“Is it even possible?” Marinette asked Tikki, a small furrow between her brows.
The kwami shrugged. “Well, it’s not something we do often, you understand. It’s unusual, but not impossible.” Tikki flew over to sit on top of the sewing machine on Marinette’s desk. “Theoretically, as long as you don’t use your Lucky Charm, and Chat Noir doesn’t use his Cataclysm, you could stay transformed indefinitely. In reality, that doesn’t really work out.” She giggled. “Humans have all these bizarre needs, like using the bathroom and showering, not to mention that sleeping while transformed is not very comfortable.”
Marinette blanched. “I didn’t even think about using the bathroom. Yeesh!”
“But as long as you had regular breaks in order to detransform to take care of necessities, and some sort of guarantee that your identity would be protected while vulnerable, there’d be no reason it couldn’t work!” Tikki looked almost alarmingly excited.
Marinette frowned again. “There’d be no way to guarantee our security, though. There’ll be cameras everywhere, surely!”
Tikki flew to hover in front of Marinette. “That is where I come in, Marinette!”
“How, what could you do?”
Tikki gave an exaggerated wink. “Magic!”
Chat looked at her a bit blankly for a moment. She could only imagine what was going through his head.
“Who are you and what have you done with My Lady.”
She couldn’t tell if he was joking. “Okay, first of all, not funny. The number of incidents in which we have been cloned, mimicked, replaced, or otherwise perverted are too many to list. Let’s not go there. Second of all, I am totally serious!” She tried her best to look earnest. She was sure it worked. Alya assured her she had resting honest-face.
Chat winced. “Okay, fair point about the cloning, sorry. But come on! You’re always the most protective of our identities, the idea that you want to do something that is almost guaranteed to compromise them is a little out there!”
“But that’s the thing! I was talking to Tikki earlier, and she thinks it’d be possible to take part without revealing our identities! She said that kwamis have the ability to protect their holders’ identities! Not long term, of course, that would put a strain on them, but certainly for a week or so!” Despite having had more time than Chat to digest the information, Marinette was practically vibrating with excitement. “I wanted to discuss it with you right away, in case it wasn’t something you’d be interested in, in which case the whole thing would be moot anyway, so I don’t know the details, but I trust Tikki. If she says it could work, then I believe her.”
She knew she was babbling a bit, but she couldn’t help it. The whole idea was so thrilling she was a little afraid her brain would just short out, and she’d be back to the incoherent mess she’d been when she’d first fallen for Adrien all those years ago.
Chat was still looking at her, though his expression was slowly slipping from skeptical to fondly amused, which could only be a good sign.
“Why is this so important to you? I’ve never seen you this worked up about anything but an akuma attack.”
She’d have liked to say she maintained her careful composure, but unfortunately her excitement overruled her sense.
“It’s a superhero convention! We’d get to meet so many incredible people! It’s in New York City! Captain America is going to be there! Iron Man is going to be there!” She said goodbye to the remainder of her dignity as she dramatically flopped back from where she was perched at the edge of the Eiffel Tower, the cool metal of the ledge pressing into her back. “Black Widow is going to be there!”
As abruptly as she had collapsed, she suddenly vaulted back up, grabbing Chat Noir’s face with both hands and fixing him with the most serious expression she could manage.
“I have to meet Black Widow.”
Chat’s face, slightly squished between the palms of her hands, began to twitch.
“My Lady, are you—you’re not—are you secretly a fangirl?" Whatever internal struggle he’d undergone, stoicism had clearly given way as he began cackling, Marinette’s hands dropping from his face as he clutched his stomach and laughed. He was about two inches from tumbling off the edge of the tower—that is, if Marinette didn’t push him first.
“I am not!” She did her utmost to sound indignant, but embarrassment raised her voice about an octave—no mean feat—and warmed her face. “Chat!”
“You are!” he gasped, “Ladybug is a closet superhero nerd!”
Marinette rolled her eyes, crossing her arms over her chest. “Can we get back to the topic at hand, please?”
It took several more minutes, but eventually Chat calmed down, wiping his eyes as he regained composure. “Alright, alright, sorry. Sorry. Yes, serious business, okay.” She definitely wasn’t sure he was as focused as he promised to be, but they didn’t have all night. She wanted to be able to sleep eventually, after all.
While his expression remained open, Chat did sober a bit. “In all seriousness, My Lady, do you really think jetting off to another country right now is a good idea? I know Hawk Moth has been quiet lately, but—"
“He hasn’t just been quiet, Kitty, he’s been absent. There hasn’t been an akuma attack in almost a month, and I know it’s not for lack of emotionally distressed people. He’s building up to something big, and while I know there will never be a great time to leave the city until he’s caught, there’s also never been a better time.”
Chat looked thoughtful, and she continued. “If he is building up to something, then best case scenario, our leaving the city forces him to postpone. Worst case scenario—we hop on the first flight back to Paris. Though since he’s after our Miraculous, it doesn’t make much sense to try anything while we’re gone.”
Chat met her eyes. “And if he follows us to New York?”
She smiled at him gently. “Then we deal with him there.” She smirked. “We’ll be more or less surrounded by some of the most powerful superheroes in the world, too. That certainly can’t hurt our odds.”
Looking at Chat’s face, he seemed much more receptive to the idea than he had earlier. “Okay, but that’s another thing—I know you said Tikki had an idea for disguising our identities, but there’ll be tons of people, and cameras, and everything! It’s hard to imagine how we’d be able to get through a week without someone figuring us out.”
Ladybug smiled. “For this, we’re gonna need our kwamis.” She stood and, with a glance at Chat to make sure he was following, swung down to a lower level of the tower. From there she hopped into the elevator, Chat just behind her.
She pushed him down onto the floor, and, as the doors closed them off from the outside world, plopped down with her back to his, legs folded beneath her.
She nudged Chat with her elbow. “Don’t look.”
He chuckled. “I never do.”
Ladybug, now once again Marinette, caught Tikki as she drifted gently down into her hands. She reached into her pocket for a cookie—she’d have to wash this jacket soon, the pockets were getting very crumby—handing it to a grateful Tikki as she heard Plagg whining from behind her.
“Please tell me we’re not gonna be sitting around talking for hours, some of us have some very important beauty rest to be getting back to.”
She heard Chat chuckle. “Plagg, you sleep eighteen hours a day, you can spare some time to help us figure this out. Here, have some cheese.”
“Aaah, at last, my sweet, sweet love, my one and only, my delicious, creamy—"
“Argh, enough, Plagg, we do not need to hear you wax poetic over camembert, for god’s sake—"
“You have no appreciation for the finer things in life, you uncultured—"
“I quite like camembert, actually.” Marinette interjected. Both Chat and Plagg fell silent, before the tiny cat-like god was whizzing into view, beaming as much as his little face could permit.
“A woman after my own heart! You should have been my holder, you have no idea how much abuse I have to put up with from this ridiculous blond imbecile—"
“Would you like a piece of my camembert, o wisest of all Miraculous holders?” Plagg held out a wedge of the rich cheese. Marinette giggled.
“No, thank you, Plagg. You go ahead and eat that. You need your strength to deal with ‘ridiculous blond imbeciles’ after all.” She ignored Chat’s indignant “My Lady!”
Tikki had finished her cookie by then, and was looking exasperatedly at Plagg. “Plagg, stop trying to poach my holder! You’ve got a perfectly good Chat Noir, you know! (“Thank you, Tikki!”) and my Ladybug makes the absolute best cookies, so clearly she’s meant to be with me!”
Marinette could hardly control her mirth, and was sure they would have devolved into pointless food-based meanderings had Chat not brought them back to more pressing issues. “As amusing as this is, didn’t we detransform in order to discuss important logistics regarding a possible trans-Atlantic trip?”
“It’s a sad day for the world when Chat Noir is the voice of reason in this duo.” Plagg seemingly couldn’t resist one last crack.
Still giggling, Marinette said, “Alright, you’re right, let’s focus. Plagg’s not the only one who needs beauty sleep.”
Chat’s head leaned back against hers. “I’m sure that’s not true, My Lady.”
Plagg zipped back around to his holder. “You’re right, she’s gorgeous.” Marinette smiled. “I mean, for a human.” Of course.
Tikki sighed. “Boys! Focus!”
Marinette, feeling oddly flattered by both her partner and his kwami, was feeling quite forgiving of their antics. But the night was beginning to drag on her, and she could practically feel her soft bed calling to her from across the city. “Tell them what you told me, Tikki.”
Tikki flew to hover in front of Chat, while Plagg took up a spot resting on the top of Marinette’s head, facing the other kwami.
“Plagg, you know most of this already, though it’s been centuries since we’ve done anything like it.” Marinette felt Plagg settle more comfortable in her hair, curling up like a cat. “There are certain protections afforded to Miraculous holders by nature, things not even we kwamis can turn off. Kwamis, as you know, cannot be filmed or photographed, but even before film was invented, we simply could not be recorded by any means. An artist, for instance, could not draw, paint, or sculpt us. And while the same is not true for our transformed holders, part of that benison is passed on to you passively.”
Marinette was enraptured. Tikki had given her the broad strokes earlier, but most of this was new information, and she was fascinated. She didn’t know if she should be sorry or relieved that Alya wasn’t here.
Tikki continued. “Even with your masks and costumes, don’t you think it’s odd that no one has been able to identify you? It’s no coincidence. When a Miraculous wielder is transformed, the magic of the Miraculous protects them from close scrutiny. People can get vague impressions—the color of your hair or eyes, other physical features, but the Miraculous actually have the ability to prevent even close observers from making the intuitive connections that would give a holder away.”
It made a disturbing amount of sense. Chat had paid closer attention to Ladybug than anyone else in the world—closer even than Alya, Ladybug’s number one fan—for years, and yet, despite having spent time with Marinette outside of her spotted persona, he had never recognized her voice, or her freckles. Never seemed to notice that she wore her hair the exact same way that Ladybug did. Marinette had always chalked it up to the fact that no one in their right mind would peg Marinette as a superhero, but Tikki’s words certainly made more sense.
It was oddly… gratifying.
She wondered what connections she had been prevented from making about Chat.
“With some effort, a kwami can take that innate characteristic of the Miraculous—the part of it that truly disguises you—and extend it to when you’re not fully transformed. We can protect your identity even when you’re out of your costume.”
Chat broke in then. “Why haven’t either of you done it before?” He rushed to say, “I’m not criticizing, or anything, it’s just—we’ve had some really close calls over the years. Times when we’ve nearly discovered each other’s identity, or when an akuma has. Why not tell us it was possible?”
Tikki’s voice was soft when she replied. Marinette could imagine the kind look on her face, she’d seen it often enough. “Reliance on our powers outside of battle can be dangerous, and limiting. Those instances where you’ve nearly been revealed, they always led you to be more creative and resourceful than ever, and have helped you to learn and grow.” She sighed. “You have to understand, Plagg and I—we’re your friends. We love you both very much. But we’re also millennia old. We ourselves learn and grow with each new Miraculous holder. We’ve seen all too often what happens to heroes who come to rely on our powers too heavily. It rarely ends well.”
Marinette had been thinking, and spoke up—though careful not to dislodge the dozing kwami on her head, “Then why tell us at all? I know I was excited for this opportunity, but if you’d told us we couldn’t do it, I would have listened.” And she would have. Eventually. Never let it be said she hadn’t matured in the years she’d been Ladybug.
Tikki reentered her line of sight, hovering in front of her and smiling gently.
“I believe I know you well enough now to know that you, of all people, would not abuse this power. You understand what it means to be a hero better than almost any Ladybug before you. I trust you, and Chat Noir, to understand the limits of what Plagg and I can do for you two.”
Marinette smiled, her eyes prickling slightly, and scooped Tikki into her cupped hands, bringing her to her face to nuzzle gently against her cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered softly.
Her slight movement was enough to jostle Plagg from his perch, and he tumbled down, landing with a soft ‘oof!’ on top of Tikki in Marinette’s hands. He quickly zipped back up into the air, grumbling.
“Yeah, yeah, and I’m sure those big doe eyes of yours didn’t hurt either. Alright, enough with the mushy stuff, already, get back to the long boring speech that I intend to sleep through.”
“Wait,” interrupted Marinette, “you said earlier, when you’re not fully transformed.” She looked questioningly at Tikki. “What did you mean? Is it possible to be partially transformed?”
Tikki giggled, then zipped over to whisper in Plagg’s ear. He sighed and nodded.
“For this, it will be better to show you. Now, both of you should transform, but afterward you can immediately detransform. Ready?”
They both nodded and stood. Keeping their backs to each other, they spoke in unison:
“Tikki, spots on!”
“Plagg, claws out!”
Nearly as soon as the transformations had taken them over, they released them. Marinette could tell immediately that something was different. She looked down.
Instead of the leggings, sundress, and black denim jacket she had been wearing before leaving for patrol, she now wore a long-sleeved skater dress in red, with familiar black spots. Lifting the skirt to her face, she noted that the material seemed to be that of her normal costume, its strange, stretchy, and surprisingly comfortable feel unmistakable.
On her feet were black boots of the same magical fabric, and when she touched her face, she could feel her mask.
She spun around to look at Chat Noir, and saw him gaping down at his own new look.
Marinette had to admit that he looked quite dashing. He now wore a black three-piece suit and black shirt. The jacket and trousers had green piping in the same shade as his eyes, still slitted and surrounded by his black mask. Curiously enough, although the rest of his usual outfit was missing, his cat ears were still atop is head.
It was then that she noticed something even more remarkable—Plagg and Tikki were not inside their Miraculous, instead they were hovering off to the side, looking between Marinette and Chat with big grins on their faces.
“What—" Marinette floundered, “but, how?”
“We can create virtually any outfit we like when we withdraw ourselves from the Miraculous. Your identity is protected this way, and with the exception of your masks, the rest of your costume functions more or less like normal clothes.”
Plagg flew over to Chat and started tugging at his collar. Chat idly swatted at him. “Hey! What are you up to?”
Plagg deftly avoided Chats hands and resumed his tugging. “Normally, when a kwami is inside the Miraculous, our energy is all tied up in making sure our holders don’t kick the bucket—protecting their identity, increasing their strength and agility, and creating material that is effectively bulletproof. You’re welcome. But like this we can focus on other things like—buttons!” he cried triumphantly, and indeed, he had managed to undo the top button of Chat’s shirt. It was indeed unusual, because for all that Chat’s ordinary costume looked to have a zipper in the front, it didn’t actually function like one. These clothes they wore now, while still composed of kwami magic, did appear to be just… clothes.
Tikki sighed. “What Plagg means to say is that this is a kind of middle ground. Only a fraction of our power is required to maintain these clothes because they don’t have the same attributes as your usual costumes. They will protect you more than ordinary clothes, but not nearly as much as when you’re fully transformed.”
Marinette looked at Tikki. “How long can you keep this up?”
“Since it’s not as taxing as a full transformation, we can keep it up nearly constantly. But understand, we’re making an exception in this case. While you two are away from Paris, every time you release your transformation, Plagg and I will convert your disguises into this form, or something similar. But once you’re back home, everything will go back to how it was. We don’t want to stunt your ability to learn from mistakes and grow.” Tikki’s expression was soft and concerned. “Do you understand?”
Marinette smiled reassuringly at her. “Of course, Tikki. Thank you so much. You don’t know what this means to me.”
Chat crossed the short distance between them and grabbed her hand. “Ladybug, I’m so excited and happy we get to do this, but please—" He broke off, and fixed her with a concerned look. She couldn’t have looked away if she wanted to. “Can you tell me why? Why is this so important to you? Why take this risk?”
Marinette sighed and sat, pulling him to the floor by the hand he still held. Their knees touched as they focused intently on one another.
“Chaton, do you know what you want to do after we’ve defeated Hawk Moth?” He didn’t look like he knew how to answer that, so she continued. “I know we will, I believe it more than I’ve ever believed anything, but what happens afterward? Do you want to keep being Chat Noir?”
“Yes,” he answered immediately. She had thought as much. “And you, Ladybug? Do you want to keep being my Bugaboo?”
She groaned. “Well, I don’t know about that,” she said, rolling her eyes but squeezing his hand to soften the blow. “And while I don’t know how I would have answered six years ago, I do know that now, I don’t want to stop being Ladybug. I want to keep being a superhero for as long as I can.”
She glanced over at the Kwamis. “I don’t know what Master Fu has planned for us, and Tikki won’t tell me either, but if it’s possible, I want to keep being your partner, Chaton.”
He gave her a dopey smile. It morphed quickly into a look of confusion. “But what does that have to do with this convention?”
“I know it may seem silly, but I can’t help but think of this convention as a way to show Paris, show the world, that we take what we do seriously, that we intend to stick around no matter what.” She shrugged. “It’s also a marvelous opportunity to learn from other heroes, heroes who have more experience than us, who have fought a wider variety of villains.
“But most of all, I want to make sure that Paris knows that they can count on us. Not just to fight Hawk Moth and his akumas, but be the heroes they need us to be.”
Chat was looking at her with a familiar look in his eyes. She saw it every time they’d just finished fighting off an akuma, or after she’d given one impassioned speech or another. It was a look of such devotion and admiration that it’d taken her a long time to be able to look at him without blushing when he got that look on his face.
“Well then,” he sighed, “I guess we’re going to New York.”