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“I wonder what it would be like to jam my stinger up Hawkmoth’s ass.”

“Chloé!”

The snort Chat lets out is totally worth Ladybug’s disapproving stare. Queen Bee shrugs, unrepentant, and lays back on the roof. Normally she tries to avoid this sort of thing, because Parisian rooftops don’t exactly meet her high standards of clean, but she’s honestly so exhausted right now that she doesn’t even care about her hair. If detransforming doesn’t fix it, she’ll shower later.

“You shouldn’t say things like that,” Ladybug says primly.

“Oh, unwind. I would never actually do it,” Queen Bee says. That’s a flat-out lie and they all know it. That butterfly’s ass is hers for all the sleep she’s lost over the past two months. She’s starting to develop bags under her eyes. Bags!

“I would,” Chat says after a brief pause.

“Chat,” Ladybug says.

“What? LB, you’re just as exhausted as we are,” Chat says.

Ladybug makes a face, but she can’t really dispute that. It’s 5am and they’ve literally spent the last six hours fighting an akuma who doesn’t like mornings. It’s a level of irony that Queen Bee is really not in the mood to appreciate, especially since school starts in less than three hours and she still has to go home, shower, do her make-up and hair, and still get to school on time.

“Perhaps I’ll stay home sick,” she muses.

“Oh no you don’t,” Ladybug says. “If I have to suffer, so do you.”

“Rude,” Chat says, giving her the kitten eyes.

Ladybug stares back, unphased. “No.”

“Okay, stop teaching her to withstand my eyes,” Chat says, reaching over to poke Queen Bee in the ribs. She swats at his hand without opening her eyes, then realizes how warm he is and rolls over to put her head on his chest.

“Mmm, warm,” Queen Bee says with a sigh. “No one told me having a miraculous would come with a severe dislike of cold weather.”

“Again, not every miraculous holder gets that,” Chat says patiently, wrapping an arm around her. He’s getting used to being treated like a personal space heater; with two bugs on the team, it’s only going to get worse as winter approaches. Fortunately, Adrien is so touch-starved he loves it when Chloé drapes herself over him and it’s translating well into Chat and Queen Bee.

“I should go,” Ladybug says, hovering over them.

“Oh my god, just get down here,” Queen Bee says, aiming a kick at Ladybug’s ankle. Ladybug squawks and falls straight into Chat’s waiting arm. He pulls her down the rest of the way, until she’s laying on the other side of his chest frowning at Queen Bee.

“See? Warm,” Queen Bee says.

All the arguments Ladybug is gearing up to make disappear as the warmth registers, and she melts against Chat with a breathy affirmation. “Warm.”

“I feel used,” Chat says to no one in particular.

“You love it,” Queen Bee says, closing her eyes. Her transformation wears off, followed shortly by Chat’s and Ladybug’s, leaving them all in just their pajamas. But with Adrien’s arm wrapped around her, Chloé’s not even cold for the first time in days.

They’re all quiet for a few minutes. Chloé opens up the hand on Adrien’s chest for Pollen to settle into, but otherwise doesn’t move. She’s at the perfect angle to study Marinette. If Chloé is tired, then Marinette and Adrien are three steps past fucking exhausted. The akumas have been so relentless that Marinette has actually stopped taking Chloé’s miraculous away; the past three times, Marinette just muttered something about getting it next time and stumbled off to bed.

Which is fair, Chloé thinks. She doesn’t know who this guardian is that Marinette and Adrien talk about sometimes, but surely he must understand that it’s a pain for either Ladybug or Chat to have to keep running off to get the Bee Miraculous every time there’s a fight? Because it’s gotten to the point where Chloé just assumes she’ll be needed when an akuma attacks, and stalks Ladybug and Chat accordingly.

They’re not getting the time they need to rest between attacks, partially because Hawkmoth is an asshole and partially because attacks are going on for too long. They need to fix that like now.

“So,” Chloé says, breaking the silence.

“No,” Marinette says.

“Spoilsport. You don’t even know what I was going to say.”

“If it involves anything besides me falling asleep for two hours, I don’t care.”

Chloé decides to ignore that. “Have either of you put any thought into more help?”

That definitely catches their attention, and Adrien says, “More help?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, I am all over being a miraculous holder and you will pry Pollen from my cold, dead hands, but I also know there’s a Fox and a Turtle. Just seems dumb for the three of us to be killing ourselves when we could have more help.”

“The Guardian doesn’t want all of the miraculous to be active at once,” says Adrien.

“So? They don’t have to be. When you go get mine, you get the Fox or Turtle too,” Chloé says. Now isn’t the time to suggest that they let Chloé keep hers and just go retrieve the Fox when they need it. Judging from the way Marinette is looking at her through slitted eyes, Marinette already knows exactly what Chloé’s thinking.

“Chloé…” Marinette says.

“I’m just saying. We’re all tired. Our kwamis are tired. We have literally fought three akuma in the span of two days. That’s roughly 12 hours out of 48 hours. I don’t even spend that much time on my hair,” Chloé says.

Marinette is quiet for a long moment.

Adrien says, “Not the Turtle. The Guardian uses that, and it’s probably best left with him for now.”

“Okay, so the Fox then,” says Chloé. She knows the elephant in the room that no one is mentioning, but she’s never been one to dance around sensitive topics and she’s not about to start now.

Chloé actually wondered if Alya might change her tune once Chloé started using her miraculous more and more. After all, Chloé’s threat seems to have worked and all of Lila’s lies are now carefully devoid of any hint of malicious intent towards Marinette or Adrien – Chloé knows that for a fact, because one of her favorite activities now is stalking Lila around the school and watching Lila turn varying shades of white every time she catches sight of Chloé.

But Alya hasn’t. She’s remained stubbornly distant and quiet, even if she no longer hovers around Lila the way she did when Lila came to Collége François Dupont. Chloé can’t tell if Alya is still convinced she’s right or if she just isn’t sure how to approach Marinette to start fixing the problem. Frankly, Chloé doesn’t give a shit. Her concern is entirely for Marinette, because a sad Marinette means discordance in the hive and that makes Chloé itch in ways she can’t put into words.

So, the answer seems obvious. The key is how to get Marinette on board.

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” Adrien says carefully.

“Bullshit, it’s a fantastic idea and you know it. I’m all for anything that cuts down on the length of akuma attacks. The real question is, who else do we know of that would make a good Fox?”

Five sets of eyes turn to stare at Chloé. Pollen is the only one smiling, though Chloé can make out the glitter of mischief in Plagg’s eyes. He even winks at her, though she’s pretty sure he only does it because Adrien can’t see his face. Tikki’s face is expressionless, so it’s hard to tell if she approves of the idea or not. Adrien and Marinette just look blindsided.

“What?” Marinette says eventually.

Chloé sits up, though she hates to leave the warmth, and shrugs. “What? Our miraculous aren’t like yours, right? They’re not tied to us, though I feel I should make it clear that I will kill anyone who touches Pollen in my absence.”

“Chloé,” Adrien says half-heartedly.

She ignores him. “You made Césaire the Fox, but then you were planning to give her the Bee. So obviously, except for the Ladybug and Black Cat, the miraculous can be switched around at will. The point is, you don’t have to keep Césaire as the Fox if you don’t want to. You can pick someone else if you don’t trust her anymore.”

“I – I couldn’t do that. It would hurt Alya’s feelings,” says Marinette.

“So? She hurt yours too,” Chloé says aggressively, because Alya will forever be on her shit list even if she does make up with Marinette. If there’s one thing Chloé Bourgeois is good at besides being a bitch, it’s holding a grudge.

“I… Adrien, what do you think?” Marinette sits up too, and they both look at Adrien.

He looks uncomfortable under their scrutiny. “I don’t know, Marinette. I think Chloé has a point, but I get where you’re coming from too.”

Such a non-answer. Chloé sighs. “Look, the question you have to ask yourself is, can you trust Césaire out on the field?”

“I couldn’t trust you at first either,” Marinette says wryly.

“Point, but you grew to trust me. Can you grow to trust her again?” Chloé says, because she won’t apologize for her past. And also, because they all know that Queen Bee’s loyalty to the hive is pretty much paramount to anything else. Pollen tells her that it’s normal, and that it means Chloé is the best Queen Bee that Pollen’s had for a really long time. The praise helps to soothe Chloé’s pride on the days when she wants to stab someone on Marinette’s behalf, or sting Adrien’s asshole of a father.

She leans forward a little, driving the point home. “More importantly, can you grow to trust her by like tomorrow? Because this isn’t sustainable, and we all know it. We need help now, not three months from now.”

Marinette presses her lips into a thin line and doesn’t answer, which is kind of an answer in and of itself as far as Chloé’s concerned.

“Think about it,” Chloé says, getting up. “I have to go shower for approximately ten years. Pollen, buzz on!”

Queen Bee half-turns, scanning the perimeter of the building with an experienced eye, but sees nothing that flags as a potential danger. Satisfied, she leaps off the building and throws her stinger out. Marinette and Adrien will probably linger for another half hour, she knows, and it’s just as well she’s leaving because she hates being around them when they do that gooey, stare-into-each-other’s-eyes thing.

When she gets back to her bedroom, she detransforms and runs a bath for herself. Pollen accompanies her into the bath, making pleased little buzzy sounds as she floats around on the miniature, honeycomb-shaped pool floatie that Chloé bought for her a few weeks ago. Chloé smiles and settled back into the hot water, sighing as the jets burst to life.

She stays there for a good hour before reluctantly emerging to wash her hair. She gives Pollen a quick bath while she’s at it, giggling as Pollen’s buzz gets considerably louder, and then dries them both off with her full-size dryer. Pollen emerges looking like a gigantic fuzzball and Chloé devotes a few minutes to combing her fuzz, then brushes her own hair and ties it back.

“Okay, Pollen, let’s go,” she says finally. “If we go now, we can stop for a gigantic cup of coffee on the way.”

“I want tea with honey,” Pollen says.

“I will buy you one, but I need coffee,” Chloé says. She’s got a headache already from lack of sleep, and a lack of strong, hot coffee will not help.

She stops at her favorite café and buys an extra-large coffee and a small tea with honey, then surreptitiously dumps copious amounts of sugar into the coffee. She used to drink it black, but she’s noticed recently that her tastes are moving towards the sweeter range of things. It’s something she blames Pollen for, since Chloé was never a huge fan of sweets before she got her miraculous.

The schoolyard is pretty empty when Chloé gets there. She stakes out a picnic table, shivering in the breeze, and sets the tea on the bench beside her where Pollen can sip sight unseen. Her first hint that she’s not alone is when she looks down to see that Tikki is sitting beside Pollen, lapping at the tea. Plagg looks at the tea, then frowns up at Chloé.

“No cheese?” he demands.

“I’m not your holder, Plagg,” Chloé says, sipping her coffee.

“You just had like half a wheel of camembert,” Adrien says, taking a seat on the other side of the table. Marinette is with him, looking considerably colder than the weather would otherwise dictate. Chloé empathizes, though not enough to share her coffee.

“So who did you have in mind?” Marinette asks bluntly, forgoing her usual polite ‘good morning’. Ladybug is cranky, Chloé thinks with a gleeful smile, which she hides behind her coffee. God she kind of pities the next akuma that appears, because Ladybug is going to kick their ass. Marinette’s a savage when she doesn’t get enough sleep.

“Our options are limited for obvious reasons,” says Chloé. “But I was thinking of Kurtzberg.”

“Nathaniel?” Marinette says, blinking. “Really? I thought you’d say Sabrina.”

Chloé snorts. “Sabrina? No. She’s too much of a follower. You have to be able to make decisions for yourself to fight akuma, and Sabrina isn’t capable of that.” She takes another sip of her coffee. “No, Kurtzberg.”

“Why?” Adrien asks. Not accusatory, which would get Chloé’s hackles up, just genuinely curious.

“He likes superheroes,” Chloé says, setting her coffee down to tick the points off on her fingers. “He’s always drawing them in those comics of his. Even Ladybug and Chat Noir have shown up in them before, so he clearly has some interest in the two of you. He’s very creative, so he would be ideally suited to the Fox’s Mirage ability. He’s got great attention to detail, which would be helpful when it comes to pinpointing akumatized objects. And, he’s quiet and used to keeping to himself so you know he won’t be like me and announce his identity on live television.” She grins unrepentantly, then scowls when Marinette steals her coffee.

“Those are all good reasons,” Marinette says, like she’s surprised by Chloé’s insight, and Chloé scowls deepens.

“Look, Dupain-Cheng, you can’t be a bitch without knowing people. You have to know what does and doesn’t bother your targets,” Chloé says, rolling her eyes. “Otherwise, how can I be sure that I’m going to hit their sore spots? For example, I can’t make fun of you for having blue eyes because you like your eyes. I can’t make fun of Adrien for being a dork because he’s proud of being a dork.”

“Hey!” Adrien exclaims.

Chloé ignores him. “I watch people. I know what makes them tick.” She tips her chin up, staring at Marinette challengingly.

Marinette doesn’t rise to the challenge though, just sips from Chloé’s coffee thoughtfully. “Is that how you knew that your threat would make Lila back off?”

“Yes. But also, I was and am wholly prepared to actually follow through with that particular threat, so.” Chloé shrugs. “Rossi is a coward. She’s used to people trying to call her out on her lies, but direct threats that bypass all that crap? Not so much. With people like her, you really have to strike at the heart of things.”

Adrien gives her that smile that means he’s proud of her, and says, “I don’t know Nathaniel that well. What do you think, Princess?”

Ugh, the nicknames. Chloé steals her coffee back to cover up her grimace.

“I hadn’t thought about him before,” Marinette says slowly. “Nath is so quiet. Do you really think he’d want to?”

“Sometimes it’s the quiet ones,” Chloé says lightly. Marinette used to be pretty quiet herself, though pointing that out won’t help right now. There’s more to Nathaniel Kurtzberg than meets the eyes. A core of steel runs through that boy, not unlike the one Marinette herself possesses.

Marinette turns to look at Nathaniel, and so does Adrien. Chloé follows their gaze. Nathaniel is sitting on the ground beneath a tree, head bent. Whatever he’s doing in his sketchbook is demanding his full attention to the point where he doesn’t even realize they’re staring at him.

“Do you think he’d really be a good match for Trixx?” Adrien says, furrowing his eyebrows.

“Someone who can calm Trixx down wouldn’t be amiss,” Tikki says. “Some of the best Foxes have been holders who were outwardly calm with a hidden streak of mischief. Trixx could be good for him.”

“Hmm,” Marinette says, narrowing her eyes. “I’ll be right back.” She gets up and walks across the yard. When she gets to Nathaniel, she sits down beside him. Nathaniel turns pink and closes his sketchbook, but answers whatever Marinette’s asked him. Adrien bristles.

“Oh calm down,” Chloé says.

“What?” Adrien says, attempting innocence and failing by a mile.

“If he’s the new Fox, you gotta let go of this jealousy before it starts,” Chloé tells him, unimpressed. “I mean it, Adrikins. You’re like only person in the world for Marinette. I don’t say that jokingly. You’re literally it. So knock it off. You should be glad everyone idolizes your girlfriend.” And nope, she’s not bitter, not at all. She’s working on getting over how much people love Marinette. Really, she is.

It’s not like she wants people to love her, cause hi, hello, bitch here, but the whole ‘Marinette is so sweet, kind and awesome’ thing can get old.

Adrien pouts, but relents. “Okay, fine. Nathaniel. Really?”

“Really.”

“Really really?”

“Really really really,” Chloé says, finishing off her coffee. “For every detail I listed off and more. I think out of everyone in our class, he’s the most sensible and the most inclined to listen in the middle of a fight. He’ll treat his kwami and his miraculous like glass, and he’s not involved in many extracurricular activities. Plus, he knows enough about superheroes to take the responsibility seriously.”

“Well, when you put it like that…” Adrien sighs, putting his chin on his hand. “I hate when you get all reasonable.”

“Just one of my many charms,” Chloé says, opening up her jacket a bit to let Pollen and Tikki zip inside now that the tea is gone. “Besides, have you got a better idea?”

He frowns slightly and then looks around the courtyard. Chloé looks around too. It’s getting late, so their classmates all are here now. Lila is limping into the building, accompanied by Sabrina, Rose and Juleka. They’re off the list immediately, because no one who likes or feels bad for Lila is going to work well on a team with Marinette. Alix and Kim are having a racing competition to see who can run the fastest around the yard, which is exactly the problem: they’re too competitive.

Max is typing on his computer, half-watching Alix and Kim out of the corner of his eye. Anyone can tell that he just wouldn’t be interested in being a miraculous holder. Ivan might work, but he’s so wrapped up in Mylène that Chloé just doesn’t see it happening. And forget Mylène. She would never be able to stand up to akuma. That leaves Nino and Alya, who have already been crossed off the list for obvious reasons.

“Huh,” Adrien says after a moment, frowning.

“See?” Chloé says smugly.

“I guess if Marinette okays it, I’m fine with him.”

“Oh, so it’s all good if your girlfriend says it is.”

Adrien turns bright red. “Maribug is Ladynette! I-I m-mean, M-Marinette is our l-leader. It sh-should be her ch-choice!”

“My word,” Chloé says to Plagg, torn somewhere between amusement and disgust because this is just sad. “Is this what you’ve been dealing with for the past three months?”

“You have no idea,” Plagg says severely, crawling up her arm. “It’s been awful. They’re dating but they’re even worse than before.”

“Shut up, Plagg!” Adrien says, scowling. But all it does is make him look like an adorable kitten.

“Scary,” Chloé says.

“Shut up, Chloé.”

“I think Marinette is waving at you,” Chloé says, and watches his head whip around so fast she hears bones crack. Then she watches him practically trip over the bench in his rush to get up and run over to where Marinette is standing by the school steps.

“Wow,” Plagg says.

“I know, right? I can’t believe I ever wanted that dork to marry me,” Chloé mutters, shaking her head. “What do you think? Should I be nice and take both their bags in, or leave them here?”

“You should be nice!” Tikki says, poking her head out of Chloé’s jacket to frown up at her.

“Ugh. Being nice is work.”

“Chloé.” Tikki gives her a disapproving look that is a seriously scary match for Ladybug’s.

“Do miraculous holders start looking like their kwamis after a long time together?”

Chloé.”

“Okay, okay, sheesh.” Chloé gets up, dumping her the coffee and tea cups in the trash, and grabs her own bag as well as Marinette’s and Adrien’s. Tikki and Plagg scuttle down her arms, disappearing into the respective chosen’s bags, and Chloé saunters into the school.

She finds Marinette and Adrien exactly where she thought she would, talking in low tones at the back of the class. Chloé drops their bags in front of them and takes a seat, scanning the classroom. Lila, Sabrina and Rose are clustered at the front, though interestingly Juleka is sitting off by herself. Chloé looks at her with narrowed eyes, because that’s kind of interesting and, should they ever pry another miraculous out of the guardian’s hands, could be fruitful.

“We’re in agreement,” Marinette says, and Chloé looks back at her.

“What?” she says, just to make it clear she wasn’t paying attention, and Marinette rolls her eyes.

“We’ll visit Nathaniel tonight,” she whispers.

“Visit him?” Chloé and Adrien say together.

Marinette nods curtly. “I’m beginning to think that throwing a miraculous at someone and then launching them straight into battle is a bad way of doing it. People need time to experiment with their powers a little bit and figure out how things go.”

And Marinette needs time to figure out if she can handle having another Fox around, Chloé surmises, sneaking a glance at Adrien. Their eyes meet in shared understanding.

“That sounds fine with me, Mari. I don’t think I’m doing anything tonight,” Adrien says.

Chloé shrugs. “I’ll check my schedule.”

“8pm,” Marinette says, rolling her eyes.

Madame Bustier walks in, followed by the rest of the class, so Chloé’s retort goes unvoiced. She gets her books out to make it seem like she’s paying attention but isn’t, instead watching Marinette out of the corner of her eye. Marinette isn’t following the lesson either. She’s doodling something on her page. Chloé would bet good money it’s a picture of a fox and a ladybug or some sappy shit like that.

It’s not surprising at all to see Marinette approach Alya later that day. Chloé stands back, balanced on the balls of her feet, as Marinette sits down at Alya’s lunch table. An arm wraps around her shoulders and then there’s a cat draped over her back. Approximately two seconds later, a thin, warning sound starts rumbling through Adrien’s throat. Chloé pokes absently at his head – she doesn’t pet, thank you – but otherwise does nothing.

Marinette’s lips move. There’s a tentative smile on her face, but Alya doesn’t even look up at her. She just keeps staring down at her phone like it’s the holy grail. Chloé can pinpoint the moment when Marinette gets tired of trying: Marinette’s shoulders grow tense and her eyes flash, and she says something else that makes Alya look up at her in surprise. But Marinette doesn’t notice, because she’s already gotten up and is storming away.

“Think that’s your cue,” Chloé says.

“It is indeed,” Adrien says, running after Marinette.

Alya watches them go, then glances back at Chloé. Chloé gives her a slow, smug smile. She doesn’t know what the hell is up with Alya Césaire and frankly she doesn’t care. If Alya wants to sulk or believe Lila or whatever, that’s her problem. Marinette will forgive a lot, but she can only be pushed so far and she will only reach out so many times. Alya might come to her senses before that point and she might not. Since they’ve got another, hopefully better, Fox lined up, it’s not Chloé’s problem.

She doesn’t go after Adrien or Marinette, since they’re undoubtedly doing gross schmoopy stuff that will make Chloé want to throw up. Instead, she buys Pollen a honey tart and goes outside to find a quiet place to share the treat with her kwami. It’s worth the chill that she can’t seem to get rid of for the afternoon to see the way Pollen beams up at her, little mouth sticky with honey.

That night, Marinette texts Nathaniel's address to Chloé and Adrien. Queen Bee shows up on a rooftop a block away at five to, where she finds Chat and Ladybug waiting for her. Ladybug's holding a familiar box in her hands, one that always kind of makes Queen Bee's stomach do flip flops because it usually means Pollen is going away. But Ladybug still hasn't asked for her miraculous back yet, and Queen Bee isn't going to bring it up. Besides, this particular box holds something different entirely.

"I'll go," Ladybug says. "And get him."

"I feel like this could be a headline. Ladybug kidnaps local boy," Queen Bee says, watching her go.

Chat snorts. "It would probably end up on the Ladyblog in a heartbeat."

She turns to look at him. "Don't make me ask you if you're okay, you know I hate doing that."

"It's just hard finding out that people aren't who you thought they were," Chat says, and he sounds so sad about it. Queen Bee grits her teeth as her chest aches a bit. This is hands down the most annoying part about the bee miraculous.

"For god's sake, Adrikins, stop being so dramatic," she says crossly. "So Marinette found out that Césaire is a little proud and hardheaded? So what? It doesn't mean Césaire has magically turned into a horrible person. It just means she's not ready to admit she fucked up. She didn't verify Rossi as a source and got embarrassed when it was pointed out to her. Frankly, she's lucky that's all that happened. Most newspapers would fire your ass over something like that." She sniffs, folding her arms.

"Frankly, I would bet good money that this is all about her journalistic pride. She'll come around eventually, I'm sure. She and Marinette can be best friends without Césaire being a miraculous holder. Those two things are not mutually exclusive."

Chat's ears and tail droop, but he cocks his head consideringly. "I guess you're right. It was just nice when Alya and Nino could fight with us."

"You didn't even know it was them," Queen Bee points out.

"That's just it! I didn't even get the chance to appreciate it!"

"Well, maybe it'll happen again in the future," Queen Bee says, but she totally doesn't believe it for a second. Maybe Nino, but he's pretty loyal to Alya. And it's gonna be a very long time before Alya earns Marinette's trust back. It's a bit poetic in a way: Alya has no idea just what she's lost.

"Maybe," Chat says, not sounding convinced. "Here they come."

Ladybug touches down on the roof and releases Nathaniel, who is wearing black pajamas and a grey coat to ward off the chill. His wide eyes go from Chat to Queen Bee and then back again, before finally settling on Ladybug.

"Uh, so. What did you need?" Nathaniel asks, sounding nervous.

"Nathaniel Kurtzberg," Ladybug says formally. "We have been facing a lot of akumas lately, and we've come to realize that we need more help than we have currently available to us. This is the Fox miraculous, which grants the power of illusions." She holds up the box. "Should you choose to accept, you will use this power for the greater good and protection of Paris. When the job is done, you will return the miraculous to me or Chat. Would you help us?"

Nathaniel stares at the box for a moment. "You mean - there's an akuma right now?" He looks around apprehensively, as though expecting an akuma to jump out of the shadows.

"Oh! Um, no. Not right now." Ladybug blushes, pink seeping out from beneath her mask. "No, I thought it would be better to give you a chance to see what the miraculous is like an akuma attacks. It can be a little tricky to get used to."

"I have to return it after?" Nathaniel asks. "How will I get used to it?"

"You can practice now," says Ladybug firmly. "If there's an akuma where we need your help, one of us will find out and give you the miraculous." She hesitates, then adds, "Of course, this is a dangerous job. My miraculous cure can usually fix everything, but there is the risk you could be hurt or worse. And you would have to agree to keep it a secret and never tell anyone about it." She shoots a glare in Queen Bee's direction.

"How was I supposed to know? I never got your spiel," Queen Bee says innocently, and hears Chat giggle. Ladybug glares harder.

"Isn't there already a Fox? Rena Rouge?" Nathaniel asks.

"She's not working out," Queen Bee says before Ladybug can answer. "You were my suggestion, actually."

Both of his eyebrows go up in surprise. "Seriously? You suggested me? Why?"

"I have my reasons," Queen Bee says, examining her gloves.

"Is this some kind of joke?" Nathaniel says doubtfully.

"No, it's not a joke. Ignore Queen Bee. You get used to her," says Ladybug.

"She's like a fungus that grows on you," Chat says helpfully.

"Wha - hey!" Queen Bee squawks. Chat laughs and dances out of reach.

"And you? Why did you agree?" Nathaniel turns back to Ladybug, who seems surprised by the question.

"You're a good person," she says slowly. "You're quiet, but... you seem like you see everything, Nathaniel. I need people I can trust, and you've never been anything but kind to me."

Nathaniel stares at her for a moment before he smiles. "Of course I am. You're a nice person, Marinette."

Total silence.

Queen Bee would laugh at Ladybug's fish face, eyes bugging out and jaw hanging open, if she weren't making the same face. Chat is frozen, kitty ears and tails standing straight up. Nathaniel's smile deepens, causing a dimple to appear on his left cheek.

"Sorry," he says, not sounding sorry at all. "I wasn't going to tell you that I knew, but in light of this I thought you should know."

"Wha - how - what?!" Ladybug chokes out.

"I know you. I watched you for a long time because I had a crush on you." Nathaniel blushes then, the color contrasting with his hair. "So I - when Ladybug showed up, I watched the videos of her on the Ladyblog... and the more I watched, the more sense it made. And then you disappeared every time an akuma showed up... you always had those lame excuses. It just made sense to me."

He turns to face Chat. "I wasn't sure who you were for the longest time. I had my suspicions, because you would take off whenever akumas happened too, but I also knew that Adrien Agreste also had a busy schedule. But I also knew that Marinette was in love with Adrien so... when it became clear that Ladybug and Chat were dating, I figured it had to be you."

"What the what," Chat mutters, sounding astonished.

"And I suppose that means Rena Rouge was Alya," Nathaniel continues. "I get what you mean about it not working out if that's the case." He plucks the box from Ladybug's limp fingers and opens it to reveal the Fox miraculous. He picks it up and carefully fastens it around his neck. The miraculous glows orange and a little fox kwami appears.

"Hi! I'm Trixx! You're not Rena Rouge," Trixx says.

"Nope. I'm Nathaniel. Nice to meet you, Trixx. How do we make this happen?"

"Just say 'Trixx, let's pounce',"

"Okay... Trixx, let's pounce!"

The miraculous glows and Trixx zips inside of it, sending a wash of orange light over Nathaniel's body. Queen Bee stares at him curiously, noticing that the orange parts of his costume are a deeper shade than what Rena Rouge was. His gloves are black, but the rest of his costume is orange and white. Even his reddish orange hair has gained white tips, giving it a frosted look. Two orange fox ears stick up from his hair, tipped by black.. And - perhaps best of all - unlike Rena Rouge or Volpina, Fox Nathaniel has an actual fox's tail. It's big and bushy and a perfect match to the hair on his head, right down to the white tip.

"Holy shit, you're cute," Queen Bee says, impressed. Ladybug is still making strangled sounds, and Chat has gone quiet in his shock.

"Um, thanks?" Nathaniel says, looking himself over. "Am I supposed to have a tail?"

"The transformation gives you what you want," Ladybug says at last, still sounding somewhat dazed. "For example my suit is very streamlined, because I don't think a superhero needs a lot of unnecessary accessories. Though I do wish I had pockets." She adds that last bit under her breath, and Chat smirks.

"Oh. Cool. So what's my superhero name?"

"How about Fuchs?" Queen Bee says.

"Queen Bee!" Ladybug says.

"What? It means fox in German." Queen Bee is trying not to grin.

"It's your choice, but I recommend you don't listen to Queen Bee," Chat says to Nathaniel.

"Hey!" Queen Bee complains, but it’s hard to be mad when Chat grins at her like that.

"Well, Renard is too close to Rena Rouge... How about Filou? I am a fox," Nathaniel says, looking around at them for approval.

Filou. Trickster. Queen Bee nods approvingly. "I like it."

"Me too," Chat says.

Ladybug smiles. "Good choice, Filou," she says. "Now, your power is called Mirage. But what you should know is that you only get one chance to use it per transformation. Once you do, you have five minutes before you automatically transform back."

"How will I know?" Filou asks, screwing his face up.

"Your necklace has five bars on it. As your time ticks down, you can keep track by those," Ladybug explains. "It's important to keep that in mind, since you never want to risk changing back in front of someone who doesn't know your identity. If you do change back, you'll have to feed your kwami before you can transform again."

"What does Trixx eat?"

Ladybug starts to answer, then pauses. "You know what, I don't know. Rena Rouge never had to feed him that I know of, and I always just take him back to Ma - ah, to where the miraculous are kept. We'll have to ask when you detransform."

"Okay," Filou says slowly, "so how do I use this Mirage?"

"With your flute." Ladybug taps the flute strapped to Filou's back. "Come over here and you can experiment." She leads Filou to the other side of the rooftop, talking rapidly. Filou hangs onto every word, face full of concentration.

"This was a good idea," Chat says, leaning against his baton.

"Not jealous?" Queen Bee says, crossing her arms.

He shrugs. "I think my lady needed this. It's good for her to have someone else to lean on."

"Good for all of us," Queen Bee points out, because Adrien could use more friends too.

"Yeah, yeah," Chat says, flapping a hand at her, and then jogs over to where Filou is getting ready to try out his first Mirage. Queen Bee stands back and looks at the light in Ladybug's eyes, the smile on Chat's face, and the pure excitement radiating off of Filou, and feels something click into place. It's not something she can quantify, it's just... good. This. This is good. Her hive.

They're good.