wanted to save it.

 

Adrien ran fingers over his choker again as he grabbed his school bag, an urge undefined rushing up his spine and leaving goosebumps behind. Gorilla let him out moments later, the teen stepping lightly from the car. He had noticed, lately, how he stepped. How he moved. Graceful, with intent, like a cat . He was nearly silent when moving, feet sure, body loose.

His modeling career looked better than ever.

Plagg… was not as enthused. “Kid, you’re not supposed to be able to do that. For years, even. Ever, if I had a say.”

“Why?” He inquired quietly, shuffling his bag higher up his shoulder. It was getting heavier all the time, books and cheese and everything he suddenly needed to get through a single day.

“You’re a human , kid. You’re supposed to fight my influence. Supposed to. Are not. Embracing it, even,” grumbled the Kwami. Adrien smiles softly as he looked over the crowd. Saw Alya and Nino, heads together as Alya held the hand of… Marinette?

That was not the pink capris or blue-black blazer ensemble. That was, this was, she was…

She was in his colors. Chat Noir. His head reeled, his steps stumbling for the first time since the choker went about his neck.

(“Should have taken that damned thing right off, but noooooo, you didn’t want to break a preliminary contract. Stupid kid.”)

Then she turned to him and her eyes widened.

 

Marinette had been having a very soft moment in her life, Alya letting her cling to her hand like the child she felt herself as. It had been nice, holding tight, knowing she wouldn’t be left behind even as she was left thinking. It had been simple and a little cathartic to know even like this, she was wanted but given the space she needed.

So when she turned and saw Adrien, cat-like grace, choker about his neck, the smallest glimpse of a beaded cat eye -

No . Please, anyone but him .

She blinked and the image faded physically. It was just a black choker like two-thirds of the student body wore now since a recent photo shoot. In her mind’s eye, she was looking for the ladybug.

That didn’t stop her from letting Alya’s hand go as she stepped towards the boy who stalked like another blonde she knew, all lithe grace bundled into human form. Even now, face warned from his stumble, he slunk about like there were sensitive pads on his feet, like he could balance with a tail and claws. He looked more like a predator than a boy and her heart skipped a beat.

Her Chat Noir… might just be her Adrien.

 

Chapter Text

Her heart broke in half, settling in her heels as it plummeted. Not that she had time to dwell on it. Screams filled the air, car alarms shrieking.

Akuma .

Dropping her school bag, clutching her purse, she hurried away from Alya, from Nino, from maybe possibly no Adrien le Chat Noir. She dove into the outdoor shed of the school, heart panicking even as she ignored it and opened her purse. “Tikki, transforme moi !”

The rush of the transformation, of feeling power of a tiny god lacing with her own magic was a rush like no other but she didn’t take the single moment to appreciate it like she usually did. This time, she ignored the feeling of comfort, of completeness that came over her as she rushed through the door and back into the schoolyard.

The Akuma was one street over and roaring about “detestable English coffee” in a clearly Italian accent. Oh no. A tourist.

Thankfully, she didn’t take long to figure it out even with her head pounding in time to her heart as her stress level rose the longer it took le Chat Noir to appear. The carafe of coffee, liquid ink that steamed a darkly delicious scent, had the Akuma pausing. Just long enough to le Chat Noir tackle him and snatch the coffee cup. To smash the delicate porcelain on the ground and release the butterfly. Snapping it up, the teen heroine released it with a small smile before looking for a few coffee cups. It would be dangerous and a waste to throw the coffee around, magical aid or not.

Merci, madame ,” she thanked gladly as a nearby barista held out… four cups. Grinning, Ladybug made sure to give the helpful woman a bit of the brew as well before approaching the man who was so very confused. “Here, sir. It’s not Italian, but I believe you will like this.”

Shaky hands took the cup before pressing to trembling lips. The moment the man had a sip, he blinked as if recovering from a stupor, eyes going wide. Looking to the steaming cup in his hands, the man let loose a very personal, loving name for the cup of coffee, cuddling it close. “A month in this city and I finally have the nectar of gods within my palms. Sweet girl , thank you.”

Blushing to her toes, Mari quickly gave le Chat Noir his own cup and sipped hers with a surprised hum of appreciation. She was not one for coffee, but this was literally perfect . She chuckled at the ridiculousness of her life in that moment, a feeling of warmth and light and love settling inside her. Her bright blue eyes looked into vivid green and her world narrowed. Walking up to her friend, her partner, her petit minou , Mari felt her heart nearly split open with the sudden outpouring of joy and love.

It never once occurred to her that she was ingesting magic fueled fluids, magic like that of Creation . Of Good Luck . Of Love .

She didn’t feel quite so worried now.

She honestly should have.

Her hand alit upon one smooth cheek, thumb rubbing below his mask as it mapped his face. He was so pretty. She had known that, but just then, he was backlit with a corona of emerald and silver, his eyes living gemstones and skin like perfectly smooth silk. He was like living art.

Around his neck, her gift glittered, bright and sharp.

Mon minou ,” she breathed. His eyes seemed to darken in luster even as his pupils slitted like that of a cats. “I am so sorry. I did not mean to bind you.”

He leaned into her palm, eyes on her as his pupils expanded to take up the space of green. “Let’s talk after your Miraculous Cure ?”

She smiled, leaning into him, brow to brow. “Yes. Please.”

With one toss of an empty carafe, the word exploded into a wave of red beetles and a vibrant, happy air.

 

Marinette heard the admonishment of an old man, the urging of a fairy ladybeetle, and her own words worrying around the corners of her mind. No one must know, no one must know , played on repeat in a litany if serious voices, each one more stern than the last, echoing in long delays as if in a concert hall. She chewed on her lip as her earrings beeped and wondered what she was doing. The heat within her belly kept her going forward. This was something she had to do. She had messed up, accident or not, and her partner and Familiar deserved better from her.

She was breaking her word, though, to Master Fu and Tikki and felt like gum on the bottom of Chloé’s black Valentino Garavani Rockstud Pumps.

But she could not, would not leave him in the dark on who had forced him into a contract. It had been an accident yet nothing could excuse her ignorance. She would be responsible about this, would take censure to her face as was right. She had done an unthinkable cruelty, all but making him a slave. He deserved better.

Her earrings beeped again and she fought the urge to hide. Two spots down, three to go.

Heart hammering with anticipation and terror, she looked to her confused and wide-eyed kitty, loving his faith in her, his willingness to let her explain. Fearing it wasn’t quite real. She had wanted him closer, wanted to keep him. She never wanted him to be lesser in the eyes of anyone. And if it really was…

Her earrings beeped again.

She kept moving them towards a small park that was safe and dense with a small wood. They would be hidden and it wouldn’t be on some rooftop where someone like Alya could catch them. This was private. This was for them and them alone .

So of course, just on the edge of the last building, screaming came again as did the last beep. One minute. It couldn’t have waited one minute .

Le Chat Noir have an apologetic frown, pressing his brow to hers before taking off towards the sounds of distress. Mari had to sit and clench her hands on the trim before her, frustration welling in her belly. Her transformation released with a flash of pink and Tikki quietly dived into the purse to eat some cookies. Tears of frustration in her eyes, the raven-haired teen took a deep breath. She was of Paris . She could not lose her temper.

“Done,” is intoned softly, the kwami alighting on her shoulder to give a warm hug against her neck. Marinette bit her lip as she brought a hand up to cradle her friend and magical partner and mentor. “Come on. We can do this. You can do this.”

Rising from the roof with her face setting in determination, the holder of Creation turned blue eyes in a narrowed stare towards the commotion. Her petit chaton needed her. “Tikki, Spots on.”

Before it even finished, Marinette was running, grabbing her yo-yo before it even formed properly into existence. She flung it out, swinging up high before running faster from a smooth landing to her partner. Today was not over and she was going to talk to her kitty.

 

Chat Noir scrambled up a light pole, eyes wide as he hissed in fear. Below him was a muddle of the same Akuma just over and over and over again.

“I AM EVERYWHERE ! NOW SEE HOW FUN IT IS TO MAKE ME BE LITERALLY EVERYWHERE AT ONCE!” the mob shrieked as one. Dressed in a pinstriped suit with slowly diminishing stripes, the Akuma split herself again, her suit losing another pencil-thin stripe as her vicious looking heels made a racket on the sidewalk, digging holes in where the shanks planted themselves.

After the tourist, he had hoped for a nice, calm, slow day. Apparently wishing for simplicity lead him down a dark road into May Your Day Be Interesting. Almost as bad as May You Live In Interesting Times . Right now, he wished he had stayed home in bed. Considering how much he loved school, that should say quite a bit.

“Lady, you are barking up the wrong tree,” he groused with a grimace. “I have no intention of wanting anyone anywhere that badly.”

The Akuma snarled and he had to jump to the next pole with a yelp. Having her multiply on top of herself was not what he was expecting. Good news, her pinstripes were much less. Bad news, there were more of her to go around and, well, while it seemed that they were weaker, it was for a given of weaker . Superpowered Akumas were still superpowered . Good news? He wasn’t sure there was a good news because he still couldn’t find out what the butterfly could be in. It wasn’t the heels, the suit, or the fedora set at a jaunty angle. Zuit suit Akuma lady was a hard one to get a read on.

Then he saw it. A small pin about as long as his pinkie and barely thicker than a bobby-pin. In her lapel . Fantastic. Wonderful. From what he could see, there wasn’t much of anything below the suit either so getting the jacket off would be likely to flash all of Paris. It wouldn’t bother him , nudity was part and parcel of modeling, but the woman was less likely to feel the same about it.

Chat Noir made a leap for another lamp post, barely staying ahead of the mob of crazed Akuma. He ignored the monologue of how she was “going to make her cruel boss pay” that came at him in terrifying stereo and wished her the best of luck. As long as he wasn’t in the way, but let’s be real here: he would be in the way. It was his thing.

“LB, right now would be a good time-HOLY—”

The pole he was on was suddenly elsewhere and he was plummeting into a crowd of superpowered Akuma. His hair was yanked until his head was back, the crowd coming in too close, long ruby nails pressing to his vulnerable flesh until sizzling flesh forced cursing figures to cease to exist, the minute damage more than enough to remove them from play. That didn’t matter as more multiplies and surged forward.

Scared, mobbed, Chat Noir yowled.

 

Marinette barely made the scene when her kitty cried out, loud and desperate and horribly afraid. She didn’t even notice that she moved. The sky darkened, the air around her snapping in balls of ephemeral lightning, and all of Paris held their breath.

That was her friend.

Her Partner.

Her other half.

He was hers .

And she was absolutely done .

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SEVEN:

 

Her bandalore whipped out with a buzzing whirl, circling the mob until she started to pull. Little dust clouds denoted several duplicates evaporating along with the screech of the main Akuma, her pinstriped suit gaining line after line with her copies gone. Marinette, Ladybug didn’t give a wit, eyes sharp and narrow as she went to town on the mob. Her bandalore eventually struck true and Chat Noir, her precious minou , was being pulled from the grasping hands and to her side. Her arm went around his waist the moment he was in reach, his face tucking into her neck as he hunched closer, shivering . In fear .

“Kitty,” she cooed, low and warm. “I need you to give me your staff, okay? I’ll protect you this time.”

When he didn’t even hesitate, when he sniffled from the terror of but a moment ago, she felt the sky get heavier with her wrath. Unknown to her, her eyes when she looked at the Akuma were streaking with light, ball lightning sparking at ground level in mimicry. Baring her teeth in a facsimile of a smile, she took the baton and extended it to a proper bo staff. It had been years since she and her mother had properly practiced, she was going to see what she remembered.

Kissing his brow, she stepped away from her partner and towards the Akuma. Her bandalore was in his shaking hands, his eyes wide as he looked from it to her stalking forward with murder in her eyes and on her lips. For her kitty to be overwhelmed and distraught like that, the Akuma must have pawed all over him. With his suit half unzipped and belt hanging crookedly…

The first Akuma screamed before she vanished, the first to react to anything painful. The original looked shocked, eyes wide behind the mask she wore. Ladybug, Marinette grinned, all teeth and snarl of fury.

“Someone,” she nearly purred, a tone that invoked images of carnage and fear rolling like thick blood from her lips, “hurt my partner. I think it’s about time I rectify that, don’t you?”

The Akuma leaned back, arm coming up as if to shield her face. Marinette snarled as she lunged, staff going out and punching one of the clones in the chest, the Akuma vanishing after visibly having her ribs cave in. That was far from the kindest dispatch. Bo staff twirling faster and faster in her hands, she grabbed one end and twisted as she swung the length around, foot going out to force more than one knee into an unnatural angle. At one point, she planted the end into the ground, vaulting over a string of charging villain fodder before back swinging them out of existence. The Akuma’s zuit suit slowly regained stripes, her face becoming more and more panicked as Ladybug removed her duplicates with vicious, snarling efficiency.

Chest heaving, Mari flipped around the last of the current clones, rushing the main Akuma. The borrowed bo staff lashed out fast, catching the solar plexus, the knee, the throat in a brutal chain of pain and destruction. One hand came forward in a claw, wrapping fingers around the pin in the lapel and removing it with a rip that half exposed the Akuma. The Akuma shrieked again, garbled and inarticulate through her crushed throat, and the staff made another appearance to slam against her face.

Sneering at the villainess, Ladybug broke the pin and watched as Chat Noir shakily ensnared the butterfly with her yo-yo. What a good kitty. When the clones vanished entirely and the woman who had been victimized was back to herself, Marinette called up a Lucky Charm and let the world heal from the destruction wrought. Chat stood still and quiet, eyes on her as she sailed over to him calmly and with purpose.

“I’m so sorry, kitty. I should have been here, mon chaton .” He didn’t even hesitate when she opened her arm to him, snuggling into her side and pressing his face to her hair. She pet him, crooning a lullaby for his benefit as he slowly relaxed, arms coming up around her waist as he let himself calm down.

The silent and dumbfounded news crews didn’t encroach like normal, keeping a fair distance. Ladybug getting straight up physical was nearly unheard of and none had a death wish, thanks. That Chat Noir looked rattled and a little cornered was also a good reason to not step in. Not much made the unflappably silly, goofy cat of Paris silent like now.

Mon chaton , come on,” she murmured to him sweetly, stepping back and letting him follow as close as her kitty wanted. That meant plastered to her side, she guessed, feeling his trembling becoming too much. Pressing shoulder to thigh against him again, Marinette gently lifted her kitty into her arms with his legs cinching right around her waist, using his staff to vault them to the roofs of their city. Stepping into the rooftop, she wondered if she couldn’t just hold him here as he whimpered. “Oh. Oh, kitty,” she crooned. “I have you, mon petit chaton . I have you.”

Her earrings beeping gave another answer and she huffed at the noise. Gathering her precious, scared kitty close, she vaulted over the roofs as smoothly as she could, one arm under her petit chaton ’s derrière as the other powered them with his baton towards her home. She made it easily, knowing he would know her just from where they were… if he would just look up. He refused, burying himself further into her neck as he panted open mouthed, lips all but pressing to her throat as he sucked in air. His eyes were clenched tightly and she felt her heart lodge in her throat, her arm around him in but a moment. Stepping as gently as she could onto her bed from the balcony, she knelt until she could lay back into the piles and piles of quilts and blankets she had. Wrapping the softest of blankets around him from tips of his ears to his tail, she held him until her transformation released where she could actually embrace him.

“Oh, mon chaton ,” she kissed into his hair, lips across his brow in soft fleeting touches. “I’m so, so sorry. I was not there. What did she even do to you…”

Low though it was, slow as it came, he began to purr, a rumble right against her neck, her chest and belly tickling with it. They lay there and she expected him to drop his transformation. He did not, twisted against her and seeking comfort and warmth. Eyes closed. Oh. Oh, her sweet, sweet kitty.

She should tell him to open his eyes, to look into her own. To know who she was. For all that she had trapped him to her side with a half-finished Contract, for all that she let him take so, so many hits, he still trusted her. She did not deserve such loyalty, such devotion. She was not sure she deserved this, the here and now, cradling him close and soft and warm. She opened her mouth to do so, to say all these things, when her phone started shrieking. An Akuma alert. Again. Already.

No.

No . Not again. Not today. Chat barely did more than rub up into her chin before sliding like oil from her fingers and back up to the hatch, streaking like midnight over the rooftops towards the screaming and the roaring.

Marinette almost screamed herself, Tikki bolting to her side as she sat up. “Almost. Almost. I am going to gut Hawkmoth with my knitting needles . Turn his intestines into a scarf . Hang him with them.”

Cold, seething fury burned in her belly, curled around her spine. She was so far past done, she was straight into righteous fury of a woman scorned. As all of Paris knew, you never wanted to push a woman that far. The only reason she probably wasn’t akumatized was because she shoved it down, swallowed the thick bile of wrath with a grimace and stood, transforming with but a phrase. This was her last Akuma today and Hawkmoth was going to be told so.

Just as soon as she reached her kitty.

 

Chat Noir very carefully didn’t think of Before Ladybug Rescued Him as he made his way over the streets of Paris, swinging from a lamppost to a balcony as he streamed over the running populace of his beloved city. He still shivered in disgust and fear as he went towards the carnage rather than away, claws leaving deeper gouges than usual as he tried to not think. Instead, he pondered where he had just been.

Safe. Protected. Warm. Loved .

Within the arms of his Lady, her smooth skin and soft voice, tender words and the fluttering flurry of kisses. He stood before an Akuma with a wicked mask and a plastic looking doll suit not unlike a Ken doll and felt secure.

That is, until he reached for his staff and felt it gone. His heart sunk right into his boots before he was scrambling with a yowl. The mask shifted from one expression to another as the Akuma used their… was that a doll ? Oh dear mercy, it was . Creepy! Shivering as he dodged a series of beams, the teen rolled behind a chimney on a taller building to catch his breath.

“I am the Collector! I have always wanted a Chat Noir doll! Won’t you be my doll, Chat Noir? I could show you off, let everyone see your majesty!”

Ugh, no. No, no, no! Creeping creeper was creepy … “How about not!” He finally retorted, voice coming back to him in fits and spurts. “This cat belongs to one woman!”

The Akuma roared and he hightailed it from his spot, again reaching for his staff, only to not feel it in his hands once again. He didn’t get a chance to move as the Collector finally got their shot and immobilized him. An outdoor table behind him folded impossibly as it turned into a large box like one would see with a Barbie, only without the protective plastic. That’s when he knew he was very well and truly in trouble. Plastic was a protective covering keeping a doll from being touched.

He was displayed with intent of being touched. His skin crawled .

 

Chat Noir was not on scene when she got there. Or, he was… but as an idol in a box. He was in the midst of grabbing for his staff which he did not have , face between a battle ready snarl and surprise. Stuck that way. Fear hinting in his features even as he was forced dormant. The Akuma was talking to their self, rocking on their toes as they argued with their evil overlord. The figure touched the black leather of Chat’s costume with gloved fingers, ghosting like the touch of a lover across his torso.

There was no flinch physically, but she could see it in his face, in his eyes. She never noticed her feet leaving the roof and she fell silent and furious to street level and went up to the Akuma, the sky rumbling with her mood as lighting lit up parts of Paris. Tapping their shoulder, she smiled when they turned and decked the Akuma so hard, they fell flat to the ground. Shaking out her hand, she reached for the magic of her Miraculous, feeling it even from there that it was with her petit chaton .

That didn’t matter as a bat materialized, the Akuma making a good try at getting upright. She didn’t care and swung for broke, wrenching the face to the side and cracking the mask. The Akuma slumped with a whimper, her hands plucking a model from an inner pocket, one that was probably supposed to be of Chat Noir. Too bad for the collector, she didn’t give a damn and held the doll tight in her fist with a grin that had too many teeth. Leaning down, she watched as the Akuma’s mask lit up.

“Hawkmoth,” she hissed with enough venom that the face beneath the mask paled. “Listen very, very carefully. You are going to call it a day. Maybe even a week right now because I am this close to losing my temper. I am going to take my kitty and take care of him. And if you try anything, je vais porter tes intestins comme jarretieres si tu me coupe la parole encore une fois, espèce de fils de pute .”

Thunder punctuated her words, lightning flashing in her eyes. The Akuma was translucent with terror and she crushed the doll in her hand viciously before stalking over to grab her yo-yo and catch the panicking butterfly. Tossing the bat high into the air, everything reverted as it should and she grabbed her kitty.

It was time to have that talk and to snuggle.

Chapter Text

Talking to someone who won’t let a transformation drop isn’t the weirdest thing. They do it all the time, le Chat Noir and Ladybug. That she is holding him in her bed and he’s refusing to open his eyes or let her know him is… much more puzzling. 

Okay, recap. 

She saved her kitty, brought him home with her, detransformed, and he went absolutely silent when she asked him to the same so she could break the contract before it grew. He, who always wanted to know who she was, refused to look so he couldn’t, as he said, cheat. Said it wouldn't be fair since he refused to tell her his actual Name. 

“What do you mean you don’t want to break the Contract?” She asked incredulously, heart stopping in her chest, surely, just from the shock alone. Breath rasped in her throat, curved into her lungs in a heavy way, settling too eagerly, too heavily for a proper breath. “I-I… I enslaved you, le Chat Noir ! It’s! It’s not right ! I’m a horrible person ! I… I… I messed up…” 

Her voice, strong and passionate and lively with her own frustration, soon quieted to a whisper as she held herself, standing on the soft surface of her bed as if it would swallow her. As if she wished it would. A low sound of sorrow, a sound that said I’m sorry and please forgive me was pressed into her hair as long strong arms wrapped around her waist. They pulled her to the broadening chest of her partner, his ribs rattling like thunder as he purred for her. She slid her arms over his shoulders, curling around his neck as she stood on tiptoe to reach. 

“I’m sorry,” she sighed, the sound like the softest of cold rain barely felt, guilt lacing each syllable. “I am so sorry.” 

His lips teased over her ear as he nudged her with his nose, their hair mingling between them, golden sunlight and midnight locks weaving together. “I could never be upset about that. I’m yours. I will always be yours. And I…” he swallowed. “I can’t let you break it. You have given me freedom . That’s a gift I can never repay.” 

She sniffled. “Even though I’m a witch?” 

“Especially because you’re a witch. I trust you, Ma-Ladybug.” 

For one heart stopping second, she thought he was going to say her name. Her civilian name. He must have been, so he could be… but she couldn’t break a Contract on a supposition. That could backfire, could damage bonds between people as surely as taking a knife and stabbing her friend through the back. One did not break Contracts without verifying Names. Even if she was so sure, even if she knew it could be, Marinette would never consider casting a Break without absolute knowledge of who her le Chat Noir was. She loved him. She loved Adrien. And if she had any chance at all of keeping him, even as a friend, she had to be so, so very careful. 

That meant waiting until he told her his Name. 

Even if it killed her. 

 

Adrien had never been so conflicted . Not once in his life! Sure, he was just a teen, but he had waited for… so long. Years, surely, to know her. And now? He couldn’t take that away from her even as he knew who she was . He wasn’t one hundred percent positive. He could wait until their contract was settled. Even Plagg, usually so loud and smarmy and furious and ridiculing the world over, was silent in complete shock. Never before had a witch been willing to give up having the Catgod of Destruction under their thumb… and here was his Lady, his friend, doing just that. Offering him an out. 

Plagg was beyond bewildered. Adrien, if his supposition was correct, knew better. 

But he wasn’t going to look and she couldn’t know. Not yet. Already the Contract was weaving itself into him, changing him in ways nothing in this world would ever compare to. Every Contract reflected the Witch who created it and this one? It was warm. It was loving. It was soft and tender and kind. It was like being held in a gentle, ghostly hug 24/7 by a being beyond comprehension. 

He couldn’t wait for it to settle, to fill out. Already, he had flashes of insight not his own. Emotions trickling through. It was heady. 

“I can’t. I need you. I want to be with you. All of you.” He held her as close as possible, the softness of her body a counterpoint to every hard line etched into him. For all her muscle and sinew, his Witch was definitely on the soft side. “You mean more to me than anything else.” 

Her breath hitched and he felt stupid, causing her to cry. Not looking at her beautiful face to give her privacy that she broke just for him . He understood why they needed to be secret. He got it, loud and clear and, while it hurt sometimes, it was understandable. However, he would not break their secrecy just for his supposed freedom. For the false independence his father gave him, dangled over him like a toy only to rip it away once he became close enough to touch. He would rather be tangled in a contract he would never break free from than live the lies of his father. 

He had to remind himself that he loved the man. 

Despite every cruel moment. 

Every cold and forgotten dinner. 

Every rejection. 

Yet not once had he reminded himself that he loved his Lady. That he would give her the moon and stars above. She was sweet, sweet ambrosia in shades of red and pink and warmth. 

Gabriel Agreste was like a pungent, bitter licorice in shades of faded purple. 

He wanted something sweet for once in his life. 

If there was anything, anyone, sweeter than Ladybug, he had yet to find them. For every ounce she was fierce, another ten was kind, was loving. He knew, better than anyone now, because the feeling of it coiling like breaths against his neck, tickling his ear, only spread across his entire being, pressed close and tender under his ribs was more her than anything had a right to be. He shuddered with it, knowing it was twisting faster into him — there was no hesitation on his part. 

He held her, tight and strong and loving. She had saved him countless times today. He could save her just the once. He would save her even more if he could. 

His ring beeped. 

Holding back the curse he wanted to snarl, he instead lifted her face, eyes closed until their brows touched, feeling her eyes on him. He pressed a kiss to her nose, a low rumble of his purr like her own personalized thunder. “I love you, Ladybug. I trust you. Please, I beg you, keep me …”

And just like that, he slid from her embrace, hopping from the bed to the latch and out into the open air of Paris. Heart in his throat as he diligently refused to acknowledge who she was for all of his selfish wants and desires and needs, Adrien Agreste, le Chat Noir ran. 

Chapter Text

Marinette had never been so conflicted before. No, she had to take that back. When she had first gotten her Miraculous, she was more than just conflicted and had never been able to find a single word to encompass all the fear and thrill and sorrow and sheer terror of being one with a god. There was nothing quite strong enough to define her determination, either, for herself or her partner or her will to protect Paris from a villain. 

She decided, the next morning, mostly still dazed but actually awake (did she even sleep? She isn’t so sure) that while it mattered, she was at a standstill. Her hands were tied with gossamer strands of faith and love and something a little less understood but no less important: Magic. And… he had asked her to keep him. Her hands still shook remembering those words, all but kissed into her skin, lips brushing hers with warm breath that tasted of mint and chocolate. 

He hadn’t meant to, clearly, but her heart pounded louder every time she thought of it, felt her magic zing right through her to spark at her blushed pink lips. She couldn’t stop the warmth filling her ribs, soft and tender and confused. So very confused. 

She had faith in her petit minou . She trusted everything he said. Not once had he told her a lie. It was just… how was being bound down to his soul to her a better alternative than his, hmmm, estranged father? The implications were enough to make her look more closely at her idol, at the images of him in magazines and tabloids and compare every expression to what she had on her phone. 

Every smile was perfect. Hair in place and eyes directed at the camera. Not one wrinkle. 

He looked lonely, untouchable and distant. 

In comparison, her phone was full to bursting with wildly glittering eyes with a hint of mischief, mouth wide and edges crinkled in a way that would one day leave laugh lines. His clothes were askew, his hair mussed and full of random things because Nino was a terrible person and Alya was his enabler. He was relaxed, calm, happy. And if she looked at the pictures she had of her Chat Noir

He looked more alive than any other time. 

(Her favorite was a candid of him whooping as he flipped through the air between buildings. His mouth was so wide it looked painful and his body was taut with adrenaline and joyful play. His tail was trailing behind, a ribbon of leather that flicked when he thought and curled when he was enjoying something. 

Nothing wrong with understanding a partner, right?

Right?) 

She had known he was a little socially awkward and Chloé had been his only friend, but she hadn’t imagined how he must have been isolated. The thought never crossed her mind. It had never once been brought to mind that he was… that he could be abused in some manner. By a parent. Neglected. 

Sliding her hands over the fit-n-flare solid black dress, charcoal silk screen additions that made up Paris’ skyline across the hem with black and white and acid green cats no bigger than her thumb delicately stitched into the scene, Marinette tried to come up with an idea of what she could even do. Hands fluttering uselessly, she plucked her hair out of its twin tails and into high buns, wisps of fine strands loose at her nape. A charcoal and black choker went around her neck, a fat green cat-eye charm there. 

She had just finished when she looked up and her eyes went wide. 

She had dressed in her Chat Noir’s colors two days running. Without any real mental input from herself. It wasn’t too late to change, but… 

But she was in his colors and he had begged her for, for more than she knew how to give. She was going to, she felt it was only right, she would give him everything if he asked, yet she had not consciously considered proclaiming herself his witch. Honestly, he was going to be giving up his life to her, she could easily give up her nearly lifelong dream to him. 

A thought had her turning to her armoire, throwing the doors wide as she looked. She had at least a dozen dresses from the last several months, simple little affairs in cotton all the way up to delicate chiffon and silk. She had been crafting a witch’s wardrobe. 

How had she not seen this? 

Her hands shook, her legs releasing her to tumble into a sitting position. Tikki fluttered around her, alighting to her shoulder as she waited out the moment of shock. 

“Tikki, when did I even start?” 

The little red god pressed into her neck. “The moment you became one with me. Your magic is too much to hide now. I’m sorry.” 

She knew what her Holder was giving up. She knew what she would have to sacrifice. Freedom to be whatever she wanted now stripped from her due to arcane laws that hadn’t been changed since they came into being. Even before then, really, but she would have worked for it so hard and would have brought it to light how old some of those laws were. 

Now. 

Now she had to step back. Being an advocate for change only worked so well when one was silenced too early. That didn’t mean she would give up though. It just meant she had to come at it from a different angle. 

She would never give up. 

 

Alya was dressed in her gray camisole and red-orange capris as usual, with the crop sweater over the top - a homage to her familiars. Not to mention that she had a wide range of colors she could and often would wear because of their furs and eyes. Marinette hadn’t ever really noticed beyond making a notation that it was her color scheme when making her something to wear. At this moment, she realized that she would probably always wear black in mimicry of her Chat Noir

At least she would always be fashionable. 

Giggling a little hysterically to herself, Marinette tried to take a deep breath, closing her eyes as she imagined nothing at all. Warm breath against her neck, arms around her waist, she welcomed them. Knowing who it was. Knowing she couldn’t confirm. He had asked. Had begged . She would let him have this even when it hurt because, for once, with him with her, against her, she felt more complete than even when joined with Tikki. 

Then he pulled away and she listened to the world move because she refused to cut the bonds when he begged like that. 

She had to be stronger than this. 

Taking another deep breath, she stepped closer to her friends. Her best friend, too, she was almost positive. He lacked the black leather, but the trousers of charcoal and the light green shirt with red and pink stripes across the chest cast him in a different light. Made him look like he should be in black, his choker sitting heavy on his throat. 

His collar. 

Something uneasy twisted in her belly and she had to ignore it. Wrapped herself around Alya and pressed her brow to the taller girl’s back even as the ombré haired teen kept talking to Nino who carefully steered the dazed boy beside him up the stairs. Warm fingers tangled with Marinette’s, pulled her from her slump and up the steps gently. Soft words were spoken but went unheard as her head swam with thoughts and sorrow and a satisfaction that made her feel slimy and horrible for being satisfied. There is never a good reason to feel that way about binding someone as a Familiar as she had done. 

Even if Adrien, her le Chat Noir would be hers forever. Without contest. 

It was still wrong.  

But not enough to make her give him up. Not enough for her to push away the partner she loved and the boy she crushed on, might soon be in love with. Not nearly enough when he begged . And it would always come back to that. 

He begged to be kept. He wanted to be hers. He wanted out of his life. There was something wrong with all of that and she didn’t have enough information to say exactly what it was. But it hurt. 

She didn’t know what she was going to do. Not beyond giving him what he so desperately needed. What he wanted more than right over his own life. 

She had just wanted to give him a present to keep him safe. Why was this so hard? 

“Class,” called their professor, the woman stern. “Please, welcome Lila Rossi.” 

That’s when the stench of rot filled the air and Marinette blanched. When Adrien flinched in his seat in front of her, leaning back to wrap an arm around her leg beneath her desk, she had to withhold every beat of magic that thrummed hard and heavy in her chest. Because that girl? That was no girl.  

Chapter Text

Marinette didn’t know what their new classmate was… but her skin itched and her belly curdled at the mere sight of the not-girl Lila Rossi. The way her minou flinched and cringed in little micro expressions to keep the disgust and fear hidden was enough to make her growl low and visceral in her throat. Not loud enough to be really interesting, but enough that both Alya and Adrien turned to her a little, brows high on their face, one expression bemused, the other definitely impressed and a little awed. 

Lila Rossi seemed to pay attention to her, too, face plastic with a Barbie doll smile. Marinette didn’t even attempt to school her features into something less vicious and challenging. This thing was not wanted. Whatever Rossi was, wherever she came from, Marinette was going to send her back. In pieces if necessary. 

And then the girl opened her mouth and Lies curled off her tongue, death sweet and cadaver sickly. Mari was surprised death flowers didn’t foam from her lips in a constant fountain, each word a pouring of contagious disease, a plague, a wound festering. She was like a fey, only the exact mirror opposite. Nothing was said with a straight end, every syllable a twisting curve on a meandering path meant to confused and cast doubt but not with Truth. Always Lies.  

And yet… by lunch, so many believed her little lies. 

Each falsehood was like a thread in a greater web, wrapping tightly around little flies held in suspense of the hungry spider. 

Just a few. Mostly those not in their class. The creature frowned, face growing darker than just in expression. Her face seemed to crumble around the edges before she smiled, slow and almost soft if not for the derision filling her eyes. She seemed to be anticipating something. 

Marinette didn’t like it. 

It felt like she was a predator preying on the class. It felt that way with how she went immediately for the students the furthest from Marinette’s influence. Max, Rose, Ivan, Juleka. Mari was going to do something, pull them away from her influence, from the miasma that filled her every breath, but, of course , that’s when things went wrong. 

 

An alert went out across the students, phones blaring. Everyone stopped breathing, the sounds dying until distant screaming could be heard. Marinette stood up, purse on her shoulder. She ignored how it was Adrien that started immediately after her, trying so hard not to think of him. Of the danger. Of the hits. She… they had a job. 

Stepping into the school restroom, she barely heard her own words before she was slipping out the small, high window and onto the lush grass that surrounds half the school. She closed her eyes, her heart loud in her ears. She could feel him. She could feel him. Inside her heart, her head, her mind. He was a warmth hearth, a soft blanket and hands filled with a steaming mug. He was the chill just outside the door, vicious and apathetic if not handled with care. He was every counter to her plans, the pivot of luck, the fulcrum of Chance held in suspense. 

He was her Familiar. 

All she had to do was give him a gift brimming with magic that was her own creation. Normally, this would be so much harder. Normally, they would have a sit down and actually talk about this and the implications. 

They hadn’t been normal for long enough that what would be normal was now little more than a minor hinderance. 

They still definitely needed to talk. They weren’t even sixteen. Yet. 

“My Lady?” 

He was behind her, embracing her with his arms, his thrum of a purr, his magic twining with hers. She felt her eyes well with tears, overwhelmed with how right this felt. Two parts of a whole. His breath caught, stuttering against her neck as he tucked his face into the crook of her shoulder as he felt it too. As they felt it down to their souls, gossamer threads turning to thick cables of gold and silver and green and red. 

It felt like she could breathe for the first time in her life, could see and hear. Could feel and taste. 

The world was vivid, her lungs deep with the air in them, tasting the wind itself and hearing his heart beat in tandem with her own. 

Aaaaaaaaand … the screams of civilians and an Akuma. 

She could be angry at Papillon, but honestly, she was grateful. If they had stood much longer, they might have taken root. As it was, they had taken root in each other’s soul. She felt it there when he reluctantly stepped back, when she reluctantly stepped forward. They had a butterfly to purify and a person to save from themselves and everyone from them in turn. Taking his hand in hers, she kissed the palm, his breath catching as she looked into his eyes. 

Marinette had never felt so full. Of life. Of love. Of magic. Of pure joy. 

Winds swept the roads of Paris, fountains burbling with what sounded like giggles. Flowers seemed to gain an extra depth of color, grass thickening, and trees creaking as they seemed to strain taller. Glass seemed cleaner, lights brighter, alleys less scary. Buildings seemed to perk up, cracks seeming smaller. 

Of course, this wasn’t as apparent to the duo having to deal with a teenager that had been rejected. 

“I AM BEAUTY-FLY ,” she roared, her features too pretty to be real. It was like a porcelain doll was the one with a glow of butterfly wings about her face, trailing cloth behind the hovering figure looking like massive tattered wings trailing the ground. “AND I WILL MAKE EVERYONE AS PERFECTLY BEAUTIFUL AS MY CRUSH THOUGHT I SHOULD BE!” 

Well, if that wasn’t heartbreaking. The akumatized item ended up being one half of a broken pair of sweetheart necklaces. The fight was brief but intense with the terribly beautiful Akuma hitting civilians with her powers, each becoming a living doll of unusual beauty. Doll-like and porcelain perfect. 

The girl behind the mask was something else altogether. 

“I’m so sorry,” was sobbed into Marinette’s shoulder, the girl maybe fourteen and as tall as Adrien, curvier and built, biceps as big as grapefruit and hair short and neatly spiked in a pixie cut. She was in a set of workout clothes, abs easily visible despite puberty’s onward trudge to give her more feminine features. “I just wanted Jean-Claude to like me back… ” 

Marinette considered the Akuma, how small and doll-like pretty it had been. More traditionally acceptable femininity. “Oh, you precious darling,” she crooned, patting the girl on the back as she hugged the teen into her side. “This Jean-Claude doesn’t sound like a smart boy at all. You deserve a cute boy who likes you as you are.” 

Her earrings beeped. 

Chat’s ring beeped. 

They had to go. 

“Do you have someone to talk to, sweeting? A friend or parent?” she asked as she started to untangle herself. 

The girl finally stood up, wiping her face with her sports towel. “Yeah. Suzanne is waiting for me at the gym to hear how it went. I guess terribly is going to be putting it, uh, lightly .” 

Marinette gave a small smile. “I get not having your crush like you back. It’s not fun, but you’ll be amazing. It just takes having faith in yourself no matter who tries to make you change.” 

The Akuma victim blushed, her eyes on the gentle turn of sympathetic lips that so happened to be on Ladybug’s face. She glanced at Chat Noir who gave a commiserating smirk, nodding his head behind her spotted shoulder. Yeah, he understood instant crushes on Ladybug. 

Said Ladybug was a bit bewildered at the silent though half noticed exchange. Weird. Turning towards her partner, she bit her lip as she smiled a bit shyly. She was kind of in the most committed relationship one could be in, a soul bound Contract between a Witch and Familiar that was as old as magic itself. It didn’t hurt that they reciprocated some romantic feelings that were clearly felt between them. Like, literally, she could feel his warm love and soft pride in her. She knew he felt her own tender joy and hope and absolute love by the way he became even more kind and loving towards her. It was a loop that felt like it was growing in depth and strength with every second. A soft cough had Marinette looking back at the pink-cheeked girl. 

She blushed and smiled, ducking her head a little. Akuma girl gave Adrien a Panicked!Look to which he shrugged because, yeah, he had been there too. Still was. 

“Sorry, sweeting. My kitty and I have found a new… thing with my- our powers. It’s been… uh, interesting.” 

“Tell me about it,” Chat snarked playfully, coming over finally to pat the Akuma girl on the shoulder, the two standing side-by-side in solidarity of Marinette’s pure cuteness and beauty. “Take care. We gotta jet!” 

The girl waved as Chat Noir plucked Ladybug up, Mari squealing as he launched them with his pole. Before they even hit the first arc, she was laughing, the sound more mesmerizing than an angel choir to her Chat Noir. On the roof, she adjusted against him, allowing him to chart their path. Face pressed into his neck, she didn’t see him flush from hairline to the top of his suit. 

They landed a few streets over from the school, feet from her balcony with the lockdown in effect. And by lockdown, she meant that Chloé probably went shopping, Alya probably had more content for the Ladyblog, and the rest of the students were at an arcade or the cinema until the All Clear. 

To put it lightly, their lives were weird and disruptive but their grades were high. 

Honestly, this Akuma was probably more of a test to see in Ladybug was out for blood still or not. Marinette giggled a little at the thought, breath ghosting over her kitty’s neck as she cuddled into him. Her earrings beeped again, as did his ring. That sobered then both. They had one minute to decide. 

“We have one minute. I… let me down, mon chaton . I need to get something.” 

He was reluctant, letting her slide down until her feet touched the roof. She didn’t dare kiss him like she really kind of wanted to. Instead, she hugged him tight for a second before letting go and bouncing to the balcony, through the trapdoor, and down onto her bed. A quick pirouette had her on the floor with barely a sound, her hands gliding over the top of her desk, seeking something. She bit her lip on a happy grin when she found it. Less than thirty seconds left on the count down, Marinette scrambled silently back up to her balcony. 

Chat Noir stood there, almost down cast. Her heart thumped. “Oh, mon minou, no. Here.” She held out her hand, a heavy beaded charm there. “This is yours. If you want.” 

His head went up and he reached for the trinket with desperation surging between their hearts, his head blank and bright. It felt so strange, yet so right. Mari let him take it, felt the Contract close heavily, her soul connected to another, her heart in tandem with his. Felt his bone deep relief and his absolute joy. She felt her face all but glow. 

Wait. It was glowing. 

Wait. 

“Chat?!” 

That’s when their Miraculous timed out in pink and green washes of color.