Chapter 1: Every Hero Needs An Origin Story
Adrien stood at the foot of the stairs gazing up at the portrait of himself and his father. Ever since his mom had disappeared it had been just the two of them. His father ran a successful fashion empire, was raising a teenage son, and was putting “the plan” into action. Adrien honestly didn’t know how his dad kept so many balls in the air. He truly admired his father, the great Gabriel Agreste.
After his mother was gone Gabriel had gone through a period where he completely shut Adrien out. It had been painful, day after day being ignored by the only parent he had left. Adrien struggled to understand why his father would do that to him, when they’re entire world had fallen apart.
Then one night Gabriel woke Adrien up and told him about “the plan”. Adrien had truly thought that his father had gone crazy. Miraculouses and kwamis and akumas couldn’t be real things. Then Gabriel showed him, introduced him to Nooroo and demonstrated the transformation. For a moment Adrien thought that he, himself, had gone crazy. But, the wish… there was a chance he could have his mom back. They could put their world back together again.
Gabriel spent months preparing Adrien, ensuring that he understood every minute detail of “the plan”. They were going to do it. Yes, Adrien had concerns but his father was suddenly there again, spending time with him, comforting him, encouraging him. How could he question this wonderful father who was going to bring his mom back?
“Adrien,” Gabriel strode into the foyer and pulled his son into a secure embrace.
Adrien closed his eyes for a moment as he soaked in the security. His dad was there and wouldn’t ever shut him out again. His father had promised him that. “Father.”
“It’s your first day of school. You remember everything I’ve taught you, every instruction I’ve given?”
“Yes, of course,” Adrien confirmed as they both pulled away from the hug. “But…”
“But what?” Gabriel placed his hands on his son’s shoulders.
He shouldn’t bring it up. It was the one thing that Adrien did question his father on. But he had to ask again. It seemed so logical to him, so much more straight forward. “Why… why can’t I do it, father? Just akumatize me and I’ll bring you the miraculouses, no matter who has them.” He injected as much confidence as he could into his promise.
His father’s palm collided with the side of his face, sending Adrien stumbling backward. Tears stung his eyes as he pressed a hand to his quickly reddening cheek. He shouldn’t have brought it up again. That was his fault. He took a gamble and lost.
Gabriel pulled him back into an embrace and pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “I’m sorry, son. I lost my temper. You need to understand that I don’t want to put you in danger. What would I do if I got my wife back, only to lose my child instead?”
Adrien buried his face in his father’s chest. “You’re right,” he said, holding back a sob. “I’m sorry, father. I was being selfish.” He stepped back and looked up into his father’s eyes with as much conviction as he could muster. “I- I’ll do better, I promise. I’ll get you only the best subjects for akumas.”
“See that you do.”
Marc Anciel was running late again. He rummaged through the pile of folded clothes his mother had told him to put away two days ago, looking for his favorite shirt. He had read somewhere that wearing your favorite clothes had some sort of psychological effect on what kind of day you had.
His favorite rainbow, tie-dye t-shirt had somehow fallen from the pile of folded shirts and gotten caught under the wheel of his desk-chair. Marc pulled it out from underneath and examined the wrinkled mess. He pulled off his pajama shirt and replaced it with the rainbow shirt anyways. He would do anything he could to help the day go well.
After getting dressed, Marc shoved his school books and journal haphazardly into his bag and rushed out of his room. He was pulling on his shoes by the door when his mom came out of her room. He glanced up at her and took in the sight of her red-rimmed eyes and tear-stained cheeks. He pretended like tying his shoelaces took much more focus than usual.
“I got a call from your sister last night,” she said in a tight voice. “She says ‘hi’.”
Marc could have guessed from the crying that that was the case. His mom always cried for days after getting a call from Eloise. It had only been a few months since his sister had ran off with her boyfriend after a huge fight with their mom. Now she called at least twice a month asking for money. There was always an argument but in the end his mom would send her money they didn’t have, then radio silence would return until the money ran out.
“Thanks for telling me,” he said softly as he straightened. “I should get going. I’m late for school.”
His mom nodded as she wiped at her eyes. “Shouldn’t you eat something? At least some toast or-”
“I really don’t have the time.” Marc scooped up his bag from where he had set it by his feet and swung it over his shoulder. “Love you. Bye,” he called back as he headed out the door.
He ran down the hall toward the elevator, nearly running into M. Girard, who was exiting his apartment.
“Watch it! I just had a hip replaced!” M. Girard snapped as Marc leapt to the side to avoid slamming into the elderly man’s shoulder.
“Sorry!” Marc apologized as he turned back for a moment, nearly tripping over his own feet.
He made it out of the building without further incident and from there moved as quickly as he could without mowing anyone else down. Marc slowed down to dodge around any other Parisians as they made their way along the streets to their destinations. He resigned himself to the fact that he was going to be late to his first day of the new school year, just like he’d been the previous year and the year before that… and the year before that. The last time he’d been on time to the first day of school was when he was seven and his dad had been alive.
Marc mentally shook himself, not wishing to dwell on thoughts about his father at the moment. He sighed audibly and adjusted the straps of his backpack. He had to stay positive.
“Help! That man stole my bag! It has great sentimental value!” Marc looked up to see an elderly Chinese man leaning heavily on his cane and gesturing to a young man running off with a satchel.
Marc froze. Several other bystanders were looking on, glancing around for whoever was going to take the plunge and chase the thief. He clutched the straps of his backpack, silently begging for anyone else to step up. As the thief approached the street corner it became clear no one wanted to get involved.
As if some heroic ghost or spirit was suddenly possessing him, Marc took off after the criminal. The thief hit the street corner and thankfully dropped the bag before rounding it. Marc slowed to a jog and picked up the bag with trembling hands. He thought about what he would have done if he’d had to confront the thief and felt a wave of dizziness hit him.
The old Chinese man was suddenly there in front of him, taking the bag from his hands. “Thank you, young man,” he said as he patted Marc on the arm. “That was very brave of you.”
“No- no problem,” Marc replied with a shaky smile.
Chloe was already back at it, telling her that she had to change seats because of some new celebrity student that Chloe wanted to sit near. Marinette hated the way the other girl could make her feel so small. She knew that Chloe wasn’t better than her because of money or social status but the way that the other girl had no qualms about acting as if they did, made Marinette question it every once in a while, in a quiet place in the back of her mind.
“Go on! Move!” Chloe demanded, hands on her hips.
“Who elected you queen of seats?” The new girl was standing behind Chloe, challenging her.
While Marinette appreciated it, she couldn’t help but think it was a mistake. Chloe always got her way. This new girl, who seemed to be fearless, would learn that soon enough.
Before Chloe could spout anymore venom, loud chatter could be heard coming from just outside the classroom door. In walked a blond boy who exuded confidence and charm. He paused at the threshold, back facing the class and turned toward a horde of teenage girls that were out in the hallway. He finished signing a magazine and handed it back to a girl at the front of the group.
“I had fun meeting all of you but I really need to get to class now,” he told them.
They made a collective disappointed sound and one piped up, “Can we talk to you at break?”
The boy winked at them. “I don’t see why not.”
There was a chorus of squeals in response. Then he waved as they left. In the background there could be heard, “See you later, Adrien!” and “We’ll miss you, Adrien!”.
Chloe was glaring out the door at the retreating admirers backs as she descended the steps. When Adrien turned around toward the class, she broke out into a smile. “Adrikins!” She shrieked as she launched herself into his arms.
“Chlo!” Adrien laughed as he hugged her and spun her around.
Marinette looked away from the display. She wondered how someone as mean as Chloe could have friends that seemed so close to her.
“Okay, everyone find your seats,” the teacher announced.
Chloe grabbed Adrien’s arm and led him to the seat she had saved for him at the front, next to Nino. Then she stepped up the stairs and stopped next to Marinette. She placed her hands on her hips and glared hard at her.
The new girl opened her mouth to probably start arguing with Chloe again when the teacher spoke once more, cutting her off. “We need to start class. Find your seat.”
The new girl suddenly grabbed Marinette’s hand. “Come on. You’re sitting with me. At least then you won’t be blinded by the glare coming off of pretty boy’s hair gel.”
Marinette felt a shy sort of gratitude toward the new girl, even as she tripped and dropped her macarons for the second time that day.
Adrien wanted nothing more than for the class to be over already. He tapped his pencil against his notebook and bounced his knee, nervous energy making it difficult to sit still. He needed to go find someone for his dad to akumatize. But, he couldn’t just go piss people off at random. He had to be subtle about it. Find their weakness, then exploit it, that was what his dad had told him.
A hand on his shoulder made him jump. He turned to see Nino giving him a crooked smile.
“Chill out, dude,” his classmate told him in a low voice. He patted Adrien’s shoulder twice before leaning back, without a care in the world.
Nino didn’t understand. No one would. He wasn’t there to “chill”. Adrien had a mission, a purpose. He was there to help his dad bring his mom back. Luring out the Ladybug and Black Cat miraculouses was the only way to do that. But, to manipulate and break these people to create akumas, he would have to play along and befriend them.
“Yeah, you’re right,” he whispered to Nino. “It’s just, that I’ve been homeschooled my whole life. I’m not used to all of this.”
“Nino, Adrien, no talking please,” Mlle. Bustier told them before going back to her lesson.
Nino looked to Adrien and shrugged apologetically. Adrien smiled at him until the other boy turned his attention back to the front of the classroom. Then it slipped from his face as he decided to do something more productive with the remaining class time.
Adrien let his eyes wander, attempting to spot anyone who looked even remotely unhappy. There was that girl that Chloe made change seats. She was staring despondently down into an empty macaron box. She would be perfect.
Chloe had already done all the hard work. She had broken the other girl’s self-confidence down to the point she was letting others drag her around like a rag doll. She was a puppet just waiting for Hawkmoth to come in and pull the strings.
By the time class ended, Adrien had created a script in his head of what to say. He would befriend her and stoke her anger toward Chloe. The bell rang and Mlle. Bustier told them to head to the stadium if they had P.E. and directed everyone else to the library. Adrien stood from his seat and began his approach as the girl placed her notebook in her bag.
Everyone turned to see a large boy lifting his fist, preparing to strike another student.
“Ivan, what is going on?” their teacher demanded.
“It’s Kim!” Ivan insisted. He turned back to Kim, resuming his stance. “You’re so gonna get it!”
“Ivan!” Mlle. Bustier looked outraged by the behavior of her students. “Go to the principal’s office.”
A few kids were chuckling at the scene while Adrien stood stock still, staring after Ivan as he exited the classroom. He’d chosen the wrong target. He needed to go after Ivan.
Chloe grabbed his arm, holding him hostage at her side. “Come on, Adrien. You’re hanging out with me and Sabrina in the library. We can sit far away from all of these losers.”
Adrien let out a resigned sigh as his friend led him away. All he could do was hope that his dad could be patient in waiting for his first akuma victim.
Marc sat cross-legged underneath the stairs, unwilling to humiliate himself further that day by going to P.E. class. He’d already gotten scolded in front of his whole class for being late and then tripped on his own shoe laces when walking to his seat. No, he would skip and just tell his mom later that he had felt sick. She was understanding about those things.
He worked on the short story he had started a couple of days ago. It was about a girl who woke up one day with the ability to turn invisible. She went through the day like a ghost, secretly observing her family and friends, waiting for them to notice she was gone. But, they didn’t notice.
Marc jumped at the sound of his pencil tip snapping off. That was fine. He didn’t think he really wanted to finish the story.
Then suddenly, something hit the ground outside sending vibrations through the courtyard. It was loud enough and jarring enough that his first thought was that a meteor must have hit or part of a plane may have fallen from the sky. Screaming and students running for cover sent Marc hiding as far under the stairs as he could. He pulled his knees up to his chest and clung to his journal.
“Oh my God! It’s some kind of monster!” someone shouted.
“KIM!” came a roar from outside, causing renewed screams.
Marc let out a shuddering breath. This couldn’t be happening. A monster at school? No way this could really be happening!
The loudspeaker suddenly crackled to life and Marc strained to hear whatever the principal had to say over the screams of his peers.
“All students evacuate through the south entrance! I repeat, all students evacuate through the south entrance!”
Marc scrambled out of his hiding place and to his feet. He followed the stampede of students to the south entrance. All he could do at this point was flee to his home and pray that his mom was safe.
Marc made it home and locked himself in his room. He watched the news on his phone. His horror built as he saw the mass chaos of Stoneheart stomping through the streets. The supervillain knocked policemen and their barricade aside as if they were a child’s building blocks and plastic soldiers. There was nothing anyone could do.
He turned off the news and sat up on the edge of his bed. This was a disaster. A supervillain was roaming the streets, he couldn’t reach his mom, and he had no idea where his sister was or if she could also be in danger.
Marc stood and began pacing. He paused in front of his desk upon spotting a little black box that he was certain hadn’t been there this morning. It was the perfect distraction, a mysterious box that had appeared out of nowhere. It was worthy of writing a story about later. He picked it up and lifted the lid.
He barely got a glimpse of the ring inside when a bubble of glowing light eclipsed it. The box fell from his hands as Marc stumbled backwards. “What the heck!” His foot slipped on the writing magazine he had ordered with birthday money from his grandmother, and he tumbled to the ground, head smacking painfully against his nightstand.
“Wow, not very ‘cat-like’ reflexes. Not sure master chose the right candidate this time around.”
Marc winced as he rubbed the back of his head. He must’ve hit his head pretty hard because he was hearing a voice from above. He looked up toward the voice and saw a miniature black cat floating overhead.
“I knocked myself out and I’m dreaming.” Marc said the words out loud, hoping that it would be enough to convince himself of the fact.
“Nope!” the little black cat told him simply. “I’m Plagg. I’m a kwami and a hungry one at that. Got any yummy food?”
Plagg floated over to the lamp that had been knocked so that it was laying on its side on the night stand. The kwami bit down on the lampshade and a made disappointed sound. “Not food! What about this?”
Marc watched as the strange creature zoomed around his room, biting everything in sight. “I’m going to wake up now,” he muttered to himself. He then closed his eyes for a moment and opened them again. Plagg was still there, chewing on a dirty sock near Marc’s hamper.
“Anyways,” Plagg said as he dropped the sock. “I’m supposed to give you the whole run down of how this works. I’m here to grant you superpowers so that you can save the day. Got it?”
“What?” Marc slowly got to his feet. There was no way the kwami could mean him. “You must have the wrong person. I’m not a superhero.”
Plagg dug half a granola bar out of a drawer on the desk and took a bite. He made a disgusted face and dropped the rest of it. “You are now. You have to help the Ladybug miraculous holder defeat Stoneheart.”
“I- I’m not- I can’t…” Marc stuttered out.
“So, first you have to put on the ring and say ‘claws out’ to transform. Then-”
“Wait!” Marc figured that if the kwami wasn’t going to listen to him, he at least needed to save the instructions for someone more qualified. He grabbed his journal from his bag and a fresh pencil from his desk. “I need to write this down.”
Plagg smacked a paw against his forehead. “You can’t write this stuff down. Ever heard of a secret identity? If someone were to find that they could find out who you are!”
“Okay, okay. Sorry.” He laid the journal on his bed. “Go on.”
Chapter 2: The Many Definitions of Failure
When do we consider a lack of success to be failure?
Adrien had seen it on the TVs in the library along with everyone else, his father’s first akuma. It had been magnificent. But, he had failed. What was he good for if he couldn’t help his dad bring his mom back?
“Your father wants to see you,” Nathalie told him as soon as he walked in the door.
She didn’t need to tell him where to go. He already knew that his dad would be in the tower, watching carefully over his first creation. Adrien went through the passage way and up to the lair where hundreds of akumas fluttered around, awaiting their turn to be sent out to turn some unsuspecting Parisian into a villain.
Hawkmoth was facing the window, hands resting on top of his cane. Adrien didn’t step closer. He knew it was already serious that his father had invited him up there.
“Father?” he asked cautiously.
“You failed me, Adrien.” Gabriel refused to turn to face his son. He sounded too disgusted to want anything at all to do with him.
Adrien fought back the tears filling his eyes. “You don’t understand. I didn’t even have the chance to-”
“Enough excuses!” Silence filled the air. It felt as if it was choking out the oxygen. “I’m busy. We’ll talk later about if you will get anymore chances.”
“Yes, father.” Adrien fled the tower before his dad could see the tears dripping down his cheeks.
Marinette stood on her balcony unsure of herself or how she was going to save the day. She didn’t understand how Tikki could think that she was capable of stopping Stoneheart. If there was no one else to do it though, she would try.
She sent the yo-yo flying through the air. It clung to a gargoyle on some far off building and she pulled on it testingly. Then suddenly she was the one flying through the air. A scream that she couldn’t hold back echoed through the Paris skyline.
She flailed as the force sent her sailing over buildings. Unable to stop herself she barreled into someone standing on a rooftop. The yo-yo string wrapped around them, tangling them together as they went off the side of the building.
This was it. Not even two minutes into being a superhero and she was getting herself and some innocent person maimed or possibly killed. Then suddenly they stopped falling. Marinette looked up to see that the person, a boy in a black, leather cat suit, had extended a baton of some sort until it hit the sides of two opposite buildings, halting their descent. She looked down to see that he had stopped them just in time. The ground was only a foot below them.
“Thanks,” she said sheepishly. “Sorry about nearly killing you.”
“It’s no problem,” the boy replied. He then retracted his baton and they dropped the short distance to the ground.
Marinette got to work untangling them from her yo-yo. She worked in silence, still feeling the embarrassment and not wishing to humiliate herself further.
“You must be the Ladybug miraculous holder my kwami told me about. I’m Marc.”
He held out a hand to her as she finished retracting the yo-yo string. She took it and felt more at ease. His voice was soft, and calming.
“I’m Marinette. But, wait should we be telling each other our real names?”
Marc suddenly pulled his hand away and gripped his baton close to his chest. “You’re right. My kwami said something about keeping a secret identity.” He let his head droop in despair. “I tried to tell him I wasn’t cut out to be a superhero.”
It was disheartening to hear him saying all the things she was thinking about herself. How were two unconfident heroes supposed to save Paris? One of them had to be sure of themselves. “Well, I’m sure we were chosen for a reason.” She injected as much false conviction as she could into the statement. “We can address the identity thing later. Right now, we have to stop Stoneheart!”
Marinette looked down at the yo-yo in her hand. “Now if I could just figure this thing out.” She threw it into the air and was pulled along, screaming once more.
Marc’s stomach lurched as he used the baton to launch himself into the air and leap from rooftop to rooftop. He followed Marinette as she swung toward Stoneheart. He wasn’t ready for this. He wasn’t a superhero. He never should’ve let Plagg trick him into saying “claws out”.
Marc and Marinette landed side by side on the roof of the arena. Stoneheart was also standing on the roof a little ways away, glaring down at the students there for P.E.
“KIM! SO WHO’S THE WUSS NOW?” Stoneheart leapt down and began to chase Kim.
Marc was frozen. What were they supposed to do? What was he supposed to do?
Kim tripped. Stoneheart was bearing down on him. Marc was about to cover his eyes when Marinette acted. She threw her yo-yo and swung in to grab Kim just in time. She was a real hero.
Stoneheart roared in fury. “KIM! GIVE ME KIM!”
Marinette set Kim down near the exit next to a girl holding a cell phone. Was she really filming this? All Marc could think was that she was recording every second of his frozen terror for all to see. He skirted along the roof to get closer to Marinette and hopefully out of the frame.
Kim escaped as soon as he had the chance, but the girl was shaking her head as Marinette gestured for her to leave. Stoneheart was looking around for something. Marc wasn’t sure what, maybe a way out to chase after Kim. Then as Marinette’s back was turned to Stoneheart, he picked up the goal net. Realizing what the super villain was doing, Marc ran faster along the rooftop to get over to them.
Marinette wasn’t going to see it in time. The cell phone girl pointed over Marinette’s shoulder. She began to turn and- Marc jumped off the roof and managed to land in a roll. He then used the momentum to tackle both cell phone girl and Marinette out of the way. The goal hit the ground where they had just been, creaking as it bounced and landed for the final time on its side.
“Sorry for tackling you,” he apologized as he sat up.
Cell phone girl groaned as she rubbed the back of her head. “Some warning might be nice next time.”
Marinette got to her feet and offered both Marc and the girl a hand to pull them up. “Hopefully, there won’t be a next time, Alya.”
The girl, Alya blinked in surprise. “You know my name?”
Marinette squeaked in panic. “No! I just- well- we can talk about that later!” She turned her attention back to where Stoneheart was heading toward the bleachers. “We need to take care of him right now. You, Al- I mean, citizen, should get out of harm’s way.”
“No way, I’m missing out on this!” Alya said, lifting her phone to record once more. “Do your superhero thing. I’ll be fine.”
Stoneheart began to climb the bleachers one-handed, trying to get out of the arena. Marinette’s eyes lit up with what Marc assumed was an idea. He hoped it was a good one. All he wanted to do was be done with this and out of the cat suit.
“Look, he won’t open his fist. It’s like one of those Russian dolls. The akuma has to be inside it! All we have to do is get him to open his hand.” Marinette turned to Marc. “It’s time to use our powers.”
He shook his head vigorously. Ever since Plagg had told him that his power was the power of destruction he had decided he would never use it. Too much could go wrong. Why would anyone want the power to destroy or even possibly kill? “No! No way am I using that.”
Her eyes widened. “Why don’t you-” She shook her head, cutting herself off. “Never mind.” She nodded, more to herself than to him. It didn’t appear that she was disappointed, just determined to work with what she had. “Then I guess it’s up to me. Lucky Charm!” She threw her yo-yo into the air. When it came back down a red and black wetsuit rested in her hands. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Whatever it is you’re going to have to do it fast,” Alya said as she pointed to where Stoneheart had almost reached the roof of the arena.
Marc gripped the baton close to his chest like he would do with his journal. What the heck, were they supposed to do with a wetsuit? What kind of powers were these: destroying things and creating scuba gear out of thin air? All of it was useless.
“I’ve got it!” Marinette suddenly exclaimed, startling Marc. “I need this.” She grabbed the baton out of his hands and extended it. She threw it across the arena at Stoneheart. “Hey, big guy!”
Stoneheart glowed brightly and grew larger. All three of them winced at the sight.
“Okay, maybe not the smartest plan,” Marinette admitted.
The super villain dropped from his position climbing the arena and roared loudly. He started toward them in a rage. Then Marinette was tying the wetsuit to the spout of a hose.
“What are you going to do with that?” Marc asked, voice rising several octaves.
“No time to explain!” Then Marinette grabbed his shoulders. “I am so sorry. I need you to trust me and don’t resist.”
Marc felt panic rise in his chest like a wave preparing to crest. “What? What are you going to do?”
She stepped back and threw her yo-yo to wrap around his legs. Suddenly, Marc was flying through the air toward Stoneheart.
This girl was crazy. He was certain that for some reason she was trying to kill him. That would be an interesting thing for the police to explain to his mom. “Yes, your son was found crushed to death in a leather cat suit. We suspect those at fault to be a giant rock monster and a girl in a ladybug costume.”
Stoneheart caught him in his left hand. Marc was surprised to still be alive. Then Marinette jumped at the super villain with the wetsuit in hand.
“Catch me if you can!” she exclaimed.
Stoneheart dropped the akumatized object to catch Marinette in midair. As soon as she was securely in his grasp, she turned to Alya. “Now, Alya, the tap!”
Alya ran to turn on the water. It flowed through the hose and filled the wetsuit like a water balloon. It forced Stoneheart’s fist open, allowing Marinette to leap out. She ran to the black ball that contained the akuma and stomped on it. A black butterfly flew out of the broken pieces.
Stoneheart crumbled, letting Marc drop to the ground in a heap. A large boy was left where the super villain had been. He put a hand to his head and looked around in confusion.
“What happened?” the boy asked.
Marc staggered to his feet and picked up his baton. It was over. It was finally over. He had done what the kwami had insisted he do and helped Marinette take down Stoneheart, even though she had done most of the work. He could take off the costume and go home. There was no more need to pretend to be a superhero that he definitely wasn’t.
Marinette read the note that had contained the akuma and proceeded to comfort the boy, Ivan. Marc was not impressed that they had to battle a giant rock monster, just because of a little crush. Then suddenly Alya was there recording them again.
“Are you two going to be protecting Paris from now on? How did you both get your powers? Did you guys get stung by a radioactive ladybug and bitten by a radioactive cat?” Alya fired off the questions one after another.
Marc got stuck on the first one. Protecting Paris from now on? Was that what was expected of him. He couldn’t go on, day in and day out being in constant danger, fighting criminals and super villains. He never asked for it.
Marinette hesitated to answer any of them and looked to Marc. He held his baton to his chest and stared down at his feet.
“At least tell us your names,” Alya insisted.
“I…uh…” Marinette began. “I’m… Ladybug, and he… he’s…umm… Chat Noir.”
This was real. They all really expected him to run around Paris keeping bad guys at bay.
“I can’t do this!” Marc blurted out. “I just can’t!” He turned and ran for the exit, refusing to look back.
Marinette was disappointed that Marc had ran off like he did but sitting there watching the way the news was talking about the two of them she couldn’t help but smile. They had done it. They had defeated Stoneheart and were being hailed as heroes by all of Paris.
“I did it, Tikki,” she said, smiling at her kwami.
Tikki nuzzled her cheek. “See, you were up to it!”
“Marinette! Dinner time!”
Marinette ran downstairs and sat down with her family to eat, happy to be home with her parents. All of them were safe. She had protected them. The television was on and the mayor was making a speech about honoring Ladybug and Chat Noir. She hoped that Marc was watching. He would probably need the boost in self-confidence that it could give.
They let the news play through dinner. It was a cycle of interviews, talking to those who had gotten even a glimpse of the superheroes. Alya’s footage was played on repeat, ensuring that anyone just tuning in would get to see it.
After dinner, Marinette washed the dishes in the kitchen, giving her parents a chance to relax. It was comforting to have something normal to do after such a chaotic day.
Marinette’s attention was pulled from her methodical scrubbing by the sound of her mom’s shocked gasp. She looked up at the TV, news still playing. Images of citizens being transformed into stone monsters identical to the one Ivan was flashed across the screen.
She ran for the stairs, praying that Tikki could explain what was happening. Marinette threw open her trap door and climbed up into her room. “Tikki!”
The kwami flew down from where she had been curled up, resting on Marinette’s pillow. “What is it, Marinette?”
Marinette ran to pull up the news on her computer. “Look! What is going on? Why is this happening?”
“Did you capture the akuma?”
“What does capturing the akuma have to do with the other stone beings?”
Tikki explained about what was happening since Marinette neglected to finish the job. They were multiplying and the monsters they’d created were laying in wait for when Ivan would be reakumatized. They would become his army. Hundreds of Stonehearts would overrun the city.
“So that means, this is all my fault.” That was the only conclusion Marinette could see. She had failed as a superhero, just like she had tried to warn Tikki in the first place. “I knew it. See, Tikki, I’m not cut out to be a superhero. I’m only going to keep messing up.”
“Keep calm,” Tikki said in a soothing voice. “This was only your first time. You’re going to go back and capture Stoneheart’s akuma and you’re going to do it successfully!”
It seemed like the kwami was incapable of seeing the reality of the situation. She’d only known Marinette for a day. She didn’t see the errors and problems she created day in and day out.
“I can’t! I told you, I’m clumsy. I create disaster all the time. I’ll only make things worse for me, for you, for everyone.” Why couldn’t Tikki just listen to her? “I probably made Chat Noir quit. I threw him right at Stoneheart, knowing how nervous and scared he was. You’d be better off with different heroes. I’m quitting.”
Marinette walked to her vanity and looked at herself in the mirror. She couldn’t imagine that the girl looking back could be an actual hero. Tikki followed her and tugged on her sleeve.
“But, you were chosen specifically. You are meant to be the Ladybug miraculous holder.”
“You’ll need to find another Ladybug. I told you, I’m not cut out for this.” Marinette reached up and began removing the earrings. Marc would be better off without her. Paris would be better off without her. “I’m sorry, Tikki.”
The kwami reached out to stop her. “No! Don’t take-”
“Tikki?” Marinette looked around for her kwami. Tikki was gone, whether she left by choice or not, it was better this way. She would find someone else, someone worthy to be Ladybug. She opened the drawer on her vanity and placed the box containing the miraculous inside. “I’m really sorry, Tikki.” The weight of her choice seemed to physically press down on her as she fell to her knees.
Marc hid under his comforter and pressed his hands over his ears to drown out the sound of his mother continuously knocking on his door. It didn’t work. He could still hear her calling through the wall.
“Marc, what is going on? I can’t have both of my kids not talking to me. I already went through losing Eloise because I gave her too much space. I refuse to make the same mistake with you.”
Marc wanted to yell at her, scream that she knew that wasn’t what had driven his sister away. “Just leave me alone!” he shouted. “I’m not Eloise! I’m not going to run off with some piece of crap just because you give me two minutes of peace!”
Marc pulled his hands off of his ears and listened. He heard only the ticking of his frog alarm clock, that he’d gotten when he was eight. Guilt settled in his stomach, a subtle nausea that he knew would only build.
His mother blamed herself for Eloise running off. That was why she always gave her money when she called, even if that meant they couldn’t make rent. Fortunately, their landlord had also been an old university friend of his dad’s.
But, Eloise hadn’t left because their mom didn’t talk to her enough. It was because her boyfriend had filled her head with accusations that their mom favored Marc. He remembered the way Eloise slowly became embittered towards him. The playful teasing turned into hurtful insults. The loving ruffling of his hair became rough shoves into walls and furniture. Then one night she was gone. Two weeks after had been the first call.
He didn’t want to be like Eloise. He didn’t want the close relationship he had with his mom to become a bitter, hateful thing. Marc slowly poked his head out from under the covers. He spotted the box holding the miraculous on his desk. That was the cause of all his problems. He would have to give it to someone else, anyone else.
“Marc, come out here!” This was no longer his mom’s nagging, over-emotional voice. She sounded terrified.
Marc ran out into the living room. “What is it?”
“Look.” She pointed to the news on the TV.
There were hundreds of stone beings, frozen throughout the city.
Adrien didn’t know what he was going to do. He had to earn back his dad’s trust somehow. There had to be some way to convince him that he wasn’t useless.
“I can be a good son,” he muttered as he stared across the room at the desktop background of his mom on the computer screen. “I want to help bring you back, Mom. I really do. If Father just gave me another chance, I could prove myself.”
At the sound of his bedroom door opening, Adrien sat bolt-upright in bed. His dad came to stand at the foot of his bed, wearing a smile. It wasn’t the kind, affectionate smile that his father used to wear back when their family was complete. This was the predatory, borderline unstable smile that was Hawkmoth.
“Father?” Adrien asked in a small voice.
“Son, you’re going to get your second chance.”
“What?” It was a dream come true. His father had deemed him worthy of a second chance. He could help his dad and be a son that he could be proud of.
“You will go back to that school and prepare Ivan to be reakumatized. We will get Ladybug’s and Chat Noir’s miraculouses, no matter what it takes.”
Adrien swallowed hard. His mouth had gone dry with anxious anticipation. “Yes, Father.”
Chapter 3: Change My Perspective
Can a gift be both a burden and a blessing?
Adrien watched, not saying a word, as Chloe cruelly called Ivan a monster. She pushed and pushed until Adrien was certain the other boy was at the brink. She could possibly be better at making akumas than he ever could. Ivan stormed off, but it wasn’t enough yet.
He ran after Ivan, ignoring Chloe calling after him. He found the other boy in the locker room, sitting on the floor, pulling headphones over his ears. This was a private moment that he was intruding on. Adrien recognized well someone who was trying to hang on and pull themself together. Unfortunately, he couldn’t allow that. Even a moment to breathe and think clearly could hinder the progress Chloe had made. Adrien sat down beside him. He put a hand on Ivan’s arm to get his attention.
Ivan pulled his headphones down to hang around his neck. “You’re Chloe’s friend,” he huffed in irritation. “I don’t want to talk to you.”
“I may be Chloe’s friend but I do recognize when she’s gone too far.” Adrien moved into a kneeling position and turned so that he was fully facing his classmate. “It wasn’t right, what she said to you.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Ivan muttered with a shrug. “Thanks.”
Ivan didn’t fully trust him, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t break him. His father had warned him that some people would be more difficult than others, especially if he was trying to stay below the radar. Taking a risk would be worth it for his family.
“Even if Chloe was right, she shouldn’t have just said it like that.”
“What?” Ivan was glaring at him, eyes narrowed, fists clenched.
Pull back. Then go in for the kill. “Well, like I said Chloe is a jerk for trying to make you feel bad over something you obviously had no control over.” Adrien paused. His stomach felt like it was full of the fluttery akumas. It wasn’t the pleasant sort of flutter when he was excited but a sickening one that felt like they were trying to violently escape. “But you did try to hurt Kim and a lot of other people. You broke Sabrina’s dad’s arm. I know that you’re not a monster, but other people… they don’t know the real you. And all of this because you like a girl that you’re scared to talk to. She might even start to think it was her fault… but I shouldn’t be telling you any of that. I just came to apologize for what Chloe said.” Adrien got to his feet as he watched Ivan stare dejectedly at the floor. “I’ll see you around, Ivan.”
As Adrien walked to the locker room door, he realized that he was beginning to understand what his dad meant when he said that he could feel the radiation of negative emotions. Adrien could feel it coming off of Ivan in waves. He had thought it would be satisfying, but all it did was fill his chest with a heaviness, like an immovable boulder. He wondered if that’s what Stoneheart felt.
Marinette waited a couple of minutes before going after Ivan. She had seen Adrien, the new boy, follow and decided to hang back and give them a chance to talk. Adrien had seemed just as upset with Chloe as the rest of them. It gave her hope that maybe this friend of Chloe wasn’t as shallow. Maybe he had a heart under the designer clothes and excessive hair gel.
She approached the locker room door and stopped to wait for Adrien to come out. She still felt the need to ensure that Ivan wouldn’t become reakumatized. As long as she delayed it until she could get the miraculous to Alya, then Paris could have a chance. Alya would be able to capture the akuma. She knew how to be a hero.
The door opened and she came face to face with Adrien Agreste. As soon as he saw her, he stepped out, forcing her back several steps and slammed the door behind him.
“What are you doing?” he snapped.
Marinette blinked in surprise. “I was just going to check on Ivan.”
“He’s fine. I talked to him.”
At his insistence she felt an even more urgent need to go see Ivan. Something in the young model’s attitude told her that he wasn’t to be trusted.
“Okay.” She raised an eyebrow at him and moved to slip past. “But, I still want to check on him.”
He stepped into her way to block her. “Ivan told me he wants to be alone right now. I think we should respect his wishes.”
Marinette opened her mouth to protest, but the bell rang, putting an end to the conversation. She stepped back a step waiting for Adrien to head off to class so that she could finally go in.
Then he was suddenly grabbing her wrist and pulling her along. “I seem to have forgotten where the classroom is. You’ll help me find it, won’t you?” He finally released her once they were several yards away from the locker room door.
Marinette glared at him and rubbed her wrist where he had held onto her. Her focus had shifted from Ivan to the inappropriate behavior of the boy in front of her. He was still standing too close. He could grab hold of her again at any moment. She shoved him, so that he stumbled back a step. “Don’t you dare touch me like that again!” she reprimanded. She had meant for her voice to sound steady. This was a demand she was making for some respect. But her words came out trembling with the shot of adrenaline that had been dispersed through her blood stream. “Just stay away from me.”
She stormed off, fists clenched to keep her hands from visibly shaking.
Marc laid on the couch, staring at the television screen without really watching it. A dark green throw blanket was tucked up under his chin, his socked feet sticking out from the bottom. His mom brought over a bowl of soup and set it on a tray in front of him.
“Thanks, mom,” he murmured. He had gone through the trouble of faking a cough and sniffles to convince his mom to let him stay home. The last time he’d done that, he had been six and Eloise had told him she’d let him play with her dollhouse if he played along like they were too sick to go to school. As soon as his mom had gone to call the school, he’d ran to her crying and confessing to their attempted deception.
Bouncy pop music came from the TV and bright colors flashed across the screen as some cartoon mascot advertised a new flavor of oatmeal. Marc reached out and spooned some of the broth into his mouth. He didn’t like lying to his mom, but school just seemed unbearable.
A hand ran through his hair and he looked up to meet his mom’s eyes. There was pain there and he wondered if she was thinking about Eloise.
“I got a call to go into work. An arrangement was ordered for a last minute wedding. People are panicking over this whole supervillain ordeal and they’re rushing to get married before it’s too late. Linda doesn’t want to miss out on this since business has been slow recently.”
“Okay. I’ll be fine here.”
She sighed and pulled her hand away. “Are you sure? Linda said she can try calling Jean if I need to stay with you.”
Marc set down his spoon and took her hand. He gave it a light squeeze and smiled up at her. This was about Eloise.
Marc stared at the ceiling as he listened to the yelling going on in the living room. It was two in the morning and Eloise had only just gotten home from some excursion with her boyfriend, Adam. His mom had been waiting up in the living room all night. Marc had only just started to drift off when the raised voices had started.
“And where were you then, Eloise? ‘Out’ is not an acceptable answer!”
“All you do is nag! Where I go is my business!”
“As long as you live under my roof it is my business where you go and who you’re with!”
“Oh, now you care? I thought you only cared about you’re baby boy and your precious flower shop.”
There was some hesitation before something was said too quietly for Marc to make out.
“Don’t lie to me!” Eloise suddenly screeched. “Even Adam can see that he’s your favorite! You’re willing to drop everything for him but if I ask you to go with me to get our nails done you suddenly don’t have the time or money. I’m not an idiot! You’ve always hated spending time with me. Dad was the one who actually liked me.”
“You’re drunk. Go sleep it off and we’ll talk in the morning.”
“Right,” Eloise scoffed. “Pushing me away. Like you always do.”
He could hear her stomping down the hallway at the same time someone was pounding on the front door. Their bedroom door was thrown open at the same time a man’s voice shouted through the apartment door, “Keep it down! Some people are trying to sleep!”
The bedroom door slammed shut and Marc rolled over to look out at his sister. He could barely make out her silhouette in the dark. As she stepped into the center of the room he could see the tears in her DIY ripped jeans and the way Adam’s oversized hooded jacket flopped around her slim frame. Her short cropped hair was mostly hidden under a beanie but he could see the bright green streaks on what was visible of her hair even in the dark.
Eloise reached under her bed, across from Marc’s and pulled out the duffel bag she used for sleepovers. She roughly pulled open the drawers of the dresser and dug out her clothes, tossing them haphazardly into the bag. He wanted to say something to her, but as he opened his mouth his bruised shoulder twinged with the memory of being shoved into the corner of the refrigerator the day before. He kept his mouth shut and watched as she zipped up the bag and threw it over her shoulder.
She turned to him and glared. “Go back to sleep you little perv. Can’t even get some privacy in my own room.”
“I wasn’t trying to-”
“Shut up, Marc,” she muttered as she left the room.
Marc rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling. He was still reeling from the drastic shift in how she treated him. It seemed to happen over the course of a week, a little over a month ago. They went from friends to enemies and he didn’t even get a say in it.
He didn’t know where she was going but part of him hoped she wouldn’t come back.
“I’ll be fine,” Marc assured his mom. “I’ll still be here when you get back. I promise.”
She leaned down and pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “I love you, baby. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
She walked to the door and slipped on her shoes. Then she turned back to him. This wasn’t easy for her. Ever since his dad died it had been one obstacle after another for their family, and after everything with Eloise it was a wonder that she was still holding it together. Marc felt like crap for yelling at her the day before.
“I’ll get you some of those cookies that you like on my way home,” his mom said as she opened the door.
“Sounds good,” he replied with a wave.
She grabbed her purse off of the end table next to the door and finally left.
Marc settled back into the couch and turned his attention back to the television. He would be there when she got back and she’d see that she had nothing to worry about with him. He wasn’t like Eloise, sneaking out at all hours, never telling their mom where she went, what she was doing or who she was with. It was the way she would have mysterious injuries and talk so cryptically about her activities that was the worst for their mom. But he was nothing like her and he never would be.
“I can’t believe that Chloe girl put gum on your seat,” Alya said as she threw a glare over at where Chloe and Sabrina were snickering at the reactions they’d gotten. “I get the feeling her supermodel friend is going to be just as bad.”
Marinette considered telling her about her interaction with Adrien earlier. She glanced at where he was sitting. He was staring down at his desk, studiously avoiding hers or anyone else’s gaze. Nino was patting his back, looking concerned. As angry and unnerved as she still was, part of her wondered if there was something more going on with him.
“Maybe,” Marinette replied, unsure.
“Agreste, Adrien,” Mm. Bustier said as she began calling roll.
Nino whispered to Adrien and he suddenly leapt up from his seat.
“Present!” he shouted too loudly.
The whole class laughed and Marinette found herself having to hold back an amused chuckle. Adrien blushed and sat back down with a muttered apology.
The door flew off of its frame as Stoneheart came bursting into the room. There was screaming and chaos as everyone fled for cover.
Marinette ran up the aisle and dove under a desk. Stoneheart picked up poor Mylene as he talked about wanting to be with her forever. Only a superhero could stop him. Unfortunately, while Marinette knew that she had the means, she also knew that she was not qualified. All she would do is mess it up again.
Stoneheart also picked up Chloe along the way and broke through the classroom’s outer wall to jump down into the street. Marinette needed to get the miraculous to someone who could be the hero they needed. She needed to get it to someone like…
“Come on! Let’s follow him,” Alya told Marinette as she stood next to the giant hole in the wall.
Marinette ducked lower behind the desk. “Oh, no. You go. I’m finding a safe place to hide.” She would just screw everything up again anyways.
“You’re gonna miss Ladybug in action!” Alya was so enamored with the hero who had let them down. She didn’t understand how her friend could still have faith in her. Alya would make a much better hero. She was brave and clever. She could be everything Marinette knew she wasn’t.
She picked up Alya’s bag, slipping the miraculous in as she did so. Then she held it out to her friend. “You and Ladybug will be better off without me.”
“If you say so.” Alya went running out of the classroom, leaving Marinette still holding her bag.
Marinette clutched it against her middle. No, this wasn’t how this was supposed to go. “Wait! Your bag!” She ran after Alya. Paris needed a hero and neither her nor Marc were up for it. They couldn’t leave the city without anyone. She ran as fast as she could to catch up to her friend.
It was out on the front steps of the school that she grabbed Alya’s arm. Breathlessly, she spun the other girl around and shoved the bag into her arms. “Take it! Please!” she pleaded.
Alya took a step back in shock. “What’s gotten into you, girl?”
She wasn’t getting it, and she wouldn’t, not in time to save the city, possibly the world. Marinette reached into the bag and pulled out the box. She opened it for Alya and the same bright light appeared that had the first time Marinette had opened it. Tikki appeared and blinked in confusion upon seeing someone other than Marinette.
“Woah!” Alya leaned in, taking a good look at the kwami. “What is this?”
Marinette took a deep breath. This was it. She had to ask her. “This is a miraculous.”
Tikki turned to look at her. The kwami looked so disappointed, but she didn’t say a word.
“Wait.” Alya’s eyes shifted up to look at Marinette. “You’re Ladybug! My best friend is a superhero!” She straightened up, grinning at her, so proud… “But, why aren’t you out there, girl? You should be kicking Stoneheart’s butt like you did last time.”
Tikki refused to look away, eyes asking the same question Alya was.
“Because… I- I messed up.” Marinette looked down. A wave of shame washed over her. If she let it, it could drown her. “I didn’t capture the akuma. That’s why all those stone beings are helping Ivan, because I screwed up. I shouldn’t be a hero. I’m not cut out for it. But, Alya, you are. You’d make a great hero. Take it.” She held out the earrings to her friend, insisting that she relieve her of the burden.
Tikki flew next to Marinette’s face and nuzzled her cheek. “Marinette, you can do this! You’re just scared, and it’s understandable, but you shouldn’t give up.”
Alya pushed the earrings back toward Marinette. “No way! You are a hero, Marinette. I saw you save Ivan. You saved me! You made a mistake, so what! Your little bug thing is right, you shouldn’t give up. Every hero makes mistakes in the beginning. Majestia did, but she kept going because she knew that she was the only one who could save the day.” She suddenly took the earrings out of the box and put them on Marinette’s ears. “You were chosen for a reason. Remember, ‘all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing’. You’re a good person, Marinette. I believe in you. I’ve seen you with my own two eyes and you make an amazing hero. I will not take that from you.”
Marinette felt tears sting her eyes. “But… I let everyone down.”
“No, you didn’t,” Alya gently argued. “You gave everyone hope that the bad guy can be stopped. You did it once and you can do it again.”
“She’s right,” Tikki agreed. “Every Ladybug before you has made mistakes too. You’re only human. You haven’t failed as long as you learn from those mistakes and try again.”
Marinette swallowed hard as she snapped the box shut. Hope. That was what everyone needed. If she gave up now, what hope could anyone have that their heroes would be there for them. It didn’t look like Chat Noir was going to be showing up, and she couldn’t blame him, being a hero everyone depended on was a daunting task. But, the people believed in them. Maybe Marinette wasn’t sure she could believe in herself just yet but their faith… Alya’s faith would be enough for now.
“Okay,” she said with a nod. “I’ll do it. I can be Ladybug.”
Alya smiled and patted Marinette’s shoulder. “That’s the right attitude, girl! Get out there and save the day. I’ll be right behind you!”
“It’ll be dangerous. You should probably stay here where its safe.”
There was no way Alya was going to listen, but she’d tried. Now she had to focus on stopping Stoneheart and saving Mylene and Chloe. She would be doing it alone, but she had to believe that she could be their hope. “Tikki, spots on!”
Chapter 4: The Battle is Done but the War is Not Won
Is this only the beginning?
Marc heard his phone beep beside him from the arm of the couch. He picked it up and felt his heart stutter in his chest when he saw the news alert. “Breaking News: Stoneheart Returns”
He dropped his phone and it fell to the floor with a muted thump against the carpet. The screen stared up at him with the headline until it blinked into darkness a minute later. He had known this would happen eventually, but he’d hoped that it would have been delayed at least until he could find someone else to replace him as Chat Noir. But, Ladybug wouldn’t need him. She was a hero in her own right, without him. She was the real hero.
He picked up his phone and jumped as it beeped in his hands and the screen lit up again. “Breaking News: Paris’s Own Superheroine Swings in to Save the Day”
Maybe if he just went to take a nap, he could wake up later when it was all over. Marc grabbed the TV remote from the coffee table and fumbled to turn it off. His finger slipped and instead pressed the button to change it to the last channel it had been on.
“We have live footage from a teenage blogger who is currently livestreaming the events on location,” the news anchor announced.
Marc’s stomach dropped as the screen changed to the perspective of Alya’s phone. Ladybug was surrounded by a horde of the stone beings. She was dodging them with lightning fast agility, somehow avoiding actually striking them.
“She’s fine without me,” he said out loud to the empty apartment. “She’s the one who has the useful power and the confidence to use it.”
As soon as the words finished leaving his mouth, Ladybug was grabbed by her leg and dangled upside down in the air. There was a collective gasp from the news anchors and Alya. Marc clenched his fists with so much force that his short fingernails were digging painfully into his palms. She could get out of this. She had to.
“Where are you Chat Noir?” Alya said it under her breath. She wasn’t calling out to him, imploring him to come, but somehow the desperate and expectant tone was more damning than the other option.
Marc managed to find and hit the power button on the remote without looking down at it. The screen went black, but he remained staring blankly at it for a moment. Then he went running to his bedroom. Ladybug needed help, he couldn’t just abandon her after seeing something like that.
Marc threw open his bedroom door and in just two strides was at his bed. He lifted the mattress and grabbed out the box that held the miraculous. There was a moment of hesitation before he opened it. The same bright light lit up his room, then Plagg appeared.
The kwami yawned and then glared at him. “Well, look who’s back. You renounce the miraculous with no warning and then come crawling back to me… And with no food! Ugh! I’m practically starving here!”
“I’m sorry! I was overwhelmed and wasn’t thinking clearly.”
Plagg nodded and waved him off. “You can make it up to me later. I’m just glad you came to your senses and let me back out. Let’s get going! The sooner we take down this akuma, the sooner I can finally get something to eat around here!”
Marc held up his hands to get Plagg to slow down. “Wait! I can’t. Ladybug… she’s out there fighting… and sh- she might be in trouble but… but I can’t help her. You need to do it... or even find someone else.”
The kwami blinked at him, stunned into silence, which seemed like it may be unusual for the talkative creature. “You’re serious, aren’t you?” Plagg floated back and forth, as if pacing in midair. “This isn’t good. The black cat and the ladybug work as a team, Marc. You can’t just leave her out there by herself. She needs you!”
Marc felt the pressure like a weight bearing down on him… crushing him. Plagg couldn’t throw it all on him. He never asked for this. “Why can’t you help her? You hold the powers. You go fight the akuma-things!”
A huff came from the kwami as he turned to Marc. Plagg flew forward and bit him hard on the nose.
“Ow!” Marc leapt back from the small cat and covered his throbbing nose with his hands. “Why did you do that!”
“To get your attention! Just because I have the powers, doesn’t mean I can jump in and fight these things like the miraculous holders can. You’re the only one who can do this, who can help Ladybug.”
Marc lowered his hands and clenched them into fists at his sides. His fingernails fit back into the nail marks that were still left there from earlier. It stung to press them back in but the pain was a welcome, grounding, presence. “I told you, I can’t.”
“And why not?” Plagg’s mocking tone was grating on Marc’s already frayed nerves.
“Because, I’m not a hero!”
“You are now. You have to be.”
“Just because you say I’m a hero, doesn’t make me one! I was terrified the whole time. Ladybug did everything to save the day and stop Stoneheart.”
Plagg crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head. “And who exactly saved Ladybug and Alya from getting hit by that goal net?”
He knew where this was going, but it proved nothing. His mouth stayed firmly shut, unwilling to answer the question and play along. There was silence for a long moment. Then Plagg flew toward the bedroom door and Marc broke his silence. “Where’re you going?”
“Kitchen. I figured I’d get some food while you decided whether you wanted to keep being a whiny kitten or not.”
“What about Ladybug? She’s out there needing backup!”
“Then why are you keeping her waiting?”
Marc took an unconscious step back. He stammered out sounds that didn’t quite make words. Why did the kwami want him to do this? Someone else would be better… anyone else would be better. “I’m scared!” he blurted out. “What if I make a mistake and someone gets hurt? What if… what if… I get hurt?”
Plagg shook his head and sighed as he flew forward. He bumped his head against Marc’s cheek in an affectionate manner. “You have nothing to worry about. You did great on your first run! You have the instincts for it, now you just need the confidence. The master didn’t choose you for no reason.”
Marc’s eyes widened in surprise. “Someone chose me?”
“Yeah. Did you think the miraculous showed up by accident?”
“I don’t know…” Somehow, knowing that someone else out there believed in him helped. And they did manage to succeed the first time around… so maybe he could do this. “Okay, Plagg, I think… I think I can do this. Let’s go help, Ladybug!” His words didn’t sound so convincing to his own ears but then Plagg was shoving the ring onto his finger. “Claws out!”
There was no going back.
Ladybug had escaped the stone being’s grasp and made her way to the Eiffel Tower where Stoneheart was holding Mylene and Chloe hostage. A barricade of police vans blocked off the area, keeping civilians out. The mayor was using a bullhorn to order Chloe be released.
“I demand my daughter’s safe return!”
Stoneheart looked down at the blonde girl in his grasp as she cried out for her father. “YOU KNOW WHAT, YOU’RE WELCOME TO HER!” He threw Chloe, sending her flying through the air, towards the mayor.
Ladybug felt her heart drop into her stomach at the sight. No! No one was getting hurt on her watch! She sent her yo-yo sailing through the air and once it wrapped around something, she let herself be launched straight into Chloe’s path. When she felt the other girl land safely in her arms, relief flooded through her.
“I didn’t promise,” Chloe said with a smirk.
Ladybug raised a confused eyebrow. “What?” She’d expected at least a “thank you”, even from Chloe. But then she was watching as father and daughter were reunited and was just happy that Chloe was okay.
“We’re clear to attack!” a police officer was suddenly announcing to his men.
“Wait! No, don’t attack them. You know it will only make it worse!” Ladybug didn’t understand why they were planning to use force when they’d been through this before.
“I have a new plan, unlike you! Move aside and let the pros do their thing,” he ordered dismissively. “You’ve already failed once.”
He was right. If she had just captured the akuma the first time around, none of this would be happening. Maybe she wasn’t the right one for the job. Maybe she should have pushed for Alya to take her place.
Then suddenly someone was stumbling into her from behind. She managed to turn to catch them and hold them up. It was Marc in his cat suit.
“Ma- Chat Noir, you came.”
“Sorry for being late to the party.” He gave her a strained smile before glancing around to take in the scene.
Ladybug stepped back and swallowed hard. She opened her mouth to explain that maybe she should let the professionals handle it from here. Then she was cut off by hacking coughs coming from Stoneheart. Both heroes whipped around to see a stream of black butterflies fly up out of the villain’s mouth.
“Oh my god,” Marc muttered under his breath at the sight.
As Stoneheart fell back, Ladybug hoped that Ivan and Mylene were okay.
The butterflies swarmed into a formation that looked disturbingly like a human face. Even more disturbing was that it spoke. A loud voice projected out for everyone to hear. “People of Paris, listen carefully. I am Hawkmoth.”
“Hawkmoth?” Ladybug and Chat Noir questioned in unison.
This was it. This was the person behind all of the supervillain chaos. They had a name and face to assign the responsibility to. He was playing a game of hide and seek, staying just out of reach.
“Ladybug, Chat Noir,” he continued addressing them. “Give me the Ladybug earrings and the Cat ring now. You’ve done enough damage to these innocent people.”
Ladybug while stunned by the accusation, was not surprised. Of course, the villain would try to turn the tables. She wouldn’t let him. The citizens of Paris put their faith in them. Alya’s words echoed through her head. How could she even think about backing down? No. Officer Raincomprix and Hawkmoth, and anyone else who doubted them was wrong. She hadn’t failed. She’d only made a mistake. It would only be a failure if she gave up now. She refused to let all of her efforts be in vain.
She clapped as she stepped forward. “Nice try, Hawkmoth, but we both know who the bad guy is. Let’s not reverse the roles here. Without you none of the innocent victims would be transformed into villains. Hawkmoth, no matter how long it takes we will find you and you will hand us your miraculous.” It was like a shift had taken place inside of her. This wasn’t Marinette Dupain-Cheng anymore. Now she was Ladybug and she knew that Ladybug could do anything.
Ladybug ran forward and used her yo-yo to launch herself into the air. “Time to de-evilize!” She threw the yo-yo, capturing akuma, after akuma. She claimed every single one, until they were all gone, erasing the visage of Hawkmoth. Then she landed on the Eiffel tower and turned to address the people.
“Let me make this promise to you. No matter who wants to harm you, Ladybug and Chat Noir will do everything in our power to keep you safe.” She looked down at where Marc stood, hoping that she wasn’t making a mistaken assumption that he was committed. He was there. He had come to help her. That seemed like a commitment to her.
Ladybug opened her yo-yo to release the purified akumas. A bounty of white butterflies burst from it, free of the evil Hawkmoth had instilled them with. She could hear everyone cheering from below, but it wasn’t over yet. There was still Ivan and Mylene to save.
Stoneheart began mumbling to himself and Ladybug leapt down to where he was just as he jumped up. She couldn’t help but think of how this was her final chance. If she didn’t save the day this time, the people of Paris would lose their faith in the hero who screwed up twice. But she wouldn’t screw up again. She wouldn’t allow it.
“Help me!” Mylene cried out.
Chat leapt up the Eiffel tower to stand beside her just as Stoneheart yelled, “YOU’LL NEVER TAKE MYLENE FROM ME!”
Stoneheart bounded from one part of the tower to another. The reverberations through the structure sent Ladybug and Chat Noir to their knees. “COME TO ME, MY STONE BEINGS!”
As soon as he spoke his minions began scaling the tower. Chat looked over the side then retreated back to Ladybug’s side. “This isn’t good,” he said clutching his baton to his chest. “There’s hundreds of them and only two of us. What are we supposed to do now, Mari- I mean, Ladybug?”
Ladybug took a breath to steady herself. As frightened as he was, he was here and willing. She would have to take what help she could get. “Don’t worry, Chat. The good news is we know where the akuma is.”
“But, it’s in the fist he’s holding Mylene in. If he opens it she’ll fall.”
They needed a plan, one that wouldn’t send an innocent girl falling to her death. “We know that he’s in love with her.” It took only a moment for it to come together in her head. “That’s it! We don’t separate Stoneheart and Mylene, we bring them closer together! They’re made for one another, it’s just they don’t know it yet.”
Chat raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure about this?”
“You’re gonna have to trust me!” she said as she ran and jumped off the railing, swinging herself up to the next level of the tower. It was now or ever. He would have to decide for himself if he wanted to do this.
Marc wasn’t sure if he wanted to do this. But he’d come this far already, there was no backing out now. He jumped up onto the railing and resisted the temptation to look down. He climbed up the side of the tower alongside Ladybug, as she used her yo-yo. Helicopters were whirring overhead and only getting closer as he climbed. He tried not to think about how high that meant they were.
Ladybug was yelling reassurances to Mylene as he reached the top platform of the tower. Stoneheart roared in response and Marc had to clap his hands over his ears. Marc’s heart pounded in his chest as he realized what he was in the midst of. He was a superhero and all of Paris was depending on him and Ladybug. His instincts told him to bolt, to go home and hide in his bed until all of this was over. He took a moment to picture himself there while Marinette was still at the Eiffel tower, fighting Stoneheart. He hated that vision. There was no going to back to that. He had to be there, helping her. As terrified as he was, there was nowhere else he’d rather be.
Stone beings suddenly popped up beside him and Chat stumbled away from the railing. This was it. He whipped out his baton, ready to fight. But he couldn’t hit them. “I guess I’ll be playing a game of cat and mouse,” he muttered to himself. “God, that was terrible.”
“Lucky charm!” Ladybug shouted above him.
Hopefully, that meant she was preparing to end this. The stone beings climbed over the railing and Chat dodged them as they began their assault. He leapt over them, darted between their limbs, and did all sorts of acrobatics that suddenly seemed amazingly easy in order to avoid capture. The agility was a perk that he could get used to.
Chat leapt at one, landed on its shoulder, then jumped to the next as it reached to grab him. A laugh burst from his mouth. The adrenaline high was setting in and it felt amazing. He jumped from stone being to stone being until… One of their hands hit him, batting him away like he was nothing more than a pesky fly. He flew through the air like a ragdoll and hit the center of the tower. Chat dragged himself to his feet, disoriented. He noted that overconfidence was just as dangerous as paralyzing fear.
He climbed up part of the tower in order to get just out of the stone beings’ reach. As he did so he caught sight of Ladybug strapping a parachute to her back. “How’re you doing on that plan of yours?” he asked.
“Almost there, Chat!” she called down to him.
Chat turned to see her sling her yo-yo to catch around the arm Stoneheart held Mylene in.
“His hand… Get ready,” she said just before pulling hard on the yo-yo. Mylene and Stoneheart were pulled together until their mouths met in a kiss. Then the villain released the girl in surprise. She fell from his hand along with the akumatized object. Fortunately, Mylene managed to cling to the tip of Stoneheart’s finger at the last second.
Chat felt his stomach drop in much the same fashion that Mylene had and the crumpled black ball of paper did. He didn’t have time to think. He swallowed hard and pushed off of the tower. The freefalling felt like pure terror and an excited rush at the same time. Everything in him was telling him to fight his way back to the tower and hang on for dear life. Somehow, he kept his eyes on the ball of paper. He turned in midair and used his baton to bat it back up to Ladybug. Then he let instinct take over and lodged his baton into the side of the tower.
He waited for Ladybug to purify the akuma. Once she did that, all of this would be over. But, then the visage of Stoneheart melted away and Ivan was returned to normal. He no longer had a grip on Mylene or the Eiffel tower. Both teens fell from the landmark, screaming.
“Chat Noir, you take care of Ivan!” Ladybug yelled as she flew by him.
Immediately, Chat jumped and dislodged his baton. He reached for Ivan and caught the large boy in one arm. He hit the button on his baton to extend it so he could jam into the tower again. His finger slipped. The baton separated into two shorter pieces.
“No!” he screamed.
Ivan looked at him in shock and tightened his grip around the smaller teen’s middle. Chat leaned in toward the tower and managed to get closer. He plunged the shortened baton into the tower as hard as could. Pain shot through his shoulder as it wrenched with the momentum and he cried out. The sudden stop lost him his grip on Ivan. The larger teen also seemed to have lost his grasp of the hero. Chat grabbed his wrist and let out a slow breath as they dangled from the Eiffel tower.
Adrien sat on the couch in his room watching the news. The camera followed Chat Noir as he carefully descended the Eiffel tower with Ivan. Ivan was supposed to be their champion. He was supposed to get the miraculouses. His grip tightened around the remote as Ladybug purified the akuma and sent her magic ladybugs to restore the damage done by Stoneheart. His chest clenched like a vice around his heart. The “hero” and her sidekick had ruined everything. This was supposed to be his chance to get his mom back.
“I hate you, Ladybug,” he bit out through clenched teeth.
He stood and began pacing the room. None of the material objects his gaze landed on mattered. All of the stuff his dad had bought him to keep him occupied was a waste. He hated it. The whole mansion and everything it contained meant nothing when their family was broken. It was a façade for the public’s benefit.
Adrien grabbed the end of the foosball table and shoved it as hard as he could. It tipped over with a crash but it did nothing for him. He grabbed the chair at his desk and threw it at the broken foosball table. They landed together in a pile of smashed parts.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. The heroes were supposed to be easily overcome and their miraculouses claimed. He and his dad deserved them. After they’d suffered so much losing his mom, they deserved a chance to get her back.
The image on the TV caught his eye as they put a playback of Ladybug on the screen. His hands trembled as he clenched them into fists.
“I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!” he screamed.
Adrien grabbed everything he could get his hands on, throwing them at the screen. Even after it had shattered and fallen to the floor he continued. Even after Natalie had heard the commotion and she and his bodyguard had forced their way into his locked bedroom. Even after Natalie had tried to grab his arms to stop him. It wasn’t until the Gorilla had pinned his arms to his sides that he felt everything stop and go numb.
As Adrien sat there on the floor with his bodyguard holding him immobilized, he decided that no matter what it took he would destroy the girl standing between him and his family. He would break her down until there was nothing left. She took away his chance at happiness and he would take away hers.
Chapter 5: Crossing Paths
How many second chances do you give someone?
After the akuma was defeated and the ladybugs had fixed everything, it all seemed to end as quickly as it had begun. Ladybug ran off before she could transform back and Marc sped off to hopefully get back home before his mom. He used his new-found powers to run across the rooftops of Paris, heading for his apartment building. He was able to cut the travel time by three-quarters. Being a superhero wasn’t as bad as he’d originally thought.
Marc dropped into an alley near his apartment and de-transformed. It would only be a thirty second walk from there. He started toward the mouth of the alley when Plagg dramatically threw himself onto his chosen’s shoulder.
“So weak!” he wheezed. “Need yummy food!”
Marc paused and scooped up the kwami into his hands. He wasn’t quite sure if Plagg was just being overdramatic and so decided against calling him on it. “My mom made me some soup. Will that be okay?”
Plagg sat up, wrinkling his nose in disgust. “No way! Do you have any cheese?”
“I think so…”
The kwami dove into the pocket of his pajama pants and settled in. “Come on! Cheese is waiting for us!” his muffled voice called impatiently.
Marc laughed as he exited the alley. He made his way up to the apartment. Luckily, his mom was probably still at the flower shop. All of the commotion from Stoneheart had probably delayed them. He planned to get dinner started for her to ease the load of responsibilities.
He pushed the door open and slipped inside. He opened his mouth to talk to Plagg when he looked up to see his mom sitting on the couch. He automatically pressed his now indignant kwami back into his pocket.
She looked up at him. Her eyes were red from crying and her dark hair that had been pulled up so neatly that morning now hung loose around her shoulders. The gray streaks in it had become more noticeable in the past year. Since problems with his sister had started really. “Where have you been?” she croaked.
Marc took a shaky breath. “I stepped out for a few minutes to… uh… get some fresh air.”
“Don’t lie to me, Marc.” She got to her feet; arms crossed over her chest. “I came home as soon as I heard that that monster was back. You were supposed to be here! Where were you?”
“It’s not… I... I started to feel better so I went to school.”
“In pajamas and socks?” she asked as she gestured to him. “And where’s your backpack?”
It looked bad, really bad. There was no proper excuse he could give her. It would hurt his mom to deny her an explanation but there was nothing else he could do. “I can’t tell you,” he said with a shaky sigh.
Her eyebrows shot up in shock. “What? And why not?”
Her arms dropped from their position crossed over her chest and she planted her hands on her hips. “Do I have to worry about you now too? Are you going to start coming home drunk and running around at all hours doing God knows what?”
The words stung. He tried not to make her worry. He knew that she had trouble sleeping and had one night, when he came out to the living room to check on her, confessed that she had nightmares about Eloise being hurt out there on her own. Marc didn’t want to be another burden on his mom. “That’s not what’s going to happen.”
“Really? Because from where I’m standing, you’re turning into your sister.”
Tears sprang to his eyes before he could stop them. They spilled over and he wiped at them, not wanting his mom to see him cry. “I’m not.” It was the only protest he could get out.
Her expression softened and she let out a trembling breath. “Honey, if something is going on just tell me.”
It was Marc’s turn to cross his arms over his chest. He looked away, unable to meet her eyes for fear that he would blurt out the truth.
“Fine,” she responded to his guarded body language. “Then- then I’ll have to… to ground you.”
“What?” He’d never been grounded before. He’d never really been punished at all. There’d never been a need. Even as a small child, he’d easily acquiesced to his parents’ wishes.
“For a month,” she finished. “If you decide to tell me where you were then maybe we can renegotiate the punishment.”
“Mom, come on. I-”
“We aren’t talking about this anymore.” Her voice had become shaky. It was her turn to cry again, but before the tears could come, she turned and fled for her room.
Marc felt like a jerk. For a while there it had been the two of them against the world. His mom had no one on her side now. This wasn’t how he wanted things to end up.
Plagg suddenly shot out of his pocket to float in front of him. “So… where’s the cheese around here?”
Adrien was curled up in bed with a mug of tea that Nathalie had insisted he drink. The hot beverage slipping down his throat and warming him from inside was calming. It made him feel strangely far away from all of his problems. The chaos of his bedroom seemed almost funny now.
He took another sip of his tea and set the cup on his bedside table. The pillows seemed to come up to meet his head as he sank into their comfort. His eyes fluttered shut and he was just on the cusp of sleep when…
His eyes shot open at the sound of his dad’s voice. Adrien pushed himself up onto his elbows. Everything felt like it was too much effort, but his dad deserved his best. “Yes, father?”
Gabriel sat down on the foot of the bed. “How are you feeling, son?”
Adrien yawned. “Tired.”
“Good. I had Nathalie give you something to calm you down. The result of this akuma was… disappointing. Your distress, while melodramatic, is understandable.”
Adrien’s fists clenched around his sheets and he pulled them up to his chest as he laid back. “I just want to see mom again.”
Gabriel patted his foot. “I know. Today was supposed achieve that. That didn’t happen because of both of our shortcomings. We will try again, and next time we will get the miraculouses.”
“And you’ll get your wish dad,” Adrien slurred. His tongue felt heavy and refused to cooperate as he spoke. His eyelids felt similarly as they slid closed.
“Get some rest. Tomorrow will be a new day.”
Moments later the door clicked shut. Adrien felt like crying with relief. At times his dad could have a temper or a disinterest in him, but the conversation that just took place proved how much his dad cared about him. His dad took time out of his busy schedule to come comfort and encourage him. They would get his mom back by working together as father and son. Adrien felt so lucky to have Gabriel Agreste for a father.
Marinette was oddly giddy as she walked through the halls of the school. Everyone was talking about Ladybug and Chat Noir, Paris’s very own superheroes. Even if they didn’t know who she was it was such a good feeling to know they supported her. She passed Alya who had been accosted by a group of her own fans, who wanted a play by play of what it was like to be there in the midst of the battle. The two friends waved to each other and Alya called to her that she’d catch up in a minute.
She continued on, figuring that she would stop in at the art room before class. When she reached the top of the stairs, she pulled back the flap of her bag and looked down at her kwami nestled inside. “They all believe in me and Chat. I thought that they’d for sure still be talking about how I messed up the first time.”
“You proved to them that you’re more than your mistakes, Marinette,” Tikki said with a wink.
Marinette continued walking as she smiled down at Tikki. She didn’t see the other student approaching who was whispering at something in his jacket pocket. Neither of them looking where they were going ended up colliding painfully and stumbling back.
“Sorry!” they both apologized in unison. “I wasn’t watching…” They trailed off and laughed.
Marinette felt like there was something familiar in the bright green eyes, but she brushed it off. “Sorry about that. I’m Marinette.” She reached out to shake his hand, always happy to make a new friend. But at the sound of a gasp her pleasant smile faltered.
She let her hand start to drop. “Yeah?”
Suddenly the handshake was returned as the boy grasped it. “I’m Marc.”
Before she really thought about what she was doing, Marinette pulled Marc into an empty classroom. She closed the door behind her and looked at the boy standing before her. He nervously clutched a journal to his chest much like how Chat did with his baton. The way he looked down at the floor instead of meeting her eye and his self-conscious body language, it was all her partner.
“Chat?” she asked in a low voice.
He looked up and gave a hesitant smile. “Hi, Ladybug.”
Marinette rushed forward and hugged him. This was her partner. He overcame his fear and became someone she felt she could depend on because she needed him. “You did great out there yesterday,” she told him as she pulled away. “Thank you.”
He was blushing as he pushed some hair behind his ear. “Thanks. You did great too. Everyone’s talking about how awesome Ladybug is. You really inspired people.”
It was her turn to blush. “They’re talking about you too, Marc! Well, I mean that they’re talking about Chat Noir.”
He cleared his throat and shrugged. “It doesn’t matter to me if they recognize Chat Noir. I’d honestly rather they didn’t. I guess it’s good that we have our secret identities.”
Marinette swallowed hard. She had to tell him about Alya. He deserved to know who else was in on knowing who they were. Even if her friend didn’t know who Chat Noir was, there was still a possibility she would figure it out by association. “Speaking of secret identities… I kind of told a friend of mine that I’m Ladybug.” She saw the anxiety growing on his face and rushed to reassure him. “I didn’t tell her about you though! I mean, I barely knew who you were. And I won’t tell her. We really shouldn’t tell anyone else.”
“Agreed,” Marc said with a nod. He clung to his journal, holding it tighter against his chest. “The more people who know, the more likely Hawkmoth could find out who we are. But the fact that we know each other’s identities does make this easier.” He smiled at her and Marinette felt relieved that he didn’t seem upset with her.
“Why don’t we exchange numbers. That way we can just call or message each if we see an akuma in our civilian forms,” she suggested, pulling out her phone. Marc pulled out his and they traded phones to input their contact information. When they finished, Marinette added, “But we shouldn’t wait for each other if we see an akuma. It’s better to try and contain it while we wait for the other.”
Marc nodded but then he was chewing on his bottom lip nervously. Her stomach sank as she wondered if he was still fearful to be fighting more villains that Hawkmoth would likely be sending out.
“What is it?” she asked.
He looked down at the ground. “I’m kind of… well, grounded. I was supposed to be home sick yesterday and my mom came home to check on me. I wasn’t there because I was fighting Stoneheart with you. She grounded me for a month. That means I’m supposed to come straight home from school. No going out unless I’m with her.”
“That complicates things.” Marinette looked down at Tikki who was poking her head out of her bag. “I guess I’ll just have to do my best to take on whatever Hawkmoth throws at us until you can get away.”
A tiny black cat flew out of Marc’s jacket pocket and put his paws on his hips as he turned to face his chosen. “Or you could just stuff some pillows under your blankets to look like you’re sleeping… or just bribe her with cheese to unground you!”
Marinette opened her mouth to ask what the kwami’s name was when Marc spoke.
“I’m not trying to bribe my mom with cheese. That’s just weird, Plagg.”
Plagg. Marinette smiled when she saw Tikki fly out of her bag to reunite with the other kwami.
Plagg grinned showing off his sharp teeth. “Hey there, sugar cube! I missed you!” He winked and Tikki rolled her eyes.
“I didn’t miss your smelly breath,” she teased in response.
Marinette decided to allow them a few minutes of lighthearted conversation. She and Marc could work out how they would continue in their fight against Hawkmoth later. At the moment she just wanted a break from all of the pressures of them being Ladybug and Chat Noir.
Adrien was the last person into the locker room to put his stuff away. He was going to be late for his first class, but he didn’t really care. He was still exhausted from the other day and had tender bruises on his arms from where his bodyguard had restrained him. It had only been their first akuma, he should allow time for a learning curve, but impatience clawed from the inside out, insisting that they needed to move faster.
He reached into his backpack to put his last book away when his locker door suddenly slammed closed. Ivan was there, arm outstretched, leaning on Adrien’s locker. The larger boy was glaring down at him.
Adrien staggered back a step. “Ivan… You look well, considering… you know.”
Ivan stalked toward him and Adrien expected a fist in the face, a violent shove, or some sort of physical assault. It would make sense. The things he’d said to Ivan had been awful. Part of him thought it might make him feel less guilty about the incident. The conflicted mess that he was almost craved some clarity that might result from it.
“You’re a jerk.”
Startled by the comment, Adrien was left speechless.
“Those things you said yesterday. You’re worse than Chloe for what you said. At least she’s upfront. You pretended to be nice to me and then you just said stuff to make me feel like crap.” Ivan looked toward the locker room door, then back at Adrien. “Mylene said that I shouldn’t beat you to a pulp. She thinks that we should talk it out or whatever. So, all I’m gonna say is that you’re a real creep. Don’t talk to me anymore… or Mylene. You got that, Agreste?”
The statements about his character were somehow worse than being punched. Ivan was right. He was worse than Chloe. He was much worse. Ivan hadn’t deserved the terrible things that he’d said. It was an unfortunate consequence to being akumatized that first the person had to be under great emotional distress.
“I understand, Ivan,” he said with nod. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking when I said those things.”
The larger boy turned to leave. “Whatever,” he muttered as he exited the locker room.
Adrien slumped against the wall of lockers and slid down until he was sitting on the floor. He would have to be more subtle about getting akumas for his dad. It would be too obvious if he befriended students just to then turn on them later. Plans would have to be constructed and orchestrated like a conductor directing musicians to create a beautiful symphony. That’s what his dad’s plan was. It was a symphony that he was grateful to be a part of. But, at times Adrien wondered if he was really skilled enough to be participating. He took a deep breath. Gabriel Agreste thought so and that would be enough for him. His dad believed in him and that belief would get him through.
One more akuma. That was all they needed.
Marinette had lagged behind to talk with Miss Bustier about the first project of the new school year. If she was going to be a superhero she would have to get ahead of her homework. She looked down at her phone as she made her way to the front of the school and hurried her pace when she saw that the chance of rain had increased significantly since that morning.
“I know, Father. I’m trying. I promise, I-”
She paused by the open doors. Adrien Agreste had his back to her as he stood at the top of the front steps. His open umbrella was held in hand while he was holding his cell phone to his ear with the other. His voice sounded desperate as he spoke with his dad. Marinette couldn’t imagine being so distressed just talking with her parents.
“Yes, Father. I’ll do better tomorrow… I will. Bye. I love-” Adrien pulled his phone away and looked down at the screen. The call had ended. “You.”
Marinette took a step back, contemplating going out the side entrance. It seemed like the conversation had been heavy. As much as she disliked the teen model for the interaction she’d had with him the other day, a part of her felt bad for him. She’d hate to make him feel like she was intruding.
“How much of that did you hear?”
She jumped, startled when he suddenly spoke to her. “Not- not much,” she replied.
Adrien looked over his shoulder at her and gave a strained smile. “It’s not a big deal. He just gets disappointed when he thinks I’m not living up to my full potential.”
Marinette stepped forward, over the threshold to stand beside him. She didn’t really know to say. She wanted to comfort him. That was what she would usually do. But her instincts and experience with him told her to be wary.
“Well, as long as you’re doing your best, he should be proud of you,” she said, not looking directly at him.
There was silence for a long moment. Marinette figured that was it, that was the end of the conversation. She began to step forward to make her way home. When he spoke again, she stumbled slightly, trying to stop her movement.
“I’m sorry, about yesterday. I was very rude to you.”
She turned back to him. Adrien was staring hard at the ground and there was a grimace on his face that marred the usually flawless “model-look” that he had. She decided to stay.
“I know that it’s not an excuse,” he continued as he looked up at her. “But I’ve been homeschooled my whole life and I don’t interact with many people. I mean Chloe was my only friend for a long time. I- I’m not used to talking to people. And I screwed up… with you, with Ivan… God, I’m just awful at this. I’m sorry, Marinette.”
It was difficult for him to apologize. She could tell. Adrien Agreste was an enigma. Was he a teen supermodel who basked in the fame? An aggressive young man who always needed to have his way? Or a boy who craved his father’s approval? Or possibly all of the above. Marinette wanted to be sure of who he was before she got involved with him, but that didn’t seem possible.
She believed in second chances. The past couple of days had taught her not to write anyone off for a single mistake. If she deserved another chance at being a superhero, then she could give him another chance.
“Hi, I’m Marinette,” she said holding out her hand.
He looked confused for a moment. Then his face lit up with understanding. He shook her hand. “Hi, I’m Adrien.”
“Now you have another friend,” she told him as they released the handshake.
A car pulled up in front of the school and Adrien’s face fell. “That’s my ride. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He took a step but then turned back. “Here.” He thrust out the umbrella to her.
Marinette smiled and took it. The smile she got in return assured her that she’d made the right decision in reaching out to him. Maybe all he needed was a friend.
Adrien got into the car and closed the door. He looked out the window to see Marinette holding the umbrella and waving to him. He waved back.
His heart was beating so hard in his chest that he was surprised his ribcage could contain it. Everything felt different. He looked down at his hand. The memory of her hand lightly grasping his for a moment in time stayed there, imprinted on his skin. He wasn’t sure what it was that was going on. How was it that she was affecting him like this? All he knew was that Marinette was only just out of sight and he already desperately needed to see her again.
Am I in love?
Chapter 6: No Rest For The Wicked
Bubbler Part 1: In which adults are no fun.
One month later…
Marc paused before leaving his bedroom to let out a large, jaw-cracking yawn. The previous night he had been out on a patrol with Marinette. It hadn’t been the best idea considering that it was first day of freedom since being grounded. His mom had been watching too closely lately and he’d already almost been caught sneaking out several times; three times because of akumas, and twice for patrol.
He wanted to be upset with his mom for being overbearing but after the phone call from Eloise the previous night he couldn’t find it in him.
Marc had transformed into Chat Noir and stood on the roof about to run off to go meet Ladybug for one of the patrols she had instituted after the last akuma had happened in the middle of the night. They hadn’t heard about it until some debris from the destruction came barreling into her family’s bakery.
He stepped back to get a running start and made it to the edge of the roof when he stopped short.
“I can’t send you that much,” his mom’s panicked voice said.
He looked down to see her sitting out on the fire escape. Her cell phone was held in one hand, pressed against her ear while her other hand was pressed against her forehead as if staving off a headache. Conflicted over whether he wanted to stay and listen or run off to go meet his partner, he stepped away from the edge then back up to it indecisively.
“Well, I have rent to pay, Eloise. I have utilities, groceries, Marc needs new shoes-”
Marc flinched at his name being mentioned. Eloise wouldn’t like that. He looked down to see his mom holding the phone away from her ear. He could hear the tinny echoes of his sister’s voice all the way up there, even if he couldn’t make out the words. A minute later his mom brought the phone back to her ear and spoke into it. Her voice shook, but there was a sternness to it that was unmistakably how she used to talk to Eloise when she lived at home.
“What has he ever done to you? He is your brother and my son. I won’t let you talk about him like that.”
There was a short pause. Marc contemplated leaving again. He didn’t want to hear more of the conversation. All that would happen is Eloise trash talking him some more and their mom eventually giving up and sending her some money.
“I don’t care what your useless boyfriend has to say!” his mom suddenly snapped. “And if you’re going to say those sorts of things about Marc, I… I… I’m not sending you anymore money!”
Another pause. Marc couldn’t believe that his mom had said that to his sister. There had consistently been this cloud of guilt keeping his mom from doing anything to upset Eloise. Had that disappeared?
His mom dropped the phone onto the fire escape with a clang that echoed through the alley. She buried her face in her hands and let out a strangled sob that startled Marc. His mom had defended him at the expense of losing a relationship with Eloise. He brought a fist to his mouth in an effort to keep himself from automatically going to comfort his mom.
He was done. It felt wrong to spy on her mourning his sister. While Marc had worked through most of that right after Eloise left, their mom had held out hope. That hope had just evaporated into the cool night air.
Marc stepped back to get another running start and went to meet Ladybug.
Marc walked out his room to see his mom at the kitchen table. A box of croissants sat open next to two cups of coffee. Plagg tried to poke his head out of his jacket pocket at the scent of food. He tapped his kwami on the head to get him to duck back inside.
“Oh, good! You’re up,” his mom said looking up from reading something on her phone. “I got us coffee and croissants. I wanted to sit down and have a talk before you left for school.”
“A talk?” Marc squeaked. This was it. She knew. Somehow she had figured out that he was Chat Noir. He had probably been careless somewhere along the way. Marinette would want a new partner; someone who could keep a secret.
“Yes. Go ahead and sit down.” She gestured to the chair across from her.
As he took his seat, his mom served him a croissant on a napkin and pushed his cup of coffee toward him. Marc took a sip and watched his mom closely. He searched for some clue of her knowing that he was secretly a super hero. He thought she would be more upset about such a thing.
“So, I’ve been reading some articles about parenting and I think we need to talk so that I can…” She looked down at her phone. “Set clear expectations of behavior.”
Marc was able to relax, knowing that his mom had no idea of his superhero activities. He was so relieved, in fact, that it didn’t even faze him that she was going to be giving him new rules to follow. “Okay, Mom. I’m listening.”
She looked up at him with raised eyebrows. “Oh, I- uh… I was expecting more pushback.” She looked down at her phone again and scrolled a bit before she stopped and looked up again. “Marc, you need to know that I love you, and that means that I care about your safety and happiness.”
He nodded in response. He already knew that. His mom cared, that was something he had no doubts about. Eloise may not have been able to see but he did.
“You are a teenager now and that means I’m going to be giving you more freedom.” She seemed to diverge from the script for a moment to add. “And now that you are no longer grounded, you will be allowed to go out without my constant supervision.” She cleared her throat and continued with the prepared speech. “But I expect you to be making good decisions, being respectful, and continuing to get good grades in school.”
“That sounds fair.” It also didn’t seem like it would interfere with being Chat Noir.
“Good. Also you will have to be home for dinner every night. If you are going to miss it or be somewhere else you have to let me know first.”
Marc bit his lip. That wouldn’t always be a guarantee, with how unpredictable the akumas could be. But, his mom was looking at him expectantly. This wasn’t the time to argue. “I can do that.”
His mom looked relieved as she closed her phone. “Then we’re on the same page. I do want to trust you, Marc. I want you to go out with your friends and have fun. Its just that with what happened with Eloise… I get worried.”
He suddenly found it hard to meet her eyes. Why did she have to bring up Eloise? “You don’t have to worry about me, Mom,” he reassured. He looked at the clock across the room. It would be reasonable to say he needed to get to school. If he left right then, he would probably actually be on time. “I have to get to school.” He grabbed an extra croissant for Plagg and paused to kiss his mom on the cheek. “Love you.”
Marc was almost out the door when his mom called out from behind him. “Marc, why can’t you just tell me where you went that day?”
How was she still thinking about that? Marc wanted to give her something, but if he did there was a chance she’d figure it out. She wouldn’t be satisfied unless she knew exactly what he was doing.
Marc turned back to her. “I… Mom, I can’t tell you…” he trailed off at the disappointment in her eyes. She probably thought he was exactly like his sister. “A friend… a friend needed my help. That’s all I can say.” That would have to be enough for her.
His mom’s eyes widened in surprise, but then she nodded. “Okay. That’s, well… okay then. You should be getting to school.”
Marc left feeling a little lighter.
“You got lucky last week, girl,” Alya said, her tinny voice coming from Marinette’s cell phone on speaker. “I can’t get food poisoning and puke in the middle of class to get you out of there for an akuma every day. We need a plan.”
Marinette sighed as she finished packing her backpack. “The teachers are going to see through anything if we use it too many times.”
“That’s why we need a rotating list of plans!”
Alya was enthusiastic about helping a superhero but Marinette wasn’t sure if her friend was being realistic. How many different plans could they come up with that would work every time there was an akuma during class? … but she wouldn’t shoot it down. Alya could be more clever than she knew.
Marinette picked up the wrapped box containing Adrien’s present. She had been working on it since he off-handedly mentioned his birthday a few weeks ago. At this point, it seemed that the incident near the locker room was an anomaly. The Adrien she had gotten to know over the past month was still a bit awkward, but sweet. He was a good friend.
She attached a little note that said, “To: Adrien, From: Marinette” in her loopiest handwriting. She listened to one of Alya’s plans as she slipped it into her bag.
“This would be easier if you just told me who Chat Noir is. He may be able to help us out with getting you out of class.”
“No!” Marinette hadn’t meant to shout. All she could think in that moment was how Marc was trusting her with his identity. With her and Marc knowing each other’s identities and Alya knowing hers, that was more than enough. It was already too dangerous. “I mean,” she continued trying to soften her response. “He doesn’t want me to share his identity. Its already dangerous enough that I know.”
Alya laughed and Marinette felt relief wash over her. “I get it. A hero’s secret identity is important. I’m just glad you trust me enough to know yours. We’ll work with what we got. We can brainstorm after school.”
“Thanks for understanding, Alya. See you later.”
Marinette hung up and let out a relieved laugh. She turned to her kwami. “Alya seems to be adjusting well to this whole superhero thing.”
Tikki nuzzled her chosen’s cheek. “She has been very helpful to get you out of class for those last couple of akumas.”
“She’s right, though. It would make things easier if she knew Marc’s identity.” Marinette thought over the akuma battles since Stoneheart. Marc had come in late for each one. It hadn’t been her partner’s fault. One was that he was stuck at the flower shop his mom worked at until he got permission to make a lunch run. Another was being stuck in class. Then there was the one that happened in the middle of the night. Alya could’ve been helpful in finding an excuse to get Marc out of those situations.
“But, Marinette, the less people who know you’re identities, the better,” Tikki reminded her.
Marinette nodded. “I know. I wouldn’t go blabbing Marc’s identity like that.” She glanced at the calendar and smiled. “Besides, Marc isn’t grounded anymore. Our lives just got easier without having to worry about that.” She picked up her bag and opened the flap for her kwami to fly in.
As she went downstairs her mom called out to her. “Marinette, don’t forget to clean your room after school today.”
That was going to throw a wrench in the works. Alya and her were going to brainstorm ways out of class and she was planning on asking Marc if they could train. “Mom, its Friday and I’m already doing something with Alya.”
“Fine. I’ll go ahead and clean it, but don’t blame me if I come across any of your private stuff like your emails, your diary…”
Marinette felt her eyes widen in horror. She thought about the emails she had exchanged with Marc about patrol schedules and the entries in her diary about the stress of being a superhero. “Okay. I’ll do it! I’ll do it!” She gave her mom a quick kiss and ran for the door.
“Have a nice day, Sweetie!”
“You too, mom!”
The dining room was silent except for the sound of the clock ticking. Adrien ran the words he wanted to say through his head over and over again. “Father, I know our mission is important. Mom is our priority but I was hoping that maybe I could spend some time with my friends for my birthday. Tomorrow I will be even more focused on my task and I will find you someone to make an excellent akuma.” He found himself conflicted over his dedication to the mission fantasizing over the suggestion Nino had made that he have a birthday party. There was chance Marinette could be there.
The door to the dining room opened and Adrien straightened in his chair. His dad stepped in and took a seat beside him. It was strange. He wasn’t used to eating with his dad. Such an event only happened once a month at best.
“Happy birthday, Adrien.”
A breath hitched in his chest. His dad remembered and took the time to wish him a happy birthday. Maybe there was a chance his dad would be so understanding that he would agree to a party. “Thank you, Father.”
His father placed nodded in acknowledgement of his gratitude. “I trust that you won’t be distracted by such a mundane thing as a birthday? The last akuma was by far our most ineffective. We need one with more… passion. Do you understand?”
Adrien felt deflated as he let his gaze drift down to the surface of the dining table. “I understand. I won’t let you down, Father.”
A hand squeezed his shoulder, before his dad stood and left the room. It was stupid of him to think that his birthday could be more important than getting his mom back. What was wrong with him? He needed to focus on getting to school and finding the best target for his father.
Adrien was feeling more determined than ever by the time he got to school. But that fire died and was replaced by a more subtle warmth when he got out of the car and spotted Marinette at the top of the front steps of the school talking with Alya. He waved to her and she waved back, wearing a kind smile. She seemed genuinely happy to see him.
An arm wrapped around his shoulders and he looked to his left to see Nino grinning at him. “Adrien! Our birthday boy!” his friend announced. Marinette and Alya descended the steps to meet them as Nino continued in a lowered voice. “How’re things looking on the party front, dude?”
“Sorry, Nino, but there’s not going to be a party.”
“What?” Nino spluttered as he turned to properly face the teen model.
“Happy birthday, Adrien,” Marinette said as she and her friend approached them.
“Yeah, happy birthday,” Alya chimed in.
“Thanks.” Adrien politely made eye contact with each of the girls but then he couldn’t help that his gaze drifted back to Marinette.
“Oh, I had something for you!” she suddenly announced before moving to dig through her bag.
“Really?” He was surprised. They’d only known each other a month and she had made a point to remember his birthday and get him a gift. Did Marinette care as much about him as he did about her?
“Yeah! You’re my friend.” She looked up for a moment to flash him another smile that made his heart skip a beat. “I make all of my friends birthday presents.”
It wasn’t just any present. It was something she made for him, with her own two hands. Adrien felt like the luckiest boy in the world. Could life get any better?
Then the bell rang. Marinette paused in her rummaging through her bag and gave him an apologetic look. Alya grabbed her arm and began leading her away. “You cannot have another tardy, girl!”
“Sorry, Adrien,” she called to him as she looked back over her shoulder.
Adrien sighed. If that was how his day was going to go, he wished he’d just stayed in bed.
Nino nudged him with his elbow. “Let’s get to class, dude. But we are totally going to talk about your party later.”
He forced a smile for his friend. “Sure, man.”
Marc smiled when Marinette approached him as he left his first class. They stepped out of the way of the other students trying to get by so that they could talk.
“I am officially un-grounded,” he told her. “And I think my mom is going to be easing up on monitoring me.”
“You think she is?” Marinette asked with a raised eyebrow.
Marc shrugged. It would be difficult to explain the whole story about his mom and his sister. And honestly he’d prefer if no one else was privy to that mess. He settled for the shrug. “My mom is hard to explain.”
Marinette nodded in understanding. She looked from side to side as if checking that no one was listening in, then she spoke more softly. “I was hoping that later we could get some training time in.”
As she continued in that same vein, Marc glanced over her shoulder to see a blond boy watching them. He was too far away to hear their conversation but he was watching them with an intense gaze that made the hairs on the back of Marc’s neck stand on end.
The other boy looked familiar, more than just seeing him around school. He was pretty sure the boy hung out with Marinette and her friends sometimes. Whoever he was, Marc knew that he didn’t like the way the other teen was glaring at him. But, before he could point it out to Marinette, the blond boy had turned and walked away.
He attempted to refocus on his partner but his mind kept wandering back to the piercing glare from the strange teen.
Marinette pulled out her phone and opened her reminder app. “So, after school I have to run home to clean my room, but if I brainstorm with Alya at lunch then after school we could go do the training. How does that sound?”
Marc looked at her blankly for a moment. “What?”
She was mildly irritated but was more amused by his loss of focus than anything. “After school? Training?”
“Oh! Yes, of course! That works. I just have to be home for dinner.”
Just as she finished entering it into her phone she looked up to see Alya approaching them.
“Hey, you two!”
“Hey,” Marinette responded, while Marc just gave a wave.
Alya gave her a strange look. “So this is where you ran off to after class.”
“Yeah. I just needed to ask Marc about something.”
“I’ll see you later, Marinette,” Marc said as he clutched his journal close to him. “It was good to see you again, Alya.”
“Later,” Alya said with a wave. She then turned to Marinette. “Are you and Marc finally going out?”
“What?” They started walking in the direction of their next class as Marinette attempted to work out how her friend had drawn the conclusion that she had a thing for Marc. “No way! We’re just friends.”
“Really? Cause, you’re always running off with him, talking with him all secretively, and he’s shy around everyone but you. You two totally dig each other! And you are perfect for each other.”
“Me and Marc?” She tried to picture it: going on dates, cuddling, kissing. But, any image she tried to conjure in her mind just replaced Marc with a silhouette of some faceless dream boy. “I wouldn’t say that.”
“Fine. I won’t push… for now.” Alya gave her a wink and knowing smirk.
Before Marinette could make another attempt to protest Alya already slipped into the classroom. She sighed and shook her head. It didn’t really matter if Alya thought she and Marc were a couple anyways. It wasn’t like she had a crush on anybody else.