A/N: We're getting close to the finish line, folks! Two more chapters after this :0

Heads up: this is an Action Chapter, and there are mentions of blood and injuries in the battle. It gets a little dark in some places.

(And one OC ended up being waaay better at evil than I expected. I'm proud of her but she scares me a little.)

Thanks for sticking with me, guys. Now, here's the chapter!


The hall was full of screaming, and Marinette was annoyed.

One night, on patrol, Cat joked he'd saved so many people from akumas, he could recognize his classmates by shriek. She'd shook her head and laughed him off—but honestly, Cat was right.

She knew the first shriek had been Chloe's, interrupting the first real conversation she'd had with Adrien all night. And she wanted to pretend she hadn't heard a thing.

But she couldn't. So she scowled and assessed the situation.

Two akumatized villains stood in a panicking crowd, laughing as people fought to escape. One had long hair, torn clothes, and a full face of white stage makeup; he held a guitar in his hands. Under the costume, Marinette recognized the singer she and Adrien had just talked to. The one who'd complained about Chloe.

The other villain was decked from headscarf to toe in shiny silver, with a cape to match. She was hovering, balanced on a giant silver platter like she was surfing the air, with a smaller silver plate in either hand.

It was Zahra, Marinette realized—the designer who'd been so friendly earlier in the night. She hadn't been happy with Chloe, either.

"First the girl mistakes me for a waitress," she'd sighed, "then—after I correct her—she yells for me to grab a tray. I'm sorry she's short-staffed, but I'm not her employee. She asked for a dress, and she got a dress. I am not here to serve her."

As Marinette watched, Zahra hurled the smaller plates in her hands like Frisbees and sliced a chunk out of a decorative tree; the trunk bent dangerously, and seconds later the tree toppled in a crash of branches and dirt.

Zahra laughed. She made a grand, sweeping gesture with one arm, conjuring an armada of flying forks that embedded themselves in the trunk.

Marinette turned to their other opponent.

The punk rocker was standing on a table top, strumming. He hit a chord and pointed his guitar at a party guest; glowing sound waves flowed over them, turning their fancy suit ragged and ripped. Dark makeup appeared on their cheeks in slashes, and their hair stood on end. They scowled at the delicate glass in their hand and hurled it to the ground.

As she watched, five more guests were transformed by the sound waves. As one, they howled like a jilted crowd.

And there, in the middle of it all, stood Chloe.

Marinette slapped a palm to her forehead.

Okay, she told herself. It won't be that bad. Tikki was curled in her jacket pocket; she just had to find a quiet place to transform and get this battle over with. Ten minutes, tops. Then back to chatting with—

She heard a quiet curse beside her and remembered who was standing there.

Adrien was scanning the room with a furrowed brow. He was calmer than she would've expected—calmer than the other civilians in the room. She should not be impressed by that.

She had to get away from him, darn it. She had to transform!

"Adrien—"she said.

His hand found hers and squeezed. Her stomach flipped.

"They're blocking the doors," Adrien said, nodding at the chaos in front of them. "We have to find somewhere hide."

Just like that, she knew what to do.

Marinette tugged once on their intertwined hands to get Adrien's attention. When he met her eyes, curious, she nodded toward the stage at the back of the room. It was the farthest they could get from the exits, but also farthest from the fight, with curtains on either side that could easily hide them both.

Adrien followed her gaze and nodded. "Good plan."

They moved half hunched over, darting from tree to tree for cover. The villains seemed too busy wreaking havoc to notice them.

The long, heavy curtains hung on the walls on either side of the temporary stage, framing a drum set and a lonely microphone; the band hadn't finished setting up before things went south.

Marinette pushed one curtain aside, checking over her shoulder before peering behind it. "Alright. You take this one." She stepped back. "I'll take the other one."

Adrien frowned. "We could both fit—" he began, but Marinette was already moving.

She slipped out of sight and nudged her pocket; Tikki burst out in a flash of red.

"Are you ready?" she asked.

Marinette sighed. "Ready for this to be over."

. . .

The floor was slippery with spilled drinks and littered with food and broken glass. Ladybug crouched among the debris, tucked behind an overturned table.

She mentally reviewed the situation: two enemies to watch out for, brainwashed guests, and a room full of panicked civilians left to protect—and no good places to hook her yoyo. She'd fight on foot while Zahra flew.

This wasn't going to be easy.

"Looks like double trouble, my lady." Cat landed in a crouch beside her, eyes shining with mischief.

Despite it all, she felt herself smile.

You like him, a voice in her brain sing-songed.

I know, she told it. Shut up.

"We should save Lucky Charm and Cataclysm until the end today," she said—straight to business. "Or until we've got one akuma down. It's two on one if someone detransforms."

Cat nodded and rolled his shoulders. "What are we busting up? Her hover-tray thing?"

"And his guitar, I think."

"I call the guitar!" Cat mimed slamming it against the ground. "Always wanted to try that."

She shook her head, fighting a laugh. "We'll see about—"

"My dress!"

They both spun in time to see Chloe stalk up to not one, but two supervillains, hands balled into fists at her side and cider dripping down her front.

Zahra exchanged a glance with Guitar Guy, then turned back to Chloe. "That'll come out with a good wash," she told her, lifting a hand just as one of her plates boomeranged back. She caught it neatly, lips curling at the edges. "I'd worry more about bloodstains."

The plate flashed silver as it sliced through the air.

Ladybug leapt to her feet and broke into a run, Cat hot on her heels. They wouldn't make it in time, she realized; Ladybug fumbled for her yoyo and hurled, still sprinting. It smacked the plate with a metallic clang, knocking it off course just enough to miss Chloe by inches.

The villains turned as one.

"Ladybug! Cat Noir!" Zahra clapped her hands together. "So nice of you to join us."

"Welcome to the party!" The rocker strummed a chord. His glowing soundwaves hit another guest; her red gown morphed into something dark and tattered.

Cat eyed it with distaste. "Look, your music is fine, but those clothes are claw-ful. Are you Goth or punk or just a train wreck?" He shook his head.

In response, the man's fingers flew; the newly-turned woman and a crowd of tattered party guests lurched toward Cat like zombies.

"Fashion victims," Cat muttered. He locked eyes with Ladybug, then snapped out his baton and vaulted over the mob—and away from her and Chloe. "Too slow!" he quipped, tail flicking behind him.

The rocker growled, focusing his attention on Cat—just as Cat wanted him to. With one enemy distracted, Ladybug could focus on protecting Chloe.

As if on cue, she hiked up her skirts and darted behind Ladybug. "Thank god you're here!" she gasped. "My hired help is trying to kill me!"

"Not kill—just teaching you a lesson," the hired help said. Her once-reassuring voice was sharp and cold. "I'll need your Miraculous later, Ladybug. But now, be a dear and move."

Ladybug met her eyes behind her silver mask and exhaled slowly. Evillustrator had still been himself, kind of. Maybe she could reason with Zahra.

"Let's talk," Ladybug said, holding up her hands in a soothing gesture. "You're a good person, Zahra. You don't have to do this."

"I'm Silver Server." The girl laughed. "And I want to!"

"Are you sure, though? Really sure?"

"That menace made five waiters cry. I want to see her bleed."

Ladybug nodded slowly. Then she hauled Chloe up by the arm. "Run."

They ran—sort of. It was slow and stumbling, her half-dragging Chloe every step.

"Can't you go any faster?" she said.

Chloe spluttered. "In these shoes?"

Her gaze darted to Chloe's high heels, then back up—just in time to see a silver plate flying. It was an arm's length away when she chucked her yoyo, hitting her target with another loud clang.

The plate missed, barely. The yoyo bounced back with the force of a meteor and smacked Ladybug in the face.

"Take the shoes off, Chloe!" she snapped, muffled as she clutched her throbbing nose. Something warm and wet trickled down her chin, and tears blurred her vision. "I swear I'm going to save you even if you don't deserve it, but you need to help me out here or we're dead!"

Chloe blinked, her face pale—then kicked the heels off one after another. She mumbled a word Ladybug never, ever thought she'd hear from Chloe Bourgeois: "Sorry."

"Good." Ladybug grabbed Chloe by the wrist and pulled her into a sprint. She'd have to process this later.

She kept an eye on the sky as they went, yoyo in hand to deflect the plates of death. She thought about spinning it above their heads for a larger plate shield—but what if they cut through the string? The yoyo hadn't failed her before, but she didn't want to risk it. And it took time for the plates to return to Zahra, so there was only ever one spinning toward them at a time. She could handle that.

Suddenly Chloe stumbled, inhaling sharply.

"What now?" They couldn't keep stopping like this.

"Glass," Chloe gasped, "I—I stepped on—"

There was red on the floor.

Her mind raced. She couldn't defend them with her yoyo if she was carrying Chloe—but she couldn't expect her to walk like this.

But they were so close to the door.

"Can you make it?" Ladybug asked.

The unspoken truth hung heavily between them: everything would be fixed after Miraculous Ladybug—but until then, it would hurt like a bitch.

Chloe set her jaw. "Can't be worse than the heels."

In the end, Ladybug had to carry her last few yards—but they almost made it out.

Then Zahra let out a yell and loosed a rain of silver dishes, plates and forks and knives whistling through the air like missiles.

They dove for safety. A fork nicked Chloe's flailing hand; a knife kissed Ladybug's shoulder. She practically hurled Chloe out the door, gritting her teeth as her new scratch stung. But as the last few dishes clattered to the floor, Chloe was out.

And her nose had stopped bleeding. Point, Ladybug.

She looked over her shoulder and took in the scene: the only people left inside were akumatized, hypnotized, or cracking puns as they vaulted out of danger. She snatched up two discarded coats and some dishes and jammed the doors, using the coats to protect her hands from the razor edges. If the villains chased after Chloe and disappeared into the city, it would take forever to hunt them down—time she refused to waste tonight.

No one was leaving this room until they were through.

Ladybug heard a yelp behind her and spun. "Cat? You alright?"

Cat was playing tug-of-war with hypnotized guest who had a death grip on his tail. " Purr-fect, my lady!" he hollered back. Yanking his tail free, Cat vaulted out of the mob's reach, landing effortlessly on his feet. He waggled a finger at them. "No touching the tail."

Yeah, Cat was fine.

But she'd been distracted too long.

She saw a blur of silver from the corner of her eye and jumped; a silver plate sliced the air beside her. It wheeled around and headed for the girl hovering just over her head.

"Why did you help Chloe leave?" Zahra sighed. "I'll find her later. Now I have to deal with you first." The plate slid into her waiting hand.

Ladybug scrambled back, putting distance between them—then her foot found a satin tablecloth. She slipped, arms pinwheeling.

There was no time to think. She launched into an awkward backward somersault and came up in a crouch, arms thrown up to shield her face.

And the plate she'd known was coming bit deep into her forearm.

She swore, voice cracking halfway through.

"Ladybug!" Cat shouted. "You okay?"

"Purr-fect!" she gritted.

"So that's a 'no'?"

A shadow fell over her head before she could reply. Ladybug squinted up and saw silver. She was so sick of that color.

"I held back. You're welcome."

"Gee, thanks."

Zahra dropped to a crouch on her hovering tray, arms dangling loosely over her knees. "This isn't personal, you know," she said. "I want Bourgeois. So be a dear and give me your Miraculous before I make it personal."

"No."

"Aw, pretty please?"

Ladybug glared.

"Rats." She straightened up. "But I gave you a chance. Remember that." Both plates fell into her waiting hands, and she drew back to throw.

Time seemed to slow for Ladybug. She heard Tikki calling her name.

Then an electric guitar came spinning through the air, colliding with Zahra and knocking her to the ground. The tray remained airborne, bobbing like a balloon, but the broken instrument crashed at Ladybug's feet. From the massive crack down its middle, a shadowy butterfly emerged.

She trapped it in her yoyo before she even got up, purifying the akuma with a sigh of relief. Cat always had her back.

Experimentally, Ladybug threw her yoyo at the floating tray; it bounced off harmlessly. She filed the information away for later. They'd need Cataclysm to break it—and a way to pull it closer.

She hurried over to Cat's side of the room; he was directing confused guests and an equally confused singer in building a table barricade, which he ushered them into with a firm gesture.

"Nice work, Cat! Got him all by yourself."

Cat spun around. His hair was a mess; three thin scratches ran down his cheek.

"Are you hurt?" he asked. He looked worriedly at the drying blood on her face and the still-dripping wounds on her arm.

"'M fine." Ladybug frowned. Blood red clashed annoyingly with the red of her suit.

"Don't 'fine' me." Cat glared. "You look terrible!"

"Blame Chloe," she said. Cat wasn't amused. "Look, are you asking if it hurts? It does." Her face throbbed, and pain struck like lightning whenever she moved her arm. "But we've got one more akuma to go, and I can still fight. And it'll all be fixed in the end, right?"

Cat narrowed his eyes. They both knew as long as she used Miraculous Ladybug, everything would go back to normal. Good as new.

They both knew that didn't make it hurt less now. Or erase the memories. She'd had enough day-after nightmares to know: trapped in a giant bubble, running out of air; sawn in half by a crazed magician; buried alive on Halloween night. They didn't talk about it much, but she knew Cat was the same.

But he knew what they had to do.

"Yeah. Just—yell if you run into trouble." He fixed her with a stern look.

"Will do." Unless it was trouble Cat could throw himself in front of. "Now, let's wrap this up." She moved back a half-step. "Lucky Charm!"

A U-shaped magnet the size of a dinner plate dropped into her hands. It was surprisingly heavy.

"Pretty obvious what that's for," Cat said.

"But how strong is it?" Ladybug held it high above a stray fork, left on the floor from an earlier attack; it sat motionless until the magnet was about a foot away, snapped up and stuck with a quiet clink. She tugged it off with some effort and tossed the fork away. "I'll need to get it close enough to stick."

Just then, a shadow passed over their heads; Zahra was in the air again.

They snapped into ready stances.

"You had to make it personal." Zahra raised her hands, holding her plates out flat and facing skyward.

Every fork, knife, and dish lying scattered on the floor began to shudder, filling the room with a thunderous clatter. They rose into the air and began to whirl, forming a tornado of silver around her.

Ladybug felt the dread in her stomach. "Cat!"

"The tables!" he yelled. They leapt into the table fort as Zahra waved like a conductor, sending metal flying in every direction. Dishes pounded against their barricade, sinking so deep into the wood metal tips poked through the other side. The guests huddled behind them, flinching at each impact. Then, gradually, the sound of thuds and crashes died off, and the hall was dead silent.

Ladybug and Cat exchanged a look.

"On three?"

"Three."

Ladybug counted, her voice low. Then they burst from the shelter, baton and yoyo ready. They took in the massacre at a glance: every surface had a silver something embedded in it—most had two or three somethings.

The damage was catastrophic, Ladybug thought. Then she cringed and looked at Cat, half-expecting him to sense the pun.

He was staring at the far end of the room, at the stage and the curtains around it. The curtains she and Adrien had hidden behind.

Ladybug felt a flash of terror— how had she forgottenAdrien was here?—but his side was miraculously untouched. She exhaled shakily, thanking every scrap of luck she had.

But the other curtain was shredded.

"Marinette!"

She jumped.

Cat had a face like his heart was torn in two. "She was behind there!" he told Ladybug. "And now it's—she—"

It was déjà vu in the worst way.

She grabbed Cat by the shoulders and squeezed. "Marinette is fine. She's not even there, see?"

"But where is she?"

Oh. "I—saw her run out?" Ladybug tried. The lie sounded hollow, even to her.

Cat shook his head. "There's nowhere to run!" He stepped back, jerking out of her hold. "We have to go look for her—"

"No!" She couldn't do this again. "I have four minutes before I turn back, Cat." She caught his gaze with hers and refused to look away. "Everything'll be fine once we purify this akuma, and I can't do it alone. Please."

Cat's mouth pulled tight, and she braced herself—but he stopped arguing. "Do you have a plan?"

Relief turned her knees to jelly. "I'll take care of the magnet part, but I need you to Cataclysm the tray first. Otherwise we won't be able to break it."

"Got it," he mumbled. He glanced around for the girl in silver and broke into a sprint.

Then he slipped on a stupid tablecloth.

"Cat—"

"I've got it." He scrambled to his feet.

"Cat, behind you!"

Cat spun around, baton already out. He swung it with both hands, like a baseball bat, and both silver plates fell out of the air—dented beyond repair. They hit the floor and stayed there.

She exhaled in a rush. "Nice."

Cat almost smiled. Then he looked up, searching for his next target. "Let's end this."

"Wait!" Zahra's tray swerved and descended, stopping in the air right in front of Cat. "You were talking about Marinette? I can tell you what happened to her."

"What?" said Cat.

"What?" said Ladybug.

She forced herself to relax. No one knew Ladybug's secret identity—right?

"She was the one in the pretty suit." Zahra spoke quickly. "I remember her."

Ladybug shifted on her feet. "We're not interested in anything you have to say. Right, Cat?"

He didn't respond.

"I think your kitty's interested," Zahra said.

"He's not." But Cat still said nothing.

Zahra smiled. "If you say so. But it's a shame, what happened to that girl."

Cat hissed. "What did you do?" His eyes burned like green fire.

"Don't get me wrong—I had nothing against her! Some people just get caught in the crossfire." She shrugged. "I was aiming somewhere else, but..." She drew a slash across her stomach with her finger.

Cat's face went utterly blank.

She'd never seen him like this before.

"Cat, come on. She's making this up." Ladybug stepped forward, ready to march over and shake sense into him.

A line of knives hit the ground at her feet. "Stay where you are," Zahra told her.

Ladybug glared. "I know you're lying."

"Prove it, Bug." She turned to Cat. "At first she almost looked surprised. Seeing all that red on her shirt. Then the pain finally hit, and she just… dropped."

Cat's grip on his baton tightened.

"She's lying, Cat!" Ladybug yelled. Her fists clenched. "Trust me!"

That wrenched his gaze away. "I do," he said. " I just—" His voice cracked and fell to a whisper. "I can't get it out of my head."

She hated seeing him like this—but she couldn't save him from his thoughts, because she had no proof.

Unless.

Fear gripped her throat as the idea formed. She couldn't. It would change everything. Her logical side screamed about strategy, duty, consequences

"Marinette was all alone, hurt, and no one helped her. You didn't help." Zahra's voice was soft. "Imagine how scared she felt."

The baton fell from Cat's hands and hit the ground with a thunk.

Screw the consequences.

"Cat." Ladybug took a breath. She felt calm, somehow—like she'd gone so deep into anger and fear she'd come out on the other side.

She took her yoyo in one hand, magnet in her other, and knotted the end of the yoyo's string around it. Then she pulled, yoyo spinning in her palm as she unwound it.

"What are you doing?" Zahra said.

Ladybug ignored her. "Cat," she said again; he lifted his head, eyes unseeing. "Look. You said you trust me—and I trust you, too. So…" She took a shuddering breath. "Remember when I dumped a watering can on your head?"

Her partner blinked. "You—what?"

Zahra frowned, glancing between the two.

"You gave me a doorstop. I gave you a blanket. We talked and argued and fought and laughed. And I'm glad you kept coming around, Cat, because even when we don't do anything, your visits are the best part of my day."

She'd never seen him make this face either.

She thought she might be shaking, but refused to let it stop her. "I guess what I'm saying is—Marinette's fine. Trust me." She tried a smile, though it wobbled at the edges. "Can we finish this fight already?"

In answer, Cat started running. He launched himself into the air, claws out.

"What—?" Zahra said.

"Cataclysm!"

Rust red spread across the metal. Cat snagged the edge with one hand on his way down, flipping the tray over. He and Zahra plummeted to the ground.

Ladybug threw the magnet across the room, wincing as her wounded arm protested. The magnet hit the tray with a clank and stuck, string trailing from it like fishing line.

Cat had Zahra grappled on the floor. He pinned down her arms; she aimed a kick at his gut.

Ladybug reeled in the tray with quick, careful tugs. Then she grabbed it with both hands and smashed it on the ground.

Her earrings beeped—time was almost up.

The akuma fluttered out almost lazily; she snapped it up in her yoyo and washed the evil from its wings. Without wasting a second, she tossed the magnet high and called, "Miraculous Ladybug!"

The air exploded with pink light.

Glass and food was swept from the floor. Tables righted themselves. All around the room things sprang back together, transforming the battlefield into a glittering party.

The few guests who'd been hiding laughed and cheered.

Gingerly, Ladybug stretched out her arm. She knew it was healed, but still felt a phantom twinge; her brain needed a second to process that the wounds were magically gone. Everything was back to normal.

Except it wasn't.

Cat sat next to a now-normal Zahra, who was clutching her head with equal parts confusion and horror. He looked up and met Ladybug's eyes.

It was time for her to face the consequences.

Ladybug turned and fled.