Chapter One: How to Crush your Crush
Chapter Two: Damage Control
Chapter Three: Comparing Notes
Chapter Four: The Revenge of Antibug
Chapter Five: A True Test of Character

Chapter One: How to Crush your Crush

Marinette was putting her books in her locker before leaving campus for lunch when Adrien walked up to her, an uncharacteristically nervous expression on his face. "Um, Marinette?" he asked quietly.

She looked up at him, her heart skipping a beat. "Y-yes, Adrien?"

Adrien cast his eyes to the side, his somewhat sheepish demeanor making Marinette's stomach flutter from how positively adorable he looked. " was, uhh...kinda hoping to ask your advice on something," he said. "I, you mind having lunch with me? I had the chef prepare a picnic lunch, the car should be waiting outside, I was thinking we could go find a quiet bench somewhere to eat and talk. You know, so we have time and privacy."

Marinette's breath caught in her throat. *Adrien is...asking me out?*

"I know this is coming out of nowhere," Adrien said, "but I really need a friend to listen to me who isn't Nino for once." He chuckled. "I don't think he'd have the best advice on this, and I really don't think Alya would be much better. I know we don't, you know, talk all that often, but you're one of the nicest people I know, and...well..."

Marinette's heart almost sank into her stomach. *Of COURSE he's not asking me out,* she told herself. She forced a smile onto her face. "Let me call Mama to tell her not to expect me, then we'll go," she said.

Adrien smiled. "Thanks."

Three minutes later, a nervous to the point of bursting Marinette sat beside Adrien in the back seat of an expensive car driven by Adrien's massive bodyguard. "So what did you want to talk about?" Marinette asked, fighting not to stammer, stutter, or otherwise make a fool of herself.

"Let's wait until we get there," Adrien said. "This is, well...something really private, you know? Something I don't want getting back to Nathalie or my father," he added, giving the rear view mirror a pointed look.

The driver grunted.

"Okay." *Wow. Adrien wants MY advice on something so important and so private he doesn't trust...* Marinette closed her eyes, fighting down a shudder of excitement. *He's just asking a friend for advice. Don't read too much into it.*

"I think this'll do," Adrien said to the driver. The car pulled over and stopped at the curb. They had stopped at one of the many parks that littered Paris; it was sparsely populated at the moment. Marinette got out of the car; Adrien followed suit and walked back to the boot, which popped open. He took out a large wicker basket and a small thermal cooler; seeing his hands full, Marinette helpfully closed the boot. They walked around to the driver's side; Adrien leaned into the window. "I'll call you when I'm ready to be picked up," he said.

The driver glowered at him.

"Look, we'll be fine," Adrien insisted somewhat irritably. "I seriously doubt anybody's going to come along and suddenly attack me or kidnap me in broad daylight in a public park. Even if they did, what's the point of all those karate lessons I've taken if I can't handle myself? Look, just go to that American place you like to sneak off to when you can get away with it and enjoy your own lunch break for a change. I'll be fine."

The driver snorted, shook his head, and started the engine. Adrien grinned and stepped back from the car, then turned to Marinette. "Well, let's find a bench," he said.

Marinette looked between him and the departing car. "What was all that about?"

Adrien rolled his eyes as he started walking into the park, Marinette right beside him. "Just one of the little joys of my life," he said. "Ah, this looks like a good spot." He led Marinette over to an artistic wrought-iron bench with a wooden seat that looked to have been freshly painted, which stood beneath a large shade tree. He sat down, placing the basket and the cooler on the ground; Marinette sat beside him, trying not to look too conspicuous about scooching as close as she could to him without invading his personal space uncomfortably. Adrien took no notice; he was busy removing two large linen cloths from the basket, one of which he handed to Marinette. As she spread it out in her lap, he took fancy paper plates and plastic utensils out of the basket, as well as expensive linen napkins. He then unearthed some sealed serving dishes. In short order, he served Marinette a very interesting-looking stuffed sandwich, several steamed carrots, and a dollop of ratatouille, then served himself the same meal. Putting the serving dishes back in the basket, he opened the cooler, inside which several small bottles of juice and soda floated in ice water. Marinette extracted a cola; Adrien opted for a bottle of grape juice.

Marinette examined the sandwich curiously. "Is this cordon bleu chicken? On pretzel bread?"

Adrien chuckled. "Our chef's been feeling experimental lately," he said. "Let's eat first, then we can talk. I don't know about you, but I'm starving."

Marinette could hardly argue with that, so for a short while, they ate in relative silence. Everything was delicious; Marinette felt a pang of jealousy that Adrien had a skilled chef at home to cater to him. Then she remembered what else she knew about his home life, and she decided she'd rather have her loving mother and father than all the private chefs in France.

It was still one of the best lunches she'd ever had.

Once they were full, Adrien put everything back in the basket, then leaned back on the bench with a sigh. "Now," he said. "About...the reason I asked you here."

Marinette felt her heart flutter. "Y-yes?"

Adrien turned to look at her, letting out a heavy sigh. "Do you know what it's like to be completely head over heels in love with somebody and not be able to tell them?"

Marinette paled. "Ah..."

Adrien ran his hands through his hair. "There's this...this girl," he said before she could answer. "She's...she's amazing. She's perfect. I can't stop thinking about her." He leaned forward, clasping his hands in his lap. "I want to tell her how I feel, but I..."

Marinette's heart turned to ice. Her stomach seized up; she felt as though she was about to eject her gourmet lunch all over the park. "A...a girl? You have a crush on...a girl?"

"It's no crush," Adrien said, laughing softly, ruefully. "I've got it bad. I see her in my dreams every night, I...I think about her all the time, I write the stupidest little poems about her..."

*Oh god...* "I...I see. She must be...must be pretty amazing, huh?" Marinette choked out, feeling her eyes begin to sting as her throat closed up.

"Amazing doesn't even—" Adrien let out a dreamy sigh. "She's beautiful, confident, strong..." He trailed off as he looked at Marinette. "Marinette? Are you...are you alright?"

Marinette tried to answer, but her voice failed her. She nodded.

Adrien frowned. "You''re crying," he said. Concern filled his green eyes as he leaned in, producing a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbing at her eyes. "Did I—did I say—"

Marinette sniffled, pushing his hand away and wiping at her eyes with the back of one hand. "It''s nothing," she said.

"Hey," Adrien said gently, turning her to face him. "It isn't nothing. Something's bothering you. I don't like to see my friends upset. What's wrong?"

And between the concern in his eyes and the hollow, icy pit where her heart used to be, Marinette suddenly found the courage to say what she never could. "I've been...I've been in love with you for months now," she said.

Adrien's mouth opened in surprise.

Marinette sniffed loudly. "I've been t-trying to t-tell you for s-so long..." She bowed her head, letting tears spill onto her lap. "I j-just get so...around you, I-I c-can't..."

"Oh my god," Adrien whispered. "Marinette, I...I'm so sorry...I didn't know..." He grimaced. "Oh god, and I asked you here to get advice on my own crush..." He ran his hands through his hair. "Now I feel like the biggest jerk..."

Marinette wiped her eyes again, choking back a sob. "No," she said. "I...I n-never told you, I c-couldn't..." She slumped forward, her shoulders shuddering. "I tried. I tried so many times, and I...I k-kept..."

Adrien wrapped an arm around her shoulders in a gentle hug. "I'm sorry," he said. "If I'd known, I..." He bowed his head. "I don't know. I sure wouldn't have asked you to help me with my problem. I'm not...I don't do that to people."

Marinette sniffled and offered him a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "I know," she said. "That's...that's actually why I fell in..." She looked away. "You're just so nice, and so..."

They sat there for a long time, not speaking. Marinette tried to get control of herself with help from Adrien's handkerchief while he rubbed her back with one hand. While she sniffled, hiccuped, and blew her nose, Adrien studied her. The pit of his stomach felt cold and hard, as though his insides had turned to lead.

He had made one of the nicest, kindest girls he knew cry. And for what? There was absolutely no way he'd ask her for advice after this. It'd be twisting the knife, and that wasn't in his nature.

With a sigh, he reached for his phone, ready to call for his ride back to school, when Marinette suddenly spoke up.

"So who is she?" she asked.


"The girl you like," Marinette said, looking up at him. Her voice was empty, rough, and raw; her normally sparkling bluebell eyes were clouded, red, puffy.

"N-no, I..."

"Come on, tell me," Marinette said, offering a wan smile. "I...maybe I can still help. Is she in our class?"

"You don't have to do this," Adrien said, an almost pleading note in his voice.

Marinette sighed. "No," she said. "I want...I want to help you if I can. hurts, knowing you love some girl who isn't me, knowing I..." She swallowed a lump in her throat. "'s my own fault, s-so..." She looked down at her lap. "W-we're still friends, I..." She shook her head and looked at him again. "Come on, tell me."

Adrien scratched his cheek. "W-well, she's..." He ducked his head. "Actually, it''s really stupid. I'm stupid."

"Adrien," Marinette said, a slight bite of impatience in her voice. "I'm an emotional wreck here, the least you can do is let me help you."

Adrien winced. "Sorry," he said. "It''s this girl I work with," he began. "She's...she's strong, graceful. Always in control." He laughed softly. "Kind of has an attitude sometimes, but I like that about her. She...she has dark hair, she's a little on the short side, she has the most incredible bluebell eyes..." He looked over at Marinette, tilting her head up and brushing her hair back. "Kinda like yours," he said. He blinked. "Exactly like yours..."

Marinette blushed at his touch and turned slightly away. "She sounds beautiful," she said.

"She is," Adrien said distractedly, studying her anew. The gentle curve of her chin, the cute shape of her nose, the inviting pout of her lips, the delicate complexion of her skin. The softness and shine of her hair. The ribbons trailing from her twin pigtails.

Absently, he brushed a lock of hair away from her right ear, examining the small, round black earrings she wore. In his mind's eye, he filled them in with color and added spots. Swallowing, he stood up and walked around to sit on Marinette's other side. She watched him curiously, blinking. "Adrien?"

Wordlessly, Adrien opened the small purse Marinette carried, reaching inside and feeling around. She didn't protest, too confused by his actions. After a moment, his fingers found something smooth, round, and warm. Gently seizing it, he pulled out a reddish-pink Kwami, who blinked very confused eyes as she looked up at Adrien.

"Adrien, what are you—?" Marinette gasped, suddenly fully alert and aware of the situation.

A yawn filled the void of sound between them, and a tiny black head peeked out of Adrien's jacket. "Ah, there she is. I was wondering why I kept sensing you so close by all the time, Tikki."

Marinette stared at the black Kwami, eyes wide and jaw slack. She then looked up into Adrien's eyes.

Adrien gave her a smile that was equal parts wry, hopeful, and sheepish. "Well," he said, "this just got even more awkward..."

Chapter Two: Damage Control

"Well," Adrien said sheepishly, "this just got even more awkward."

Marinette stared from Adrien, to the black Kwami, to Tikki, and back. Numbly, she pointed a trembling finger at Adrien. "You're Chat Noir?"

Adrien chuckled. "Surprise!"

Marinette shook her head. "You're Chat Noir."

"He's Chat Noir," the black Kwami confirmed. "More importantly, did you pack any Camembert in that picnic basket?"

Adrien groaned. "I had the chef pack a picnic lunch I intended to share with a very nice girl, you really think I'm gonna taint the food with the smell of old feet?"

Tikki giggled. "I see he's putting you in your place, Plagg."

Plagg sighed. "Well, whatever. There should still be something tasty in there." He floated down and disappeared into the picnic basket.

"Hey! Don't hog all the leftovers! I'm hungry too!" Tikki exclaimed, following him.

Marinette spared the basket a glance, then looked back up at Adrien. He looked away, his cheeks pink. "Umm..." Adrien coughed. "I guess as far as love confessions go, I just tanked this one in the worst possible way, huh?" He chuckled ruefully. "It's bad enough I hurt you the way I did, but on top of everything else, I brought you here to ask for advice about confessing my feelings to Ladybug, and you're Ladybug." He shook his head and ran his hands through his hair. "If only the ground would just open up and swallow me right now."

"You could always make the ground open up and swallow you," Marinette said in a lightly snippy tone that didn't quite convey the usual playfulness she felt around Chat Noir.

"Yeah, I guess I could," Adrien agreed. After an awkward moment, he looked at Marinette, hands folded in his lap. "So..." He sighed. "Now I know you have a thing for me, and you know I have a thing for you."

"You have a thing for Ladybug, you mean," Marinette said.

"Hey." Adrien gently turned her to face him. "Ever since I fell in love with you, I've wanted to know who you were behind the mask. I've spent hours just thinking about you, wondering what you were doing, who you were with...if you had a boyfriend..."

"Really?" Marinette asked, folding and refolding the wet, stained handkerchief in her lap.

"My heart's belonged to you ever since our first battle together," Adrien said quietly, gently brushing her bangs away from her forehead. "When you stared down Hawk Moth and told him how bad we're gonna kick his butt...that's when I knew I was in love with you."

Marinette's eyes widened, and she blushed. "M-mine's belonged to you ever since..." She swallowed. "Ever since you shared your umbrella. After I realized you weren't, you Chloé."

"Huh." Adrien's eyes rapidly moved back and forth as he searched his memories. "So...pretty much the same time," he said.

Marinette laughed softly. "Yeah, I guess so."

"And Chat Noir?" Adrien asked.

Marinette snorted, rolling her eyes. "If you weren't such a pest as Chat Noir," she said, smirking at him.

"A pest?" Adrien asked with a mock pout.

"Seriously, you're like that skunk in those old American cartoons," Marinette said with a giggle.

"Hey, if I smell like a skunk, it's because of Plagg and his stupid cheese!" Adrien protested.

Marinette rolled her eyes again. "You know what I mean."

"Actually, I don't," Adrien said.

"Really? Huh." Marinette shook her head. "Okay, let's just say that Chat Noir kinda...comes on way too strong."

"Oh." Adrien looked down at his lap. "Sorry. I just...when I'm Chat Noir, I can't help it. I feel so much more alive." He looked back up at Marinette. "You make me feel alive."

Marinette's face heated up. "Adrien..."

Distantly, a bell tolled the hour.

"So...what do we do now?" Adrien asked, casting Marinette a shy look before averting his gaze again.

Marinette did the same look-and-duck, wringing her hands in her lap. "I don't know," she said.

Slowly, they turned to look at each other, their eyes meeting. Adrien reached up and gently cupped Marinette's chin in one hand. Slowly, he leaned in. Marinette's eyes widened.

Adrien's lips brushed softly against hers for just a moment. His eyes never left hers as he withdrew slightly. "Be my ladybug?" he asked softly.

Marinette swallowed. "I...okay," she whispered.

"Okay," Adrien said.

"Okay," Marinette repeated. She started to laugh giddily. "Oh my god..." she reached up and touched her lips. "Oh my god."

Adrien pulled her into a hug. For a long time, he simply held her, neither of them saying anything.

"Aww..." Tikki cooed, breaking the moment. Both teens jumped and looked at the picnic basket. The two Kwami were perched atop it; Tikki was watching them with shining eyes and a silly smile, while Plagg was curled up asleep.

Adrien coughed, then looked at Marinette. His brow furrowed. "Oh crap," he said. "You're a complete mess and it's all my fault."

Marinette shook her head. "No, it's—"

"Marinette, it's my fault," Adrien insisted. He sighed. "I need to fix this."

"How bad is it?" Marinette wondered. She pulled a compact out of her purse and studied her reflection. She made a stuck noise in the back of her throat. "Guh."

"Yeah. You're not going back to school like this," Adrien said. He sighed and pulled out his phone. "This will not end well." Tapping the screen twice, he waited for a moment. "Nathalie? I need your help. You have the other car ready? Yeah, I got rid of him. You did, huh. Okay. No, it's...look. Can you bring the fix kit? Number two. Yeah. No, it's not for me. I'll explain when you get here. Hurry." He told Nathalie where to find them, then disconnected and put his phone away after checking the time. "Well, we should have enough time."

"Fix kit?" Marinette asked.

Adrien rolled his eyes. "Do you think I look perfect all the time? We have three different emergency makeup kits ready to go at all times. They're mostly for me, but sometimes we have to fix another model on the fly, so she'll be able to match you."

Marinette blinked. "Wow, I never thought about that."

Adrien chuckled. "Last week I had five huge zits on my face. Nobody ever knew."

"Five? I only saw two."

Adrien stared at her. "You saw—"

Marinette blushed, ducking her head. "I, uh...probably pay more attention to you than is really healthy," she admitted sheepishly.

Plagg snorted. "Adrien has a Ladybug shrine."

Tikki giggled. "Marinette has an Adrien shrine."

Both teens paled, eyes wide. "Wow," Adrien said. "Awkward."

"Yeah." Marinette glared at Tikki, opening her purse; Tikki sheepishly floated back in. Plagg rolled his eyes and retreated to the dark confines of Adrien's jacket.

Two minutes later, a slightly breathless but otherwise perfectly composed Nathalie marched briskly up to them, a makeup satchel in hand. As she approached, she first studied Adrien, then Marinette. Her eyes narrowed just slightly; her lips thinned imperceptibly.

Adrien stood up and stepped back, letting Nathalie sit down. She roughly took hold of Marinette's face and studied her. Adrien coughed. "So, umm..."

"Explain. Quickly."

"I, uhh...I kind of wanted to tell Marinette I'm in love with her, but I made a huge mess of it, I had no idea she had a crush on me, I kinda...started things wrong, we got our signals crossed, and...this."

Nathalie spared him a brief glance, then turned to Marinette, raising an eyebrow. Marinette nodded. "That's pretty much it." After a beat, she added, "but it's okay now! I'm okay. We're okay."

"You're the girl who made the derby hat Monsieur Agreste liked," Nathalie said as she opened the makeup kit and began sorting through its contents.

"Y-yes," Marinette said nervously.

"And now you're Adrien's girlfriend?"

"That's right," Adrien said.

Nathalie's lips curved into a millimeter of a smile. She looked up at Adrien. "I would recommend not making your girlfriend cry. Your father would not approve."

"Ah...right. Good...good advice." Adrien scratched the back of his neck, looking away with a flush to his cheeks.

"Monsieur Agreste will of course need to be informed you have a girlfriend," Nathalie said in an all-business tone as she began working on Marinette's face. "Since she's an aspiring designer who has already caught his interest, I don't expect him to object."

It took fifteen minutes for Nathalie to cover up most of the damage Marinette's fit of despair had caused to her face. In addition to the makeup, she also used some eyedrops that she claimed would reduce the redness within thirty minutes. By the time she was done, Marinette could hardly see any signs she had been crying less than an hour before. "Wow," she said. "This is amazing. Thank you."

Nathalie packed away the makeup kit. "Any person associated with the Agreste family in either a business or personal capacity must present a perfect countenance at all times," she said brusquely. "Now, I will drive the two of you back to school."

"Thank you, Nathalie." Adrien loaded the picnic basket and cooler into the boot of the car, and they drove off, arriving at Collège Françoise Dupont with fifteen minutes to spare.

As she stopped the car, Nathalie looked at the two teens in the rear-view mirror. "Adrien has a free evening tonight," she said. "He doesn't have them very often. I suggest you make the most of it."

Once they were out of the car and Nathalie was on the way back to the mansion, Adrien turned to Marinette. "So..."

Marinette gave Adrien a coy look. "Umm...come over?" she suggested. "To my place? We can talk. We need to talk."

"Yeah," Adrien agreed. He gave her a quick peck on the cheek, then they walked into the campus side by side.

Chapter Three: Comparing Notes

Chloé Bourgeois looked up from filing her nails as Adrien walked into the classroom, Marinette at his side. She immediately put on her sunniest smile and rushed over to him, body-checking Marinette into the wall by the door frame. "HIIIIII, Adrikins!" she cooed. "My daddy got me tickets to the XY concert this weekend, and I can't think of anybody I'd rather go with—" She broke off abruptly as she realized that Adrien wasn't standing there with her arms wrapped around his arm; instead, he was leaning over Marinette. "Ahem. I was talking to Adrien," Chloé informed Marinette.

"And I wasn't listening, because you just knocked my girlfriend into a wall," Adrien said brusquely. "You okay, Marinette?"

"Pssh," Chloé snorted dismissively. "Who cares about that little half-and-half—"

A sharp sound filled the room.

The entire class fell silent.

Chloé clutched the cheek Adrien had just slapped, her eyes wide in shock.

"Don't ever insult my girlfriend again," Adrien said in a low, dangerous voice. "For that matter, don't ever talk to me again." With that, he walked a blushing Marinette to her seat.

Everyone stared at Adrien, then at Chloé.

Chloé stared, slack-jawed, at Adrien as he gently kissed the back of Marinette's hand, then sat down next to a wide-eyed Nino.

"No," Chloé said numbly, shaking her head. "NO!" she shrieked. "You can't possibly love her! She's nobody! MY DADDY IS THE MAYOR! I'M RICH! I'M IMPORTANT! I'M—"

"Nobody gives a damn, Chloé," Adrien said in a tired, bored voice.

Chloé stared at him, then at Marinette. Her hands balled into fists at her sides as her face burned with shame and fury. Stamping a foot, she burst into loud, wailing sobs and fled from the room.

Marinette leaned forward across her table. "You didn't need to do that!" she hissed. "I can handle Chloé!"

Adrien turned back and shrugged. "I know you can. I'm just sick of her crap." He flashed her a smile that belonged on Chat Noir's face. "Besides, I can't just stand by and let someone insult my lady like that."

Marinette looked shyly away. "Okay, well...thanks."

Alya grabbed Marinette's sleeve and yanked her around sharply to face her, eyes wide behind her glasses. "Girl! WHEN? SPILL!"

Marinette jerked her sleeve away and ducked her head. "At lunch," she said. "We, umm...talked."

"Musta been some talk," Nino put in. "Dude. You didn't tell me you had a thing for Marinette!"

"Yeah, well..." Adrien put on a sickly grimace. "I knew you had a crush on her, so I never...y'know."

Nino gave him an appraising smirk, then shrugged. "Yeah, okay."

The teacher entered the room then, and Alya nudged Marinette gently. "Tell me everything later," she whispered.

Marinette nodded. "During study hall," she promised. "Oh, and I, um...have plans tonight. With Adrien."

Alya just grinned.

* * * * *

After school, Adrien walked back to the bakery with Marinette. Chloé had not reappeared for the remainder of the day; Sabrina grew increasingly frantic as her constant texts went ignored, eventually being sent to the director's office for excessive phone use during class.

"I really hope Chloé doesn't get Akumatized again," Adrien said with a grimace. "Seriously, Antibug was bad enough the first time around."

"Can that even happen twice?" Marinette wondered. "Can the same person be Akumatized again after we've captured their Akuma?" She opened her purse and peered inside. "Tikki?"

"I honestly don't know," Tikki replied. "The only reason we even knew the Akuma could multiply is because it's happened with a past champion of the Butterfly Miraculous' holder. And back then it wasn't being used for evil like it is now." She shuddered. "Poor Nooroo..."

"Yeah, there's never really been a need for the person with that Miraculous to use it on the same person more than once," Plagg said from Adrien's jacket. "It's possible Hawk Moth could Akumatize Chloé again. It's even possible she'd become a completely different supervillain the second time around. We'll just have to watch and wait."

Marinette sighed. "Well, we'll just have to deal with that if and when it happens. But seriously," she added, glancing at Adrien, "don't get into it with Chloé on my behalf again. I can take care of myself. I'm pretty sure if word got out you were slapping the Mayor's daughter around, your dad would have a fit. So would Mademoiselle Sancoeur, for that matter."

Adrien laughed. "Fair enough."

When they arrived at the bakery, Marinette's mother Sabine greeted them with a bright smile. "Alya texted me," she said with twinkling mischief in her eyes. "I'm so happy for you two!"

"Mama!" Marinette cried, blushing. "Wait, what's Alya doing texting you?"

Sabine raised an eyebrow and smirked. "Are you kidding? Handling you is a two-woman job!"

Adrien laughed; Marinette stepped on his foot. "Seriously!" she protested, throwing her hands up.

Adrien laid a hand on her shoulder. "They just worry about you," he said. "You're lucky to have a mother and a best friend putting that much effort into looking out for you."

Marinette blushed. "Well...okay. I'll overlook it because I'm too happy today to be mad. But we're talking about this 'handling me' thing later!"

Sabine giggled. "Alright. I guess you two lovebirds want to be alone, so go on upstairs. I've already got some snacks ready for you to take with you so that Tom and I don't have to bug you every five minutes and this poor boy actually gets to eat something." She winked.

Marinette smacked a hand to her face and dragged it down. "You're never letting me live that down, are you?"


Adrien snickered. Shaking her head, Marinette grabbed the tray of snacks Sabine had prepared for them, handed it to Adrien, then stomped upstairs with her boyfriend following behind.

Sabine watched them go, a knowing smile on her face.

* * * * *

Chloé sat in her suite at Le Grand Paris, bawling her eyes out as she had done for the last few hours.

How could Adrien—her Adrien—treat her so coldly? And all because of that Marinette?!

"I hate her," Chloé sobbed into her handkerchief. "I hate her so much..."

"Chloé? What's wrong, my dear?" Mayor Bourgeois strolled into the room, concern written across his face.

"DADDY!" Chloé wailed, shooting to her feet and rushing across the room. "Marinette Dupain-Cheng did something awful to me! No, the worst possible thing she could ever do to me!"

Mayor Bourgeois frowned. *What now,* he wondered. His Chloé had hated that particular girl for years, and he had never quite understood why. He'd only met the girl a handful of times himself, and she seemed pleasant, polite, and kind, only showing a darker side when Chloé accused her of petty theft—an accusation he was ashamed to say he had blown way out of proportion.

And there was no question that Chloé had committed an offense against the girl's highly-respected uncle, the honorable Chef Cheng. He knew because he had been there when it happened.

Still...Chloé was his little girl...

"There, there," he said soothingly, enfolding his daughter in a hug. "What did she do this time?"

"I..." Chloé sniffled. "I don't know how she did it, but somehow she tricked Adrien into thinking she's his girlfriend! And...and he slapped me and told me he never wants to talk to me again and it's all her fault!"

Mayor Bourgeois was taken aback. "Adrien Agreste struck you?"

"It isn't his fault," Chloé whimpered. "She's controlling him. She's like...I dunno, one of those supervillains Ladybug and Chat Noir fight. I just know she is!"

* * * * *

Marinette stood over a battered Chloé, foot planted on her stomach, an evil leer on her hideous face. In one hand, she held the still-beating heart of Adrien Agreste, who stood at her side, eyes dull and glassy. Flames towered behind them as Paris burned. "He will NEVER BE YOURS!" Marinette sneered. "He is MINE, ALL MINE, and so is EVERYTHING YOU EVER CARED ABOUT because I HATE YOU AND I AM EVIL! AAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

* * * * *

Mayor Bourgeois scratched his cheek. "Umm...I think perhaps you need to lie down, dear. You''re overstressed."

"Daddy, you have to DO SOMETHING about that MARINETTE!" Chloé screeched.

Mayor Bourgeois sighed. "I'll look into it," he promised. "Why don't you just rest for now, alright?" Hugging his daughter again, he left the room, straightening his sash and frowning worriedly. Chloé trudged over to her bed and curled up on it, clutching her stuffed ladybug tightly to her chest.

* * * * *

"Oh, you have got to be kidding me," Hawk Moth muttered as he stared out into the darkening evening sky. With a sigh, he formed an Akuma. "Ah well, if I'm not expecting anything to begin with, maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. Fly away, my evil little Akuma. Do your thing. Whatever."

* * * * *

Adrien looked around the small balcony above Marinette's room. "Wow," he said. "I feel like I've been here before."

"You have," Marinette said. "I mean, this isn't the first time you've been to my house, you know."

"I mean this balcony," Adrien corrected. "It seems familiar."

Marinette rolled her eyes. "This is where we landed when we were following Kim that time the shapeshifting zookeeper was after him."

"Oh yeah!" Adrien said. He chuckled. "I guess I didn't recognize it because we were kinda busy that day." He blinked. "But wait..." He tilted his head. "That means we ran into your parents as Ladybug and Chat Noir."

"And we've run into your father since then while transformed."

"And both of our best friends have been Akumatized..." Adrien shook his head. "We need to compare notes or something," he said. "All our adventures together just took on entirely new levels of context."

"Yeah," Marinette agreed. She frowned. "Now that I think about it, I think I've missed a lot of really obvious signs you were Chat Noir."

"I've probably missed just as many that you're Ladybug," Adrien said. They shared a look, then a laugh.

"Okay, let's go back inside and then start back at the beginning."

* * * * *

Adrien and Marinette weren't the only couple from their school spending a quiet evening alone together; Nino was hanging out with Alya in her bedroom. Alya sat at her desk, organizing files ranging from newspaper clippings to photos and videos for Ladyblog while writing a couple of new articles for the school blog. Nino sat on the bed, canvassing tracks on his phone for ideas for a new mix in between idle rounds of the latest popular mobile game.

Alya let out a frustrated groan. "UGH! I'm still no closer to solving the biggest mystery!"

Nino looked up. "Which one?"

Alya glanced over at him. "Uh, duh! Ladybug's identity!" She shook her head. "She could literally be anyone in's hopeless..."

Nino blinked. "Seriously?" He popped out his earbuds and slipped his phone in his pocket.

Alya folded her arms and shot him an annoyed glare. "If you're gonna tell me I shouldn't obsess over unmasking the heroine who's saved my life and countless hundreds of others dozens of times—"

"No, not that," Nino said, shaking his head. "I mean, you seriously don't know?"

"Of COURSE I don't know!" Alya ranted, throwing up her arms. "Why do you think I'm so frustrated over the whole thing?"

Nino stared at her in disbelief. "Dude," he said. "It's so obvious."

Alya blew on her bangs, her eyebrows drawing down. "Really," she said. "Do enlighten me, O Master Detective who can't even figure out why Marinette and Adrien keep wandering off during class and disappearing."

Nino rolled his eyes. "Uh, duh. Because they're Ladybug and Chat Noir?"

Alya blinked. Twice. Then started laughing. "Seriously? You think my best friend and your best friend are—"

"Have you ever even looked at pictures of them side by side?" Nino cut in. "Not to mention I've never seen them in the same place at the same time, have you?"

Alya froze.

"Then there's all the disappearances and absences. It's so classic. You're a superhero fan, you should have suspected them from the very beginning." He held up a finger. "And how's this: Haven't you ever wondered how it is that any time one of these supervillains attacks our class, no matter where we are, they're there? Immediately?"

Alya's jaw dropped. ", that's—"

"Like I said, it's so obvious."

* * * * *

"You know, thinking back," Marinette said as she paced across the lower level of her bedroom, "I should've figured it out when Mylène was turned into that slime monster. I mean, it was so obvious."

Adrien, who was sitting in Marinette's favorite chair, tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Hmm."

"I mean, Chat Noir just showing up out of nowhere when the school was sealed by the Akuma?" Marinette threw her hands up. "How did I miss that?" She paused. "And there was no slime anywhere close to your shoe."

Adrien scratched the back of his head. "Yeah, I dropped a shoe to make it look like Mylène got me," he admitted. He looked up at the ceiling thoughtfully. "So that 'secret mission' Ladybug was on that one time," he said slowly.

Marinette laughed. "Yeah, sorry about that. I needed you around to back me up when I had to deal with Nathanaël as Marinette."

"Speaking of which, it does explain why Ladybug hates Chloé so much," Adrien said.

Marinette snorted. "Please. I can only think of three people that like Chloé. And one of them is Chloé!"

"Ouch!" Adrien said, laughing. He shook his head. "But yeah, thinking back on it all, it's really so obvious."

"Yeah," Marinette said with a giggle.

* * * * *

Alya frowned. "Well if it's 'so obvious'," she said in a snide, mocking tone, making air quotes with her fingers, "why haven't you said anything?"

Nino shrugged. "Adrien's my best friend. Outing him as Chat Noir would be like you spilling the beans on Marinette's crush, only a lot worse, right? Besides, I thought for sure you knew and were pretending not to because you don't want the whole world to know your best friend is Ladybug."

Alya pressed her lips into a thin line, her forehead creasing. She turned to her computer and quickly began pulling up a series of images, compositing them: Marinette next to Ladybug, Adrien next to Chat Noir.

Nino got up, walked over, and leaned over her shoulder. "See?" he said. "Same face shape, same body type, same hair—Marinette doesn't even bother with a different hairstyle as Ladybug. Same eyes. Hair color changes just a little bit, but you can chalk that up to whatever gives them their powers. Same deal with Adrien's eyes looking all cat." He shook his head. "It's so obvious."

Alya stared at the pictures, her brain locking up. "! But..." She shook her head. "It doesn't make any sense! Why wouldn't she tell me, her best friend?"

Nino gave her a look. "Since when do superheroes give away their secret identities unless they have to?"

Alya sighed. "Point," she admitted. "Still." She shook her head. "I won't believe it until I hear it straight from her lips."

* * * * *

"So does Alya know?" Adrien asked.

"Of course not," Marinette said. "Does Nino?"

"Heck no!" Adrien laughed. "Although now that I think about it..." He grimaced. "I didn't do the best job covering my tracks when I was pretending to shower that one time. I didn't even bother turning on the water in the shower until you came looking for me." He smacked his face with a palm.

"Yeah, that's a bit sloppy," Marinette agreed.

"Well, in my defense, I was changing back and forth a lot that day, and my father was Jackady's target." He scratched his chin. "You know what else really should've been a clue?"

* * * * *

"There are only two kids in our class who haven't been Akumatized," Nino said.

Alya groaned. "Adrien and Marinette," she said, shaking her head. "I mean, it could just be a huge coincidence? But when you put it under a microscope, it does seem suspicious."

* * * * *

"Why is it the kids in our class are constantly being targeted, anyway?" Marinette wondered. While they had been talking, they had idly fired up Ultra Mecha Strike III and were busy pounding on each other with digital giant robots.

Adrien shrugged. "Well, to be honest..." He sighed. "I think it's usually Chloé's fault. I mean, remember that horrible picture she texted everyone of Kim on Valentine's Day?"

Marinette grimaced. "Yeah. And he turned into Heartbreaker right after that. Actually, now that I think about it, Chloé's bullying is pretty much to blame for almost all the Akumatization in our class."

"Almost all," Adrien agreed. "Definitely Ivan, Mylène, Sabrina, Nathanaël..." He hummed thoughtfully, brow furrowed as he tossed a killer combo at Marinette.

"Rose, Juleka," Marinette added as she countered and took off half Adrien's health in one shot. "Alix, but that one was really kind of everyone's fault." She frowned. "What about Nino?"

"My father," Adrien said with a grimace. "Nino wanted to throw me a birthday party. Father told him no and kicked him out of the house."


"Hey, what about Max?" Adrien asked as he used a desperation move to level the playing field. "How'd he end up Akumatized?"

Marinette ducked her head. "That one's my fault," she said sheepishly. "The only reason I took his spot in that stupid tournament was so I could spend a little time with you as your partner." She blocked an attack and countered with a special, winning the round. "I didn't stop to think how important it was to him."

"Wow. Not cool, Bugaboo."

"Hey, I made it right in the end," Marinette said defensively. She gave him a sideways glance. "Besides, wasn't Copycat your fault? Because I'm pretty sure Copycat was your fault."

Adrien laughed sheepishly. "Okay, Chat Noir might've started bragging to the guy about being a thing with Ladybug, and he got jealous..." He frowned. "So whose fault was Lady Wifi?"

"Chloé, of course. She got Alya suspended over taking a picture of her locker."

"Ah." Adrien sighed. "Man, how could one person be such a major pain in the—"

There was a knock on the trap door. "Are you two decent in there?" Sabine called.

"GAH!" Marinette flushed, scrambling over and flinging the trap door open. "MAMA! What a horrible thing to ask!"

Sabine laughed. "Sorry, I couldn't resist." She sobered. "Would the two of you come downstairs for a minute? There's...there's somebody here to speak to you." Her eyes were troubled as she added, "It's Mayor Bourgeois."

Marinette's eyes widened. She turned to face an equally stunned Adrien. Pulses racing, they followed Sabine downstairs.

Mayor Bourgeois sat in the living room, sipping tea. He looked up as the two arrived. "Ah, Marinette, Adrien," he said, nodding to them. "Sorry to disturb the two of you—" He frowned. "Though I suppose finding both of you here together partially clears things up..."

"Clears...clears what up, Monsieur Mayor?" Marinette asked nervously.

Mayor Bourgeois studied both of them, tucking his thumbs in his sash as he set his tea on the table. "Chloé is rather upset over..." He glanced at Adrien. "Well, she says you slapped her."

Adrien winced. "Yeah, I did," he admitted. "She said something really insulting and racist to Marinette and I just snapped. I'm sorry." He wrung his hands in his lap. "I guess I should apologize—"

"No you shouldn't," Marinette said. "Sorry, but she had it coming. She can't just say whatever she wants to people without thinking about their feelings."

Mayor Bourgeois nodded. "I do get...a lot of complaints about Chloé," he said with a sigh. "Anyway, I just wanted to get your side of the story, and confirm Marinette isn't a supervillain who's somehow controlling you."

The teens blinked. "Sorry, what?" Marinette asked.

The mayor chuckled. "Chloé is desperate to make Marinette the villain here," he said.

"Yeah, no," Adrien said, putting an arm around Marinette. "She shoved my girlfriend into a wall then called her a half-and-half. There's no excuse for that."

Sabine's eyes tightened. "I should say not," she said icily.

Mayor Bourgeois grimaced. "That, I'll have words with her about," he said. "I have no idea where she's getting this disrespect—this racism—from."

"I think it's mostly whatever grudge she has against me," Marinette said, grimacing. "I have no idea why she hates me so much. I really wish I did. It's's been going on as long as I've known her."

"Hmm. Well, it stops now," Mayor Bourgeois said firmly, standing. "Madame, thank you for the tea. Marinette, Adrien, sorry to have troubled you." With a polite nod, he turned and left.

Adrien glanced at the time and grimaced. "It's getting late," he said. "I really need to get home."

Marinette did her best to hide her disappointment as she wrapped her arms around Adrien. "See you tomorrow?"

"Of course, my lady," Adrien said with a grin, giving her a light kiss on the forehead. With a last hug and a wave goodbye, he left.

Marinette sighed dreamily and melted into a puddle on the living room sofa. Sabine giggled. "Well, he's certainly a charmer," she said, her eyes twinkling.


* * * * *

"Chloé? We need to have a talk. Chloé? Where are you?"

Mayor Bourgeois searched every inch of his daughter's suite, finding no trace of her. He called her phone, only to hear it ringing from her bedroom.

Icy panic gripped his heart.

* * * * *

Dawn was rapidly approaching. On a rooftop overlooking Tom & Sabine Boulangerie Patisserie, a dark figure stood, bright blue eyes narrowed. Only her honey blonde hair and the red spots that spangled her skintight black bodysuit and mask separated her from the darkness of early morning; the lights from the city reduced her to a silhouette, an incongruous shadow in the sky.

"Marinette," she growled into the stillness.

A massive, bladed black yo-yo with a reversed ladybug motif hit the concrete at her feet with a sharp *clank*.

"I'll show you what happens to anyone who tries to take what belongs to me."

Chapter Four: The Revenge of Antibug

Marinette and Adrien—not in costume, but as themselves—ran, jumped, yo-yo swung, staff-bounced, and laughed their way across the rooftops of Paris. Hundreds of black butterflies swarmed around them; Marinette swept them out of the sky and turned them into heart-shaped chocolates, which she and Adrien fed each other. As they played tag, ate chocolates, and flirted their way across the city, Plagg and Tikki flew in behind them, weaving together in intricate helix patterns, trailing red and black ribbons behind them that announced the wedding of Ladybug and Chat Noir.

They landed in one of Paris' many beautiful gardens, transforming; Marinette's Ladybug costume manifested as a black-spotted red wedding dress, while Adrien's Chat Noir costume became a leather tuxedo. Curiously, the little old Chinese man Marinette had seen twice before—once on the street outside the bakery, again when he healed Tikki—officiated the ceremony, wearing Catholic vestments with a Hawaiian motif.

Chat Noir was about to kiss Ladybug when Hawk Moth burst in, letting out a defiant shout that sounded like Marinette's ringtone.

Marinette opened her eyes and saw her ceiling. Sitting up and stretching, she fumbled around for her phone. "Okay, whoever woke me up is toast," she muttered. Not even bothering to check who was calling, she tapped the green 'answer' pad. "Hello?"

"Good morning, my lady," Adrien's voice said.

Marinette was instantly fully awake. "Good morning, toast!"

...well, mostly awake.


Marinette's brain caught up with her mouth, and she blushed furiously. "GAH! I mean, good morning Adrien! Sorry, I'm...not a morning person. My brain doesn't turn all the way on first thing in the morning...aheh..." She twirled a lock of hair around her finger. "So, how are you?"

"I'm great," Adrien said. "Sorry to call at seven in the morning, I just couldn't wait until we got to school to hear your sweet voice."

Marinette giggled. "You sure know how to lay it on thick, Chaton," she said. She yawned and stood up, stretching. "Well, I guess I should get ready for school. It takes me a while to turn from a pumpkin into a princess."

"I can't picture you as a pumpkin," Adrien said.

Marinette took a "before" selfie and sent it over.

"...okay yeah, that's at least a twenty minute job," Adrien said in a teasing tone.

Marinette rolled her eyes. "You know, I'm so glad I know you're Chat Noir now," she said. "I can tell you what a dork you are without freaking out over it."

Adrien laughed. "See you at school, Bugbear."

Shaking her head and giggling, Marinette headed to the bathroom, a silly smile on her face, confident that not even an Akuma attack or a surprise quiz that counted for thirty percent of her grade could ruin her good mood today.

* * * * *

As Marinette waited at the crosswalk, she felt a sudden sense of wrongness. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end; some sense in the back of her mind told her to keep her guard up.

Acting on instinct, she just barely backpedaled away from the curb as a massive black yo-yo slammed into the pavement, sending cement chips and dust flying in all directions. She stared at it with wide eyes.

All around her, other pedestrians began to gasp, whisper, or scream in terror. Phones were whipped out, pointing at something across the street.

Marinette's immediate concern, however, was the yo-yo. It was the size of her head, glossy black with five large red dots embossed on the surface. Around the edges, a number of large, curved blades folded out from the disc, each looking wickedly sharp.


Marinette's eyes traveled up the long black cable connected to the yo-yo, a spike of dread slowly crawling up her spine. Her eyes widened as they found the source of the voice.

It was Chloé...or rather, Antibug. The black copy of Ladybug's costume was just as she remembered it, right down to reversed version of her Miraculous. The only change in her appearance from before was the ridiculously oversized and bladed yo-yo, which Antibug whirled through the air with contemptuous ease.

"Merde," Marinette muttered. Without bothering to comment on the slight against her heritage, she took off running; behind her, she heard Antibug's yo-yo whistling through the air. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and quickly called Adrien.

"Couldn't wait until we got to school to talk to me, eh gorgeous?"

"No time for the Casanova routine, we've got a problem!" Marinette replied, breaking left as Antibug's next attack cut into the sidewalk at her heels.

"An Akuma?" Adrien asked, his tone suddenly all-business. "This early in the morning?"

"It's Antibug!" Marinette said breathlessly. "She ambushed me on the street outside my house!"

"Antibug? Are you serious?!"

The yo-yo whooshed over Marinette's head; she took a left at the end of the block. "Do you know any other reverse-color Ladybugs with the same weapon I have?" She grimaced as Antibug's giant yo-yo swung around the corner behind her. "Well, almost the same. She got a wicked upgrade!"

"Hang tight, my lady. Your cat in shining armor is on his way!"

Marinette pressed herself flat against the wall of a bank's covered entryway. Out in the street, Antibug strolled down the sidewalk, casually cleaving signs, traffic signals, and cars with her yo-yo. "Come out, come out, wherever you are!" Antibug sang. "You can't hide from me, Marinette! You're an ugly mole on the backside of Paris, and I'm about to remove you!"

"I don't know which part of that was the most insulting," Marinette muttered as she opened her purse. "Tikki, spots on!"

Tikki flew into Marinette's earrings, which turned from silver-edged black to brilliant red with five black spots; the skintight, indestructible red bodysuit of Ladybug formed on her body, her yo-yo appearing at her hip. Once her transformation finished, she flipped out into the street, yo-yo at the ready.

"Antibug!" Ladybug declared as frightened citizens gave them a wide berth. "I don't know how you got your powers back, but I can't let you walk around destroying Paris!"

"Oh, hello Ladybug!" Antibug said cheerfully. "I'm not interested in destroying Paris. I'm only interested in destroying that spiteful little tramp that stole my love!" She paused, then added, "Oh, and taking your Miraculous, I guess. After I kill Marinette."

"That's not going to happen!" Ladybug said. She launched herself into the air, grappling a balustrade on a third-floor apartment balcony and swinging up to gain height, then angled herself back around for an attack run. She was forced to abort her attack as Antibug's deadly yo-yo whizzed through the air, promising certain death with its razor-sharp blades.

"Mine's bigger than yours," Antibug taunted, cackling.

Chat Noir somersaulted down from a rooftop behind Antibug. He uncurled from his flip, tackling her to the ground. Antibug bucked upward, knocking him into the air, then sprang up onto her hands, kicking out viciously and catching Chat Noir in the gut.

"Bad kitty!" Antibug said as she flipped to her feet.

"He's not a bad kitty, he just wants to bring Mama a bug he caught!" Ladybug called out, dropping down and kicking Antibug in the side of the head. She backflipped away, flicking her yo-yo out and seizing Antibug around the left ankle. Antibug went down in a tangle of limbs, but quickly recovered; a wide swing of her massive death yo-yo drove Ladybug and Chat Noir back.

"What's with the super yo-yo?" Chat Noir wondered as he twirled his baton. "Is that supposed to be how she compensates for you having better curves?"

Ladybug blushed furiously. "GAH! Seriously? You're doing this right now?"

Chat Noir leaned against his baton, flashing her a rakish grin. "What? You know you love it, Bugaboo!"

"Will you two SHUT UP?" Antibug screamed. "I have a pest to exterminate and you're in my way!" She swung her yo-yo in a wide arc; Chat Noir and Ladybug took to the rooftops and sprinted in opposite directions.

Once they'd each gained a block on Antibug, Ladybug opened her yo-yo and called Chat Noir on the communicator. "Is it in her earrings again, you think?"

"I think it's the yo-yo this time," Chat Noir replied. "It's positively screaming evil."

"Well, getting that monstrosity away from her is going to be tough," Ladybug said. "Do you have eyes on her?"

"I only have eyes for you, My Lady."

"Adrien," Ladybug hissed, "seriously, you can flirt with me after we've dealt with Chloé's psychotic alter ego and her massive grudge against me."

"Oh, take all the fun out of it," Chat Noir replied petulantly. "I see her. Uh-oh. Guess where she's headed?"

"The school?" Ladybug guessed.


"Greeeeeat." Ladybug changed directions, throwing her yo-yo out and swinging in a low arc over Paris. Chat Noir caught up with her at the school gates, where their classmates were showing up for an ordinary school day. Their arrival caused quite a bit of commotion.

"She isn't here yet?" Ladybug asked.

Chat Noir shook his head. "That yo-yo upgrade cost her some mobility. She can't exactly swing around on it as easily as you do."

"Sacrificing speed for power. I hope we can use that to our advantage." Ladybug stood to her full height and raised her voice. "EVERYONE! May I have your attention!"

All eyes turned to her.

"There's a supervillain headed right this way," Ladybug continued. "I need everyone to get inside and get someplace safe. Text all your friends and tell them to stay clear of the school until we've dealt with the problem!"

Phones were already in hands, fingers flying over their screens as throngs of teenagers flocked just inside the courtyard entrance, jockeying for position to watch the battle that was about to unfold.

Antibug landed on the street outside the school, cutting a wide groove in the pavement around herself. She crossed her arms and glared at Ladybug and Chat Noir. "Send out Marinette Dupain-Cheng," she commanded.

"No!" Ladybug replied.

Antibug raised the back of her gloved hand to her mouth and laughed. "Do you really think you can protect every wretched little nobody at this school, Ladybug? If you don't send out Marinette, I'm going to start on her friends."

Ladybug clenched her teeth, slinging her yo-yo at Antibug. Antibug yawned and knocked it aside with her own yo-yo, then sent it flying out toward Ladybug. Chat Noir intercepted with his baton, knocking it off course, but wasn't able to mount a counterattack before Antibug whipped it back around and caught him in the side.

"CHAT NOIR!" Ladybug cried as her boyfriend was sent sprawling on the sidewalk.

Chat Noir pushed himself to his feet. "It's okay," he grunted. "She didn't get me with the blades..."

Antibug cackled madly. "Give it up, Ladybug! You and your little alley cat are no match for me!"

"Psst, Ladybug," a voice whispered from behind her. "Is that Chloé Bourgeois?"

"Obviously!" Ladybug snapped back, risking a glance over her shoulder. Alya was there, along with Mireille Caquet, who looked nervous.

Alya frowned. "Didn't she already do a stint as an Akuma? I mean, I wasn't there for it myself, but I heard about the whole Antibug thing."

"Hawk Moth transformed her again," Ladybug said. "I didn't know he could do that, but apparently he can."

"I see you talking to Marinette's BFF!" Antibug called. "I bet she knows where Marinette's hiding! Bring her to me, I bet I can get her to talk."

"Keep your hands and your yo-yo off these innocent kids!" Ladybug yelled. She looked back at Alya. "Run," she insisted.

"No way! I need to cover this for Ladyblog."

"Are you serious?!"

"Umm...I think running is a good idea," Mireille said. "We should definitely listen to Ladybug."

"Yeah, listen to—" Ladybug glanced at Mireille, then stopped abruptly. "No, wait. I think I've got a plan. It's a terrible plan and it's super risky, but we need to get her to lower her defenses." She looked to Alya. "You're best friends with Marinette, right?"

Alya nodded. "Of course."

"Okay. Can you run to her place and take Mireille with you? Get some of Marinette's clothes, work on her hair..."

Alya raised an eyebrow, glancing at Mireille. "You mean a decoy Marinette?"

"Exactly," Ladybug said, nodding. "If she sees what she thinks is Marinette coming down the street, she'll drop her guard, and Chat Noir and I can get that yo-yo away from her."

"Umm...why can't you just use Marinette as bait?" Mireille asked nervously. "I mean, I don't even look anything like Marinette, and...and I really don't want to be used as bait."

"Yeah, why can't we get Marinette to do it?" Alya asked with a smirk, her eyebrow arching higher.

Ladybug paled, cursing herself for overlooking a crucial detail. "Umm...Chat Noir's got her stashed someplace safe? Yeah, he took her and hid her away when all this started. At, the Agreste mansion, I think! Yeah. That place is a fortress, trust me."

"Uh-huh," Alya said flatly, arms crossed. She shook her head. "You sure you can take Antibug down before anything bad happens to Mireille?"

"I promise," Ladybug said firmly.

"Okay." Alya grabbed Mireille by the arm and started running off with her.

"Wait! I didn't agree to this!" Mireille squeaked.

"Sorry girl, duty calls!"

Antibug's yo-yo slammed into the ground in front of Alya. "Going somewhere?" she yelled.

"They're going to get Marinette for you!" Ladybug called.

Antibug frowned. "No," she said slowly. "I think they'll take me to Marinette."

"Wait!" Ladybug insisted. "Don't you want there to be as many witnesses as possible when you get your revenge on Marinette?"

Antibug tilted her head, chewing on her lip. "Well," she drawled, "I suppose it would be more satisfying to chop off her head in front of an audience..."

"Then let Alya and Mireille go get her," Ladybug said.

Antibug rolled her eyes. "Oh...very well. But hurry it up! I haven't got all day."

As Alya and Mireille ran off, Chat Noir backflipped over to Ladybug. "What's going on?"

Ladybug grimaced. "I'm using Mireille as bait," she said.

Chat Noir blinked. "Come again?"

Ladybug leaned in close and whispered, "Antibug is still Chloé, and Chloé is ridiculously ignorant. Throw some of my clothes on her, fake the hair, Antibug won't know the difference."

"That's...a really stupid plan," Chat Noir said.

"I know, I know! But it'll buy us some time to figure something out."

"By. The. Way," Antibug said suddenly, leaping over the line she'd carved in the street.

Ladybug and Chat Noir tensed.

"This annoying pest in my head keeps ranting about your Miraculous. I think while I'm waiting for Marinette, I'll go ahead and take them."

* * * * *

Alya and Mireille burst through the front door of the bakery, startling Tom Dupain. "Alya! What's going on? Shouldn't you be at school?"

"There's a supervillain attacking the school!" Alya said breathlessly. "We think it's Chloé! She's hunting Marinette!"

Sabine gasped as she walked in from the back. "Oh my god! Is she—"

"She's fine, Chat Noir has her stashed at Adrien's place," Alya said. "Ladybug asked me to dress Mireille here up as a decoy to distract Chloé so they can stop her!"

Sabine wrinkled her nose. "That doesn't sound like much of a plan," she said.

"I know, right?" Mireille said, throwing up her hands. "I don't even get why I have to—"

"No, I think I see what Ladybug's thinking," Tom said. "Sabine, you go upstairs with the girls, see what you can do."

Sabine frowned. "Well...okay," she said dubiously. "I guess Ladybug must have something in mind, so...we should trust her."

* * * * *

Antibug was proving to be more trouble than she had been the first time around.

Moreso because Ladybug wasn't willing to use her Lucky Charm until she had a solid opening. Abandoning Chat Noir to fight Antibug by himself while she fed Tikki wasn't an option in her books, especially since she'd sent Alya and Mireille off on possibly the worst tangent she could conceivably have come up with.

*What was I even thinking? That whole decoy bit is the stupidest idea I've ever had!*

Sparks flew as the blades on Antibug's yo-yo ground against Chat Noir's baton again and again. Chat Noir gritted his teeth, digging in and bracing himself as he fought with all his might to hold back the onslaught. "Do...SOMETHING!" he grunted.

Ladybug jumped straight up, bounced off Chat Noir's head, flipped forward through the air, and launched her own yo-yo at Antibug's nose. It connected with a solid and satisfying smack, and Antibug reeled her yo-yo back in as she rubbed at her nose. She glared at Ladybug as she landed in front of Chat Noir. "Pest! You'll pay for that!"

Ladybug flicked her yo-yo out, wound the cable around an electric scooter somebody had left parked nearby, and yanked it back in a wide arc, slamming the bike into the back of Antibug's head. She dropped like a sack of flour. Ladybug approached her calmly but warily. "It's way too early in the morning to deal with one of your tantrums, Chloé," she said conversationally. Before she could wrest the killer yo-yo away from Antibug, however, Antibug swung it in a low sweeping arc that forced Ladybug to jump back, then heaved the scooter off herself and stood up, slightly winded and clearly in pain, but enraged, a murderous scowl on her face.

"I suppose it wouldn't hurt to get in a little beheading practice before I execute that half-breed tramp," Antibug snarled. "I'm sure Hawk Moth won't mind if I hand over your Miraculous with your head still attached!"

"Wow, this one's way more violent than our usual foe," Chat Noir commented as he stood at Ladybug's side, readying his baton.

"Yeah, I think being Akumatized a second time did something to her," Ladybug replied in a worried tone. "I mean, this isn't the first time an Akuma has tried to kill someone, but Antibug is getting into the spirit of things a little too WHOA!" She barely managed to get out of the way of a literally killer swing of Antibug's yo-yo, which arced high and wide as Chat Noir smacked it in passing; it took the entire top half off of a tree that was older than Ladybug's parents. Chat Noir planted his baton and extended it, launching himself toward Antibug in a flying kick; she pivoted on one heel, letting him sail past as she grabbed his baton with her free hand and flung it away while snapping her yo-yo back.

Ladybug crouched low, waiting for the yo-yo's return. As it tried to shred her, she jumped up, landing on top of it, and threw her own yo-yo at Antibug's hand. Antibug jerked out of the way, but it left her open; Ladybug and Chat Noir cross-kicked her in the sternum and kidneys, grabbed her by the upper arms, and wrestled her to the ground.

"It's over, Chloé!" Ladybug said.

Antibug grinned.


* * * * *

"Hmm...okay, how about we do this...and this, and..." Sabine stepped back, tilting her head and appraising Mireille.

"It's not bad," Alya said. "I mean, Chloé's not the sharpest knife in the drawer. If we're careful, this might actually work."

"Umm...there's one problem," Mireille said as she looked at herself in the mirror. She had to admit that they had mostly succeeded into turning her into a body double for Marinette, even despite her hair being too short to properly copy Marinette's hairstyle, but there was still one critical flaw in the disguise that could blow the whole plan. "My eyes are brown."

"Hmm," Sabine hummed thoughtfully. "Yeah, that's a problem. We don't exactly have any color contacts lying around..."

Alya snatched a pair of sunglasses off Marinette's dresser and slapped them on Mireille's face. "Problem solved," she said. "Let's hurry back!"

"Good luck, girls!" Sabine called as the two teens ran back downstairs. She shook her head and sighed. "The situations kids get into these days..."

* * * * *

Ladybug and Chat Noir lay sprawled on the ground, groaning in pain. "What...just happened?" Chat Noir grumbled as he rolled to his feet. His eyes widened. "Uh-oh."

Ladybug picked herself up, following his gaze. Her jaw dropped. "How in the—"

Antibug's yo-yo had transformed into some sort of battle armor which now covered her head, torso, and upper arms, the blades sticking out of her shoulders and wrists.

Antibug let out loud, whooping peals of laughter. "Ready for round two, Ladybug?"


Antibug, Ladybug, and Chat Noir all turned to see Alya jogging back up to them, along with a girl who, if you squinted right, could almost pass for Marinette, wearing one of her T-shirts, an older, more careworn version of her usual jacket, pink pants, and rose-tinted sunglasses with pearl pink plastic frames. Alya was the one doing the talking, as the decoy Marinette could barely breathe and was doubled over, grasping her knees and panting.

Antibug smirked. "Ah, there you are, Marinette! Right on schedule for your execution." She stalked toward the two girls, the blades on her wrists gleaming in the morning light. "It's just as well that Ladybug and Chat Noir forced me to use my Anti-Charm. I'd much rather do this...up close and personal."

It was exactly the distraction Ladybug needed. "LUCKY CHARM!" She threw her yo-yo into the air; in a swirl of light, an old-fashioned camera with a huge flash bulb fell into her waiting hands. She looked around, seeing Mireille backing away from Antibug, who was slowly, menacingly stalking her. She looked at Chat Noir, who was sneaking up behind Antibug. She looked at Alya, who was protecting Mireille, a nervous but defiant look on her face.

She nodded. "Got it!" She sprinted forward, jumping up and landing on Chat Noir's shoulders, then launching herself high into the air. "ALYA! CATCH!" She threw the camera.

Alya caught it, took a second to look at it, and grinned. She held it up and found Antibug in the viewfinder. "Say cheese!" She clicked the shutter, and the flash went off in Antibug's face.

"AUGH!" Antibug screwed her eyes shut and tried to cover them with her hands, but her helmet and the blades on her wrists impededed her. "YOU LITTLE—"


Body low to the ground, Chat Noir sprinted forward, tagging Antibug in the back. Her armor rusted and shattered, releasing a black butterfly which tried to flutter away.

Ladybug opened her yo-yo and swung it back and forth like a pendulum. "No more evildoing for you, little Akuma!" She lashed out with the yo-yo in a wide, sweeping arc. "Time to free you from evil!" Catching the Akuma, she reeled her yo-yo back in, then opened it, releasing a snow-white butterfly. "Bye-bye, little butterfly!"

"Here, be sure to send me a copy!" Alya said, tossing the camera back to her. Ladybug grinned and threw it high into the air.


A swarm of glowing ladybugs swept over the city, undoing every bit of damage Antibug had done; Antibug herself reverted to Chloé Bourgeois, clutching a large stuffed ladybug plush toy. She blinked and looked around, confusion on her face. "Huh? What am I doing here? Why is the sun up?"

Ladybug held out her fist for Chat Noir to pound. He instead swept her into his arms and kissed her, grinning rakishly. She blushed and pushed him away slightly. "You sure you want the press commenting on our relationship?"

"I don't care if the whole world comments on it," he replied tenderly.

Alya stared at them, arms folded. "Uhh, not to interrupt you two lovebirds or anything, but..."

Ladybug turned to Mireille, rubbing the back of her head sheepishly. "I owe you an apology," she said. "And a huge thank you for your help today."

"I didn't really do anything except run around and change clothes," Mireille said. "By the way, tell Marinette I'm keeping these." She waved and headed off to class.

Ladybug's Miraculous beeped.

"Well, we'd better go, uhh...let that Marinette girl know it's safe," Chat Noir said. "Her boyfriend, too. He goes to this school, right?"

"I think so, yeah," Ladybug agreed. They took off into the city together, quickly disappearing from sight.

Alya narrowed her eyes as she watched them go.

* * * * *

"Well, now we know Hawk Moth can Akumatize someone more than once," Marinette said miserably.

"That's a useful thing to know," Adrien agreed. "What worries me is how much more vicious Antibug was this time around." He scratched his cheek. "Also, I'm really worried about whether or not we'll keep seeing Antibug over and over again. You know Chloé's never letting go of her anger and resentment."

Marinette sighed. "I hope you're wrong about that," she said. "So, umm...wanna have lunch together later?"

Adrien grimaced. "Can't today," he said. "I have a photo shoot. You can come and watch—"

Marinette thought about it. "Nah," she said. "Mama and Papa are probably freaking out about this morning, so I should go home today." She sighed. "That was a really stupid idea. Why did I do that?"

Adrien shrugged. "It's not the first time you've had a lapse in judgment where Chloé's involved. But it all worked out in the end, so..."

"Yeah." Marinette bowed her head, her shoulders slumped.

"Hey." Adrien lifted her chin. "Nobody's perfect. Not even Ladybug." He gave her a light, fleeting kiss. "We should probably get going."

* * * * *

Marinette was grateful that class started late, because she spent several minutes on the phone consoling her mother and reassuring her everything was okay.

When Marinette returned home for lunch, she found Alya already waiting there. Her mother and Alya both had their "disappointed in you" faces on. Her father was out front in the bakery.

"Now, Marinette," Sabine said gently, pacing around her daughter in the kitchen. "Don't misunderstand. The absolute last thing I want is to see my little girl in danger. But I have to wonder exactly why you went and hid someplace safe and let Ladybug use a girl who had absolutely nothing to do with this whole mess as bait."

"That's an interesting question," Alya put in. "Especially seeing as how nobody could reach you the whole time this was going on. Don't tell me you turned your phone off in the middle of a mess like this, or lost it somewhere?"

Marinette winced. "It''s a really mixed up story," she said. "I don't really know why—"

"Yeah you do," Alya said, leaning forward and slamming her hands on the counter. "Look, what went down this morning? Was not cool. Sure, it worked, but you could've just as easily gotten Mireille killed. What if your plan hadn't worked? What if you hadn't been fast enough?"

"My plan?" Marinette asked, drawing back in alarm. "Wh-what are you talking abou—"

"No, girl. Sorry. This is where you come clean." Alya shook her head, pushing her glasses up with the middle finger of her right hand. "When other girls have to play body double for you because you literally can't be in two places at once and you involve me and your mom in it? This is the point at which you fess up."

Sabine blinked. "Alya, what are you...what are you talking about?"

"Yeah, Alya, what are you talking about?" Marinette asked.

Alya reached into her pocket and pulled out a folded sheet of paper, which she unfolded and laid on the counter. It was a printed-out photo of Marinette and Ladybug side by side.

"The real reason you couldn't be the bait this morning? It's because you're Ladybug."

Chapter Five: A True Test of Character

A deafening silence filled the kitchen.

Sabine slowly turned to face her daughter, whose eyes were wide with dread and panic.

Marinette opened her mouth to say something, but Alya raised a hand to ward her off. "Don't try to deny it. No lame excuses. You're Ladybug." She sighed. "It took me a lot longer to figure it out than it should have. I already feel stupid for not realizing it sooner. Don't insult my intelligence by lying about it."

"Marinette?" Sabine asked quietly, her hands clasped to her chest. " this true?"

Marinette bowed her head. "You couldn't have confronted me about this in private?" she asked quietly. "You had to do this in front of Mama?"

Alya sighed. "If you're mad at me for that, I'll take it like a big girl. But it's for your own good. If the reason you've been missing class and disappearing so often is because you're out there saving the world, don't your parents deserve to know?"

"Nevermind that," Sabine said. "If she's putting herself in danger fighting those...those things on the news, we absolutely have to know about that!"

Marinette looked up at Alya, hurt and betrayal in her eyes. "Who else knows?" she asked. "Have you told anybody else?"

"Of course not," Alya said, her own eyes showing hurt. "You're my best friend." She sighed. "Nino knows, though. He's actually the one who figured it out."

Marinette buried her face in her hands. "Do you know about—"

"Yeah. Him too."

Marinette shook her head. "I'm going upstairs," she announced, retreating to her room.

"Marinette, wait—!"

The hatch door swung open, then swung shut. Sabine quickly raced after Marinette, but paused when she heard something heavy scraping across the floor upstairs. When she pushed on the hatch, it wouldn't budge. She returned to the kitchen, eyes full of worried tears, and gave Alya a helpless, pleading look.

Alya ran a hand through her hair, letting out a weary sigh. "Yeah, that could've gone better," she said. "I'll...I'll give her a bit to cool down, then I'll try to...yeah." With a grimace, she turned and left the bakery.

Sabine looked up the stairs to her daughter's now-inaccessible bedroom. "Marinette..."

* * * * *

Marinette flung herself onto her bed, sobbing. Tikki flew out of her purse and landed on her shoulder, a sad look in her eyes. "Marinette..."

"DAMMIT!" Marinette snarled, sitting up suddenly and forcing Tikki to take flight. "Everything was perfect!" I finally got together with Adrien! I found out he's my partner! It was all falling into place! Then Alya had to go and—"

"Care about you? In her own really in-your-face, nosy way?"

Marinette sighed and flopped back onto her bed. "In front of my mother," she moaned.

Tikki heaved a tiny sigh of her own. "Yeah," she said. "It's always the hardest when Ladybug gets outed to her parents against her will."

Marinette looked up. "It's happened before?"

Tikki shrugged. "It's unavoidable," she said. "Sooner or later, somebody figures out you're a superhero. It could be your parents, your best friend, your lover, your children, your enemies..." She shuddered. "That one's the worst." She shook her head. "When I told you to guard your secret identity, that was to protect you and the people you care about, yes, but more importantly, it was to let you grow into the pressure that comes with the burden of your powers. Once you're used to being Ladybug and can handle the pressure of just being Ladybug, that's when one or two people usually find out your secret. Preferably by choice."

Marinette sniffled. "So you mean it isn't a rule of the Miraculous?"

"It's more to give a brand new Ladybug room to grow into the role without outside interference," Tikki said with a soft smile. "For the past several months, you've been tested as a superhero. You've fought enemies, lived a double life, balanced your own personal life and school with your responsibilities as Ladybug. I had kinda hoped that it'd be another year or two before this happened, and honestly I wasn't sure what to expect with you and Chat Noir knowing each other's secret, but..." She shook her head. "That had to happen. The way you were pining for each other and not knowing? That would've turned into a sickness of the heart if it stayed the way it was."

"A sickness of the heart, huh...?"

"Love with full disclosure is way better than pining away until you can't think straight," Tikki said. "That's what led to that whole mess with Max, remember? This other mess, though, with Alya and your mother? That's where your true test of character begins." She put her little paw-hands on her hips. "You're failing it so far, by the way."

Marinette glared at her. "Excuse me?"

"You got outed as Ladybug so you're hiding in your bed like a petulant child with your chaise blocking the only way anybody without superpowers can get in here," Tikki said bluntly. "You have every right to be mad at Alya for doing what she did in front of your mother, but she's still your best friend, and if you don't make up with her you'll regret it. But for now, you need to face your parents and, an adult about this."

Marinette stared at her for a long time. Finally, she sighed and flung herself off the bed, then unblocked the trap door. "You're right," she said. "I need to go down there, face the music, and get grounded for the rest of my natural life..."

* * * * *

"We should ground you for the rest of your natural life."

As soon as Sabine had told Tom what was going on, he had immediately closed the bakery, citing a family emergency, while Sabine had called Collège Françoise Dupont to inform them Marinette would be missing her afternoon classes. The family now sat in their living room; Tikki, no longer needing to hide, sat in Marinette's lap. Her existence had come as something of a shock to Marinette's parents, but no more so than the revelation that their daughter spent a great deal of her time swinging around Paris on a magical yo-yo.

Marinette looked down at Tikki, abject misery written across her face.

"We won't, of course," Sabine said. "But you do realize this whole...thing has shaken our trust in you pretty badly."

"It does explain all those absences and disappearances, though," Tom put in.

Marinette sighed. "Mama, Papa..." She braced herself and looked up, a fiery determination in her eyes. "I'm not going to say I'm sorry, because I'm not. I don't know why I was chosen to become Ladybug, but it doesn't matter. Paris needs Ladybug. I need Ladybug. After everything I've been through, after everything I've seen, I can't stand by and do nothing." She absently picked Tikki up and held her close to her heart. "I couldn't tell you because it's a dangerous secret. I don't like keeping secrets from you, but this..."

"Don't blame Marinette," Tikki said. "I made her keep this secret. I knew in time she'd have to tell you, but she needed to—"

"No, I could've ignored you and told them anyway," Marinette interrupted. "I'm the only one here who had to make that choice."

Tom and Sabine looked at each other, wordless communication passing between them. Sabine looked at Marinette and smiled. "You've become so strong," she said. "This past year, I've noticed a change in you, seen you starting to grow..." She stood up, walked over to Marinette, and enfolded her in a motherly embrace. "It's not just because of you being Ladybug, it's because you've learned to accept responsibilities and...and make hard choices, and live with the consequences." She pursed her lips. "Now, you have lied to us, probably more than we realize, and I'm afraid there have to be consequences for that."

Marinette bowed her head. "Yes, Mama."

"So once we're done talking, you're going to scrub every inch of the bakery, including cleaning the ovens," Tom said. "They're long overdue."

"Yes, Papa." Marinette paused. "So how long am I grounded for?"

Tom chuckled. "I don't think grounding you would be fair to you, Adrien, or Paris," he said. "But your grades need to stay above average if you're going to keep leading this double life of yours."

"And we're very worried about, dangerous what you do is," Sabine said. "I mean, we've seen what Ladybug and Chat Noir do, both on the news and in person." She frowned, putting her hands on Marinette's shoulders. "How close have you come to dying doing this? How badly hurt have you gotten? Tell the truth."

Marinette winced. "Well, I've never gotten too badly hurt," she said. "Mostly just exhausted after some of my fights. As Ladybug, I'm practically indestructible. I won't say there haven't been close calls, but—"

"I won't let anything happen to her," a new voice intruded. "Ever. I promise."

All three turned around to see Chat Noir leaning in the hallway door. Marinette's eyes widened. "Chat Noir, what are you—"

"Alya called me," he said. "Told me everything." He clenched his fist; his transformation reversed, leaving Adrien standing in his place. He walked over and pulled Marinette into a hug; she leaned into him, pressing her head against his chest. Adrien looked at her parents. "You can count on me to watch over her," he insisted.

Sabine blinked. "Adrien? You're Chat Noir?"

Marinette looked up at Adrien. "I, uhh...didn't tell them about that," she said.

Adrien blinked. "Oh," he said sheepishly. "Well." He scratched the back of his head and laughed nervously. "Awkward..."

"I told you to let the girl handle it herself," Plagg muttered sleepily. "She has more sense than you do."

Sabine turned a motherly frown on Adrien. "What about your family?" she asked. "Are you going to tell them?"

She saw Marinette's frantic "don't go there" gesture too late.

Adrien seemed to deflate. "My father's already determined to control every aspect of my life. Even getting him to agree to let me go to a regular school with normal kids took an outright act of defiance. Up until the start of this school year, I've always been privately tutored." He shook his head. "Chat Noir is practically the only thing I have that isn't either controlled or monitored. I'm not letting him take that away from me."

Sabine paled. "That's awful. What about your mother? Doesn't she—" She trailed off as she saw the pain in Adrien's eyes. "Oh," she said softly. She swiftly drew him into a hug. "I'm sorry..."

"Father must absolutely never know I'm Chat Noir, or that Marinette is Ladybug," Adrien said once Sabine released him. "If he finds out, I'll never see Marinette or any of my friends again. I can't live with that."

Marinette moved in to embrace him, her eyes wet with unshed tears. Tom and Sabine exchanged worried glances.

Adrien's phone beeped an alarm at him. He grimaced.

Marinette looked up at him. "Go on," she said. "Go back to school."

"I don't know," Adrien said. "Will you be—"

"I'll be fine," Marinette said with a roll of her eyes. "Besides, I'll be busy scrubbing ovens all afternoon. I don't think you want to stick around for that."

"Well..." Adrien looked at her hesitantly, then at her parents. "Okay," he said. "But after—"

Marinette grimaced. "After that, I...probably need to talk to Alya," she said. "I'm still way mad at her, and I'd better get some sort of apology out of her, but...I'm not going to shut my best friend out of my life." She paused, then added, "By the way, Nino knows about both of us. He's the one who figured it out."

Adrien let out a curse that made Sabine jump and Tom raise an eyebrow. "That sneaky little...!" He sighed. "Okay. I'll deal with that during study hall." He gave Marinette another hug and a peck on the cheek. "I will stop by after school. You can wait until after I check up on you to do your thing with Alya, right?"

"Okay," Marinette said with a smile.

Adrien waved goodbye to Tom and Sabine, then headed downstairs. They watched him go with fond smiles.

"You have the best boyfriend ever, you know?" Sabine told Marinette. Then, with a giggle, she added, "Well...second best." She squeezed Tom's massive arm.

Marinette blushed and giggled. "Mama!" She sighed dreamily. "But yeah, he's...amazing." She stretched and popped her knuckles. "Well, I guess I'd better get to work."

"Marinette? One other thing," Tom said.

"Yes, Papa?"

"From now on, try not to use your schoolmates as bait?"

Marinette cringed. "I owe Mireille so many apologies..."

* * * * *

Adrien ran into Alya and Nino at the school gates. Alya looked worried. " mad is she?" she asked.

Adrien frowned. "How mad do you think she should be?" he asked. He glanced at Nino. "We need to have a little talk."

"Yeah," Nino said, shifting awkwardly.

Adrien looked back at Alya. "You owe Marinette an apology," he said. "You really should not have blown her cover in front of her parents."

Alya sighed, hanging her head. "I know," she said miserably. "Do you think...if I go over there after...?"

Adrien considered her for a moment, then nodded. "I'll drop you off on the way there," he said. "I'm checking up on her later."

"How much trouble is she in?" Alya asked.

Adrien snorted. "Please, you know her parents better than I do. Do you really think she's in trouble? She has to clean ovens all afternoon. That's pretty much it."

Alya deflated, her shoulders sagging. "Thank God." She shook her head. " seemed like the right thing to do at the time, you know? I just—"

"Save it for Marinette," Adrien said, holding up a hand. He shook his head. "She'll forgive you. You know she will." With that, he headed into the school.

"Yeah, but will you forgive me?" Alya said softly to his retreating back. Nino patted her on the shoulder and guided her inside.

* * * * *

Once school let out, Adrien and Alya headed directly for the bakery. Adrien insisted on going in first; he went around to the private entrance instead of going in through the front, then made his way to the bakery kitchen.

He saw a pink-clad butt sticking out of an oven, wiggling back and forth in time with scraping sounds coming from within. Smirking, he crept up behind Marinette, leaned down, and tickled her rear end.

Marinette let out a piercing squeal and jumped, then yelped as her head hit the top of the oven. This was followed by a very unladylike curse and a sharp kick backward which caught Adrien in the shin. As he hopped back away from her, she hauled herself out of the oven, rubbing her head with a soot-covered hand, and glared at him, her face flaming red. "Adrien!" she said in a sharp tone. "Wh-what was that all about?"

Adrien grinned at her. "I couldn't resist," he said.

Marinette fixed a pouting scowl on him, then rolled her eyes, fighting a smile as she swatted him on the shoulder. "Perv." She winced and rolled her shoulders, rubbing her right shoulder with her left hand. "You know, it's funny how I can swing all over the city on a yo-yo and my arms never get sore, but a couple of hours mopping floors and scrubbing ovens? I'm aching all over."

"I think that's why they call it hard work," Adrien said. "Anyway, I just wanted to check on you. Are you—?"

"Yeah, I'm good," Marinette said. She grimaced at a soot stain she'd left on Adrien's jacket. "Umm...sorry about that..."

He glanced down at it and shrugged. "Eh, no biggie. If it doesn't come out, I've got five more." He grimaced. "Alya's waiting outside. Do you want to...?"

Marinette sighed. "Yeah. I'm about done here anyway and I haven't even eaten lunch and I'm kinda starving. Go ahead and send her in."

Adrien hugged her, kissing the top of her head. "I'll call you later." With that, he left; a moment later, Alya walked in, a contrite expression on her face.

"Hey Marinette," she said.

Marinette shoved a steel wool scrubbing pad in her mouth. "Chew on that while I go get cleaned up," she said. "Then we can talk."

Alya made a face as she extracted the grimy pad from her mouth and tossed it in the trash, then filled a glass full of water and used it to rinse her mouth out. "Gah!"

A few minutes later, a slightly less filthy and disheveled Marinette came downstairs, grabbed a leftover baguette from the day's unsold product, and headed upstairs; Alya followed.

In the smaller family kitchen on the second floor, Marinette busied herself making a few small sandwiches; she put one on a separate plate for Alya, grabbed a napkin and a small bottle of juice for herself, then took her plate upstairs. Alya got her own napkin and juice, grabbed her plate, and followed.

Marinette sat on her favorite computer chair, legs folded under her, stuffing her face. A tiny little creature that looked like a toy ladybug with huge eyes floated around her head. Alya blinked at that, but shook her head and sat down on the floor. "Okay, before I humble myself before the great and powerful Ladybug, I gotta ask: what's with the flying squeeze toy?"

"I'm Tikki," the flying squeeze toy said. "I'm the Kwami that gives Marinette the power to become Ladybug."

"I'll explain everything to you when I'm less mad at you," Marinette said through a mouthful of sandwich.

Alya scratched her cheek sheepishly, toying with her own food. "Yyyyeah," she said. "So, uhh...I really shouldn't have called you out like that in front of your mom. I was upset about the thing with Mireille, I've kinda been stewing about you being Ladybug and not telling me ever since I figured it out, I knew your mom and dad would have to be worried to death about you, so..." She shrugged. "I made a bad choice. I'm sorry."

Marinette eyed her for a long moment. Swallowing, she took a sip of juice, then sighed. "If I didn't forgive you for making a bad choice, I'd be a hypocrite. I also wouldn't be much of a best friend." She pointed her half-eaten sandwich at Alya. "Don't think you're getting off that easy, though. This thing? It's major, so you're gonna have to work pretty hard to make up for it."

"I know," Alya said with a sigh.

The girls talked for over an hour, with Marinette ultimately telling Alya everything about her secret life as Ladybug and extracting multiple promises from Alya to refrain from posting anything sensitive on Ladyblog. When Alya left for home, Marinette went downstairs to wash their plates and finish cleaning up, then joined her family for dinner. After dinner, she spent a half hour talking to Adrien on the phone before finally going to bed, exhausted but mostly content.

The last two days had been an emotional rollercoaster for Marinette, full of shocks, surprises, secrets revealed, and more heart-to-heart conversations than she'd had in a long time. In a short span of time, her partner had turned out to be her secret crush, her secret crush had become her boyfriend, and everybody important to her had learned about her secret double life.

As she drifted off to sleep, she reflected on the future that stretched before her. While nobody knew for certain what the future held, and Ladybug and Chat Noir no doubt had many more battles to face before finally defeating Hawk Moth, she had the support of her friends, her family, and the most wonderful and amazing boyfriend in the world.

She was Marinette. She was Ladybug.

She was invincible.

She was Miraculous.

* * * * *

Chloé Bourgeois watched the video of Ladybug's second battle with Antibug for the hundredth time since returning home that morning. Each time, she saw something new, something ugly.

She saw how everybody clung to Ladybug. She saw how hard Ladybug fought to protect Marinette from the supervillain she'd been turned into.

She saw herself go after Alya and Marinette, leaving herself open to an attack from Ladybug and Chat Noir.

She saw a close-up video of Alya and Marinette, and realized it wasn't Marinette at all. It was that weather girl, Mireille, wearing Marinette's tacky clothes.

She frowned, pursed her lips, and pulled up video after video of Ladybug, studying her intently. In her mind, she heard Ladybug's voice again and again. Every time Ladybug had made a rude comment to her and she'd ignored it. Every time Ladybug had blown her off as a nuisance.

It seemed to happen fairly often...

Chloé squinted as she paused a close-up, clear, high-definition video that showed Ladybug's face.

A brain that was unaccustomed to being used for anything but scheming, demanding, and self-admiration slowly began connecting the dots.

Chloé's eyes widened.



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