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Taste Tester

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Taste Tester watched Ladybug throw her yo-yo the sky and swing upward, as the black mass known as Cat Noir vaulted after her in chase. Vindictive vindication stomped out any fire of pity that she had for him. He deserved to be hungry.

A croissant hit the back of her head and broke her moment of reflection, and she turned around. The patrons of Guru Monde displayed faces of fear and anger.

"Hey!" Alix yelled. "What did you do to Cat Noir?"

"Wait a minute!" Alya interjected. "We can reverse it if we can break the object where the akuma is hiding." Her words were met with nods and cheers and the idea spread over the patrons like sunshine.

"Her akuma has to be on her," cried another customer. "Let's hit her until something breaks!" The words cast a shadow over those same patrons. Determination had been discarded for revenge.

"Humans," Taste Tester announced, turning the word into an imprecation. "I was a fool to try to tutor any of you. You all think I'm a monster, too!"

Taste Tester let a war cry loose as she dashed and jumped, stabbing people with her kagune.  Those patrons soon developed black and red eyes and red kagunes of different types.  The unaffected patrons fled the restaurant with the new ghouls scrambling behind them, breaking glass and turning over tables in their pursuit.

She no longer wanted to be a hero or to help these humans study. Being a villain was more fun. She exhaled a brief laugh, only for Hawk Moth's voice to shut it off like a light switch.

"Taste Tester," he commanded, "stay focused. Follow Ladybug and Cat Noir. You need to retrieve their Miraculouses."

"On it, Hawk Moth!" she replied.

She took a deep sniff and ran out of the cafe.  She launched herself into the air and onto a roof, disturbing a flock of pigeons that gathered in oblivious instinct. They departed and stirred up a slight wind, only for a new breeze to rustle her dress and bib. It carried a pair of new scents made her as still as a rock.

"Oh no! It's--" Taste Tester began before clipping her words. "...Hawk Moth, we have a problem."

"Taste Tester," Hawk Moth insisted. "I want no excuses."

"There are others coming that are stronger than I am, even with your help."

Hawk Moth groaned to mask his consternation. Usually his creations were brimming with foolhardy fearlessness. That she retained her reticence to fight meant either that her fear was stronger than her desires, or that she was accurate in her assessment.

"I don't stand a chance against them, even now," she continued. "I can't let them spot me. I'm downwind, so I can wait them out somewhere else."

"Very well," he said. "Retreat for now, but I will need those Miraculouses."

"Don't worry." She dropped back to the ground, then retreated. "Once those ghouls pass, I'll let Cat Noir come to me. Even after eating Ladybug he won't be a match for me. He won't know how to use his kagune the way I can."

She opened her basket and removed a half-eaten croissant, then bit into before departing.

"Bon appétit," she muttered bitterly. It was a shame her classmates had to die. They knew where to get delicious food.

Ladybug's heart pounded as strongly as her feet did against the rooftops of Paris. She was more used to running towards danger in her costume then running away from it. She was even less used to what she felt now - terror.

Cat Noir had been compromised by villains so many times before that she couldn't even bother to keep count. Neither of them particularly liked when it happened but they both understood that it was a risk of the job. Turning the heroes against each other was an expected development and she had plenty of practice fighting him.

She had battled him mesmerized and directly controlled. She had even battled him in the alternate future when he was Cat Blanc and his destructive power dwarfed what he had now.

But this was the first time that he actually wanted to eat her.

He chased after on all fours. She jumped as he fired a series of bullets from his new appendages at her. The projectiles missed her narrowly and she could feel the air rush past her heel. He had no higher reasoning. He didn't want her Miraculous. He was playing a little game of cat-and-mouse where she was the mouse and he was closing in.

He shouldn't have been this fast, this strong, or this ruthless. Hawk Moth wanted her Miraculous. Giving a villain or a minion the desire to eat people could result in the Miraculous itself to get damaged or lost. This wasn't like Feast, which wanted to swallow her whole. This was a being that wanted to tear her flesh apart.

Until she remembered that he would only eat her body, piece by piece, and leave the Miraculous for the taking.

With a grunt, she reached for her yo-yo. Her Lucky Charm would be her only hope to escape from the predator her partner became.

Her motion was a moment too late.

She stopped hearing his steps and didn't understand until something pushed her and she fell. The blur of black had knocked her face forward onto the shingles of a sloped roof, while the rest of her body followed with a thud. The shingles splintered with her hope. She expected to be able to recover, but he was on top of her before she could even think. She had fought against him whenever he was brainwashed enough to know they were evenly matched, but whatever Taste Taster had done to him made him stronger, faster, more durable...

...and gave him a pair or red, crystal wings to match his now-red eyes.

Her body was pinned by Cat Noir. All four of his human limbs immobilized her, and he spread his wings over her form. She struggled and swung her irises from left to right, hoping to find something that would help her get free. All she noticed was a pair of blurry shadows that were probably pigeons.

"Little kitty on a roof," Cat Noir raspily sang, "all so hungry for his lady..."

Drops of saliva rained on her costume. He was not even going to turn her around to face him. Tikki's warning about the supervillain echoed in her ears.

Anyone akumatized by Hawk Moth is dangerous. Even the ones that paid for their meals, Ladybug added.

As soon as the thought hit her, she was free and she blinked. Quickly she flipped over and looked around. She felt a tap on her shoulder, and a gloved hand draped in front of her. She sat up and grabbed the hand. She felt another hand on her back helping her to stand. She turned to face her rescuer.

The tall man standing before her wore a white full face mask, painted with the black design of a squid and framed with purple hair. On top of his head was a tan fedora that matched his trench coat. Underneath his trench coat was a dark three-piece suit, and below those were black shoes with white tips.

He gently brushed her shoulders to remove the debris. It was only then that she noticed two red tentacles emerging from his back. She jerked, but stopped herself from going into a full defensive stance.

"Don't worry," he said. "I'm not going to hurt you."

A motion flickered in her peripheral vision. Ladybug spun around. On a nearby rooftop Cat Noir was leaping at a woman wearing a white labcoat over a red skirt and a cloth face mask. Cat Noir wildly bounced off the roof like a ball and flung pieces of his wings at her. Her red appendage formed over her left shoulder and covered her arm like a sleeve, ending in a singular point. She took a parrying stance, taking some of his wild attacks and skillfully avoiding his blitz-like assault.

Ladybug instantly read her behavior and stepped forward to swing in.

"Stay back," the man warned. "She can take care of him."

Another shower of red bullets rushed from Cat Noir into his target. She did not fall but she staggered, and he jumped in for the kill. She rolled with his pounce and took her knees into her chest, then extended her legs, kicking him off her. She tumbled to her feet with an even pace, but Cat Noir staggered slightly in spite of his speed.

He was getting tired.

This dueling dance went on for a few minutes and as the seconds ticked by, Cat Noir slowed, his actions less precise, and his body fatigued.

It was the rope-a-dope.

Cat Noir didn't have the mind for strategy. He was too hungry. He rushed towards her in repeated quick lunges that became less quick with each attempt. He made a final, stumbling leap before collapsing near the edge of the roof, with the red limbs jutting from his back dissolving at the same time. The woman bent down next to him and picked him up with one arm before he could slide off, cradling him under her shoulder.

Ladybug found herself lifted up in the same manner.

"Hang on," the man said.

He followed the woman, who had begun to depart and quickly caught up with her, propelling himself with his appendages. Ladybug shook, not only with the physical jostling, but at the scenes that unfolded in front of her on the ground.

There were people on top of other people, limbs in places there shouldn’t have been, and screaming.

One of the screamers was a skinny man in a gray suit who tried to cover his face with his forearm. It was Mr. Ramier, cowering as Roger, now sporting a red, bisected tail, closed in.

And this time she could not help him.

"Don't stare!" the man carrying Ladybug ordered. He firmly but softly pressed his free hand over her eye mask.

The jostling grew even more nauseating now that she couldn't see.

She heard a higher-pitch voice shout a quick German utterance. Under other circumstances she would have understood it readily. Instead she felt herself become light. She was falling and the sudden jolt of the landing came sooner than she expected.

In the back of her mind, she wondered if this were what it was like for those she rescued. Her mind felt as if it were in a blender, whirring in confusion with no idea when her body would come to a complete stop.

Until it did. Her rescuer released his grips over her body and her eyes, which opened round in confusion.

They were back in Guru Monde.

A few minutes ago, the cafe had been full of patrons. Taste Tester had been here. Their classmates had been here.

Now Ladybug stood in the midst of an establishment populated by turned over tables and splayed books, not people.  Drinks had been spilled and food was turned over on its side.  The female figure placed Cat Noir's limp body onto one of the still-upright chairs.

A cup of coffee rested on a table near Ladybug. The man put his gloved hand on the paper cup and opened up the beverage, releasing both steam and the aroma of mocha. He opened his trench coat and pulled out a box with brown cubes, and plopped two of them into the cup.

"He's too far gone for that alone," the masked woman advised, sounding as much the part of the doctor as she looked. Her German accent was faint, but noticeable. Her partner continued to bring the beverage to Cat Noir.

"Young man," he encouraged, "drink up."

Cat Noir parted his lips in a groan and the man lifted the cup to Cat Noir's mouth.  He tilted it and the liquid poured between his lips.  Instinctively, Cat Noir swallowed and his eyes opened fully.  Red veins trailed through the black orbs, and his red irises widened he swallowed.

"That's right," the man coached. "Drink this as a start."

The man slowly withdrew the cup and then rested it on the table. He backed up and let Cat Noir follow his nose and lap at the liquid. Seconds later the teenager picked up the cup and gulped it.

"He needs more than that," the female figure announced. "Get the canister."

As she spoke Cat Noir slowly attempted to get up. For a moment, Ladybug asked herself a question that sickened her.

What if he made a break for her?

"Sit down," the man said. Cat Noir obeyed more out of submission to his remaining weakness than any actual agency he had left.

"At least he can follow directions now," the woman remarked before turning to the crimson champion. "Ladybug, may I have a word with you?"

Ladybug obeyed the summons and crossed the establishment towards the woman. Upon closer inspection, her wavy burgundy hair was loosely carried into a bun, and there were bags under her eyes offset by striking eyebrows. She was not old, but she was older than she moved.

"We ask you to please help that young lady," the woman said. "Save her and turn her back to the way she was."

"Of course," Ladybug answered. "Why would I do anything else?" The woman smiled slightly at the genuine altruism in her voice and the corners of her eyes folded.

"How wrong of me to assume."

A grunt pulled Ladybug away from the conversation. She instead spied Cat Noir, with red around his mouth to match the red in his eyes. He shook as he stood up, as if trying to escape the metal container set before him. The man pressed his hands firmly on his shoulders, and Cat Noir buckled.

"No," the man insisted loudly to Cat Noir, "you are not done! Eat it all."

"I...can manage from here," he protested.

"Finish it or you'll get more pangs. I know how much teenagers eat. This is barely enough to tide you over."

Ladybug had upgraded her curiosity from a glance to a stare as Cat Noir resignedly bent his head and opened his mouth.

"Don't look over there," the woman in the labcoat ordered.

"What's going on?" Ladybug asked.

"We're making sure your partner regains his right mind. We know how much he needs."

Ladybug wrinkled her mask in confusion before clarity hit her with a thunderclap. The only way for a victim to return to sanity would have been to eat someone.

Which meant these two must have eaten someone in order be sane.

And that meant Cat Noir was eating human remains now. Her neck automatically started to turn to confirm her guess.

"Ladybug," the woman called, "look at me." The heroine heeded her call and her sight centered on the woman's covered mouth.

"Why are you wearing masks?" Ladybug asked.

"Because we don't want to be seen like this."

Ladybug stopped herself from pressing further. If she had to eat someone, she probably wouldn't want people to see her face either.

"Thank you for helping us," Ladybug said.

"We wish we could do more," the woman offered, "but we know...your foe...well. She will not show herself if she even gets a whiff of either of us."

Ladybug exhaled as she contemplated the words, but her next breath became a gasp as heard someone close in. She turned towards an advancing Cat Noir. His eyes were green again and his mouth had been wiped clean of red.

"Cat Noir!" Ladybug cried. "You're back to normal!"

"Not quite," he answered and made his eyes red and black.

He released his kagune. She had to admit he looked more like a dark angel than the playful devil she knew. He let the wings disappear and his eyes return to green.

"He gave me a crash course," Cat Noir continued.  "I think I could get the hang of this!"

As soon as he spoke, a trio of teenagers assembled outside the café and made their way towards the group.

"Ladybug..." Alix called, her eyes now sporting the signature red and black colors.

"So sweet," Aurore commented with similar eyes. "Sugary snow."

"BFF-fast," Alya said with eyes as black as her glasses and redder than her hair.

"Quick!" the masked man announced. He and his partner stepped between the young heroes and the newly compromised. "There's no time! You two go after the target."

"We'll hold them off," the woman replied, her accent growing thicker with desperation. "Besides, only the two of you can undo this.  Please, save her."

"We will!" Cat Noir promised. The two of them ran out the shattered glass opening where a window pane had been and made their way to the roof. The two looked around, but there was no sight of Taste Tester.

"How are we going to find her?" Ladybug asked. "She could be anywhere!"

Cat Noir did not immediately answer. Instead he sniffed.

"I think I caught her trail," he said, "and she's definitely...scared."

"Scared? What could she possibly be afraid of?"

"I don't know, but as strong as her scent is, she won't escape us."

"Are you going to fly us there?" she joked.

"You trust me, right?" He extended his hand and she grabbed it.

"As long as you don't try to eat me."

"Then climb on." He patted his back.


Cat Noir nodded to answer her. The thought of him as a mount almost made Ladybug laugh, but instead, she grabbed his waist and rested on the same areas from which his appendages had once emerged. She was getting two monster rides in one day.

"Don't forget to buckle up," he said.

She took his belt and tied it snugly around their waists, then rested her head beside his. Once secure, he ran in his four-limbed gait with his lady on his back. He ran even faster than she would have been able to swing, and changed directions more abruptly and precisely than he could twirling his staff.

And unknown to them, below in an alley, a shorter man covered in rubbish and smelling like garbage followed him in a trash can, hoping to catch a creature.

Cat Noir still couldn't believe that had to become a cannibal to live.

He was still slightly hungry. He wasn't ravenous or out of control, but Ladybug still smelled delicious. He flung himself from wall to wall and rooftop to rooftop in chase of the new scent of his quarry. If he focused on that, he would be fine.

He knew it was just the magic, and the sooner Taste Tester was defeated, the sooner his hunger would vanish.  Still, the sharpness of the world was an entirely new experience.  He could smell and hear far more clearly than he even did as a superhero, with the noises and fumes of the city as clear as the sight in front of his mask.

It should have been overwhelming, but it wasn't.  Apparently, the curse compensated and gave him a level of awareness beyond his superheroic self.  Otherwise he wouldn't have been able to hunt humans.

A sliver of revulsion hit his head at that last thought. He was thinking of humans as prey.  He had been affected by supervillains' powers on past occasions. Sometimes he was aware of the influence on his body, if unable to fight it, while others he had been completely consumed by the villain's will.  This was almost as if he an inherited a mindset of a monster, not just a hunger.

Which meant the longer he was like this, the less of the human him would be left.

His thoughts and desires coalesced into Ladybug.  She wasn't just the girl of his dreams.  On some level, he knew her voice.  The tones of her speech were so familiar, especially now that she had been shaken from her steady strength.

More than that, he knew that smell.

He didn't recognize the smell of a girl more confident and brave than any person he had ever known.  But he had encountered this particular cloud of scents elsewhere, recently and recurrently.  He was familiar with the unease she emitted and tried to suppress.  It was like smelling a stuttering sugar cube.

How would he know what a stuttering sugar cube smelled like?  The same way as it tasted, he assumed. He loosened his jaw enough to anticipate licking his lady's face as it rested next to his.

He shut his jaws immediately and clenched his tongue with his teeth.  That this curse used his hope to tempt him to eating the girl he loved meant it had to be broken all the faster.

Instead, he reaffirmed his vow of silence on these feelings. He and Ladybug needed to work in unison to beat this supervillain. The thought of her even having a hint of fear of him teased his hunger and cracked his heart. Those separate pains had to swept away they disappeared. Instead he focused on the aroma of the ghoul he hunted. He hoped when this was over no one would ever feel this way again.

The campus of Collège Françoise Dupont sat as a welcoming friend in the crowd of uninviting buildings. Cat Noir and Ladybug alighted in the courtyard of the school. Ladybug detached herself from her partner but held onto his belt. Devoid of all student life, the deserted edifice echoed silence. There were no signs of students anywhere.

Especially not Taste Tester.

"The trail ends here," Cat Noir stated.

"This has to be a trap," Ladybug said.

"But she won't fight us out here. Even if she knows we're here, she's not going to confront us. This is too open and she would be at a disadvantage."

"Then she could be anywhere in the school. And if we just go from room to room, we'll never find her before she finds us."

Ladybug breathed in deeply and threw her yo-yo into the sky.

"Lucky Charm!" she cried.

A red box with black spots fell into her palm. She opened it up and familiar miniature red buns with black spots were packed inside.

"Macarons?" she asked. "What am I supposed to do with these?" She turned to her partner. "Cat Noir?"

His eyes had turned black and red again.

"You can't smell that?" he asked.

"They smell a little sweet," she answered, "but faint, actually."

"No, they smell just like you, but only stronger." He shook his head. "Close the box."

She looked around. Her eyes looked toward the entrance of the courtyard, and she visualized the path to her destination. Her eyes also fell on Cat Noir's belt in her hand, and a plan began to take root in her mind.

"If these macarons are so irresistible to you," Ladybug reasoned, "I think Taste Tester won't be able to stop herself from eating them. Let's give her what she wants!"

The two of them nodded and ran into the hall, their thoughts in sync again.

Taste Tester gobbled the remains of a baguette as she was surrounded by wooden benches and tables. This had been her classroom, once, and it was also those of her foes.  Adrien had displaced her and Marinette had blossomed in her absence. She had been taken in by his celebrity and her kindness.  At least now the latter would be nothing more than a meal, although Taste Tester wished she had been able to eat Marinette herself.

Instead she would have to fight that black cat.  His ukaku type had been a boon for her; it complemented his speed but heightened his weaknesses.  She knew from the Ladyblog he could be reckless and too straightforward.  That would be good for an initial burst of speed, but he would wear himself out.

If it weren’t for them she wouldn’t be worried.

The ghouls of Paris typically hunted even more rarely and stealthily than elsewhere, but they could fight. With superpowers she would be a match for most ghouls.

But not them. They were too seasoned. They had survived more pain than she knew and they knew her.  And at the thought of having to face them, she asked herself this deal was worth it.

As she swallowed, she felt the static clear in her head.  It was worth it.  Once she retrieved what Hawk Moth asked for she could worry about what would come next.

A sound and a shadow swept past the rays of sunshine and she rose and peered out of the pane of glass. She felt a flash of annoyance upon seeing the two heroes land on the asphalt outside the window. There was only one way Cat Noir would have avoided eating Ladybug. He had to have eaten someone else.

And a horrible thought hit her with full force.

Perhaps she had underestimated him, and perhaps he eaten them. No, they wouldn’t have lost to him, and he was focused, not screaming like a madman. He wasn’t a kakuja.

That word, kakuja, had only been uttered a few times within earshot. The thought of eating her own kind was completely repugnant. Humans were meant to be eaten.

She would just dispose of Cat Noir instead of eating him.

Her eyes focused on Ladybug. The crimson conjurer had not wasted a moment and created a box. The heroes then split up and entered the building, and Taste Tester sauntered over to the door. All she had to do was wait for one of them to enter Miss Bustier's classroom in search of her.  Then she would consume Ladybug.

Taste Tester heard a slight sequence of repeated beeps and the zipping of a string. She pressed herself against the wall next to the door. Ladybug had used her special skill and that act had started the countdown to her doom.

Seconds passed and Taste Tester heard no further noise, but a cloud of scents hooked her by the nose. She peeked around the frame of the door and in front of it was a red and black pastry in front of the opening.

Taste Tester released her kagune to cover her arm and bracelet, but her ears told her that aside from the macaron, the halls were empty. The pastry smelled like the combined sweetness of human flesh and the macarons she had purchased. No trace of any drug or suppressant was on it. She picked it up and popped it into her mouth.

It was the most delicious dish she had ever tasted in her life.  It was sweet, salty, meaty, tangy, and potent. It only whet her appetite. Her classmate would be sweeter.

She looked down the hall and on the floor at the edge of sight was another macaron.

This was predictable. They were leading her on a trail. She decided to play along, this time dropping the macaron in her basket to savor later. She repeated this process with subsequent macaroons, keenly aware of her advantage. In order to attack her they would have to reveal themselves.

She half-expected the heroes to strike when she scooped up each pastry, and as she followed the path, demented delight turned into dismay. They weren't leading her outside, to the entrance, or even to the courtyard where they could surround her in a blitz. Instead, each pastry brought her directly to their desired destination, the locker room.

The two scents of her pursuers had intensified intertwined, both ghoul and human were a mixed blend of smells that could hardly be distinguished. Between the macaroons and their close contact, she knew they awaited her, and as she neared, a pair of heartbeats also caught her ear.

She walked into the locker room and made a quick left to home in the lockers assigned to Miss Bustier's class. The destination of her target was as obvious as her tactics.  Taste Tester no longer needed her nose or ears to strike, although a slight tap on a locker behind her threatened to distract her.

"Fighting in an enclosed space is the worst move you could make, Ladybug," she gloated. As she approached Marinette's locker, a shower of bullets slammed towards her from behind. She blocked them with her kagune.  Surprisingly the projectiles barely hurt and she understood belatedly how much stronger she was now.  This was going better than expected.

"Sorry," Cat Noir interjected with his kagune activated, "Ladybug's not here. Catch me if you can!"

Taste Tester laughed. Ladybug would not have even been an annoyance, but she was still a second fighter. That Cat Noir decided to attack her alone meant only one thing.

She had already transformed back into Marinette.

The fracas began at once. He maintained his distance, alternating between pouncing and firing off his imagine.  The sound of hardened RC cells smacking into lockers echoed through the room.  His aim was both single-minded and imprecise.

His target was where her kagune covered her hand. He was predictably pulling his punches. His one-dimensional attack was like that of a younger brother. She pivoted, sidestepped, and deflected when she had to. There was no need for her to go on the offense to win. He stuck to the ground in his bursts, not bothering to use his natural abilities to attack from above eye-level. It made it all the easier to focus on him.

Cat Noir fired off another series of bullets. They ricocheted off a locker past Taste Tester. He took his staff in his hand then extended it.

He hoped to strike between a potential gap of the kagune and the basket she held. Instead he missed and gave birth to more clangs. He took another swing and sloppily struck a locker with his staff.

He was wearing himself out, and he took a few more steps. He fell face up.

"Twice in one day..." he said weakly.

She bent over and placed her foot on his head. He wildly thrashed his hands, the ring flailing with his fingers.

"Hawk Moth wants the Miraculous," she said, "but it will be easier taking it from you once you're nice and still." Her kagune lengthened and extend towards his head.

Then it stopped. It was braced between both his now stationary left hand and his right and Cat Noir rose slowly with the strength he had hidden. She thought she had been baiting him, but he had baited her.

"Cataclysm," he said.

Her kagune started to rot and crumble.

Shock grasped at Taste Tester, but she flung her surprise away with a realization. She dissolved her fraying kagune before the creeping rot reached the organ that generated it, her kakuhou.

She smiled behind her mask. In seconds it would form again while Cat Noir had used up his chance. Taste Tester held onto the basket with a newfound strength. She would not let anyone take it or this victory from her.

Then she heard three more beeps behind her, but it was too late to react. Ladybug had come from above and behind. She wrapped a black belt around Taste Tester's face mask, covering her eye holes before leaping off her.

It was at that moment she realized the heroine had been there the whole time. Cat Noir's wild swings were not merely for performance. They had masked the telltale sounds of Ladybug's presence.

Taste Tester's grip on the basket loosened and it fell to the floor with her falling after it. Ladybug grabbed the basket and placed her foot on the bench of a coat rack. She smashed the basket against her thigh, and the black butterfly escaped the basket.

"No more evildoing for you, little akuma," Ladybug chastised. "Time to de-evilize!" She trapped the butterfly in her yo-yo, then pulled it towards her. Once in her hand, she tapped the red and black carriage and it opened up to reveal a plane of light. A white butterfly pushed off the light and went into the air.

At the same time a dark wave rippled over Taste Tester, and Denise was in her place. Her pink shirt and purple skirt were a welcome sight. The belt had fallen off her eyes, but she collapsed, and her stomach quaked and quivered as she blacked out.

Ladybug scanned the ground after she purified the akuma. In order to restore everything, she needed a piece of her Lucky Charm, and Taste Tester had eaten and stored nearly all of them. Now that she was Denise again, the macaroons she had taken vanished with her magical outfit and basket.

"Looking for something, milady?" Cat Noir asked.  His eyes were at least green again. Even if he had not been cured yet, she appreciated the gesture.

"Thank you." She took the pastry from him.

"I was wondering. How did you know she would go to the left when she went in the locker room?"

"Because Chloe's locker was in that direction," she explained in a half-truth. "She probably still held a grudge about being called a cheater."

"Yeah, it must be awful when people accuse you and no one sticks up for you." Cat Noir watched the skin of Ladybug turn as red as her suit.

"Of course I stuck--" Ladybug watched the corner of his curl mouth in a smirk and she belatedly stopped speaking.

"So you were actually there when this happened."

Her stomach sank. Her cover story would lead directly to her. Alya would upload the story onto the Ladyblog once she was cured. Her superhero career was over.

"You know we're not supposed to know each other's identities!" she yelled.

"No," he teased, "but that doesn't mean I can't figure it out, bugaboo."

She ignored his words and threw the macaron into the air.

"Miraculous Ladybug!" she shouted. The macaron burst into a storm of ladybugs. Spouts of pink and red spread over the city and around the locker room, placing every object and person as they were, human and ghoul.

Sunlight split the dark lair, and Hawk Moth's mind was split between anger and disappointment. He clenched his fists and held them at his side.

"That left a bad taste in my mouth," he mused aloud, "but there have to be more reluctant monsters roaming about Paris. All it takes is one, then soon, Ladybug and Cat Noir, I will taste the sweet dish of revenge served alongside your Miraculous!"

The opening closed and the room darkened. Only his bitter hope remained.