A/N: Hello, I'm Princess Kitty1, a somewhat noteworthy author from the Bleach fandom and an ancient relic from the Inuyasha fandom. I watched Miraculous Ladybug one week ago and broke the sound barrier on my descent into hell. Please adopt me. I can't stop crying over these stupid children.
Disclaimer: Miraculous Ladybug belongs to Hawkdaddy, some people in France, some people in Korea, and some people in Japan. None of those people are me.
Marinette Dupain-Cheng came awake with a gasp. Her black hair, tank top and pink pajama bottoms clung to her sweat soaked skin. Her chest rose and fell as she stared at her ceiling, panting, trying to orient herself.
Her clock, reading seven in the morning. Tikki's whistling snores. Morning sunlight poured in through the various windows situated around the bedroom. Far below, her parents' voices. The scent of baked goods. Home. Home. She was home, safe and sound.
Marinette sat up slowly, pushing the hair away from her damp neck. Her head hurt. She must have had a nightmare, but she couldn't remember it at all. She tried and she tried but it seemed that the more she reached for it, the faster it slipped from her grasping hand. Giving it up for lost, she turned and poked Tikki awake. "Rise and shine, sleepyhead."
The small red kwami let out a massive yawn as she stirred. She blinked her large eyes at Marinette. "Good morning," she said. "Ready for another day of crime fighting?"
Marinette groaned. She was still trying to recover from the last akuma attack, which had left her with bruised ribs even after her Miraculous had swept the area clean. "If the good citizens of Paris can remain the good citizens of Paris for a day, I'd be very happy." She stroked Tikki's head, then kicked off her blankets and made her way down the ladder to her bedroom floor.
It was warm in the room, a gentle reminder that summer was just around the corner. Marinette lifted a hand to shield her eyes from the incoming sun. Had it always been that bright?
"You'll be in bad shape if you're complaining this early in the year," Tikki warned her. "Heat makes people irritable, and that leaves them more susceptible to akuma." She flew down and landed on Marinette's shoulder. "But don't worry, there hasn't been a threat yet that Ladybug couldn't handle on her own!"
"On my own?"
Tikki blinked at her. "Of course," she said. "Who else would there be?"
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Marinette winced against the too-bright sunlight. "I-I don't know." She shook her head. "Sorry, you're probably hungry. Let's get some breakfast."
School. Even in the classroom, the temperature bordered on uncomfortable. Marinette could see perspiration gathering at her best friend Alya Cesaire's temples, and one row in front of them, Adrien Agreste let out a miserable sigh. It was too hot. Too hot for Marinette to think about what an adorable sigh Adrien had, too hot for schoolwork, too hot for spring. She felt the sun like some giant child held a magnifying glass to it.
"So listen," her classmate Nino was saying, "I'm entering a film competition and I need a couple of volunteers to help me out. You in?"
"Depends on what kind of help you need," Adrien said. Marinette mustered the energy to lean over for a better listen. Her bruised ribs ached in protest.
"You know, actors, costume designers, director, groupies…"
"Sign me up for groupie."
"Uh, with a face like yours? I was thinking more along the lines of leading man." Adrien gave Nino a look Marinette couldn't see, but judging by Nino's pout, it must not have been very encouraging. "Come on! I'll buy you lunch." Silence. "Do your homework?" More silence. "Find you a girlfriend?"
This time Adrien laughed. "Relax, man. I'm in."
Nino let out a triumphant whoop and turned to face Marinette and Alya. "Hey ladies, want to be in a movie?"
Marinette's throat closed up. A movie with Adrien. She sent Alya a panicked smile. "We'd love to," Alya replied instantly. "But just so we're clear, I don't work for free, so there had better be food."
For the rest of the class period, Marinette tuned out the lecture in favor of her daydreams. She didn't know what the movie was about or what her role in it would be, but did it really matter? She'd get to spend more time with Adrien. Her imagination pushed her into a Casablanca scenario, complete with black-and-white and questionable sound quality. The pain in her eyes! The pain in his! The way he leaned in for the kiss, his gentle hands cupping her face, her lips trembling with anticipation…
She let out a subdued squeal and kicked her legs. That settled it. She was going to be Adrien's leading lady, and nothing would ruin her perfect day.
Marinette lifted a broken chunk of concrete over her head and brought it down on the solidified goop encasing her leg. Beneath her Ladybug attire she was drenched in sweat. The concrete weighed a ton, and being tired didn't help matters at all. But it was effective. One more hit shattered the purple-pink goo and Marinette yanked her foot free.
Where had the Horrificator gone? She got up and searched her surroundings, listening for any cries or whimpers from her classmates. Nothing. She ran the perimeter of the courtyard, checking every room. They'd all been abducted.
Marinette's heart clenched at the memory of Adrien being taken by the Horrificator. The fear in his eyes as they held hers, terror saturating his voice as he called her name. She tried to calm down and think. If this was a horror movie, where would the monster hide? She looked up towards the ceiling where a thick layer of goo had covered the entire school. There was no way out without some serious brute force. The Horrificator had to be somewhere on campus. But if all the classrooms were empty…
Movement caught Marinette's eye. She whipped her head around to track its source and saw something thin, something black, disappear behind the basement door before it clicked shut. She ran for it.
Down the long, dark corridor she found the Horrificator's gooey nest. The monster itself had grown to a massive size.
The fight was exhausting. It was all Marinette could do to keep the Horrificator at bay while trying to free her classmates. In the end, Ivan offered himself as a distraction, and once enough people were on hand, they sang the lullaby that brought Mylene down to the size of a kitten. Ladybug purified the akuma and the day was saved.
Too tired to think, Marinette made up a lame excuse for her absence and returned to the classroom with the others. "You feeling okay?" Alya asked her when she collapsed into her chair.
"I'm fine," Marinette said. The sun was so bright she couldn't keep her eyes open. "I'm fine… just fine… couldn't be better."
She fell asleep.
Marinette's brow creased, her breath coming faster.
A strangled whimper escaped her throat.
Something was terribly wrong.
She woke with a startled cry, which woke Tikki with a startled cry, which made both of them stare at each other like they were insane. Marinette put a hand to her chest. "Why are you screaming?"
"Why are you screaming?" Tikki asked.
She rubbed her eyes and looked around. Glaring sunlight coming in through the balcony's trap door. The sound of birds from above, the scent of bread from below. A glowing haze of pink. She was home.
She tried to yawn and winced at the ache in her jaw. The last akuma had done a number on her face; she was lucky she still had all her teeth. But her head hurt something fierce, and she couldn't shake the vague terror that followed her out of her dreams.
Dreams? What dreams were those? She couldn't remember having any dreams, let alone a nightmare. Oh, if only her head didn't hurt so bad…
A concerned frown crossed Tikki's face and she lifted herself up to check Marinette's temperature. "Are you alright? You don't look so good."
"I'm fine," Marinette said. "In a bit of pain, but it's nothing I can't live with."
"Maybe you should stay home today."
"Are you kidding? And miss watching Chloe get elected for student council president again?" She paused on her way to the loft's ladder. "Actually, that's a good reason to stay home." She winked at Tikki and climbed down to the bedroom, wondering if she could get some quality time with an ice pack pressed to her temple before she left for school. The sunlight burned through her windows. "What is with this weather?" she murmured.
Tikki floated down with a yawn. "Beats me."
"If the whole summer is going to be like this, I am so buying curtains." Marinette wandered over to her sink and turned on the water. "Though I'll have to take care not to get tangled up in them when I come back from—oh."
Her reflection stood before her.
Pale skin, dark bags under her eyes, a hint of a bruise at the side of her face that vanished into her hairline. She gingerly touched the skin beneath her eyes. "I didn't realize how tired I looked." No wonder Tikki was concerned. Her kwami gazed up at her sadly, and Marinette forced herself to smile. "I'm alright, really. I got plenty of sleep last night."
"You did, but…"
"It's nothing," she said. She washed her face and dug through her makeup drawer for something with decent coverage. Looking like a zombie at home was one thing. She couldn't let her friends worry about her, too. She knew Alya suspected her of being less than okay. The sad part was that even if Marinette did admit to it, she'd have no idea what she was admitting to.
Exhaustion? Days and nights spent fighting akuma would take its toll on anyone. And on top of that she had school, friends to hang out with, a crush to pursue, a bakery to help run, press appearances to make. The stress of her everyday life could kill a man twice her size.
But she was Ladybug, the only person in Paris with the power to purify the akuma.
She was Ladybug, and she worked alone.
Marinette hit the roof at full speed, knocking the breath out of her lungs. Her hands stung. Blood stained her costume where the Black Knight's blade had sliced open her palms. She lay atop the building, momentarily stunned, and stared at the churning void spreading across the Parisian sky. She had to get up. If she didn't, everyone would turn into the Knight's loyal subjects. She thought of her friends barricaded together in the building below, waiting for Ladybug to rescue them. No, she had to keep going. Even though it hurt, even though she was tired, even though she was outnumbered a hundred to one.
Because she was a hero—and if she didn't stand up, no one else would.
Marinette struggled back to her feet. Lucky Charm had produced a wind-up toy for her minutes ago, and she knew she had to get it between the Black Knight's armor. But she needed to distract him somehow.
A handful of knights climbed up to the roof and ran towards her. She leapt over their heads and took off towards their leader. Distraction. A distraction. Where to get a distraction?
Something grabbed her leg and Marinette screamed as she fell. A knight had her by the ankle. Several more scaled the building behind it. She kicked herself free and scrambled forward, wishing she had somewhere to hide. If she could just get a moment to think!
A loud crack drew her attention skyward. Something was happening to the Black Knight's flag. The pole supporting it rusted, corruption traveling up its length until it reached the fabric and unraveled it.
"What is the meaning of this?" the Knight demanded as the sinister void above Paris began to shrink.
Marinette had her opening.
She leapt up and threw the toy into the Knight's armor, caught his sword when it flew from his hand, and broke the blade on the concrete. The akuma fluttered from its shelter and she snatched it out of the air. "Bye bye, little butterfly," she whispered.
The Miraculous closed her bleeding wounds, repaired her costume, restored the citizens of Paris to their rightful selves, and left Adrien's fencing instructor standing confused on the roof. Marinette helped him to the ground, then dragged herself through an open window and released her transformation.
Her palms, though healed, were still sore. A bruise lingered on her ankle where the knight had grabbed her. Her back and shoulders screamed with every step she took, but she pressed on, casting thick shadows across patches of infernal sunlight.
Her classmates were removing the barricades from the door when she rejoined them. "Where have you been?" Chloe demanded, arching one perfectly waxed eyebrow. "Hiding in a closet somewhere?"
Marinette made her excuses. She got her diary back from Sabrina. When she was elected student council president, she smiled, promised what little she could.
And when she got home a while later, she dropped onto her chaise lounge and fell into a deep sleep.
A pair of glowing green eyes watched her from the foot of the lounge.
Night had come while she slept. Marinette stared back at the shadowy figure, unable to move. Was she dreaming? Was this sleep paralysis?
The eyes moved closer, bright within that solid mass of black. How odd. There was something almost sad about them.
Clawed fingers caressed her cheek. Lingered at the spot where the bruise went into her hairline.
The only thing that worked was her mouth. "Who…?"
She saw it lift her limp hand, so pale compared to its blackness. Saw it turn her hand over with a delicate touch.
Felt the shock of warm lips pressing into her palm.
"Who… who are you?" she whispered.
Lips moved soundlessly against her skin. Two syllables.
And she was alone again.
What Marinette wouldn't give for a rainy day. There weren't many people out on the streets as she walked to school, and she couldn't blame them; the sky was almost white. She hadn't been out there for more than two minutes and she was unbearably hot. She tried to catch a stranger's eye to share in their misery but their faces were all strangely out of focus, like she was looking at them through her peripheral vision.
When she got to class, it was half empty. Rose waved good morning. Chloe took a selfie, deleted it, then took another selfie. Max and Kim pointed at a comic book page and spoke in hushed voices. Alya's backpack sat on her desk but she was nowhere to be seen. Marinette frowned and checked the time. She knew she was early for once, but not that early.
A hand landed on her shoulder. "Marinette."
She gasped and spun around, coming face-to-chest with Adrien. "A-A-A-A—good morning!"
"Hey." His smile was as bright as the sun. "Alya told me your uncle's visiting from China next week and you're having trouble with some basic phrases."
Her uncle? Already? What day was it? "Yeah," Marinette said, ignoring the itchy feeling in her mind that something was off about that.
"If you want, I can help you. I've been taking private Chinese lessons for a few years now, and I don't mean to brag, but I think I'm pretty good."
Marinette's jaw went slack. "Really?" Adrien was offering to tutor her? Where the heck was Alya to capture this moment for posterity?
Adrien shrugged. "Sure. We're friends, aren't we?"
A knife of pain sliced through the back of Marinette's head. She stumbled, swayed, felt the room spinning under her feet. For a moment the classroom was full, all the missing students sitting in their usual seats. Then they were gone, and Adrien's hands were on her shoulders. "Marinette?" The green of his eyes filled her vision and Marinette became overwhelmed by fear.
Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong.
So you finally noticed, hmm?
She tried to speak, to reassure Adrien even as she felt her consciousness slip away.
"—pronunciation was almost perfect that time."
Marinette blinked. Adrien sat in front of her with a tray of chocolate chip cookies between them. She looked down. There was a half-eaten cookie in her hand. "Umm," she said.
Adrien picked up his own cookie and took a bite. "Don't worry, you're doing a lot better than I did when I started learning."
Something was slipping away from Marinette, dancing just out of her reach. She tried to remember how she got there. Her eyes traveled over the room and found it featureless. There was Adrien, the cookies, the table, herself, and faint lines suggesting the presence of surroundings. Everything else was white. "Shall we try it again?" Adrien asked.
His brow creased. "The phrase? The one we've been practicing for the past ten minutes?"
Recognition clicked and Marinette laughed out loud. "Oh, right! Sorry. I swear I'm paying attention. I mean, who wouldn't pay attention when they have you as a teacher? Uh, because you're a good teacher, not because you're handsome. But it's not like you're not handsome!" She shut her mouth and clenched her eyes shut. Smooth.
Adrien laughed. "Uh, thanks?"
Marinette's eyes snapped open.
"We'll recap the greetings later. You wanted useful questions, right?"
She nodded, but her attention drifted back to the featureless room.
Stay with me, Princess.
Adrien pointed to a Chinese phrase on her cell phone screen and read it out loud.
You don't remember how you got here, do you?
Marinette repeated the phrase distractedly. Nothing but white and faint lines everywhere, the ghosts of furniture, the heat that was too much for spring. Too much for summer. She didn't know how Adrien wasn't sweating through his clothes.
"That was good," he said.
Don't listen to him.
"Stop." Marinette's temple throbbed.
Adrien stopped. "Do you need me to slow down?"
The soft clink of something hitting the floor. A glint of light at the edge of her vision. Adrien hadn't so much as blinked at the sound, but Marinette sought the source of it, and her head hurt where the akuma had hit her, and she couldn't remember how she'd gotten to that featureless room or where it even was.
Her eyes landed on a black ring.
Marinette woke with a shuddering sob.
There was no Tikki, no ticking clock, no glaring sunlight and oppressive heat.
But she was in so much pain. The accumulated mass of all those akuma attacks seeped under her skin, infiltrated her bones, made it so that lifting her hands to cover her eyes was nothing but pure agony. And her head. Oh God, her head. It hurt to cry, but she couldn't stop. She was exhausted. She'd had enough. She couldn't do this alone.
"You're not alone, My Lady."
She answered through the lump in her throat. "Yes I am."
Her mattress sank to one side.
"How are you alone?"
Marinette sobbed quietly into her hands, feeling every hitch of breath in her battered ribs. "No one can stop the akuma but me."
A clawed finger wiped a stray tear from her chin. "Hmm, true." The gentleness in that voice only made her feel worse. "But that doesn't mean you're alone."
She shook her head slowly. "I can't do this by myself anymore."
"Aren't you listening, buginette? You don't have to." Warm skin brushed against her the back of her hand. A nose. A mouth. Tendrils of hair. "You've got me."
Marinette pushed herself up, threw her arms around his shoulders, and cried for all she was worth. She didn't care if she woke her parents. Her fingers grabbed whatever they could—the black suit, the blond hair at the back of his head—as she buried her face in the crook of his neck and wept with body-shaking force. He held onto her tight, rubbing her back in soothing circles. He whispered reassurances into her ear and she felt her pain begin to ebb as all her fear, her loneliness, and her doubts were replaced with sweet relief.
"Chat," she whispered.
"Yes, My Lady."
Her bedroom faded away. The night that surrounded them disappeared. They were suspended in oblivion together, but Marinette was no longer afraid, because she had him. She'd always had him.
And she always would.
Marinette came awake with a gasp. Sweat soaked her skin. She looked about wildly, chest heaving with every labored breath. A pair of wide green eyes were level with hers. Shock turning to joy. A huge smile and a pair of arms that pulled her into a black-clad chest. "My Lady!"
"Chat Noir?" She felt him trembling, he was so happy. What were they doing in the middle of the street in broad daylight?
He pulled away from her with a cry. "The akuma!"
His clawed hand pointed frantically at a black and purple butterfly taking to the blue sky. "The akuma!"
And suddenly she remembered everything. The possessed woman casting illusions on whoever that stepped into her path. Transforming into Ladybug and confronting the akuma victim. Chat appearing just in time to become a target. She'd thrown herself between him and the woman, and then…
What felt like days had only been a few minutes.
Marinette leapt to her feet and launched her yoyo at the akuma, catching it before it was out of reach. Once the purified butterfly had drifted away, she stood motionless on the sidewalk. Around her, civilians were coming to, all of them with similar panicked expressions. Without Lucky Charm she wouldn't be able to restore whatever damage Chat Noir might have caused in his pursuit of the akuma.
Chat. He hovered at a safe distance, regarding her with open concern. "Ladybug?"
Two nights later, Marinette crouched on a rooftop, her watchful eyes trained on the streets below. Things had been calm since the akuma attack, for which she was grateful. The weather was springtime cool. Her classmates carried on as usual. Only Alya seemed to notice her agitation, and ventured to ask if something had happened between her and Adrien because he seemed depressed as well.
A thump behind her announced Chat's arrival. "Well, well, if it isn't the Lady of my heart."
She didn't turn around. "How did you know I was out and about, chaton?"
"Call it intuition." False cheer in his voice masked his hesitation. "Whenever I sense my Lady out patrolling the city, I sleep like a baby knowing I'm in capable hands!"
She gave no response, and they lapsed into silence. The sounds of traffic came up from the street. A pair of drunken tourists staggered around, laughing far too loud. A television was on somewhere in the building they perched on. She heard Chat's footsteps come closer until his boots appeared in her field of vision. He sat beside her. "Ladybug, are you okay?"
Marinette was surprised at how quickly her eyes filled with tears. She turned her head away, wiping the drops off her mask. "Mmhmm."
"Please don't lie to me." She kept herself facing the other direction. Chat sighed. "Look, I didn't mean for you to get hit by the akuma's illusion. It's my job to watch your back and make sure you're safe so you can do the hero thing, and I let you down. I know that. I've been beating myself up about it for two days. I can't sleep, I can't eat, I just—I need you to know how sorry I am."
Marinette stared at him. His eyes were narrowed, pained.
"I was so scared," he said. "What happened if you didn't wake up? What if you were trapped in that illusion forever? How could I keep going without you?" He shook his head and let out a bitter laugh. "I can't do this alone, Ladybug. I can't—"
Marinette threw her arms around him.
He stiffened, his whole body tense with uncertainty, but she only pulled him towards her, holding onto him as tightly as she could. His arms slipped around her waist and he brought her closer. She felt his ear against her cheek, his hands flat on her back. Her heart gave several nervous starts. "Don't you ever leave me again," she whispered.
If her plea confused him, he didn't say so. He never asked for an explanation or bothered her about what she'd seen in the akuma's illusion. He merely nodded, and held her, safe and secure in his embrace until she was ready to let go. Marinette parted from him before long. She met his sober expression with a gentle smile and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. "Thank you, Chat. Good night."
She left him on the rooftop and swung through the city of Paris, light as a feather, completely reinvigorated.
For as long as there was a Chat Noir to her Ladybug, she could do anything.