Continuing Tales

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

Part 21 of 37

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Emerald Shell was not pleased.

He didn’t have to say a single word—Ladybug saw it in the stiff set of his shoulders, in the fold of his arms, in the suspicious glare he sent Chat Noir’s way. Disapproval hung heavy in the air, and she could tell that it was weighing heavily upon Chat, despite his carefully stoic expression as he returned Shell’s glare with an aloof stare. After a minute or two of this nonsense, Ladybug cleared her throat.

“Shell, this is Chat Noir. Chat, Emerald Shell.”

Neither the turtle-themed superhero nor the cat-themed superhero bothered to attempt to shake hands. When their positions and their expressions did not change, Ladybug heaved a sigh.

“Seriously, guys?”

“What? Did you expect me to be happy about this?” Shell questioned, shooting Ladybug an aggrieved look. “Am I supposed to be jumping for joy at the fact that the homicidal cat bastard came crawling back with his tail between his legs?”

“Shell!” Ladybug snapped, throwing a short glance Chat Noir’s way, seeing the way his jaw and hands flexed. Still, he said nothing, and Ladybug figured that, if she was going to do anything to diffuse the situation, it had to be now.

“One second,” she said to Chat before she grabbed hold of Shell’s shield, forcefully dragging him a couple rooftops away. Once she was sure they were out of Chat’s hearing range, Ladybug rounded on Shell, hands on her hips.

Look,” she began heatedly, “I know you’re not happy about this, Shell—”

“And yet you invited him back to the team anyway,” Shell pointed out, folding his arms as he scowled down at Ladybug. “Clearly, what I think doesn’t matter much when it comes to decisions like this.”

As much as Ladybug wanted to be angry about this accusation, in her heart of hearts, she really couldn’t fault Shell. Were she in his shoes, there would be no way she would be pleased about this situation, either.

Sighing, Ladybug pinched the bridge of her nose for a moment.

“I know you have misgivings,” she said to Shell as calmly as she could, dropping her hand to give him an earnest look. “But he saved my life, Shell.”

Shell shifted, appearing uncomfortable.

“He wouldn’t have had to step in if you had just told me where you were,” he grumbled; the subject was clearly still a sore spot with him. “And I still think it’s suspicious: don’t you think it was a little too convenient that he swooped in and saved you just in time?”

“His apology to me was heartfelt, Shell,” Ladybug assured him, reaching out to grip Shell’s arms, as if her touch would convince him. “I trust him. If it weren’t for him, I’d be dead. I owe him my life, and for that, I trust that he genuinely wants to help us.”

Shell’s frown didn’t grow any less stubborn, but he did shift his gaze away from Ladybug, over her head, most likely to where Chat stood waiting. The speculation in his eyes was enough for Ladybug to press her point.

“You don’t have to trust him right away. Just trust me, okay?”

At last, Shell’s shoulders slumped, and he gave Ladybug a defeated look.

“You don’t play fair, Dots,” he remarked, and Ladybug smiled in relief.

“Maybe not, but you love me anyway,” she pointed out, and Shell rolled his eyes good-naturedly. Together, they made their way back to their original rooftop, where Chat stood waiting, appearing as if he was expecting the axe to fall at any moment. Ladybug paced towards him, laying a careful hand on his shoulder.

“It’s okay,” she assured him in a low voice, “Shelly’s going to play a lot nicer now.”

Chat Noir cracked a small smirk, raising his gaze to Shell.

“Shelly, huh?”

Shell leveled him an unimpressed look.

“Yeah? You got something to say, Whiskers?”

Chat visibly twitched, his nose scrunching in distaste.

“I do not have whiskers.

“Someone’s defensive.”

“Girls, you’re both pretty,” Ladybug interjected with a huff and an annoyed look at her teammates. “Now will you stop? Like it or not, you’re on the same side now, and I will not have you bickering like children every chance you get. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Ma,” Shell replied, and Ladybug pointed a warning finger at his smirk.

“Keep your sass in your pocket, Shelly.” Flipping one of her pigtails over her shoulder, Ladybug continued. “So: patrol.”

“Patrol,” Emerald Shell and Chat Noir agreed, eyeing each other momentarily before they refocused on Ladybug, who supposed this was the best she was going to get out of them, for right now.

“Right…anyway, since there are now three of us, I figure we can divvy up the patrol like this…”

An hour later, Ladybug was winging her way through the streets of Paris, though admittedly, she was struggling to keep an eye out for trouble, her mind too absorbed with the new team dynamic she had suddenly foisted upon herself.

It was natural for her to want to welcome Chat back, after missing her partner since he’d gone rogue…but she had to concede that it was a long shot for Shell to automatically accept him as well. And it wasn’t like he didn’t have good points: Chat was infamous to the public now, having incited a terrorist rebellion in the akuma-hating citizens, and he had arrived just in time to save the day, after making quite an entrance and bluffing his way closer to Ladybug. His track record for the past few months wasn’t good at all…which made Ladybug wonder…was she letting her feelings for Chat blind her to any darker intentions he might have?

Of course not,’ she stubbornly argued with herself, scowling as she swung, her movements automatic as she operated on auto-pilot. ‘I can tell when Chat’s lying to me. That hasn’t changed. He’s sincere. I know he is…

And yet, the concerned voice of Shell refused to leave her mind, questioning her convictions, challenging her assertions—

Are you in love with Chat Noir?”

Ladybug snarled in annoyance, pausing to crouch on a rooftop, surveying the area with blind eyes as she inwardly stewed over the assumption. That was the second time she’d been accused of being in love with Chat—first by Adrien, then by Shell. Shelly had apologized for the assumption, of course, but it still annoyed her, like how her mother and Alya constantly pestered her about her not-relationship with Adrien. While it was true that things between her and Adrien were no longer platonic, she still stood by her assertion that a man and a woman could be friends without there being romantic feelings involved. God, was the concept of a platonic relationship really so foreign to some people?

Ladybug blinked, startled to find herself at the Eiffel Tower already. How far gone was she in her own mind that she didn’t realize she was reaching the end of her patrol? And, if she squinted…it looked like a figure overhead had finished as well…

Smiling a little, Ladybug swung her way up to the top, landing lightly on the beam that Chat Noir sat upon, gazing out into the city.

“That was quick,” she greeted him, and Chat turned to her, something of a smile curving his lips.

“Well, sure, considering you gave me the shortest patrol route.” He watched her as she sat down beside him, his cat’s eyes knowing. “Wanted to keep me out of sight, hm?”

Ladybug cringed.

“Sorry. I just think it’s better this way, for now. No one knows you’re back yet…so it’s best to keep you out of the limelight, until we can hold a press conference or something to announce your return.”

Chat’s gaze returned to the city, his hands folded loosely in his lap. Ladybug watched him, taking in his profile, the strong, rugged line of his jaw, that messy blonde ponytail at the nape of his neck. She wanted to reach out and tug on it, tease him about needing a haircut…but she kept her hands to herself. It would take a while before she was comfortable with casually touching him again.

“People won’t be happy about an announcement like that,” Chat pointed out, and Ladybug watched as his cat ears flattened against his head. “No one will want to see me return.”

“That’s not true,” Ladybug protested, pausing when Chat gave her a doubtful look. “Well…okay, it’ll be hard. But I can’t believe that no one will be happy about your return to the light side.”

“Half of Paris morphed into an ignorant, akuma victim blaming mob, and the other half would be glad to see the back of me,” Chat pointed out with a shake of his head and a sigh. “I can’t help but feel that my switching sides might make everything worse…maybe it would be easier to just disappear again and let you and Emerald Shell handle things—”

Don’t,” Ladybug protested, seizing his arm without thinking about it. Chat blinked, his eyes widening when Ladybug suddenly leaned in. He looked nervous, but she didn’t care—she let her eyes burn as she addressed him, just so he could see how serious she was. “I will not let you vanish again, Chat. We’ve been apart for too long, and I refuse to do this without you. I don’t care if I have to fight all of Paris over this—you are my partner, and you will help me fix this mess. Understand?”

Chat blinked again, blushing under her stare. She watched as he glanced away, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly.

“Ah…all right.” Clearing his throat, he gave her a slight smile, a trace of his usual roguish grin only just detectable. “I suppose I still have a hard time refusing you anything, My Lady.”

Ladybug gave him a dry look.

“Really? You didn’t seem to have too much trouble before this week.”

It was a low blow. Ladybug knew this, knew—as Marinette—what it cost him to oppose her, and she regretted the words as soon as Chat’s gaze lowered, to her hand on his arm. Realizing it was still there, she hastily drew back, but Chat still stared, his fingers twitching for a moment.

“…It was hard,” he muttered after a moment, so quiet that the wind nearly stole the sound of his voice. “It was…like I was trying to split myself in two in the most painful way possible. I didn’t want to admit I was wrong, but I still knew that I was, somewhere deep inside myself. But I still made the conscious decision to go against you…and I knew I was hurting you, because I was hurting me, too.”

He lifted his gaze, and Ladybug was hurt to see the bewildered agony in his eyes as he stared at her, as if he could not believe she had decided to grace him with her presence.

“How do you not hate me for this?” He asked her, voice hushed, as if he feared she would realize that she did hate him if he dared to speak the words louder. “How could you ever forgive me?”

Oh god. It hurt. Seeing Chat this way, speaking as if he was beyond redemption…it was torture, white-hot irons burning through Ladybug’s flesh, her body yanked across hot coals. He hated himself for what he’d done, that much was obvious, and the fact that he seemed unable to comprehend why she would ever welcome him back…

The violence of her empathy was brutal, and it stole her breath; for a minute, she could only swallow around the lump in her throat, staring at him as she tried to find the words that would kill the self-loathing in his eyes. The longer she floundered, the stronger she could see it growing, and words forced their way out of her.

“Because I—”

She what?

Ladybug halted, realizing abruptly that she had nowhere plausible to go with that sentence. She swallowed again, raising a hand to rest against Chat’s face.

“Because we’re partners, chaton. No matter what, we’re always meant to be partners. So, though you strayed for a while…I think you were always meant to come back to me.” Ladybug smiled awkwardly at how that sounded and corrected herself. “Back to us.”

Chat said nothing, but he didn’t have to—the way his expression transformed from heartbreak into warmth and wonder said it all, as did the way his arm slid around her, drawing her into a hug she reciprocated after a surprised moment. He shook in her arms, just a little, a trembling kitten seeking reassurance. Ladybug rubbed his back and buried her face in his hair, sighing softly, the moment perfect—

And promptly ruined by the loud clearing of a throat nearby.

Ladybug and Chat Noir jumped apart, finding Emerald Shell a couple meters away, giving them a look so dry it was almost ironic, considering the theme of his Miraculous. Ladybug felt herself blush under what she felt was an accusing stare, and she hated it.

“Finished?” She asked casually, getting to her feet to assume her position of authority.

“Yeah,” Shell replied, stepping closer as he slid his shield onto his back, that dry look still in place. “But I’m beginning to think I was the only one patrolling. If you two wanted to be alone—”

“We just finished our patrols early,” Ladybug cut him off, shooting him a warning look. “That’s all.

“Whatever you say, Dots.”

Scowling, but choosing to let it go (for now), Ladybug waved him over and sat down again, in between her two teammates.

“Everything quiet?”

“Yep,” Shell confirmed, crossing his long legs under him and folding his hands in his lap. “I would’ve told you if we had trouble, y’know.”

“I’m just making sure.” Ladybug frowned in the distance, growing pensive. “It’s never a good thing when The Butterfly goes silent.”

“I think I prefer the silence,” Chat chimed in, his gaze flickering away from the city to rest on Ladybug. “You were almost killed when Madame Araigne came out to play.”

Something in the way Chat looked at Shell must have been accusatory, for Shell scowled back at him.

“Again: you got something to say, Whiskers?”

“I do not—”

“Shut up, both of you!” Ladybug snapped, and Shell and Chat fell silent, both eyeing her warily. Huffing, she glared at the pair of them. “Look, obviously this is going to take some adjustment time. But I told you already, I won’t stand for fighting within the team. From now on, we all have to be on the same page, so if you have something to say to each other, say it now, or shut your mouths.”

Ladybug folded her arms, shooting irritated glances between her two teammates, waiting.

It was Shell who broke the tense silence first.

“I don’t trust you,” he told Chat point blank, refusing to pull his punches as always. “I’m not gonna trust you for a really long time…but LB trusts you, and I trust her…and I owe you for saving her life when I couldn’t.” Shell briefly dropped his gaze, and Ladybug felt some of her irritation with him melt away; she had really scared him, hadn’t she? She’d talk with him more about it later.

“So, I don’t really like you, and I still blame you for this whole mess—”

“Shelly—” Ladybug began, a warning in her voice, but he shot her an ‘I-have-a-point-to-make’ look, and so she remained silent, watching him carefully as he took a deep breath and spoke again, golden gaze fierce as he focused on Chat.

“…But if you’re actually serious about helping us fix what you’ve done…then I think I could come to trust you. Maybe.” His gaze hardened. “But if you screw LB over again, I’m gonna take my shield and bash your skull in, got it?”

Ladybug huffed and pinched the bridge of her nose. She supposed, in a way, that it was sweet that Emerald Shell would kill for her, but when it was Chat he was threatening—

There was a hand on her shoulder, giving it a comforting squeeze.

“It’s okay,” Chat assured her when she looked up, giving her a brief smile before he let his hand slide away from her. Clearing his throat, he focused on Shell with a solemn expression.

“I am serious about fixing this,” he told Shell, conviction burning in his voice. “I was wrong. I know that, and though I do feel sorry for what I’ve done and what I’ve started, I know that apologies will only get me so far. So, while I’m not particularly fond of you, either…I recognize that you’ve been a big help to My Lady, and that you probably would have been there for her when Black Widow attacked if you could have. You seem to care about her a lot…so that’s enough for me.”

Shell blinked, staring at Chat. It was hard for Ladybug to decipher exactly what Shell was thinking as he watched Chat, but, unless it was a lot of wishful thinking on her part…she could almost swear that some of the hostility was leaving Shell’s gaze. Ladybug dared to tentatively hope that things would become a little smoother from then on.

“So?” She interjected when the silence had gone on for long enough, gesturing between the two of them. “Teammates?”

Catching her meaning, Chat extended a hand for Shell to shake. A beat of silence passed…and then Shell slowly reached out, gripping Chat’s hand for a firm shake. Ladybug sighed in relief, placing her hands over theirs and smiling at them.

“Then Team Miraculous is a go,” she announced proudly.

Shell snorted.

“Team Miraculous? That name sucks.”

“Excuse me? Let’s see you come up with something better, then,” Ladybug challenged him, miffed. Shell withdrew his hand, folding his arms and closing his eyes, a look of intense concentration crossing his features. After a few seconds, he opened his eyes and grinned.

“The Beetle Band,” he suggested, looking supremely proud of himself…until Ladybug burst into laughter.

“Ahahaha, what?! That’s terrible!

“It is not! It’s clever!” Shell protested with a scowl. Ladybug continued to snicker at him, however, and so he did something unexpected: he appealed to Chat. “What do you think? It fits, right?”

Chat blinked; it was clear he did not expect to have his opinion solicited. His gaze slid to Ladybug as he replied,

“I like Team Miraculous.”

“Oh sure, take her side,” Shell huffed as Ladybug poked her tongue out in victory at him.

“We could always take a vote,” she said smugly before abruptly sobering. “Later, though—there’s still some stuff I wanna talk to you two about.”

And just like that, the brief lighthearted mood that had settled over them was banished, and Shell and Chat focused on Ladybug as she stared out into the city, her hands clasped in her lap.

“My encounter with Black Widow taught me something,” she said, her hands briefly tightening; the tension in her body eased as both Shell and Chat laid a hand on her shoulder in support. “The Butterfly, whoever they are…they aren’t interested in our Miraculous at all.” She glanced between her teammates, the severity of the situation weighing heavily upon her. “They want us dead.”

The silence grew thicker with tension as the three heroes exchanged glances.

“…That’s a little extreme,” Chat said after a moment, the lighthearted reply offset by his serious expression. “Hawk Moth was horrible, but he never seemed to want us dead.

“That you know of,” Shell pointed out with a frown. “Did we ever really find out what Hawk Moth was after, in the end?”

“No,” Ladybug replied regretfully with a shake of her head. “Whatever goal he was working towards, it died with him.”

Silence fell once again as the heroes each lost themselves in their own thoughts.

Again, Shell was the one to stir the quiet.

“…There is one other person we might be able to ask…y’know, about whatever Hawk Moth’s end game was…”

Ladybug glanced at him, taking in his uncomfortable expression with confusion.

“Who are you…” As she studied his grimace, Ladybug abruptly realized who he meant, and her mouth opened in outrage.

No,” she protested, glaring at Shell even as he raised his hands in surrender. “Absolutely not.

“I know, I don’t like it, either,” he assured her, rubbing the back of his hooded head. “And it’s a long shot, probably…but if he knows something—”

“We are not bringing Adrien into this,” Ladybug cut across him, narrowing her eyes. “That’s final, Shell.”

“You think Adrien Agreste knows something?” Chat inquired, his tone oddly careful.

“No,” Ladybug replied at the same time Shell said “Maybe”. She glared at him, and he raised his hands again, as if he expected her to lunge and attack him.

“Look, LB, all I’m saying is that he might’ve found something out. Hawk Moth might’ve been a bastard, but he was his dad.”

“We’re not bothering Adrien with this,” Ladybug asserted, “he’s been through enough already. And what Hawk Moth may or may not have had planned doesn’t matter in our situation, so drop it, Shelly.”

“How do you know it doesn’t?” Shell persisted in challenging her anyway, and Ladybug growled in frustration. “We know virtually nothing about The Butterfly, LB. What if the dude’s carrying out Hawk Moth’s final wishes or something?”

Ladybug attempted to fight past her irritation to consider Shell’s words. As tempted as she was to think that Hawk Moth and The Butterfly had nothing to do with each other, according to Chat, whoever—whatever—had stolen the Butterfly Miraculous from him seemed to know what they were doing. Which meant that whoever had stolen it had to know that Chat had it…which meant they somehow knew more than she had thought possible—

Chat’s voice was next to cut through Ladybug’s concentration:

“You…don’t think Adrien Agreste could be the Butterfly, do you?”

“NO!” Ladybug and Emerald Shell protested at the same time, apparently looking so fierce that Chat reeled back, blinking in surprise at the pair of them. Ladybug had to consciously remind herself to calm down; as she was taking deep breaths, Shell voiced her thoughts.

“Just because his dad was a bastard doesn’t mean Adrien followed in his footsteps,” Shell asserted, and Ladybug nodded her agreement.

“Exactly. Where we come from doesn’t define who we are, Chat,” she scolded him, watching as he flushed, apparently embarrassed.

“It was just a stray thought,” he said quietly, glancing away. Abruptly feeling bad for her strong reaction, Ladybug sighed and patted Chat’s shoulder to assure him everything was fine. She couldn’t fault him for the assumption, of course—it wasn’t like he knew Adrien the way she and Shell did.

“But since we’re basically blind to all things Butterfly, I still think it might be a good idea to talk to him,” Shell said, stubborn as anything. As Ladybug got up, stepping over him to pace away so she wouldn’t hit him, Shell’s voice followed her. “C’mon, LB: you know he’d tell you anything.”

“…Do you two know Adrien?” Chat inquired, gaze flickering between the pair of them, suddenly intense. Ladybug shot Shell an annoyed look for putting her in a situation where she would have to lie to Chat, and the slight grimace he gave her told her that he registered that he was now in trouble.

“Not exactly,” she answered Chat, speaking strictly from Ladybug’s point of view here, if only to ease the burden of guilt her conscience would be settling on her later. “I’ve met him a few times…but I don’t really know him all that well.”

Shell gave a slightly stiff shrug.

“I only know that he used to have a thing for LB,” he chose to answer, and Ladybug had to fiercely smother the urge to hit him over the head with his own shield. “I never actually talked to the dude, of course, but it was kind of super obvious to anyone who was looking—”

A blushing Ladybug slapped a hand over Shell’s mouth, leaning over him and baring her teeth.

“One more word, and I’ll fling you off this tower without your hover board,” she threatened him. Shell’s eyes widened, and he raised his hands in surrender once more, signaling that he would behave himself. Ladybug consented to let him go…but she was still annoyed, so she swatted the back of his head, causing him to cringe forward, rubbing the spot where she hit him.

“Ouch! Damn, LB, chill. I was just kidding.”

“Get a new sense of humor,” Ladybug ordered, folding her arms. “No more Adrien talk, get it?”

“Got it,” Shell replied, still rubbing the back of his head.

“Good.” Breathing deeply in the hopes of exhaling the remnants of her temper, Ladybug glanced over to Chat, finding her partner giving her and Shell the oddest look: it was somehow split three ways, in between amusement, loneliness, and just a touch of jealousy. Abruptly, Ladybug realized that, though Chat had finally come back, her dynamic with him would never be the same, now that Shell was around. She wondered if that upset him; admittedly, though she was more than grateful to have Shell on the team, the thought made her a little sad as well.

“Anyway,” she forcefully changed the subject, for the Adrien debate had gone on for far too long, “we should really exchange information. You haven’t really been around for all the stuff that’s happened lately, Chat.”

“I’m sorry,” Chat apologized immediately, and Ladybug smiled.

“I wasn’t scolding you; just stating facts.” Stepping over Shell once again, she settled down in between them once more, a concentrated frown puckering her brow and pursing her lips. “On top of the screaming akuma, we’ve learned that the Butterfly somehow has the ability to create dummy akumas—when fighting King Arthur and his soldiers, I tried capturing an akuma from Paladin…only to have it shatter, as if it was a shell of the akuma rather than the real thing.”

“Ugh. That was creepy,” Shell chimed in with a shudder. “Thing flaked and crumbled, like dead skin.”

Chat frowned at this, gripping his chin in thought.

“We’ve never seen that before, either.”

“Nope. Which means we have to be extra cautious when fighting the akumatized victims.” Ladybug gave the other two anxious looks. “Trying to capture a fake akuma could be bad for us, now that we know The Butterfly wants to destroy us.”

“But we won’t know it’s fake until you try to capture it,” Shell pointed out, and Ladybug huffed in frustration.

“I know. That’s a problem, too, but until we figure out how to tell the true akuma from a dummy, we’ll just have to be as careful as we can be when facing off against akumatized victims.”

“And hurting them isn’t an option,” Shell said pointedly, ignoring the withering look Ladybug sent him as he scowled in Chat Noir’s direction. Chat, however, instead of the shameless attitude he’d given Ladybug when she brought up the same point in the past, sighed and let his shoulders slump, his ears flattening against his head.

“I know,” he replied, looking appropriately ashamed. Shell continued to eye him suspiciously, and it was only the beeping from Ladybug’s Miraculous, followed closely by Chat’s, that made him stop.

“Time to go,” Shell announced, getting to his feet. Ladybug frowned at this.

“We still have some time,” she said, with a half-glance at Chat Noir. He returned her gaze, and Ladybug knew without asking that he didn’t want to part from her company just yet, either.

Shell wasn’t having it, however; he crouched down, frowning at Ladybug.

“Look, you two can talk or whatever later,” he said, annoying Ladybug with the implication of his tone. “But I don’t think it’s smart to wait for you to lose your transformation on top of the Eiffel Tower. You guys can hang out later, preferably on the ground, and preferably when you’re not about to change out of your magical, death defying super suits.”

Ladybug stared at him in disbelief.

“What are you, my father?”

“No, but I doubt he’d approve, either.” Shell’s expression grew more stubborn when Ladybug’s Miraculous gave another warning chirp. “Let’s go,LB.”

Ladybug was two seconds away from reminding Shell that he was not the boss around here and to butt out when Chat Noir stood as well, the movement catching Ladybug’s attention immediately.

“He’s right,” Chat said, glancing away from the pair of them. “It’s not like we won’t see each other again.”

“There, you see? Even Whiskers says so.”

“…You’re not gonna let that go, are you?”

“Don’t count on it.”

“But Chat…” Ladybug began, gazing up at him. She wanted to say something to make him stay…but again, she found that the words were nowhere to be found. There was just a quiet, intense yearning to be near him, burning somewhere within her…but Ladybug couldn’t say that out loud. It would sound weird if she expressed such a heartfelt desire out loud…

Chat inspected her for a moment…and then he leaned over, offering his hand. Ladybug took it automatically, and he pulled her to her feet, the action bringing them closer together. Chat dropped her hand as soon as she was standing, a slight smile curving his lips and softening his eyes.

“I’ll see you soon, My Lady,” he promised her. Ladybug believed him, of course, but it was a promise that made her stomach churn: exactly howsoon was ‘soon’?

There was another pointed cough behind her.

“Still here, guys.”

Ladybug closed her eyes, prayed for patience, and gave Chat a nod.

“Soon,” she repeated, and Chat’s smile grew. Reluctantly turning away from him, Ladybug unhooked her yo-yo from her hip, sidestepping Shell with a swat to his chest. “Let’s go.”

Together, she and Emerald Shell took off into the night, Ladybug glancing back once to watch Chat streak off in the opposite direction, his baton glinting in the city lights. Ladybug and Shell waited until they were a good distance away before they de-transformed, casually strolling out of the underground metro entrance a minute after entering.

“You know I’m mad at you, right?” Marinette wasted no time in letting Nino know, sending him a frown. Nino adjusted his glasses, meeting her gaze with his eyebrows slightly raised.

“I know,” he answered, sounding both regretful and defiant. “But I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to be spending too much time alone with Chat Noir.”

“That wasn’t what I was talking about…but as a matter of fact, that’s none of your business, either,” Marinette made sure to tell him. “Chat and I are partners—”

“—Partners who only recently became partners again after a long stint of the cat bastard being a complete asshole to you and threatening innocent lives,” Nino interrupted, stopping to frown at Marinette, folding his arms. “I’m trying to trust your judgment on this, ‘Nette, believe me. But the more I see you two interact, the more I’m worried that you’re not thinking clearly.”

“I’m thinking just fine, thank you,” Marinette snapped at him, her hands going to her hips as she scowled up at him. “I swear, Nino, if you accuse me of being in love with Chat Noir again—”

“I wasn’t about to, but you’re protesting an awful lot about it,” Nino noted. Marinette felt herself flush red, and she hated it, so she turned on her heel, resolutely marching away from Nino. It was a moment before he followed after her, his long legs helping him catch up in seconds.

“Look, Marinette, I’m not trying to be a jerk. I’m honestly worried.” When Marinette did not pause in her irritated strut, Nino reached out, a hand on her shoulder, pulling her to a stop. Marinette consented to look at him, taking in the anxious furrow of his brow and his earnest gaze. “You’ve never known what it’s like to be akumatized. You’ve never known the fear and the confusion that came after the fact, of not remembering what you’ve been up to for half the day…only to have people tell you that you became a public menace, that you’ve hurt people.”

The shadow that Marinette saw occasionally darken Alya’s gaze when she talked of akumatized victims now invaded Nino’s eyes, haunting his expression.

“Imagine having people hate you for something you had no control over. Imagine someone you once thought was a hero turn his back on you and condemn you for being used in a psychopath’s quest for magic jewelry, or world domination or whatever. Imagine finally, finally gaining the power to do something about it, to fight back…only to have your other hero welcome back the threat you were fighting against the minute he changes his tune.”

Nino’s grip on Marinette’s shoulder tightened, as did his gaze.

“Imagine that hero being one of your best friends, one of the best people you know, who you’d hate to see hurt again, all because she was a little too forgiving and put her faith in the wrong person.”

…Ugh. And he accused her of not playing fair…

Marinette heaved a sigh, feeling her anger melt away, despite her attempts to cling to it. How could she be angry, with Nino regarding her with such sincere and profound concern? She could be annoyed with him all she wanted, but it didn’t change the fact that Nino was being so difficult because he cared about her. It was annoying, but…

“I understand,” she said after a moment, smirking when relief overtook Nino’s features. “If you feel so strongly about it…I won’t spend more time with Chat Noir than strictly necessary. Okay?”

“Yes. Thanks, ‘Nette.”

They resumed their walk in companionable silence for a while…that is, until another one of Marinette’s grievances came back to her, and she frowned at Nino from the corner of her eye.

“You don’t really think Adrien knows anything, do you?”

Nino frowned, scratching at the scruff on his chin.

“I think he might. And I think he might tell Ladybug what he knew…” At Marinette’s accusing stare, Nino cringed and confessed, “…but I might’ve kept talking about him just so Chat Noir knows you’re taken.”

“Oh my god, Nino.”

“Look, you may not see the way he looks at you, but I do. Dude’s got it bad.”

“Chat cares about me because we’re partners,” Marinette emphasized, stubbornly ignoring the blush rising in her face and flushing down her neck. “Besides, Adrien and I aren’t—well, anyway, you shouldn’t be implying that he’s seeing Ladybug. How would you like it if I started shouting to the world that Emerald Shell is engaged to the Ladyblog moderator?”

Nino grinned.

“Trust me, I’d be bragging myself if it didn’t mean putting her in danger.”

Marinette sighed, supposing that she walked right into that; Nino and Alya could give her and Adrien crap all they wanted, but they were sickeningly sweet in their own right as well.

“The point is,” she pressed with a nudge to his ribs, “we should be more careful about how we act around Chat. Just because we know each other in real life doesn’t mean he has to know that. And we definitely shouldn’t be implying that we know the son of deceased supervillains, all right?”

“Gotcha,” Nino agreed, cringing as he rubbed his side. “That was my bad. I’ll be more careful in the future.”

“Thank you.” Marinette paused, folding her arms for warmth as the winter chill set in, now that her anger had faded. Ugh, she could not wait for spring.

As they crossed to Marinette’s street, she glanced over, abruptly realizing that Nino was still with her…that was different…

“…Any particular reason you’re escorting me home, Nino?”

Nino glanced away, his expression a little too casual as he shrugged.

“I just happened to be going this way.”

“You live in the opposite direction.”

Nino frowned down at her as they reached the stairs leading up to her apartment.

“Sue me for wanting to make sure my friend who almost died earlier this week gets home safely,” he grumped after a moment. Marinette blinked, the confession unexpected…and all the more heartfelt because of it. Smiling a little, Marinette stepped forward, giving Nino a tight hug that he returned.

“Thank you. But I’m fine, promise,” she assured him, pulling back to grin up at him. “So go home, okay? I know you miss your fiancée.”

“Ah, my beautiful goddess of a fiancée,” Nino sighed, and Marinette giggled at the exaggerated way he clutched at his heart, certain that Alya would roll her eyes at such a display while secretly being pleased over being referred to as a goddess. Checking his watch, Nino mumbled, “I wonder if she’s still awake…”

“Only one way to find out,” Marinette reminded him, shooing him away. “Either way, you should go home and get some rest. I’ll see you later.”

“Night, ‘Nette.” Nino frowned at her as he began to walk away, his gaze concerned once more. “Get some sleep, all right? You look tired.”

“I’m fine,” Marinette insisted, taking the stairs two at a time as she waved to him while stubbornly ignoring the fact that she had not exactly been sleeping well since the events of Monday night... “Night, Nino.”

After he left, Marinette let herself into her apartment, heading for the kitchen for a late night snack for Tikki. The telltale rip of cellophane alerted her kwami, who flew out of Marinette’s muffler and gratefully accepted the cookie Marinette offered her, munching happily as Marinette leaned against the kitchen counter, watching her for a moment.

“Do you think I’m being too trusting?” Marinette asked once Tikki had managed to get through three-fourths of her cookie. Tikki lowered the last bit, looking thoughtful as she gazed up at Marinette.

“Are you worried?”

“Well…I wasn’t until Nino said something,” she admitted, biting her lip. “And it’s not like I don’t trust Nino’s judgment…but at the same time…he doesn’t know Chat like I do.” Marinette frowned. “Or, like I think I do, anyway…”

Nino was never one to sweat anything but the big stuff, though: if he was worried, then it was safe to assume that it would be unwise to just sweep his opinion to the side. But Marinette kept going back and forward in her mind, trying to decide if his concerns were unfounded, or justified. Could she keep trusting Chat Noir, in full awareness of the choices he’d made of his own free will? Wasn’t his apology enough? Even if the whole of Paris railed against his return to Ladybug’s side…could she still stand by him? Should she?

Marinette glanced over to Tikki for help, but unfortunately, the kwami could only shake her head.

“I can’t tell you who to trust, Marinette,” she told her, swallowing the last bite of her cookie before she continued. “You and Chat Noir are meant to be partners…but it only works if both of you are willing to work together. If you’re unsure of whether or not you’re on the same page…it’s something you need to sit down and discuss with him.”

“Ugh. I guess so…but when?” Marinette wanted to know, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “I just promised Nino that I wouldn’t be alone with him longer than necessary, so what—”

There was the distinct sound of a ‘thump’ from upstairs.

Marinette and Tikki looked to the ceiling, and then at each other.

“Uh…Ladybug time?” Tikki suggested as Marinette stared intently at the ceiling.

“…Not yet,” she said, lowering her voice and waving Tikki forward to hide in her muffler once again. “It might’ve just been my sewing dummy falling over…”

…Because it was knocked over by a robber. Marinette swallowed, but steeled herself as she approached the stairs, balancing her weight so that the wood didn’t make noise as she carefully climbed up. The door upstairs was closed, just as she had left it. Marinette pressed her ear to the door and listened intently for a few moments…


Marinette frowned. Was it just the sound of a tree branch hitting the front of the apartment or something? She knew she hadn’t imagined the noise, since Tikki heard it, too, but still…

Cautiously, Marinette turned the door handle, easing the door open oh so gently, one eye peeking in at the surroundings.

A crack in her curtains allowed the light from the streetlamps outside to filter into the room, but other than that, it was mostly dark. Nothing seemed out of place—her dummies where they were supposed to be, her drawers didn’t look like they had been ransacked…everything looked fine.

So why did Marinette get the feeling that she was being watched…?

Marinette pushed her door open fully, staring around into her room for a few seconds. She saw nothing lurking in the shadows…but that didn’t mean nothing was there…or was she just being paranoid…?

When nothing moved for another minute, Marinette sighed. She thought she had gotten rid of the ‘living alone’ jitters a long time ago after being on her own for three years…but it seemed that she still got nervous when things went bump in the night. Shaking her head at herself, Marinette stepped into her room, her hand feeling along the wall for the light switch—

Something shifted in the corner of her eye. Marinette turned—

A pair of glowing yellow eyes locked gazes with her, and Marinette jumped, falling back against the wall. From out of the shadows came a shadow-like something, its shape indistinguishable due to the darkness of the room. As Marinette stood there, wide-eyed and frozen, it seemed to glide towards her, a soft sound emanating from it, like a sort of hissing sound…or was it the sound of whatever it was sliding across the floor? What the hell was it?!

“Marinette!” Tikki squeaked, tugging on a strand of Marinette’s hair after she’d peeked out of Marinette’s muffler and assessed the situation, “Marinette, focus! You have to transform! Marinette!!”

Tikki’s voice came from a very far place, as if she were oceans away instead of just centimeters. Marinette couldn’t focus, couldn’t think—those glowing yellow eyes had her ensnared, the soft hissing growing louder as the shadow thing came closer, closer, growing larger and larger with each second until it towered over Marinette, monstrous and threatening, ready to strike—

There was a tapping sound at her balcony doors. The shadow thing broke gazes with her, turning to hiss at the intruding noise. Once they broke eye contact, Marinette’s head cleared, and she did the only thing that seemed plausible at the moment: she slammed her hand against the light switch.

Light suddenly flooded the room, and the shadow thing gave an angry cry, dispersing before Marinette could get a good look at it, leaving only her heart slamming against her rib cage and the sweat trickling down her back as proof it ever existed. Her hands were shaking, she realized, and she clenched them over the top of her muffler as Tikki slipped free of it, her wide indigo eyes echoing Marinette’s inner panic.

“T-Tikki…what was—”

“I…I don’t know,” Tikki admitted in a hushed whisper, looking just as alarmed as Marinette felt. “I don’t know, Marinette…”

The tapping at her doors came again, and Marinette jumped, eyes going to the balcony doors. Her adrenaline spiked, and anger flashed through her, overwhelming her fear. She had had quite enough of surprises for one night!

Gesturing for Tikki to hide while grabbing the baseball bat she had bought when she first moved in to “discourage” any unwanted visitors, Marinette slowly approached her balcony doors, pausing only to take a deep breath before she ripped the curtain back, her bat raised and at the ready, though the doors were still closed—

Chat Noir blinked in surprise, his friendly smile dropping as he spied the weapon. Carefully, he raised his hands, a sheepish cringe crossing his features.

“Bad time?” He asked through the glass.

Marinette stared at him, unconsciously lowering the bat. She had never been so happy to see him; it felt like her knees would give way in relief.

Shakily, she undid the lock on her doors and pushed them open, stepping outside.

“Chat Noir…”

“That’s me,” Chat joked with a roguish grin. “Sorry to call so late, Princess, but I…hey, are you okay?” He asked, interrupting whatever monologue he was about to deliver to peer at her worriedly. “You’re shaking…”

Marinette hid her shaking hands behind her back, dropping the bat in the process…but there wasn’t much she could do to hide the rest of her trembling frame. She had to admit it—whatever that thing was had scared the bejesus out of her, and it wasn’t because she was afraid of the dark.

No, she was afraid of losing control, and of the unknown…and that thing had been both of her worst nightmares all wrapped up in a horrifying package, just waiting for her to stumble upon it, unaware.

Marinette opened her mouth, searching for the words to articulate what had just happened…but the longer she peered into Chat’s worried gaze, the harder it became to voice the unknown, until finally…

“I’m okay,” Marinette forced herself to lie, giving Chat a shaky smile. “Y-you just surprised me is all…I didn’t expect you to visit…”

“Ah…I’m sorry, Princess,” Chat apologized humbly, rubbing the back of his head. “I can go if you wa—”

“No!” Marinette protested, a little too loudly. At Chat’s startled look, she forced herself to take a deep breath, cringing in apology. “Sorry…I just meant…I don’t mind your visits. It’s been a while since I last saw you…”

“Well, you told me not to make it a habit,” Chat reminded her, tilting his head to the side and frowning as Marinette forced a laugh. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Fine,” Marinette lied again, stepping quickly away from her room and further into the night air, the chill cooling the sweat on her face and making her shiver…yes, it was the cold that was making her shiver…just the cold…

Folding her arms against herself as she leaned against her balcony railing, Marinette turned to give Chat a curious look from the corner of her eye.

“What brings you by, Chat Noir? Do you need more advice or something?”

“Ah…actually, no,” Chat replied, pacing forward. He hopped up on the railing next to Marinette, giving her a pleased grin. “I come bearing good news: I went back to Ladybug.”

“That’s wonderful, Chat,” Marinette enthused, working to make her smile genuine as she patted his clawed hand. “I’m proud of you. And I’m sure Ladybug is happy to have you back, too.”

“Ah, yes…My Lady was more forgiving than I expected,” Chat said with a shake of his head and a helpless smile. “Too forgiving, in fact…but I guess that’s why she has Shelly now.”

Marinette raised an eyebrow. So even Chat thought she was too forgiving, hm? His guilt was stronger than she thought…


“Emerald Shell,” Chat corrected himself with a grin. “My Lady calls him Shelly for short…and it stuck.”

“Cute,” Marinette giggled.

“He doesn’t think so. But the way I see it, if he’s gonna call me ‘Whiskers’…”

“But you don’t have whiskers,” Marinette pointed out, and Chat threw his hands up in the air, nearly losing his balance before catching himself at the last minute.

“That’s what I’m saying!” Marinette bit her lip to hide her amusement as Chat huffed, rubbing the back of his head again as he stared off into the distance. “But he’s a stubborn one. I get the feeling he and Ladybug know each other out of costume, too…” Chat frowned thoughtfully for a moment, sending Marinette’s heart rate up…but then he shook his head in dismissal over whatever thoughts he was thinking. “But I suppose it’s just how close they seem to be that has me jealous…"


Chat shrugged, looking a little embarrassed.

“Yeah, a bit. For so long, it had been My Lady and me, fighting crime, cracking one-liners, saving the day…” He sighed heavily, dropping his gaze to his lap. “But I suppose it was foolish to think that she wouldn’t find someone else to help her after I…well. In any case, Shelly seems to be an excellent hero…who doesn’t like me very much. But that’s fine. I don’t really like me very much, either.”

The casual way he said such a self-depreciating sentence hit Marinette hard, and she found her hand covering his once again, giving it a squeeze.

“Well, I think you’re great,” she said firmly, watching as Chat’s face turned red. “Ladybug must think so, too, since she welcomed you back.”

Chat stared at her, giving her a little smile after a moment.

“You know, you remind me a little of her,” he confessed, and Marinette willed herself not to lose her head over such an innocent sentence, “you both put too much faith in me.”

“I put exactly the right amount of faith in you, thank you very much,” Marinette sniffed, and Chat grinned at her. “And I’m sure Ladybug feels the same way.”

“Well, My Lady is amazing,” Chat conceded, his gaze growing distant as he spoke of Ladybug. Something about the look was familiar, Marinette realized, and she frowned, trying to pinpoint where this déjà vu was coming from—

“Look, you may not see the way he looks at you, but I do. Dude’s got it bad.”

Marinette’s eyes widened as Nino’s voice intruded upon her thoughts, and she abruptly pinpointed the look: it was longing.

Oh no.

“You’re not in love with Ladybug, are you?” She blurted out before she could stop herself. Chat’s gaze returned to her, surprised one second, then embarrassed the next, his cheeks turning rosy. Marinette could only gape at him, the nonverbal confession staring her in the face. She…she couldn’t believe it. Sure, he had always flirted with her in the past, and she had always indulged him, but she thought it was just playful banter exchanged between partners. She never thought he was actually serious

“Ah…no, Princess,” Chat said quietly, and something odd happened in Marinette’s chest; her heart was already overworked from the events of tonight, but after it sped up during her revelation, his negation of her assumption both relieved her…and brought her down. What was this? It was good that Chat Noir wasn’t in love with her, with Ladybug. They had just become partners again; something as complicated as feelings should not be brought into the mix, when they were still figuring things out, still readjusting and getting used to each other again—

So why? Why was Marinette disappointed?

“…I admit, I…did harbor such feelings for Ladybug, once,” he admitted after a silent moment, and Marinette was forcefully yanked out of her confused reeling to focus back on him, taking in the slump of his shoulders and his embarrassed expression as he kicked one foot a little, lips twisting in a frown. “But I’m getting over it. I love Ladybug…but I’m not in love with her. Not anymore.”

Abruptly, his eyes flashed to Marinette, and she straightened without fully knowing why.

“But that’s for your ears only, Princess,” he suddenly teased. “Don’t go spreading that around…especially not to nosy journalist friends, all right?”

Marinette thought of what Alya might do with such information and cringed.

“Your secret’s safe with me,” she swore, smiling in reassurance while her mind inwardly whirled with intense confusion. Oblivious to her inner dilemma, Chat nodded, smiling at her.

“I knew you were trustworthy, Princess. That’s why I wanted to come see you: to let you know that everything’s fine…well, not fine, but better.” He raised a clawed finger to his lips. “So do me a favor and don’t go shouting about my reunion with Ladybug, okay? We’re not telling the public yet, for obvious reasons…but I know you’ve been worried, so…”

Marinette smiled a little.

“And what will Ladybug think if she knows you’re telling a complete stranger all of your superhero business?”

“‘Complete stranger’?” Chat questioned, laying a hand over his heart while giving her an exaggerated pout. “Princess, you wound me. Aren’t we friends?”

Marinette laughed, shaking her head a little. ‘Friends’, huh…

“I guess we are,” she agreed, sliding Chat a side glance. “Though not many of my friends make a habit of sneaking around my balcony in a cat suit.”

“I do not make it a habit,” Chat reminded her, waggling a finger at her. “But in any case, it sounds like your friends are no fun if sneaking around in a cat suit isn’t their idea of a good time.”

Marinette snorted. He was so ridiculous.

The beeping of his Miraculous alerted them both to the fact that their time together was running out, and Chat gave her a wry smile.

“Well, Purrincess, I hate to say it, but I must bid you adieu. All princesses and cats need their beauty sleep, don’t you think?”

“You certainly think a lot of yourself,” Marinette teased, and Chat gave her a wink as he carefully turned on the balcony railing, extending his staff. Before he could climb on, however, Marinette stayed him by calling his name.


“Princess?” Chat returned, turning to give her a curious look. Marinette bit her lip, staring at him. She shouldn’t ask. She shouldn’t even think about asking. But—

“When…” She halted, but Chat tilted his head curiously, indicating that she should continue. Inhaling deeply, Marinette tried again. “When, exactly, did you…fall in love with Ladybug?”

Chat blushed again, staring at her. Marinette could feel her face heat as well, and she hastily tore her gaze from him, staring out into the night without seeing.

“I’m just…curious…” she mumbled through her embarrassment. “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to—”

“It’s all right,” Chat assured her softly, and Marinette found the courage to look at him again. When their eyes met, he winked. “After all, I know a thing or two about curiosity…”

He shifted on the balcony, folding his hands over the top of his extended staff and resting his chin on them, gazing up at the dark sky as Marinette watched him, taking in every twitch in his expression as he chewed over her question.

“…It’s hard to give you a definite answer, admittedly,” he said, giving a slight shrug. “It feels like I’ve always loved her—she just dropped from the sky one day and into my life. Literally.”

Marinette laughed a little, remembering.

“That must’ve been a surprise.”

“Maybe, but it was a pleasant one,” Chat recalled fondly, a smile spreading across his face. “But I think I realized I loved her a little later than that—we were facing off against, uh, Stoneheart, and he had taken a civilian captive. The police were trying to get involved, and though Ladybug tried to talk them down, they had lost faith in her, all because we screwed up the first time. Looking back, they really should’ve cut us more slack; it was our first time, of course we were bound to make mistakes.” Chat shook his head at the remembered injustice before he continued. “The harsh words of Officer Raincomprix demoralized Ladybug…she started doubting herself, blaming herself for a mistake we both made…and it hurt. To see a girl with so much power and potential feel like she was useless…”

In her mind’s eye, Marinette revisited the memory, but now it was colored with Chat’s point of view, his concern and care for her taking the forefront of her mind. The way he gripped her shoulders and willed her not to give up, promising that they would prove to everyone that they were the heroes they deserved…the words meant more to Ladybug than she had ever properly expressed to him…why hadn’t she told him when she’d had the chance…?

“Anyway, I made sure she knew she wasn’t alone in the fight—this was my mistake too, and I wouldn’t let her shoulder the blame alone. I knew she had what it took to prove the police wrong…and boy, did she.” Chat chuckled. “As soon as that moth projection of the bad guy appeared, she handled it like a boss, purifying all of the akuma, shutting up Hawk Moth, and inspiring all the citizens of Paris to trust their new superheroes.” Chat turned to grin at Marinette, pointing a clawed finger to his chest. “It was like a kill shot to the heart. And I knew that girl, whoever she was, in or out of the mask…I knew that I loved her.”

Oh no.

The furnace-like heat in Marinette’s face indicated that she was blushing from her hairline to her neck, and she hated it. She pulled her gaze away from Chat once again, biting her lip, tears stinging her eyes.

All this time…all this time, and he had never told her.

Their whole partnership, she had believed his flirting was just him being Chat Noir, that he flirted with every girl he met. How was she to know about the feelings burning just underneath the surface? How could she have guessed that it wasn’t just a game when Chat only ever treated it like one?

How could he not have told her?!


There was a finger on her cheek, brushing away the tear that had escaped her eye.

“Why are you crying?” Chat wanted to know, concern in his tone as Marinette hurriedly lifted her muffler to banish the accursed tears from existence. Taking a shaky breath, she said from behind her muffler.

“I’m sorry…it’s just…so romantic…”

Chat laughed awkwardly, fingers plucking at the muffler.

“Please don’t cry, Princess. You know this story doesn’t have a happy ending.”

Oh. Right. He…he had moved on already, hadn’t he…?

His Miraculous gave another beep, and panic seized Marinette’s heart. She dropped her muffler, gripping his arm, though he showed no intention of leaving. He gave her a surprised look, and she swallowed, slowly prizing her fingers from his arm.

“W-why…I mean, when did you…”

When Marinette failed to finish her sentence, Chat gave her a wry look.

“When did I decide to move on?” He guessed. When Marinette merely nodded, he gave another shrug that was almost casual. “Just recently. It was long overdue, but a part of me couldn’t help but hold out hope…”

He smiled a wistful smile that would have ended Marinette, if looks could kill.

“But it was time for me to stop dreaming. I already knew she wasn’t interested, and I had to stop fooling myself into thinking she might be one day, or I’d go insane. And besides, my behavior over the past few months made me ineligible for her love, anyway.”

“You don’t know that,” Marinette protested softly, and Chat’s wistful smile grew as he shook his head.

“Ah, but I do, Princess. She might have forgiven me for everything I’ve done…but it’ll be a long time before I forgive myself, personally.” With a sigh, Chat’s smile eased into something more cheerful. “So, that’s my story. Pathetic, am I not?”

So quick to put himself down…

Marinette gripped his arm again, giving it a firm squeeze as she met his gaze unflinchingly.

“You’re not pathetic. You’re wonderful,” she corrected emphatically. Chat’s eyes widened, and despite his blush, he managed to grin his roguish grin at her.

“Are you flirting with me, Princess?” He teased. The jest made Marinette blush, and she bit her lip, denials on the tip of her tongue—

But a denial was not what she ended up giving.

“And if I am?” She challenged, quirking a brow that was braver than she felt. Her recklessness was rewarded, however, when Chat’s grin dropped, and he promptly blushed redder than her.

“Ah,” he said, blinking owlishly at her for a moment. He glanced away, rubbing the back of his head. “Er, well…I gotta say, I’m flattered, Princess…but I’m kind of…seeing someone.”

Marinette felt her heart drop all the way to the bottom of her stomach.

“Oh,” was all she could think to say, and hastily, she removed her hand from his arm when she remembered that, technically, she was seeing someone too, what was wrong with her?!

Clearing her throat, Marinette resolved to clear the awkward air between them.

“Lucky girl. She must be a big fan of cats.”

Chat laughed at that.

“No, not really. But that doesn’t matter, since she doesn’t know I’m Chat Noir.”

“Oh?” Marinette asked, tilting her head at him. “And what would she think of you skulking around my bedroom this late at night?”

Chat eyed her from his peripheral vision. There was something strange about his gaze; it was amused, but quietly so, like there was some joke Marinette was missing.

“…Somehow, I don’t think she’d mind very much,” Chat replied, laughing at the confused look Marinette shot him. The beeping from his Miraculous grew more insistent, and Chat sighed, hopping onto his staff. “It’s been a pleasure as always, Princess. Have a good night.”

Wait,’ Marinette wanted to stall him, wracking her brain for any excuse that seemed plausible. But her mind was coming up blank, and unless she wanted to tell him about the incident with that thing in her room, which she most certainly did not

Marinette sighed in defeat. There was no choice but to let him go…not that she had the right to hold him here in the first place.

“Good night, Chat,” she bade him, offering her hand before he could reach for it. This appeared to amuse him, and he planted a careful kiss to the back of her hand before he winked, saluted, and absconded, disappearing into the night. Marinette lingered on her balcony for as long as she dared, her jittery disposition returning now that Chat was gone. His presence had been a balm on her nerves, allowing her to focus on something other than the terrifying happenings that had occurred just a few minutes ago. Marinette swallowed. This was the first time she felt unsafe in her own apartment…if it wasn’t for Tikki—

Oh shit, Tikki!

“Tikki?!” Marinette called, bursting back into her room, panic seizing her when she didn’t see the little kwami at first. But Tikki’s head popped up from Marinette’s bed soon enough, and Marinette felt herself grow weak with relief. Shakily, she shut the balcony doors behind her, locking them and grappling her curtains closed before she sank to the floor, her knees turning to jelly. Tikki flew forward, resting in Marinette’s palms and gazing up at her with profound worry.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Marinette sighed, stroking the top of Tikki’s head with her thumb. Tikki gave her a small smile, nuzzling her thumb in reassurance.

“I’m fine, Marinette.” Her smile dropped all too soon. “But are you okay?”

“I…I don’t know,” Marinette admitted. She leaned back against her balcony doors, shifting Tikki to one hand so she could massage her throbbing temple with the other. “So much has happened tonight…so much…

Dealing with the new team dynamic, contending with Chat and Shell’s tension with each other, arguing with Nino, whatever the fuck that thing was that had come at her, learning that Chat Noir had been in love with her—legitimately in love with her

Marinette was about to explode. She couldn’t handle all this at once; it was too much. She had to get away, and she had to do it now.

She stuffed her free hand into her pocket, drawing out her phone. A quick swipe of her fingers revealed her contact list, and Marinette tapped the second name listed. She only had to endure three long rings before the person on the other line picked up.

“Hey, girl.” Marinette heard Alya stifle a yawn before asking, “What’s up?”

Marinette cringed, clutching at her phone.

“I woke you up. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry ‘bout it. I’m supposed to be editing this piece, anyway.” Alya gave another yawn. “But fuck it, Eric’ll be fine without it for a few days…anyway, what’s the matter? Something must be up for you to be calling me this late.”

Marinette swallowed. How did she phrase this without outright lying to Alya, but without revealing a truth so strange and horrible that it would put her best friend on edge…?

“I…heard a really creepy noise earlier. Nothing’s here, but…I’m kind of jumpy now...”

“Want to stay over tonight?” Alya offered without missing a beat. Marinette sighed in relief, grateful.

“You don’t mind?”

“Nah. I already told Nino I wasn’t leaving my apartment tonight, and I forbade him from coming over here ‘cause I was working…but I could use a little Marinette time.”

“Thank you, Alya. You’re the best.”

“I know. See you soon?”

“I gotta grab some stuff first, but yeah. See you soon.”

“Later, girl.”

As she hung up, Marinette stood up, her nerves less frazzled now that she had an escape plan. Tikki left her hand, choosing to float as Marinette went to her closet, tugging out an overnight bag and stuffing clothes into it at random. Before she yanked the zipper shut, she gestured to Tikki, waving her forward.

“Sorry for doing this, Tikki, but I honestly can’t stay here tonight. I’ll slip you some snacks when I can while we’re at Alya’s.”

Tikki flew obligingly into the bag, gazing worriedly up at Marinette.

“I don’t mind, as long as you feel safe, Marinette. But I really think we should tell Chat Noir and Emerald Shell about what happened.”

“Later,” Marinette insisted, flushing at the mention of Chat Noir and shaking her head at her own stupid, flustered state. “I can’t focus on anything else right now, Tikki. I promise I’ll find a way to tell them, but later.”

“All right,” Tikki assented, and Marinette gave her kwami an apologetic smile.

“Thanks, Tikki. Get comfy, okay? If I know Alya on a Friday night…it’s gonna be a long one.”

As Marinette yanked the zipper shut, Tikki nestled into one of her Chosen’s sweaters, now alone with her thoughts as Marinette fled from her own apartment. Frowning to herself, Tikki recalled the testimonies of Chat Noir and Wayzz, both stating that a dark, indistinct something had attacked them, Chat for the Butterfly Miraculous, Master Fu and Wayzz for the Turtle Miraculous.

And now the same thing had happened to Marinette, though what the goal was this time, Tikki shuddered to guess. All she knew was that once was chance, twice was coincidence, but three times?

Three times, it was a pattern.

A very dangerous one.

Tikki pressed her tiny hands together, continuing to frown in the darkness of Marinette’s bag. She heard her Chosen’s car engine start, and any thought of sharing her concerns with Marinette were quickly vetoed.

Tikki knew Marinette very well by now. And because that was true, Tikki knew that if she dared to suggest that The Butterfly might have discovered Marinette’s true identity, Marinette would freak out, and then she would refuse to go to Alya, or anyone else, convinced that her presence would put everyone she loved in danger.

Marinette had dealt with enough for tonight. For now, Tikki would leave her be; as much faith as she had in her Chosen, a problem like this could wait until Marinette was equipped to deal with it.

As miraculous as Ladybug was…at the end of the day, under the mask and the suit…she was still only human.

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

Part 21 of 37

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