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Alya Cesaire prided herself on her journalistic abilities. As the world's number one reporter of all things Miraculous, she worked hard to find and create new and interesting things for her ravenous fans. While the posts and pages of her site were filled with everything from the serious reports on akuma sightings to gossip worthy discussions on Chat Noir and Ladybug's “assets,” Alya’s true passion was the pursuit of figuring out who exactly was under those masks.

The problem was that it was proving harder than anticipated to find the heroes’ identities. Sure, theories were easy - there were more than enough in the thousands of comments on her blog. Alya herself had some suspicions. Suspicions that she finally felt was time to confirm (or not).

It had started when she’d gotten a filter on her phone that put a mask on photos. Flipping through her pictures, she’d jokingly popped a black cat mask on an ad photo of Adrien and had just about had a heart attack. The similarities were astonishing, even if Marinette in her crush-filled daze had instantly and rather vehemently dismissed the idea. True, Adrien’s gentle meekness was nothing like the overdramatic behaviour of Chat Noir. Plus, every moment of Adrien’s life seemed to be either busy with work or extracurriculars. Looks aside, it seemed unlikely her modelling friend would have the time to be a superhero. But it had piqued her curiosity.

Ladybug had remained mostly a mystery. The only person who seemed to remotely come close to looking like the spotted heroine had been Marinette, and Alya just couldn’t picture that being a reality. Sure, Marinette wore her hair the same and had blue eyes, but the vision of gangly, accident-prone, spacey Marinette as the unflappable, death-defying Ladybug was nearly impossible.

Besides, Alya was sure if Marinette was Ladybug she would have slipped up by now. Said something or did something that could give her away. But Marinette was just her usual flailing, overthinking, blurting-out-whatever self.

Alya had started throwing the mask filter on every picture of every dark haired woman and girl in Paris she could find. She puzzled out loud, over and over, about how different the heroes might look with the masks and without them.

Although everyone thought that Alya ran towards the akuma fights solely for the purpose of recording the event for her blog, the truth was that she was also using it as an opportunity to study her favourite heroes in more detail. Hoping to get a glimpse or a clue of anything that might give their identities away.

Getting her own Miraculous had allowed her to get even closer. Being right in the thick of the action with Chat Noir and Ladybug had been like a dream come true. Watching them interact with each other - the flirting, the joking, the chiding, and the general ability to work together without words had been unbelievably fascinating. And also incredibly frustrating. No closer than she was before on breaking through the facade.
Alya often wondered why Ladybug had chosen her. Of all the people in Paris, why would Ladybug trust her to hold such a big secret? It needled under the skin. Did she know Ladybug outside of the suit? The thought burned in the back of her head.

Then there was Nino. Dear, sweet, naive Nino who had given himself away with a single word. Alya adored being teamed up with Nino as Carapace. But, why Nino? Did Ladybug know him as well?

Marinette’s name kept popping into her head over and over.

It changed everything in Alya’s head to watch Ladybug with that frame of mind, even as she stood recording the most recent fight.

The akuma battle was hard. She could see it taking a toll on the heroes. Chat had dropped most of his typical jokes in favour of straight up face-to-face combat. Ladybug had vanished and reappeared several times to get new Lucky Charms. They both looked exhausted. Alya wondered why they hadn’t called for backup from other members of the team yet.

“Lucky Charm!” Ladybug’s weary voice yelled out from a rooftop, a flash of sparkling pink light turning into an object that Alya couldn’t see. There was a moment of silence followed by the heroine shouting for her partner. Chat ducked and dodged his way to where she stood, taking the object from her hand and running back into action as Ladybug swung into view. With quick and hurried movements, the pair went full-force against the akuma, avoiding the projectiles sent their way to get in close.

Alya kept her phone trained on the action in front of her while her eyes followed Ladybug. Could the girl behind the mask possibly be her best friend? She turned to look at Chat Noir who was busy cataclysming the akumatized object to dust. What if he WAS Adrien?

The rest of the fight was over - a white butterfly released from Ladybug’s yo-yo and the victim back to normal. Ladybug and Chat had a private moment of quiet talk between them before Chat kissed her knuckles and she swung away. Alya pressed her way through the crowd to find the cat hero helping the victim to his feet with kind words of encouragement. She called out to him, hoping to get his attention, but only got a quiet salute before he vaulted himself up and over the rooftops.

Did Ladybug and Chat Noir know each other’s identity? It was hard to tell, but time with the team had her thinking not.

At home, Alya spent hours sifting through photos, videos, news reports, and memories - anything she could find that could narrow her theory down to truth.

Although she didn’t know for 100%, a few clear facts seemed to stick out now that she was actively paying attention.

#1. Both Marinette and Adrien seemed to have excellent skill at vanishing whenever an akuma attacked.

#2. There were a significant number of akuma battles that were directly related to her friends or a location that her friends had been before the akuma had arrived. There were even a few cases where a hero had shown up in a situation that they obviously had been on scene already. Scenes where Marinette and / or Adrien had been.

In detail, she watched the news clips from every battle that Adrien had been involved with as his civilian self - noting that Chat never appeared.

Pacing her room, Alya fought with herself. It still seemed surreal to think of her friends as superheroes. Could it be true? More and more the pieces seemed to fit together and the more it just seemed to make sense.

Glancing at the clock, she knew that it was typically the time when she could spot her favourite team doing their patrols. Phone in hand, she bolted from the apartment with a shout to her mom that she would be at Nino’s. Tonight she would have an answer. Her heart pounded in excitement at maybe having broken such a big case.

As predicted, she spotted Chat running the rooftops.

“Chat!” she shouted, voice echoing against the walls of the buildings. He slid a little as he turned, catching sight of her frantic waving, before jumping to the ground.

“Hey Ladyblogger. What’s up?” He leaned casually on his baton, Cheshire-style grin firmly in place. Oh, she was going to enjoy this.

“Not much, Adrien. Just thought I’d see if you’ve seen Ladybug tonight.” She kept a very close watch on his face - noting the tiny reactions that he gave. A slight widening of the eyes, a tightening of the muscles in his shoulders, a subtle but sharp intake of breath. A fraction of a second too late he let out an overexaggerated laugh. Too loud. Too fake.

“Adrien? Adrien who? Like the model guy? Ha! Paw-lease. I’m way better than that pussy." He grinned too wide in his attempt to claim innocence. Alya felt like the fox who’d swallowed the hen.

“Give me a break, Adrien. I know it’s you." He just stared at her. "Let's see. Blond. Green eyes. Body like a Greek god." He had the decency to blush. "Conveniently missing during most akuma attack evacuations and shockingly close to so many that you can respond instantly. Ladybug fanboy. Awkward as all hell. Am I missing anything?"

For a moment, she thought he was going to attempt to argue with her. She silently dared him to, staring him down with a single eyebrow raise. Finally he waved his white flag, shoulders slumping and face falling.

"You can't tell anyone, Alya. Promise me. I will lose my Miraculous. I can't lose Plagg. Please."

He almost sounded desperate. Alya wondered exactly how tight a rein his father had on him. She nodded.

"Pinky swear."

She eyed him as he sighed in relief.

"Unless….." she drawled.

He froze, eyes wide in terror.

"I was thinking of telling Marinette." His eyes widened even farther. "I thought you might like Ladybug to know her partner is actually the model she is in love with." So casual. So calm. So confident.

Chat sputtered, going a strange shade of grey and red, clutching his baton as if it were a lifeline.

"Alya!" he gasped, claw clutching at his heart.

She just grinned while snapping a picture of his meltdown.

"You know, you kissed her, right? I bet she would be happy to know that it was you. Anyway, next time Trixx and I come play superheroes with you guys, remind me to mirage a copy of yourself so you can see how obvious it is." His mouth dropped. "Nino might even notice - oblivious turtle that he is."

A noise from the rooftop above caught Alya's attention. Ladybug stood at the edge, peering down at them.

Alya grinned again, waving.

"Hey Marinette. Adrien is having a hard time down here. He could probably use some help."

Ladybug stumbled slightly, gasping in surprise as her eyes snapped from Alya's face to Chat. Chat who returned her wide-eyed stare.

With a laugh, Alya snapped one more picture of the stunned pair before walking away and disappearing into the night.

She had been right! Giddy on the inside, she practically floated home. Her fingers itched to tell the world that she knew their identities. That she had figured out the biggest mystery in Paris. It pained a little to know that she couldn't tell a soul.

Flopping on her bed, she spent most of the night wondering what school tomorrow was going to be like knowing that her best friends were the heroes of Paris.

What she hadn't expected upon arriving the next day was to find Marinette and Adrien pressed up against a wall, panting for air between frantic kisses. Seeing as they were lost in the moment, Alya leaned against the stairs and waited with a smirk.

"Woah. What's going on with those two?" Nino asked as he sidled up to lean beside her. Alya shrugged.

"Looks like they finally figured out who they are and decided to do something about it."

Chapter Text

"So, this is a bit tricky."

Ladybug and I were sitting together on a tile roof we'd used a few times before as a casual meeting spot; in the late evening light, the lowering sun cast a golden glow against us and the building opposite. The Eiffel Tower was bathed in the final rays itself, making it appear to be more of a watercolor painting than actual steel. "Since when is anything we do easy," I laughed, leaning back on my paws. "What is it this time?"

She hesitated, which caused me to turn toward her. I had a bad pun lined up but the look her face was so serious, I instead scooted a bit closer to her and wrapped an arm around her. "Hey, bug, it's just us. What's bothering you?" I asked quietly.

Normally such physical contact on my part was generally (and good naturedly) swatted away, but instead she moved a hand to my paw and squeezed it. "I've got a… thing," she said. "I'm going to be unavailable for a while, and you won't be able to get ahold of me."

My masked eyes flew open. "What?" I nearly hissed. Pulling back slightly, I scanned her, trying to determine if there was something physically wrong. "Are you sick? Can you even be sick? It's not canc—"

Despite her seriousness, Ladybug smiled wanly. "Calm down, Chat. I'm perfectly all right. I just have to… be away for a bit, that's all."

I sat back further. "You're leaving Paris? How long?"

She flushed. "I didn't say that. And if I were, I couldn't tell you anyway."

"I suppose," I allowed. "But I'd feel better knowing you were safe."

"I will be," she said. "The tricky part, though, is that I can't leave you alone."

I smiled a grand Chat smile. "My love for you is true, Milady. I can wait for you to return."

That elicited a groan and a rolling of eyes. "I… wasn't worried in that regard," she laughed slightly. "I meant more that I can't have you running around Paris without backup."

I nodded slowly. "Can I have Carapace for bit? He'd be handy."

Ladybug shook her head. "You actually need a temporary Ladybug," she said. "Someone who can take care of the akumas."

I thought about that. A few weeks earlier, we'd had an odd situation where I'd wound up with the earrings for a bit and had become Mister Bug. It wasn't an experience I enjoyed overly, but it did give me an appreciation for what my partner went through beneath the burden of her Miraculous.

"I still say Carapace," I said firmly. "Based on how he's helped us in the past, he'd be a good fit with Tikki. Temporarily, of course," I added with a wink. "No one can replace you, Bugaboo. Not even me."

"Don't you forget it," she laughed. "All right, let me think about it. Whoever it is, though, I'll have them meet you here tomorrow at sunset."

I could feel the blood drain from my face. "You're going that soon?"

"Yeah," she said. "Sorry - I've known for a while, but I didn't want you to stew on it."

"Which I would - and still will."

"I know, kitty," she said, a slight affectionate tone in her voice as she picked up my paw again. "Don't worry, I'll be back."

"I'm going to miss you horribly," I said earnestly. Her departure suddenly made the possible future without the love of my life less of an academic thought experiment, and it was giving me a queasy feeling in the stomach.

She must have seen it on my face for she smiled again. "Please, kitty, don't worry. I will be back."

I swallowed. "How will I know that, Milady?" I asked honestly. "If something happens, there might not be any way for you to get a message to me - this could be the last night I'll ever see you!"

Ladybug flushed slightly. "I'd not thought about it like that," she said. "Look, how about this. I'll talk to Alya and get her to agree to post a message or two for me on her blog. Would that work?"

"How will I know it's you and not some random fan?"

She laughed. "Oh, you'll know," she said and then gently kissed me on the cheek.

Only somewhat mollified, I took her hand into my paw and kissed it. "I'll be waiting for you right here every evening," I promised. "Until you return."

"Chat—"

"Otherwise I am going to go crazy."

"All right," she laughed and we parted ways, though I was seriously tempted to quietly track her home. I'd nearly convinced myself unmasking her would be for her safety, but prudence kicked in and I headed back to the mansion for a long, sleepless night.

The next day felt even longer, tempered slightly by the anticipation of who I would find on the rooftop that evening. Ladybug seemed to have a knack for picking students from our classes at Dupont — well, that was an assumption, perhaps, since my entire data set consisted of only three people: Max, Alix and Marinette. Ladybug had kept the identities of Carapace and Rena to herself, and of course there was Chloe. Seeing as though I was also at Dupont, it stood to reason that Cap and Rena were students there as well. Luka was the only outlier, but since his sister attended Dupont with us, it made sense that our school was still a common denominator.

And possibly even for Ladybug herself. During that nasty run in with our science teacher, I'd thought Marinette was Ladybug; I'd found out later Ladybug had granted her a Miraculous much like Luka, but she'd inadvertently exposed her identity to me (as Chat) and much like Chloe was now on the list of people forbidden to use one. Otherwise I would have suggested her to Ladybug; I was certain she'd have made a fantastic temporary partner.

I arrived on the rooftop as Chat just as the sun was starting to sink below the horizon once more. Lounging on the tile much as I had the night before, I somewhat impatiently watched as the shadows grew longer and the sun dropped lower; soon, the lights had come on for the Eiffel Tower and one by one the windows in the buildings around me started to illuminate. By the dinner hour, I was no longer simply impatient - I was wracked with worry that something had happened to Ladybug.

My baton was in my paw and I'd just started to speed-dial her bug phone when I heard a crash in the alleyway below me, followed by a string of curses. Leaping from my seated position, I curled over the edge of the roof and landed in the alley myself in a crouch. All I could see two red-and-black polka dotted boots, peeking just from the rim of the dumpster, and I tried not to smile.

"Are you okay?" I asked as I leapt to the edge of the dumpster and perched.

"No," came a very distinctive voice, muffled by the contents of the dumpster. "What little dignity I have is in pieces, down here at the bottom with me."

"The yo-yo is hard to master," I said as I reached in with both paws and yanked on a foot, dragging my new partner from the smelly depths. "Believe me," I grinned once I could see his face. "Ladybug gave me no end of grief for it."

Sheepishly, he sat on the edge of the dumpster next to where I was perched and shot an accusing glare at the yo-yo in his gloved hand. "I'm not sure why she picked me for this," he said looking back at me. "It's not really my style, Chat."

"It's only temporary, Cap," I laughed as I took in his new costume.

It was a sporty variation on the one he normally wore as Carapace, much as my version of the bug costume had hewed close to my Chat style. The base was red, of course, and the signature black polka dots were there but very stylized. Perhaps the biggest change was the full head covering - his mask was built into a polka dotted cap of a style very similar to what I'd come up with as Aspik. "You look good," I smiled. "But we need a new name for you."

"We do?"

"Yeah," I said. "Something grand," I mused, putting a claw tip to my chin. "I was already Mister Bug, so how about—"

"Chat, let's just stick with Mister Bug," he interrupted.

"What?" I turned and saw he was still quite uncomfortable. As much as I wanted to make light of his situation, I was well aware of the burden of being the bug. "Oh… well, sure, if you're okay with it, Cap."

He nodded, then stared at the yo-yo again. "I can't do this," he said softly and sagged a bit.

"Yes you can," I encouraged. "You're not alone, either. We do this together."

Mister Bug looked at me like I'd sprouted another set of feline ears, but nodded anyway.

"Come on, let's get going," I encouraged. "We're already a bit late."

"Go? Where? Late for what?"

I smiled. "It's a patrol night," I explained. "Ladybug and I usually prowl the city a few times each week just to keep an eye on things. It's not strictly necessary - and Hawkmoth isn't kind enough to only throw akumas at us when we're not in school."

"School?" he repeated, and I realized I'd casually dropped in some identifying information without realizing it. "Do you go to Dupont?" he asked. "Both of you?"

I blinked my masked eyes, for now Cap had just admitted he, too, was a student at my school. "We shouldn't talk about that," I cautioned and then realized I'd not explicitly denied it.

His eyes widened. "You do, don't you?"

"Cap…" I started, narrowing my masked eyes. "We can't discuss that. I have no desire to lose my Miraculous."

"Oh," he said. "But Ladybug already knows who we are."

"Not me," I smiled slyly. "I've managed to remain a cat of mystery."

"She didn't pick you?" he asked. "Like the rest of us?"

"No," I said, realizing he'd hit on something. "No, she didn't. The two of us were chosen separately, but she's the leader so it's her call as to who else we bring to the team."

"You don't both select new members?" He looked a bit surprised. "I assumed the two of you worked together on that. "

"No," I admitted, "we each have different but complementary roles. And I'm not sure I'm leader material anyway."

"Don't sell yourself short," he laughed. "How do we do this patrol thing, then…?"

"Usually we start in random places and sweep the city in a quasi-circular pattern…" I started.

I spent the first night slowly showing him the ropes, and carefully chose a route that allowed him to get a better handle on the yo-yo. I was by no means an expert having only a few hours of direct experience, but working side by side with Ladybug had given me a front row seat to its many uses.

By the fourth night, Cap was truly starting to be more like Mister Bug. It had been an uneventful patrol - fortunately - and I'd rewarded his efforts by taking him to the top of the Eiffel Tower and surprising him with Belgian chocolate croissants from the Dupain-Cheng bakery my bodyguard had allowed me to pick up on the way home from school.

"Extraordinary view," Cap said.

"Yes," I agreed. "We're quite fortunate, really." I turned to him and added, seriously, "Being Chat has freed me to experience things my civilian self could never do. It's why it means so much to me to be a Miraculous holder - not just the 'keep Paris safe' part. That's important, for sure." I looked out across the city again. "If I couldn't be Chat, I'd be trapped in an existence not of my own making."

"I had no idea," Cap said softly. "Dude… you must have a life outside of this?"

"Not really," I laughed ruefully. "And that's all I'm going to say about it. Now eat up! I've got to get home and I'm sure you do, too."

My hopes for completing our run without having to deal with Hawkmoth only lasted until the following day at school. Nino and I had been flying solo, as Marinette and Alya had gone to London the night before - Marinette to compete in a fashion show for aspiring designers, and Alya to cover it as a special student correspondent for the TV station. They were to be there through the afternoon and I was excited for both of them to experience life outside of Paris for a few days.

It was a bit odd not to have our usual foursome, though, and I'd been saying as much to Nino when my phone chirped out the tri-tone akuma alert. Groaning inwardly, I fell to the back of the group of students who started to huddle around Chloe's iPhone to watch Nadjia's breathless coverage of the latest attack on Paris. Once I was certain they were fully engrossed, I slipped out of the chemistry classroom and flew down the steps to the men's bathroom. Pulling open the door, I dashed in and started to lock myself into a stall when the door slammed open a second time.

Whirling, I saw Nino come running through, oblivious to me as he was looking over his shoulder to ensure no one was behind him. That wasn't nearly as surprising as the fact he appeared to also be inserting a darkly-colored earring in one ear as he ran - a tricky proposition at best.

Realizing I couldn't transform I silently closed the door to the stall I was in and hopped on top of the toilet, and held my breath. With luck, he'd be in and out in a jiffy but to my horror, he swooped into the stall next to me and slammed the door shut with enough force to rattle the superstructure.

"Frigging earrings!" he hissed loudly, followed by a string of epithets.

A tiny but recognizable voice floated out of the space. "Calm down, Nino," it said sweetly. "We've got this under control. Chat will join you as soon as you get out there."

My jaw dropped, and I pressed a hand to my mouth, trying not to laugh too hard. For I had heard that sweet, soft, supportive voice myself when Tikki had unexpectedly become my kwami for a short bit.

"What if I mess up — damn it!" he cried. "There, got it. I mean, I've not really done this—"

"You'll be fine. You're a member of the team. Chat will guide you every step of the way."

"I hope so," he said, then finished nervously with: 'Tikki - spots on!"

There was a blinding flash of red light, and a split second later, the door to the stall next to me opened and I heard padded feet running to the open window. The telltale zing of the yo-yo informed me my partner was off to the races, so I quickly transformed myself and hurled my feline body out into the mid-afternoon sun.

Prudently, I chose a slightly different path and caught up with Nino — I mean, Carapace — oh, hell, Mister Bug — as he waited for me atop a half-wall at the Trocadero. Putting aside how frequently we seemed to fight akumas there, I leaned against my staff. "Well, time to put that training to the test," I smiled.

His eyes were wide, and the panic was coming off him in waves. "Chat—"

"So, step one," I said calmly. "Generally, I wander over to the akuma and get them rather wound up. Sometimes that involves me getting pummeled, but to be honest, it's the only time I get a catptive audience for my puns."

"Chat—" he tried again, swallowing hard.

"That leads to step two. While I get my kitty butt handed to me for a bit, you'll be up there on that rooftop, watching."

"Watching?"

"Exactly," I nodded. "You need to see the lay of the land, as it were, so you'll know what to call for when you use Lucky Charm."

"Lucky charm?" he repeated.

"Nino - no!" I cried as I held out a paw in warning, but I was a moment too late, for the sky above him burst into light and a polka-dotted DJ stand dropped out of nowhere to land next to him.

I put a paw to my face. "Well," I laughed. "It's not the strangest one I've ever seen." I looked up at him and smiled. "All right, let's just skip to step ten then."

"Chat," Mister Bug said softly. "You… you called me… I mean, you know..."

"We'll deal with that later," I said.

"But—"

"Later," I said firmly. "Now, quickly, look around! Your Lucky Vision has been activated, and it should light up on anything you can use with the Charm."

"Okay," he said tentatively, and started to scan the plaza. I watched the akuma with a moderate amount of interest, for I was actually very worried about having accidentally revealed Nino. Ladybug was going to kill me.

Then I realized it was just the two of us, and I was the Black Cat. I smiled slyly. Well, what the bug doesn't know…

"That…" Mister Bug said at last and not just a little tentatively.

I looked at what he was pointing at then back at him. "Uh… are you sure?" I asked, trying not to sound shocked.

"Yes," he said. This time was firmer.

I looked again and started to calculate an intercept course for the city bus in question. "And once we have it?"

"You've driven one of those, right?"

"Just the one time," I said, knowing he'd been on it with me.

"Park it under the Tower. I'll meet you there." And with that, he was off in true Ladybug fashion.

"Don't bury yourself in the part!" I yelled after him as I leaped up and toward the speeding bus. It figures that now he'd embrace it after days of dithering.

I landed atop the bus and popped open one of the emergency hatches, slid through and landed just behind the driver. To her credit she didn't miss a beat and kept right on driving. "I need to borrow this, ma'am," I said apologetically. "Can you pull over there and let everyone off?"

"On it," she said and smoothly pulled to the curb.

A few moments later, I was behind the wheel and finding the second time around was no easier than the first. I'd grown a little, so the pedals were easier, but the ride over the curb and across the plaza toward the Tower was a bit rough.

Screeching to a halt, I bounded out the door and flipped up to the roof. Mister Bug dropped off from where he'd been waiting on the tower and landed next to me before carefully powered up the equipment.

"Just to remind you," I said helpfully, "this is usually the part where Ladybug tells me what to do."

"That might be a problem," he laughed. "For I've not got a clue. I think I'm supposed to play this."

I looked at him. "The plans are usually complicated," I said. "And the Charms aren't always the most obvious use, either."

"Well… this is definitely the spot—-whoa! Now your tail is lighting up."

I rolled my eyes. "Of course it is," I laughed as I unbuckled it and handed it to him.

"I see now…" he mumbled excitedly. "Chat, the akuma is underneath that massive band leader hat it's wearing." He made two loops in my tail, and hooked one end to his turntable and kept the second loop in his hand. "Get it close to me and I'll pull the hat off. You'll need to Cataclysm whatever is below."

"On it," I replied and leapt over the side of the bus. Landing on all fours, I loped cat-like across the paved stones towed the earstwhile marching band conductor that seemed to be our akuma du jour.

"Cat touch this, uh huh uh huh," I laughed as I ran a circle around him. "Too eighties?" I asked as I leapt over him and tapped him on the shoulder as I did so.

The response came in the form of a massive whack to my back as I was landing from the twirling baton I thought I'd avoided. The blow sent me sliding across the granite, but I turned it into a roll and did a round-off back into a partial crouch facing him.

Claws out, I might add.

"Hard rock, then?" I teased before quickly snapping my baton in half and sailing both parts toward the akuma. One hit true and knocked the conductor's baton out of his hand; the other, just a glancing blow off his shoulder.

Leaping sideways, I held up my paws to retrieve the pieces as they returned and quickly snapped them together before extended it to swat away the akuma's hand weapon. "Maybe I have this wrong," I said as I rode up into the air on the baton. "You're more of a drum major, aren't you?"

Landing on the far side of the creature, I loped toward the bus and Cara-I mean, Mister Bug, heckling the akuma as it lumbered behind me. I was a bit surprised at how quiet it was being, which made me very nervous. It turned out to be with good reason - as I bore down on the bus, a legion of snare drums with cute little legs started to round the walls of the terrace, funneling toward the bus and a now wide-eyed Mister Bug.

"Chat!" he yelled. "Step it up!"

I kicked it into a higher gear, and amazingly, the akuma did, too. It took a fraction of a second for me to realize the lumbering aspect had been designed to separate the two of us; that was confirmed when I had to skid to a stop to avoid becoming an unwilling part of the parade that had encircled the bus.

"We are not telling Ladybug about this," I yelled back as I leapt into the air and helicoptered toward the bus; I didn't have enough of an arc and hit the side of the bus instead of a more graceful landing beside my partner. I drove my claws into the side of the vehicle, screeching myself to a halt before pulling myself up to the roof.

"Not one of your better landings," Mister Bug laughed.

"Everyone's a critic," I said, eyes narrowed as I turned back to see that our akuma was cagily staying away from the bus. "We need a new plan. Anything else popping up?"

"No," Mister Bug said. "And my earrings are chirping."

I swore under my breath. This was not going well at all. I scanned the roof and leaned down to open the emergency entrance I'd used earlier. "Get in and de-transform. I'll hold them off while you feed your kwami."

"Feed?" he said, and his face went white. "I… I don't…"

My masked eyes flew wide. "Seriously?" I said, shocked for a moment. My head swiveled around and found there was no easy way out of the plaza in the limited time we had; my frantic eyes hit on the emergency exit I'd already opened. Sighing deeply and wondering if this was going to be my last outing as Chat Noir, I shoved Mister Bug into the skylight and leapt down behind him.

I hustled him to the rear of the bus and what little protection we had with the engine block. "Don't you carry anything to feed Wayzz?" I hissed as I pressed him in the semi-darkness. "This isn't your first rodeo."

"I… I-"

I whirled on him. "You're about to de-transform. I will do the same; I have extra cheese for Plagg. It will have to do. Tikki will not be happy."

"Chat!" he started, but the final beeps from the earrings chirped and the red wave rolled over him, revealing a very upset Nino. "I'm sorry," he said as Tikki floated up to me.

Ignoring my best friend for a moment, I turned to Tikki. "I have cheese, but I will have to detransform," I said, and inclined my mane toward the noise outside the bus. "We don't have a ton of options unless you have some way to shield my identity from him."

Tikki shook her head, sadly. "I'm sorry, Chat. Even if I had a way, I'd need to eat before I could do anything."

"This is it, then," I said, my voice heavy. "We'll both be done after this."

Tikki nodded slowly. "I'm afraid so," she said.

I took a moment and stepped to the side of the bus, pressing my paw against the window. The day had started so well, too. Sighing deeply, I said quietly: "Plagg - claws in."

The green flash enveloped me and Nino's sudden intake of breath confirmed my doom. I whirled on him again, stepping toward him as I fished the cheese out of my pocket. "Here," I said to Tikki, my eyes on Nino.

"Thank you," Tikki's melodic voice sang out. She and Plagg floated to the far end of the bus and left the two of us alone.

"I'm sorry," Nino said, eyes wide. "I've ruined-"

"You've done nothing," I said, trying for a smile. I knew I needed to tamp down my anger and instead pump up his confidence. "I've had a good run. Now, let's see if we can't get out of this in one piece, shall we?"

Nino nodded.

"You're my best friend, Nino," I said, putting my hand on his shoulder. "You will be long after all of this is over."

"But you are Chat!" he said softly. "Alya has told me repeatedly that she suspected whoever was under the mask experienced more freedom as Chat than their alter-ego might enjoy." His eyes caught mine. "Now I know why. I'm so sorry! What best friend takes that away from someone?"

The sadness in his eyes was hard to see; and it wasn't really his fault. I was the one in charge, so it was really my fault for not making sure he was fully prepared. I pulled out my best Model Smile. "I am Chat whether I have the mask or not, Nino. To be honest, this is the first time I've actually admitted that to myself." I gave him the best sly Chat smile I had. "Just wait until I trot it out at school now."

Nino smiled, finally. "That I would like to see."

"You will," I said. "Ready?"

"Yes."

Tikki and Plagg floated back toward us and we re-transformed; it wasn't a moment too soon, for just as we launched ourselves out of the emergency exit and back to the roof, the drum core had wrapped themselves so tightly around the exterior of the bus they'd begun to crush it like an empty soda can.

I grabbed Nino and left away, extending the baton enough to pole vault to the relative safety of a crossbeam on the Tower. Landing in a crouch, I kept my eyes on the drum core as they abandoned the bus and started to climb the Tower toward us.

"I'm open to ideas," I said merrily. "Especially if it means beating the old drum."

"How can you be so jolly?" Nino asked. "This is your last outing as Chat and the situation looks a bit grim!"

"We're going to get out of this," I said. "I'm thinking I'll swoop down and Cataclysm the hell out of whatever is under that hat. But I don't think I can knock the hat off and do Cataclysm in one move."

"No…" Nino said as he got that faraway look Ladybug wore when Lucky Vision was working.

"Tell me."

"I will," he smiled at me, "but first, I need your tail and what I hope I am going to get as a Lucky Charm."

I rolled my eyes as I unbuckled my belt. "I spend more time taking this off…"

A few moments later, Nino was suspended below me from the crossbeam, one arm holding his yo-yo, the other, my belt. The belt had been wrapped around a gigantic fan that was rapidly coming up to speed. Deftly, Nino twisted to point it at the akuma who had conveniently taken up position below us. "Now, Chat," he said.

"Cataclysm!" I cried, then took a deep breath before swan diving off of the tower. My powered-up paw was stretched in front of me, the other held my baton, ready to trigger it so I could land safely.

The fan did it's thing, coming up to full-gale-force mode and blew the tall band conductor hat off. A whistle, glowing slightly, sat in a small nest of hair. Extending my baton, I drove it into the ground then twisted around it, tapping the whistle gently with my claw tip as I vaulted just out of reach of the akuma.

Landing on all fours, I flipped around and watched as the purple wave washed over the akuma and the butterfly tried to get away. Nino's voice rang out clear. "Oh, hell no!"

Dropping down to the stone below, he set down the fan and with a ziiing, nailed the butterfly with the yo-yo on his first try, proving that at least one part of our prepwork had proven helpful. Flipping the fan into the air, he finished off with a flourish by calling on the Miraculous Cure, righting the world but still leaving us with a major problem.

Regrouping on a nearby rooftop, there was no need for us to scurry away before losing our transformations. Still, it felt wrong talking to him as Adrien. "Go feed Tikki and meet me at our usual spot after school," I said. "We'll talk tonight."

Mister Bug nodded and zipped away, earrings chirping in his wake. I paused for a beat and then took a separate route back to Dupont, where the two of us quietly slipped into the library for study hall. We'd barely settled in when a movement at the clerestory window caught my eye.

Wayzz's eyes were focused on Nino, and he was waving, attempting to get his attention. I snapped my eyes back to my desk and then looked deeply at my tablet. His appearance could only mean that Nino was being recalled - and that Ladybug was back in town.

I hadn't expected the recall so soon, and suddenly felt my world spinning. Closing my eyes for a moment, I centered myself and then said, quietly, "Nino."

"Yeah?"

"Don't look now, but there is a green kwami trying to get your attention. I think he wants you on the roof now," I whispered.

Nino paused then flicked a glance to the window. "Damn."

"You go first, I'll follow once I know you've transformed."

"Adrien, you can't appear!" he hissed quietly. "He'll know you've figured out my identity!"

"Have faith," I said slyly. "I am the black cat of mystery after all. Play along with me."

"Okay," he said. Quickly, he grabbed his bags and then headed out. I waited a few moments and did the same; by the time I hit the restroom for the second time that morning, Nino had already vacated.

"Plagg - claws out!" I whispered as I ran to the window, transforming into Chat just as I dove through the opening.

I flipped up and crawled over the stonework, curling around the roof edge and landing in a crouch. Wayzz was wearing an inscrutable expression.

"Wayzz," I said from my crouch. My eyes flicked to Nino. "Mister Bug. I had no idea you went to this school."

"Uh… I don't," he said, eyes flicking to Wayzz. "I was in the area and this was a convenient place to meet Wayzz."

"Convenient," I smirked, standing and moving to Nino. "Very convenient."

"Chat…" Nino started to say and then saw the wink. He changed tactics. "Why are you here? Do you go to Dupont?"

"Nope," I leaned against my baton, smiling my sly Chat smile. "Wayzz, what's up? We never talk."

"Chat Noir," he said formally. "It is good to see you, but I really need to talk to Mister Bug. Alone."

"Oh my God!" I swooned. "Does that mean Milady is back in town?"

Wayzz smiled. "Yes. I need to return her Miraculous to her."

"Of course," I said, shortening my baton and moving to the edge. "Tell LB I'll meet her in our usual spot?"

"I will," he said formally.

I saluted and vaulted into the blue sky and hid several buildings over for a bit before sneaking back to the library and rejoining Nino at our table. "Did you say anything?" I whispered.

"He didn't ask," he smiled. "But what are we gonna do? Ladybug is-"

"Hey guys!" Alya cried as she and Marinette appeared in the library. The duo came over to us, and as Marinette turned to say hello to Nino, I suddenly realized how similar her pigtails were to Ladybug - and then caught sight of the earrings she wore.

Darkly-colored earrings. Just like what Nino had been frantically trying to put on.

I found myself smiling.

"Nino," I said, "I don't think we have a thing to worry about."

"No?" he said, looking at me quizzically.

"Meowt in the least." My eyes caught Marinette's, and I saw a question in them. "How was London, Mari?"

"Fine," she said, still uncertain. "Though we didn't see much of it."

"No?" I said innocently. "Figures. You can sure get foxated on fashion," I added, glancing at Alya who turned white.

Nino stifled a chuckle, confirming what I had long suspected. My eyes connected with Marinette's, who was looking between the three of us, panic beginning to color her face.

Slowly, very slowly, I ran my hands through my hair, freeing it from the bonds of the hair products I'd used to make it perfect that morning. With a few deft movements, it quickly became evocative of a certain feline superhero.

Marinette gasped. "Kitty…?"

"In the fur, Milady." I said. "Look, we need to tell you something…"

Chapter Text

Nathaniel Kurtzberg was naturally a quiet soul. That didn’t mean his feelings were not as strong as anyone else’s, just that he kept them hidden below the surface. Like much of Paris, he admired the miraculous wielders, the group who were protecting Paris from Hawkmoth, and his admiration was strongest for Ladybug herself. Early on in Hawkmoth’s reign of terror, Nathaniel himself had been akumatized, when the bully in his class had exposed his crush to everyone. He’s always been proud of his art, and to have it used against him brought his emotions to the tipping point, allowing Hawkmoth to use him for vile purposes.

Sometimes he was thankful for being easily overlooked. He had been sketching at the Trocadero one day, a fanciful sketch that had Ladybug flying past the Eiffel Tower, when an akuma had burst onto the scene. Despite his brightly colored hair, he was able to slip away, avoiding the gaze and the beams the akuma was shooting. He hadn’t gone far when he heard the zip of a yo-yo, and Ladybug arrived on the scene. Her movements were swift and sure, and rather than fleeing the area, like he had originally planned to, he secreted himself away, staying to watch.

Chat Noir arrived on the scene a few minutes later, and the fight commenced in earnest. Ladybug called for her Lucky Charm, and Nathaniel was surprised to see a miniature gong drop into her hands. Looking at it, both heroes nodded, and Ladybug swung off. Chat continued to fight in a more “taunt and avoid” mode than before, killing time until Ladybug returned.

He was so engrossed in the fight that he let out a little shriek when someone tapped him on the shoulder. Whirling around, he saw Ladybug standing there holding our a hexagonal black box with an intricate red design on the top. Nathaniel dropped his phone in surprise. “Ladybug?”

Smiling gently, she held out the box towards him.”Nathaniel Kurtzberg, this is the Miraculous of the Tiger, with the power of Psychic Storm. You will use it for the greater good. Once the job is done, you will return the miraculous to me. Can I trust you?”

A little stunned, Nathaniel reached for the box, and opened it. A magenta being appeared in a flash of light and zipped around, studying him. Another squeal escapeed from the boy, as the kwami hovered a foot from his face. “Hello! My name is Roaar.”

Nathaniel looked back and forth between the kwami and the odd links of metal in the box, before looking questioningly at Ladybug.”It’s a Panjas bracelet. The big loop goes around your wrist, and the smaller ones over your fingers, leaving the oval covering the back of your hand.”

She helped Nathaniel put the bracelet on, and he was admiring the bracelet as Roaar started to explain the power of Psychic Storm, and his telekinetic abilities.

He was interrupted by a thud and a cry of pain from the fight. Ladybug’s head snapped around, and she looked back at Nathaniel. “I’ll let Roarr explain. I need to get back out there.” With a nod, Ladybug threw out her yo-yo and was gone.

Nathaniel and Roaar looked at each other, as the kwami explained to the boy about the countdown after using his ability and also the transformation phrases. The sounds of the fight filtered back to them, and it sounded like Chat Noir was recovered and fighting by Ladybug’s side. Nathaniel called out his transformation phrase, and felt a wave of power and confidence wash over him.

His body was covered in a deep orange, skin tight, leather protective suit, and he grew ears that twitched and were colored a few shades darker than his orange and black striped hair. A mask, black outlined in orange and black mid-calf motorcycle boots completed the outfit. Dark grey stripes ghosted across his back, and the black belt-tail was reminiscent of Chat Noir’s.

Grinning to himself, the newly minted tiger hero leaned over and picked up his phone from where it had been forgotten on the ground. He grinned as he queued up a song, Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and strode confidently into the plaza as the music started blaring. Chat Noir’s head snapped up and he started to laugh.

The song attracted the attention of the akuma, who turned to appraise the newcomer strutting towards her across the plaza. Raising the hair dryer she’d been using as a weapon she started to shoot at the tiger hero. With a cry of “Psychic Storm”, Byakko raised his hand, and made a snatching motion, causing the hair dryer to leap out of the akuma’s hand and drop at Ladybug’s feet.

A crack appeared along the casing of the hairdryer and a deep purple butterfly popped out. Throwing a grin to Byakko, she caught the butterfly, cleansing it, and releasing it into the sky, before resetting the city back to normal.

After a 3 way fistbump followed by a pat on the back from Chat, Ladybug lead Byakko to a secluded area, where he transformed back into Nathaniel. “Thank you so much for trusting me, Ladybug.” He started pulling the the rings off his fingers before grinning up at her. “That was amazing!” He crowed, handing the miraculous back to Ladybug.

Patting his shoulder, she winked at him. “You did great, Nathaniel. That was an amazing move, and I appreciate you bringing your own music.” Blushing deeply, Nathaniel muttered something that she couldn’t quite catch, Roaar’s over the top confidence having vanished. “Don’t worry, I’m nothing like this in real life, either.” With a wave, she swung off over the city, and quickly disappeared from view.

A few days later, Nathaniel was sitting in Miss Bustier’s class, nervously flipping through his note cards as he waited for his turn to give the oral part of their research project. His hands were shaking, as he hated getting up and speaking in front of the class. The project was on “a person in the news”, and it had been his good luck that he’d been assigned Ladybug.

He heard Miss Bustier call his name, and he stood, shakily, and made his way to the front of the room. A hand on his left arm stopped him next to the second row, and he turned to Marinette. She smiled at him and said told him not to worry, that he would do great. He nodded and was turning back to the front of the room, when he heard her whisper, “Go get ‘em, Tiger.”

He caught her wink out the corner of his eye and almost fell down the rest of the stairs. He stood at the front of the room, blinking, a blush creeping up his neck. He cleared his throat a couple of times, looking at Marinette, around to the rest of the class, then back to Marinette. Finally he managed to croak out, “Ladybug?”, blushed even harder, and fled the room before he could say anything else.

Chapter Text

Thuthump! Thuthump!

They had just beaten an oversized bunny rabbit, and now it was time for Chat to tell her… but why did he feel so nervous? He had confessed his love for her a million times before, and that should’ve been more embarrassing than what he was about to do.

“Hey, Ladybug, if you have a minute, can we talk. Believe it or not, it’s actually important,” Chat chattered, fighting off nervous trembling.

She looked at his ring, then recalled he hadn’t used his ability this fight. Ladybug walked towards an alley, motioning for him to follow.

“Just let me feed Tikki first, then we can talk,” she told him.

Chat turned around and heard her disengage her hero mode. A temptation slipped into his mind to turn around. As if Ladybug could read his mind, she warned him.

“Chat, by the way if you turn around, your new love won’t be a girl, it’ll be the morphine drip at the hospital.”

The empty threat made Chat chuckle. Of course Ladybug wouldn’t hurt him, but it was a reminder that their identities were important, not trivial bits of information to trade over morning coffee.

“Tikki, Spots on!”

Chat turned around to see his crush standing next to him. “Ok, Chat, what’s up?”

He froze up. He couldn’t do it. No, he had to. Chat knew that this was important.

“Well, I just needed to tell you sorry.”

Ladybug’s nose wrinkled into a frown?

“Why did you betray us to Hawkmoth?” she teased nervously.

Chat laughed and took a deep breath. “No way. It’s about my flirting. I’ve loved you since shortly after we met, and over the last four years, I’ve let you know that at every opportunity. And every time, you tried to let me down gently. But I realized that I should have just taken no for an answer in the beginning. Well, maybe not the very beginning, but a long time ago. So… I can’t promise that I won’t flirt anymore, and I’m definitely keeping the puns, but from now on I won’t confess my undying love, kiss your hand, or call you pet names. You have my word.”

Ladybug stood in shocked awe, unsure how to respond. Finally she spoke.

“Wow, that means a lot Chat. I really do value your friendship. I’m just curious, what caused this change of heart?”

A sad smile spread across Chat’s face. “A bit of a change of perspective Mil-- Ladybug. I have a friend who is totally in love with me. I didn’t realize it, but her feelings for me parallel how I feel about you a bit. She puts effort into something that isn’t going to happen, and sees my kindness and friendship as signs to continue pursuit.”

Ladybug replied to his somber smile with one of her own. Besides Chat’s relationship with Ladybug, this girl sounded like her, as Marinette, with Adrien. She couldn’t help but feel a little sympathy for both Chat and his mystery girl.

“And you don’t have any interest in her?” Ladybug questioned.

“Well, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t. But it isn’t right. It’s another one of those comparisons to us that made me realize it wouldn’t work. How I feel about you isn’t the right way to feel in love Ladybug. Ugh… that’s a mess. I mean, um… well. I love you, but imagine if we started dating? I would worship you. You could do no wrong. It wouldn’t be healthy, and it took seeing how someone else felt about me to realize that.”

A sigh escaped Ladybug’s lips. She tried to convince herself that her feelings for Adrien weren’t like that.

“So, this girl. You’re sure she is totally starry eyed? Maybe she is more reasonable than you think.”

Chat laughed, a pained and heartbroken chuckle. “Yes. Her room is covered with my pictures. She knows my schedule and what I am doing every hour of every day. She can’t even talk straight around me. I can’t believe I didn’t realize it earlier. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s as creepy as some people would make it out to be, and I totally love Marinette, but I want her to find a guy that helps her build herself up, you kno…”

Chat looked up in surprise at Ladybug, who had broken down in tears. After a moment of confused staring, he grabbed her into a hug. “Sorry, Ladybug, if I said something wrong, let me know. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

His supercrush looked at him with teary blue eyes and shook her head. “No, all you did was tell the truth. I just wish I could have changed things. I-I wish I could…”

She kissed Chat, catching him off guard. After a moment, his lips melted into hers, a warm and emotional moment was shared. In a kiss that neither of them wanted to end, they caressed one another’s faces, held each other, and cried. When they broke apart, Chat looked at her in confusion.

“What exactly was that?”

“Just the goodbye both of us needed Chat. The boy I love doesn’t feel the way I do either. We both need to move on from these unrequited feelings. We need to find people who will love us. And one day, we’ll both find that person.”

Chat smiled, his heart still breaking. “Well, until I find that girl, I’m glad I have a friend like you.”

Chapter Text

He could hear it first. A soft din at the end of a long hallway, creeping ever slowly closer. A cacophony of sound that made it impossible to decipher, grating at his ears. He winced slightly, his brow creasing. Through the noise he heard a clear voice yell, “He moved!” and the sudden loudness tore through his haze.

He wanted to cover his ears.

Why did his body feel like cement, frozen and too heavy to move?

Frustrated, he listened again. The sound of ragged breath rattling. His heart beats thumping erratically, weakly. Glass crunching under feet.

Why couldn't he move?

Then, all at once, his senses came flooding back. Hands were on his body, holding him down, pushing with desperation. The metal taste of copper filled his mouth, his tongue thick. A pool of warmth beneath him, soaking his clothes across his back. Voices yelling commands and a distant wail of sirens. Pressure in his chest making it hard to breathe.

He tried to open his eyes, despite their attempt to feel as heavy as marble. Just a small crack. Above him was blue. The sky? He couldn't tell. It was too bright. Too bright. Blinded, he slammed his eyes shut and didn't try again. Listening was easier.

When the pain hit, he wasn't ready. It shot through him like a tidal wave with no start and no end. It surged through his body and he wanted to scream. A small, weak moan escaped his dry lips.

Soft hands cradled his head gently. A small voice, close to his ears, murmured his name, speaking words of calm and comfort.

The wave washed across him again and another sound escaped him. He managed to open his eyes slightly and this time he knew he saw blue. Blue eyes. Piercing to his soul. Filled with worry and sorrow. His brain scrambled to put the pieces together, but it was impossible. It was too much to bear.

He could feel himself slipping then– the pain fading, his senses giving way, his eyes filling with darkness. And then.....blissful silence.

-------

Beeping. Beeping was driving him crazy. It was loud, incessant, rattling around his brain like echoes off a cavern wall. A soft groan escaped his lips, parched and ragged. A gasp and rustle nearby, a breathing of his name spoken in almost disbelief. He wanted to answer, his brain fighting to the surface but a heavy blanket pinned him down, pulling him under again.

-----

It was mostly dark when he managed to open his eyes, blinking at the soft light in the corner of the room. The room was stark. Unfamiliar. Pressure against one arm made him glance down his body to find someone clutching at his hand, using his arm as a pillow for their dark haired head. His other arm was pincushioned with tubes. Confusion filled him as he tried to piece everything together.

Rushes of memories scrambled into his mind's eye - his father's desperate grey eyes, his mother encased in glass, the whizz of a yo-yo, screaming and bruising and the rush of butterfly wings. A nearly crushing sense of despair. He could almost feel the cold jewel of purple against his palm as he had torn it from his father's throat. Ladybug!

He jolted slightly, panic filling his chest as he remembered her screech of agony. From there it was a blur. Was she ok? Why was he here?

The monitor beeped in warning of his erratic and anxiety-driven heart beat.

"Adrien. Adrien, calm down. It's ok. Shh." His eyes snapped to the face of the one who had been resting against him, her voice calm and soothing to his ears.

Marinette.

Her hand touched his cheek in a gentle caress as she leaned in closer. Blue eyes filled his vision.

"Breathe for me, kitty. Just breathe."

He breathed. Or maybe he didn't - he couldn't tell as his brain crashed and broke, focusing only on blue through the frustrating blur of tears. Faces merged together - two into one as he realized he knew. His lady. Marinette was his lady. His.

"Milady," he breathed, his voice raw and broken, reaching for her hand, for anything to ground himself. She smiled & his heart stuttered painfully.

"Hi, Kitty."

He was tired. So tired. He tried to force his eyes to stay open, to stay with her, to ask a million questions but it was hopeless, as sleep dragged him away.

----

She was there. She was always there. Every time he could open his eyes. Every time he needed her, she pressed her hand in his. Every time a nurse came in. Every time. He didn't care that he stared until she blushed. He didn't care at all.

She answered his sluggish questions with simple answers, helping him understand what had happened. Hawkmoth had been tough - teamed with Mayura they were incredibly strong. Somehow, as always, Ladybug (Marinette!) and he had managed to rid them of their miraculous, rendering the villains helpless. Or so they thought.

Nathalie had caught Ladybug (Marinette!) unaware, knocking his lady to the ground with a painful screech. Which had distracted Chat long enough for Gabriel to make his move, a violent lunge for the ring. The momentum had thrown Chat off balance, knocking him off the rooftop they had been fighting on. Blurry sensations of falling, of landing, of agony and darkness.

Chat had become Adrien and Ladybug had become frantic to save him. Ladybug. His Marinette.

Gabriel had lost his remaining grip of sanity watching his son die on the pavement below and had collapsed unconscious in Natalie's arms. He was awake now, rambling in ranting incoherence, held in detention for a trial. Nathalie too. And as for his mother… she was gone. Truly gone. Adrien didn't know how to mourn someone he had already lost long ago.

His body healed while his mind struggled to balance the whirling emotions of chaos he felt on the inside. And so he stared at Marinette in hopes of holding onto sanity and calm just a little longer. Of not falling off another edge and tumbling into the abyss.

The ring on his finger was a reminder that he was destruction. Destroyed from the inside. But she was creation, stitching him back together in ways he could never understand.

And finally, he was whole again, his feet beneath him as he passed through the hospital doors and into brilliant sunlight. Her smile was more radiant. His heart more full. Because that is what love is like. Love that was always destined to be. His Marinette. His Ladybug.