“Ladybug, are you okay?!”
Chat’s alarmed voice filled her ears a split second before a hand – presumably Chat’s – touched her shoulder. Ladybug drew in a shuddering breath, relaxing slightly. So long as Chat was here, she was safe.
“I can’t see,” she said. “The akuma got me.” The remains of her panic attack made her voice sound too jittery. She tried not to shake.
“Shit,” Chat said. It sounded like he was moving around in front of her. Ladybug reached out an uncertain hand and breathed a bit easier when he took it.
“Where is the akuma?” Ladybug asked.
“It took off. I don’t think it realized it hit you. Are you okay? Does it hurt?”
Ladybug shook her head. “No. It didn’t hurt.” She just couldn’t see. She did her best to stifle the renewed burst of panic racing through her veins.
“It’ll be okay,” Chat said, making a seamless shift from upset to calming. He stepped closer and slid an arm around her waist, letting her lean against him.
Having him there was unexpectedly grounding. She could put her hand on his chest and feel the warmth of his skin and the rapid beating of his heart, and she could smell his sweat and deodorant - they’d been fighting for almost three hours at this point. All of it combined to form a picture in her head of her partner, and Ladybug clung to that even as she clutched his hand tighter.
“I can’t see,” she said again. “How can I purify the akuma if I can’t see?”
“I’ll be your eyes,” Chat said confidently. “Just like that time we fought Stormy Weather and she turned the lights off, remember?”
Ladybug nodded even though they both knew it wasn’t quite the same. She couldn’t even even travel under her own power right now; she was surrounded by rubble on all sides, she knew, but she hadn’t thought to pay that close attention to where the rubble was located before she got hit.
“Do you need a minute?” Chat asked.
“No. Let’s do this,” Ladybug said. She went to lift her hand to wrap her arm around Chat’s neck and felt her knuckles impact something.
“Oh shit. I punched you! Oh shit, Chat, I’m sorry.” Ladybug’s voice broke. Hot tears welled up in her eyes and she backed off, though she couldn’t exactly go far.
“It’s okay. It’s okay! You barely touched me,” Chat said quickly. “I’m fine, see?” He grabbed her hand and brought it to his cheek.
“I can’t feel anything through my suit,” Ladybug reminded him.
“Right. I forgot about that. We could always detrans-”
“No,” she said sternly.
Chat shrugged. “Worth a shot.” He was grinning, she could tell. His cheeks had shifted beneath her hand.
She frowned in the general direction that she thought his face was.
“Not funny,” she said, though she couldn’t deny the joke had lightened her mood a bit.
“It was just a suggestion,” he said, all innocence. “Now, come here.”
He carefully wrapped his left arm around her waist, holding her securely. She heard the sound of his baton extending and then suddenly they were moving. It was terribly disorienting to feel the ground fall away when she couldn’t see what was happening.
She had her arms around Chat’s neck; she held on tighter, probably to the point where she was choking him a little, but she couldn’t bring herself to let go. He didn’t say anything, but he pressed his cheek to her temple and tightened his own grip. His presence was comforting, moreso than she could have ever guessed.
Had she been alone, she would’ve freaked out. Even having someone else around - her parents, Tikki, even Rena Rouge - wouldn’t have been half as comforting as Chat was. She’d always known she trusted him, but she hadn’t known just how much until right now.
Chat was her rock. Her partner. Her everything. Ladybug closed her eyes to ease the disorientation as Chat released the baton and they fell forward.
When had he become that important to her?
She pressed her face to Chat’s shoulder, hoping that he wouldn’t be able to figure out what she was thinking, and held on. They ran around Paris for over half an hour before Chat finally stopped, landing on a rooftop with a light thud. When he didn’t immediately use his baton to lift them up again, Ladybug lifted her head and looked in the direction she thought his face was.
“I don’t see the akuma anywhere,” he said, sounding frustrated – and there was something else in his voice. It took her a moment to put two and two together.
“You have to go, don’t you?” Ladybug said.
“No,” Chat said after a pause, and it was such a blatant lie that Ladybug snorted.
“Liar. It’s okay,” she added, even though it wasn’t. “Tikki and Plagg probably need a rest by now anyway. And it must be getting dark. I have to get home too.”
“It’s fine. Running around Paris searching aimlessly isn’t helping anyway,” Ladybug said. “We’ll have to wait for the akuma to show itself. We can do that as civilians just as well as we can transformed, and I don’t want you to get into trouble.”
They didn’t often speak about their civilian lives out of necessity, but she had figured out, from little comments that Chat made here and there, that Chat’s father was a stern, unforgiving man who put a lot of pressure on his son. Chat had also told her once that he worked for his father’s business. If Chat were late for a shift or something like that, it wasn’t going to reflect well on him.
“But what about you?” Chat said.
“Lots of people got hit. I’ll just tell my parents I was one of them,” Ladybug replied, trying to sound light and like the thought of Chat leaving didn’t scare her to death. “If an akuma comes, I’ll go somewhere, transform, and you can track me with your baton.”
“How will you get home?” Chat asked.
Ladybug bit her lip, frustrated. He had a point. She thought for a moment, then said, “If you can set me down in the alley across from the Dupain-Cheng bakery, I can make my way home from there.” It was more information than she wanted to give him, but it had to be done.
Chat didn’t sound very sure when he said, “Okay”, but he didn’t fight her. He wrapped an arm around her waist again and the ground fell away. This time, they only traveled for a couple of minutes before they dropped and Ladybug’s feet came into contact with pavement. She stepped away from Chat and immediately felt lost without his familiar touch to ground her.
“Okay,” she said. “Now… turn your back. Make sure no one is looking. You can’t look, Chat, promise me that you won’t.”
“I won’t,” he said gently, and she believed him. His boots scraped against the pavement as he obeyed. “Go ahead. No one’s around.”
“Tikki, spots off,” Ladybug said.
“Good night, My Lady,” Chat said.
“Good night,” Marinette whispered. She heard the sound of him moving, his baton hitting the pavement, and then it was quiet. A fresh burst of panic quickened her heart rate. She was alone now and she couldn’t see anything –
“Marinette? Are you okay?”
Tikki. Of course. Marinette exhaled shakily. “I can’t see, Tikki.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” A light weight settled on Marinette’s shoulder. “Come on. I’ll guide you home.”
Thanks to Tikki’s help, Marinette was able to make her way across the road without being struck by a car. She couldn’t believe how off-kilter she felt. Even though she could picture her surroundings, the fear of tripping or walking into something had her moving very slowly and with her arms outstretched in her front of her. She took small steps, flinching whenever she heard a car drive by.
“Don’t tell me – oh, Marinette.” Sabine’s hands rested on Marinette’s shoulders. “You were hit by that akuma today?”
“I can’t see,” Marinette said, looking up to where she thought her maman’s face was. For all she knew, she was way off. It was as frustrating as it was infuriating.
“Oh honey,” Sabine said, her voice full of sympathy. “You’re almost home. This way. Watch the door –”
She felt a little better as Sabine helped her into the bakery, but the feeling of uncertainty didn’t go away. Of course Chat had to leave, but Marinette had to admit that she sure as hell wished he’d stayed. Her parents fussed over her for the rest of the evening, and that was suffocating. All she wanted to do was go to bed and wait for the news alert about an akuma sighting to come in.
It didn’t come.
Marinette didn’t have a very good night’s sleep. She liked the dark as much as anyone else, but she was used to seeing some light from her skylight. Trying to sleep in pitch blackness was weird. By the time her alarm for school went off, she was both tired and cranky. She sat up slowly, irrationally worried about hitting her head even though she knew she didn’t have to be, and rubbed her eyes.
“I think you should stay home today,” Tikki said.
“I can’t, Tikki. I miss enough school as it is,” Marinette said.
“How do you plan to do your schoolwork when you can’t see?” Tikki asked..
“I’ll… figure something out. Besides, I don’t want to stay here with Maman and Papa today. They’ll hover over me all day. If the akuma is spotted, I have to be able to get away,” Marinette said.
“I guess I can’t argue with that,” Tikki muttered. “Do you want me to text Alya to come pick you up?”
“Please.” She carefully made her way down the ladder, feeling for each step before she took it. Because she couldn’t see to pick out some clothes, she grabbed a sundress and pulled it on – no need to try and match a dress with anything. Tikki helped her do her hair and pick out some shoes.
“Marinette, Alya is here!” Sabine called.
“Coming!” Marinette felt around until she found her purse, which she looped over her shoulder. She shuffled over to her door and lifted it, then very slowly made her way down.
“Hey Marinette!” Alya said.
At the same time, Sabine said worriedly, “Are you sure you don’t want to stay home?”
“Hi Alya. And I’m sure, Maman,” Marinette said.
“We’ll be careful, Madame Cheng, I promise,” Alya said.
Sabine sighed. “Okay. Just… if you need to come home, let your papa or I know. We can come get you at anytime. Here.” She fiddled around with Marinette’s backpack. “Lunch.”
“Thanks. I’ll be okay,” Marinette said. An arm looped through hers, and she recognized it as Alya from the sweet scent of her friend’s perfume. Marinette tightened her grip as she and Alya walked out of the bakery, wishing Chat were here. She hadn’t been concerned about letting him act as her eyes, but Alya didn’t always pay attention.
“So Girl, tell me how this happened!” Alya said.
Marinette frowned. “Are you filming me?”
“Put it away, Alya,” Marinette said, rolling her eyes.
“Fine,” Alya muttered. “Seriously, though, what happened?”
“Uh, I was just out for a walk. Looking for some inspiration for a new design. Wrong place, wrong time, I guess,” Marinette lied.
“Ooh, that sucks. Ladybug got hit too, you know?”
“She, uh, she did?” Marinette said.
“Yup. It was so cute. You should see how fast Chat Noir ran over to her – uh, well, I’ll show you after Ladybug’s used her cure,” Alya said. “I’m sure things will be fixed soon!”
“I’m sure too,” Marinette said, sighing. At least Alya didn’t seem to think there was any correlation between Ladybug and Marinette both getting hit by an akuma at the same time. Alya was a very smart girl, but she could also be painfully oblivious and today, Marinette was grateful for that.
“What’s it like?” Alya asked.
“It sucks. I can’t see anything. Last night I couldn’t even shower because Maman was afraid I’d slip,” Marinette said. She tightened her grip on Alya’s arm as they crossed the road, stumbling a little when she stepped down off the curb. “And I couldn’t sleep that well, because it was too dark. I hate it.”
“Aw, Mari. It’ll be okay.” Alya squeezed her hand. “Look, there’s Adrien!”
“Where?!” Marinette looked around instinctively, but of course all she saw was darkness.
“Oops, sorry. Um – over there.” Alya’s hand touched her cheekbone and gently turned Marinette’s face an inch or two to the left.
“Does he look good today?” Marinette asked plaintively.
“Hmm… not really. He looks tired. I bet his asshole dad kept him up late with a photoshoot again.”
“I should’ve brought him coffee,” Marinette said.
Alya patted her hand. “You did good just getting here today. Okay, steps. Five of them. Let’s go slow.”
Getting up the stairs and into the school felt like a whole other achievement; Marinette had never stopped to appreciate just how many stairs Collège François Dupont had until she had to navigate the school blind. She breathed a sigh of relief as she finally sat down at her desk in Madame Bustier’s classroom. Much as she hated to admit it, maybe Tikki and her parents had been right and she should’ve stayed home.
She listened to the sounds of her classmates shuffling in around them. Nino and Adrien both greeted her as per usual, but much to Marinette’s relief they didn’t press her for details. She did manage to discern, from listening to the conversations around her, that Max, Alix, Nathaniel and Ivan were all out for the day because they’d been hit by the akuma too.
“Marinette, just follow along as best you can,” Madame Bustier said as class began.
At least, Marinette thought wryly, she had a great excuse for not taking notes. But she quickly realized it was kind of boring too. She couldn’t even admire the back of Adrien’s head the way she usually did, or pass notes back and forth with Alya, or doodle in her notebook, or even follow along in the textbook. All she could do was sit there and listen to Madame Bustier talk about mathematics.
Needless to say, the morning dragged on. By lunch time, Marinette practically jumped to her feet. “That was the longest morning ever,” she said to Alya.
“I bet. Do you wanna grab lunch from the cafeteria, or do you want me to take you home?” Alya asked.
Marinette thought about it as she picked up her bag and stepped into the aisle. She knew from this morning that it was four steps to the first stair, and then another six steps before the second stair, and then she would be down on the ground. She put a hand on Mylène’s desk and shuffled forward until she could step down. Then she stretched out a foot and felt around to see if the stair in front of her was clear. It was.
“Marinette, look out!” Nino yelped.
Her foot hit something and Marinette stumbled. She tried to catch herself but found nothing under her groping hands. She could feel herself falling forward and tensed in preparation of the impact with the floor – but it never came. Instead, she fell against something instead. Arms wrapped around her waist and the person she’d fallen into staggered back, but kept her standing.
“Holy shit, Adrien, nice catch!” Alya said.
Adrien? She’d fallen into Adrien?! Marinette’s face burned.
“Oh my goodness, Marinette, you should be careful! You ran right into my bookbag. I hope you didn’t break anything in there,” Lila said.
Marinette stiffened. “I checked to see if the floor in front of me was clear and it was.”
“Obviously it wasn’t,” Lila said.
“Did you put your bag there deliberately?” Marinette demanded. “You know I can’t see!”
“Marinette, come on. It was an accident,” Alya said over the sound of Lila’s offended gasp. “Lila wouldn’t do that.”
“Yes, she would,” Adrien said under his breath. He probably didn’t mean for Marinette to hear it, but she did anyway and it helped, a little, knowing that someone else could see through Lila’s bullshit.
“I can’t help it if I put my bag down and then you tripped over it. Like I said, you need to be more careful,” Lila said.
“Or maybe you could take into consideration that Marinette can’t see, and look around before you put things on the floor,” Adrien said sharply.
“You’re blaming me for an accident?” Lila said, and Marinette didn’t have to see her to know that Lila was dramatically tearing up.
“Of course not,” Alya said quickly.
“Come on, Marinette. One more step and you step down,” Adrien said in her ear.
Shakily, Marinette obeyed. Adrien slid an arm around her waist once they were both on level ground, which should have been embarrassing but somehow wasn’t. It was just a relief to not only know that he was there, but also know that he was wise to all of Lila’s tricks. Whereas Alya wouldn’t think to be on guard for Lila, Adrien would be. She leaned into him.
“Marinette, Lila is sorry,” Alya said from behind them.
“Sure she is,” Marinette said, unable to keep the bitterness from her voice. “Adrien, could we go outside?”
“Absolutely,” Adrien said. He kept his arm around her waist as they moved, neatly funneling her through the door and out into the hallway. His grip was tight and reassuring as they walked through the crowd of students.
“Thanks,” Marinette said as they stepped through the doors outside. The sun felt warm on her face and shoulders.
“It’s nothing. Lila totally did that on purpose,” Adrien said. “I’m just glad you didn’t fall and hurt yourself.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Marinette said with a small smile. She didn’t know what it was, but she felt much safer with Adrien leading her than she had with Alya. Maybe it was just the fact that she was pressed so much closer to him, and that meant she could feel the way his body moved and respond accordingly without needing to worry about whether he was going to miss something.
And maybe it was a good thing she couldn’t see. It was a little easier not to make such a complete fool of herself when she couldn’t see Adrien’s beautiful eyes and kind smile. She still blushed to think about how close they were physically right now, and she knew she’d never forget how warm his body felt, but not having to look at him was helping.
“Steps,” he said in her ear. “Careful.”
They made it down the steps without Marinette tripping, which was magical in and of itself. Adrien lead her over to one of the outdoor picnic tables. Marinette sat sideways so that she wouldn’t have to fumble around trying to get both legs under the table. Adrien sat beside her and put their bags on the table.
“You don’t need to go home for lunch?” she asked.
“Not today. I was going to buy lunch, but I don’t feel like going back inside,” Adrien said.
“My mom packed me lunch. We can share.” Marinette felt around for the zipper to her bag. She slowly slid it open and felt around again until she located her lunchbox. “I have no idea what she gave me.”
“I’ll be your eyes,” Adrien said.
Marinette paused at that, her smile fading. Something about the way Adrien said that exact phrase –
“You could almost say I’ve got claw-some eyesight,” he continued, and then he giggled.
- was way too familiar.
Shit. Holy shit.
That was Chat’s laugh.
“Marinette, are you okay?” Adrien asked. His warm, concerned tone brought another face to mind. That was exactly the way Chat had sounded last night when he’d been asking her how she would get home.
“I’m fine,” Marinette said faintly, staring downwards. She’d just figured out that Adrien Agreste might regularly wear a black leather catsuit and jump around Paris, but yeah. You know. No biggie. She was cool.
“Okay. You just went kind of pale.” His hand touched hers as he opened up her lunchbox. Marinette swallowed down the urge to laugh hysterically. Now she knew why she felt safer around Adrien than she had around anyone else. He was Chat. Her brain might not have known that, but apparently her subconscious had.
She stayed quiet while he unpacked their lunch. He sounded overjoyed as he discovered four quiche, a container of red grapes, two croissants, and five cookies. It was a mountain of food, but Marinette suspected her maman had probably packed it with the intention of her and Alya sharing. Instead, she was going to be sharing with her partner. Who was Adrien Agreste.
“What do you want first?” he asked, and she realized she had to respond.
“Uh – I’ll take a quiche,” she said. She knew Chat loved croissants. “You can have the croissants.”
“Thanks!” He was smiling, she could tell, as he took her hand and placed a quiche into it.
“You’re welcome,” Marinette said numbly. For lack of anything better to do, she put the quiche to her lips and took a small bite. It tasted good, as always, but suddenly Marinette wasn’t all that hungry.
She could be wrong. It could be a coincidence. But Marinette didn’t think so. It made sense. It frankly made so much sense that she couldn’t believe she hadn’t seen it before. They might not have looked identical, but there was no denying that Chat Noir and Adrien Agreste sounded identical. She just hadn’t noticed because she had never really been forced to listen to their voices before.
Her heart started to pound as more puzzle pieces slotted into place. This explained why Chat hadn’t been there when Gorizilla attacked. Or around Style Queen – Adrien had been Style Queen’s first victim. No wonder Chat had been so puzzled when Ladybug accused him of losing his miraculous. He hadn’t lost it all! It figured that Plagg would’ve come up with such an unflattering lie to cover for his chosen. That was just like Plagg.
Back when she’d first met Adrien, she would’ve insisted that there was no way Adrien could’ve been that pun-loving dork. But that was before she’d seen glimpses of the real, socially awkward Adrien during those rare moments when Adrien would forget himself and drop his mask. An Adrien who was always tired. An Adrien who frequently slipped away from his bodyguard. An Adrien who was always missing from class when Marinette was. An Adrien who never hesitated to speak of Ladybug in glowing terms, but who always seemed to think somewhat poorly of Chat.
“Marinette? You’re not eating,” Adrien said, breaking her out of her thoughts.
“I’m okay,” she said shrilly, forcing herself to take another bite of her quiche. She chewed and swallowed.
“Your hand is shaking,” Adrien observed. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Irritated, Marinette snapped, “I’m fine, Chat! Seriously, stop asking!”
More than anything, she wished she could see what Adrien’s face looked like right now. Was he freaking out because she was right? Was he staring at her like she was a freak because she was wrong? She’d messed up big time either way. She had no idea what to do or say, but as the silence dragged on she realized that she needed to say something.
“I-I mean! I heard a chat!” she exclaimed. “Over there!” She jabbed her finger out randomly and could’ve died on the spot when she felt her hand hit something suspiciously familiar.
“Ouch!” Adrien yelped.
“Oh my god! I hit you again!” she said, mortified and clasping her hands to her chest. She was a menace!
“It’s okay, you barely – wait. Again?!” Adrien said.
“I… I… that’s… I…” Marinette sputtered. She couldn’t breathe. She’d figured out who Chat was and now he knew who she was and oh god, she’d fucked up so bad.
“My… My Lady?” Adrien whispered, like he hardly dared to believe it.
“Oh shit, I’m so sorry,” Marinette burst out. The kind, wise thing to do would’ve been to calmly accept her fate and have a conversation with Adrien. But Marinette was way beyond kind, wise or calm right now. She jumped to her feet and ran.
“Marinette, wait!” Adrien yelled.
Nope. No waiting. Marinette ran blindly towards where she thought the gate was. She’d never realized before how difficult it was to move quickly when you couldn’t see where you were going and there was no friendly kitty to guide your way. She held her hands out in front of her and went as fast as she dared, dreading the moment when Adrien’s hand might fall on her shoulder and force her to stop and face the truth –
And then she tripped. Again. Marinette squealed as she fell forward. There was no Adrien to catch her this time; she hit the ground hard on her hands and knees. Bright, hot pain shot up her right knee and into her thigh and hip. Her palms and both knees immediately began to sting. She knelt there for a long moment, shocked by the unexpected impact, and then hot tears rushed to her eyes.
It was all too much. Her realization about how she felt about Chat, the terrible night’s sleep, Lila tripping her, Alya taking Lila’s side again, Adrien’s kindness, finding out who Chat was, the pain from her fall – Marinette was crying before she could stop herself. She didn’t have the strength to pick herself up off the ground this time. All she could do was sit there and sob.
“Marinette, are you okay?!” Alya called out. But before Alya could get to her – and honestly, Marinette didn’t even know if she wanted to talk to Alya right now – familiar hands fell on Marinette’s shoulders.
“Oh, Bugaboo,” Adrien said softly. “It’s okay.”
Marinette shook her head weakly, choking on tears.
“Yes, it is. Come here. Can I pick you up?” He waited for her reluctant nod before he gently but carefully scooped her up bridal-style, mindful of her knee.
“Marinette!” Alya said again, sounding much closer this time.
“Marinette, what happened?” Nino asked at the same time.
“I think she was trying to go home,” Adrien said. “Do you want me to take you home, Marinette?”
She didn’t really want to go home, but it would be better than being here. So she nodded and whispered, “Yes, please.”
“Do you want me to come with you?” Alya asked worriedly.
“No, it’s fine,” Marinette said softly.
“Right.” Alya didn’t sound very convinced. “You sure?”
“Yes,” Marinette said.
“Okay… I’ll come visit you after school,” Alya said.
Marinette nodded again and – carefully so as not to punch poor Adrien for a third time in less than twenty-four hours – and wrapped an arm around Adrien’s neck. She laid her head against his chest, tears still rolling down her cheeks. She heard Adrien ask Nino to grab their bags and put them in Adrien’s locker, and then they were moving. He carried her out of the schoolyard.
She thought they were heading in the direction of the bakery, and was about ready to tell Adrien that she could walk inside when Adrien suddenly shifted and moved to the right instead of forward. Marinette’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion as she traced their path in her mind. Suddenly, she realized that Adrien had ducked into the same alley where she’d de-transformed last night.
“Plagg, claws out!” he said.
A tingling sensation rolled over Marinette, and she felt the fabric beneath her fingers change from cotton to leather. “Chat? What are you doing?” she asked, surprised.
“I didn’t think you’d wanna go home… and we need to talk,” Chat said quietly. “Is that okay?”
“Yeah,” Marinette said, tighting her grip on him. “I’m sorry I tried to run away.”
Chat snorted. “Don’t apologize, Princess. I never expected… I mean… god, I could do some running myself.” He bent his legs and jumped straight up, landing on the rooftop above them. They traveled a couple of blocks away from the school before he stopped and set her down.
She winced as she straightened her leg, wishing she could see the damage she’d done. She was pretty sure she’d bruised her knee. It was probably going to swell. And from the feel of it, she’d scraped both her knees and her palms. She gingerly wiped her the remaining grit from her knees. Chat shuffled in front of her, then took her right hand and turned her palm up.
“You did quite a number on yourself,” he said. “Does it hurt?”
“My knee does a little,” Marinette said. “It’s not that bad. It would’ve been worse if you hadn’t saved me from falling the first time.”
“It’s about the only thing I’ve done right today,” Chat said wryly.
He was blaming himself, she realized. That wasn’t right. She shook her head. “Chat, I… I really want to talk, but I don’t want to do it now.”
“No. I want to be able to see you,” Marinette said. It was too hard to talk when she couldn’t see him. She’d never realized before today how much of their relationship was based off of eye contact, facial expression and body language. She and Chat could have a whole conversation just by looking at each other. Being deprived of that now left her feeling bereft, especially since Chat could still see her. He had a huge advantage, and they were meant to be equals.
“That’s fair,” Chat said. “I think it’s past time we found this akuma and kicked its ass.”
Marinette smiled a little and wiped her face with the back of her hands. “Agreed. Tikki, are you there?”
“I’m here,” Tikki said. “And ready!”
“Good. Tikki, spots on!”
Being Ladybug, even if she still couldn’t see, immediately made her feel better about the situation. She put her hands out and Chat took them, carefully pulling her to her feet. Her right knee buckled slightly when she put her weight on it, but injuries always hurt less when they were transformed. She stepped away from her, flexing her leg, and decided that it would hold.
“Okay, we need to find this akuma,” she said briskly, clapping her hands.
Chat was quiet for a moment before he said, sounding breathless, “Hawkmoth might send it after us if we’re seen around the city.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Ladybug asked.
“Nothing. I’ve just… never seen you transform before.”
Inexplicably, she blushed. “It’s not fair. I can’t see you transform.”
“As soon as we get this akuma, you can see me transform as many times as you want,” Chat promised. Then he paused. “Uh, make that as many times as Plagg will let you.”
Ladybug smiled. “I’m sure I can sweet-talk him into that,” she said. “Chat… will you be my eyes?”
“For as long as you need me,” Chat said softly. He caught her hand and pulled her closer, wrapping an arm around her waist. “Ready?”
“Let’s go,” Ladybug said.
It only took a handful of minutes before the akuma charged them; Chat told her that it had the purple mask on its face that meant Hawkmoth was affecting it, which Ladybug guessed meant that Hawkmoth had forced it out of hiding out of a desire to get their miraculous. Fighting an akuma when you couldn’t see was really hard. No matter how frustrating it was, or how much she hated feeling like she was useless, Ladybug was basically forced to hang back and let Chat do his thing.
Fortunately, Chat was much more motivated than usual. He returned to her side just long enough to get her Lucky Charm, which – according to Chat – turned out to be a pair of eyeglasses. Ladybug listened as he called for his Cataclysm and then there was a lot of alarmed squealing on the akuma’s part and crashing sounds. When Chat came back again, he was breathing heavily.
“Got it!” he said triumphantly. “It kept trying to pull the same tricks as last time… You ready?”
“I think so,” Ladybug said, turning blindly in the direction she thought he was. She heard something break, and then Chat slid his fingers over hers. Ladybug opened her yoyo and allowed him to help her capture the akuma.
“Good shot!” Chat whispered in her ear.
“Thanks.” Ladybug turned her yoyo over and freed the akuma, then took her Lucky Charm back from Chat. “Let’s hope this works. Miraculous Ladybug!”
The hair on the back of her neck rose, a sure sign that the cure had swept over her, and then she was overcome by the desire to blink. When she re-opened her eyes, Ladybug nearly staggered. The world was back to normal. She could see everything perfectly: the sky, the rooftop, the dazed akuma victim, and Chat’s face approximately two inches away from hers.
Ladybug stared at him, drinking in the sight of his beautiful green eyes, the arch of his nose, the curve of and stubble on his jaw, the angularity of his cheekbones, even the shade and style of his blond hair. How had she never seen it before? Take away the mask and put some gel into his hair and that was unquestionably Adrien’s smile, the one he only rarely wore on occasions when he forgot himself.
She hadn’t known. She hadn’t even guessed. Ladybug felt a little stupid at that moment, not to mention regretful. She and Adrien were friends, but they weren’t super close. That was more her fault than Adrien’s. Her and her dumb crush. If she’d known that Adrien was Chat from day one, she never would have been as nervous around him as she was. Chat was easy to talk to.
And, she supposed, that meant Adrien was easy to talk to too.
“Ladybug?” Chat said, looking really worried. “Did it work? Can you see?” He waved his hand in front of her face.
“Yeah, I can see,” she said, pushing his hand away. “Give me a sec.” She walked over to Hawkmoth’s latest victim, a young man in his early twenties who blinked up at her blearily.
“Ladybug?” he asked, eyebrows furrowed.
“Are you okay?” Ladybug asked gently.
“Uh… I think so. I don’t even remember what happened,” the guy said. He had an accent, and she thought he probably wasn’t from Paris. Another tourist, then, caught up in Hawkmoth’s personal brand of crazy. Ladybug sighed and helped the guy to his feet.
“Do you want some help getting down to the street?” she asked.
The guy shuffled away from her and shook his head. He shot an odd look in Chat’s direction as he went towards the door leading down from the roof. At one point, Ladybug might’ve chased him to make sure he was okay. But she’d learned that some akuma victims were like that: some wanted comfort and reassurance for what they’d done and others just seemed to want to forget what had happened. This guy was, if she had to guess, the latter.
“Are you okay?” Chat asked as the door swung closed behind the guy.
Ladybug clasped her hands in front of her and turned to look at Chat again. “I’m feeling stupid,” she admitted. “It took me getting blinded by an akuma to see what was right in front of me all along.”
“You did better than me,” Chat pointed out immediately. “I didn’t figure it out at all. You practically had to tell me.”
“Well, considering that we weren’t supposed to know, that’s not a bad thing,” Ladybug said. Her earrings beeped and she startled, realizing that she hadn’t been keeping track of how many beeps that had been. It wasn’t like it really mattered now since no one else was around, but getting home would be easier for Ladybug than it would be for Marinette.
“You’ve got two spots left,” said Chat, glancing down at his ring. He had three pads.
She looked around and realized that they’d gone in a circle, and that they were only a few blocks from bakery. Shyly, she asked, “You wanna come home with me? We can talk in my room. I’m sure Maman and Papa will have some pastries they can spare, and we’ve got lots of cheese for Plagg.”
Chat nodded. “I would love that.”
“Great,” Ladybug said with a small smile, feeling relieved. And then felt silly for being relieved. Of course Chat was going to say yes! Why wouldn’t he? Adrien or not, he was still her partner.
She jumped off the roof and Chat followed. They landed in the same alley as before just in time for Ladybug’s transformation to come undone. Marinette caught Tikki and winced as her leg promptly buckled under her. Now that she could see, she saw that her palms and knees were scraped and that her right knee was bruised and swelling. It felt as bad as it looked.
“Marinette?” As his transformation ended, Adrien stepped over to her and gently gripped her arm. “That looks like it hurts. Can I carry you?”
“Uh, sure,” Marinette said. She couldn’t help blushing as Adrien wrapped an arm around her, then bent and scooped her up. It brought their faces very close together, and left her in the perfect position to see the small bruise that had formed on his cheek. She touched it, ashamed.
“It doesn’t hurt,” Adrien said, clearly aware of what she was thinking.
Marinette just shook her head. “I’m so clumsy. You should save yourself while you can.”
“No way,” Adrien said. “I’ve been waiting for months to find out who is behind that mask. Now that I know it’s you, you’re never going to get rid of me.” He blushed as he spoke, but still looked at her firmly.
“I’m sorry I made you wait so long,” Marinette said quietly, carefully putting an arm around his neck.
Adrien shrugged. “You were just trying to protect everyone. And besides, you were worth waiting for.”
She blushed harder, and for that matter so did Adrien, but it didn’t stop her from smiling at him. “Let’s go have that talk,” she said. She had the feeling that it was going to go very well, and that everyone in their class tomorrow morning, especially Lila and Alya, were in for a big surprise.