Adrien stared into the round, long darkness of the camera lens. The clear portal to the camera was a one way trip in which his image travelled to the digital file while leaving his story in the eyes of the photographer. He could tell the camera how he felt; it was up to the person behind it to reciprocate with acceptance or denial.
He caught a glimpse of a distorted reflection of himself from the lens and quickly tightened the mask of visual perfection. His shoulders had rounded too much and he overcorrected when he stood back up. This was going to throw off the shot.
"Nice!" shouted a voice. "Nice!"
Adrien knew this wasn't nice. He could fake the stolid expression and the posture. But his eyes were tired. His hips were sore. His normal photographer would have given him a break by now just to alleviate the fatigue.
Instead, holding the camera was Vincent Aza. The blond exuded energy, bouncing around from one odd pose to another on the walkway by the Seine.
"Now say, 'Camembert!'" the photographer goaded.
Adrien heard a groan from inside his shirt. Plagg rested inside his pocket alongside a tin containing a wheel of his favorite cheese. With all the eyes on Adrien, his kwami couldn't float around, even if Plagg couldn't be caught on camera. Nathalie and Adrien's bodyguard watched Adrien from the edge of the staging area as carefully as he watched himself.
"Ah, that's more like it," Vincent encouraged as he took more pictures. "The sweet sensation of hunger makes the camera want more."
Adrien kept his exasperation inward and channeled it into a new wave of determination. As soon as he did, a blip yanked the edge of his sight, but he ignored it. He had to maintain the pose, but the blip reappeared.
That blip was approaching and coming closer, and he allowed himself to break character to see what drew near. It wasn't a blip. It was a person.
No, the celerity of the person confirmed that the approaching person was a supervillain.
"Adrien!" the supervillain called from the distance.
The female figure propelled herself forward a hopping run. Her bib and dress flapped in the wind as she sped past the onlookers who had kept their distance from the set of the photoshoot. She rocketed down the stairs next to the riverside path. In a few blinks of the eye she stood before him in patch-covered flesh and her dangling basket. Her eyes were glowing red, but her body language was giddy, ringing a dissonant note with her otherwise dangerous composition.
"Adrien," she said in a dulcet alto tone, "you have to tell me what it is that smells so good."
The bodyguard and Nathalie were at Adrien's side at once. Vincent nervously continued to take pictures. Adrien fixated on the red eyes of the speaker. He saw a shift in her body expression.
She was going to do something to the others.
He couldn't change into Cat Noir and he wouldn't be able to stop whatever attack she had readied. There was only one move, a move he hated.
"No," he protested, turning to his guardians, "it's okay. She's a friend."
"We go to school together!" she shouted to the adults before re-engaging Adrien. "Sorry for the getup, but it's part of the deal, and I can't let everyone see my face when I'm getting a bite to eat. Call me Taste Tester."
Adrien kept his confusion as masked as her face. Most supervillains discarded any sort of desire to be unknown. Between this and her lack of aggressive action, he quickly realized he might have a chance to de-escalate the standoff.
"Young lady," Nathalie stated sternly, "Adrien is in the middle of a shoot. Leave."
Adrien gulped. Surely Nathalie had to know that a demand to a supervillain would provoke her. To his astonishment, Taste Tester herself seemed to shrink slightly.
"I will, ma'am," she answered, "after he tells me what it is that smells so good." She craned her neck and her face closed in his white shirt pocket.
"It's Camembert," Adrien confessed. She immediately straightened.
"May I have some?" She pressed her hands together as if in supplication. "Please."
"Adrien," Nathalie cautioned.
"It's okay," Adrien replied as he took the container of cheese from his inner shirt pocket to Plagg's dismay. He opened it up and released powerful stench which crawled along the course of the river. He picked off a wedge and handed it to her. "Here you go."
She took the triangular hunk of cheese and slowly brought it to her mouth area. She nibbled it and Adrien could see the effects of the earthy flavors as her eyes glowed even more brightly. He put the rest of cheese in his pocket, but even out of sight its sensation caused Taste Tester to dance.
"All I wanted was a taste," she said. "Thank you so much! This is so better than an autograph or a poster. You really are as great as you smell."
She hugged him tightly enough for Plagg to be pressed against Adrien and to make a groan of annoyance.
"It sounds like you're hungry, too," she continued as she began to open her basket. "Would you like a snack?"
"Oh, silly me. You can't eat when you're at a shoot. I'll let you go back to work. You've got a test to study for and you'll need a full stomach for that."
She fled as swiftly as she had arrived. The bodyguard and Nathalie did not wait for her to distance herself and herded Adrien away from the set and into the limousine as soon as she turned her back. Vincent hung his head down as he was abandoned with the lights, the canvas, and the equipment, all junk by the river. The window of opportunity had closed like the portal to his lens and he packed up the objects with the resignation of closing a photo album.
Ladybug propelled herself through the skies. She made her own winds as she jumped and swung between rooftops, but she barely gave a passing thought to the sensation. Her eyes rapidly scanned the ground for Taste Tester, but the supervillain was not to be found.
A familiar shriek pulled Ladybug's gaze towards two figures in a deserted street, both teenagers, one chasing after the other. The orange-haired pursuer had a red apparatus on her back, but Ladybug focused on the girl running away. Her yellow jacket and yellow hair yanked her appellation from Ladybug's mouth.
"Chloé Bourgeois?" she asked herself.
Annoyed but determined, she landed on the ground between Chloé and the other girl, who she belatedly recognized as Sabrina from her clothes and hair. Ladybug ran alongside Chloé for a second before both stopped, Chloé instinctively hiding behind the heroine.
Ladybug's attention was occupied by Sabrina and the pair of black and red ovals behind her glasses. They were the stable anchors to a face contorted by primal desire. Her mouth and nose were twisted by a delirious grin that left a trail of saliva on the ground.
"Sabrina!" Ladybug called.
"It's no use, Ladybug," Chloé warned. "This crazy mummy came out of nowhere and put a curse on Sabrina."
"Ladybug..." Sabrina said as she slurped her drool. "...yummy....sugar."
Ladybug winced at the unnerving display. If this is what Taste Tester were capable of, she had been lucky to escape the bakery with her humanity intact.
Sabrina, by contrast, abandoned any sort of humanity with a leap towards Ladybug. Ladybug twirled her yo-yo as a shield, deflecting Sabrina. Sabrina did not scream but landed and scampered, then thrust forward the red tentacles on her back at the heroine. Ladybug turned as she maintained the shield. After she parried the launched limbs, she would look for an opening.
Reality denied her plans as kagune and the yo-yo collided. In a snap the shield broke.
With only a fraction of a second, Ladybug side-stepped and dragged Chloé with her to prevent the limb from striking them, but the slip of attention left the two of them open to Sabrina, who scampered towards them. Ladybug reflexively threw her yo-yo at the face of the charging Sabrina.
Not only did the girl not slow down, but the yo-yo bounced off her face as if it had hit a wall.
The pit of Ladybug's stomach dropped. She had only one option. She grabbed Chloé by the waist and retracted the yo-yo, then flung it again into the air, the rounded carriage hooking onto the side of a nearby building. As Chloé wailed, Ladybug pushed off the ground in a swing. She did not look back, but she could feel the red appendages of Sabrina grazing her in a last ditch effort of making her a meal. In less than a second, though she was out of the range of Sabrina or her tentacles, and the only Sensation that unnerved her was the heavy, squirming screamer she carried.
Ladybug continued the aerial traversal with her unwilling passenger. The banshee wail slit the Parisian air with every swing, until Ladybug spotted Le Grand Paris. Relief filled her as she saw Chloé's balcony and pushed herself towards it as quickly as the air would allow her and Chloé to travel. As it rushed up to meet her, Ladybug withdrew her yo-yo yet again and cradled Chloé with both her arms. With a thud, she landed and placed Chloé gently on the outdoor area outside her posh room.
Feeling the ground underneath her feet, Chloé shook and jumped for joy, then quickly regained a composure of disdain.
"Ladybug," Chloé said, extending her hand. "I assume you're here to give me my Miraculous."
"No," Ladybug answered as her mask sagged. "I'm here because you needed help." Ladybug turned and threw her yo-yo towards a nearby building. "Sorry, Chloé, but you're going to have to sit this one out. You'll be safe from anyone attacking you here."
"This is ridiculous!" Chloé stomped her foot and strained her neck. "I deserve to save Paris. Queen Bee can immobilize the villain and stop her from turning..."
As she spoke Ladybug ascended into the air and let the string carry her away.
"...people into monsters..." Chloé finished letting her voice trail off. Her anger evaporated then condensed into itching eyes.
The first tear fell down the side of her face like a water droplet sliding down a steamy pane of glass. More flowed afterward, and the dam of regret had been breached.
Chloé could not stop shaking. It wasn't just that it was her fault. It was that Sabrina was still hungry.
She would never dare voice the feeling aloud, but it forced the tears down her face. Her best and only friend was hungry.
Her mind threw up a wall. She could have saved Sabrina, but Ladybug was leaving her, not letting her help. Again.
A knock came from the door leading to her room. Chloé hoped it was the butler.
"Coral," Audrey said through the door, "what is that awful noise you're making?"
"I'm just doing yoga," she quickly lied as she sniffed.
"Good, because someone sent me a picture of you eating two croissants at once. How undignified! You're going to need to burn that off."
Chloé didn't need to hear the footsteps of her mother fade to know the woman walked away. The words of her mother reminded Chloé of what really mattered and instantly dried up her tears.
The idea of caring about that lower-class servant was ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous.