"Stop with the secrets. Who do you want to give this book to?"
"We have to bring it to the Grand Guardian. And I think it's time for you to finally meet him, Marinette..."
The words were still ringing in her head as she headed through the streets with discrete directions given from her purse. She clutched at the weighty book in her hands the entire way. Tikki's words had her nerves going haywire and she felt very odd going to someone that supposedly knew who she was. She had tried so hard since mysteriously receiving the earrings to keep her identity a secret from everyone and now someone knew who she was. But...the Grand Guardian would know, wouldn't he? If he had been watching over the miraculous stones of both Chat Noir and Ladybug, she should feel less nervous at doing this than she currently was.
She stopped in front of a wooden door and knocked. There was no noise from inside and she decided to enter. Her heart was beating faster than she wanted it to as she peeked in on the person who was responsible for making her life turn upside-down. Her eyes widened when she saw an elderly Asian man sitting by himself in a room, merely meditating. He looked asleep and she was hesitant to interrupt in case he was doing something important, but he looked up and met her eyes. He didn't seem surprised to see her here and she wondered at that.
Her nerves scrambled, but curiosity won over when Tikki immediately headed into the room. Her feet moved on their own as she quickly strode inside, book still tightly in her arms. She didn't stop until she was directly in front of the mat he was sitting on. She stared down at him in the silence, feeling her heart thunder in her chest.
He was the old man that she helped cross the street not that long ago on her first day of school! She couldn't forget that because she had lost half a box of macaroons that her father so graciously made for her to share with the class. She never remembered him slipping anything into her bag before they parted; in fact, the earrings had shown up in her room in front of her. How had he managed to get them there without her or her parents' knowledge?
It suddenly dawned on her that she had been in this exact same room when Tikki was sick not too long ago. He had healed Tikki and Tikki had known about him. So...he was both a Guardian and a healer of kwami? None of it made sense and her head was starting to hurt by how quickly she was trying to process the whole thing!
She jumped when the door quietly closed on itself and whirled to it. She turned back to the Guardian with a gasp, feeling incredibly outside of the situation with no way to grasp any comprehension of it. Her mind was going a million miles a minute in attempt to piece any of this together.
"No need to be so nervous Ladybug. Please, have a seat."
She followed the trail of his hand in extension to the large mat he was in the middle of. It took a second for her brain to catch up to his words and actions. She quickly slipped from her shoes and plopped on the mat, somewhat grateful to have a solid surface to sit on. This was too much and she hadn't even spoken with the elderly man yet!
He gave a small smile and nodded to her. He then looked to Tikki with a smile and exchanged courteous words of seeing her again after so long and glad she was in better health this time around. He asked Tikki how her new charge was doing and Tikki happily responded that he had chosen wisely this time around.
She watched the pleasantries, sitting ramrod straight. She felt on emotional overload and didn't know what to start feeling first. There was a sense of calm radiated from the man and she felt it was okay to trust him, considering he knew her alter ego. Still, she couldn't push words out if she tried. She had so many questions and concerns about everything that had happened since she received the earrings, but they jumbled in her head and demanded to be let out all at once.
The elderly man's eyes looked to the book and lit up. "Ah! You have it." He reached a hand out and she pushed it across the mat to him. He took it with a look of relief and happiness and she now knew why Tikki said to bring it to him. Something told her that he had been waiting for this book for a long time. "Where did you find it, I wonder?"
Her mouth opened to automatically answer the question, but she clamped it shut. In no way did she plan on ratting out Adrien...so how did she explain that she all of a sudden found him with it at her school library? "A – ah...well...um...the thing is...you see -"
Tikki floated into her vision and stood on the book still in the man's arms. "We brought it back for you Master Fu." She beamed. "It was in possession of a classmate."
Master Fu's brows went up. "Hmm...classmate you say?" His eyes narrowed as he looked to the book. He was silent for the longest time before finally looking up to meet her eyes. "I understand now. It makes sense. I can see how it ended up here in Paris. Yes...I bet he had it on him when they left."
Her brow went up. "He? Excuse me...how did a – a classmate of mine have this book?"
Fu sighed and put the book gently next to him before looking to her again. "It's a very long story Ladybug."
"Marinette." She butt in.
"And I'm Master Fu." He nodded with a small smile. "I have been looking for this book for many years." A hand lightly padded the thick cover. "I have crossed western China and all of Europe in search of this. Many years ago, I came across a young couple vacationing in my homeland of Tibet. During their trip, I bestowed a miraculous to the beautiful woman of the couple who showed worthy traits such as you have shown me. She helped fight an evil when she was there and she was of great benefit to the people. When they went to head home, I told her to keep it and use it for good in her homeland, though she should tell no one about it. I had no idea that the young man would take my book or why he would do so. I imagine he must have somehow found out before they left, but he gave no indication of knowing. I only guessed at where they may be in the world going by the language they spoke and started my search."
A hand went to her head. "This is so much to follow...Was it the Ladybug miraculous?"
Fu shook his head. "No. The Ladybug and Chat Noir miraculous are the more powerful of all miraculous stones and those have always been guarded with utmost care. There are a total of seven miraculous powers and they all do something different. What I gave the woman was the peacock miraculous." He sighed. "It is still missing. Although...if she had it, I imagine it may be in his possession along with the butterfly miraculous."
She watched the elderly man stroke his beard, looking outwardly forlorn and sad over something she was still not privy to. She leaned in, curiosity burning against her better judgment not to pry when something hit her at his words. "Butterfly...miraculous?" Her fists clenched. "You mean to tell me...that the person Chat Noir and I have been fighting so hard against...is a miraculous user?!"
Master Fu sighed. "The stones were created to fight against evil, but they can be used for evil as well if the person's heart is corrupted by something..."
She suddenly looked to Tikki who floated just to the side of them. Sweet, helpful Tikki who had tried to guide her in so many ways of life outside of fighting evil. She could never see someone as good as her kwami ever being used for horrible purposes. And, Chat Noir? She had seen him turn to evil and been used for evil purposes, although the doll issue was probably her fault, but he was still good inside! Even if her powers were creation and his were destruction, he never used it for bad!
Tikki gave a sympathetic smile, as if reading her mind. "There must always be a balance in the world Marinette. One cannot have good without bad. That is why Master Fu chooses miraculous holders with care."
"Oooookaaaaay...so whoever has the butterfly miraculous had your book. This person also has the peacock miraculous. Why did you give it to that person if it was only going to be used for evil?"
Master Fu shook his head. "I believed the butterfly miraculous to be lost forever, just like the peacock miraculous. Now, after getting the book back, I believe that he stole the butterfly miraculous from me somehow, along with the book. They were the only ones I bestowed anything to since that time and they have always been the prime suspects in my search."
She looked to the room, trying to take all this in. There was a sudden sense of unease when a thought struck her. "You gave me the Ladybug miraculous so that I could take back the other two? How? Neither of us have any idea where he is!"
"I did choose you and Chat Noir to fight against the evil radiating from the butterfly miraculous. You must retrieve the miraculous stone for me at all costs."
"Which is something I never understood!" Her fists clenched as she remembered day one. The uncertainty, the fear, the despair... "Why ME? Why not any other person in Paris? I'm just a nobody! There are better people out there who I'm friends with that would have jumped at the chance to have super powers!"
The elderly man smiled. "You proved your worth that day you stood in front of traffic, risking your life without a second thought, to help me. Your bravery and compassion shone for you. Your deeds as Ladybug since that day have proved you are fit to take such a power and use it wisely. Your worry and concern over Tikki when you brought her to me, risking exposing your identity, has shown me how much you have taken this all to heart."
She managed a sheepish smile at the praise, eyes darting to Tikki. Her kwami had said so many similar things to her since their initial meeting. Despite how often she thought herself a klutz and bad luck, all their positive words were true. Deep down, she knew this, though her clumsiness always tried to get the better of her. She looked to the mat, mind working again. "So...how am I supposed to take the butterfly miraculous away? Am I supposed to purify it? I've never done the actual stone before..."
"I will be able to purify the evil once you bring the miraculous to me. If you're lucky, you shouldn't have to be too confrontational about it though... I think Chat Noir may have an easier time getting the miraculous back for us." A hand stroked his beard again. "Although, he has to be extremely sneaky about it...even for Chat Noir."
Her brow furrowed at a huge wave of confusion from his words. "Ugh...you're not making sense again!" Fingers rubbed at the bridge of her nose. "Why would Chat Noir be able to get a miraculous for us without my help? Aren't I the one to be able to save them?"
Master Fu smiled. "The butterfly miraculous has always been closer than you think. It's actually at his house."
A brow shot into her bangs. "Huh?! Chat Noir's house? Of his real self? How would he not notice that?!"
"How could Butterfly not notice Chat Noir this whole time?"
She heaved a sigh, head shaking at so many roundabout questions and scenarios. "How do you know all this? If you gave Chat his miraculous, why not tell him at the time?"
"I never personally gave either of you your miraculous stones. I left them in both of your rooms for you to find when the time was right."
She blinked. That explained a few things, but... What was that strange feeling worming its way from the back of her mind? "You've...been to Chat Noir's house?" Was that her voice?
Matser Fu nodded. "Quite the impressive place." A hand idly stroked his beard. "I personally selected both of you after careful consideration and checked on you two one rainy afternoon to verify my decision.I still agree with my kwami in that you two are made for each other. Never could there have been a better pair of Ladybug and Chat Noir."
Her mouth slowly opened against her will. "You've...seen...Chat Noir...?" What were these words escaping her?! No! She had always tried to keep her identity secret! A huge part of her also didn't want to know! Tikki had said no one could know she was Ladybug; why would she want to know who Chat was in real life? She didn't care; it was his thing! He was merely her partner; the other half who helped her in battle! It was too risky to know who he was because she just knew she'd let it slip out unintentionally and create more problems for them somewhere in the future!
So why was her heart beating so fast? Why was she leaning in closer to him?
"He looks very much like his mother." The elderly man mused. "I can still somewhat remember her face; her hair was the color of the sun. It was very striking and hard to forget when I first saw her. He has the same color and it was quite a startling similarity."
Something poked all the nerves up her spine and made her shiver heavily. Her tongue moved with difficulty. Somehow, she looked to Tikki with labored movement. "The...book..." Hair the color of the sun...? Chat...had hair the color of the sun...so did someone else she knew...in her class...
The elderly man stared at her and stroked his beard slowly. "He goes to your school. " He slowly stood and walked over to a record player. After pressing a few secret buttons, the player revealed a box of obvious Asian decor. Master Fu opened the box and turned her way. "Come, I must show you somewhat how they look like so you'll be able to aim for them when you go to retrieve them."
Despite the fog and the memories running rampant through her brain, she stood and mechanically walked over to him. She looked down at two trinkets that were still resting, along with three colored felt patches which were empty. In the center was a yin yang design, colored with Ladybug spots and a cat's paw. Her brow rose a little when she spotted what looked like Lila's necklace, though a little different. Questions burned in her brain as to how Lila had such a similar-looking piece of jewelry if she hadn't been given the miraculous yet. She bypassed that for the other spots that were empty and stared at them in wonder. There was a sense of power barely radiating from the box and it knocked her to her senses a bit.
Fu reached out and a finger stopped at the blue felt, eyes on her. "The peacock miraculous looks very much like a peacock's feathers in full bloom." His hand moved to the purple patch next. "The butterfly miraculous looks like a butterfly in flight. They are two of the more recognizable miraculous stones which were created. I need you to give this information to Chat Noir so he can search his house."
"If you were there, why didn't you look for them yourself?"
"An old man like me wouldn't have had sufficient time to search a house the size of Chat Noir's before getting caught, let alone win a battle against Butterfly at my age. Butterfly won't let his miraculous out of his sight either; battle will ensue for you both. This is why Chat Noir would have to be extra careful if he were to retrieve it. The peacock miraculous may be easier to find than the butterfly miraculous if it's merely being kept somewhere, but there are too many people there for me to sufficiently sneak around."
She idly nodded, though the extra information wasn't helping her emotional well-being. "Why tell me so much? I thought our identities couldn't be revealed to anyone! Tikki said so..." She slowly backed a step from him, heart in a panic. She mentally chanted that such a thing wasn't true. How many sun-colored haired boys lived in Paris?!
But how many of them were her classmates?
Master Fu shut the box and it went back into hiding underneath the record player. He turned to her and looked up into her eyes. "Ladybug and Chat Noir are a team. Two halves of one whole. Creation and destruction. You cannot defeat evil by yourselves. You must place a great sense of trust and faith in the other. I confirmed this from you both that day in the rain when I saw your actions toward each other."
"But...I don't...want to know who he is..." She heard herself say. "I...don't care..."
A hand reached out and patted her arm lightly with a soft smile. "I gave you this information to aide you in your journey together. Knowing his true identity is inevitable with the miraculous stones being in his house. I know you won't use this information for evil purposes. I know you'll keep his identity safe."
That wasn't the point! As Ladybug, she knew she'd save Chat without a moment's thought. Some part of her called upon her to do it without a second's hesitation, even though she had no idea who Chat really was deep down. The second she first crashed into him, she felt that he was on her side. Perhaps it was the ghost of memories from all the previous Ladybug heroes and heroines embedded in the earrings?
She felt oddly outside of herself in the quiet of the room after having learned so much. She couldn't believe that an entire family had somehow managed to get a hold of three of the seven miraculous stones! Two used for good, and one was being used for evil. She stared at the window unblinking, mind whirling at speeds that she thought were impossible. Not even when doing battle did she ever try to think this fast! One thing popped into her head and she blurted it out before she could think. "What happened to the woman who had the peacock miraculous?" Master Fu looked truly forlorn and regretful and she immediately felt bad for having ever asked such a question simply from the look on his face.
He looked away, hand stroking his beard again. He was quiet for what seemed the longest time before giving a sigh that spoke volumes. "I have only made one mistake in my life. I refused to make another one when I gave the Ladybug and Chat Noir stones to you both. That's why I checked up on you that day. I wanted to make sure I was right."
She knew from his cryptic answer that something terrible must had happened. She wanted to pry and get more information but some unseen weight seemed to pull him down and she couldn't bring herself to ask any more.
She stared at the mat where the book was still sitting. One book had caused such chaos to her mind and her emotions in the span of perhaps an hour or so. She had been given this information to carry and treasure and utilize as she needed. It was so like a Lucky Charm in so many ways because she still had no idea where to go from here and there were still so many questions left mostly unanswered.
And some answers to which she wished to leave as questions.
"Wait! I won't tell anyone who you are!"
"No one can know who we really are...not even us two."
A hand clenched, nails digging into her skin. Her jaw flexed so tightly at his words and how she had never wanted to know. She could have been content for the rest of her time as Ladybug to never learn such truths! She only needed to know how to beat Butterfly, even if it seemed that it would hurt Chat Noir in the process. "Tikki...I...I need to go..." The weight of her own voice felt foreign in her ears. Her steps carried a strange balance and she almost worried she would collapse on the floor before she could leave. She slowly headed to the door and only paused to look back once she was in the doorway. "Master Fu...I..."
The elderly man held up a hand. "You'll know what to do when the time is right."
Did he mean during the fight? How to handle approaching battle? Talking to Chat? She could only nod and kept the door open long enough for Tikki to fly through it before she quietly clicked it closed. She held her purse up for Tikki to hide in and then started on her way back to the outside. The normal world and afternoon air felt strange. She looked around at all the people passing by, whose lives were so different than her own. Simpler, more carefree. She leaned against the entrance door, hands covering her face with a sigh and not caring who saw her.
"Tikki..." She mumbled behind the safety of her trembling digits. "I can't...I can't do it... I can't face him now... What am I supposed to do?" She helplessly stared at the sky, tears lining her eyes. She frantically blinked them back, but they stuck to her lashes and refused to go away.
"It'll be okay Marinette. You just need some time to process all this information. The Master Fu gave you so much in such a short time."
Her head subtly shook, negating her kwami. "I'm not worried about the miraculous stones... I'm worried about HIM."
"Well, erm, with a mask and a costume...don't you think he kinda looks like Chat Noir?"
"Have you lost your mind or what? He has way more class than this Chat Noir!"
Her teeth grit.
"Adrien will wear your bowler hat during our next publicity campaign."
"Achoo! Sorry...I'm allergic to feathers."
Her hands clenched to fists.
"Chat Noir! She's taken Adrien!"
"It's another illusion."
"And how would you know?"
"Ah...well...my nose is telling me! And it's legendary!"
Her fists shook, shoulders following.
"I'm going to make a last round of the place to find Nino's friend."
"Not necessary, he probably got hypnotized."
"But he's my bud!"
"Oh yea, that's right. He probably managed to hide. I'll help you look for him."
Tears clouded her vision.
"Your hair is jet black and your eyes blue as the skies. I wonder who you are behind this mysterious disguise. I see you everyday and I would like you to give me a sign. I'll love you until the end of my days, will you be my Valentine?"
She exhaled a shuddery breath and suddenly took off in a dead run, panicked that someone she knew might find her like this when she had no ability to explain the chaos of her emotions. There was no one she could tell this to! Hands covered her face as she stumbled through the streets.
Oh god, it had been so obvious had she just taken the time to stop and see the signs! She never bothered to connect the mass amount of dots in front of her because she had never wanted to know! She had never been interested and had tried to respect his identity as much as she was trying to keep hers private despite his insistence. Now, she couldn't feign ignorance to something like this ever again and she couldn't handle it. It was too much to take...knowing Adrien was in love with her!
"Tikki..." She sobbed, almost tripping over a curb. "I can't face him now... I can't face Adrien!"