This story was HARD to write. The epilogue was cathartic, in a way, though. Hope you enjoy the fluff after all the angst. xoxo
By the time August came around, Adrien took the stairs everywhere, except when he was coming home. On his way home he hurried past the doorman with a polite wave en route to the elevator, too eager to bother with being healthy and too excited to accept that repeatedly jamming his thumb into the "4" button never made the trip upstairs any shorter. Today was no different.
"Hello Adrien," the doorman greeted, but Adrien had already zipped by. He turned around to wave back, jogging backwards into the waiting elevator where a woman and her son were holding the door for him.
"Hi George! Bye George!"
"Someone's birthday?" The mother inside the lift moved aside for him as he went to pick his floor, pulling her 3DS-captivated son out of the way as well.
Adrien shifted the grocery store 'Ladybug and Chat Noir' themed cake in his arms and beamed at the stranger. "Something like that."
When he pushed his front door open, it was to the earth-shattering sight of his one true love sitting in the middle of the living room floor, surrounded on all sides by piles of open books, deep in thought. But she wasn't so deep in thought that her head didn't immediately snap up at the sound of the door creaking open. Their hearts melted at the sight of each other. It had been four months now since they reunited, but the awe was as fresh every morning when they woke up as it had been that sacred night when they fell asleep in each other's arms for the second time.
"Ladybug?" he had whispered, and her name dripped like saffron and gold off his tongue. It was a beautiful truth but it hadn't been real until he said itㅡuntil she heard it.
Only then was she there. Only then was he real. Torturous, blinding, perfect, and real.
The fire that erupted in her stomach when he said her name could have birthed a star. Her purse fell to the carpet with a dull thud and she threw herself into his arms in every conceivable way, material and emotional. Likewise he caught herㅡlike he should have way back in the observatoryㅡcurling his arms around not only her body but also her soul, so that when he pulled her close and folded her into him it was as if to say: I am never letting go of you again.
"I'll come to you, don't get up," Adrien hummed, hanging his keys on the hook before zigzagging across the room to her through her veritable labyrinth of books. They'd become a somewhat permanent fixture over the last few months.
"What's that?" She picked up one of the smaller, less helpful texts and used it as a bookmark for the one she was currently perusing. Her question was answered when Adrien nudged aside a leaning tower of late library books and took a seat by her, plopping his cargo on top of her current object of study. "Oh," she sighed, a glimmer of sorrow shooting through her as she realized what the cake was and what it represented. But her spirits picked up when Adrien tugged her into a heartstopping 'hello' kiss. She sighed into it, throwing her arms around his neck, and before she knew it her tallest stack of books was falling over behind him.
She released him with a giggle and a "Whoops."
"I thought we should celebrate," he explained delicately, gesturing to the plastic-encased dessert. Honestly, he'd only stopped for coffee. The cake had happened on a whim. "I've done my mourning already, you know? Plagg always insisted on cake today. It was the only time he ever asked for it."
Marinette smiled at her cartoony likeness painted with frosting. Exactly four years ago today, she and Adrien had been gifted their miraculous stones. They'd been gifted Plagg, Tikki, and each other. "Tikki too," she smiled. "They sure were spoiled, weren't they?"
"Yeah," Adrien sighed. Yes he had his lady back, and yes the entire universe was brighter because of it, but even so, there were still two glaring black holes in his sky. He frowned at his own likeness on the cake; the gleaming green eyes and the lilting smile. One of those holes was beyond his control. The other… He took leave of Marinette for a minute to meander through the books to the kitchen for two forks, psyching himself up for what he was about to say to her. "So… listen," he said suddenly, handing her one. "I think maybe it's time I went and spoke with my father."
Marinette paused with her first bite halfway to her mouth (she'd dug Chat's frosting face straight out of the middle of the cake with a devious grin at his real life counterpart), then set it back down whence it came. "Yeah?"
He nodded once, queasily but with determination. "Yeah. I've put it off too long as it is, with the trial starting next week."
The tension in his shoulders and the set of his jaw worried her; his calm words were at complete odds with his body language. No matter how much time had passed, he had not healed from the damage done by and to his relationship with Gabriel. It was clear he wasn't going to ask her, so she brushed his hair lovingly away from his face and bit the bullet for him. "I'm going with you."
A crushing weight crumbled off his chest as he dragged his gaze upward. He hadn't admitted to himself how badly he wanted her to offer until she did, because he'd never have asked her for such a thing. Of course, he should have known she in turn would never let him go alone.
Because she loved him as intensely as he loved her.
"How can this be?" he had wondered aloud at some point during their frantic embrace, more at himself than at her. The musical sound of her voice could have been laughter or tears; he didn't know. Maybe both? "This is real…"
"It better be!" she scream-laughed, the words muffled in the fabric of his t-shirt, and he had to laugh too. At it all: the absurdity, the irony, the joke in the disaster. God, he loved her.
"Oh my god, you were talking about me," he realized with a start, suddenly recalling her confession on the night they made love. The thought was like a shot of firewhiskey on a sub-zero night. He pushed her to arm's length to stare into her eyes with more vulnerability than he'd let anyone see since before he lost her. "You were talking about me?" he repeated softly, and the haunted look on her face said things he'd only felt on his absolute darkest nights in her absence.
"Yes," she breathed, bringing one hand to his face and touching it as though he were nothing more than a ghost. "I've missed you so much, you silly cat. You have no idea."
Adrien let his inner Chat peak out, grinning at her ruefully as he brought her closer once more. "I'm pretty sure I do, little bug. I'm pretty sure I do."
"So, did you have any... luck?" he quipped automatically as he pushed the cake aside to glance at the book she'd been pouring over when he got home. With both of them starting school for the fall semester tomorrow, Marinette had been positively slaving away the last dregs of her summer in the temporary library-nest she'd made of their living room.
"Ha ha," Marinette quipped back with a lethal dose of sarcasm. Like she hadn't heard that one beforeㅡfrom him, every single day as he wondered after her progress.
After they'd reunited, her determination to figure out how to get her kwami back had quadrupled in fortitude. With Chat Noir there to cheer her on and help her, she felt she had a far greater chance than she'd ever had on her own. But after four long months they still had nothing to show for all her efforts. The books ranged from Greek myths all the way to Caribbean voodoo and from the unbelievably fake to the almost dangerously real. But no matter what they tried, no matter what crazy pseudo-magic mumbo jumbo spells they carried out, Plagg and Tikki were still gone. Half-burnt candles and odds and ends from hole-in-the-wall psychic shops littered their apartment, much to Nino and Alya's constant amusement, who were still in the stages of accepting the fact that their seemingly-gentle best friends had once been more.
"Okay but in total seriousness, bug, you've been reading since sunup," Adrien laughed, poking affectionately at her angry, wrinkled nose. "You had to have found something new. Anything."
Marinette tapped her fingers on the leatherbound cover of the book she'd been reading since she woke up. Considering the anniversary that today represented, was it naive of her to believe that something truly magical was written in the stars? Four years ago today she'd been shown that magic was real. It seemed only right, and natural even, in a very laws-of-physics kind of way, that the universe would choose today to teach her that lesson once more, in the very same point on Earth's path around the sun. Of course, she had eagerly said as much to Adrien that very morning, the second his sleepy eyes had blinked open.
"Anything you say, lovebug," he'd purred, cinching his arms around her waist as she tried to rise for coffee.
That had driven her into a pout. "Adrien, I was being serious," she complained.
The smirk had vanished off his face like she'd slapped him, and he tucked her hair behind her ear, sitting up in bed to look down at her fondly. "I know that," he said softly. "I was being serious too." And she remembered, then, a reckless black cat who had thrown himself off buildings without anything more to go on than her word that she would catch him before he hit the ground. It was that sort of blind, unwavering trust which had led her to fall for him in the first place. He cocked his head at her innocently when the intensity of the love bubbling up in her chest boiled over into her demeanor, softening her pout, until he couldn't take it anymore. "What?" he laughed.
"Nothing," she replied, a little breathlessly. "I just love you, that's all."
It took them longer to get out of bed than usual.
"I actually did find something while you were out," Marinette said carefully. She'd been reluctant to get her hopes up, and therefore kept on reading after she'd stumbled across it. But in reality, she had only been filling time until Adrien came home. She was so desperate to try it that it must have showed on her face.
"What?" Adrien pressed. "What is it? Let's try it! Crap, you should've have called me, I was just at the store and I could have bought whatever suppliesㅡ"
"No, no," Marinette interrupted, "we don't need anything from the store this time. No candles or anything like that."
Adrien lifted the front cover of her book eyeing the intricate inked images painted all along the title page. "That's okay," he said, frowning at the ancient stylized image. Was that a cat? And… a bug? "Where'd you get this book?" he wondered.
"One of the ones I bought at that book festival last week," she explained. "That one reeally short guy with the accent, you remember him?"
"Yeah," Adrien said immediately. How could he not? The stranger had grabbed him by the arm as they walked past on their way out of the fair, and asked if they had found what they were looking for. Marinette had informed him that no one at the festival was selling the kind of books she was searching for, and he had replied with a strangely evocative smile. Because what you are seeking is not a book at all, he'd said. Come. I have a book for you.
"This one is simple, really," Marinette explained, flipping through the text to her bookmarked page. "The thing that struck me was the way it described the results. Usually the 'spells' are all, do these things to get your deepest wish. Say these things and you'll be granted what you desire. Blah blah. But this one…" She found the passage she was looking for and cleared her throat. "For when the gods have severed their earthly tethers."
Adrien raised his eyebrows so high they almost disappeared beneath his bangs. "That's interesting."
"Yeah. It says all a person has to do to 'restore the tether' is to 'redirect the god's cosmic energy through the metaphysical, like lightning through a rod, until he or she has returned to the physical plane.'"
"Aaand you lost me," Adrien sighed. "Next."
"Wait," Marinette grumbled at him, though she knew he was joking by the smirk on his face at her tone. "I know it's one of the weirder things I've read, but I dunno. I just have a good feeling about this one. Is that so crazy?"
"Marinette, everything we've ever done together would have been deemed insane by most people's standards." He leaned back on his hands, dislocating a couple more books from their piles. "It's never stopped us before. Why start now? What does this book say we need to do to 'restore the tether,' or whatever?"
"Simple, in theory. We supposedly need only one ingredient to make it work."
"And what's that?"
Marinette pointed to the middle of the page, where sat a stylized drawing of a person with a sun bursting out of their chest. "Something that makes your heart beat," she read.
He wilted. "That's… not very specific."
"Yeah," Marinette said slowly, and he had the distinct feeling she was working up to something. "I thought so too at first. I've spent most of the time since you left trying to figure out exactly what that meant. Something that makes your heart beat. But then, it hit me." She eyed him shyly, then turned the page to reveal a flower. Adrien blinked at it, not understanding right away. It was small and blue and fresh and alive, having clearly been picked under an hour ago. The name struck at him unbidden, from a dangerous place deep in his memory well. Forget-me-not. "For the longest time, these flowers were all I had left of you," she said carefully, watching his reaction.
"I see." Understanding washed over him. "I'll be right back," he said quickly, then hurried away to their bedroom to find an item of his own.
It had been less than a minute when he returned, and Marinette clutched her flower to her chest, waiting with bated breath to see what Adrien had chosen. To see what made his heart beat. It was with considerate surprise that she realized he'd chosen a flower as wellㅡexcept his was clearly far older. It was dead; shriveled and dried and sealed in a corked glass vial. When he nudged her book aside with his foot to take the seat directly in front of her, he held up the little vial with both hands, as though terrified that it would vanish should he let it out of his sight.
"What now?" he wondered.
"I don't know." Marinette scooted closer until their knees were touching. The air seemed thick around them, and her tongue was heavy in her mouth. "That's all it says."
"...Right." He glanced from the lush flower in her hands to the dead one in his, and carefully pulled his from its glass vial, letting the vial roll away on the cluttered carpet.
"What is that?" Marinette asked quietly.
He had to fight himself to look up into her eyes. She's here, he reminded himself. She's real. She's never leaving again. "The day I gave you those flowers," he explained, "you picked one of them and put it in my hair." With a sad smile, he waved the glass vial, showing her what had happened to the flower she'd given him more than three years ago. "And for the longest time," he said, mirroring her words, "this was all I had left of you too." It was almost funny, he realized, how wonderfully their choices fit their respective kwamis. Hers a very symbol of life itself, and his a symbol of death.
"Oh, Chat," she sighed, moisture brimming in her eyes.
"Nothing at all," she insisted, and it was true. "Sometimes it just… hits me, again, all at once, that you're real and you're here and you're him."
Adrien could swore he felt yet another layer of his heart heal as she spoke. "I know exactly what you mean," he purred, and pulled her into his lap, pseudo-magic 'spell' be damned. They could try again tomorrow. She went gladly, even though she was far too big too truly fit. It didn't matter. He made room for her. Soon they were a mess of folded legs and arms, and her hasty, haphazard bun spilled out of it's hairpins as he nuzzled his face into it. "I was so sure my life was over when I realized you were gone," he murmured. "But the whole time, you were there. I pictured you watering my flowers so many times," he sighed, "late at night, when I couldn't sleep. But I had actually watched you water them and I didn't even know it. Plagg would have burst a blood vessel at the irony…"
"Even now, after all this time, I can hardly wrap my head around it," she sighed back. "The fact that you never went away. I missed you so badly for so long that sometimes I still wake up thinking you're gone for good, before I remember. Before I see you there next to me."
The admission broke him a little, because he knew the exact feeling she was describing. It still happened to him too. He took her by the cheek with his free hand and waited for him to look her in the eyes before replying. "But I will always be there," he told her firmly.
A watery smile broke over her face like the morning sun. "I know," she replied, and pulled him down into a kiss so gentle and sweet it might have looked like their first to an unwitting third party.
With them, every kiss was like a first kiss, because they knew with the same certainty that they knew the sun rose in the east that there would always be more.
They both pulled back at once, blinking in confusion at the light that had shone briefly through their closed eyelids. They looked at each other first, then down. When in their hands something absolutely incredible was happening. Their flowers had collapsed, shrinking into two ethereal orbs, Marinette's a ball of blinding light and Adrien's a dark, ominous black. They were both frozen as they watched the orbs flicker and gain another centimeter of mass. When the tension broke and they flipped out, it was as one.
"Tikki?!" Marinette shrieked, almost dropping hers, while Adrien cradled his orb and yelled out, "Plagg?!"
They scrambled apart from each other, knocking books this way and that in their haste to get to their feet, to get some sort of hold on the situation. The orbs of light (and darkness) followed after their respective charges almost lazily, like fireflies, not really touching their hands but trailing after them in a way that made it clear they were aware, on some level, of Adrien and Marinette.
"What do we do?" Marinette screamed, tearing at her hair with the hand that her light wasn't doing circles around. It left her hand to make a lap around her waist.
"I don't know!" Adrien screamed back. His own patch of darkness seemed to be doing its best to frighten him. It kept plunging through his hand and coming out the backside, then around again. "You're the one who found the book!"
"That means nothing!" Marinette shrieked, her heart stopping as her little light faltered before coming back half as strong.
Adrien had seen this, and his own heart stopped as well. "Stones," he panicked. "Stones!"
Marinette was busy cradling her light and whispering reassurances to it and therefore she almost didn't hear him. "What?"
"The books said something about the physical plane, right? Tethers and godsㅡit was talking about the stones!"
Marinette ran to him, antsy and wriggling in place as he tried to capture his unruly speck of darkness. "But we never figured out how to recreate them," she cried.
"I am fairly sure we are figuring it out now?"
"Oh!" Marinette gasped, so loudly that Adrien jumped, causing his little speck to bob in place, almost like it was laughing. "I know! I know!" She sprinted to the kitchen, slipping on a book on her way and catching herself at the last second on the countertop before diving around the corner to rummage noisily through the junk drawer. "Aha!" Adrien stared at the sparkly items in her hand, not understanding. "Chloe left these here months ago," Marinette explained, almost jittering in place from the excitement. "Crystals, from the chandelier in Gabriel's office. From the night we… you know!" she blushed furiously.
A slaphappy grin took him over. "Perfect!" he exclaimed, and slipped on the exact same book on his hurry over to her.
"Was that supposed to be a pun?"
"Princess," he purred, "it's whatever you want it to be."
"I swear to god I'll kill you, you mangy cat, I don't care how handsome you are."
With a cackling, carefree laugh he accepted one of the crystals she was holding, and together they waited with bated breath for the surreal apparitions to find their way into the semi-translucent gemstones. With another brief flash of light, it was over. The crystals went dark once more, and the air seemed to lift around them. The hum of kitchen appliances and the AC filtered back into their senses.
"Is that it?"
Marinette frowned at the seemingly-normal crystal in her hand, dismayed at the perceived anti-climax. For a moment, she'd truly believed she was about to see Tikki again. Perhaps it wasn't that simple after all.
"Maybe they just need a little more time to recover their physical forms," Adrien suggested. "Hang on, I'll be right back." After a minute of digging around Marinette's sewing room (the bedroom which used to be Alya's) he reemerged with some leather cord, and carefully threaded it through the little holes where a chain had attached the crystals to the chandelier in his father's office, once upon a time. Adrien bit his lip to stay his laughter. He was sure there was some sort of lesson in there, somewhere, but for the life of him he didn't know what it was.
Marinette let him tie her new necklace around her neck, and then did the same for him, lingering when she was done. "We've waited this long," she sighed. "I suppose we can wait a little longer."
As it turned out, they didn't have to wait long at all. Luckily, there was even a bit of cake still leftover to celebrate. Marinette was sure there was some sort of lesson in there, somewhere, but for the life of her she didn't know what it was.
And, for once, she was fine not knowing.