Adrien’s stomach dropped at the sight of the coffin. It couldn’t be. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t possible.
“Who is that?” he shouted. Behind him, Ladybug put a hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged it away.
Hawk Moth stepped in front of the coffin, shielding it from view. Adrien took another step closer. His grip on the baton tightened.
“I said … who is that?”
Hawk Moth did not reply. Under his mask, his face looked like it was carved from marble.
Finally, Adrien couldn’t stand it any longer. “Let me see!” he screamed, and he rushed at the coffin. To his surprise, Hawk Moth did nothing—just let Adrien push him aside. Adrien pressed his hands to the glass and leaned in close.
He stared at her pale face. She looked peaceful, calm. Almost like she could be sleeping.
It’s been so long, Adrien thought. She’s gone. She’s dead. How is she here? Why is she here?
He sank to his knees, one hand still clutching the coffin. He felt tears threatening to spill from his eyes.
“What did you do to her?” he said in a choked whisper.
There was a beat of silence.
“What did I do?” Hawk Moth repeated. “What did I do for the love of my life?” His voice rose as he spoke, ringing through the dark chamber. “I did everything! I’m still doing everything for her!”
Adrien froze. The words settled into his brain like they were sinking in water. The love of his life? Was Hawk Moth … no …
But as soon as he thought it he knew it was true. Why else would Hawk Moth be here, in a secret lair under Adrien’s own house? Why else would he be guarding the lifeless body of Adrien’s mother? He knew it, deep down, as soon he had realized where the signal was leading them.
“Father,” he breathed.
“Father …” he heard Hawk Moth echo in a whisper.
Adrien’s hand on the coffin clenched into a fist. He wanted to be angry, but instead he just felt lost. Father, the villain who had terrorized Paris for all this time? The one he and Ladybug had been fighting almost daily? He had always been an unloving father, but this ...
Hawk Moth—no, Father, Adrien thought with ice in his veins—spoke in a half whisper. His voice seemed to come from far away. “We couldn’t have a child. But Emilie wanted it so desperately. When we discovered the book and found the peacock miraculous, we thought it was a dream come true. The child turned out so perfectly ...”
Adrien’s eyes widened. Slowly, he lifted his head.
“... but it quickly became clear what kind of toll a broken miraculous can take on its user. Emilie began to fade away. I begged her to give up the miraculous, but she refused to undo the life she had created, to unmake the son she had come to love so dearly.”
Adrien felt like he was falling in slow motion down an endless hole. The ground felt unsteady under his knees.
“What are you saying?” he croaked.
Hawk Moth sighed. “I’m sorry, Adrien,” he said, and he almost sounded it. “You were never supposed to know. Your mother made me promise.” He stooped next to where Adrien still knelt, frozen. His voice dropped to a whisper. “I’ve done this all for her, you know. With the miraculous of the black cat and the ladybug, we can bring her back.”
Adrien shook his head in a daze. “No. No.” He looked into the eyes of his father, underneath the mask of the villain he and Ladybug had been fighting all this time.
“Please, son,” Hawk Moth said. “Give me the ring. We can restore our family. Don’t you remember? Remember how happy we were?”
Adrien did remember. He remembered walking hand in hand with his parents on a beach in Spain. Opening presents on Christmas morning. His mother’s smile. His father’s laugh. He used to laugh.
Could he get it all back?
Adrien couldn’t think. His head was spinning. He covered the ring with his other hand, shaking his head, feeling like he was going to throw up.
Hawk Moth held out his hand. “The miraculous,” he said softly.
“No!” a voice rang out. Adrien’s head snapped up. He had almost forgotten that Ladybug was there. Had she heard? Did she know who he was?
Did she know what he was?
“Don’t do it, Adrien,” Ladybug said. Something jolted inside him to hear her speak his real name. “You know what’s at stake when the miraculous are combined. The universe must remain in balance. If not, there is a terrible price to pay.”
“A terrible price has already been paid!” his father hissed. “She was taken from us! I want only to make things right again. I want only to bring her back to us. Give me the ring!”
Adrien swallowed. “No.”
“Very well,” Hawk Moth said, standing upright. “Since you refuse to cooperate, we’ll have to do this another way.” He trailed a gloved hand over the coffin and sighed. “I am sorry, my darling, but I must break one other promise today.”
Slowly, carefully, Hawk Moth opened the coffin. Adrien got unsteadily to his feet. He watched as Hawk Moth gently removed the locket from his mother’s neck.
“I remember that,” he breathed. “She wore it all the time.”
“Yes.” Hawk Moth raised the locket to his eyes. It glinted dimly in the half light. “This was very important to her. You see ... this—”
Suddenly, there was a blinding flash of light. Adrien shielded his eyes, and before he could open them again, he felt an arm around his waist, and then he was flying upward. He blinked desperately, trying to clear the huge spots still blooming across his field of vision. He smelled something flowery on the air, felt the wind whipping through his hair, the sun warming him through his suit after the chill of the underground chamber. Finally, the world came back into focus, and the first thing he saw was something bright red with black spots.
As Adrien’s mind reeled from everything that had just happened, he stared at one of the spots on Ladybug’s suit, willing it anchor him to reality.
Hawk Moth. His father was Hawk Moth.
And he …
… he was …
He couldn’t bear to think it. But he swallowed and kept staring at the spot, letting it fill his eyes and turn his whole brain dark.
The air stopped whooshing. Adrien felt solid ground under his feet. He collapsed, shaking, hardly even aware of where he was, and caring even less. He squeezed his eyes shut.
“Adrien,” said a soft voice. “Are you OK?”
Slowly, he opened his eyes. He saw the red and black again—two legs standing right in front of him. They were in some sort of alley. Ladybug crouched. She put a hand on his shoulder.
There was something in her hand. A golden chain, dangling from her fist.
Adrien pushed himself up. He tried to find his voice.
“Is … is that …?”
Ladybug’s blue eyes were full of concern. They darted to the necklace in her hand and then back to Adrien’s face. She hesitated, then pressed the locket into Adrien’s left hand.
“You should have it,” she said.
Adrien slumped back against the alley wall. He held up the locket and watched the oval shape twist in the air, catching the light.
My amok, he thought. He was surprised by how the thought felt. Like nothing at all. His mind was numb. And his heart … well, maybe he didn’t even have one.
Is this how it felt to be a monster?
Adrien pried the locket open with a claw. Inside was a picture of him as a child. He gazed at it indifferently. That boy didn’t exist anymore. Maybe he never did.
Adrien’s brain felt like TV static. He was vaguely aware of Ladybug, still crouched beside him, her hand still on his shoulder, but it was as if she were behind a foggy window. Through the haze came a single thought.
Almost as if it were someone else, he felt his right arm lift, felt the breath filling his lungs, felt his lips moving.
As the black power smoked and bubbled from his hand, a voice cut through the static in his mind.
A pressure clamped down on his wrist, just below the cataclysm. Adrien blinked. Ladybug was forcing his hand backward, away from the locket.
“Don’t do this,” she whispered. Adrien looked at her curiously. Her eyes were filled with tears.
“I have to,” he said.
“You don’t. Please. We can figure this out, we can—”
“We can’t,” Adrien cut in sharply. Where before there had been nothing, he felt something hot rising in his chest. “There’s nothing to figure out. There’s nothing to do. There is no lucky charm for you to fix this. Don’t you get it, Ladybug? I’m the bad guy. And we—” He swallowed, looking at the locket still dangling in his hand. “We always get the bad guy, don’t we?”
“You’re not! You’re not the bad guy!” The tears were spilling out of her eyes now, over her mask and down her cheeks.
“YES. I. AM,” Adrien found himself shouting. “Didn’t you hear him? I’m—I’m a monster.”
“You’re not a monster!”
“I am! I’m a puppet, I’m a thing, I’m—I’m …” Suddenly he was shaking, crumbling, the heat of his anger rapidly cooling into ice that chilled his veins. He closed his eyes and felt a few hot tears leak out. His voice broke. “I’m not even real.”
For a moment, time stopped. And then, out of nowhere, out of shadows and darkness and everything he didn’t want to feel, she was there. He opened his eyes in surprise and saw the familiar red and black of her mask, up close. Ladybug. He closed his eyes again to feel her lips, her tears mingling with his. Ladybug was kissing him exactly the way he’d imagined for all this time and even though everything was wrong, this one thing felt right, so he melted into the moment, trying to forget everything but the feel of her.
Through his eyelids he sensed something bright and felt a tingle on his face. He felt Ladybug pulling away and he didn’t want her to, didn’t want her to leave him and make him remember all over again. When they were apart, he opened his eyes, and Ladybug was gone. Instead, someone else was kneeling in her place. Someone with the same blue eyes, still wet with tears. The same dark hair sweeping across her forehead. The same pink-shell lips, slightly parted.
She cupped his face in her hands.
“Real,” she said. Then she took something from her bag—a macaron—and touched it to his hand. The cookie crumbled into dust, drawing away the power of the cataclysm.
“Real,” said Ladybug again.
And Adrien broke like a dam cracking under the weight of too much water. Marinette held him as he sobbed into her shoulder, cradling his head and rubbing his back gently.
“It’s OK, Kitty,” she kept saying. “You’re OK.”
After a while (minutes? hours?), Adrien had nothing left to cry. He took a few ragged breaths and sat up, too ashamed to meet Marinette’s eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Some time in between, Adrien had transformed back. He saw Plagg hovering by his arm. He must be starving, Adrien thought. He pulled a slice of camembert from his pocket. Plagg took it but didn’t eat, looking up at Adrien with concern in his bright green eyes.
“Adrien,” Marinette said. It still didn’t feel real that it was her. That she knew who he was. That he knew who she was. But that voice was the voice of his lady, and he couldn’t resist its call, no matter how ashamed he was. He looked up and met her eyes, the eyes he had been seeing in his dreams for months. Ladybug’s eyes. Marinette’s eyes. How had he never realized that they were the same?
“We have to go see Master Fu,” Marinette said. “He’ll know what to do.”
Adrien nodded. He got shakily to his feet and opened his jacket for Plagg. Marinette held her bag open for Tikki. Then she grabbed Adrien’s arm and led him through the alley and onto the street. He clutched her arm, glad for the support. If it weren’t for her, he didn’t think he could stand at all.
“Impossible,” Wayzz said.
There was hesitation in Marinette’s voice. “Hawk Moth himself said it.”
Adrien kept his eyes glued to the floor. He couldn’t bring himself to look up.
“He could be lying,” Wayzz said. “Trying to trick you somehow. Maybe he thought the shock would be enough to get Adrien to give up his miraculous.”
“We have no proof of deception,” Master Fu said.
“Or truth,” Wayzz pointed out. “Are we just going to take Hawk Moth at his word?”
The mention of his father still felt like a stab in the gut. Adrien gripped Marinette’s hand tighter. She felt like the only real thing in the universe, and so he concentrated on the feel of her fingers in his.
“We cannot take this lightly,” said Master Fu. “Do we have any evidence to prove either way?”
“If it were true, we kwamis would have sensed it. Plagg most certainly would have sensed it, being in such close proximity to Adrien for all this time. Plagg?” Wayzz paused expectantly.
“Uh…” Plagg hesitated. “I’ve never felt anything strange around him. But … I also didn’t sense that Duusuu and Nooroo were near.”
“Hmm.” Master Fu sounded pensive—strangely untroubled by the news that Adrien was a sentient monster created by magic. “You said you had the object?”
Adrien’s eyes widened, still staring at the floor.
“Adrien,” Marinette said gently. “It’s OK.”
Adrien raised his head and brought his clenched fist forward.
“May I?” Master Fu said. Adrien nodded and dropped the locket into his palm.
“Do you feel anything?” he asked Wayzz.
“No,” said Wayzz resolutely. “Although … I supposed that Duusuu would be a better one to ask.”
“Yet Duusuu is not here,” Master Fu said. “Is there a way to tell?”
Wayzz sighed. “I hate to suggest this, but one way to test would be to … use it.”
“Yes. Try to use the amok to will Adrien into doing your bidding.”
Marinette gasped. “You wouldn’t.”
Adrien found his voice, still raspy from crying. “Do it.”
“No!” said Marinette.
He looked at her. “I have to know. We all have to know. Would … would you do it? Please?”
Marinette’s eyes widened. She opened her mouth to object, but something in Adrien’s expression must have changed her mind. She looked down. “OK.”
Master Fu held out the locket. Marinette released Adrien’s hand and took it. She closed her eyes. Took a breath. Then she opened them and looked at him steadfastly, brows set.
“Adrien, remove your miraculous.”
Adrien waited. For what, he wasn’t sure. A pull? A twitch in his ring finger? A screen over his mind? But he felt nothing.
“Take off your ring,” Marinette commanded again. Adrien stood motionless, staring back at her. Her face softened and broke into a smile. She turned to Master Fu. “That proves it, then!”
Adrien didn’t want to allow himself to feel relieved. But he felt a weight lifting from his chest. Until Master Fu raised a hand.
“Not necessarily. The power of the peacock is the most mysterious and untested of all the miraculous. It could be capable of far more sophisticated creations than we had previously supposed. Perhaps sophisticated enough to operate as fully functional, independent beings. Even ones that can grow and age and die like any of us. Ones that may evolve beyond the control of their amok. Or perhaps the original creator may grant the creation its own independence, even command it to forget its very nature and believe whatever story it is told about its origins.”
Adrien’s spirits crashed back down. He saw Marinette’s smile disappear, and his eyes found the floor again.
“Is there no way to be sure?” he asked.
A pause. “There is … one way. The only sure way,” said Wayzz.
Adrien looked up. Wayzz looked back at him uncomfortably, and Adrien understood.
“Release the amok.”
Marinette’s jaw dropped. “Absolutely not!”
Adrien clenched his fists and took a steadying breath. “I have to know,” he said. “And if I really am a …” He swallowed but couldn’t bring himself to say it. “... well, then, I shouldn’t even be here.”
“That’s not true.” Adrien was surprised by the iron in Marinette’s voice. Normally she seemed so nervous around him. But, then again, he thought, this is Ladybug. He could recognize the determination in her eyes now—the same fire that he always saw there when they were fighting an akuma.
Marinette looked back at Master Fu. “I won’t allow it.”
“I am confident that destroying that locket will have no effect,” Wayzz said. “It would merely be a gesture to put everyone’s minds at ease.”
Marinette shook her head. “I won’t risk it. And I won’t let you risk it either.” Before anyone could respond, Marinette had grabbed Adrien’s hand and was dragging him toward the door. “We have some things to talk about. Excuse us. Tikki, Plagg, we’ll be back for you.”
Down the street, around the corner, through a small, shady park tucked in a corner. A breeze blustered around them, the sky gathering clouds.
“I come here sometimes when I need to think,” Marinette said, stopping in front of a great oak tree. “There’s hardly ever anyone here, so it’s a good place to be alone.” She glanced down at their hands, still clasped between them, and a faint blush colored her cheeks. “Oh—s-sorry.” She relaxed her grip, but Adrien held tight.
“Don’t,” he said. “Please.”
For a moment they were silent. He stared down at their hands. He didn’t know what to say. What was there to say? Everything. But nothing came to him. Except ... one thing. Something that probably didn’t matter much considering everything that had happened. But it was the one thing he didn’t have to wonder about … if he asked.
“I …” he began. Marinette squeezed his hand reassuringly. “In the alley … the kiss … d-did you mean it?”
She didn’t answer. He dared to look at her. She was gazing at him in a way he’d never seen her look before, her eyes soft on the edges but bright and crystal clear.
“Yes,” she said simply.
“I—I thought you were in love with someone else,” he said, trying not to sound pitiful.
To his surprise, she let out a soft laugh. “You still don’t get it, Kitty? It was you. It was you all along.”
“Yes, you. Adrien. I tried so many times to tell you, but I never worked up the nerve.”
Adrien had to smile at that. “Hard to imagine Ladybug ever being nervous.”
“Well, that’s the kind of effect you have on me. But if I’d known you were Chat Noir … I don’t think I’d be nervous at all.”
“So … you’re not disappointed?” Adrien asked. “That it’s me? That I’m him?”
She put a hand on his face. It was warm and soft. Adrien closed his eyes at her touch.
“Of course not,” she said. “I’ve always had a soft spot for you, Kitty. How lucky am I that the boy I’m in love with turned out to be my partner? I can keep both sides of you in my heart forever now. I can finally make you mine.”
Adrien’s heart skipped a beat. Mine. Ladybug wanted him to be hers. It was what he had been waiting to hear ever since he first laid eyes on her. A dream come true. But it was a dream with jagged edges, a wish fulfilled with a sour taste.
“You still love me?” he dared to ask. “Even though …” He trailed off, his eyes falling to the leaves stirring at their feet. Marinette ran her thumb across his cheek. His skin tingled.
“I’ve loved you since the day we met. Since you gave me your umbrella. We’ve been through a lot, you and I, both sides of us. And I’ve loved you through it all. And nothing could change that. Nothing.”
Adrien couldn’t hide the bitterness in his voice. “But I’m not even ... human.”
Marinette gave a small smile. “Tikki and Plagg aren’t human, and they’re our best friends. What you are matters a lot less than who you are.”
“But you … you believe that I’m … that I’m a ... ?”
Marinette was already shaking her head. “I don’t know. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you and I know the truth. Which is that you, Adrien Agreste, are a good person. You have the most pure and human heart of anyone I’ve ever known.”
He looked down at her, with the wind rustling her hair and her eyes bright and blue and her cheeks pink from the nip of the air and her lips turned up in a small smile—so Ladybug, so Marinette. And he fell in love with her all over again.
“Thank you,” he said. “You don’t know how much it means to hear you say that. To know that you still believe in me.” And if she believed in him, did anything else really matter?
“You’re my partner,” she said. “I’ll always believe in you.” Then she let out a soft laugh. “It’s ironic, right? This whole time I kept rejecting you because I was in love with you.”
Adrien smiled back. “And I was so focused on the you in the mask that I was blind to what was right in front of me. You know, I’ve had feelings for you for a long time. But I didn’t want to admit it because I felt like I was being unfaithful to Ladybug.”
A smile twisted her lips. “Under different circumstances, it would be funny.”
“Honestly, it still kind of is.”
They looked at each other for a moment, and then suddenly they both broke into laughter. They clutched each other and laughed and laughed until tears filled their eyes. Adrien let go of everything and felt the stress and horror and heartbreak of the day roll off of him. The weight disappeared from his chest. No matter what was wrong, being here with Marinette made everything right.
As their laughter finally faded, raindrops began to fall.
Marinette smiled. “Just like the day we met.”
“I don’t have an umbrella to give you this time,” said Adrien.
“That’s OK. I like the rain.” Marinette slid her hands in her pockets and looked upward at the gray light filtering through the leaves. Then she froze with a strange look on her face. From her pocket she pulled out the locket.
“Um, here,” she said, holding it out to him. “You should have this.”
“Keep it,” Adrien said. Marinette’s eyes widened. “If that’s really my heart,” he went on, “it already belongs to you. Besides, I trust you.” Adrien pulled something from his own pocket—a gift Marinette had given him a long time ago. He held it up, the green and pink beads swinging lightly from his fingers.
“You’ve always been my lucky charm, milady,” he said.
Marinette wrapped her arms tightly around him. Through the chill of the rain, she was warm against his chest. He hugged her back, feeling her heart beating in rhythm with his own.
“Marinette?” he whispered. “I’m really glad it was you.”
Marinette—Ladybug—tipped her head up and kissed him softly. He melted into her, feeling a warmth burning in him from the inside out. When they parted, she looked up at him and whispered a word that was carried on the breeze straight to his heart.