Continuing Tales

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A Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir Story
by DarkReyna16

Part 19 of 37

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If this was how Alya felt after having her calls continuously ignored, then Nino could safely say that a dose of his own medicine was bitter indeed.

He gave a sigh, eyes glued to his phone as he tried, once more, to get in contact with his girlfriend. He only let it ring seven times before he gave up. Nino hit the end button, staring at Alya’s profile picture. He hadn’t seen her all week: there were apparently deadlines she had to complete before the weekend was up, and though Nino knew how she was with her work, it was rare for him not to see her at all. He never knew before now how much he could miss her, even though she couldn’t be as far away as he felt she was. Nino could feel the gradual distance between them getting larger and larger, and it hurt him so much to know that he couldn’t say anything about it, because it had been him who had been too busy for her for so long that any complaints he made would turn him into a hypocrite. But even so…

Nino stiffened his upper lip, speeding his steps as Boulangerie Patisserie came into view. Well, hopefully things would change after this weekend. Alya’s birthday wasn’t until Monday, but they would be celebrating tonight; the invitations had been sent out, the venue was booked, and the decorations were up. The last thing Nino had to do was pick up the cake, and Marinette was in charge of getting Alya to the place…if she could drag his workaholic girlfriend away from her laptop…

“Welcome to Boulangerie Patisserie…oh, hello, Nino,” Sabine greeted pleasantly, smiling at Nino as he stepped through the door. He hitched on a grin for her.

“Hey, Mrs. C. Is ‘Nette around?”

“Hold on…Marinette! Nino’s here!”


From the house sprang Marinette, chewing quickly; she had been on lunch break, it appeared. Balanced carefully in her hands was a white box Nino knew Alya’s cake to be in, courtesy of Tom Dupain himself. She passed it over to Nino with all the ceremony of passing the torch at the Olympics.

“Guard this with your life,” she warned him sternly, and Nino snorted, the words familiar.

“I’ll do my best.” Growing serious, he asked, “Hey, uh, still got a minute? I want to talk to you real quick.”

Marinette gave her mother a curious look, and Sabine nodded her assent.

“Just don’t be too long,” she requested. Marinette thanked her with a quick hug, and she and Nino stepped out of the shop. Marinette shuddered in protest, scowling as she crossed her arms for warmth, and Nino chuckled.

“You could go get a coat…”

“No, I really do have to get back quickly so Mama doesn’t get swamped.” She turned curious bluebell eyes onto Nino. “What’s up?”

Nino frowned.

“Have you seen Alya this week? At all?”

Marinette bit her lip.

“Not really…I saw her for a few seconds on Wednesday, but that was just luck. She said she had a deadline to meet, but usually, she’s willing to sneak away for a bite of lunch when I ask…” Marinette frowned. “She seemed kind of stressed to me.” Turning to Nino, she asked, “Have you seen her at all?”

“Not one bit,” Nino answered, his mood sinking lower at the words. “She hasn’t answered any of my calls. I’m pretty sure she’s pissed at me.”

“She could just be busy…”

“Yeah, but she would’ve told me if she was busy. I haven’t heard anything from her, ‘Nette. Not one word.”

Marinette’s brows furrowed, taking in the dejection in Nino’s expression.

“That’s…not like her,” she concluded.

“So you see my problem,” Nino replied, sighing. “I’m not sure what to do here: I know she’d hate it if I dropped by while she’s busy, and she’d hate it even more if she’s actually mad at me, which I’m sure she is…but the radio silence is killing me, and I don’t know how to break it.”

Marinette gave his arm a consoling pat.

“I’m sorry, Nino. I don’t know what’s going on, either, but you’ll see her at the party tonight, so you’ll get a chance to talk to her, then.”

“Is she actually coming?”

“She said she’d meet me for dinner tonight, so she should. Of course, that was yesterday…” Marinette frowned, gripping her chin in thought. “I’d better text her to make sure that’s still on.”

“You should. Can’t have a birthday party without the birthday girl,” Nino reasoned with something resembling a smile. Marinette returned it, patting his arm again.

“It’ll be okay. I’m gonna text her now. You just worry about getting that cake back to your apartment safely, okay?”

“I’ll be extra-careful to avoid any cake thieves on my way home,” Nino joked with a grin. “Though, even if the impossible did happen, I’m sure Ladybug could save the day as she always does…”

Marinette leveled a flat look his way.

“That’s one Lucky Charm I’d rather avoid, thank you,” she told him dryly, swatting at him. “Go on already. I have to get back to work.”

“Ack! Okay, I’m going! No need to swat me out of the kitchen, Ma, jeez.”

“Don’t drop that cake!”

“I’m not gonna!”

“And don’t think about sneaking a bite, either! The first taste is for the birthday girl!”

Nino snorted. As if he’d dare to take a bite out of his girlfriend’s cake before her…

As he walked, Nino tried to slide the box open for a peek…only to find that the sides were taped shut. Aw man. Well, no matter; he’d see it at Alya’s party tonight.

…Now if only he was sure she would show up…



There was a snarling sound, and finally, Alya gave up, snapping her laptop shut in favor of the black coffee beside her. She made a face after taking a sip—it was stone cold now. Maybe she had ignored it for a little too long.

She sighed, letting her head fall into a hand as she rubbed her temples, trying to ease the tension away. This wasn’t working. The whole reason she had left her apartment was because she wanted to be able to focus without the distraction of pictures of her and Nino and Marinette hanging everywhere, but it was just as difficult to focus here, in this bustling café full of people talking and laughing and generally being cheerful, the bastards. What were they all smiling about? Didn’t they know how much pressure she was under?

Her phone buzzed in her pocket. Again. Alya groaned and grumbled under her breath. She really didn’t want to talk to Nino right now—she didn’t know what to say to him. All week, she had been mulling over her strategy, over how best to attack what was definitely a misunderstandingbetween her, her best friend, and her boyfriend. All week, she nearly tore her hair out, trying to analyze the conversation she had overheard over and over again, examining it from all angles to find something that made sense, even without the proper context. All week, she had been willing herself not to go crazy, because it couldn’t be what she was worried it was, because she knew Nino and Marinette better than that, knew that they would never do something like this to her. So why was it gnawing at her like this, as if eight years of love and friendship meant nothing?

“I know it’s awful, and I’m trying to work something out, but we have to keep her in the dark, understand? She can’t know about us.”

Alya snarled again and slammed her fist into the table.

“The fuck does that mean?!” She demanded to know out loud, causing the patrons around her to jump and cast her wary glances. “What ‘us’?! What the hell are they lying about that involves an ‘us’?! What the hell is going on?!”

“Oh dear. Honey, are you all right?”

Alya’s head snapped up, startled at the interruption. A beautiful woman stood beside her table, dressed in a red winter coat, dark blue jeans and black calf-high boots. She brushed lush auburn hair from the lapel of her jacket, dark eyes surveying Alya with some concern. And Alya felt herself flush, recognizing the beauty instantly.

“Oh…Madmoiselle Trace,” she said, nervously tucking a lock of her hair behind her ear. “Uh, hello.”

Desiree’s eyes grew bright with interest.

“Oh, you know my name? How flattering.” She leaned over a little, her face coming closer to Alya’s, plump lips pursed as she stared, apparently oblivious to Alya’s growing embarrassment. “Hmm, you look familiar, darling…I haven’t had you in class, have I?”

“Oh, no,” Alya said with a slight smile, “I’m not a fashion student. But my best friend is, and I’ve attended a few of your fashion functions with her.” Alya paused at the automatic label she used for Marinette, wondering if said label still applied for a moment before she shook her head and continued. “Marinette Dupain-Cheng. She’s one of your best students.”

“Oh, Mari-doll! Yes, indeed she is!” Desiree’s gaze went to the empty seat across the table from Alya. “Will she be joining you soon?”

“Nope,” said Alya, her smile growing strained. “It’s just me today.”

“Just you? Oh, what a shame. Would you like company?”

“Uh…I guess?” Alya answered uncertainly. She glanced at her laptop briefly before she dragged it off the table with a huff, stowing it in her bag. Whatever. She clearly wasn’t going to be getting any work done anytime soon anyway.

“So how is Marinette?” Desiree asked as she made herself comfortable, sliding off her jacket to reveal a cream-colored sweater that hugged her frame nicely. She folded her hands on the table in front of her, smiling at a slightly flustered Alya. “She’s always rushing off after class to do something or other. Busy girl, isn’t she?”

“I guess so,” Alya replied, frowning a bit. Desiree seemed to pick up on her preoccupation at once.

“Oh…I’m sorry, is this a sore subject?”

Alya sighed. She knew her feelings were always obvious when she spoke to people face to face; that was part of the reason she was avoiding Nino and Marinette at the moment. She didn’t want to see them until she knew exactly how she would attack this misunderstanding between them…now if only it wasn’t so hard to figure out a course of action, with her stupid feelings of doubt constantly getting in the way…

“No,” she assured Desiree with a pained smile. “I’ve just…been dealing with some stuff, that’s all.”

“So I gathered from the way you shouted earlier,” Desiree replied, and Alya’s embarrassment grew two-fold as she groaned and slapped a hand over her face again. “Please stop me if I’m prying, but…can I make a guess and say that this problem involves a friend…and a significant other of some kind?”

Nino flashed through Alya’s mind, and her free hand balled into a fist on the table.

“Actually…I’d rather not talk about it,” she said, avoiding Desiree’s gaze. There was a beat of silence before Desiree spoke again.

“I’m sorry you seem to be going through a rough time.” There was a light touch to the back of her fist, and Alya glanced up, finding a sympathetic smile on Desiree’s face. “I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable. I just thought…well, if you needed someone to talk to…” She frowned a little, uncertainty marring her features. “But I suppose it’s strange to spill secrets to a stranger, isn’t it? I’m sorry. I really am prying, aren’t I?”

Alya cringed. Oh great; she was making a virtual stranger worry about her just because she wouldn’t swallow her pride. For a journalist, her communication skills were abysmal.

“No, you’re not prying,” Alya assured her, giving an awkward smile. “I know I probably look terrible, making faces while mumbling to myself…it’s just…” Alya shuddered, as if it would cause her physical pain to voice the words out loud, but they were clawing at her throat anyway, screaming to finally be released from this prison of self-doubt and confusion she had kept them caged in for the past week—

“…I don’t know what to do.”

The words were a shameful white flag. Alya hated it.

Desiree seemed to consider her for a long moment.

“…Have you tried speaking with them?” She suggested. Alya snorted.

“That’s the problem: I don’t know how to talk to them. I don’t want to explode at them, only to feel like an idiot as soon as they prove me wrong. I know I’m probably freaking out over nothing—I have to be—but just as soon as I work up the nerve to call or text one of them, that stupid little voice in the back of my head pipes up, ‘What if I’m wrong’? What if what I’m afraid is happening is actually happening, and I’m letting my stubbornness cloud my judgement?”

Alya huffed, propping her head up with her fist as she gazed out the window, to the chilly afternoon beyond, though the barren landscape offered nothing to lift her mood. Her phone buzzed once again in her pocket, but she ignored it still, her heart giving a painful squeeze as she wondered which one of the two most important people in her life was trying to get in contact with her. Nino had been calling her all week, and Marinette had been sending her tentative text messages, not wanting to bother her when she was on a deadline. They were clearly worried about her…and surely two people so worried about her wouldn’t be doing anything that would hurt her…right?

“Can I offer some advice?”

Alya’s gaze flicked over to Desiree, who was regarding her with a thoughtful frown. Smiling weakly, Alya shrugged.

“Sure. It can’t be any worse than me banging my head against a wall,” she grumbled. Desiree’s gaze once again grew sympathetic, and she gave Alya’s free hand another pat.

“Well, I can’t say that I know all the people involved in this scenario…” The speculative look that crossed Desiree’s features spoke volumes over what she believed she did know, “…but my father always told me one thing whenever I was in doubt: trust your gut.”

Alya stared at Desiree.

“That’s it?” She asked, her tone too blunt. But she couldn’t find her manners at the moment; she was actually having a crisis here, and some fortune cookie crap wouldn't solve anything for her.

Instead of taking offense, Desiree laughed.

“I know it sounds simple. It used to aggravate me, too, when I was younger,” she teased. As Alya watched, her smile grew a tad more wistful. “But when he died, I realized just how much wisdom was actually hidden in his words. I never got to thank him for everything he passed onto me, but I’m grateful for every bit of advice now, no matter how silly it sounded in the beginning. Funny how that happens after the people we love are gone, isn’t it?”

“I’m…sorry for your loss,” Alya said, unsure of what else what to say. Desiree’s smile widened.

“Thank you. It’s been years, but I still miss him as if he just passed yesterday. Oh, but I didn’t mean to bring you down more, I’m sorry,” she apologized with a flustered wave of her hands. “Anyway, as I was saying…I’ve learned that going with my gut instinct has helped me out on more than one occasion. Of course, that’s me, personally…” Desiree paused, her gaze flicking over Alya, speculation returning to her gaze. Alya was suddenly struck with the urge to sit up straighter.

“…But I think we may be of the same mold, you and I,” Desiree teased, winking. “So, though you didn’t ask for them, here are my two cents: if you feel something is wrong, you should figure out why. Go back to the beginning, where you started feeling that things were strange, and then figure it out from there. Does that make sense?”

Alya frowned. Yeah, it made sense: in theory. But in her situation…

Dimly, a memory swam to the forefront of her mind: the first time she caught Nino and Marinette out together, after she had been calling him all day without an answer. It was Christmas Eve, and they had said they were out having lunch after Marinette had presented Nino’s new CD cover to him…but Alya hadn’t yet seen any cover, despite her asking about it; Nino seemed to always have an excuse about it, like he’d left it at the studio, or something. That had been strange all on its own…and then, right under her nose, Marinette had passed off a locked box to him, a box she insinuated had birthday surprises for Alya…

…But had that been true? Or had it just been a convenient excuse…?

Alya frowned to herself, her mind working furiously.

Despite what she did or did not want to believe, her gut told her that she was being lied to, definitely. As for the whys…well, she’d have to figure them out later, come what may. But as for a point of origin—

“Oh, Desiree,” said a sudden voice, and Alya glanced up, finding a red-headed waitress at their table, looking pleased as she smiled at Desiree. “I wasn’t expecting you to drop by.”

“I had a caffeine-and-cute-girlfriend itch that had to be scratched,” Desiree purred, and Alya felt herself warm as Desiree leaned up, tugging the waitress over to kiss her cheek. “Get me an expresso, will you, sweetie?”

“S-sure,” the waitress stuttered, her face flaming to match her hair. As she jotted down the note, she gave Alya a curious glance. “Who’s your friend?”

“Oh, just an acquaintance of an acquaintance,” Desiree said airily, waving a hand. “Can I get you some more coffee, hun?”

“Uh…no,” Alya decided, grabbing her coat and the strap of her messenger bag. “Actually…there’s something I need to do. Will you excuse me?”

“Of course, I’m the one who invited myself to your table, after all,” Desiree said with a chuckle. As Alya paid for her undrunk coffee, Desiree’s hand slipped once more over hers, patting it affectionately. “I hope you find your answers, hun.”

“Thanks…that’s pretty,” Alya said, just noticing the ring Desiree wore around her middle finger: it was silver, looping around a couple times before two ends appeared to rest at the top of the ring: a curved tail, a portion of it clamped in the mouth of what appeared to be a snake’s head, two minuscule, gleaming rubies servings as its eyes. Desiree drew her hand back, regarding the ring fondly.

“Thank you. It was a gift from my father,” she explained, a small smile gracing her features. “Never leave the house without it.”

Alya smiled as she excused herself a final time, edging around the waitress and leaving the café, her bag banging into her hip as she took off running as soon as she hit the street.

“Watch it,” she growled as she narrowly avoided running into a tall blonde man in her way. He raised an eyebrow at her, but she couldn’t focus on him, too intent to reach her car as fast as she could. Nino’s place wasn’t far; it would take her a just a few minutes to get there, and once she did…

As she climbed into her car, her phone buzzed again, and finally, Alya dug it out of her pocket.

There were three text messages, each of them from Marinette.

Marinette (3:25 PM): Hey, Alya! Sorry to bother you while you’re on deadline; just wanted to remind you about dinner tonight. You can still make it, right?

Marinette (3:40 PM): Uh…is that a no? A little dinner wouldn’t hurt you, right?

Marinette (3:55 PM): Okay, I give up: the truth is, Nino and I have been working to put together this surprise party for you tonight. I know it’s not much of a surprise if you already know, but it’s not much of a party if you don’t come, either. So say you’ll come? Please?

Alya paused, re-reading the last text.

Oh…right, a surprise party. That made sense. It wasn’t like Alya hadn’t thought about that as a possible explanation for the odd behavior of her best friend and boyfriend lately…

“She can’t know about us.”

And yet…

Making up her mind on the spot, Alya sent back a reply:

Alya (3:56 PM): Hah! I warned you surprise parties don’t work on me! Buuuut since you asked so nicely, I’ll be there. I’m in the middle of something, so I’ll talk to you later.

Once the text was sent, Alya tossed her phone into the passenger seat and started up her car, speeding her way to Nino’s.  She didn’t know if he was home right now, but that hardly mattered; home or not, Alya was going to get her answers.

And then the party tonight would either be a celebration or a shit storm…it all depended on what she found out, honestly.

Alya made it to her boyfriend’s apartment in record time. He didn’t answer when she knocked, so she went ahead and took that to mean that he wasn’t home.

No problem,’ Alya reasoned, simply drawing out the spare key she held to Nino’s apartment and letting herself in. The living room was a mess of take-out boxes and clothes…surprising. Nino was usually the neater one out of the two of them…perhaps he’d been too busy to pick up after himself lately.

Alya carefully closed the door behind her and kicked her shoes off, wary of every step she made, which was ridiculous, since she was the only one there. The only eyes on her right now were the eyes of Gaspard and Genevie, and who were they going to tell? They were fish.

“Not here…” Alya muttered to herself, a quick sweep of the living room telling her that her prize was elsewhere. However, she was far from discouraged, and merely headed for the bedroom instead. It was a little less messy in here; the take-out boxes appeared to have been confined to the living room. Alya flicked the light switch…but nothing happened. She scowled up at the ceiling, wondering if Nino knew his light had burnt out and just hadn’t bothered to fix it yet…or if this was a higher power’s not-so-subtle sign that she should cease and desist in her snooping. Either way, she refused to be deterred. A hand went to her pocket, intending to use the flashlight app on her phone—oh, but she had left her phone in the car. Damn it.

“Whatever,” Alya growled to herself, moving to the window. She meant to draw the curtains back—wait, what the hell, the edges seemed to be…fastened to the wall? How the hell did Nino do this? Did he hate having sunlight in his room that much?

Well, this meant Alya was forced to improvise. Grumbling under her breath, she headed for the computer desk instead, wiggling the mouse. The screen came to life, as she knew it would, but instead of Nino’s background coming into view, a web page appeared, concerning…the cleansing of the Seine? Alya raised an eyebrow. Since when did Nino care so much about the Seine?

Not important,’ she had to remind herself as she turned her back on the computer, facing the room, which was now bathed in blue light. It wasn’t ideal visual conditions…but she could work with it. Damn it, the minute she dared to leave her back-up pen light at work…

Nevertheless, Alya commenced the search, high (the top shelves of Nino’s closet) and low (under his bed), sweeping through all possible hiding areas twice before she flopped on the edge of Nino’s bed in defeat a minute later. Fuck. Where the hell was that stupid box??

Due to inactivity, the computer monitor slipped back into sleep mode, plunging the room in darkness once again. That suited Alya just fine—her humiliation was at an all-time high right now, and she wanted nothing more than to be buried in her shame.

What was she doing? Snooping around her boyfriend’s apartment, looking for evidence of backstabbing she wasn’t even really sure was occurring? What was she thinking? What did she expect, that that box she had seen a few weeks ago would contain incriminating evidence, like pictures or love letters or something? What the hell kind of nonsense had she let her emotions talk her into?

Alya sat up, loosing a cleansing sigh. This was stupid. Even if there was something to find, it was clearly too well-hidden for snoops like her. Besides, what happened to trust? What happened to talking? Surely Alya wasn’t too far gone that talking was no longer a viable option, right…?

That was it, she was getting out of here. She was going to get in her car, call Nino, and either wait until he got home or see him later, depending on how busy he was today. This was ridiculous after all; she was almost twenty-two, she should know better than to skulk around her boyfriend’s apartment like—

“OW!” Alya screeched; she hadn’t been as careful as she should’ve been when walking through the dark bedroom, and she walked right into the wall next to the door. Even worse, the grate for the vent popped out at the contact and fell onto her feet. Her curses became more vehement as her toes throbbed, and she knelt down, snatching the vent grate up. Why the fuck was it so loose, anyway? Vent grates shouldn’t just pop out like that. Nino’s apartment was not that shitty.

Still grumbling swears under her breath, Alya felt around, wondering if there was something wedged between the opening and where the grate should fit effortlessly. When her fingers encountered something hard, she drew her hand back in surprise, blinking in the dark at the vent.

Wait a minute…

Carefully, Alya set the grate to the side. Her heart was pumping faster than it should be, but she ignored it, hands flexing in front of her as she carefully moved them forward, easing over the hard object that should definitely not be sitting in the vent. Her hands smoothed over something distinctly box-shaped, and she swallowed.

Walk away,’ her voice of reason warned her, sounding suspiciously familiar… ‘Don’t you feel terrible about all this skulduggery? Don’t you trust Nino?'

Of course she trusted Nino…Marinette, too, for that matter. But what was Alya supposed to do when she knew they were lying to her about something more than a simple surprise party?

This is a bad idea. Just walk away, Alya.

Alya’s legs tensed, preparing to obey the voice. This really was silly…clearly, whatever was in this box was important, but if Alya needed to know, surely they would’ve let her in on the secret already…surely it wasn’t what she feared…

Alya took the box out of the vent. She could feel herself groaning inwardly at the invasion, but she couldn’t help herself after all. She had to know, once and for all, whether or not this was something she was meant to be concerned about. She had to.

Because she couldn’t see in the bedroom, Alya carefully navigated her way to the living room. She swept all of Nino’s junk on the coffee table to the side, and set the box down in front of her, folding her arms as she stared down at it.

This was a bad idea. Every fiber of her being was screaming it at her, but she remained stubborn, glaring down at the box. It was nondescript, meant to be overlooked, unnoticed. And yet, Nino had bothered to hide it in such a suspicious place. Why?

Alya crouched down, eyeing the lock that kept her from the secrets within the box. It didn’t look like a simple lock she could just pick open; she would need the key. But she hadn’t found one in her search of Nino’s room, so unless she had somehow overlooked it—

Alya blinked, startled at herself. Wait…what was she thinking? Wasn’t it bad enough that she had practically ransacked her boyfriend’s room? Now she was plotting over how to bust open a box that clearly wasn’t meant for her to open? What was wrong with her??

Well, if she had come this far…

This is wrong,’ her conscience reminded her. ‘If you were Nino, you would hate this invasion of privacy, and you know it.

Alya growled and flopped down on the couch, rubbing her throbbing temples. This back and forth within her own mind was making her head ache, and it had to stop. In the end, this was what it came down to: trust. Yeah, Alya knew something was up between Marinette and Nino; she had heard the evidence for herself. But the fact of the matter was that she could only guess what they were up to. She had no concrete proof that there was an affair of any kind going on here, and though some kind of proof might be housed in the box before her, was it worth violating Nino’s trust to open it and prove herself right or wrong?

In the end, didn’t she trust Marinette not to do anything that would hurt her?

Didn’t she trust Nino would never break her heart like this?

Couldn’t Alya let something as simple as faith get her through this…?

It was a moment before she registered the sound of keys jingling—a moment too late. Alya jumped to her feet, shooting a panicked glance at the door before the box on the coffee table drew her attention once again. Not good—it was too late for her to return the box to its hiding place, and Nino would be stepping through that door—

The door popped open, and Nino eased his way in, one hand carefully balancing a white pastry box as he removed his keys with his other hand, smiling as he spotted Alya.

—At any moment. Fuck.

“Babe! I knew that was your car outside!” He greeted, his whole face lighting up at the sight of her, and Alya felt her guilt surge to the surface as she offered him an awkward smile. She was hoping he’d stick that pastry box—probably her birthday cake—in the fridge before approaching her, giving her just a second to maybe hide the box under the coffee table, but no dice: he merely set the pastry box and his keys on the kitchen counter before he approached her, hugging her tightly.

“Mmm. I missed you,” Nino muttered, kissing her cheek. Alya clutched at him, feeling like she would be sick. The feel of his arms around her was both foreign and familiar—he had added muscle to those wiry limbs, recently, but it still felt so good to be held by him…even though she was certain the moment would shatter sooner than she would like…

Nino pulled back, smiling as he brushed some hair from Alya’s face.

“You should’ve called to let me know you were coming over!” He cringed, eyes darting around his living room. “I could’ve cleaned up a little before you…”

Alya closed her eyes, but it wasn’t enough to block out the way Nino’s eyes widened when they went to the coffee table. She felt his body stiffen around her, heard his breath catch. The tension in the room climbed higher, the silence grew deafening, and Alya grew colder the moment Nino’s arms slid away from her. It was a very, very, very long moment before he spoke, his voice constricted, clearly wanting to remain calm.

“…Alya. What were you doing in my room…?”

Reluctantly, Alya opened her eyes. Nino was staring down at her, his expression carefully blank…save for his eyes, which stared down at her as if he was looking at a ghost. She stared back up at him, frowning. Whatever was hidden in that box, it clearly terrified him that she had found it. Why? What did he have to hide from her of all people?

Alya didn’t bother answering his question; they both knew what she was doing in his room. The proof was sitting right there next to him. And she hated that look on his face, so she crossed her arms, opting to go on the offensive.

“What’s in the box, Nino?” She demanded to know, point blank.

Nino’s jaw tightened.

“Why were you snooping through my room, Alya?” He asked, golden gaze darting around her face, searching for the answer in her expression. Alya pursed her lips stubbornly.

“Why have you been lying about hanging out with Marinette lately?” She shot back at him, seeking to derail him. Nino’s eyes widened, and the ball in Alya’s chest tautened. She let her hands fall to her hips, glaring up at him. “What? Did you really think I wouldn’t figure out that something was going on? How stupid do you think I am?”

“Alya—” Nino began, and Alya waited, hoping with every fiber of her being that he had a ready explanation for his recent behavior of ducking her calls and lying to her about being with Marinette. So desperate was her wish to believe him, to have everything make sense again, that she would’ve taken any stupid excuse that was remotely plausible, anything that she could wrap her head around. She just needed something, anything that would make her smile and forgive him for being so shady lately—

But Nino said nothing. After saying her name, he could only stare, guilt warping his features into something horrible, heartbreaking. And Alya felt the ball of tension in her chest implode, tearing every shred of pride and stubbornness she clung to, leaving her raw and vulnerable. She hated it.

“Wow,” she drawled, working to make her voice sarcastic, swallowing against the lump rising in her throat, fighting against the tears pricking her eyes. “Well, ain’t that a bitch? To find out on the day of my surprise birthday party that my boyfriend’s been screwing around with my best friend on the side? Your timing is impeccable, sweetheart.”

“It’s not like that!” Nino protested, and so shocked was his expression at the accusation that Alya dared to house a pinprick of hope, that maybe she was misunderstanding after all. He reached for her, but she wasn’t ready to be touched by him, and she retreated, wary.

“What’s it like, then?” She demanded to know, clenching her jaw to keep her bottom lip from trembling. “What other explanation is there?”

Nino opened his mouth, only to close it again, looking conflicted. Alya watched as his hands clenched and unclenched, the way he anxiously watched her. She stared back at him, clinging to her anger. Why was he looking at her like that? If he wasn’t cheating on her, then what were he and Marinette doing, and why couldn’t they tell her about it? Why did they have to sneak around behind her back and leave her in the dark?

“Well?” She snapped when Nino took too long to reply. He winced at the bite in her tone, and finally, looked away from her.

“I can’t tell you.”

His tone was heavy, regretful. It did nothing to stem Alya’s rage at such an unsatisfactory answer.

“What the fuck do you mean you can’t tell me?!” She shrieked, and Nino jumped as she rushed forward, stabbing him in the chest with her index finger. “For weeks you’ve been acting all shady, not answering my calls, and lying about hanging out with Marinette behind my back! What the fuckam I supposed to believe here, Nino?! I’m sick of the lies already! If you’re cheating on me, just fucking admit it!”

“I’m not cheating on you!” Nino protested, aghast.

“Then why can’t you tell me what you and Marinette have been doing?! I saw you two together last week, don’t deny it!”

“I’m not denying it! Babe, I’m sorry I lied, really! But we just thought it’d be easier this way!”

“What the fuck is easy about this situation?! I’ve been freaking out for days now! I swear to god, Nino, if you don’t tell me what’s going on right now—”

“I can’t, Alya! I wish I could, believe me, but I’m trying to protect you!”

“From what?!

Again, Nino’s jaw locked, as if he had to physically restrain himself from answering. Alya seethed, her chest heaving as she glared up at him. She hated this. She absolutely hated this. Sure, she and Nino had had fights before—they had been together so long that fights were inevitable—but she had never, in her life, doubted Nino like this. She wanted to believe in his sincerity, wanted to believe that he was not having an affair with her best friend…but then, if that wasn’t it, then what did he have to hide? Especially for a reason as dubious as protecting her…?

When Nino didn’t say anything for a minute, Alya returned to her original interrogation.

“What’s in the box, Nino?” She asked him, her voice low and dangerous. Nino seemed to register her tone, but his expression did not change. In fact, he purposefully stepped in front of the coffee table, hiding the box from her view.

“It’s nothing you need to worry about,” he said simply. And though the wording was polite enough, Alya heard the meaning behind the words: none of your business.

That’s it. Alya was done. This was the final goddamn straw.

If Nino didn’t want to be up front with her, then she saw no reason to stay with him.

“…Fine,” she said after an incredibly tense moment, her voice quivering with hurt and anger. “Fine, Nino. Keep me in the dark. Sneak around all you want, be my guest. Clearly, you don’t trust me enough to tell me what’s going on. And since we don’t have that trust…it’s obvious to me that we don’t have much of a relationship anymore, either.”

That did it—Nino’s expression crumpled and broke, pain filling his eyes as he gaped at her.

“Alya—” he whimpered, reaching for her again, but she smacked his hand away, storming purposefully to the door, picking up her shoes instead of putting them on, because she did not want to spend one more stifling moment in this apartment that held all the secrets Nino was working to keep from her.

“Tell Marinette to cancel the party; I’m not gonna show up,” Alya threw over her shoulder as she stepped out into the hall. “I hope you two have a nice life.”

She slammed the door behind her for good measure, tugged on her shoes as she descended the stairs, and walked to her car, a shameful part of her hoping with all her might that Nino would chase after her, explanations and apologies on his lips as he kissed her and assured her that everything was all right, that this wasn’t it for them, that she hadn’t just had to end an eight year relationship over this—

He didn’t. There were no explanations, no kisses, no apologies. It was just Alya, standing in the wreckage of what she had done, and there were nothing but tears as she climbed into her car, shuddering breaths rattling through her as she tried to get herself together. Stupidly, her mind scrambled for answers on its own, trying to formulate theories that would make the pain go away: he swore that he wasn’t cheating, but the fact still remained that he and Marinette were in something, and there was a box with mysterious contents that he wouldn’t divulge to her. Why? What were he and Marinette involved in that it was safer for Alya to be lied to? Was it something dangerous? Something illegal? What was going on??

Alya didn’t know how long she sat there, crying, her frustration reaching its ultimate peak. The only judgment of time was the sky as the blue gave way to oranges and pinks, a winter sunset on the horizon. Alya was staring blankly at the sun, tears drying on her face, hating the golden hue of the sky, when abruptly, a familiar cacophony of sound intruded upon her awareness: screams, the sound of many people running at once, and maniacal sounding laughter.

Alya whipped around, spying a small crowd of people fleeing from something down the street. The terror in their expressions could only mean one thing: akuma attack.

Alya’s heart leapt.

Oh, thank god. A story and a welcome distraction.

Hurriedly wiping her face dry, Alya started her car and sped towards the source of the trouble. Once she turned at the corner, however, Alya had to stomp on her breaks to avoid the guy standing in the middle of the street—

Alya blinked, staring through her windshield.

Scratch that, it wasn’t some guy just standing gormlessly in the middle of the road. It was a statue of a guy standing in the middle of the road. Mid-run. The facial features frozen in horror. And he wasn’t the only one.

Slowly, Alya climbed out of her car, gaping at the scene before her: there were statues of people everywhere on this street. There was a couple frozen mid-kiss over there…that little girl was in the middle of her ice cream cone…the further Alya looked, the more casual the expressions appeared, which told her that this particular akuma had snuck up on a few people before the panic began to set in. Briefly ducking back into her car, Alya grabbed her phone, switching on her camera to record the scene.

“Hey Ladyspotters,” Alya said out loud, addressing the fans of her blog, immediately shifting into reporter mode, “this is Alya, reporting from the scene of the most recent akuma attack! No sign of the akuma yet, but as you can see, the victims have been turned to stone. Could this akuma be a Medusa-type theme? If so, be sure to keep mirrors handy, Ladyspotters! More on this situation as it breaks, but until then, luck of the Ladybug be with—ACK!”

Well, that wasn’t as smooth a send-off as Alya was used to. It wasn’t her fault, though: anyone would yelp in surprise if someone in costume landed in front of them without warning. Alya retreated a hasty step back, staring at the new figure. At first, she didn’t realize it was an akuma, for his costume was so simple: a mere artist’s smock worn over a robe that suggested he was from the Renaissance rather than the twenty-first century. He was a young man rather than an old patron of the arts, however, and the only tip-off that told Alya he was dangerous were the glowing items in his hands: a hammer and a spike-like object.

Alya gulped as he suddenly smiled at her.

“Oh my, what a lovely piece,” he complimented, one of his cold hands stroking down the side of her face. She jerked away, holding her camera up higher, as if that would defend her. “I almost want to change nothing about you…ah, but you haven’t achieved true perfection yet. Don’t worry,” he purred, raising his tools, “I can fix that…”

Uh-oh. If she didn’t think fast—

“Wait!” She cautioned, holding a hand up to halt him, the other keeping her phone steady. “Uh…you’re on camera, you know! I’m filming this for my blog, so, uh, can you tell my followers a little about who you are and what your goals are?”

The akuma glanced down at her phone, looking mildly surprised.

“Oh…well…I suppose I can’t turn down an interview from such a beautiful creature…” Clearing his throat, the akuma smiled, the gesture surprisingly charming. “I am known as Chisel. It is my wish to free humanity of its imperfections, to bring out their true beauty in the form of sculpture. It’s a harrowing task, to be sure…but I’m rather enjoying it…”

“So you’re a sculptor?” Alya questioned, taking what she hoped appeared to be a casual step back as she worked to give her camera a better angle. “You seem very passionate about it…do you, by chance, sculpt for a living? Have I seen your work in any art galleries around here?”

A shadow passed over Chisel’s face, and Alya realized too late that she had said the wrong thing.

“No. You will find that no one actually appreciates fine art the way I do. But that will change when I open a gallery of my own and fill it with my beautiful sculptures. And you, my dear…you will be my Aphrodite.”

Alya cursed to herself as Chisel advanced, raising his tools. She scrambled back as fast as she could, only to find her route of escape blocked by the front of her car. She had stupidly boxed herself in, and now, she was about to join this scorned akuma’s collection of underappreciated art—

Just as she squeezed her eyes shut, a clang resounded through the air of metal hitting metal, and she forced her eyes open again, green on green upon green suddenly filling her vision.

“Hey, back off, pal, she’s spoken for,” snarled the man in green in front of her, and Alya blinked wide eyes at his back. She never liked that phrase to describe a relationship: it was archaic, suggesting that it was up to the man in the relationship to speak for his woman. Fuck that.

And who was this guy to speak about her relationship status anyway? He didn’t know her. Or was this just hero/villain banter?

As Alya lost herself to her musings, she nearly missed the snarl that slipped from Chisel as he jumped back, clutching his tools as he bared his teeth at the man in green.

“Pah. I’ve no interest in such a garish design. You will have no part of my collection.”

“I’m heartbroken,” sassed the green hero. “But I wouldn’t count on you continuing your collection anytime soon…”

Before the threat was even fully registered, from out of nowhere swung Ladybug, landing lightly in front of her teammate and taking an immediate defensive stance.

Chisel cursed, but before Ladybug could come up with a witty line, he turned and fled, causing her to sigh.

“Must they always run?” She complained, turning an aggrieved eye onto her teammate, who gave a weary chuckle in response.

“It’s no fun if it isn’t difficult,” he joked. “Shall we?”

Alya noticed when Ladybug’s eyes flickered briefly to her.

“Actually, I think I can handle this,” she reasoned, causing the man in green to pause. She jerked her head at Alya, a slight smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “Can you make sure she gets home safe for me?”

Alya noted the way the green hero’s back stiffened.

“LB—” he began, sounding…annoyed? Was he unhappy with being on civilian babysitting duty?

His reservations didn’t seem to register with Ladybug, however.

“Make sure you’re careful—that’s my number one fan over there.” With a wink to Alya, who was torn between incredulity and delight, Ladybug sent out her yo-yo and swung away, apparently determined to deal with the akuma on her own. It was a moment before the green hero in front of Alya moved; he broke his statue-like stillness to sigh, shrugging his shield back onto his back. Alya stared at the shield, at the gold hexagon in the middle…the shield that had kept her from becoming a statue.

“Damn it, Dots,” muttered the owner of the shield, bringing Alya’s attention to him once again. She frowned, a little offended that he was taking his task of seeing her home safe so hard. What was his problem? Wasn’t it a hero’s duty to want to protect his citizens? Or was he upset about the action he would apparently be missing?

“It’s Emerald Shell, isn’t it?” Alya asked in lieu of a greeting, pulling the hero’s name from her memory of the press conference Ladybug had held to introduce him not long after he first appeared. At the sound of his name, Emerald Shell turned to face her.

This was the first time Alya had seen him so close; any other time she arrived on the scene of an akuma attack when he was out and about, he’d kept a careful distance from her, answering any questions she threw at him with cheeky deflections that had annoyed and begrudgingly amused her. Seeing him up close now was like a punch to the gut, though Alya didn’t immediately register why, too focused on the details of his costume to take him in as a whole.

It was his eyes, she decided after a moment, that made her ache: they were too familiar, too similar to the eyes of another, someone she loved, someone who hurt her…

After a quiet moment, a slight smile crossed the green hero’s face. The sorrow in it struck Alya, and before she knew it, a hand was reaching out to automatically pat his shoulder, to squeeze his arm and reassure him that things were all right. She dropped her hand and shook the irrational reaction away, in time to hear him speak.

“Shell’s fine,” he replied, reaching up to adjust his hood. “You’re the reporter for the Ladyblog. …It’s Alya, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Alya replied, stunned that the new hero bothered to learn her name. Maybe he had asked Ladybug about her, since she was always showing up when she could to film them battling akuma…naturally, he’d be curious about the nosy girl always filming them, as if her hands were glued to her phone…

Dimly, Alya wondered what this new hero thought of the akumatized victims. He wouldn’t pull a Chat Noir and leave Ladybug in the lurch too, would he?

As Alya studied him, she noticed immediately when he seemed to grow embarrassed under her scrutiny; he broke gazes with her, turning from her as he rubbed the back of his hooded head.

“Ahem. So…where’s home?”

Alya snorted.

“You don’t actually have to escort me home. I’m not helpless,” she assured him. Dimly, she realized she was still recording, and hastened to shut her camera off before she dropped her phone in her coat pocket. When she looked back up, it was to find Shell eyeing her from his peripheral vision. The look on his face…Alya couldn’t decode it. And so she frowned at him.


“Nothing,” Shell said, hurriedly pulling his gaze from her. “And I know I don’t have to…but LB asked me to. I think she’d get annoyed with me if I just let you go home and that akuma targeted you again before she could de-akumatize him.”

Alya frowned. She thought it highly unlikely that the akuma would target her again…she just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time…but then again…

“He did refer to me as his Aphrodite,” she reasoned out loud, snorting a little.

Shell turned to watch her from the corner of his eye again, his goggles magnifying those warm, golden eyes of his.

“Then that settles it: consider me your bodyguard until that poor artistic bastard is de-akumatized,” Shell said, turning to face her fully, crossing his arms. “You don’t know that guy, do you?”

Alya raised an eyebrow. She was getting the strangest feeling from this conversation…but no, that was stupid. Shell had no reason to be jealous over someone he didn’t even know…

“Never seen him before in my life,” she replied, her eyebrow climbing higher when Shell visibly relaxed. “Why?”

“Oh. Uh, just checking. Y’know, to make sure that he doesn’t, uh, know where you live, so he won’t, uh, target you at your apartment or anything. Assuming you live in an apartment,” he hurriedly added, and Alya gave him a strange look. He was so jumpy…

“I do…” she confirmed cautiously, folding her arms herself. “But I don’t think it’ll be a good idea to go there.”

This seemed to puzzle Shell.

“Why not?”

Alya gave him an amused look.

“Because, hero or not, I think it’s a bad idea for a strange man to know where I live,” she told him with a slight laugh. “Besides, my boyfriend—”

Alya paused as the automatic phrase slipped out. Ex. Ex-boyfriend. It was a slip, honestly—she had just broken up with Nino, so naturally, she hadn’t gotten used to calling him her ex-boyfriend. But there was no question about it: they were broken up. Alya just couldn’t deal with the bullshit anymore. It was better this way. She’d be happier this way, in the end. Sure, it would take some time, but if it meant no more of this stress, the fear, the wondering…

As logical as Alya tended to be, her emotions did not subscribe to said logic. Before she knew it, she was tearing up again, and it was twice as humiliating, now that she had an audience. Annoyed, she lifted her glasses to brush her tears away with the sleeve of her coat, hating herself for showing such weakness in front of a stranger. She hated crying in general, but to do it in front of someone she didn’t even know was even more shameful.

To make matters worse, she could feel the gaze of Emerald Shell focused on her. She cursed him in her mind, humiliated that he was watching her. What kind of hero was he? Surely this behavior wasn’t allowed in the world of heroes, was it?

Alya’s knees were trembling. She wanted to sink through a hole in the ground, to let the earth swallow her up and bury her along with her misery. She was so, so, so, so sick and tired of this.

Before she could buckle under the weight of her grief, a pair of firm hands went to her shoulders. Alya didn’t even have the strength to protest them, and they didn’t linger for long; as soon as she was seated on the hood of the car, the hands left her, as did the momentary comfort they offered. She drew her legs up, folding her crossed arms over her knees, seeking the lost warmth from her own body, though she knew she didn’t possess it. There was the sound of metal giving way to pressure, and the warmth of another body next to her. If she had been in a better mood, Alya would’ve protested this seating arrangement—they were denting the hood of her car, no doubt—but since she couldn’t even stop the tears from falling, she didn’t have much strength to fuss about anything else. As she sniffled and hiccuped, Shell merely sat silent beside her. Alya wished he would say something, anything, to distract her. She didn’t care if it was stupid or nonsensical, just as long as she could focus on anything other than how utterly wretched she felt at the moment—

“Y’know,” Shell suddenly spoke, his deep voice cutting through the sounds of Alya’s misery, “it’s kind of eerie here.”

Alya gave a sniff, peeking out from her arms to give him a curious look. He wasn’t looking at her; he was staring out at the statues, a frown on his face.

“It’s too quiet,” he continued to complain, his eyes darting from statue to statue. “This feels like it’s straight out of a horror apocalypse movie. I never liked dolls or mannequins...but statues are just as bad, aren't they? I mean, I know they're actually real people...but still...”

Alya let out a tiny hiccup that nearly masked a small laugh.

“You’re scared?” She asked, rubbing at her face as a small smile began to curve her lips. “Aren’t you supposed to be a superhero?”

Shell gave a snort.

“Being a superhero doesn’t mean you stop being afraid of things,” he said with a shake of his head. “If anything, being a superhero means you gain a lot of other things to be afraid of.”

He was fiddling with something on his left wrist, Alya couldn’t help but notice. She glanced down, spying a jade bracelet hooked around his wrist.

…Hmm. That was strange…why did she get the feeling she’d seen that bracelet somewhere before...?

He must have caught her staring, for he casually moved his right hand to cover his left wrist, blocking the bracelet from view. Alya glanced up to his face, meeting his eyes for a brief moment before he shifted his gaze away. It was quiet for an awkward moment.

“Like what?” Alya asked, deciding to continue their conversation. As long as she was under guard, it was a better way to pass the time, rather than her crying about her broken heart.

Shell’s gaze flickered back to her, the shadow of a wry smile on his face.

“Like being afraid of being under attack by the stupidest things. Like, I didn’t think cute, fluffy bunnies were anything to fear, but after dealing with the akuma called Lapin? I hate the demonic fuzzy creatures now. Won’t go near ‘em.”

Alya giggled. She remembered that akuma…it had been interesting, Paris being under attack by ravenous rabbits that inexplicably rained from the sky. Of all the strange akuma attacks Paris had had to suffer through, that one was definitely up there.

“And there are bigger fears, too,” Shell continued, seemingly encouraged by Alya’s laughter. He was slower to articulate these bigger fears, she noticed. “Like…the fear of constantly being under attack, whether you’re in or out of the costume. Or the fear that you’ll fail when all of Paris is depending on you. Or the fear of disappointing a teammate that’s counting on you. The fear of your secret identity being discovered…of not living up to expectations…”

His grip on his wrist was very tight. Alya didn’t like it.

She reached over, hesitating for only a moment before she rested a hand across his. The move had startled him apparently; he straightened, wide eyes going to her hand, and then to her face. To try and put him at ease, Alya smiled.

“You know, I daydreamed about being a superhero when I was younger,” she told him, lowering her voice to illustrate that he was being told this in confidence. “But the way you tell it…I think being a civilian might be a better choice for me after all.”

Shell snorted softly.

“I don’t mean to bitch. I’m honored that I was Chosen, really. Knowing that I’m doing my part to keep my loved ones safe eases the burden a little. Besides…there are worse things,” he admitted, his gaze dropping to her hand again. Alya wondered if he wanted her to remove it…but he had made no move to shake her off…

“Worse things like what?” She asked, curious. Slowly, Shell’s gaze returned to her face, meeting her gaze head on. Alya’s breath caught. The look on his face, like he was a man who had lost everything he had ever loved in a day, was unbearable. Such an agonized face snatched at the strings of her shattered heart, the violence of her empathy shaking her. She could only stare at him, struggling with this unreasonable response to such raw emotion, when he answered her question:

“…Like losing someone you love,” he muttered quietly. His eyes, practically glowing in the light of the setting sun, were very intent upon hers as he added, “But to lose them because you want to protect them…or to lose them because you were careless and exposed them to your enemy…I can’t decide which is worse.”

Alya’s mouth was curiously dry. She had to take a moment to swallow, trying to rid the feel of sandpaper from her throat.

“It’s…the second one, isn’t it…?” She questioned, voice hushed as well. Suddenly, she was very aware of the feel of his hand under hers, the weight of his stare doing very, very odd things to her…

Amidst the pain, somehow, Shell found the strength to smile.

And Alya positively ached at the sight, because, coupled with the heartbreak that was still present in his gaze, it was the most tragic look she had seen on him yet.

“I guess so,” he agreed with a small, humorless laugh. “If she’s safe…that’s all that matters, right?”

Alya had no words. This was striking too close to home, and she didn’t know what to do. She floundered, scrambling for words that would have meaning, that would ease the burden of this stranger who was beginning to feel not-so-strange—

There was a sudden tinkling tune, and a large vibration, shaking Shell’s whole frame, his shield rattling against the hood of Alya’s car. She jerked away in surprise, blinking as Shell shrugged off his shield, allowing it to rest across his lap.

“Is your shell—shield—is it ringing?” She asked, gawking at it. Shell laughed at her expression.

“Yeah. Scared the hell outta me the first time, too,” he assured her, grinning as he pressed the gold hexagon in the center of his shield. It flashed, and suddenly, the shield split open, a section of the curved top popping open to reveal what looked like a computer screen, accompanied with keys embedded in the bottom half of the shield, tethered together by an industrial looking hinge inside that connected the two halves. The screen was lighting up, the words “INCOMING CALL: LADYBUG” flashing across it in large letters. Alya watched, fascinated, as Shell hit a key, and the screen shifted, showing Ladybug’s face.

“Yo, LB,” Shell greeted casually, apparently oblivious to Alya’s gawking. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah—the akuma’s been purified, and I just got the victim home,” Ladybug reported, sounding breathless, but pleased. “I’m about to use my restoring powers, but I wanted to check in and make sure everything’s ok—oh, for god’s sake.

Alya watched as Shell tensed.

“What’s wrong?”

“There are protesters headed this way,” she growled, and Alya watched as Ladybug pinched the bridge of her nose in aggravation. Huh. Funny, Marinette had the same habit when she was frustrated with something. “I guess Chisel didn’t get to a few of them.”

“Damn shame—I like them better when they’re quiet,” Shell remarked dryly, and Ladybug smirked and rolled her eyes sympathetically. “Where are you? I’ll help quell the rebellion.”

“That’d be appreciated, I really would rather not…wait…what are they hold—oh my god! STOP!!”

“LB, what—?!”

The question was answered in the most forceful of ways—even from kilometers away, Alya would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to be oblivious to the explosion that occurred to her left in the distance. Shell’s connection to Ladybug was abruptly cut off, and he slammed his shield computer shut, swearing vehemently.

“Bastards! What the fuck did they do?!” He snarled, jumping to his feet. When Alya slid off the hood of her car as well, his eyes went to her immediately. “It’s dangerous. Go home.”

Alya stared at him.

“What? But this is a major scoop! The situation has escalated—this is now a hate crime! If I get this footage—”

“It is not your job to document this,” Shell barked at her, and Alya’s mouth opened in offense, but he seemed not to care as he brushed past her. “Go home where it’s safe.”

“Don’t you underestimate me! Hey!” She called, grabbing his arm when he made to leave. “I can take care of myself, all right? I don’t need anyone telling me what to do, especially some dude in green paja—”

Shell turned to her, and Alya’s rant was cut short when he pressed a thumb to her lips. The gesture was simple, gentle, and yet, it still had the power to strike Alya dumb; she could only stare as Shell brushed hair from her face, his expression taut, gaze anxious. He was worried.

“Babe, please,” he begged, his voice hushed as he leaned over her, the force of his eyes overwhelming as he entreated her, “It’s dangerous. Please, go home.”

Alya stared at him.


He called her ‘babe’.

Shell didn’t seem to register that anything was amiss; as soon as Alya stopped fighting him, he shook off her grip, hopped onto his hover board and sped away, towards the sounds of chaos in the distance. And Alya could only watch him go, her feet rooted to the spot as she watched the turtle man fly away. A hesitant, questioning hand raised to her face, her fingertips brushing her cheek, where it was still warm from Shell’s touch.

Slowly, her logical mind whirred to life, armed with the final piece of the puzzle at last:

Nino had gotten very, very busy around the same time Emerald Shell showed up on the crime-fighting scene.

He had started wearing a bracelet…a bracelet that looked an awful lot like Shell’s, now that she was thinking about it.

And the way both men spoke to her…

“I’m trying to protect you!”

“But to lose them because you want to protect them…or to lose them because you were careless and exposed them to your enemy…I can’t decide which is worse.”

“Babe! I knew that was your car outside!”

“Babe, please. It’s dangerous. Please, go home.”

The force of her realization was staggering. Suddenly, the two men in her mind’s eye melded together until they became one, and Alya had her answer.

Nino hadn’t been having an affair. He wasn’t hiding things from her because he wanted to. He did it because he had no choice.

Because Emerald Shell would not let his girlfriend walk around with a target on her back.

Ex. Ex-girlfriend.

The lump was back, constricting Alya’s windpipe. It was cold outside now that the sun had set, but she was even colder on the inside, as the weight of what she had done settled onto her, this new information coloring the afternoon in an entirely new light.

All this time…all this time, Nino had been struggling to keep her in the dark, to keep her safe…and she had thrown it back in his face.

Well how was I supposed to know?’ The stubborn side of her argued, watching smoke furl through the sky, the distant sounds of sirens reaching her ears, yet completely ignored. ‘Anyone in my shoes would’ve assumed the worse…how the hell was I to know that he was a fucking superhero this whole time?

Ah, but that was the catch: while she couldn’t have known if Nino didn’t tell her, how was he supposed to without putting her life in danger? And since he couldn’t tell her, how was he supposed to appease her without lying? And since he had to lie, when Alya found out…how was this situation supposed to end well, exactly? Wouldn’t it have been inevitable that they would reach this point when Alya finally got fed up with being lied to? Didn’t Nino think of that?

The echo of Shell’s pained laugh sounded through her mind.

“I guess so. If she’s safe…that’s all that matters, right?”

Alya closed her eyes, but the tears still came, even when she was convinced that she was all cried out.

Nino must’ve known that the worst case scenario—this afternoon—would happen eventually. He knew that Alya wasn’t stupid, but perhaps he hoped that she would remain oblivious…an unrealistic hope, really. He should’ve known that she would start asking questions eventually…and to his credit, he hadn’t tried to lie to her again when she outright demanded answers. He hadn’t given her what she wanted, but he hadn’t lied again, at least…

And when she had stormed out…he had let her go. It wasn’t ideal, this situation. It couldn’t have been what he wanted.

But when it came down to the choice between keeping Alya happy and keeping her safe…

“Idiot,” Alya bit out, laughing in between her sobs. “Stupid, sweet idiot…”

God, she loved him. Of course she still loved him—this revelation changed nothing. Hell, even the break-up meant nothing. Alya only broke up with him because she was mad at him, after all. She never once, not for a second, stopped loving him, even when her heart was breaking over the secrets and lies he was keeping and telling. But now everything was just a mess, and she didn’t know how to fix it. She didn’t know…what could she do?

Alya rubbed her eyes again, certain that they must be red and puffy by now. Shivering as darkness pressed in, she got into her car, cranking up the heater for warmth. From out of her pocket she withdrew her phone, searching through the recording to the point where Shell showed up to save her ass, laughing at his stupid, archaic line, at his hesitance when Ladybug ordered him to take care of her. Suddenly, everything made sense, and Alya wanted to berate herself for failing to see it earlier. With that one, simple slip of the tongue, all the pieces fell into place…

…Well, almost all the pieces.

Which brought Alya to her next question: how did Marinette fit into all this?

It still couldn’t be denied that she and Nino had been up to something this whole time; Nino himself had even confirmed it. But what was Marinette’s part in this whole mess? Did she know about Nino before Alya did? Had she perhaps figured it out on her own, and had Nino sworn her to secrecy?

Alya frowned down at her phone, where it was paused at the point where Ladybug winked at her.

Marinette had said ‘us’, that Alya couldn’t know about her and Nino. That her and Nino…what? If it wasn’t an affair…then what did she and Nino, together, have to hide from her? As far as Alya knew, there wasn’t anything Marinette had to keep from her…

Ladybug grinned up at Alya from her phone, a secret glimmering in her eyes. She had purposefully left Shell—Nino—alone with Alya. She knew what they were to each other…which meant she knew who Shell was. And if she knew who Shell was…

“Can’t we tell her, Marinette?”

“She can’t know about us.”

There was no logical way Marinette fit into this mess.

But…if Alya dared to dream it…there might be an explanation more miraculous than she ever thought possible.



Shell’s heart had vacated his rib cage, choosing to dance a violent conga with his Adam’s apple. He swallowed against the feeling, mentally pushing his hover board to go faster. Ladybug’s radio silence was unnerving. He didn’t know what had happened to her, had no idea whether she was all right or not. All Shell could do was cling to the faith that she was all right, and resolve to help her as soon as he arrived—

It was bedlam. Before him, a house was going up in flames, and everywhere he looked, there had to be at least thirty flailing bodies, someone fighting someone—multiple people fighting someone, more often than not—grappling and punching and swearing and kicking and yelling and wrestling, like Shell had stumbled into a wrestling arena or a fighting game. A flash of red was zipping around in the thick of the fighting crowd, and Shell zoomed in, his relief enormous once he spotted Ladybug, completely fine. Well, she was furious and incapacitating people, but she was fine. Switching his hover board back into his shield, Shell dropped down into the action, blocking a punch thrown at Ladybug’s back from what he could only assume was a protester. As the man howled and withdrew his abused hand, Ladybug whirled around.

“Shell!” She greeted in relief, ducking another blow and tripping the offender up with a sweep of her leg. “Thank god!”

“What the hell happened?!” Shell questioned, throwing a frantic look at the building on fire next to them.

“Molotov cocktails,” Ladybug growled, unable to spare the energy to explain further, as they were still in the thick of a fight. It didn’t stop Shell from pausing to gape incredulously at her, a move that costed him when someone kicked at the back of his knees. He went down, but he held his shield up, successfully blocking further attack until he got to his feet.

“You’re shitting me.”

“I’m not,” Ladybug replied as she threw one of the bigger protesters over her shoulder, flinging him into his fellows. “And I need to get in there because the akumatized victim from today is still in there, but these assholes won’t get out of the way!!

The strain in Ladybug’s voice was real, and Shell sincerely felt her pain. He risked a quick glance around, noting that the civilians that were fighting the protesters seemed to be dwindling, simply because the protesters outnumbered them. Good—Shell needed as many of them out of the way as possible.

“Think you can get everyone rounded up in one spot?” He muttered to Ladybug as she used her yo-yo to wind another protester by hitting him in the gut with it. When Ladybug glanced over at him, he subtly tapped his shield. Her eyes widened in understanding.

“Oh, right! Yeah, I can definitely do it…but I’ll need a minute to weed out the innocent ones…”

“You got it,” Shell said, nudging her for emphasis. He glanced her biting her lip as he threw a punch into an upcoming protester.

“And leave you to fend for yourself?”

“I’ll be fine for a minute. Go.

Ladybug hesitated a moment longer…and then yo-yoed her way out of the crowd. A few chased her, but the mob mentality seemed to switch immediately to Shell as soon as she cleared their line of sight. Shell clenched his teeth, hunkering down with his shield. He’d probably catch a few hits before Ladybug could do her thing, but c’est la vie. As she would say, he wasn’t a superhero for nothing.

It was rough: he wasn’t as agile as Ladybug, so for every blow he managed to block, he caught two more. He tried to remain on the defense as much as possible; though these people were idiots, though they had potentially killed someone, Shell tried to keep in mind that they were still people, and that his actions had consequences. So, when he had to kick or punch, he aimed for places that weren’t vital: abdomens and the backs of knees, winding his attackers and tripping them up. One caught him in the face, and Shell cursed as his lip split open. Unimportant; he’d deal with it later. He spat out the blood filling his mouth and rammed his shield into the chest of an oncoming protester, causing him to stumble into his buddies like a row of bowling ball pins.

The burden became easier as Ladybug’s yo-yo worked its magic, tying around peoples' ankles and tangling their legs and arms as she dipped in and out of the crowd, entangling them as best as she could before she gave an almighty tug—Shell had to admire her strength in this moment—and they all stumbled, shrieking and cursing and falling to the pavement. By some miracle, Ladybug managed to recall her yo-yo from the mess, hooking it back to her side like she did this sort of thing every day.

“Now, Shell!”

Shell didn’t need telling twice: he tossed his shield into the air and activated his force field, which slammed down around the mob before any of them knew what happened.

Personally, Shell felt this feat was deserving of a high five…but now was not the time, and so he did not begrudge Ladybug her focus when she made a bee line straight for the flaming house, her eyes so focused that she missed the woman just behind her, a lit bottle in her hands, hate and fire in her gaze.

Shell paused for one heart-stopping moment—and then he dove.


Too late—the bottle left the woman’s grip. Ladybug turned just a moment too late, just in time to see it coming—

And then, suddenly, she was gone.

Shell, after he tackled the volatile woman to the ground, cringed as another explosion occurred when the cocktail hit the house, glass and wood splintering and exploding over them. Cursing and coughing, Shell squinted through the smoke, searching for Ladybug, his heart barging its way into his throat once again.

“LB?! Ladybug!! Are you okay?!”

“I’m fine!” Ladybug coughed, and Shell felt his insides unclench. “I’m—!”

The smoke began to dissipate, and Shell squinted in the direction of Ladybug’s voice, wondering what she saw that caused her to abruptly stop talking.

There she was—the red gave her away—but there was something hulking over her. Shell stared, barely able to hold the struggling woman that was trying to wriggle out from under his knee. Was that—?


Shell cursed, beginning to get up—there wasn’t much else this woman could do, provided she didn’t have more explosives hidden somewhere—but the shadow that hovered over Ladybug was already hopping up, racing into the building.

“No!” Ladybug cried, but before she could scramble after him, Shell caught her shoulder and held fast. She whipped around, yanking against his grip.

“Let go!” She cried, “I have to help! I have to—!”

The fire blazed, and before either of them could realize what was happening, the roof caved in.

“NO!” Ladybug cried, but Shell yanked her back, his eyes on the blaze. There was no way either of them could go in there now, the structure was too unstable. If they went in, it would only be made worse. Shell knew that, and he hated it: heroes were meant to disregard the safety of their own lives when it came to saving someone in need. But Paris needed Ladybug, and it would do no good to let her rush in when someone else had already jumped to the rescue…but whether or not he pulled it off…

Time seemed to freeze as they watched the house collapse in on itself. Ladybug was still fighting with everything she had to rush in, and Shell had to struggle to keep her out of danger, despite his conflicting emotions about the issue, just waiting, searching—

Somewhere nearby, there was the sound of glass shattering, and both he and Ladybug whirled towards the noise. Two figures struggled out of the window on the side of the house, one leaning heavily against the other. Once they reached the street, the civilian seemed to pass out; his legs buckled underneath him, and Chat Noir stooped, lowering the victim to the pavement. As he leaned over, inspecting the victim, his eyes abruptly opened. He got a good look at Chat Noir…and screamed.

“Don’t hurt me!” He cried, throwing up charred arms to protect himself. “Please, don’t hurt me! I didn’t do it on purpose, I swear! I’m innocent! Please!”

He coughed a hearty amount; inhaled too much smoke to breathe correctly, it looked like. Nevertheless, his words seemed to have a profound effect on Chat Noir: he reeled back, away from the victim, turning away, his hands clenched into fists.

Ladybug slipped from Shell’s grip, taking a step towards Chat Noir.

“Chat,” she called softly, and Shell was startled to hear the crack in her voice. He was further startled when Chat immediately turned towards the sound of her voice, cat’s eyes glowing in the dark as he spotted her. Something—Shell had no idea what—passed between them. It was wordless, but at the same time, it roared, deafening him. He could only stare as they stared at one another, suddenly encapsulated in their own little world where only the two of them existed, like it had only been the two of them since the dawn of time. Such a connection between them…Shell could sense it, but for the life of him, he couldn’t fathom it.

Almost in sync, they took a step towards each other, as if gravitating towards one another was the most natural thing in the world.

And that was when Shell snapped out of it.

Oh hell no.

Barging forward, he firmly planted himself in front of Ladybug, an arm raised to protect her…and prevent her from passing him. The moment between her and Chat splintered and broke, and Chat’s gaze switched to Shell instead, who glared at him without reservation. What? Did he think he could just come back after weeks of being gone—after months of working against Ladybug—and everything would go back to normal?

Uh-uh, nope, no way. Ladybug might be willing to forgive and forget, but Shell sure as hell wasn’t. And he was about to remind her of every reason she should still be angry as well.

“What’re you doing here?” He demanded, not bothering to tone down the aggression in his voice. “You haven’t been seen for weeks, and now you dare to show your face? What the hell’s your angle?”

“Shell!” Ladybug hissed at him, but Shell ignored her.

“I’m not gonna praise you for saving his life,” Shell growled, gesturing at the victim, “‘cause if it weren’t for you, his life never would’ve been in danger in the first place.” He jabbed a finger at the angry mob, still trapped within his force field. “This was done by your followers, the people youtaught to hate akumatized victims. They did this because of you.

And now Shell pointed the finger at Chat, righteous anger flooding him over how the cat bastard dared to show his face now, of all times.

“If he had died…that blood would’ve been on your hands. This was a hate crime, and it’s all your fault! What the fuck kind of hero are you?!”

“Shell!” Ladybug cried, and she threw a punch to his arm, causing him to wince. But though his arm now throbbed, the damage of his words was already done: the look on Chat Noir’s face suggested that he did indeed realize the extent of the damage of this situation. Maybe he was even a little sorry about it…but Shell didn’t allow himself to see that, taking vindictive pleasure only in the guilt that flooded Chat Noir’s features as he seemed to take on the weight of his sins. Without a word, he extended his staff, and then vaulted away into the night.

“Chat!” Ladybug cried after him, rushing forward, but Shell once again caught her arm, preventing her from going anywhere. She whirled on the spot, wrenching her arm from his grasp and glaring at him with such heat that Shell almost expected to catch on fire himself.

“What the fuck did you do that for?!” She raged, stomping her foot. “He helped us!!”

“I don’t trust him,” Shell said simply, unperturbed by Ladybug’s rage…or working to appear so, anyway. “He’s bad news, LB, and you know it.”

“You don’t know him like I know him!” Ladybug protested hotly. “He’s been sorry about this whole thing for weeks now! I’ve been waiting for him to show up, so I could talk to him, and now you’ve chased him off again! Now we might not see him ever again!”

“So what?” Shell replied, staring at Ladybug as she gaped at him in outrage. “We’re better off without him! Didn’t you listen to a thing I said? It’s hisfault all this happened in the first place!”

“He’s sorry!”

“Oh yeah? Did you hear an apology come out of his mouth?”

Ladybug faltered for a moment, but rallied almost immediately.

“You didn’t exactly give him a chance to say anything!” She pointed out, crossing her arms as she glared at Shell. “He was finally going to speak to me, and you got in the way!”

“What’s with you?” Shell wanted to know, utterly confused by this attitude. After all, it should have been Ladybug who reminded Chat Noir of his responsibility for this whole mess, not him. Why was she fighting so hard to defend him? She was acting like…like…

“You’re acting like you’re in love with him or something.”

It was a stupid observation, and Shell cringed, about to apologize, because that was below the belt…but the words got stuck in his throat when Ladybug promptly turned red.

…Oh shit.

Are you in love with Chat Noir?!” Shell questioned, his wide eyes searching Ladybug’s face. She turned steadily redder, her glare intensifying.

“I am not in love with Chat Noir,” she growled through gritted teeth, her tone defensive…very defensive.

Beneath his mask, Shell’s eyebrows rose.

“Are you sure?” He questioned, folding his arms as he inspected her, “‘cause you could’ve fooled me, Dots.”

Ladybug’s eyes flashed dangerously, and Shell was quite certain that he was about to get a yo-yo to the face…but a distraction in the form of police officers, reporters, and ambulances arrived. Thus, the damage control began.

The previously akumatized victim was going to be all right, the EMTs told him. His burns were bad, and he needed oxygen, but he would live, and that’s what counted. Shell breathed a little easier; despite what he’d told Chat Noir, he was grateful the guy had been saved.

A helpful civilian had pinned the woman from earlier when Shell had rushed to Ladybug’s side, something Shell was grateful for; he high-fived the heroic woman as they watched the Molotov-flinger be shut away into the back of a police car, along with dozens of her buddies, all incarcerated for their crime of terrorism.

Grim reporters asked for their takes on the situation, and Shell wasted no time in making clear that this had happened because the victim had been akumatized.

“This is going to be broadcast all over the world,” Shell said to the reporter interviewing him. “Everyone will know that this sort of thing is happening because Parisian citizens are turning against each other. It’s a poor image to have of our fair city, and I sincerely hope that we’ll all work to be better in the future.” He looked straight into the camera then. “I’m looking at you, Chat Noir supporters. This kind of behavior is unacceptable, and if you’re thinking about pursuing this any further—well, I’ll make sure there’s plenty of jail cells to go around. You’ve been warned.”

After speaking to the police and restoring the damage from the akuma attack earlier, it was time to go—Ladybug’s Miraculous was down to one flashing dot, and so they waved a farewell to the cops, reporters and loving citizens as they sped away into the night.

Across the city, Nino and Marinette dipped into a café, each ordering pastries and coffee to go. As they waited, Nino examined his fat lip in the window. Shit—that was going to be annoying to deal with, and a pain to explain. Too bad Ladybug’s restorative powers only worked on things akumas ruined.

Their food and coffee was ready to go a minute later, and they left, striding down the street in silence as they each recharged, lost in their own thoughts as they discreetly fed their kwami.

After about five minutes, Nino glanced over at Marinette.

“I’m sorry about accusing you of being in love with Chat Noir,” he apologized.

Marinette glanced at him, and he could tell she was waiting for more. This made him frown.

“I’m not sorry for what I said to him,” he stated point blank, sighing as Marinette’s brow furrowed in discontent. “I didn’t say anything that wasn’t true. You know that, ‘Nette.”

Marinette looked away from him.

“It wasn’t your place to say that stuff to him.”

“Why? ‘Cause I’m new?”

“Because you don’t know him.”

“Well you sure as hell weren’t saying anything to him.”

“I was going to.”

The uncertain note in Marinette’s voice was very telling. Nino said nothing, and after a moment she sighed, pausing on the sidewalk and bringing him to a halt with a hand on his shoulder.

“Look…I get you were just trying to protect me. And I appreciate that,” she assured him, giving his shoulder a squeeze, “but, on the off-chance that he shows up again, just…please, let me handle it, okay?”

Nino frowned. He didn’t like it, the thought of Ladybug handling Chat Noir on her own; despite what she said, her judgement was clouded when it came to that cat, though Nino had no earthly idea why, when he knew for a fact that she and Adrien were supposed to be something…even if they hadn’t bothered to define it to their friends…

Marinette sighed when Nino didn’t say anything for a moment.

“You don’t have to trust him, Nino. Just trust me. Can you do that?”

…Well, when she put it that way…

“I don’t get it…but you got it,” he agreed, and Marinette rewarded him with a smile. Returning the gesture, Nino checked his watch. Nearly seven o’ clock. He sighed.

“We’re gonna have to cancel that party.”

Now Marinette’s features crumpled in concern.

“You really think she’s not gonna show up?”

“The door slamming wasn’t exactly subtle,” Nino said dryly, the sarcasm implemented only to disguise his broken heart. God, seeing her so soon after she had dumped his ass had been trying. “And I don’t exactly appreciate the fact that you left me alone with her after the fact.”

Marinette cringed in apology.

“I’m sorry. I thought giving you two some time together would help.”

“How?” Nino huffed, shoving his free hand in his pocket. “She doesn’t know who I am.”

“Yeah, but maybe you could’ve advised her as Shell, maybe nudged her towards a reconciliation.”

Nino frowned down at Marinette.

“That’s manipulative,” he told her, and Marinette’s face flushed red.

“Well…yeah, I guess it is,” she admitted with a sigh. “Sorry.”

It was quiet for a moment as they resumed their walk, Nino dwelling on his brief meeting with Alya as Shell. It had only taken the mention of him for her to start crying, showing Nino just how much he had hurt her with his lies and deceit. He had never hated himself more than in that moment, for making her cry, and for being unable to do anything to help her.

His one small comfort in this mess was that she was safe; she had to be, since he hadn’t seen her around after he’d ordered her to go home. It appeared she’d taken Shell a little more seriously than Nino—


The urgency in Marinette’s voice was not comforting. When Nino glanced over at her, she pointed into the night sky. Nino searched where she pointed, at first seeing nothing. He didn’t get it…was she trying to show him the stars?

Just as he was about to ask what he was supposed to be looking at, abruptly, he saw it: the light from a nearby streetlamp briefly illuminated the dark wings of an akuma, flapping rapidly through the air, clearly intent on possessing its next victim.

Nino and Marinette looked at each other for a split second.

And then they took off running, coffee cups tossed to the side as they hastily excused themselves around confused civilians in their pursuit of the akuma.

A hero’s work was truly never done, it seemed.



Alya was a coward.

Here she sat, out in the cold, staring at her phone, Nino’s contact information highlighted on the screen. He was literally one press of a button away—she suspected there was a good chance he was free now, because she’d been following the news all evening—and yet she still couldn’t bring herself to call him. Why?

Well, what am I supposed to say to him? ‘Hey Nino, sorry I broke up with you earlier because you’ve been keeping things from me, but now that I know you’re Emerald Shell, everything’s cool, wanna get back together’?'

Alya snorted to herself. Yeah, that conversation would go over well.

Nino’s secret identity was clearly important to him; if he was keeping secrets from her, then it had to be because he felt it was necessary. And he said it himself: he wanted her to be safe. Naturally, this meant that she couldn't appear to know too much about his superhero activities, or it would put the both of them in terrible danger. Of course, his slip earlier kind of threw that out the window, but even so…

And more importantly, after the way she’d stormed out earlier…would he even want to get back together with her? She could tell she had hurt him so very deeply—it was obvious in the way Shell spoke about her, though she hadn’t known he was talking about her at the time, the cheeky bastard. Could this be solved with a simple apology? Wouldn’t it seem strange if Alya, the queen of holding grudges and pulling receipts, turned around and forgave him, just like that?

Alya groaned, clutching her phone in between her hands, her forehead resting against the top. She hated this. She absolutely hated this. She wished she could go back in time, slap some sense into herself, and prevent this whole thing from happening. She wished she could stop the world for a moment, so she could find the answer she was so desperately searching for. She wished…she wished…


Alya’s head snapped up, blinking in surprise. She thought she heard a strange whizzing sound behind her, but that didn’t matter; Nino was at the corner, staring at her, breathing as if he had just run all over Paris trying to find her. Alya jumped to her feet, staring at him, and seeing traces of Emerald Shell in his face. She opened her mouth, but could find no words to articulate what she was feeling, how glad she was to see him, that he seemed to have popped out of nowhere just to find her—

Words were unnecessary; Nino rushed forward all the same, and the strength of his hug positively melted Alya. She let out a sigh, clinging to him tightly, determined not to let him go anywhere without her, not anymore.

“I saw what happened on the Ladyblog,” Nino prefaced as he pulled back. She blinked at the lie. Odd…if he was bothering to fib now…did that mean that he didn’t realize he had slipped earlier? Did he really believe she was honestly still in the dark about what he had been up to?

Despite the lies he told, the earnest look of Nino’s eyes could never deceive her. He didn’t know that she knew. He still thought his secret was safe, that his story was viable.

Alya had to hold back a snort. The Ladyblog. Yeah, sure, right. As if he bothered to watch her videos before now.

Well, if he wasn’t going to say anything…

“Are you ok—”

Alya didn’t let him finish. She yanked him down by the collar of his coat and kissed him, letting the fierce joy she felt at seeing him burn through her and into him. Nino stiffened in surprise, but was only too happy to reciprocate a minute later, his arms locking securely around her as he picked her up, her feet momentarily leaving the sidewalk as he kissed her. Wow, he had gotten stronger…

When they finally broke for air, Alya let her eyelids flutter open, and she snickered at the dazed look Nino wore.

“Uh…wow,” was all he said as he put her down, and Alya giggled. That was her line. Oh well.

“Nino,” she began, stroking his cheek, “I’m so sorry. I never should’ve—”

“No, babe, I’m sorry,” Nino cut her off, though he clung to her hand, lacing his fingers with hers. “I know I haven’t been up front with you lately—”

“That didn’t give me the right to yell—”

“I’d be pissed too, if it were me—”

“And to accuse you of fooling around with Marinette—”

“And I know I haven’t been there for you lately—”

“I’m so sorry, baby, please—”

“I promise to be better, babe, please—”

“Take me back?” They asked at the same time, after babbling over each others’ apologies. They took a moment to blink at each other in incomprehension, and then burst out laughing. A separate giggle from theirs startled Alya, mostly because it came from above them. She looked up, to the building next to them…

And Ladybug was inexplicably standing there.

“Sorry,” she apologized, grinning as Alya gaped up at her. “Maybe I should come back another time?”

“No, no, now’s good,” Nino assured her, and Ladybug obligingly hopped down from the rooftop, returning her yo-yo to her hip once she was finished with it. “Babe, you’ve met Ladybug, right?”

He was being so cheeky right now, Alya noted, quirking a brow at his innocent-looking smile before turning to face Ladybug and her equally as innocent face.

“Of course,” Ladybug replied, smiling warmly at Alya. “Nice to see you again. I’m glad to see you’re safe. And, as I understand it, someone has a birthday coming up?”

“I spent the evening tracking her down after the mess with the Chat Noir supporters happened,” Nino said, and Alya smirked to herself. Yeah, uh-huh, sure. “Thought it’d be a nice surprise for your birthday…and it’s part of my apology for being such a dick, lately.”

Alya turned to smile at him.

“Good call,” she praised, and Nino beamed.

“Yep. Normally, it’d be impossible for me to meet all my fans for their birthdays and things like that…but I figured, for my number one fan, why not?” Ladybug said airily with a lighthearted shrug. “Oh yeah, that reminds me…”

She extended her free hand, where something folded rested. After an encouraging nod from Ladybug, Alya took it, unfolding it.

It was a Ladybug poster, one she’d never seen before: it must’ve been a new printing. And while that was impressive itself, the thing that drew her attention was the scrawling in the corner, in cramped, messy handwriting that read, “To my #1 fan Alya: Happy 22nd Birthday!”

The signature was a circle with a cross going through it, and five dots strategically placed within it. Ladybug’s pattern.

And, if Alya squinted…she could just make out the familiar curves of the y’s in handwriting she had known for years. Marinette’s handwriting. She had tried to disguise it, clearly, but it was still just discernible, because Alya knew what to look for.

Grinning from ear to ear, Alya pressed the poster to her heart, beaming at Ladybug.

“Thank you,” she gushed, and Ladybug returned her smile ten-fold.

“So, do you have any plans tonight? I can’t hang out for long, but I have a little time to spare for the all-mighty mod of the Ladyblog.”

“Actually,” Alya said, glancing over at Nino. “We have a party to get to.”

“Oh, that sounds fun!” Ladybug enthused as Nino sighed in relief.

“Yeah. You should come! You could meet my best friend Marinette,” Alya proposed, inwardly snorting at the way Ladybug’s smile seemed to freeze in place. “She’s a really great friend: apparently, she and my boyfriend have been busy planning this surprise party for me for a while.”

“I would love to meet her,” said Ladybug, giggling in a manner that was just a tad nervous, “but like I said, I don’t have a lot of time tonight…in fact, I should probably get going right now, things to do…but have fun at your party! Happy birthday!”

Alya snickered to herself as Ladybug took off, disappearing over the very rooftop she had appeared on and vanishing into the night, leaving only a streak of red behind. Call her crazy, but she had a very funny feeling she’d be seeing her later…

Nino’s touch brought her back to the moment, and she smiled as he brushed her hair out of her face, the movement tender as always.

“You called me your boyfriend,” he pointed out, smiling a gentle smile that warmed his whole face. Alya stared at it, committing what she never fully appreciated until now to memory. She never wanted to see Nino make the painful expressions she had seen earlier ever again…especially not because of something she had done.

“I did, didn’t I?” She said, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I guess old habits die hard.”

Nino chuckled, leaning down to kiss her, pressing his cheek to hers, simply for the pleasure of it.

“Does that mean you forgive me?”

“Only if you’ll forgive me, too.” Alya replied. Nino laughed again, the sound warm, just like him.

“Already forgiven, babe,” he assured her, turning to grin at her. Alya smiled and kissed him again.

“Then what are we still doing standing around here? Let’s go.”

Arm in arm, they headed down the street, relishing each other’s company. It had been a long time, and their relationship had nearly been torched to the ground in the span of a couple weeks…but from the ashes arose a new understanding and appreciation of each other, and Alya was grateful. She wasn’t thrilled that there would now have to be secrets kept between her and Nino—because if he wasn’t going to tell her who he was, she wasn’t about to push the issue—but despite that, her faith in him would not be shaken, never again.

“By the way…what happened to your lip?”

“Oh, ah…I tripped.”


“Remind me to get you some ice for it when we get to the party,” Alya said, and Nino let himself breathe again. He didn’t know what had occurred in their time apart to renew her trust in him—maybe time was all she really needed—but he was grateful. And the Ladybug thing seemed to have won him brownie points, so he was grateful. Thank god Marinette had allowed him to take the credit instead of her...and thank god she managed to catch the akuma flitting towards Alya just before it made contact. He owed her big for this.

As Alya snuggled closer to him, Nino smiled, looking around as he appreciated the beauty of the night. It was therefore very jarring when he suddenly spotted a familiar figure perched on a rooftop across the street.

Chat Noir crouched there, his gaze on the distance, head turned in the direction that Ladybug had fled. Nino was tempted to stop and stare, but he didn’t want to bring the cat bastard to Alya’s attention, and so he kept walking, keeping a careful eye on the former hero.

For a second, Chat did nothing. He just stared in that direction, and Nino wondered just how long he had been there, watching Ladybug. The thought made his skin crawl…until he saw the way Chat raised a hand, as if to reach for something…only to lower it a second later, clenching it into a fist. His cat ears flattened across his head, and misery crossed his features, his head bowing.

Nino stared.

No fuckin’ way…was that remorse he saw?

Chat seemed to heave a sigh, and then he stood up, standing tall against the night…save for the slump of his shoulders. As he turned to go, he caught Nino staring at him. His eyes widened by a margin, and as Nino watched, he raised a clawed finger to his lips, as if to shush him.

Nino raised an eyebrow, and Chat smiled a little before he leapt off the roof, out of sight.

What was that about? Was he afraid Nino was going to tell Ladybug he saw him or something…?

“Nino? What’re you staring at?”

“Nothing; thought I saw something, but it’s gone now,” Nino said, inwardly cringing at the half-truth. Ridiculous; he shouldn’t have to lie about Chat Noir…but strangely, it seemed indecent to mention him, as if he had caught the cat bastard in mourning, an accidental audience to pain he was not meant to see.

Huh. Maybe Ladybug had a point about how sorry Chat was…

Didn’t mean Nino had to trust him, though. Not yet.



While Alya did enjoy her party after the crazy day she had, it was honestly a relief to go back to Nino’s apartment and have a bunch of hot make-up sex to end the night. And Nino had been more than up to the challenge, even pulling out a few new moves that made Alya’s toes positively curl. If this was also part of his apology, then she certainly was not complaining.

It was as they were laying there, in a sleepy post-sex haze, the soft glow from Nino’s computer illuminating the room as music played softly in the background, that Alya rolled over, resting against Nino’s chest.


“Mm?” Nino mumbled, his eyes closed, a hand trailing up Alya’s bare back to play with her hair. Alya shivered in delight at the contact.

“You and Marinette…” The hand in her hair stiffened, and Alya rubbed his shoulders, just to let him know that everything was fine. “You’re not up to anything illegal, right?”

The question made Nino snort, which was Alya’s intention, and he cracked an eye open to peer at her.

“No, babe. I can assure you ‘Nette and I are up not up to anything illegal.” He moved his free hand to her face, tucking her hair back behind her ear, his expression growing serious. “I’m sorry, babe. You don’t know how much. I really wish I could—”

Alya pressed her thumb to his lips, halting his speech with a smile.

“I trust you, baby,” she assured him. Nino smiled against her thumb, taking her hand and kissing her palm.

“Thank you, Alya.” He threaded his fingers through hers, tilting it so that the ring on her fourth finger glinted in his computer’s glow. “Mm. I still like the look of that ring on your finger.”

Alya rolled her eyes.

“I still can’t believe you had me find it by asking me to get a condom. You’ve been spending too much time with Adrien.”

Nino grimaced.

“Actually…I kind of forgot about it, after everything that happened today…I only remembered it was in there when you screamed.”

“…Are you serious?”

“Well, I was planning to propose on your actual birthday, just you, me, ‘Nette and Adrien at dinner somewhere…but I learned a long time ago that things never actually go to plan with us.”

Alya laughed at that.

“From the moment we were locked in that cage by Ladybug, I knew our relationship would be strange.”

Nino chuckled.

“True…hm. Maybe we should invite Ladybug to the wedding. She is the reason we had a chance to get together.”

“Yeah, after Adrien’s plan to get you with Marinette fell through,” snorted Alya, shaking her head. “What even was our life in Dupont?”

“Awkward adolescence,” Nino replied wisely, leaning in to kiss Alya’s cheek. “But I wouldn’t change a minute of it.”

Alya grinned.

“Neither would I.”

As they settled in to sleep, Alya stared at her engagement ring, unable to stop smiling. Well well…from being in a relationship, to breaking up, to being in a relationship again, to being engaged, all in a day…her life certainly was interesting. And that was excluding all the superhero shenanigans occurring right under her nose.

Nino’s light snores filled the room before long, and Alya closed her eyes, soothed by the peace of the moment.

Despite Nino’s proposal not going to plan…Alya was happy, having this moment with just the two of them, their engagement private, their own secret from the world.

Well, at least until Alya next saw Marinette. As the catalyst for her and Nino’s relationship, Marinette deserved to be the first person to know. It was only fair.

But until then, Alya would relish this secret of her own for a little while longer, before she went back to guarding secrets much more significant.

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A Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir Story
by DarkReyna16

Part 19 of 37

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