"I just don't know what to do, Tikki."
"It's not a decision you need to make right now. Maybe just give it some time..."
"It's been over a year and a half. God, almost two years. I met Chat only two months after I became the slayer. Isn't that long enough?" Marinette's query was met with silence. When she rolled over to look at her kwami, all Tikki could do was shrug helplessly. Marinette groaned, collapsed back onto her bed and pulled a pillow over her face so she could scream without alarming her parents. Things were bad enough between them and her that she didn't need that on top of everything else.
"Everything will be okay, Marinette," Tikki said finally.
"Will it? Will it?" Marinette sat up, slamming the pillow into her lap. "I’ve gone from being a straight A student to barely pulling Cs. My parents are so mad at me that they've taken away my laptop, and I can't even explain to them why I keep showing up with mysterious bruises, or why my schoolwork has taken a dive, or why I never have time to help in the bakery anymore.” She leaned forward aggressively.
“Plus, Master Fu is telling me that I need to start training even more because stronger enemies are coming our way. But at the same time, he keeps harping about me and Chat; he wants to take away the one good thing about my life right now. And on top of all that, I had to stake my history teacher last night! So please tell me what about all that is okay?!"
Tikki just stared at her and blinked.
"That's what I thought. I hate this so much." Marinette put her hands over her face, trying to remember how to breathe. When Master Fu had first approached her almost twenty-three months ago, on the day after her sixteenth birthday, she'd thought that being the slayer would be cool. The only girl in all the world chosen to kick ass and take names? Hell yeah!
But he'd neglected to tell her how much other relationships would suffer. He hadn't told her how hard this would all be. Probably because, to Master Fu, none of that mattered. Marinette was the slayer and he was her watcher, which meant that it was his duty to make sure that she did her duty. The problem was, as a watcher Master Fu got to take a backseat to everything. He didn't have to do anything beyond some research and making sure she was outfitted with weapons. It was Marinette who bore the full responsibility for everything.
That was proving to be a lot of weight for a seventeen-year-old.
Thank god for her friends, that was all Marinette could say. Alya, Nino and, to some extent, Chloé were literal saviors as far as she was concerned. They'd helped to keep her from feeling like she was losing her mind. But even they could only do so much. Alya was just starting to dabble in magic, but she couldn't even lift a pencil yet. Nino was more interested in the research side of things, but it turned out that knowing how to do research, particularly the kind of research Marinette's job required, was very much a learned skill. And Chloé... well, she was Chloé, always armed with a snarky comment.
Then there was Chat. Some of the doubt eased as Marinette thought about her boyfriend. Chat had saved her life countless times now. She could still remember the first time she'd seen him in action, fearlessly leaping into the middle of three-against-one vampire fight. Marinette had been outnumbered and losing before Chat showed up. She'd gotten the shock of her life when she turned around to see a handsome blond man fearlessly kicking vampire ass, moving with such dexterity and agility that it had taken her breath away.
She'd been stunned to find out he was a vampire too. But a good vampire. Or at least, that was what Chat and his kwami Plagg said. Master Fu was the one who claimed otherwise, telling Marinette repeatedly that vampires were always a danger and that it didn't matter whether she thought she could trust Chat. He believed Chat would absolutely turn on her someday, and that she was making a huge mistake. His disapproval was yet another heavy weight for Marinette to bear, and that wasn't even counting his reaction to finding out she and Chat were dating. Master Fu had made it clear how very disappointed he was in her.
But she didn't really understand why, and perhaps that was part of what drove her back into Chat's arms time and again. Master Fu told her Chat couldn't be trusted, but he never said why. He never explained why Chat wasn't a mindless, snarling beast like other vampires. He never explained why Chat could kiss Marinette's lips and then lavish kisses down her throat but never once nip at her veins no matter how hungry he might have been. He never explained why Chat would risk his life for the slayer over and over again, without asking for anything in return but her affection.
"I just can't believe that Chat is a bad person," Marinette whispered, wrapping both arms around the pillow and hugging it to her chest. She wished it was Chat. Running her hands through his hair was always comforting.
Tikki sighed. "Master Fu has his heart in the right place," she said carefully. "But he... he can't always see the full picture."
"What does that mean?" Marinette asked, looking up at her. How could she forget about Tikki? She was more than grateful for her kwami. It had been really weird at first having a tiny red demon basically following her around, but Tikki had rapidly become her confident. Marinette couldn't imagine only having Master Fu to deal with. Tikki was so much kinder and friendlier.
"I know Plagg. He wouldn't be with someone who wasn't fundamentally good at their core," said Tikki. "We know Chat pretty well by now, and I would agree with Plagg's judgment in this case."
"Why doesn't Master Fu feel that way?"
"I'm not sure Master Fu is aware that Plagg is with Chat. I know because Plagg... he used to be my partner. We mentored slayers together."
Marinette sat up straight. "You never told me that!"
"It's painful for me to talk about," Tikki said softly. "Plagg and I were meant to be together. We're two halves of a whole. But towards the end, he became very disillusioned. It's hard to bond with slayers and then watch them die, sometimes for no reason. Sometimes because they just can’t handle it anymore. Sometimes because they just made a mistake.” She sighed. “Plagg couldn't handle it anymore. He left."
Marinette had known, of course, that the other slayers before her had died, because otherwise she wouldn't be a slayer now. But knowing it and seeing the anguish in Tikki's eyes were two very different things. She was chilled to her core, and unconsciously clutched the pillow tighter as she stared at her kwami in silence.
"He asked me to leave with him, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. The slayers... you're all so young. And if my fortune can extend your lives by even a little bit, I want to be able to do that," Tikki said. "Sometimes, though... I missed Plagg so very much. I've longed to see him again over the years. So to see him again with Chat Noir, and be able to spend time with him, well... perhaps I'm biased, Marinette. I don't want to sway your heart one way or the other."
"Tikki..." Marinette whispered.
Tikki looked at her with a small smile. "I understand where Master Fu is coming from, probably better than you do. In other circumstance, he would be right to be concerned about your involvement with Chat. Everything would probably end in heartbreak at best. But because of what I know, I'm not worried. If you love Chat, you should be with him."
"I... I don't know what I feel," Marinette admitted. "Can you tell me why Master Fu is so worried?"
No sooner had Tikki opened her mouth than Marinette's phone chirped with a familiar sound. She dropped the pillow and made a literal dive for her phone. A warm, tingly sensation rushed through her when she saw that the text was from Chat. He knew she wasn't going to be patrolling tonight, but he wanted to know whether she was interested in going for a walk. Marinette didn't hesitate. She typed back an affirmation and told her partner to meet her at the Eiffel Towel in twenty minutes.
When she glanced up, Tikki was beaming at her. "I guess that answers how you feel," she said slyly. Marinette blushed.
"I can't just leave him hanging," she said defensively, quickly standing up. She grabbed the clothing she always wore when on patrol: sleek black leggings and a fitted, dark red top that was dotted with black spots. It had earned her the nickname of Ladybug, and, to the demonic underworld, that was the only title she was known by. Not even Chat knew her real name, though she was thinking of telling him. After almost two years, she trusted him to know who she was.
She dressed quickly, dreaming of the day when she and Chat would be able to go on a date and Marinette could wear a pretty red dress instead of her slayer clothing. For now, her finishing touch was black, steel-toe combat boots and a black jacket that fit her frame like a glove. She tied her hair back in a braided bun, securing it with the sharp wooden hairpins Chat had given her for her seventeenth birthday, then grabbed her bag of weapons and climbed back up the ladder. The easiest way out of her bedroom was to go out through the window and onto her balcony, then shimmy down the drainage pipe that ran down the length of the building. And that's just what Marinette did.
"You're getting much faster," Tikki said, flying down to join her.
Marinette grinned. "I should hope so. Let's go, Tikki!"
Running through Paris at night had quickly grown to be one of Marinette's favorite things to do. There was just something magical about the city when the moon was out. Yellow streetlights guided her way towards the Tower. She set a light jog; it was well after midnight, so there weren't many people around to impede her progress. She made it to her destination in less than fifteen minutes and quickly spotted the dark-clothed figure waiting for her on a bench. Like her, Chat was wearing his patrol clothing: tight-fitting black jeans, a long-sleeved black shirt, and a black leather jacket.
She stealthily snuck up behind him and covered his eyes. "Good evening, mon minou," she breathed in his ear.
"Good morning, My Lady," Chat replied.
Marinette grinned. "Has it been good?"
"Any time I get to spend with you is good," Chat said, and her heart thumped extra hard at the gentle affection in his voice. She let him pull her hands away. He looked up at her, green eyes twinkling.
"You're such a flirt," Marinette said, bending down to kiss him. She loved the feel of his lips. He always tasted like mint; she suspected he took care to brush his teeth before he saw her, just in case. His mouth parted for her tongue and he sighed against her.
"The morning just got upgraded to excellent," he murmured against her lips.
She laughed, straightening up and wiping her chin. An upside-down kiss wasn't very sexy, no matter how romantic Spider-Man and Mary Jane made it seem. "You think that was excellent?" she asked coyly. "I bet I can make it amazing."
"Color me intrigued," Chat said, turning around and looking at her like she was the only thing in the world. It made her feel special, and for once it had nothing to do with being a slayer. Because Chat had met other slayers before. He and Plagg talked about them sometimes. She'd asked him once if he'd ever dated any of them, and she believed him when he said he hadn't. No, Chat liked her for her and he was never shy about saying as much to her face.
"Let's walk," Marinette said, holding a hand out to him. The eagerness with which he leapt up and took her hand made her inwardly melt. How could Master Fu see anything wrong with this beautiful, lonely boy? In the time since she'd met Chat, Marinette had come to realize that he just wanted to be loved. That was literally all that Chat wanted. He enjoyed the casual scraps of affection that Chloé, Nino and Alya tossed in his direction, but he lived for Marinette. For her touches, her kisses, her hugs. And the more he blossomed from her affection, the more she wanted to give to him.
Master Fu was wrong. That was all there was to it. Chat meant too much to her for her to even think about giving him up now, no matter what happened.
She and Chat walked in silence for a while, just holding hands. Marinette liked the way that the occasional passerby smiled at them. When the sun had gone down, and they didn't have to worry about the sunlight touching Chat, sometimes they could be a normal couple for a few stolen, cherished moments. Not a vampire and a slayer, but just a boy and a girl. Tonight, she wanted that more than anything.
"Why are we heading back to my place?" Chat asked at last.
"No reason," Marinette said innocently. Chat's place was actually an old warehouse that was on the brink of being condemned. But it had a roof and a bed, and, because things like food and water weren't that important to him, it was perfect for Chat. Sometimes she daydreamed about the two of them sharing an apartment. With black-out curtains, it could work. She could easily flip her hours around to sleep during the day and design at night, when Chat would be awake to keep her company.
Chat looked at her oddly, narrowing his eyes. "You're up to something, Bugaboo."
"Stop being nosey, Chaton."
"I am but a kitty, slave to my nature."
"You're not a slave to anything," Marinette said, freeing her hand to tap his nose playfully. Then she ran ahead. Chat immediately ran after her. He was fast, with his long legs, but Marinette was small and nimble. She giggled frantically as she ran, and heard his laughter behind her.
He caught up to her just as she got to the warehouse, and their laughter was smothered as their lips came together. Chat fumbled the door open and they stumbled inside, exchanging feverish kisses. It was dark until he flicked on a battery-operated lamp. In the dim light, she could just make out his eyes and smile. He was so sexy that it made her knees weak, but she'd never shied away from the intensity of what was between them and she didn't intend to start now. She closed the distance between them, rubbing their noses together.
"Marinette," she whispered.
Chat froze. "What?"
"My name. It's Marinette Dupain-Cheng. My parents are Tom and Sabine Dupain-Cheng. They own a bakery." She toyed with the strands of hair at the base of his neck and felt him shiver. His eyes were wide. "They make the best macarons in Paris, though of course I could be biased."
"Why are you telling me this?" Chat asked.
"Because I trust you," Marinette said simply. He could've figured it out easily, she knew. Chloé, who had met Chat not long after Marinette had after Chat saved her life one night, had never been shy when it came to sharing details with Chat. All Chat would've had to do was look up the list of students who attended the local lycée along with Chloé and matched Ladybug's picture to her name. But he hadn't.
For a moment he just stared at her. Better than anyone, he knew how strongly she valued her privacy. Marinette had made it clear from day one that she would do whatever she could to protect her parents from her slayer activities, and that included making sure that no demon, witch or monster ever learned her real name.
"Marinette," Chat said slowly, rolling each syllable, and it was her turn to shiver.
"Chat," she said, suddenly desperate, and leaned in to kiss him again.
"Adrien," he said between kisses. "My name... it's Adrien."
"Adrien," Marinette repeated. It suited him. Chat the vampire, Adrien the boy. Both of them hers. She stepped back and, in one smooth, practiced movement, pulled off both her jacket and top and dropped both pieces of clothing on the floor. The part of her that wasn't preoccupied with Chat's gold-fish expression noticed, in her peripheral vision, Tikki and Plagg making themselves scarce.
"Lady - Marinette?" Chat said.
"I want you," Marinette said. Standing there in her pink, lacy bra, she was a little self-conscious. But that didn't stop her.
Chat - no, Adrien. Adrien visibly swallowed. "Are you sure?"
"I've never been more sure of anything in my life," she said. To hell with Master Fu. He got to dictate pretty much everything else in her life. He didn't have the right to control who she loved. She met his gaze. "If you want me."
"I want you," Adrien said immediately, reaching out to touch her. His fingers hovered over her skin for a moment before making contact. "But I..."
"I love you," she whispered, cutting him off.
Adrien exhaled shakily. "I love you too." He slowly slid his finger beneath her bra strap before, glancing at her face, he slid it down.
At some point, they made it to the bed and tumbled onto the mattress. Fully naked, Marinette climbed atop her partner and gazed down at him. She knew that they didn't need protection - Adrien was dead; he couldn't make her pregnant or give her an S.T.I. - and she was more than wet enough to take him. It ached a little, the same sort of burn that came when she hadn't exercised a muscle for a long time, but that faded when Adrien's fingers reached between her legs. Marinette gasped, digging her nails into his chest, and he smirked up at her as his talented fingers moved in tiny circles. He knew exactly how to drive her crazy.
Once they'd both come, and she was lying beside him, she swatted at his chest. "You're evil," she gasped out.
He laughed and licked his fingers. "Guilty as charged, My Lady."
Marinette opened her mouth, then paused. "Your ring changed," she said, startled, and grabbed his hand so that she could get a better look. Sure enough, the silver ring that he wore on the ring finger of his right hand was now black. There was a green pawprint with five pads on the surface. Marinette touched it, but the paw print was smooth beneath her fingers.
"Ah, yeah," Adrien said quietly. "That's Plagg. The ring connects us."
"Connects you?" Marinette repeated, baffled. "Why?"
He sighed. "Marinette... have you ever wondered why I'm not like usual vampires?"
"Why didn't you ask?"
She shrugged. "It's your business."
He kissed her. "Thank you, but I think you should know. My mother and father died in a vampire attack."
Marinette sucked in a sharp breath. "Oh, Adrien..."
"It was a very long time ago. That's how I became a vampire too. And at first, I was like any vampire. I wanted blood and I didn't care who I killed to get it." Adrien's face twisted with grief. "Women, men, even children. I just didn't care. Then one day, I killed the daughter of a gypsy. She swore vengeance and eventually tracked me down. I laughed when she confronted me. I thought her pain was funny. She vowed to make me feel what she felt. She and her coven cursed me... they cursed me with my soul."
"Your soul?" she echoed, furrowing her eyebrows.
"Yes. My soul... my humanity." Adrien took her hand and set it over his still chest. "I was horrified when I realized what I'd done. I was ready to kill myself when Plagg found me. He kept me going in more ways than one. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him."
"Oh my god," Marinette said softly. She couldn't even fathom what he must have gone through.
Adrien nodded. "It was a bad time," he admitted. "And that's not the worst part."
"What's the worst part?" she asked, studying his face. He looked so distraught, a stark change from how happy he'd been minutes before. She almost regretted asking about his ring, yet she sensed that this was something he'd been wanting to tell her for a while now. And whatever he wanted to share, she was willing to listen.
"The curse said that if I ever experienced a moment of true happiness, I would lose my soul and become that monster again."
Marinette contemplated that for a moment. Her eyes widened and she half-sat up. "You mean..."
"You make me happier than I ever thought I could be. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it's the truth. I'm a vampire. A monster. I never thought anyone would love me," Adrien said, biting his lip. He hesitated, looking at her face, before he went on. "But you... you look at me and it's like I'm not just a monster, like I'm something more. You gave yourself to me, knowing what I am, and I - I love you, Marinette, I love you so much..." His eyes were welling up. "I know now what she meant by true happiness."
"Oh, mon minou." Marinette reached for him, pulling his head down against her bare breast. He shuddered and nuzzled into her, leaving smears of dampness across her skin.
"By binding us together, Plagg insures that my soul can't leave. He's tethered it to Earth... to me... to this ring," Adrien explained, the words coming in stuttered bursts. "Without it, I would be a monster again. Plagg keeps me human."
"No," Marinette said, pressing a kiss to his forehead. "You're human enough on your own, Adrien. Plagg doesn't make you jump into the middle of fights. Plagg didn't make you save Chloé's life. Plagg didn't make you bring me flowers for our three month anniversary. Plagg doesn't make sure you know every place on my body that makes me wet. That's all you. You're my precious little kitty, and I love you." She kissed his wet eyelids, then his nose, and finally his mouth.
He kissed her back with growing desperation, gently pushing her back against the sheets. Marinette opened her heart, her arms and her body. This time they made love slowly, and Adrien didn't let her come until she was begging. And even then, he brought her over the edge with such care that Marinette was left completely wrung out. She collapsed back against the sheets, her chest heaving as she panted for breath, and Adrien stared into her eyes as he finished. Only then did he lean down to kiss her.
In spite of her best efforts, Marinette fell asleep not long after that. She woke what felt like mere minutes later to the sensation of Adrien dropping kisses onto the back of her neck. She smiled sleepily. "Mmm, that feels nice."
"You have to get up for school," he said, not without regret.
Marinette sighed into the pillow, wanting nothing more than to fall back asleep. That was one of the worst parts about being the slayer: living two separate lives, one by night and one by day, didn't always leave a lot of time for sleep. And she hated to waste what time she had with Adrien, before the sun came up, asleep. It was yet another reason why she dreamed of the day when she didn't have as many daytime committments, and she could become a night owl to better match the hours he could be out and about.
But for now, school. She turned her head and found his mouth; they kissed lazily for several minutes before Adrien pulled away, smiling. He crawled out of bed and left Marinette pouting after him. Reluctantly, she threw back the covers and followed.
"Do I have time to go home?" she asked, stretching unashamedly.
Adrien shook his head. "I got you breakfast, and you can wear your tights with one of my shirts."
"Fashionable," Marinette said, running her fingers through her hair. She could've used a shower, but, when she checked her phone, she saw that Adrien was right. He'd let her sleep until the last possible moment.
"Does coffee help?" he asked, holding up a cup, and Marinette beamed.
"I love you," she said sincerely, and he laughed. But it was true: what other nineteen-year-old boy would run out before dawn to get their partner breakfast?
But then, Adrien wasn't really nineteen, was he? Marinette's smile faded as she remembered what he'd told her last night. He'd spoken of his parents' death so casually. She supposed that it had happened so long ago that he'd come to terms with it by now. And the thought of him having been a murderous vampire, just like the other vampires she staked every night.. she looked up at him. He was standing in the doorway, holding a piece of cheese in his hand. Plagg was turning his nose up because it wasn't Camembert, and Adrien was telling him that was as good it was going to get today.
She smiled again and shook her head, fetching her bra and panties and tights. Adrien had laid out a green shirt for her. Marinette slid it on, fastening the buttons. It was loose on her, but not to the point where it would look odd. The hem hung down over her butt, at least. She slid her feet into her combat boots, knowing that she had flats in her locker at school. If this became a regular occurrence, she'd have to start packing some civilian clothing in her bag. Or leave some here. She thought that Adrien probably wouldn't mind if she did that.
"Where's that coffee?" Marinette said, strutting forward, and Adrien turned to look at her. She rather enjoyed the stunned, lustful look on his face when he saw her. There was nothing vampiric about him right now.
He was just Adrien. Chat. Her kitty.
"You're going to be late, Marinette," Tikki said.
"Spoilsport," Marinette said, but Tikki was right. She kissed Adrien, took the coffee and the bag he gave her, and scooted out the door before she changed her mind about pinning him to the wall.
Adrien's apartment was several blocks away from school. Marinette enjoyed the walk in the sunshine, Tikki hiding in the collar of Adrien's shirt. She drank her coffee and opened up the bag to reveal a raspberry scone, which she shared with Tikki. And while they walked, Marinette thought about her conversation with Tikki last night and then contemplated what Adrien had told her on top of that.
Finally, she said, "Hey Tikki?"
"What Adrien said about Plagg... is that what Master Fu doesn't know?"
Tikki paused, then finished her raspberry. "I told you that Master Fu doesn't know Plagg is with Adrien," she said.
"But Master Fu has been worried. Does he know that Adrien is cursed?"
"Probably," Tikki allowed. "I remember hearing stories... rumors, about a vampire that had been cursed with a soul. Until you met Chat, I never actually thought they would be true… but Master Fu may have heard differently."
Marinette lifted her eyes up to the sky. The sun was still rising, and it looked so beautiful. She stood there for a moment, sipping the rest of her coffee and thinking. Maybe Master Fu had been trying to protect her. If he believed
that a moment of true happiness would destroy Chat's soul, then he probably thought that keeping Marinette away from him would be better. She preferred to think of it that way than believe that Master Fu was being deliberately cruel, or that he just didn't care, or that he thought Chat was a terrible person just because he was a vampire.
"Do you think..." she whispered, then trailed off.
"Marinette?" Tikki prompted.
"I think I want to be Adrien forever. But that's not really possible, is it?"
Tikki paused again, longer this time, before she said, "Right now, no."
Marinette nodded and swallowed. "I should hurry up. I'm going to be late." She dropped her cup and bag in the trash and ran the last few blocks, making it just as the first bell rang. That meant she had five minutes to make it to her locker, change her shoes, grab her books, and make it to class. Easy. She made her way through the crowds to her locker, where she kicked off her boots and stored them beneath her books. She fished out her white flats and slid them on.
"Are you wearing a man's shirt?"
"Fuck!" Marinette jumped. "Alya! What the hell! What have I told you about sneaking up on me?"
"You are!" Alya exclaimed. "Wait - oh my god, you had sex!"
Alya's piercing shriek rose up over the general student chatter. Everyone quieted and turned to stare as Marinette blushed furiously, glowering at her so-called best friend. Alya gave a sheepish smile, lifting one hand to rub at the back of her head. She waved off the other students as Marinette scowled deeper and pointedly turned her back to grab her textbooks, taking a few extra seconds in the hopes of letting her face cool off. That was not information that she'd wanted spread all over the school.
"What was that?" Nino said, and when Marinette turned around again it was to find that Nino and Chloé had joined Alya. All three of them stared at her with interest.
"I am not having this conversation," Marinette said.
"That's Chat's shirt," Chloé said at the same time, eyes wide. "Holy shit, you did."
"Did you really?" Nino asked with interest.
"Yes, okay?" Marinette muttered, embarrassed. "We had sex."
Alya made a sound like a dying siren, but Chloé just eyed her and then nodded approvingly. "I didn't think you had it in you, Dupain-Cheng."
"Gee, thanks," Marinette said.
"I need details!" Alya blurted out, seizing Marinette's shoulders. "How did you do it? Where did you do it? Did he make you come?"
Marinette paused, then her pride got the better of her and she smirked. "Twice."
"And on that note, I'm out," Nino said, quickly backing off.
"Twice," Alya repeated, apparently not even noticing her boyfriend's departure. She and Chloé crowded in, backing Marinette up against the locker.
"Was Chat good?" Chloé asked.
"Are you jealous?" Marinette asked, curious.
"Uh, no. I like my men alive, thanks," said Chloé. "Maybe if Chat were human, you'd have competition. But the whole undead thing is..." She shrugged. "It's creepy."
"It's not creepy!" Marinette said.
"It's a little creepy," Alya said absently, before leaning in until their faces were inches apart. "I want all the details, you hear me? Don't leave anything out. I may even take notes for Nino. We've had sex five times and he still can't make me come. I'm so jealous."
The bell rang before Marinette could respond, which was lucky because she had absolutely no idea what she would've said in response to that. She quickly slipped out of Alya’s grasp and scuttled down the hall, but if she thought that was enough to leave Alya in the dust she had another thought coming. Alya and Chloé were both right on her heels.
She slid into the seat beside Nino before Alya could, and Nino snorted. “If you’re thinking that will deter either one of them, it’s not going to work,” he said.
“I can dream,” Marinette said, huddling against Nino’s arm. “You won’t protect me?”
“You’re a slayer,” Nino whispered, exasperated. But he wrapped an arm around her shoulders anyway, because Nino was awesome like that.
Alya and Chloé sat right behind them, which was a true testament to how curious both of them were: normally, Chloé made it a point to keep her distance during school. They really weren’t friends, exactly. It was more like Chloé was Adrien’s friend, and Adrien had so few of those that Marinette didn’t have the heart to tell Chloé to fuck off. Sabrina was left looking like someone had kicked her puppy.
The morning, and Madame Bustier’s lessons, went by far too quickly for Marinette’s tastes. She could feel Alya’s stare burning a hole in the back of her head. When the bell ran, Marinette didn’t bother to get up. She and Nino both stayed where they were as their classmates filed out. Madame Bustier gave the four of them a funny look when they didn’t follow, but, as there were no rules against students staying in the room for lunch, she didn’t try to make them leave.
“Okay,” Alya began.
“I told him who I am,” Marinette announced.
“You… what?” Nino said, looking at her in shock.
Marinette turned around to see identical expressions on Alya’s and Chloé’s faces. She frowned. “What?”
“Oh my god,” Alya said. “So you… I thought you were just having sex with the hot vampire. But you’re not, are you? You actually… wow.”
“I wouldn’t have sex with someone just because they’re hot,” Marinette said indignantly.
Chloé shrugged. “I would.” She put her chin on her hand and smirked.
Marinette rolled her eyes. “Okay, but I wouldn’t.”
“I just can’t believe you told him. You were adamant you weren’t going to tell anyone,” said Nino.
“It just… felt right. If I can’t trust Chat, who can I trust?” Marinette said quietly. “He wouldn’t use that information against me. I wanted him to know.”
They were all quiet for a moment before Nino cleared his throat and smiled at her. “I think that’s really great, Mari,” he said kindly. “I agree. Chat would never do anything to hurt you. If anyone deserves to know, he does.”
“Does anyone mind if I ask the obvious?” Chloé said.
“Would you care if we did?” Alya asked.
Chloé ignored her, of course. “You do know that this whole thing can’t go anywhere, right? You’re human. He’s a vampire. Putting aside the fact that he’ll literally die if he walks into sunlight, and that living your whole life at night sounds incredibly boring, you’re going to grow up and die someday. Chat won’t.”
Marinette said nothing for a moment. Her friends knew her too well.
“Tactful as always, Chloé,” Nino said, frowning at her.
“It had to be said,” Chloé said, unrepentant.
Alya bit her lip. “Much as I hate to admit it, she has a point.”
“Yeah, I know. Believe it or not, I do have a brain and have thought further ahead than my next orgasm,” Marinette snapped. The problem was, she wasn’t really sure how to address this with them. Historically slayers never lived very long; Tikki had told her once that, in Tikki’s experience, the slayer who had lived the longest had only made it to the age of thirty-five, and that was because that slayer had eventually cut and run. In the end, fate had tracked her down regardless.
That was appallingly young by today’s standards. It got really scary really fast if Marinette dwelled on it too long. She didn’t want to die. She was only seventeen. She wanted to grow up. She wanted to get married. She wanted to have a job. She wanted to have children. She wanted a life. The fact that she was in love with a vampire wasn’t even close to being the biggest obstacle to all of that.
But if she told her friends that now, it would only upset them. So Marinette forced a smile and softened her tone, adding, “You guys, this is a new step for both Chat and me. We’re not even officially dating. I think you’re jumping the gun a bit, here. Besides, even if we did date, whose to say Chat wouldn’t get tired of me? He’s like, lived for centuries and I’m just a dumb teenaged girl.”
“You’re not a dumb teenaged girl!” Alya said instantly. “You’re smart, fun, kind, and beautiful. Chat would be a complete dumbass if he didn’t want you!” She looked entirely ready to track Chat down and slap him around until he saw how amazing Marinette was, and this time Marinette’s grin was genuine.
“Alya, you can’t have it both ways. Either you want me to be with Chat or you don’t,” Marinette said playfully.
“I do, but I just want you to be careful,” said Alya, fierceness fading rapidly into worry.
“I, personally, don’t care,” Chloé said. “So long as you remember that Thursday nights are my nights with Chat.”
“I remember,” Marinette said patiently.
Nino hadn’t said anything. When Marinette looked at him, he was staring off into space with a concerned expression. Marinette watched him, uncertain. Out of all of them, Nino had known her the longest. They’d grown up together. Chloé had joined their class in grade four and become an instant enemy; Alya had only moved here last year, though she’d quickly become a good friend.
When Nino noticed her attention, he smiled at her. “I think it’s good for you. You deserve to have something that makes you happy.”
“Thanks,” Marinette said softly.
“And from what I hear, Chat makes you really happy,” Alya said loudly. “Where’s my details on those two times?”
“Alya, ew,” Nino complained. “Marinette’s like my sister. Stop!”
“I’ll call you tonight,” Marinette promised Alya. Then, before Alya could answer, she added, “We should go eat. Lunch is half over.”
Chloé was the first one to stand up, muttering about being seen with the cool people for the remainder of their free time. Alya followed her out the door, typing something out on her phone; she was developing a website that she was calling the Ladyblog, which documented the supernatural events happening in Paris. It was supposed to work as a sort of helpline, where people could message in about sightings of vampires and the like. There would also eventually be a forum for people who wanted to talk about their supernatural experiences, but Alya hadn’t quite gotten it off the ground yet.
Frankly, Marinette kind of hoped that she didn’t. She wasn’t sure she wanted all of that attention focused on Ladybug. Her name had already spread through the supernatural underworld, to the point where vampires, demons and all sorts of ilk were showing up to personally challenge the new slayer. More attention meant more trouble, as far as Marinette was concerned, and that had too much potential to be a bad thing.
Especially if that trouble started extending to Adrien, as it no doubt would, or her friends. Enough of her time was spent worrying about keeping not just the citizens of Paris, but her friends and family, safe as it was. She already had Hawkmoth to deal with; she really didn’t need additional problems on top of him. She just wasn’t sure Alya understood that the problems could vastly outweigh the benefits.
She turned as she got up, surprised to see that Nino was still there. “What’s up?”
“I really hope that you’ll come talk to me before you do anything drastic,” said Nino.
“Drastic? What do you mean?” Marinette asked, pulling an innocent face. It didn’t fool Nino at all.
“Drastic like trying to become a vampire,” he said.
“I wouldn’t,” Marinette said, revolted by the very idea. She’d seen what vampires were capable of. It wasn’t like she would retain her soul like Adrien. The thought of turning into a sadistic, cruel creature that lived to kill humans was not appealing in the slightest.
Now if there was a way she could keep her soul –
Nino just looked at her knowingly. “Just promise me that you’ll talk to me. Or any of us. Even Chloé. I know she’s kind of a bitch sometimes, but I do think she cares about you.”
Marinette gave him a skeptical look.
“A little bit,” Nino said, holding up his thumb and index finger so close that they were almost touching. “A really little bit.”
“I don’t think amounts that small even exist,” Marinette said dryly, but she reached out and hugged him. “Thanks Nino. I promise I won’t do anything stupid. That’s why I’ve got Tikki, remember. She keeps me from making dumb choices.”
“Well, I try,” Tikki said from where she was hidden in Marinette’s purse, and Nino grinned and hugged Marinette back.
They walked to the cafeteria together, and Marinette gracefully changed the subject to something less tense, but she was preoccupied and Nino knew it. Becoming a vampire was out of the question, but Marinette couldn’t deny that she’d wondered, once or twice, whether or not there was something out there that could extend her life so she could be with her partner properly. Or better yet, something that would make Adrien human again. That would be truly amazing.
“Could you do some research for me?” Marinette said as they reached the cafeteria doors.
“Sure. What do you need to know?” Nino asked.
Marinette didn’t look at him. “Just… you know, if there’s ever been a cure for vampirism.”
“Just look, please?” Marinette said, hugging her books.
Nino pursed his lips, but he nodded. “Okay. I’ll see what I can find.”
“Thank you,” she said. Out of all of them, Nino had taken to Master Fu’s books like he’d been waiting for them all of his life. He seemed to derive real pleasure out of scouring the old tomes until he found the answer they were looking for. Combined with Alya’s computer skills, the two of them were a force to be reckoned with.
Yet Marinette had the feeling that, between them, Nino would be more likely to find an answer. She thought it unlikely that a cure could be found on the internet, and she wasn’t wholly convinced that, if there was a cure, Master Fu would be willing to share it. Nino was sneaky enough to be able to do some research without letting on to Master Fu what he was looking for.
“Anytime,” Nino said, patting her shoulder. Then he made an alarmed sound. “Shit! They’re packing away the fries!”
Marinette shook her head as he darted away, and walked over to where the pre-made sandwiches were. After making her selection, including a package of cookies for Tikki, she made her way outside for a few minutes of fresh air. Around the back of the school there was a little spot where she could sit and be blocked from view by a tree, which meant that Tikki could join her. It made for a far more peaceful lunch than inside the cafeteria.
After school, Marinette had to head to Master Fu’s for a training session. He stood behind her, observing and criticizing her form as she punched, kicked and lashed out at unmoving targets. Sweat built quickly along her forehead, rolling down her cheeks, until finally Marinette fell back and stood there panting quietly. She grabbed the hem of her work-out shirt and pulled it up to wipe her forehead, then looked over at Master Fu hopefully. The blank expression on his face made her heart sink.
"You are progressing, Marinette, but not as fast as you need to," he said finally. "Hawkmoth is the strongest enemy you've ever faced. You can't beat him the way you are."
Hawkmoth, Hawkmoth, Hawkmoth. Marinette was so sick of hearing that name. No matter how many demons, vampires or other assorted supernatural creatures she defeated, Hawkmoth was the proverbial bogeyman that hung over everything she did as the slayer. And she understood why: supposedly he was a deeply feared vampire who had killed several slayers in the past. Tikki didn't like to talk about him for obvious reasons, and all Master Fu would ever say was that Marinette wasn't ready yet to defeat him. It was frustrating.
"What else can I do?" Marinette asked, striding over to where her backpack lay against the wall. She grabbed her bottle of water and greedily sucked down half the bottle in one go.
"You must train more," Master Fu said.
"I already train for like three hours a day! Plus I patrol at night. Master, if I spend any more time doing slayer stuff, I'm going to flunk out of school. My parents will have a meltdown and ground me. Then I won't be able to do anything at all," Marinette said expressively, waving her hands and nearly sloshing her remaining water onto the floor. She steadied the bottle just in time, glancing apprehensively at Master Fu.
He stared at her with a stony face. "You could spend less time with Chat Noir."
"I knew that was coming," Marinette muttered.
"I keep telling you that he's dangerous. You're the slayer. It is not wise to -"
"To be happy at all?" Marinette said, a little louder than she'd intended.
"That's not what I said," Master Fu replied, shaking his head. "I just don't want you to be distracted. Hawkmoth will take any opportunity he can to get at you."
Marinette didn't like what that implied. "I trust Chat."
"You shouldn't. I have seen slayers die because they trusted the wrong person. Chat Noir is a vampire, Marinette. You must never forget that. He may seem like he's on your side, but when push comes to shove, like will side with like. I don't want you growing dependent on Chat Noir's presence. You need to learn to fight on your own." He walked closer to her and bent down, picking up her favorite staff. It was bright red and patterned with black spots, both to match Tikki and symbolize her 'Ladybug' persona.
Naturally, it had been a gift from Adrien. Marinette hadn't mentioned that little fact, though she thought Master Fu had probably guessed.
"I've been fighting on my own so long, Master Fu. I'm tired of being alone," Marinette said quietly, taking the staff. She held it on the palm of her right hand. It was perfectly balanced and didn't tilt to either side. "If you want me to do this, I need allies."
And Master Fu was convinced that Marinette would be the one to take Hawkmoth down. Personally she wasn't so sure about that, especially when he was so insistent that she do everything on her own. The alternatives, on the other hand, which included either dying or becoming a vampire, didn't bear thinking about. Sometimes it felt like there was a gigantic ticking clock above her head, slowly counting down the hours and minutes until their encounter - and her death. The only time she didn't feel that way was when she was with Adrien.
"There is only one slayer," Master Fu said, which was what he always said. "And you have your friends." He frowned slightly just mentioning them. He had already made it clear that he thought she'd acted very dangerously by involving Alya, Nino and Chloé, even though it hadn't exactly been Marinette's choice. They’d stumbled onto everything accidentally.
"They can't help me fight," she said, but there was no more heat behind her words. This was a conversation they'd had several times before and she was sick of going in useless circles. The Council, and Master Fu by extension, believed the slayer should be enough to handle everything. It never seemed to occur to them that maybe they should train other people to help deal with the supernatural forces in the world. Sure not everyone could be a slayer, but a couple of 200lb, highly trained military men wouldn't be amiss right now.
"You are enough," Master Fu said with a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Now, again. Show me how you have improved with your staff work. You told me you'd practiced with your mother."
"Yeah," Marinette said with a sigh. Lying wasn't fun, but it was easier to have Master Fu believe that she practiced with her mother than be honest and admit she practiced with Adrien. And it wasn’t a total lie - at one time, she really had practiced with Sabine… but then Sabine had started to ask a few too many questions about just how Marinette was getting so good. Questions that Marinette couldn’t answer.
She gripped her staff with both hands and began. Master Fu stood behind her, again criticizing her form the whole time. It was annoying, but she told herself that he was just trying to help. His job was to keep her alive, not to be her friend. She squashed the small voice in the back of her head that pointed out that his job was to keep the slayer alive, not necessarily Marinette.
She kept at it, moving from the staff to a bow and arrow to stakes, until her body was screaming for mercy. Marinette staggered up, grimacing and wincing as every muscle protested simultaneously. In the heat of a fight, adrenaline kept her from noticing the toll she was putting on her body. During particularly hard practices like this one, she just wanted to lay down and curl up in a ball. Instead, she drained the rest of her water bottle and sat, panting quietly, while Master Fu conferred quietly with Tikki. What they were saying, she didn't care to know.
At last, Master Fu turned to her. "You've improved with the staff," he said, though from his wooden tone you'd never know he was complimenting her. "But you still have much to learn. It won't be long before Hawkmoth comes calling."
"You think he'll attack directly soon?" Marinette said.
"Based on his past history, yes." Master Fu nodded, looking troubled. "It is unusual that he's given you this much time. He has a fondness for killing slayers before they become a threat to him. That he's given you this much time to train suggests that he sees you a threat, and that means he's going to hit hard and fast when he eventually comes. I really must insist that you spend more time training."
Marinette sighed. "Sure, Master," she said dully, not even bothering to point out that they'd just had this conversation not three hours ago. Unless it was something he wanted to hear, her opinions and arguments tended to go in one ear and out the other.
Tikki flew over with another bottle of water, which Marinette accepted with a grateful smile. She leaned against the wall and drank most of the bottle, watching as Master Fu began to collect the arrows she'd been shooting at the targets. When Marinette was finished with her water, she grabbed her sweatshirt and pulled it back on. With her staff and a fresh collection of stakes and arrows, she slipped out of Master Fu's shop as quietly as she had come several hours ago. Another sigh left her when she realized that it was late enough that the sun was setting.
"Maman is gonna kill me," Marinette grumbled, slinging her backpack over her shoulder.
"You can think of something," Tikki said encouragingly, alighting on Marinette's opposite shoulder.
"I'm running out of excuses," Marinette said, slowly starting the twenty minute walk back to the bakery. Her head spun tiredly. She'd have to have dinner with her parents, help wash up, speed through her homework, and then hurry out to patrol.
"Master Fu really does care about you, Marinette," Tikki said after a couple minutes of silence. "He doesn't mean to come off the way that he does."
"Are you sure about that? Cause sometimes it feels like he sees me as nothing more than a means to an end. He doesn't see me," Marinette argued back. "I'm not Marinette Dupain-Cheng to him; I'm just a faceless slayer who isn't doing what he thinks I should."
Tikki's sigh was nearly inaudible. "I know. It's... it's hard for him, too."
"Not as hard as it is for me. I'm the one risking my neck out there every day, Tikki. I'm the one who is giving up my whole life to protect everyone for no gratitude. I'm the one who is supposed to give up the only thing that makes me happy just because he happens to be a vampire..." Marinette trailed off, thinking about Adrien. About his kind smile and twinkling eyes. About the tender way he'd touched her last night, and how gently he'd kissed her this morning. She couldn't give that up. Without Adrien, she would lose her goddamn mind.
"I know," Tikki said softly. "You do a really good job. I'm so proud of you."
Marinette smiled in spite of herself. "Thanks. That means a lot. I just wish..." She trailed off.
"What?" Tikki prompted.
"... Nothing," Marinette mumbled, lowering her gaze. If she wasn't the slayer, she never would've met Adrien. She wouldn't be nearly as close to Nino, Alya and Chloé. She wouldn't be capable of protecting her friends, her family, her city, from the forces of darkness.
And if vampires didn't exist, then Adrien would be long dead. He was hundreds of years old. Sometimes she liked to dream of a world where the two of them were both human and had been born in the same time period, where there were no vampires and no slayers. Where they could just be normal teenagers who went to school and dated and laughed and grew up together. But that was a pipe dream. It was never going to happen.
Tikki leaned forward and nuzzled Marinette's cheek. "Just hang in there. Master Fu doesn't quite understand that it's different now. The Council is used to slayers that can devote their whole lives to training and slaying."
"Yeah, and look where that life got all the previous slayers," Marinette pointed out. "Tikki, I would go crazy if I had to do that. Spending time doing stuff as a normal person is what makes me want to keep slaying. Because I have people I want to protect. I know Master Fu is worried about Hawkmoth, but... I just don't know how much more I can do. If I practice much more than I already do, I'm not going to have any energy left to fight Hawkmoth when he shows up!"
"You just have to do the best you can," Tikki said wisely.
"I'm trying," Marinette muttered. Sometimes she really thought that her best just wasn't good enough. All of the vampires, demons, and other things that she'd dealt with seemed like a drop in the bucket. They just kept coming, endless hordes of creatures bent on destroying as much of humanity as they could get their hands on. And the Council wanted one girl to stand in the way of all that. It made her knees feel a bit weak to really think about it.
She and Tikki walked the rest of the way in heavy silence. As predicted, her parents weren't very pleased that she was so late coming home from school. Marinette made up a (lame) excuse about having to work on a project with Alya, but she could tell that her maman wasn’t buying it. Sabine didn’t press for more details, but the disappointed way she looked at Marinette spoke volumes.
“We saved you some dinner,” Sabine said finally. “Your papa and I have been asked to cater an event at Le Grand Paris tonight, so we had to eat earlier.”
“Oh, okay,” Marinette said, who remembered hearing nothing about an event before now. Had her parents told her about it? At one time, she’d known everything there was to know about the bakery. She’d been right there in the thick of things, helping out when she had the time and even going along to help cater events. When was the last time she had done that?
“Have a good night. Make sure you get to bed at a reasonable time,” Sabine said, moving closer. She leaned in, then froze. “Marinette, my goodness. What happened?”
“What?” Marinette asked, startled, and nearly flinched when Sabine reached out to touch her cheek. She controlled the instinct just in time, holding perfectly still as her maman’s hand made contact. A dull ache radiated from the spot; it took her a moment to remember why. Three nights ago, a vampire had gotten in a lucky shot. The bruise had mostly faded, but sometimes Sabine had extraordinarily good vision.
“This bruise,” Sabine said, eyebrows furrowed.
“Oh, that. You know me, Maman. I tripped at school and fell into my desk,” Marinette said lightly. It did sound like something she would do, which is probably why her maman paused as though trying to determine whether or not Marinette was telling the truth.
“That must have hurt,” Sabine said finally.
“It did,” Marinette said with a rueful smile. Honestly, she’d had so much worse by now that she barely noticed bruises anymore.
“Well… I’m glad you’re okay.” Sabine didn’t move away, though. She stood there for a moment, just staring at Marinette’s face, until Marinette grew uncomfortable.
“Maman?” she said.
Sabine blinked rapidly. “What? Oh, sorry. You’re probably hungry.” She let her hand drop and stepped away, picking up her coat and purse. “Goodnight, Marinette.”
“Goodnight,” Marinette said, wrapping her arms around herself as she watched her maman leave. It felt as though there was a great gulf between them now, one that Marinette wasn’t sure how to cross. She’d never hid so many secrets from her parents.
In the beginning, she had seriously contemplated telling them the truth. Tikki had convinced her not to, pointing out that Marinette was the only slayer and they would be in serious trouble if her parents tried to forbid her from doing her duties. At the time Marinette had thought that was a little unnecessary, but had gone along with it because Tikki seemed so sure. Now, knowing what she knew about the danger she regularly put herself into, she knew that Tikki had been absolutely right. Her parents wouldn’t have allowed it.
But that made it no easier to know that she and her parents were living separate lives now. There was no doubt in Marinette’s mind that they loved her, but they didn’t understand her either. Partly it was her own fault, and partly it was the circumstances that she’d found herself in, but either way she’d grown so far apart from them that they might as well be strangers living in the same house.
She wondered, as she fetched her lonely plate of dinner from the oven, if her parents missed the ways things used to be. Did they wonder why she had pulled away from them so much? Or were they so preoccupied with the bakery and their growing business that they hadn’t really noticed? She wasn’t even sure which option she would prefer; it was better for them that they were preoccupied and didn’t ask too many questions, but their lack of attention made Marinette feel lonelier than ever.
“Are you okay?” Tikki asked, and Marinette raised her eyes to see her kwami watching her sympathetically. Thank god for Tikki. Even with Adrien and her friends, she would have been unbearably lonely without Tikki around.
“I’m okay,” Marinette said. Her dinner didn’t look very appetizing anymore. “Do you want to order pizza?”
Tikki’s eyes lit up. “Can we invite Adrien and Plagg over?”
“Sure!” Marinette grabbed her phone to text Adrien, smiling when she saw that she had dozens of messages from him. She always kept her phone on silent when she was at Master Fu’s, but that didn’t stop Adrien.
As she typed out a text to him, she reflected that at least there was one person in her life who wanted her to spend time with Adrien. Even if Tikki’s motives were primarily selfish, because she wanted to spend time with Plagg, it was still nice. She quickly sent the text and then called to order the pizza, already knowing that Adrien’s answer would be yes and that he’d be more than willing to stop and pick it up.
She ran upstairs to shower while waiting for her partner and the pizza to show up, then hauled on a pair of cotton shorts and a tank top. She’d have to change again before they went out to patrol, but right now she felt like being comfortable and lazy. She walked back downstairs, running her fingers through her wet hair, and heard the sound of familiar voices.
“No, Plagg. You’re not touching the pizza before Marinette gets down here,” Adrien was saying firmly.
“But I’m dying of hunger!” Plagg whined.
Marinette laughed. “Oh my word, Plagg, is Adrien starving you again?” she asked as she walked into the living room.
“Yes!” Plagg cried.
“No,” Adrien said, rolling his eyes. He stood up. “I hope you don’t mind. Tikki invited us in.”
“Not at all,” Marinette said, feeling a little guilty. She hadn’t even thought of that. As a vampire, Adrien had to be invited into any home that he wished to enter and he’d never been inside her house before. Good thing Tikki was on top of things, as usual.
She held her arms out and accepted his sweet kiss hello. It was a rush to see Adrien standing there amongst her family’s furniture, something she’d dreamt of but never dared to hope might actually come true, and it made her feel like they’d taken ten giant steps forward in their relationship.
It was a good feeling.
“I’m starving!” Plagg screeched as they continued to kiss.
Adrien groaned. “What do I put up with him again?” he muttered against Marinette’s lips.
She laughed again, pressing one last kiss to his cheek, and turned to smile at Plagg. “Actually, I’m pretty hungry too.”
The four of them sat at the table. Marinette got Tikki some cookies from the cupboard and then grabbed a slice of pizza, biting into it hungrily – the sandwich she’d shared with Tikki at lunchtime had been ages ago. She devoured the whole slice before realizing that Adrien hadn’t taken any food. He was just watching her eat with a small smile on his face.
“You’re not gonna eat?” she asked.
“I don’t need to,” he said, sounding surprised. “You know that.”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some,” Marinette said. She knew that Adrien could and did eat sometimes, because she and Chat had shared snacks together before during patrol. Chat had admitted once he gained no nutritional value from food, and that most of it, unless it was particularly flavorful or heavily spiced, tasted bland to him – but that he still enjoyed the act of eating human food. The pizza was no three star meal, but it was pretty good.
“You’ve only got one pizza and you’re trying to feed both yourself and Plagg,” Adrien said dryly. “Believe me, there’s not enough.”
Watching the way Plagg had already demolished three slices in comparison to Marinette’s one, she had to admit he had a point. “Okay, but you can have some if you want. There’s lots of other food here.”
Adrien shook his head. “I’m fine, really. I had some blood earlier.”
It used to creep her out a little when he’d talk about drinking blood so casually, but Marinette had learned how to roll with it. She just nodded and grabbed another piece of pizza. Adrien turned out to be right. Between her and Plagg, they ate the whole thing. She was stuffed but content as she licked her fingers free of tomato sauce, then wiped them on her napkin.
“You’re gonna be sorry later for eating so much,” Tikki said to Plagg.
“Don’t rain on my cheesy parade,” Plagg retorted.
“How much do I owe you?” Marinette asked, ignoring their kwami in favor of getting up to dispose of the cardboad box.
“Nothing,” Adrien said.
Marinette turned around. “Adrien, come on. I didn’t invite you over so you’d buy me supper. I have money. How much was it?”
“Nothing,” he repeated, and smiled. “Bugaboo, I have more money than I know what to do with. Dropping a few bucks on a pizza isn’t going to break my bank.”
The way it would break hers, Marinette mentally filled in, which wasn’t wrong. Her parents still gave her a small allowance, but she couldn’t pad it with money from working in the bakery or from selling her designs anymore. Time was too precious a commodity now for that; she couldn’t remember the last time she’d had an hour or two to sit down with her sketchbook.
Still, she frowned at him. “Where did you get the money from?”
Adrien shrugged. “Nothing underhanded, if that’s what you’re asking. I’ve made some wise investments over the years… after a while, you kind of get a feel for what kind of businesses are going to go far. And I have a ton of genuine antiques that I’ve collected over the years.” He stood up from the table. “Not all of it is attached to one identity, of course. I have some different ones set up.”
“Really?” Marinette said, shocked.
“Yeah. You never know when you’re going to have to get out of town. And besides, I can’t stay for too long in one place. After ten or fifteen years, people start to wonder why I never look any older.” He took her dishes from the table and brought them over to the sink. “Sometimes it’s just easier to show up in a place and pretend I’m someone’s son rather than starting over fresh.”
She watched him for a moment, thinking, and then said softly, “That sounds kind of lonely.”
“It is,” Adrien said, just as quiet. “Very much so. You know I don’t get along with other vampires, and it’s not like I could ever tell a human what I was. Most of them wouldn’t respond as well as you or Chloé did.”
“I’d hardly say I responded well. The first time you told me that, I punched you in the face,” Marinette said.
He chuckled. “It was a reflex, and then you apologized about fifty times.”
“I felt bad!” she said, crossing her arms.
“I know you did,” Adrien said, still laughing. His eyes were bright with mirth when he glanced at her, and Marinette was filled with a sudden, intense affection that made her breath catch.
She’d never really thought about the limitations of being a vampire before, but of course it made sense that Adrien couldn’t stay in one place all the time. It cast a troubling light on their future. Surely her parents would wonder why their son-in-law still looked like a nineteen-year-old when Marinette was old and grey. And even if she and Adrien moved around regularly, would a career in something like design be too flashy and draw too much attention to them?
“Marinette?” Adrien said. “You okay?”
“I’m fine. I was just thinking about how much I love you,” Marinette said with a smile. There was no point in sharing her concern with Adrien right now. They still had so much they needed to figure out, and there was Hawkmoth to deal with before anything else.
His eyes softened, and he looked at her with so much tenderness and love that it had to be a direct reflection of the overwhelming feelings rushing through her. Surely things would work out for them somehow. This kind of love wasn’t something that Marinette was going to give up on. The thought gave her the confidence to reach out and wrap her arms around his neck.
“Wanna see my bedroom?” she whispered.
As it turned out, he very much did.
Since becoming the slayer, happiness had been a fleeting thing in Marinette’s life for a variety of reasons. But those next couple weeks were the happiest she’d been in a very long time. She took to spending her nights at Adrien’s once they were done with patrols. Falling asleep and waking up in his arms was the perfect start and end to all her days, helping to assuage some of the other stress she was under.
And then came the day when everything fell apart.
It was a Thursday night, which meant Adrien was spending time with Chloé, and Marinette had decided not to patrol. In the beginning, she had only patrolled a few nights a week. She didn’t mind doing it more now, since vampire appearances had really ramped up and it was a convenient excuse to spend time with her partner, but she wasn’t exactly opposed to spending a night catching up on her homework and maybe even helping her parents out in the bakery.
That was where she was when she felt her phone vibrate against her hip with a new text message. Marinette quelled her immediate instinct to grab her phone and instead smiled at the customer she was serving, accepting their payment and putting the money into the register. Then she pushed the pastry box across the counter and bid the man goodnight. As soon as he turned away, another woman stepped up to the counter. She pasted another smile on her face and picked up another box and a set of tongs.
It was a good twenty minutes before there was enough of a lull for Marinette to feel safe in taking out her phone. She cast a furtive glance around at the customers before pulling her phone out to take what was supposed to be a quick peek. The whole world ground to a stop when she saw that the text was from Chloé.
C.Bourgeois: you need to come immediately chat's been hurt
That was all it said.
"Maman!" Marinette immediately ran for the backroom, her heart thundering.
"Marinette?" Both her parents looked up as she burst inside. Her papa was in the middle of piping macaron batter, and her maman was painstakingly decorating some cookies.
"I have to go. A - Alya's been in an accident," Marinette said, thankfully retaining enough of a brain past her panic to swap Alya's name in at the last second. Her parents would definitely wonder who Adrien was, and those were questions Marinette couldn't bear to answer right now. Eventually she'd have to tell them that she had a very serious boyfriend, and come up with some sort of explanation as to why Adrien was never around during the day - but that would have to wait.
"Oh dear," Tom exclaimed. "Is she okay?"
"Uh - I'm not really sure. Nino texted me. But I need to go see her right away," Marinette said.
"Of course. Go ahead. I'll look after the bakery," Sabina said, getting up. "Let us know if Alya is alright."
"I will," Marinette promised before sprinting out the door. Chloé hadn't specificed a place, which probably meant they had to be at Le Grand Paris. She probably set a record for how fast she made it there, sprinting full steam.
Alya was waiting outside for her. "Oh, thank god, finally!" she blurted out as Marinette ran up. "What took so long?"
"Bakery - working - couldn't check - where is he?!" Marinette gasped out, grabbing Alya's shoulders.
"Upstairs. Come on." Alya wriggled out of her hold, took Marinette's hand, and they hurried inside. A few people looked at them, and Marinette realized that she hadn't even stopped to take her apron off. No wonder people were staring. She looked like a madwoman with the bright pink Dupain-Cheng bakery apron, her hair a mess, gasping and sweating after her run.
They took the elevator to the top floor. Alya led her down the hall and opened the door. Marinette caught a glimpse of Nino and Chloé in the room, but her attention was immediately drawn to the still figure laying in the king-sized bed. Adrien seemed impossibly small, dwarfed by the large bed, his skin even paler than usual. Plagg was curled up on the pillow beside, silently watching over him. Marinette rushed over to the bed, her heart finding a new home in her throat. Adrien was so still that it would've been easy to believe he was dead.
"What happened?" Marinette asked shakily, clasping her hands together so tightly that it hurt. Tikki emerged from her pocket and flew down to sit beside Plagg.
"We were attacked," Chloé said bluntly. "Chat fought them off, but he was injured in the process."
Marinette looked over at her, taking Chloé in for the first time and realizing that Chloé had a black eye. There was a bandage on her right cheek and she was sitting tensely, like maybe her ribs were sore or something like that. Most tellingly of all, Nino had a hand on Chloé's arm and was patting it reassuringly. Chloé hadn't wrenched her arm away, even though normally that would've been her first reaction.
"Are you okay?" Marinette said.
"I'm fine," Chloé said, which may or may not have been the truth.
"How did you get attacked? I thought you guys were staying here," Marinette said, returning her gaze to Adrien. She dared to reach out and touch his hand, flinching inwardly at just how cold skin was. Adrien always ran cold because that's just the way vampires were, but it had never been like this before.
"I was hungry," Chloé said quietly.
"Plagg, is he okay?" Marinette asked, looking at the kwami.
"He needs blood," Plagg said.
"He can have mine," Marinette said without an ounce of hesitation.
"Marinette!" Alya exclaimed.
"No," Nino said at the same time.
Chloé stood up. "That's not necessary. Alya and I can go to Chat's place. He's got blood in his fridge, right? We'll bring some back for him."
"Good idea," Alya said instantly, nodding at Chloé. "That's good enough, right Plagg?"
Plagg hesitated before nodding. "It should be, but you'll have to move fast."
"I should go with you," Marinette said.
"No way. You stay here. Chat needs you," Alya said. "We'll be okay. No one will look twice at a couple of girls."
"Unless there are vampires looking for an easy snack," Marinette pointed out.
"I'll go with them," Tikki piped up. "They'll be okay if I'm there." She nuzzled Plagg, then flew off the bed and over to Alya and landed on Alya's shoulder.
"Be careful," Nino said, shooting his girlfriend a worried look.
"We'll be fine," Alya said confidently. "Let's go, Chloé."
Marinette watched them leave, feeling torn. Part of her knew she should go with them. Paris after dark wasn't a safe place for anyone to be, but teenagers were definitely a preferred snack for vampires. On the other hand, Alya and Chloé weren't normal teenagers and they had Tikki with them. Plus, the sun had only set a couple of hours ago. She crossed her fingers that they would be okay and gingerly sat down on the edge of the bed, taking Adrien's hand into hers. She intertwined their fingers and brought his hand up so that she could kiss the back of it.
"He should be okay," Plagg said, looking up at her.
"What happened?" Marinette asked again, figuring she'd get a better answer out of Plagg.
"There were too many of them. He was overwhelmed and trying to protect Chloé. It was just too much." Plagg's tail lashed the air as he spoke. "It's getting worse out there. These weren't your typical, dumbass vampires. They had a plan. They were after Chat specifically."
"To get to me," Marinette whispered, guilt resting heavily on her shoulders.
"Probably," Plagg agreed.
Marinette couldn't think of anything else to say to that, so she fell quiet. Plagg eventually crawled beneath Adrien's shirt and curled up, forming a little ball over Adrien's chest where his heart would've been.
"Marinette?" Nino said after several minutes of silence. She startled, having almost forgotten Nino was there.
"What?" she asked, twisting to look at him.
Nino got up and moved over to her, pulling his chair with him. "I'm sure Plagg is right. Adrien will be fine. And I know what you're thinking, but this isn't your fault."
"I'm the slayer," Marinette said heavily. "They wouldn't have been after Ad - Chat if it weren't for me."
He gave her a curious look for the slip, but all he said was, "I don't think that's true. Chat is a vampire with a soul. That already makes him an outcast. Lots of vampires, demons witches - they've all seen Chat helping you, but more importantly they've seen Chat protecting humans. And that makes him an enemy. They would be trying to get rid of him regarldess of whether he was working with you or not."
"Maybe," Marinette mumbled, unconvinced. "But you can't tell me he isn't a bigger target because of me."
"I'll give you that," Nino admitted.
"I just wish there was something I could do. I hate this," Marinette said, squeezing Adrien's hand tighter.
"Well," Nino said, and there was something about the way he said it that made her look over at him.
"Well what?" Marinette said.
Nino shifted a little, glancing at the door, and then leaned towards her. "Do you remember how you ask me to look into a cure? I didn't find one," he added quickly, when Marinette's head shot around to look at him hopefully. "I've done a lot of searching and haven't come across any stories where a vampire was able to turn back into a human. As it is, it's supposed to be impossible for a vampire to keep their soul. Chat is the only one out there." They both looked down at Adrien.
And to think, the reason Adrien had his soul back was because of a curse. The only reason he'd kept it was because of Plagg. Marinette bit her lip. It really was an extraordinary set of circumstances that had brought this boy to her. She could've lost Adrien so easily without ever meeting him. What would she do if she had to be the slayer alone? Wandering the streets at night alone, fighting for her life alone, never having another ally in battle... the thought of how unbearably lonely that would be made her tighten her grip on Adrien's hand even more to reassure herself that he was still there.
"But I did come across a reference to something called the Miraculous," Nino continued. "Apparently, it's a magical trinket that allows vampires complete vulnerability to all of their usual weaknesses. Meaning not only would a vampire be impervious to crosses, fire and being staked, it also allows a vampire to walk in the sunlight without being hurt by it."
"What? Really?" Marinette gasped.
Nino nodded. "There's not a lot of lore about it, surprisingly. It seems like a lot of people doubt that it even existed, but I think it did. Something like that doesn't just come out of nowhere, you know?" He reached down and grabbed his backpack, pulling out one of Master Fu's books. He flipped it open to a specific page and held the book out to Marinette so that she could see, pointing to a very small picture on the lower left half of the page. Marinette squinted at it.
"Is that... a ring?" she asked finally.
"I think so. There seemed to be some inconsistencies about what shape the Miraculous took, and everything I found referred to it specifically as a trinket and not a ring or a bracelet or necklace. I'm wondering if maybe it can change shape depending on who owns it," Nino explained. "Regardless, if Chat could get his hands on this... he'd be able to walk around in the sunlight with you, Marinette. You could have a normal relationship." He grinned at her.
Marinette had to blink hard to keep from crying, touched at how hard her friend had been trying. "Nino, thank you. I really appreciate you doing all of this research."
Nino blushed, looking a little embarrassed. "It's no big deal, Mari. You know I get a kick out of all these old books, and the information about the Miraculous is fascinating. I thought, with your permission, I might talk to Alya about it. She can put her Google-fu skills to work and I can keep looking through books whenever Master Fu isn't paying too much attention to what I'm researching. Between the two of us, we might be able to come up with a location or at least somewhere to look."
"That would be amazing," Marinette said with a tearful smile. Being able to walk down the street with Adrien in the middle of the day sounded like a dream come true. Of course, that was getting ahead of herself - even if the Miraculous was really, there was a chance that it had been destroyed over the years. And even if it did exist, and was somewhere out there waiting for the right vampire to stumble across it, they would have to find it first. Still, it was more than she'd had before and she was willing to take anything at this point.
"No problem," Nino said with another smile. "I'll go over to Master Fu's with you tomorrow. I can research while he's distracted with your training."
"Great," Marinette said, realizing she was looking forward to training for probably the first time ever. She turned back to Adrien, envisioning how beautiful he would look with the sun hitting his hair and eyes.
She hoped someday she could see it for real.
This scene contains blood drinking (Adrien from Marinette).
Approximately an hour after they’d left, Alya and Chloé returned with three bags of blood hidden inside of Alya’s purse. Alya gently lifted them out and set them on the bed, biting at her lip when she saw the pinched look on Marinette’s face. Three bags of blood didn’t seem like much, Marinette thought. Not when she was pretty sure Adrien could suck back two of them for a regular supper.
“Sorry, this was all he had,” Alya said apologetically. “We looked through both refrigerators.”
“He must have been waiting on a shipment,” Marinette said. She knew Adrien received boxes of blood from an unspecified source every two weeks, but she didn’t know much more about it than that.
Alya shrugged. “If he was, it hasn’t arrived yet.”
“Thank guys. Can you clear the room?” Marinette asked, picking one of the bags up. “Chat would probably prefer it if you didn’t see this.”
Chloé looked like she was going to argue, but Alya grabbed her arm and hauled her out of the room. Nino quickly followed, closing the door behind them. Marinette ripped a hole in the top of the bag she was holding. The rich, metallic scent flooded the room and she saw Adrien’s eyelashes flutter, though he didn’t awaken. She considered that to be a positive sign though, if he was aware enough to register that there was blood nearby.
“You’re going to have to prop him up,” Tikki said. “He’ll choke otherwise.”
“Can he even breathe enough to choke?” Marinette asked, but she nevertheless set the bag down and shifted further up the bed. Gently, she slid an arm beneath Adrien’s shoulders and levered his upper body upright. He was heavier than she’d expected.
“We’ll hold the bag for him,” Plagg said. He and Tikki carefully picked up the bag and brought it to Adrien’s lips. Marinette used her free hand to open his mouth, letting the two kwamis pour a little blood in. She was relieved when Adrien swallowed without being prompted; she wasn’t sure what she would’ve done if he hadn’t. A blood transfusion, maybe? Could you even do that with a vampire?
She continued to hold him tightly while Tikki and Plagg fed him the other two bags of blood. By the time they were through, Adrien’s pallor was a little better. Not exactly flushed with life, but not ‘fresh out of the morgue’ pale either. Still, Plagg looked worried and that made Marinette worried. Maybe three bags of blood wasn’t enough. Maybe he needed more.
“Don’t,” Plagg said.
“Don’t what?” Marinette said, pulling an innocent face.
“Adrien will be pissed if he drinks from you without knowing. You need to let him wake up and make that decision,” Plagg told her.
“Is what we gave him enough?” Marinette asked.
“It should be. Just give the blood a little while to work,” Plagg said. He and Tikki disposed of the blood bags in the garbage can. Marinette would have to take them with her when she left the hotel, or otherwise Chloé was going to have some awkward questions to answers from the hotel’s cleaning staff.
Marinette brushed a few strands of Adrien’s hair away from his forehead. Vampire physiology was very odd, she knew. Given enough blood, Adrien’s body would automatically repair whatever damage was hiding underneath his clothing. She was prepared to give him whatever he needed. Her body could replenish blood. His couldn’t. And if even she couldn’t give him enough, she was pretty sure Chloé, and maybe even Nino and Alya, would help.
Tikki flew back and settled on Marinette’s shoulder. “You okay?”
“Yeah. Just… just worried,” Marinette said, biting her lip.
Plagg’s eyes softened. “He really will be okay, Bug. Adrien’s been around for a long time. This isn’t his first time dealing with bloodloss. Though it is the first time he’s ever had anyone to fuss over him.”
“I’m gonna fuss over him so much he’s going to want me to go away,” Marinette said.
“Never gonna happen,” Adrien mumbled.
“Adrien! You’re awake!” Plagg cried.
Adrien’s eyes opened a little, just enough to be able to look at the three of them. “Hi Plagg. Tikki. My Lady.”
“You really scared us,” Marinette whispered.
“Sorry.” Adrien turned his head into her. “I wasn’t expecting an ambush.”
“How do you feel?” Tikki asked.
“Tired,” Adrien admitted, licking his lips. “Thirsty.”
“Alya and Chloé went to your place. They brought back all the blood that you had,” Marinette told him.
Adrien sighed. “I’m supposed to get more on Sunday,” he murmured.
That was three days away. Marinette made her decision. “You can drink from me.”
“What?!” Adrien’s eyes opened wide. “Marinette, no!”
“You need it and I have lots to spare,” Marinette said.
“No,” Adrien said, more insistent this time. He grabbed her arm, but his strength was lacking so much that his grip was incredibly weak: it felt more like Alya or Chloé had grabbed her, not Adrien. Marinette’s concern mounted.
“Why not?” she demanded.
“Because I want to be more than just a vampire to you,” Adrien said. His lips were trembling. He was trying not to look at her, but his eyes kept darting to her neck.
“You are. You’re my everything,” Marinette said softly, leaning down to gently kiss his lips. The taste of iron didn’t bother her. Adrien kissed her back desperately, and she almost felt bad for pulling away. But she didn’t know how much longer he could reasonably go without more blood.
If she could, she would happily go break into a blood bank to steal more. Adrien would never allow that, though. He would refuse just on the off chance that the blood she took for him was earmarked for someone else. He was too good of a person for that, regardless of whether he recognized that. And since she knew he wouldn’t drink from their friends, Marinette was his best bet.
“It’s okay, Adrien. Plagg and I will make sure you don’t hurt Marinette,” Tikki said.
“But…” Adrien was growing weaker. He licked his lips.
“Kid,” Plagg said. He and Adrien looked at each other for a long time, probably at least a minute, having a silent conversation that Marinette couldn’t parse. Then Plagg flew closer and gently touched Adrien’s temple. Adrien closed his eyes at that, a thin tremor running through him.
“Alright,” he said finally. “But if I hurt you, punch me in the face. Promise me.”
“I promise,” Marinette said. In spite of her determination, she was nervous as she lowered him back onto the pillows. She shifted until she could lean down over him, letting his mouth and chin naturally find the curve of her neck. There was a beat of tense silence.
It stung when his fangs pierced the surface of her skin; his fangs were sharp, so it was like being bitten by a puppy or a kitten. Her first instinct was to shove him away, but she forced herself to hold still. The initial pain faded quickly, replaced by a wet feeling and the sensation of Adrien’s tongue gently licking. Marinette closed her eyes, relaxing a little when she realized that was as bad as it was going to get.
“Okay, that’s enough,” Plagg said right next to Marinette’s ear.
Adrien’s tongue dragged across her skin one last time before retreating. Marinette slowly pushed herself up, looking down at him. He looked better than he had before, with more color in his cheeks.
“Marinette, how do you feel?” Tikki asked worriedly.
“I’m fine,” Marinette said, surprised to realize it was the truth. “Somehow… I thought it would hurt more.”
“I was trying to be gentle,” Adrien said. “I didn’t want to hurt you. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Marinette said with a small smile. She was a little dizzy, and she could feel her heart bumping faster, but it was nothing she couldn’t handle. Still, she sat up the rest of the way carefully. Adrien would have a panic attack if she passed out and collapsed.
“You should drink some water and have something to eat,” Plagg said, staring at her with a critical look.
“I’ll get you something,” Tikki said, flying over to and phasing through the door.
“Am I bleeding?” Marinette asked, touching her neck. There were two small holes in the curve of her throat, but they didn’t even hurt.
Adrien shook his head. “No… but you might want to hide that, unless you want Alya trying to stake me.”
“Chloé must have some scarves around here,” Marinette said, before realizing she’d definitely get questions about why she had borrowed a scarf. As the door opened, she pulled her shirt’s collar higher around her throat.
“Chat! Are you okay?!” Chloé barelled into the room first, followed quickly by Nino, Alya and Tikki. Alya was carrying a bottle of water and a granola bar, which she handed over to Marinette. Marinette took them gratefully and cracked the bottle of water open; she hadn’t realized how thirsty she was until she saw the saw it.
“I’m doing good thanks to you guys,” Adrien said. “Are you okay?”
Chloé nodded. “They didn’t touch me.”
“Good,” Adrien said, relaxing.
“Dude, you were in bad shape,” Nino said, crossing his arms over his chest. “They really fucked you up.”
Adrien made a face. “Turns out vampires take exception to other vampires who aren’t blood-sucking fiends like them.”
“More like Hawkmoth targeted you personally,” Marinette said. “Because of me.” She tried to hide the shake in her hands by opening up the granola bar, but she obviously wasn’t fooling anyone because Adrien grabbed her hand and tugged at it until she looked at him.
“Marinette, no. Listen to me. Do not start thinking that way, because it’s not true. Hawkmoth would hate me regardless of whether I was close to you,” he said firmly. “I’m not someone he can easily control and I see humans are more than just a convenient food source. That makes me dangerous and a target. If being with you paints a bigger target on my back, so be it. I don’t care.”
“I care,” Marinette whispered. “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“And I don’t want you to get hurt. I’d much rather be out there with you, knowing I’m helping to prevent that,” Adrien said passionately.
“He’s right,” Alya said, putting her hands on her hips, and Nino nodded. Chloé was slower to nod, but eventually she did. Tikki landed on Marinette’s shoulder and nuzzled against her cheek, while Plagg, who sat on Adrien’s shoulder, patted the hand Adrien still held.
“You’re literally fighting to keep humanity safe, Marinette. You can’t do it alone,” Nino said. “We’re all here to help.”
“I’m just here because you’re all in my bedroom,” Chloé said.
“Chloé,” Alya snapped.
Marinette smiled to herself. Some things never changed, and it was actually comforting to think Chloé’s attitude might be one of them. She finished unwrapping the granola bar and bit into it, chewing slowly. There wasn’t much to the bar, but between it and the water her head felt a lot clearer by the time she was finished. She dropped the wrapper into Chloé’s garbage can and cleared her throat.
“Alright, I guess this means Hawkmoth is ready for war,” she said. “Master Fu thought we might have more time, but if Hawkmoth is getting that ballsy then I don’t know that we have much choice.”
Her friends all looked nervous at her declaration, even Adrien. Marinette could appreciate how they felt. This was huge. Suddenly all those hours of training she’d put into at Master Fu’s didn’t seem like nearly enough. She thought back over the past almost two years, she regretted not pouring more time into her training – though she also didn’t know where she would’ve squeezed it in.
“We don’t even know where Hawkmoth is,” Plagg pointed out.
“We can figure it out,” Nino said confidently. “We will figure it out.” He tried to smile, but really just came across as scared.
“It’ll be okay,” Marinette said, trying to sound brave. She squeezed Adrien’s hand. “We got this.”
Or at least, she hoped so.
The next two weeks existed in a sort of nebulous, uncertain fog. Marinette was on hyper alert and spent every free moment training or patrolling. She and Adrien patrolled every single night, and the fact that they didn’t run into a single vampire only made her nerves rise that much higher. Nino and Alya poured over the blueprints to the city, trying to figure out the most logical place for Hawkmoth to be.
Unfortunately, considering they lived in Paris, there were literally miles of Catacombs for Hawkmoth to be hiding in. Marinette wasn’t sure how they would ever find him. The alternative, waiting for Hawkmoth to come to them, didn’t seem all that appealing. She could’ve asked Master Fu, but she refrained. She couldn’t bear to hear him go on and on about how Adrien was working to set her up for a trap.
The morning of her eighteenth birthday dawned sunny. She couldn’t spent the night at Adrien’s, owing to a birthday breakfast tradition she knew her parents would be highly suspicious if she skipped out on. Marinette got up, had some delicious crepes for breakfast, and ran to school. Most of her classmates wished her happy birthday. A few even gave her small gifts: Alya gave her a pretty necklace, Nino gave her a C.D. collection of songs, and even Chloé gave her a gift card to a store they both liked.
She went home after school rather than train at Tikki’s suggestion, but she might as well have gone and worked off some excess energy: she was on pins and needles until the sun set. The moment it did, Marinette climbed out her window and dropped soundlessly to the ground. Green eyes gleamed in the growing darkness and Adrien stepped out from between the bakery and their neighbor’s, dressed, as usual, entirely in black.
“Happy Birthday, Bugaboo,” he said sincerely.
“Thanks, Minou,” Marinette said, smiling at him. “So, what did you get me?” She bounced excitedly on the balls of her feet. Last year, he’d given her red, black-spotted hair sticks that could double as a convenient, if small, stake. They had come in handy more than once. For their anniversary, he’d given her the staff. She couldn’t wait to see what gift he’d come up with now.
Adrien smiled mysteriously. “I can’t tell you just yet. Come on, why don’t we walk together?” He held out his hand. Marinette took it and intertwined their fingers, moving to walk at his side.
They walked for a while, exchanging comments about their days. Adrien had been busier than usual lately, though she wasn’t sure exactly what he was up to. She thought it might be something about her birthday. That would be just like him. He put so much effort into the gifts he bought for her. She, on the other hand, had given him a set of mittens for their anniversary, but that was it.
“When is your birthday?” she asked, disappointed in herself for never thinking to ask.
“Uh… sometime in August,” Adrien said. “I don’t really remember to be honest. It’s been so long since I celebrated. I couldn’t even tell you exactly how old I am.”
“You should pick one so we can celebrate,” Marinette said. “We could have a little party with Alya, Nino and Chloé.”
“With what, blood cupcakes?” Adrien said dryly.
She nudged him lightly. “Try red velvet, made by yours truly.”
“Alright… sure,” Adrien said. She could tell that he was humoring her more than anything, but she didn’t mind. It was fun to remind Adrien of all the good parts that came with being human.
“So pick a date,” she said.
Adrien frowned in thought – and that was the moment it happened. The hair on the back of Marinette’s neck prickled. She saw Adrien’s expression change, eyes widening and fangs sliding down. But it was too late. Something hard hit the back of Marinette’s head. Pain radiated down her neck and into her spine, and her arms and legs stopped responding. She slumped towards the ground, but didn’t remember hitting it.
That same pain woke her up. Marinette bit back a groan as she raised her head, not wanting to let anyone know she was awake. It took her eyes several tense moments to focus, and she realized that she was in what appeared to be a small cell. Hawkmoth – and it had to be Hawkmoth – hadn’t killed her. She was surprised by that until she realized that it was very unlikely that Hawkmoth had been the one to collect her and Adrien. No, he’d probably sent lesser vampires to do the dirty work for him.
She sat up, slowly shifting onto her knees, and reached back to feel her head. Her fingers came away bloody. Of course. Using the walls for balance, she got to her feet. Slayers healed way more quickly than the average person, but it would still take some time before she was back to 100%. Unfortunately, it looked like she wasn’t going to get that time.
The cell door was dragged open. A tall woman dressed in dark purple stood there, staring disapassionately through wide-framed glasses. “Hawkmoth will see you now.”
“How magnaimous of him,” Marinette sneered. “I don’t want to see him at all.”
“Then Chat Noir will die.”
Adrien. Marinette gritted her teeth. “Fine.”
She carefully stepped out of the cell, glancing around at the old, crumbling walls. Honestly, it looked like one false move would bring the whole place down. A fight down here would be dangerous, but she wasn’t going to have much choice about that. She trailed along behind the female vampire, mentally categorizing the path they were taking. It was hard to see in such dim lighting.
They emerged into a large cavern. Marinette gasped when she spotted Adrien, strapped down on the ground with what looked like silver chains. He was still unconscious, or pretending to be – she prayed it was the latter, not the former. At the front of the room, a vampire wearing a mask stood up. His cane clicked lightly against the floor as he walked down the steps towards her.
“Ah, Ladybug,” he drawled. “Finally, we meet in person.”
“Hawkmoth,” Marinette said tersely, hoping he couldn’t hear how hard her heart was pounding. “You could’ve just said you wanted to meet.”
“And have you show up with all your friends?” He laughed at her. “No, no. Where’s the fun in that?” He prowled closer to her and all of Marinette’s senses went on high alert. But at the same time, she was painfully aware that all of her weapons were gone. They’d even taken the sticks she usually wore in her hair, leaving her hair loose around her shoulders. All she had to fight with were her fists.
Well, it could be worse. She definitely wasn’t going down without a fight. Her eyes swept the room again, searching out possible weapons or advantages. The female vampire was standing near Adrien. Surprisingly, Hawkmoth had no other vampires in the room with them. He must’ve thought he was capable of taking Marinette down by himself. That was a mistake on his part; she would make sure of it.
There were no other weapons… aside from the cane. Marinette’s eyes flicked down to it as Hawkmoth circled her slowly. Was he stupid enough to have a weapon made of wood on him at all times? Surely not. The cane must have been made of metal or maybe even plastic. If she could get her hands on it, she’d be able to tell. Or maybe it could be sharp enough to cut his head off.
All those thoughts were driven from her mind when Hawkmoth suddenly lashed out at her with a kick aimed at her head. All those years of training kicked in and Marinette ducked, letting his foot pass harmlessly over her head. She came back up with a punch to his midsection, but Hawkmoth was ready for that: he sidestepped her and grabbed her arm, yanking her into the turn with him. His greater weight dragged her along and wrenched her forward, slamming her neatly on her back.
“Pathetic,” Hawkmoth said with a scornful laugh. “At least the other slayers lasted longer.”
Something touched Marinette’s hand. At first she thought she’d found a bump in the floor, but then it kept coming. Her eyes flicked down and she saw a glimpse of red paws, and she realized it was Tikki. Tikki was phasing a wooden stake up through the floor. Marinette curled her fingers around it and sat up, bringing her hand down behind her back and hoping Hawkmoth hadn’t seen.
“We’ve barely started,” she said. “I just wanted to get a good read on how you fight. Don’t think you’ve won.” She got to her feet, brushing off the fact that hitting the floor that way was making her head throb. A few more hits like that and Marinette wouldn’t be fighting anyone.
It wasn’t fair! Hawkmoth was a vampire. She was a human, albeit a slayer – but even being a slayer didn’t give her nearly as much of an advantage. She tightened her grip on the stake and rushed forward, faking him out with a punch to his head. Predictably, his head snapped back and Marinette surged upwards with her other hand, ready to stake him in the heart –
And Hawkmoth’s hand snapped down, cane cracking against her wrist with enough force to break bone. Marinette gasped with pain, her hand immediately going numb. She dropped the stake and caught it with her opposite hand, wrenching away from him. Hawkmoth laughed as she tried to flex the fingers of her right hand; they responded, but not well. She could barely form a fist. He’d broken more than one bone, maybe even damaged some nerves.
“You think I’m blind? I saw that. Past slayers have tried to depend on their kwamis to help them too,” he mocked her. “It never worked for them, and it won’t work for you.”
“Then how about this?”
Marinette’s head snapped around when she heard Adrien’s voice. Somehow, while she and Hawkmoth were otherwise distracted, Adrien had gotten the better of the female vampire. He stood with his arm wrapped around her throat, another stake held to her chest. The naked panic on the female vampire’s face made Marinette feel good.
“Step away from Ladybug,” Adrien commanded. “Or I’ll stake her.”
Hawkmoth sneered but, much to Marinette’s shock, obeyed. “Nathalie, what have you done? You’re supposed to be an asset to me, not a liability!”
“My apologies, Sir,” Nathalie said, before Adrien tightened his grip.
“Shut up! Take off your mask,” he ordered.
“Foolish boy. You’re an embarrassment to your kind,” Hawkmoth said with another sneer, reaching up to rip his mask off. The face meant nothing to Marinette. It was a man with grey hair and cold eyes.
But it meant something to Adrien. He gasped with shock, his grip slackening on Nathalie. That gave Nathalie the opening she needed to whip around and punch Adrien in the face. Adrien staggered back and recovered quickly, but it was too late. With a ferocious yell, Nathalie launched herself on top of him and they fell to the ground.
“Chat!” Marinette screamed, automatically rushing towards him.
That was a mistake. She knew it was a mistake even as Hawkmoth’s cane plunged into her chest.
“Ladybug!” Adrien’s screech pressed in on her.
She thought she heard Tikki screaming too, but Marinette couldn’t tell. The majority of her focus was on raising her hand and stabbing the stake into Hawkmoth’s chest as hard as she could. The shocked expression on his face made her blood sing with triumph even as the stake made impact with his heart. He turned dust before her eyes, and Marinette fell to her knees.
The cane was still sticking out of her chest. Some part of her knew that she shouldn’t, yet Marinette reached up to pull it out anyway. She didn’t want any part of Hawkmoth anywhere near her. Hot blood gushed over her hands. She slid over onto her back, and then suddenly Tikki and Plagg were there shouting at her. She wanted to reach out to them, but they seemed like they were so far away.
“Marinette, please!” Tikki was crying.
“Tikki… thank you,” Marinette whispered. The world got darker. “Plagg… tell him… I love him.”
“Ladybug!” Adrien yelled again.
But she couldn’t hear him anymore.
Marinette’s gravestone was very simple. She was the victim of a mugging, according to the police. They, and her traumatized parents, would likely never know the truth. That knowledge burned at Adrien’s soul. He stood silently at Chloé’s side, listening to Alya sob. Nino was biting his lip in an effort not to cry, while Chloé had silent tears running down her face. Plagg, hidden inside Adrien’s pocket, was quiet.
Out of everyone, they were the only ones who knew the truth. Marinette Dupain-Cheng, alias Ladybug, had died to protect the city she loved from Adrien’s father.
The knot of anger in his chest grew a little rawer at that thought, as it always did. Adrien had to struggle to keep a straight face. He hadn’t even been able to attend the funeral, because it had been held at 2pm on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon. He couldn’t even be there when Paris said their final goodbye. Instead, he had to wait until night fell. Alya, Nino and Chloé had joined him, even though he hadn’t asked them to. Would’ve preferred they hadn’t come, actually, but didn’t know how to say as much.
"Would you guys give me some time alone?" Adrien said finally, when he could no longer bear the sound of Alya's tears.
"Sure," Nino said, gently taking Alya's arm. He led her away.
Chloé started to follow, then paused. She turned to look at Adrien. "Are we ever going to see you again, Chat?" she asked shakily.
"I don't know," Adrien said, not meeting her gaze.
Chloé gave a quiet sob but nodded, raising a shaking hand to wipe at her mascara-streaked face. "Okay." She didn't say anything else as she walked away.
Adrien waited until he was certain they were gone before he sank to his knees, resting his hand on the fresh grave dirt. He would never forgive himself for not looking into Hawkmoth more closely. By the time Adrien had received his soul back, and things like his mother and father even mattered, he'd assumed his parents were long dead. Never once had it crossed his mind that either one of them might have been turned into a vampire too, much less that Gabriel would've become the vampire that had killed countless slayers.
With Hawkmoth's death, the next slayer might actually have a fighting chance. Marinette would have liked that, Adrien knew. He lowered his head, trying his best not to cry. Master Fu had already departed for the next slayer, a young woman in Italy. Adrien had no idea who she was and frankly he hadn't asked. He didn't know if Master Fu would bring the slayer back here to Paris, or if they would remain in Italy. He hadn't asked that either, mostly because he knew for sure that Master Fu wouldn't have told him. The watcher had looked at Adrien like he thought Adrien might have had a hand in Marinette's death.
It was a good thing Alya and Nino had been there, or Adrien might have lost his temper altogether. After everything Master Fu had put Marinette through, Adrien didn't have much patience for him.
"I'm sorry," Adrien whispered finally, wishing that he could say it in person.
"Kid." Plagg's head poked out of Adrien's pocket. "It wasn't your fault."
"I should've done more," Adrien said. It had all happened so fast. He'd killed Nathalie afterwards before rushing over to Marinette's body, but it was too late. According to Chloé, who was usually able to get information people wouldn't otherwise get because Sabrina's father was a cop, Marinette had bled out in a matter of minutes. It was unlikely that even a paramedic on site would've been able to save her. There hadn't even been the option of turning Marinette into a vampire - not that Adrien would've.
"You made her happy," Plagg said, uncommonly gentle. "That's more than most slayers get once they're activated, trust me."
"It wasn't enough," Adrien said, shaking his head. "Marinette deserved so much more. She deserved everything."
"I know," Plagg said. He crawled up onto Adrien's shoulder and gently butted Adrien's cheek, purring to comfort them both. Plagg was just as upset, Adrien knew. Not only had Marinette died, Tikki hadn't been seen since. Plagg had admitted that he couldn't even sense her anymore, and she hadn't gone with Master Fu to Italy either. Perhaps Marinette had been the slayer to break the camel's back. Adrien didn't know. He didn't know anything anymore, except that bone-deep ache of losing Marinette was more than he could handle.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the ring box inside. Slowly, he opened it up to look at the ring. It was pretty simple. Made of white gold, the ring had a fat onyx stone on top. White gold covered the onyx in intricate patterns that seemed to change if the eye followed them for too long. This was the Miraculous, the ring that would make a vampire impervious to any weaknesses. It had taken Adrien weeks to track it down; he'd spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and devoted pretty much every waking moment to it ever since he'd heard Marinette and Nino talking about it.
This was Marinette's birthday gift. The ability for Adrien to walk beside her in the daylight, to pick her up after school, to meet her parents, to be a normal couple. His throat ached as he fingered the ring. He hadn't even tried it on yet, but Plagg had assured him that it was the real thing. Now, he never would. Adrien had no interest in being able to walk in daylight if he couldn't walk beside Marinette. The ring was of no use to him now. It hurt more than he could put into words that he'd never even gotten the chance to see the look on her face when he showed it to her.
He made a small hole in the dirt of Marinette's grave. Really, he would have liked to have put the ring into her coffin. Maybe even in her hands. But he hadn't had the chance to see her body again after he'd carried her out of the Catacombs. Nino had told him that the funeral had been a closed casket, which led Adrien to believe that the funeral home hadn't been able to make her body look presentable. The memory of the hole in Marinette's chest made him shudder. It would haunt him for the rest of his life, he knew.
"Don't anything stupid," Plagg warned.
"It's not stupid, Plagg. I don't have a reason to use this ring without her," Adrien said. He'd never loved anyone the way he loved her. That much was for sure. He reached out his hand and went to drop the ring.
A small hand shot out and grabbed his wrist.
"Please don't throw my birthday gift away," Marinette said quietly. "I haven't even gotten the chance to see it yet."
He was hallucinating. He had to be. But as Adrien slowly turned his head to look at her, he was stunned by how real she looked, kneeling beside him on the wet grass. Her hair was tied into two pigtails, like usual. Her blue eyes were bright in an otherwise pale face. She was wearing blue jeans and a pink sweatshirt was too big for her. Marinette gave a slow, hesitant smile and lifted her other hand. He flinched and she paused. They stared at each other. Then she kept moving, her cold hand coming into impact with his cheek.
"It's me, Chaton," she whispered.
"Marinette?" Adrien whispered. "But... how?"
Tikki popped up over Marinette's shoulder. "I bonded us. That was enough to beat the prophecy that said Marinette would in battle with Hawkmoth."
"Oh!" Plagg said sharply. "Oh, of course. That's why I couldn't feel you."
"Bonded?" Adrien repeated blankly.
Marinette turned her head, letting him see the stud earrings she was wearing. They were round back orbs about the size of Adrien’s fingernail. "From what I hear, my earrings now function like your ring. Tethering my soul to my body."
"But... but your body..." Adrien said, struggling hard to understand. The whole world felt like it had been flipped in on itself, but little bubbles of joy were beginning to break through the disbelief as he grasped the fact that Marinette was here. She was alive.
"Tikki's power is creation," Plagg said, emerging from Adrien's pocket. He flew up beside Adrien's head. "She was able to fix the damage done in the process, right, Sugarcube?"
Tikki nodded. "I'm sorry it took so long, Adrien. I didn't even realize how much time had passed until the process was complete.”
"I came to find you as soon as I could," Marinette said. "Adrien, I'm so sorry." Her thumb wiped beneath his eye. "I'm sorry."
"My Lady..." Adrien crumbled into her arms. The tears came for the first time since she'd died five days ago, shaking him from head to toe. He clutched at her, hugging her so tightly that it had to have hurt. But Marinette never complained, not once. If anything, she held him even tighter. Her wonderful voice murmured in his ear, telling him things that only they would've known, reassuring him that it was really her.
"It's okay, I'm here," she said over and over again. "I'm sorry I made you wait so long."
At last, Adrien gathered himself enough to shake his head. "I should be the one apologizing. My father killed you."
"Your father...?" Marinette gasped and covered her mouth. "Hawkmoth?"
"I didn't know," Adrien said, looking up at her. He needed her to know that.
"Of course you didn't," she said instantly. "I - my god, I killed your father."
"He deserved it," Adrien said fiercely. "My only wish was that I could've done it myself after he killed you." He would’ve been far less slow about it, too. For what he’d done, Hawkmoth deserved a slow, painful death.
"Then he's still dead," Marinette said, relieved, and Adrien nodded.
"Master Fu went to Italy. Another slayer awoke," he explained.
Marinette nodded at that, unsurprised. "I figured that would be the case. I'm okay with that. I'm... I'm tired of being the slayer. I've done my duty."
"Hell yes you have," Adrien said fiercely, brushing a stray curl off her cheek. She was so warm. So alive. He pushed himself up and leaned in to touch their foreheads together, drinking in the sight of her beautiful blue eyes.
"I'm legally dead," Marinette said. "I can't go back home."
It seemed like an odd change of subject, but Adrien quickly realized she was right. They were technically kneeling on Marinette's grave. An empty coffin, no doubt, but still. Her death had been fairly big news, since it was treated as an unsolved murder. Her sudden reappearance would garner way too much media attention and risked exposing the supernatural to everyone. That would be a disaster.
Still, he frowned. "Your parents?"
"I'll tell them. They deserve to know. I don’t want them to go the rest of their lives thinking that I’m still dead. And the same goes for Alya, Nino and Chloé, too. But no one else." Marinette shook her head. "It's too complicated. I don't want people to think I'm some sort of freak. And I’m immortal now, I guess, so that adds an extra layer to everything…"
"You're not a freak," Adrien said. "It's okay. I have lots of money. I can support us both." He squeezed her hand, feeling a thrill of excitement at the thought that she was immortal too now. They could go somewhere else where Marinette wouldn’t be recognized. Maybe in time, they’d be able to return to Paris.
She gave him a shy smile. "I hoped you'd say that. And this?" She gestured to the ring.
"It's the Miraculous," Adrien explained.
Marinette's eyes widened, and then she lit up with a radiant smile. "You found it?"
He looked down at the ring. "I wanted to give you a life in the sunlight, Marinette. It's what you deserve." He was glad, suddenly, that he hadn’t succumbed to his initial desire, which was to throw the ring into the Seine. It would’ve been nearly impossible to find it again.
"It's what we both deserve," she said softly. "Put it on, Adrien. Please."
He couldn't have disobeyed even if he wanted to; he slid the ring onto his opposite hand from Plagg's ring. It fit perfectly, though Adrien felt no differently. They both looked down at the ring for a long moment before Adrien shrugged and glanced back at her face. The sight of her smile made him feel warm to his core, in a way he thought he’d never feel again.
“I guess that’s it,” he said hoarsely, with a questioning glance at Tikki and Plagg. Both kwamis nodded at him, so he supposed that meant the ring was functioning.
"Let's go then," Marinette said. She got to her feet and brushed her jeans off.
"Go where?" Adrien said, already getting up.
"To wait for the sun," she said, holding out her hand. Adrien took it, intertwining their fingers, and lifted them to kiss the back of her hand, which earned him another smile: he knew he’d never stop trying to earn those smiles. He finally smiled back.
With Tikki and Plagg hidden in their clothing, they walked out of the graveyard.
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