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The city is quiet tonight.

There’s no akumatized victim causing chaos. There are no car crashes. There’s not so much as a mugger.

Ladybug appreciates the peace, seeing as she’s rather emotionally compromised tonight. The girl behind the mask has a confession to make, one that’s eating her up inside, and it’s breathing down the neck of her heroic alter-ego. She doubts she can fight in this state.

Chat Noir, who had been gradually slowing down for the past five minutes, comes to a halt at the edge of a rooftop. Ladybug lowers her yo-yo and turns around. Her partner is watching her with a worried expression. Ah. He’s sensed that something is wrong.

As expected from her best friend of three years. They don’t have to know each other’s identities to know each other, and he’s well aware that his Lady is off tonight.

“What’s wrong, Bug?” Chat asks softly, slinking over to her. Silhouetted by the light of billboards and street-lamps, he looks like the world’s cutest devil. The joy that thought gives her almost breaks through her melancholy, but it’s drowned out by the tides of guilt.

“Chat,” Ladybug says, sprawling over the concrete. “Have you ever done something wrong, as a civilian? Like, really wrong?”

“Once when I was twelve, I cleared my dad’s calendar to make it look like he had nothing to do. I thought he’d spend time with me if I… anyway, it didn’t work, and I got grounded. Something like that?” Chat replies. He sits next to her and swings his legs childishly.

Ladybug squeezes her eyes shut. “I think it might be worse than that, kitty. What I did— what I’ve been doing — it’s really selfish.”

“Aw, bugaboo, I know you’re impulsive and petty sometimes, but it can’t be that terrible!”

Impulsive. Ugh, Chat’s right— he’s 90% of her impulse control. Maybe if Ladybug had a little cat on her shoulder, she wouldn’t be in this mess.

“It’s… well, there’s this boy. You remember, the one I told you I like?”

“Ah, yes,” Chat says dramatically, tossing his head. “My eternal rival, the wretched cur who has my Lady’s heart!”

“He’s not gonna be your rival anymore, kitty. I realized a little while ago that I wasn’t in love with him; I was obsessed with him. To the point where I was acting like the villain from a chick flick. Possessive and jealous and… not very heroic at all,” she admits. As the words pass her lips, she feels shame well up within her. She’s awful.

Chat cocks his head. His ears— the leather ones—  twitch inquisitively. “If you’re this upset, Ladybug, I don’t think you have much to worry about. You already know what you did was wrong. Just apologize to him and change your behavior!”

“It’s that easy, huh…” Ladybug says. She gets to her feet, swinging her yo-yo. Chat springs up with a sharp grin.

“Yup! You’re a great person, my Lady. You’re the savior of Paris! So I have faith that you’ll make things right!” He tosses his baton up and catches it, chirping, “Miraculous Ladybug!”

Ladybug can’t help but laugh at her partner’s antics. Her heart feels a little lighter now.

“Thank you, Chaton. I needed that. Now, do you wanna race to the tower?”

“You’re on, Bug!”

 


 

“Marc!” calls his mother. “That friend of yours is here! He says he has something to show you!”

Marc cringes. His mother does not sound happy, probably because it’s nearing 11:00 and she’s never liked his “friend” anyway. But he’s pretty sure he knows what his visitor has brought him, so… he can’t bring himself to care.

As he expected, Nathaniel barrels into his room, holding something in his hands. “Marc! Guess what I got in the mail?”

“Show me,” Marc demands, reaching out. His boyfriend, his partner, beams and hands the item over.

It’s a copy of their newest project— a fully illustrated children’s book. Having grown tired of their Ladybug comics (she and Chat Noir were never going to give them the time of day, after all), the pair had begun to try new material and media.

(Their recent story told the tale of a prince and his faithful knight.

It was somewhat inspired by their own romance.)

“It’s beautiful,” Marc coos reverently, running his fingers over the binding. “How many copies did you get?”

“Just three! One for me, one for you, and one for Marinette— she’s always been so supportive of us. If she likes it, though, maybe we can print more!” Nathaniel says. “By the way, I wrote a second dedication.”

“Oh?” Marc quickly flips to the first page. His dedication reads, “To the mightiest illustrator of all.”

Nathaniel had added, “To the best author and partner I could’ve asked for.”

“You’re so sappy,” he laughs, dropping the book so he can tackle Nathaniel. The redhead spins him around.

“It’s the truth! You ARE the best writer, and the best boyfriend—  mmph!”

Marc is too busy kissing Nathaniel to notice his bedroom door swinging open. He’s too busy overflowing with emotion to see his mother walking in and picking up the book.

He is not, however, too unaware to hear her scream bloody murder.

The boys spring apart, wondering if there’s an akuma attack. Then they catch sight of Mme. Anciel and the blood drains from their faces.

“It’s not what it—”

“Mom, we were just—”

“Save your lies!” She snarls. “It’s bad enough that you’ve thrown away your future to write. Now you’re gallivanting around with another boy? You disgust me!”

“Mom…” Marc gasps. Each word feels like a knife between his ribs, expertly aimed at everything he holds dear.

His mother whirls around and storms down the stairs. Nathaniel and Marc follow. They reach the landing just in time to see her fling open the door.

“Get out,” she orders, gesturing toward the empty street. “And don’t you dare come back, you filth!”

“Mme. Anciel, please, you don’t have to do this!” Nathaniel pleads. “I’m sorry, I’ll never speak to him again—!”

She slaps him. “Shut up! I won’t hear a word from a pervert like you!”

Fueled by the desperate desire to escape her wrath, Marc grabs Nathaniel by the wrist and drags him outside. Mme. Anciel sneers, flinging the fairy tale at Marc’s head.

Then the Anciels’ front door slams shut.

“Oh my god,” Marc whimpers. He and Nathaniel drop to their knees, their novel lying between them like a shield.

“I’m so sorry! This is my fault! I shouldn’t have… ow…” the artist hisses, touching his cheek. His fingers come away bloody.

“She got you with her ring,” Marc says. His voice sounds hollow. He’s hollow.

Nathaniel wipes the blood on his jeans. “That’s the least of our problems. I just fucked up your whole life.”

“Don’t blame yourself. You know she’s never liked me. It would have happened sooner or later…”

“What’s wrong with her?” Nathaniel snaps. “Why can’t she accept you for who you are? And why does everyone want us to be apart? Either they want to break us up, or they make fun of our works!”

Chloe Bourgeois’ high, mocking voice echoes in his ears.

Huh? Who would want to read anything made by freaks like you?

“I hate it,” Marc whispers.

His fingers close around one end of the book. His boyfriend’s close around the other.

A butterfly drops from the sky and sinks into their masterpiece.

 


 

In a faraway manor, a villain smiles.

“Greetings, Fantasia. I am Le Papillon. I’ll give you the power to create anything you wish, and you will never have to part again. I only ask that you bring me Ladybug and Chat Noir’s Miraculous Stones as payment.”

Through his akuma’s eye, Le Papillon sees the boys lock gazes. Their faces are pinched with anger.

“Yes, Papillon,” they say in haunting unison.

Chapter Text

Approximately one week ago…

Somewhere between telling Adrien “bye-good” and compulsively creating his 65th birthday gift, Marinette realized that she’d been acting certifiably insane.

“Tikki,” she said, looking down at a swatch of fabric, “Tikki, what the hell am I doing?”

The kwami daintily ate a truffle. “You said you were making another suit for Adrien.”

“I can’t talk to him. I can’t even talk to him, but I’ve decided— somehow!— that we’re going to get together and have three kids and a hamster. What’s wrong with me?”

Tikki, who had been waiting for her chosen to reach this conclusion ever since she’d stolen that poor boy’s phone, simply crammed more chocolate into her mouth. Marinette stood and began to pace the length of her room, ignoring the lack of response.

“I— Tikki, oh my god. I stalked him! I worked with Chloe to sabotage his friendship with Kagami, which led to an akuma attack! And I had the nerve to insult Lila for cozying up to him? I’m no better! In fact, I’m the exact type of person he should be running away from!”

Marinette collapsed onto her bed with a drawn-out whine. Tikki flew to her, saying,

“Maybe that’s a tad drastic, but… yes, Marinette, you’ve been decidedly frightful.”

The heroine screamed into a pillow.

Then she got to her feet, threw the unfinished suit into the Trunk of Shame™, and vowed to fix things.

(It took her seven days and a talk with her better half to form and implement an actual plan, but… at least she was trying, right?)

 

-

 

When morning comes, Marinette gets out of bed and goes to stare at her wall. It has been rid of Adrien Agreste pictures (as has her phone, and her computer, and her magazine collection, and…).

Ugh. Not the point. Today is the day. The day of holy reckoning.

“I don’t know if I can do this, Tikki,” she says under her breath. Her kwami zips out from her nest and perches on her shoulder.

“Of course you can, Marinette!” says the little goddess of creation. “Do what Chat Noir told you— apologize, and make it right!”

Marinette pets her kwami’s head. Anxiety churns in her stomach, and she says, “What if he hates me after this?”

“That’s his prerogative. He is under no obligation to forgive you, even if he accepts your apology.”

“You’re right,” the girl sighs. At times like this, she wonders why Fu made her Ladybug. She’s clearly not cut out for it. A real Ladybug would have never acted so villainous.

“Cheer up,” Tikki soothes. She floats in front of her chosen’s face and lightly taps her nose. “It’ll all work out.”

I sure hope so, Marinette thinks, heading for school.

 


 

After dropping the Anciels’ home into a sinkhole, Fantasia begins wandering through the city. Night turns into day as they bounce from rooftop to rooftop, staunchly avoiding the patrol route they know Ladybug and Chat Noir take.

Flowers sprout with each of their steps, and Artist hums tonelessly as they look at their hands.

Hey, let’s stop. I want to draw something.

Fantasia takes a seat on the Arc de Triomphe and starts sketching. A flock of pixies rises from the pages of their infinity notebook. They vanish into the sunrise, prompting the villain to quirk their lips.

For an akuma of their caliber, Fantasia hasn't caused much havoc. This is partly because they’ve already gotten rid of their tormentor, and partly because Papillon has yet to order them around.

He acted like this when I was Reverser, too, says the part of them that is Author. Remember? He allowed me to chase you instead of demanding I find those… Miraculouses.

When I was Evillustrator, I just wanted to go on a date, and he let me. So… same hat, I guess.

First of all, don’t meme at me. Second of all, framing kidnapping as romantic is a terrible trope. Finally, from our data points, I can only assume that Papillon has a soft spot for creative types.

Very nice conclusion, Artist applauds. It kinda sounded like an academic paper.

I try. Hey, should we do something outrageous? We have to repay our ‘creator.’

Yeah, we do… what do you have in mind?

Author extends their hand. Ink drips from the end of their pen, landing on an unsuspecting woman’s head. Futures unfold in their mindscape.

“Huh,” Fantasia says. “Your canon has a lot of potential… unfortunately, we’re partial to angst.”

They merrily scrawl, ‘and as she was consumed by solitude, she melted into the shadows of the day’ into their book. The woman screams as she is swallowed by a wave of darkness. The people surrounding her glance up, catch sight of Fantasia, and start running.

Artist takes control in order to draw a dragon. It rises from the book and tears off in pursuit of the fleeing Parisians.

Fantasia feels a wicked sort of glee as they watch this. Shit. They have the coolest powers.

It’s time to put them to good use.

(Papillon watches the akuma go with something akin to pride in his eyes. Excellent, he thinks. Those boys are talented.)

 


 

Marinette makes it to lycée on time (a rarity, these days) and slides into her seat. The desks fill up around her, but she pays her classmates no mind. Her head is abuzz with emotion.

“Hey, girl,” Alya greets, nudging her friend. “What's got you looking so down?”

“I have to apologize,” she replies. Any elaboration is dashed when Adrien walks in. He's as chipper as ever, and shoots Marinette a quick smile before starting to chat with Nino.

Guilt festers within her. Tikki presses her paws against her chosen's skin, trying to communicate her support.

Mme. Bustier walks in and begins taking attendance. She works her way down the list, murmuring to herself.

“…and Lila is still battling Chloe's defamation lawsuit. Well, it looks like Nathaniel is the only one unaccounted for! Let's get started!”

Class is unbelievably boring. After the lecture dissolves into a haze of static, Marinette forgoes concentrating and resorts to doodling in the margins of her graphing notebook. One of the sketches forms into Chat Noir giving her a disappointed kitten face.

She nearly cries at the sight of his downturned ears.

Lunch arrives, and Marinette taps Adrien on the shoulder before she can lose her nerve.

“Adrien,” she says, her voice steadier than it's been in the three years she's known him. “Can we talk?”

“Sure,” he says, giving her an easy grin. The useless fangirl in her squeals. The rational girl in her says God damn it, Marinette. Stop being garbage and focus.

They find a secluded spot to converse in. Tikki wishes her good luck (she can tell by the pink fizz that pops up in the corner of her eyes), and with a deep breath, Marinette starts to speak.

“There's something I've been meaning to tell you. It's not going to be easy to hear.”

Adrien’s brows furrow in confusion. “Okay. Uh, did I do something to you?”

“No! No, it's something I did!”

Before Marinette can profess her deepest regrets, an explosion sounds in the distance. Someone screams at the approximate pitch of a klaxon.

Motherfucking piece of shit. I'm gonna kill Papillon.

“I have to go, right now, immediately! Bye! Talk to you later!” Marinette cries in one breath. Then she sprints down the hallway and into an unattended supply closet.

Tikki shoots out of her pocket, fuming, “This is so inconvenient!”

“Tell me about it. Tikki, spots on!”

Seconds later, Ladybug is swinging away from the school and toward the center of the city, where a figure is perched atop a hovering dragon.

“Oh, why,” she whispers. She hates beast akuma; they're so tricky to defeat.

“Feline troubled, bugaboo?” Chat purrs, landing beside her. Ladybug pinches the bridge of her nose and points toward today's supervillain.

“Well, hell,” the black cat says brightly.

“I should’ve listened to my base impulses and stayed in bed today… Ugh, let's get closer. Maybe we'll find out what's going on.”

They creep from building to building until they're right beside the akuma. He seems to be writing something in a book. As the ink flows from his pen, the people in the street below find themselves in varying states of disarray. Some of them vanish. Others burst into flames, or are dragged away by beasts.

Yikes. Big yikes.

“Oh, boy. Is it in the pen or the book?” Chat asks.

Ladybug shakes her head. “Only one way to find out…”

She snags the pen with a quick toss of her yo-yo. It zips toward her, and she snaps it. Ink flies everywhere, but the butterfly is nowhere to be seen.

The akuma turns to them, placidly saying, “You got it wrong.”

“I don't make the same mistake twice,” Ladybug snaps in return.

(She neglects to mention all the times she'd wronged Adrien.)

“She's all right,” sings Chat. “Would you consider handing us the book, Monsieur Wordsmith?”

“It's Fantasia!” the akuma retorts. He snaps his fingers and another pen drops into his hand. The heroes dive in opposite directions as a stream of ink shoots toward them.

“Shit,” Ladybug huffs. “I don't wanna know what that would've done to us.”

“Maybe we'd have gotten a claw-ful makeover?”

Fantasia rolls his eyes so hard that the green of his irises vanishes into the black of his sclera. “No. It means your story would've been written for you.”

So he would've gotten control over us? Not good, not good at all, Ladybug thinks. She flings her weapon skyward, but before she can call for Lucky Charm, another burst of ink soars toward her.

She dances aside and Chat extends his baton, trying to knock the book out of Fantasia's hands. The akuma yanks it out of the hero's reach with a sharp cry.

“No! We won't let you separate us!”

“Us?” Chat gasps.

“There's two of them in one body,” Ladybug replies in horror. “Like Oblivio.”

But where Oblivio had been a hazy, human-shaped blur, Fantasia is clearly a person. They have lightly tanned skin, a well-coordinated outfit, and messy black hair that… fades to red at the tips.

Like Nathaniel's hair. Nathaniel, the artist. Nathaniel, who was missing from school today.

“Chaton, I think Nathaniel Kurtzburg is in there,” the spotted heroine says weakly. “And if he's one-half of the akuma, then the other person is probably Marc Anciel.”

Chat sums up her current thoughts with a succinct, “Fuck!”

Chapter Text

Following that awful revelation, Ladybug and Chat Noir scurry out of Fantasia’s way. Above them, silver crows streak through the clouds, and below them, people scream. Some lucky folks are screaming in joy.

Most people are singing a song of terror.

“Alright. This is a versatile akuma made of two people who a) have been akumatized before and b) are hellbent on staying together. Great,” Ladybug mutters.

“Don't you mean fantastic?”

“Chat, don't make me throw you off this building.”

“I mean, a cat always lands on his feet— okay, okay! Try your Lucky Charm, bugaboo. See what it gets us,” Chat suggests.

“Fine. Lucky Charm!”

A strip of cloth falls into her hands.

“What the— is this a blindfold?”

“Kinky,” the black cat cackles.

“Haha, very funny,” Ladybug groans. Think, Ladybug. What can you do with a blindfold?

...wait, this is one of the straightforward ones, isn’t it. Fantasia needs to see, or they can't write or draw.

“Play distraction, mon minou. I'll sneak up behind them and blindfold them. Then you can grab the book and shred it.”

“Of course, my Lady!”

Ladybug hurries toward Fantasia, acutely aware of her dwindling time. She has… four minutes. Cool.

“Hey! Pretty boys! I have some questions! Which one of you does the thinking? Are you both in control? Is this a Pacific Rim situation? Because I loved that movie!” Chat calls.

“We can trade— hey, did you just call us pretty?” Fantasia stammers.

(Their confusion would be adorable if they weren't currently tearing apart the fabric of the universe.)

Seizing the chance, Ladybug pounces. The dragon promptly smacks her out of the air and into a building. Her super suit absorbs the majority of the damage, but the impact still vibrates through her, rattling every bone in her body. God damnit. She didn’t think those two had it in them. Whatever happened to Evillustrator? He was a blushing, rambling mess. Ladybug would like that back, please.

“I hate my life,” she sighs, crawling out of the crater she’d created.

“Do you want us to write you a better story?” Fantasia offers as their How To Train Your Dragon reject nimbly ducks and weaves around Chat’s attacks. “We actually like you, you know. We could give you anything you want.”

Violet flickers in front of their face, and they sigh. “Yeah, yeah. In exchange for your earrings, or whatever.”

Ladybug realizes that once upon a time, she might have begged them to write a fairytale ending for Marinette and Adrien. The thought is sickening, and the quip she’d been about to make dries up in her throat.

No more.

“Mm, I won’t be doing that, boys,” the heroine replies, rallying. She hooks her yo-yo around a lamppost on the other side of the street, and before either of them can react, she rockets toward Fantasia.

Without looking down, Ladybug successfully wraps the blindfold around the young villain’s eyes. They yelp and drop their pen in an attempt to claw it off, but it doesn't move.

“Cataclysm!” Chat yowls, jumping off his baton. He catches the dragon and the book in one long swipe, and as dust rises into the air, Ladybug's yo-yo darts toward the corrupted butterfly. She traps it with ease.

“No more mischief for you! I free you from evil!”

As a shining white speck soars into the sky, dark magic envelops Fantasia. The power dissipates to reveal Nathaniel and Marc. The writer pulls the blindfold off with abject horror writ across his face.

“Oh no— Nathaniel!”

“Marc?” The other boy responds. He presses a hand to his cheek, which is bruised and cut. For a moment, Ladybug panics. Neither hero had struck the villain, right?

Then she realizes it’s an older wound, likely the one that had prompted the incident.

Damn. She approaches them with a sad smile and says, “It’s over now— you’re safe. May I have the Charm?”

Marc hands over the spotted fabric without looking away from his boyfriend.

The heroine launches it into the air, shouting, “Miraculous Ladybug!”

Pink magic swirls around them. People pop into existence one by one, the damaged streetfront reassembles, and a book forms out of the ashes.

Chat picks it up and reads the title. “‘The Knight in Waiting…’ Weren't you excited about this? What happened?”

Marc takes the book from her partner's hands, answering, “My mom caught us kissing and kicked me out. And she hit him.”

Nathaniel resolutely turns his head to obscure the bruise.

“How could someone do that? To their own child, to their child’s loved one…” Ladybug says in disbelief. When she’d told her parents she was bisexual, they’d baked her a cake in shades of blue, pink, and purple. It had never occurred to them to retract their love.

Chat’s ears flatten against his head. “Some parents are terrible.”

That is the latest statement in a long list of worrying anecdotes about Chat’s family life, but Ladybug’s earrings are shrieking, and she doesn’t have time to unpack all that. Instead, she drops to her knees between the two boys, saying,

“I hope everything works out for you. But hey, will you do me a favor?”

“What is it?” Nathaniel asks.

“Don’t let your love become obsession,” Ladybug advises. Then she whirls around and tosses her yo-yo once more. Chat bids them adieu before bolting in the opposite direction.

 

-

 

Marinette takes her seat after the bell has rung (as usual…). A few minutes later, Adrien hurries in, Nathaniel in his wake.

“Yo, Nath,” Alix calls. “What happened to you?”

Ah. Marinette doesn’t remember seeing Alya, but the journalist had apparently been on-site, livestreaming the attack for everyone’s viewing pleasure. Nathaniel and Marc’s friends from the art club must’ve worked themselves into a tizzy while watching the battle.

Nathaniel meets the skater’s eyes. The wound on his cheek has been hidden under makeup. “Last night, I got the fairytale I was working on back from the printing shop. I went over to show it to Marc. Then one thing led to another, his mom walked in on us, and she… disowned him. Right then and there.”

“What a bitch!” Kim exclaims.

“Does he need somewhere to go? He can come stay with us,” Juleka offers. Rose, who has been living with her for the past month, nods in affirmation.

“I think he said his aunt is going to take him in, but thanks, Jules.”

The class shouts various words of encouragement. Nathaniel discreetly swipes at his eyes, grateful for the support.

(Perhaps… perhaps the world wasn’t against them after all.)

 


 

The rest of the day is painfully normal. After the sound of the final bell has faded, Adrien approaches Marinette.

“Hey! Do you wanna finish that conversation? I don’t think the Gorilla is going to be here for another twenty minutes. He mentioned something about picking up his daughter.”

“Sure,” the girl agrees, following him to a hidden alcove. Upon arriving, they endure a minute of awkward silence.

“Er, you were saying?” Adrien finally asks, running a hand through his hair. The light glints off the ring on his finger.

“Okay, um… I want to tell you that I had a massive crush on you. I basically developed it the minute you came here,” Marinette admits. “Because of that, I did a lot of things that were… wrong. Like, memorizing your schedule and trying to push you and Kagami apart and just generally being terrible.

“Recently, I realized that what I was doing wasn’t healthy. It wasn’t fair to you, either. So I want to say I’m sorry. You don’t have to forgive me, or anything, but… I am.”

Adrien blinks at her. Some hysterical part of Marinette’s brain compares the motion of that of a startled cat.

“I accept your apology, Marinette,” he says after her heart has begun the process of withering up and dying. “I agree that what you did was wrong, but… hah. I don’t really have a leg to stand on. I’ve been a jealous brat over someone I like, too.”

“Really?” Marinette squeaks. She can’t picture Adrien being petty over a girl.

(Then again, she doesn’t know him as well as she should, does she?)

Adrien sheepishly rubs the back of his head. “Yeah, I’ve been green with envy… it wasn’t pretty. Anyway, uh, I don’t think being overzealous makes you a bad person. If you were, you wouldn’t have stood up to Chloe and Lila, or helped out all our classmates. We can’t change the past—”

(Oh, various time-related akumas have taught her that. She still has nightmares about Timebreaker.)

“—but that doesn’t mean we can’t change the future. How about we start over?”

“Start over?” Marinette echoes.

The sunny blond cheerfully holds out his hand. “Hi, I’m Adrien Agreste. I’m the son of a fashion mogul and a movie star. I like physics, video games, and midnight runs. You are…?”

“Marinette Dupain-Cheng,” she says, taking his hand. “My parents own the best bakery in Paris. I like fashion, gardening, and the color pink.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Marinette,” Adrien chirps.

(As she looks into his eyes, she thinks that maybe— just maybe— everything will be okay.)