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good luck charm (we never took the easy way)

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001

Alya's mother always told her ladybugs were lucky.

002

When she is old enough to walk around, her mother takes her walking around the streets of Paris. This is before her sisters are born, and it's a thing they do every morning: go down the three-story apartment they're renting and take a few walks around the block.

Sometimes they walk to the park if they're up to the challenge.

Her mother calls it "clearing their heads," Alya calls it walking.

(At five years old, Alya doesn’t know much, but she knows one thing for sure: grown-ups were strange.)

In the garden, her mother holds her in her arms. She's squatting so they're face to face, and Alya thinks her mama is the prettiest woman in the world when her hair glows golden and when she's surrounded by sunshine and flowers and -

"Look, Alya, a ladybug!" Her mother exclaims. Her eyes crinkle as she smiles. She gently scoops the tiny insect into her tiny little girl's hands. "Isn't it pretty?"

Alya stares at it. It's kind of weird-looking, and its legs tickle her skin.
"It's prettier than a cockroach," she says hesitantly.

Maybe it is kind of pretty, with its red and black spots.

Her mother just laughs. "Yeah, it is." She shoots her daughter a conspiratorial look. "Ladybugs are lucky, you know."

"Really?" A crease appears between Alya's brows. "You don't believe in luck, Mama."

Her mother laughs again. There's a look on her mother's face Alya can't understand. "No, I don't. Not really. But you can count on two things, baby. You can count on yourself, and you can count on ladybugs."

003

Alya doesn't like kindergarten.
She doesn't hate it, either. It's not too bad, but she'd rather stay at home and watch over her sisters and eat her mama's cooking.

Miss Fleur pronounces her name wrong and the boys won't let her play with the blocks 'cause she's a girl. Alya swears she's gonna start a fight just to prove to them that so what, boys were disgusting anyway but Miss Fleur's handing out gold stickers to the good kids and she wants to be good.

(Not just because of the gold stickers, but also because she promised her Mama.)

She looks around. Some kids are dressing up and playing house. Some are playing with LEGO blocks and trains and all of that's cool, but what catches her eye is a little girl coloring a picture.

A picture of a ladybug. With green and yellow.

Green and yellow.

Alya is horrified.

"You're coloring it wrong," she protests loudly, coming up behind the girl, whose hair is in two short pigtails.

"I am?" The girl turns, her voice quiet and unassuming. Her eyes are a shade of bright blue Alya would learn to call ridiculous after several years and a better vocabulary. "Could you show me how it's s'posed to look like, then?"

"Well, it's a ladybug. Ladybugs are red and black, okay?" She puts her hands on her hips. "Or yellow and black."

"Well, they can be yellow and red too, you know," the girl points out.

Alya shrugs. "Yeah, maybe."

She brightens. "Hey, are there any more ladybugs left?"

And so it begins.

004

"What's your name, anyway?" Alya asks over apple juice and Goldfish crackers and stubs of ladybug-red Crayola.

005

Her name is Marinette. Her parents own a bakery.

 "The best one in Paris," Marinette says shyly, but there is a visible note of pride in her voice.

Alya thinks she's pretty cool.

By the end of the day, Alya proclaims Marinette Dupain-Cheng her best friend.

"You're okay with having a best friend, right? Forever and ever?" she asks, her brows furrowing.

"I'm okay with it," Marinette promises, and she beams so bright Alya can't help but beam back.

Their mothers exchange amused grins.

"No take-backs!" Alya yells before her mother drags her away.

Marinette waves goodbye back.

006

When she is nine, Alya realizes that she couldn't see as clearly as she previously thought.

It's a painful realization.

(She gets smacked by the dodgeball in the face.)

To make things worse, this obnoxious little brat – small, blonde and always so sniffy - won't stop making fun of her black eye.

The doctor says she needs glasses.

"Ugh," Alya groans. "I'm pretty sure the obnoxious little brat and her minions will call me a nerd and loser tomorrow morning." She pauses. "Not that I care, of course."

("Don't call Chloé that," Marinette begs. "Her dad's a politician. You could get in trouble with the law."

Alya frowns. "No, I can't. He can't arrest a little girl like me." She grins proudly, smugly, glowing with the triumph of youth and subtle rebellion. "Besides. Everybody knows it's true. They're just too afraid to say it, except for me."

Marinette sighs. "Well, don't let her hear you. How'd you even learn those big words? They're higher than our level's required reading." She squints suspiciously. "Wait. Have you been reading your cousin's schoolbooks again?"

Alya doesn’t say anything, but the gleam in her eyes is enough of an answer.)

"Glasses make you look smarter. Besides," Marinette says, "they're kind of fashionable right now."

She helps Alya pick her first pair of glasses.

007

She's fourteen when she watches the news and hears about her for the very first time.

A young girl clad in a practical polka-dotted jumpsuit was seen around Paris battling a supervillain with her magic yo-yo. This supervillain was possessed by a black butterfly, which later became… a normal butterfly after the superhero did some yo-yo tricks.

Well. When you put it like that… maybe it didn't sound like much.

But this girl was crazy strong and had superhuman reflexes. Nobody normal could leap across buildings in the effortless manner she possessed. There were no casualties every time she literally jumped in to save the day, and she had saved herself from getting crushed by a sixty-four thousand-pound truck through her yo-yo. She had magic healing powers that reversed evil and destruction, and she saved Paris on a daily basis. Nobody knew who she was, but Alya had a hunch (or maybe it was just wishful thinking) that this superhero was her age.

So, yeah. Alya was impressed.

(But who wouldn't be?

She even made pigtails look cool.)

 Whoever this girl was - she was part of something bigger, Alya had decided. Because she saved strangers and moved with impeccable inhuman grace and gave people hope, and in this day and age that was nothing short of miraculous.

The girl, the superhero, the walking miracle; she jumped above the roofs of Paris like some sort of guardian angel. No one knew who she was or where she was from - she always disappeared after every fight. But she always reappeared when there was trouble, and -

The thing with Alya was that she didn't believe in coincidences. At all.

But this girl? Je ne sais quoi. There was just something about her that just took Alya back to bright mornings and walks around the park with her mother. She was something to look forward to, an unstoppable hero straight out of the comic books and action movies she loved watching. A walking reminder to Alya of hope and good things.

The girl, the savior of Paris - she always wore a red suit with black spots, and a black mask with the same polka dot pattern.
Kind of like a ladybug.
(Exactly like a ladybug.)

008

A look into Alya and her belief systems:

She didn't believe in much - there was a God, maybe, watching over everyone on earth. Making sure there was still hope and goodness in a world that was full of - well. In a world full of superheroes and bad men who can consume others with anger, in a world where two masked teenagers bear the brink of the world on their shoulders, maybe there is a God. Maybe He, too, was hiding behind a mask, hiding from the world, silently protecting everyone. Slipping into the shadows.

Alya could get used to the idea if she tried. (Sometimes she can't bring herself to.)

The stars are beautiful. That is a fact. But she never believed them to control her fate.

Her mother will tell you that from the start, destiny was Alya's to take and conquer and bend to her will. (Alya always adored her mother, and this was one of the reasons why. The other was that she made amazing food.) If you ever ask Marinette, she will grin and insist that the reason why Alya doesn't believe in the stars is because of inaccurate and misleading horoscopes. And in retaliation, Alya will give you statistics and facts and hard science, all proving that astrology is fake-deep and stupid and oh my God, can't they get me right for once?

But ladybugs? You don't mess with ladybugs. That is a proven fact.

009

"I'm starting a blog" is her opening line.

Marinette enters Alya's home. "That's great," she says, sincere and sweet and not at all sarcastic. "I mean it."

(That's one of the best things about Marinette - she's just so genuinely good.)

"I know you do," Alya says, nearly bouncing off the walls in excitement. "Come on, let's go up to my room. You are going to witness me make my blog," she declares, shooting  her best friend a grin bright enough to power a few small countries. "It's gonna be totally awesome! It'll be a moment in history.  My moment in history, to be studied by the future and recreated in movies and children's TV shows. Mark this moment down and remember it, Marinette - "

Alya almost trips on the stairs in her excitement.

Mark this moment in history and remember it, indeed.

Marinette's laughing and soon enough she is, too, because laughter and happiness are two contagious things - it feels good to laugh so hard your stomach hurts. (And it's nice to have someone who laughs with you, and not at you.)

"Okay, okay," her best friend says, a small smile playing on her lips. They've arrived at Alya's room, and Marinette's setting up her computer. "What's your blog going to be about, anyway? It has to have a certain subject, a focus - at least, that's what I read in a magazine," Marinette adds hastily.

Alya beams, high on possibilities and the premise of fulfilling dreams. "I'm going to blog about Ladybug. You've heard of her, right?"

She completely misses the way Marinette just freezes.

"I think she's an excellent role model for girls," Alya goes on. "She always uses her mind like it's a weapon and she looks great. Nothing about her is unnecessarily sexualized, she just gets the job done and I really, really like that. You just don't mess with her. And, this is a way for me to improve my writing and data-gathering as a reporter and journalist. Her motives are pretty clear - save us poor civilians from those weird supervillains. But why? What's her endgame? Who is she, anyway?" Alya muses. "I can't help but wonder. So I've gathered newspaper clippings, pictures and articles. Everything the media has released about her, plus my own observations. I've connected all my data on a board with actual yarn and pins, Mari, here, let me show you, it's like something out of a detective show - "

Marinette's smiling faintly when Alya faces her expectantly. ”You're perfect for this, Alya," she says, nodding like she was reassuring somebody. Carefully, she inspects Alya's corkboard, which is something out of a detective show. It's an impressive masterpiece lovingly filled with countless pictures, articles, and bits of paper covered with the same cursive scrawl. Anyone could see that the entire thing had taken effort; these details had been painstakingly gathered, highlighted, circled and underlined in three different colors, then pinned down and connected by string.

She smooths down a picture of Ladybug and glances at her best friend. Marinette’s eyes are strange and pleased, and it's almost like she wants to tell Alya something. It's almost like she is about to cry, even, like Alya has done some great deed for her, but what would that be, anyway? "I couldn't think of anyone more perfect blogging about Ladybug," she says finally, fiercely.

(Alya is extraordinarily good at putting things together and making connections. But, like everybody else on this world, she doesn't notice everything.)

010

One week after she launches her blog, Marinette gives her a small charm, a red and black ladybug. "It's for your phone," she explains. "I found it at a stall by the streets."

"For luck," Alya says, ever the believer.

Marinette smiles. "For luck."

011

Ladybug gets a sidekick. One day she just shows up to a fight and there he is, hovering near her like death and doom and imminent trouble.

His name is Chat Noir, which is pretty self-explanatory, and Alya … well, she doesn't know what to think of him at first.

Chat Noir's pretty much the opposite of Ladybug - there's a swagger in his steps and an ever-present smirk on his face. This boy flirts with death like it's a familiar lover.
He reminds Alya of a walking explosion, of accidents about to happen. But he follows Ladybug around like a stray cat in search of a home (which is a pretty apt comparison) and he can hold his own, despite his bad luck. Soon enough Alya grows pretty fond of him, because she has a soft spot for sidekicks eager to prove their worth. He knows how to work his way around the press, and he is genuinely likable and charismatic, even if his puns are atrocious.

Besides… they make a good team, him and Ladybug. There is a certain languid rhythm to their movements when they fight, a secret conversation their enemies and spectators can only guess at. They are - forgive the cliché, but it’s people like them who give justice to clichés in the first place - two halves of a whole, yin and yang; the good and the bad and the balance. Angels from heaven sent to bring hell. Watching them together was just … right. Anyone could see that.

(Alya ships it hard. For some reason Marinette finds this idea ludicrous. Someday you'll see reason, Alya warns her ominously. I'll convert you to the Ladynoir side soon enough.


She swears Marinette almost dies laughing when she sees Alya's PowerPoint presentation on LadyNoir, superhero dynamics, healthy relationships, and why Ladybug and Chat Noir Are Meant To Be.

In Alya's honest and unbiased opinion, though, "Cause of Death: LadyNoir" actually had a ring to it. (Did she accidentally make a pun? A ring to it, because Chat Noir always wore a ring, and married couples had rings… She had to stop before Marinette would kill her.)

Possible murder aside, Alya makes a blog post. It totally trends on Tumblr, and the fanbase loves it.)

012

Her mother screeching this high shouldn't be possible, Alya muses.

All she did was show her mother live video footage of her getting — uh.

Okay. This is where things get a bit complicated.

All she did was show her mother live video footage of her getting forcefully abducted by an unstable villain who, in an attempt to resurrect the Egyptian gods, tried to make her his queen and put her life in great danger.

("For, like, fifteen minutes," Alya says hurriedly when she sees her mother's lips tighten. "Besides, Ladybug saved me. The superhero of Paris who I run a website about? Sometimes I go five minutes without talking about her. In case you haven’t noticed. Um. Chat Noir was there, too – ” She gives up. “Mom, it’s nothing to worry about, I promise. I’m totally fine.")

"You could have died, Alya." Her mother finally loses her composure, and it's not entirely a beautiful sight. (It certainly isn't a beautiful sound.)  "You were just beamed up there, taken by some crazy man with animal heads and Egyptian gods ready to do his bidding! You were about to be taken and made a queen by a stranger, and I'm pretty sure you defied the laws of physics floating midair - this entire thing shouldn't be possible! What if you just fell?"

There is a dead look on her mother's face. Alya hates it immediately.

"But I didn't," she begins, filling her voice with bravado she hopes is actually there.

"Alya." Her mother lowers her tone and Alya knows she's done it, she's crossed the line, tell my mother I loved her— oh, wait. Her mother rubs a hand over her face tiredly. Alya can see the tensed, stiff shoulders, the furrow between her brows and the pale streaks in her dark hair. Alya can see the unspoken messages in her mother's eyes - the I could've lost you and I wish you would've been more careful. Maybe there's forgiveness in that gaze. Maybe there's an I love you.

Alya sighs. She lets her eyes shut and hopes to God that she reads between the lines right. "I know, Mama." Suddenly she feels very old and naïve and sad for someone who just turned fifteen a few months ago.

Her mother's eyes have newer lines around them, but her gaze is intent as ever. "You and your sisters, you all grow up too fast," she says bitterly, fondly. "I have no one to blame for that, except for time." She gently takes Alya's glasses off and polishes them with her shirt. "I can't protect you from the world anymore. Maybe I don't need to. You've always been a tough one, and I'm proud of who you are growing up to be. I'm proud of the way you see the world. Just so you know."

Carefully, her mother sets her glasses back on the bridge of her nose. They hold each other’s gaze, matching stares that don’t back down easily. "Never forget that, my intelligent, beautiful, fearless girl." She narrows her eyes, sharp and teasing. "I do love you dearly, even if the first thing you did after getting abducted by someone trying to be an Egyptian god is video the entire thing and upload it to your blog."

"Why does everyone keep on acting like it's a bad thing?" Alya exclaims. "I was keeping a clear head in a time of emergency. My followers need me, Mama!"

Her mother ruffles her hair fondly and tells her to get some rest.


013

To her credit, she finds out first.

(Yeah, even before she officially finds out Adrien's Chat Noir. Even before he finds out Marinette's Ladybug. Ha. Suck it, losers. Sisters before misters all the way.)

"I just." She takes a breath. "Why didn't you tell me? Would it be so hard? I'm your best friend. Do you know how badly I - I must've looked so stupid. So. Stupid." She shoots Marinette – Ladybug – a half-hearted glare. "Was this all a joke to you, watching me rave and rant and cry about Ladybug when it was you all along? I can't believe it - I run a blog about you and your whereabouts. I churn out essays every week speculating who you are, and you sit beside me in class. I wonder where Ladybug is when she's not a superhero and she's with me, getting gelato. Watching movies and having sleepovers and crying over her crush. I’ve been searching for someone who’s been beside me all this time. Oh my God."

Her face kind of crumples, and she just can't look at Marinette.

"I love you, okay? But I just don't understand. Don't give me that "protecting your loved ones" crap, because literally no one knows who Ladybug is! I could've helped - I don't have whatever superpowers you and Chat Noir have, but maybe I could've helped ease the pain. It's stupid and a risk, but I don't actually care, because I care about you. You're the best friend from chick flicks everyone dreams of having, and I'm not giving up on you or us. But I have very mixed feelings right now and - " She's breathing hard and her voice cracks shitfuckdamnIjustsworeAGH damn her brain for not working - "and I need to take a walk. To clear my head. I'm sorry."

She leaves the bakery and Marinette doesn't stop her.

One step, two steps, three, four, twenty-four, thirty —

She turns back.

014

Alya is a strong, independent woman. This is a fact.

She is prideful, ridiculously headstrong, and a tad too aggressive at times. This is also a fact, albeit one she will probably deny and won't admit very willingly to just anyone.

Another fact about Alya: she is selfish, but she is also smart, and she knows better than letting the good things go. There are some things you are destined to hold onto your whole life. She can't stay mad because - screw it, Marinette's crying, sweet, shy Marinette who was always so kind and so beautiful and so fierce and how could she not have seen this coming.

Of course Marinette was Ladybug. No one else in the world deserved to be Ladybug but her.

By the time Alya flings open the door to the bakery they're both emotional trainwrecks.
"This is so embarrassing," Alya groans into Marinette's embrace. "This is almost as bad as hearing you talk in front of Adrien."

"Hey," Marinette protests, breaking their hug to shoot her a weak glare.


Everything's okay.

"I kind of hate you," Alya says, even though it’s a flat-out lie.

And then she just laughs, thrilled and giddy because —

"Wait. Oh my God. I'm actually best friends with Ladybug."

015

@ladyblogger: OMFG !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i CANT BELIEVE MY LIFE

@djbubbles: @ladyblogger ?

@ladyblogger: @maridc ur getting it this time

@maridc: @ladyblogger NO NO NO

@ladyblogger: i love it when marinette tries to stop me. my sweet summer child >J
#Ladyblog soon!!!

@ladyblogger: Here's 10 Reasons Why Ladybug is Perfect lady.blog/h7jaj1

Favorited and retweeted by @adrien_agreste, @djbubbles, @chloebourgeoisofficial, @ohsnapitzsabrina, and @nathanaelart.

@maridc: Sometimes I regret my whole existence

Favorited by @ladyblogger.

@ladyblogger: @maridc "sometimes" ????


016

Alya changes Marinette's ringtone to the theme from Totally Spies. It beeps every time she texts and plays the entire song when she calls, so Alya makes it her life mission to contact Marinette excessively just to hear it playing.

She's a genius, okay?

Nino and Adrien shoot them weird looks when Alya texts her during lunch. Marinette laughs so hard, it draws the attention of practically everyone nearby, and Alya's pretty sure that somewhere in the distance Nathanael is blushing red. Adrien's got an unidentifiable look on his face and when did that happen, does Mari even see what's going on here because hot damn.


Suddenly her phone beeps, and - "Hey, hey, there's something happening at the — two streets away," she says in a rush, her eyes snapping to Marinette.

Adrien frowns and asks for the phone, saying something about some photoshoot event happening there later. Nino hovers by his shoulder, concerned.

Marinette's gone the when she looks up.

Alya doesn't call for her.

017

"Is there something I'm missing here?" Nino asks, a brow raised, looking between the two of them. "It's been a week, and I still don't understand why you just texted Marinette when you're less than a foot away from each other. Also, what's up with the ringtone?"

"I don't even know," Marinette says, shooting Alya a small smile. (Liar, Alya thinks affectionately. Marinette was an excellent liar when she wasn't trying.)

Alya turns to the boys and raises an eyebrow imperiously. "I'd tell you both, but then I'd have to kill you."

Adrien eyes them both, and his face settles into an easy smile. "Must be some inside joke, then," he says to Nino.

The girls laugh. He had no idea.


018

Alya, 10:43 PM: YOU OWE ME SO MUCH

Marinette, 10:43 PM: … What did you do to my ringtone

Alya, 10:44 PM: CALL ME BEEP ME IF U WANNA REACH ME

Alya, 10:44 PM: :) it suits you :)

Marinette, 10:45 PM: THAT'S FROM KIM POSSIBLE

Marinette, 10:45 PM: go to sleep

Marinette, 10:46 PM:
Also, get your TV show theme songs right.

Alya, 10:46 PM: lol whatevr

Alya, 10:46 PM: TELL ME ABOUT YOUR MIDNIGHT SHENANIGANS W/ CHAT NOIR. HOLYYYYyyYy ARE YOU A THING (pls be a thing) DO YOU KNOW WHO HE IS ??????

Marinette, 10:47 PM: 1) No thank you 2) NO. 3) No, I said it was better if we didn't reveal ourselves. 4) Go sleep. You should rest.

Alya, 10:47PM: I will when you take your own advice

Alya, 10:48 PM: also i love how u answered questions 1-3 with "no"

Alya, 10:55 PM: ok… i see. good night. u better not have ditched me for chat noir. if u have i might be consumed by the akuma again

Alya, 10:55 PM: um

Alya, 10:55 PM: too soon? sorry but always know ilu <3333

Alya, 11:00 PM: i've told you this before, before i knew u were actually hannah montana except cooler

Alya, 11:00 PM: aaand i never thought the context would change but

Alya, 11:01 PM: you know, my mother always told me ladybugs were lucky.

Alya, 11:01 PM: so far they have never let me down.

Alya, 11:02 PM: and i know you won't, either.

019

"Marinette Dupain-Cheng!" Alya yells into her phone. "Where the hell are you?"

"If I said I was saving the world from potential chaos and disaster, would you believe me?"

 She would say no, but fate said yes, so what choice did she have right now? "When did you get so damn cheeky?" Alya demands, rolling her eyes. "I'm rolling my eyes at you right now."

"By the way, Ladybug's approaching the Trocadéro. You heard it from me first," Marinette - Ladybug herself - says, and Alya hears the smirk in her best friend's tone.

Sometimes Alya can't believe she runs a freaking blog about this girl – the walking miracle, actual Magical Girl, her best friend Marinette – who was always late to school, who could eat French macarons by the basketful, who couldn't even talk to her crush despite saving the world five minutes before.

"I'll be there," Alya says, pretending to sound long-suffering and tired.
She ends the call and laughs out loud. Strangers stare at her, and she shoots them brilliant smiles.

020

"I had no idea," Alya says slowly, looking between Marinette Dupain-Cheng and Adrien Agreste.

AKA Ladybug and Chat Noir.

Who just transformed back into their civilian selves in front of her.

"Wait, actually, I did." Her brows furrow, and she brings out her phone, scrolling through her photos. "This was from ages ago - we were still fifteen, bless our souls —"

Alya displays her phone proudly. "I totally photoshopped your face on Chat Noir's body!"

Adrien - Chat Noir, how did this even happen - chokes.

"Marinette didn't believe me, either." She shoots her a mock-glare. "And I brushed the idea off so easily."

She scrutinizes Adrien, and everything falls into place.

The hair, the eyes - those were a perfect match.

His persona as Chat Noir, though … that was a bit of a surprise.

Or maybe it wasn't.

Because - Alya remembers now - being an Agreste comes with expectations and cameras flashing everywhere you went. It comes with a constant pressure weighing you down everywhere you went. It came with loneliness and a house so big it swallowed you whole. Maybe there was something wild, something primal creeping underneath his easy smiles and good manners.

People and their masks, honestly. Alya shakes her head to clear her thoughts. "I can't believe this is my life now. Look how far we've come, and all that." She looks them over affectionately. "I feel like a proud mother. My children have grown up."

"You've come far, too," Marinette reminds her gently. "A million followers on the Ladyblog and Youtube?"

Alya does her best not to squeal. "I know, right? Thank you for being the main key to my success. The Internet loves you both."

("Maybe one day you'll stop making freaking memes of my alter ego saving the world," Marinette grumbles under her breath. Alya pointedly ignores her.)

"The Internet loves us," Adrien corrects, a smile playing on his lips. "Nino's getting really big. His mixes are gaining a lot of attention online and he's landing pretty sweet gigs. Honestly, I can't say I'm surprised."

For a moment, they sit in contented silence. 

 "We did good, didn't we?" he says, and nobody disagrees with him.

"How was I so blind, though?" Alya can't help but wonder.  "I literally notice everything."

"Well, you do need glasses," Adrien points out, wearing a trademark Chat Noir grin.

Damn,” Alya says, impressed. "I didn't think you'd ever sass me. Who knew, right?" She laughs and looks up at the sky. The universe was probably having a good laugh at her life right now - well, the feeling was mutual. She was having a pretty good laugh at the universe, too. "Thank you both for the interview, and for stopping by here at my house. I just wanted to get the lowdown on you guys kicking butts and taking names, but…" She shrugs. How could you explain all this?  "I guess I got more than I bargained for." She shoots the duo a smile so wide her cheeks ache. "Thanks for the trust, Adrien. Chat Noir. Means a lot." She salutes him playfully.

He grins at her, and it's blindingly bright. There's a warm glow in his eyes. "Of course, Alya. You were - and still are -  one of my first real friends. You deserve to know."

Keep him forever, Mari, Alya's tempted to shout for the 109282828192nd time. Marry him and have beautiful, beautiful children.

(She ships it hard.)

"So … this important revelation has opened my eyes. I have to ask one last serious question. Reporter's duty, you know? Is that fine?" She grabs her notepad and a pencil for good measure.

Her heroes - her friends - nod.

The change in the atmosphere is instant, and Alya feels a full-on smirk coming on. She does a fantastically poor job of hiding it.

"Does this mean you two have been secretly dating all this time?"

"What," Marinette says.

Adrien laughs nervously and runs a hand through his hair.

They don't look at each other.

Alya cackles, because no freaking way. This was too good to be true.

Messing with them was going to be so, so much fun.

"Well, you better speak up. Nino and I have been betting on this for ages. I gotta know how much money he owes me."

Chat Noir chokes again.

Adrien - 1, Alya - ∞.

Today was a day of victories.

(Let's face it: he only earned a point because he was secretly Chat Noir.

And, well, she scored infinity because she was awesome.)


021


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022

"LADYBUG!" She's screaming hoarse now, but she can't bring herself to care.

Over the past two years, Ladybug and Chat Noir had gotten better. If it was possible, they'd found even more of a way to work better together. Every fight was a dance that always proved mesmerizing to watch.

But they weren't the only ones who stepped up their game.

Whoever was sending out those akumas was relentless. Painfully so.

And now she couldn't find her best friend.

"Ladybug?" She tries again, pushing the doubt and anxiety tingling throughout her body. "Oh, God, Marinette - "

Please be okay please be okay please be okay please.

Don't let me down, she thinks, remembering a conversation and an all-too-familiar squeezing in her chest.


023

"We can't just give him what he wants," Marinette says frustratedly over her third cup of coffee. It's eight-thirty in the morning, and sleep is a foreign concept for the both of them. She has a city to save and protect, after all, and Alya has a duty to run around recording her do so.

"Our Miraculouses can't fall into the wrong hands. Who knows what he'll do with all that unlimited power? Adrien and I won’t stop fighting every akuma he sends our way. But Hawk Moth's just getting stronger. He insists on using innocent people to do his job, which is really pissing me off. Anger, sadness, jealousy - these are all normal emotions. Everyone's felt them. It's only human, right? That's what they all say. But he strips people of their humanity until they're just their demons."

Marinette's gaze is electric, and her voice drips with conviction. "And the people of Paris don't deserve to have their mind intruded and taken over by someone like him. In the heat of the moment, they might agree to work with him to get their revenge. But they don't deserve to have their bodies and emotions used to wreck destruction. They don’t deserve to have no memory of whatever happened until they see themselves on television or hear the news from someone they know. These innocent people didn't consent to the trauma they would feel afterwards. They don't deserve to feel like their anger is all they are, just because of one incident where they gave in too easily to the promise of revenge. But what about forgiveness? It’s not a foreign concept, but it’s certainly something we forget easily. Saying this out loud sounds stupid and cheesy, I know. Nothing comes easy nowadays. There are people getting hurt. And Hawk Moth… Whoever he is, he wants us to forget happiness and hope. He wants us to feel inferior and irrelevant and scared. And I am scared, more than I’d like to admit. But I won't - I can't -  let my fears take over me. It'd mean letting him win." Marinette takes a long sip of her coffee. She sets her empty mug down on the table with a satisfying thump, and the intense look in her eyes is heightened by the dark rings under her eyes. "You and I both know I don't go down without a fight."

Alya claps slowly, because even the universe has learned not to mess with ladybugs.

 Ladybugs are pretty damn invincible, she thinks proudly, and there's a gigantic grin nearly splitting her face. For the first time in forever, she feels a heady rush of hope tingling through her bloodstream, settling in her mind. It feels fantastic.

"Could you say that again as Ladybug? In front of a camera?"

024

She does her best not to fidget with her camera. Thankfully, her memory card is still intact, because nothing else is. Her DSLR has been split in two and run over by a few cars, maybe, and it's a pretty accurate representation of how she feels right now.
Confrontations with the bad guy sucked as much as they did in the movies, and Alya learned that the hard way. "I would've taken the risk," Alya says.

"And I wouldn't have let you," Ladybug reminds her, her gaze exhausted but unyielding. Her eyes - ridiculously blue and bright - are glossy with tears. "You're hurt. Because - because of me." She grits her teeth and looks away, like the sight of Alya covered in bruises physically pains her. "And you're not the only one hurt. Some children, Chat Noir – ” She stops, her fists clenching by her sides. “You actually came face-to-face with Hawk Moth, Alya. You were in front of him and for a second I thought he'd just come after you and kill you. I don't know." She laughs mirthlessly. "It's a miracle you weren't akumatized again. One of them hurt you, knocked you out. I'm not sure which one, but I don't think I could live with myself if you were - " She doesn't finish the sentence. She doesn't have to.

In that moment, Alya realizes that Marinette's worst nightmares were slowly coming true.

Because casualties in a fight hadn't always been a thing. Nobody counted on the swarms of dark butterflies that took over the city, urging people to personify their demons. Nobody counted on death making an appearance until they were slamming into it face-to-face. And everybody counted on two superheroes to undo all this madness with a few punches and impressive moves. The problem was that the world only saw the masks and the costumes and the magic.

They didn't see the people hurting underneath.

(LADYBUG RUNNING OUT OF LUCK? the headlines scream. MAN CALLED 'HAWK MOTH' IS BEHIND ATTACKS. HUNDREDS OF AKUMA VICTIMS, 9 CASUALTIES, 2 DEAD. GOV'T ASKS FORMER VICTIMS TO REGISTER THEMSELVES. PARIS STAYS STRONG DESPITE AKUMA ATTACKS.
)

Marinette doesn’t know what sleep is. She's juggling her college coursework with saving the world. Between getting her fingers pricked by needles, running out on her supply of weak excuses and battling the bad guys, Alya doesn't know how her best friend is still alive. 'Coffee' is her first guess - Mari drinks it by the pot, after all. But the real reason why her best friend hasn't become a comatose zombie is probably Tikki, who is the sweetest magical creature Alya has ever encountered. (The other magical creature? He wasn't that nice.)

This is something she will never admit to the public: Sometimes Alya doesn't understand why Ladybug and Chat Noir continue to save Paris when they could be saving themselves, sparing their minds and bodies from all the pain and destruction threatening to consume the city.

Of course she knows the importance of selflessness and good deeds; these are virtues Alya believes in and tries to practice on a daily basis. Of course she's extremely grateful for the fact that she's still alive. She loves the two superheroes for all the protection they offer - she runs a website dedicated to the rescuing they do, complete with daily updates.

But she's not the one fighting the good fight, she doesn't come home sleep-deprived and bloody, and she can actually afford to view the situation from a shrewd perspective.

She sees the bags under Mari's eyes and the dispassionate look on Adrien's face when he thinks nobody is looking. She can see the way their shoulders are perpetually tense and defeated, how they're struggling to balance their identities and slowly destroying themselves in the process —

The thing is, Alya knows, even if she doesn't fully understand.

She knows the duty entrusted to Adrien and Marinette. They were chosen among many and it's a great honor – she gets the gist. She's heard it all before, and she appreciates the sentiment of good winning over evil. But Alya didn't expect the process to be so damn frustrating. She doesn’t expect to feel so useless - being pathetic wasn't a role she took on often, after all.

Struggling heroes and their complexes were starting to drive her crazy.

Not being able to do anything that truly helped was starting to drive her crazy.

What was it like to have the weight on the world fall on your shoulders?

She can only try to understand what it feels like.

(And whatever glimpses she gets, she holds onto. It's frighteningly easy to forget that there are things that we do for a greater purpose.)


025

"What did you just do?" Alya can see Chat Noir's shoulders shake in disbelieving laughter as he swings above her, presumably looking for Ladybug. He catapults off the buildings into the air and lands perfectly on his four feet. ("Showoff," Nino mutters fondly from somewhere behind her.)

"I think I almost died," Alya replies, but she's grinning wildly at her camera, where she's been streaming the Hawk Moth vs. Ladynoir showdown on her blog from six different angles.

(This is what Alya did: To get a good perspective on things, she had to elbow her way across crowds, climb up several electrical posts, several fire exits, and a roof. She'd pleaded with security for access to all Paris's elevated surfaces. Nino was operating the camera drone and watching everything from her laptop, where all her cameras were connected.

She'd even ended up hanging upside down at one point trying to get a good angle on the fight, hence Chat Noir’s concern later on - but Alya was more daredevil than damsel.)

I took the risk, she thinks triumphantly. Victory is sweet and contagious and it’s theirs, hers and Nino’s and Adrien’s and Marinette’s and Paris’s and the world’s. Her hair is a mess, her cheeks are flushed and her glasses are askew. She feels absolutely brilliant.

"The things I do for good footage," she continues. "But there you go! Ladybug and Chat Noir just ended Hawk Moth, that horrible ba — that horrible bad man," she amends hastily because there are children watching. "I can't believe this is finally over. Five years of them saving the city and me babbling about it online. Oh my God, I'm ridiculously proud right now. Ladybug and Chat Noir have never let us down, haven't they? And - aaaand I'm about to become emotional now. Are these actual tears, ha ha —" She catches sight of Nino, carrying all their equipment beside her. "Did you see that?” she beams. “Oh my God. That was awesome. I was awesome."

"It was awesome. You were awesome, and I have recorded your awesomeness on my phone. Hello, Internet," Nino says, waving at the camera.

(Bless Nino, who was always game to play along. Alya loves - er, she has a great deal of affection for him - for being the only one in their little gang who wasn't surprised with her increasingly crazy antics throughout the years. He understands her, to put it simply.
They both live for moving mountains and witnessing extraordinary sights, like their superhero best friends saving the world. They both lived for the thrill, for the resounding moments in life that made you pump your fist into the air.

So, yeah. Bless Nino, for his steady hands and warm smile and the way he rolled along with life’s punches.)

"Don't get emotional," he teases her gently, and Alya lets out a laugh that sounds like an animal dying. "Yeah, okay." She shoots him a small, genuine smile and turns back to her camera. "Okay. I'll be extremely emotional later. Expect a vlog soon, everyone! Thanks for - for everything." Her grip on her camera almost falters, but she marches on bravely. Hopefully her followers catch the way she tries to inject an eternity into a single shaky word. "This is Alya for the Ladyblog. See you later!" She shuts her camera off.

"Can you believe it's over?" Nino asks.

"No," she admits. "Part of me doesn't want it to be over, as insane as that sounds. The other, better part of me is just extremely relieved. Mari and Adrien finally get the chance to just close their eyes and breathe. This is the perfect storybook they deserve as my friends and as the world’s superheroes. I am glad it’s over. Even if I look a mess," she adds as an afterthought, suddenly noticing the assorted smudges of dirt on her clothing and the grime under her nails.


"You don't look like a mess. You look like something else," Nino says, taking her hand in his, and there is something strangely reverent about the way he looks at her despite the fact that he is smiling.

Did the adrenaline rush usually last this long?


"I don't know where my heels are," she tells Nino and he laughs.

She must’ve lost her shoes, chasing down a good story.

(But she’d gotten more than she had ever hoped for in return. Seeing Chat Noir and Ladybug win from six different angles was totally worth losing her footwear.)

He shakes his head, amused, and they walk together hand in hand. "Is this your way of telling me you want shoes? Because I'll get you shoes, if that's what you want."

Alya can see the Eiffel tower from where they are, and the sunset bathes Paris in a soft orange glow.

Best date ever.

(This, she thinks with satisfaction, is definitely a story I’ll be telling our future children one day.)

026

She wins an award for the Ladyblog.

… It's not just the Ladyblog, though.

She also wins awards for her extensive studies and research on the akuma attacks and the aftermath of the Hawk Moth’s victims, her articles featured on the New York Times, and her and Nino’s documentary on the final battle between Ladynoir and Hawk Moth.

(Strangely, she's the only one suprised. Why is she the only one surprised?)

The applause is deafening, her heart is all she hears and were the lights always so bright? As she makes her way to the stage, Alya thinks she'll trip on her heels - damn Mari for insisting she wear six-inch-stilettos - but the universe is on her side.

"Congratulations!" The presenter, a beautiful black woman whose name Alya can't place, grins warmly as she hands Alya her award.

She can't remember what she says in return, but the trophy is cool against her sweaty palms and this moment is real. This is not a dream, she thinks in amazement. I actually did it.

From her position, she can see Marinette and Adrien wearing matching grins (and on-point outfits.) Nino gives her a thumb's up and winks, his DSLR in one hand. He's videotaping the whole thing, and Alya doesn't know if she wants to punch him or kiss him – maybe both.

Mr and Mrs Dupain-Cheng are grinning proudly beside her mother and her sisters, who are all trying not to cry. Her father is silent and still as stone and proud of her.

"Ten years is a pretty long time," the presenter says when the applause dies down. "So… What brought all this, Alya? What made you want to follow the lives of our favorite masked superheroes?"

Alya laughs and her heart hurts a little, but it's a good kind of pain, she decides. "I don't really know. There are a million possible answers, but I just … I just wanted to be part of something bigger." 

“Don’t we all?” the presenter says softly, and Alya feels her confidence slowly seep back in.

She pauses to form her thoughts. "As a teenager, I just wanted to understand how the world worked. I wanted to take it apart, connect all the details with string and thumbtacks and then just come up with conclusions, like I part of a detective show. It doesn't work that way, obviously.” She gives a self-deprecating smile and the audience laughs appreciatively. “But I think I understand now. So thank you, everyone -" she beams at her friends, her family, the entire world - "for giving me the chance to take the risk. Thank you for giving me the chance to be a part of something bigger than me, bigger than all of us."

Her eyes find Marinette's, ridiculously blue and electric even against the dark.

"Besides," Alya says, a slow grin spreading, "my mother always told me ladybugs were lucky."

The audience is still clapping when Alya returns to her seat.

Today is a day of victories.