Free to Be You and Me: chapter 33
Chapter 32 | Chapter 34
Disclaimer: I don’t own ML.
The aftermath of the battle is…surreal. That’s the only word that comes to Lady Noire’s mind. Carapace and Vesperia and Ryuuko detransform and chatter around her, but their words may as well be one long blur. Her attention is solely on the boy in her arms, who’s toying with her long braid and kissing her cheeks and bumping her nose and just being…imperfectly perfect.
“Hey! It worked!” Foxglove comes stumbling into the studio, now back to her orange colour scheme. Sass floats behind her, looking like he’s seen better days. “I wasn’t sure if you guys all managed to get in the Shellter but I didn’t hear screaming so I assumed hey, it all worked out – gah!”
“Thank you,” Lady Noire whispers, crushing Foxglove in her superhuman grasp. “Thank you, thank you, I love you, thank you –”
“Can I breathe?” Foxglove wheezes. Lady Noire laughs shakily and leans back.
“I couldn’t have done this without you,” she says as she yanks a sluggish Foxglove down next to her and Adrien. “I couldn’t have done anything without you. Or my prince. Or my kitty, who’s my prince.”
She sneaks a look at Adrien but he’s staring at Sass, who’s settled in Foxglove’s hair and refuses to move. Oh. Oh. He’d been Aspik. Her kitty had been Aspik. He’d tried to save her over twenty-five thousand times!
“This is so stupid!” Lady Noire devolves into hysterical laughter. “All this – it’s just ridiculous, utterly ridiculous!”
“I think she’s lost it,” Zoé stage-whispers. Lady Noire hiccups and covers her face with her hands.
“Ridiculous,” she repeats.
“I’m so sorry, girl,” Foxglove finally says. Lady Noire’s head whips up and around.
“Sorry? You? What the hell are you sorry for? We wouldn’t have pulled this off without you!”
“For not being able to get the Butterfly too,” Foxglove grimaces. “I had to drop the Snake part just after Ryuuko got the Peacock and I couldn’t transform again in time. And that was my second loop – I had to detransform right after Blank Slate happened so I could reset the loop for the actual fight. I told them they had to get the Peacock to save Adrien, and Ryuuko was barely functioning by that point so she was never able to get both or get the earrings when I tried getting Vesperia to get the brooches, and Carapace had to do the Shellter so he didn’t have time but – you know – I should’ve been able to get the Butterfly as well –”
“Don’t be stupid.” Lady Noire yanks Foxglove into another tight hug. “You pulled off the rescue and kept our Miraculouses safe! And you got the Peacock! You saved Adrien’s life! You saved the universe! I was going to give him anything he wanted to keep Adrien safe.”
“Wait,” Zoé says incredulously, using her sleeve to wipe the blood streaming out of her nose. “You mean you didn’t have a plan when you handed over your earrings?”
Lady Noire grins sheepishly. “No?”
“I question the people I’m friends with,” Kagami mumbles, her eyes unfocused.
“I actually meant for you to, like, Cataclysm the Peacock or something,” Adrien says with an exasperated hand wave. “I didn’t expect you to have no plan at all!”
Lady Noire huffs. “Forgive me for being just a bit preoccupied at the time!”
“Tell her, ba – Foxy!” Nino crows. “How many times you had to reset to pull it off! I almost went mad with your voice in my ear, so I dunno how you actually did it.”
“Um…I lost count after two hundred,” Foxglove says with a weary laugh. She holds out her fingers to start counting. “Shadowmoth couldn’t find out who Ladybug was. He couldn’t get the Turtle or Bee or Dragon, so I had to deal with three fights in one. Vesperia had to get into position to Venom at the perfect time before I detransformed – seriously, I think about seventeen loops were you not transforming in time or Shadowmoth getting the ring before Vesperia could get him. I had to get Carapace to use his Shellter before that sentimonster could catch you guys but after Ryuuko and Vesperia were safe. And I had to make sure both the Peacock and Adrien’s ring were safe.”
“I didn’t manage to fight it off without my amok, did I?” Adrien says quietly. Foxglove says nothing, but her silence speaks volumes.
“But you did,” Lady Noire says firmly, kissing him. “You did fight him off! And now you have your – your amok –” Her voice cracks.
“Ladybug?” Adrien looks down. “I understand if this is a dealbreaker. I know sentimonsters are –”
“No. Oh, no. You’re not finishing that.” Lady Noire grabs Adrien’s face and smushes his cheeks. “After everything we went through to save you, you’re not getting rid of me that easily.”
“But…I’m a sentimonster…”
“And? You said it yourself about Bugette: there’s nothing monstrous about you at all.” Lady Noire presses a black-gloved hand over Adrien’s heart. “You’re as human as I am. I meant every word I said to you.”
Adrien sniffles and throws his arms around her. No way has he just accepted it but, well…that’s for another day. Lady Noire doesn’t have the mental capacity to deal with that right now. Right now, all she wants is to hug her kitty.
She freezes. Adrien notices, because of course he does.
“Ladybug?” he says. “What’s wrong?”
“I couldn’t love Chat Noir! Gah!” Lady Noire digs her fingers into the sides of her head. “But I was dating him all along! I could have ended the world! And I put you in danger! Shadowmoth only took you because of me!”
“Okay, calm down,” Foxglove slurs, slumping against her back. “Because I’m so not in the mood to deal with this crisis. I think I just lost a year off my life.”
“Exactly,” Kagami says firmly, sitting down cross-legged with them. Nino and Zoé follow suit. “We won. Adrien’s controlled. He’ll never be safe again. We got the Peacock. Whatever that Chat Blanc thing was, it won’t happen. The safe’s world. If you turn this into a crisis, I’ll transform and hug you myself.”
“I think you need a doctor, dude,” Nino says. Kagami grins and then falls backwards, and she would have cracked her head on the floor if Nino hadn’t swiftly caught her.
“Now I know why you kept saying you couldn’t love Chat me,” Adrien says. “Seeing it – feeling it…it was so different to just hearing about it. I’m so sorry, Ladybug. I’m sorry for lying to you to get you to date me. I shouldn’t have – you deserve to be mad –”
“No.” Lady Noire buries her nose in the crook of Adrien’s neck, breathing in him. “You’re wrong about the being mad part. Keeping your identity safe was all that mattered. Any lies around that were necessary.”
“You don’t feel tricked?”
“Never,” Lady Noire murmurs into Adrien’s skin. “You were there for me, Adrien. Kitty. You were protecting your identity, not pretending to be some other person entirely. That’s the difference.”
“Um…” A chalk white Zoé holds out the earrings. Lady Noire stares at them blankly.
“What d’you want me to do with them?” she says. Zoé rolls her eyes.
“Fix everything. Duh.”
“Screw everything. Fix later.”
“Well…” Zoé jabs her finger over her shoulder. “There’s an akuma up there that needs cleansing before we have to deal with a hundred Blank Slates. And you might want to make a charm for Adrien. Plus, Kagami’s totally out of it, and I’m gonna pass out if I don’t stop bleeding.”
Lady Noire gasps and bolts upright to take the earrings and jam them into her ears. “The charm! Of course! I can protect him!”
“Ladybug, wait –” Adrien tries to say.
“Ladybug! You’ll reveal your identity!”
“We already know, dude,” Nino says. “Kinda hard not to when she almost collapsed and threw up in the middle of the street.”
“Unless…you don’t want to know?” Lady Noire mumbles and looks down. “I know you might not want to see the person who almost got you erased from existence.”
“Are you kidding?” Adrien runs his hands down Lady Noire’s arms. “You saved me! You saved me from Shadowmoth!” He holds out his hand to show the silver ring. “You gave me my amok! My freedom! How could you ever think I wouldn’t want to know the girl I love?”
“I thought you said you didn’t need to know my name to know me,” Lady Noire giggles weakly. Adrien rolls his eyes.
“Look, I won’t pressure you,” he says. “But I’m also gonna tell you to shut up and not tease me for being cheesy and romantic.”
“Yuck,” Foxglove mutters. “Yeah, this is why their relationship was secret. You know you could just dual metamorphosis like I did, right?”
“You sure that’s a good idea with those two Miraculouses, ba – Foxy?” Nino says.
“Hush. I’m tired. I can’t be held accountable for anything I say.”
“If you’re sure?” Lady Noire says, fiddling with the Cat Miraculous. “I mean, I do need to give your Miraculous back, but I can do that without you knowing –”
“Ladybug. You want to do it?” Adrien says. Lady Noire nods mutely. “Then do it. Enough putting it off.”
Somehow, Adrien’s semi-order is exactly the kick she needs. Lady Noire takes a deep breath, murmurs, “Claws in,” and closes her eyes against the lime green flash that dissolves her transformation. Next to her head, Plagg yowls.
“Adrien! You stupid – don’t ever do that again!”
“I’ll…try not to get controlled with my life source?” Adrien says.
“You’re taking this too well,” Kagami says.
“Oh, you know us kids of overbearing parents. I’m a master of compartmentalising. Save the existential crisis for later, you know?”
“Adrien, I worry you.”
Marinette cracks her eyes open, wondering why Adrien hasn’t reacted to her. The answer is clear: his head is turned towards Plagg and a swaying Kagami, so he hasn’t seen her at all.
“Um…” She clears her throat, her courage suddenly vanishing. “You can, um…you can look. If you want.”
Adrien stiffens. He takes a deep breath, turns his head…and freezes again, his mouth agape.
“You,” he breathes. Marinette looks down and fiddles with the hem of her shirt.
“Me,” she says to her knees. “Hi, Adrien. Hidrien.”
Adrien lets out a choked laugh. “Marinette. Oh my gosh. Marinette.”
“Say it louder, I don’t think the other half of Paris heard you,” Zoé drawls.
“Not to get all self-deprecating,” Marinette says, “but, um, I understand if –”
“No. Stop right there.” Warm hands cup her face, raising her eyes, until she meets Adrien’s gaze and…her stomach erupts with little ladybugs. Love. He’s looking at her with so much love, the look he’s reserved just for Ladybug, and she can’t handle it, can’t deal with it –
“Hi,” she says again because that’s all her broken brain can come up with right now. Adrien’s face splits into a wide, toothy grin.
“You,” he repeats. “All that time I was freaking out over loving Ladybug and Marinette, feeling guilty for loving Marinette too, wishing that you could be the same person…that’s what I saw, Marinette. That was my deepest desire. That’s what I thought I couldn’t have. I saw you transforming into Ladybug.”
Marinette sniffles. Then she throws her arms around his neck, hugging him so hard that he might pop, never wanting to let him go and risk losing him because her prince is her kitty, they’re the same, she can have them both, and she’s going to be selfish for once and take what the universe is giving her.
“Wait,” Adrien says into her ear. “You said Rena Rouge was your best friend. And Foxglove is Rena. That means –”
“Yep. Let’s rest.” Orange light flashes out of the corner of Marinette’s eye. “Seriously, let’s rest. I’m ready to sleep for a century. Also, Kagami and Zoé are two seconds from passing out.”
“All the looks and whispers make sense now,” Adrien says, while the weight disappears from Marinette’s back; no doubt Nino scooping Alya to him. “I was wondering what the inside joke was.”
“You’re the inside joke,” Alya yawns.
“Babe, that doesn’t even make sense,” Nino says.
“Shut up and support your awesome girlfriend, Shellhead.”
“We should get out of here. But first things first.” Marinette pulls back to slip off the Cat Miraculous and hand it back to Adrien, allowing her to replace her earrings. She grins and giggles when Tikki reappears in a burst of pink light.
“I’ll save the lecture over giving me up for later,” Tikki says, tiny paws on her tiny hips. “For now, you should be so proud of what you’ve done! Just one last thing to do!”
“Tikki, spots on!”
“Whoa,” Adrien breathes. Ladybug grins and blushes. “That’s amazing. You’re amazing. That desire akuma couldn’t even compare.”
“Don’t,” Ladybug groans. “Don’t break my brain. Not now. Especially when you’re still in your pyjamas.”
Adrien looks down at himself. His cheeks stain red. “Oh. Um…now we’re even for the movies thing?”
Laughing, with her familiar spots back on, Ladybug makes short work of the akuma fluttering around the studio aimlessly before kneeling back next to Adrien and reaching into her yo-yo. Her hand emerges with a little soft pink charm studded with rubies. Not what she’d been expecting, considering his colour scheme is black and green, but sure.
“Aww,” Adrien says as she presses the charm into his hand. “I get to carry a piece of my lady and my princess around with me everywhere I go.”
“Shut up!” Ladybug splutters. She shakes her head. “Dammit, now I’ve forgotten my speech!”
“Adrien Agreste, take this charm, you’ll never be akumatised again,” Adrien recites, slipping the charm around his neck. “Blah, blah, can I kiss my miraculous Marinette now?”
Ladybug laughs and leans in to press her lips against his. “Always, my kitty,” she murmurs against his mouth, floating from the chilly weight of Chat Blanc’s broken moon up to the warmth of Adrien’s sun. She pulls back, throws her yo-yo into the air, and cries, “Miraculous Ladybug!”
Chat Noir’s humming when Ladybug lands next to him on the sunset-bathed Eiffel Tower, and her mind flashes back to his piano gift even before she consciously identifies the tune as being ‘Kisses of Fire’. But sadly, he stops as soon as she sits down with him. His beautiful face lighting up more than makes up for it, though, and Ladybug almost can’t handle the fact that he’s Adrien. That her kitty and her prince are the same person.
“You look awfully happy for someone who’s just broken up with the love of their life,” Chat Noir quips. Ladybug elbows him.
“Shut up,” she says. “I’ll miss the night visits but, well…it was for the best. Ladybug and Adrien can’t be together without putting Adrien in danger.”
“You know just being broken up won’t stop Hawkmoth, right?” Chat Noir says. He sighs and grins. “Ah, it feels good to say that stupid name again. Still better than Shadowmoth. Who does he think he is, some sort of super evil supervillain?”
Ladybug laughs and rests her head on his shoulder. Deep purrs start to rumble through his frame. “Well, that’s why Alya and I figured out a plan,” she says. “Ladybug and Adrien can’t be together, sure, but that’s the only limitation.”
“Apart from a certain stray cat sneaking into his fair princess’ room?” Chat Noir teases. Ladybug groans.
“You’re insufferable,” she says. “I love you.”
Chat Noir wraps an arm around her. “Love you too, bug. Even if you’re the one who sneaks into boys’ rooms at night to steal their virtue.”
“Nope. Changed my mind. I hate you.”
Chat Noir laughs. “So, what’s the plan?” he says. “Because there’s no way I can go without kissing you ever again. Not now that I know what it’s like. And especially knowing what it’s like to kiss Marinette.”
“Again, I hate you,” Ladybug says with flaming cheeks. She clears her throat. “Okay. Um. The plan. We already staged that massive breakup in front of Paris after I got you out of the studio, so Hawkmoth knows we’re not together anymore. But we’re already super close as Ladybug and Chat Noir –”
“And most of Paris ships us, don’t forget.”
“– and you keep making me question why I put up with you. Anyway, we’re already close. We just have to wait a few weeks to announce Ladynoir as canon; I was distraught over having to break up with Adrien for the greater good, so I leaned more and more on my amazing, supportive partner.”
“You mean purrtner.”
“Shut up. And, um…that’s it. I realised my feelings for you, we got together, Ladynoir is canon, Alya hypes us up on her blog because this is every dream of hers come true, the end.”
“But what about uuusss?” Chat Noir whines, nuzzling into her neck. Ladybug barks out a laugh and pushes his head away. “I can’t handle seeing you every day and not being able to kiss you, bugaboo. How the heck did you survive all those months sitting behind me not being able to just…do what you wanted?”
“Because I’m amazing and super strong and it would serve you well to remember that,” Ladybug says primly before laughing again. “No, we have a plan for that too. Poor Adrien is so heartbroken over losing Ladybug and so angry at Hawkmoth taking his love away from him that he grows closer to his good friend Marinette. She knows just how to support him and make him smile, especially once he sees Ladybug with Chat Noir. And over time…”
“He realises just how much he loves Marinette Dupain-Cheng and begs her to be his amazing, gorgeous girlfriend,” Chat Noir finishes. Ladybug flushes again. Adrien was already too much, but how is she supposed to deal with him now that he wears tight leather and happens to be her beloved kitty?
“Yes. That,” Ladybug says shakily. “That part will take longer, of course, so you can’t kiss me in public just yet. But it’ll be worth it if it means Hawkmoth doesn’t suspect a thing.”
“You’re so amazing, bug,” Chat Noir says. “I still can’t believe you love me.”
“Trust me, I can’t believe it either.”
“What? You walked right into that one.”
Chat Noir groans. “Fine. Okay. You win this time.”
They sit in silence together, huddled up as the sun sinks lower and takes the last vestiges of the day with it. It’s not until the full moon, soothing and intact, is bright above them that Chat Noir breaks the silence.
“Ladybug,” he says, and his voice is so serious that Ladybug immediately takes notice and pulls away.
“Yes?” she says. Chat Noir inhales, exhales, then gives her a small smile.
“You’re amazing, bugaboo,” he says. “Your mind is incredible. You’re so kind and loving and passionate. You make me look forward to waking up every day, as Marinette and as Ladybug.”
“Okay…?” Ladybug says. Her breath hitches when Chat Noir reaches down to the finger next to his Miraculous: the finger with the silver ring containing his amok.
“This isn’t a proposal or anything,” he hurries to say. “We’re fourteen and young and dumb and we barely know what love is –”
“I think we do –”
“– and when I propose to you, it’ll be with an actual ring. But…” Chat Noir pulls his amok off his finger, takes Ladybug’s left hand, and twists it onto her ring finger. “Think of it as a pawromise.”
“Chat? What are you –?”
“I want you to have it.”
“No!” Ladybug immediately pulls the ring off and pushes it back at Chat Noir. “Adrien, this is you! You’re asking me to be responsible for your existence!”
“I’m sorry. If you don’t want to –”
“Hey, that’s not what I said,” Ladybug says as her kitty’s ears droop. She reaches out and ruffles his messy golden hair. “I mean…Adrien, this is your entire life. You could just stop existing if anything happened to it! And if someone managed to get hold of it, you’d be their puppet!”
“Exactly,” Chat Noir says. “But not you. You could’ve forced me to throw off the akuma, but you trusted me enough that I’d do it. You’d never once try and use it to order me around. That’s why you’re the one I trust with my existence, Marinette. My father, Lila, one of my crazy fans…they’d turn me into a doll if they ever realised what it was, but you helped me cut my strings. And besides, Hawkmoth knows I’m a sentimonster. He already kidnapped me from my own room. He could get the ring again in a heartbeat and then – and then…”
“Next time, he might find out your identity,” Ladybug says softly. Whitebluemoon flashes before her eyes. Blinking, she leans in and kisses him softly, tenderly, and slides the ring back onto her finger. “I’ll keep it safe, Adrien. No one will ever control you again.”
Chat Noir sniffles and grins. “Thank you. Thank you, Marinette. You don’t have any idea how much this means to me.”
“I can try and guess,” Ladybug says, kissing his grin even wider. “But…you know you have to talk to your father, right?”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s no way he didn’t know you’re a sentimonster. Has he ever…I don’t know…looked like he used your amok against you?”
“No –” Chat Noir pauses. “Actually…yeah. Lately. I thought it was just a nervous habit since Nathalie’s condition started getting bad but…he only ever messed with the ring when he was telling me what to do. Like when he told me to go to my room after Project Oxygen and Bloodhound. And I’d just do it.” His breath hitches, and he hugs his knees to his chest. “He knew. My own father knew. He controlled me –”
“Shh.” Ladybug presses kisses to her kitty’s head. “You don’t have to talk to him. I just thought…there’s no way you can’t know your child’s a sentimonster. Especially if you weren’t born the usual way.”
“No, you’ve got a point.” Chat Noir’s voice is muffled by his knees. “And I do want to know. I kind of have to know. How can someone control their kid like that? And lie to them for years?”
“Don’t worry about that now,” Ladybug says, leaning against him again. “All that matters now is that I’m here. We’re here. And we can totally take down Hawkmoth. We won!”
“Yeah.” Chat Noir raises his head to grin weakly at her. “We did. We won, Marinette.”
Ladybug laughs and nuzzles against his cheek. A few moments of silence pass. “I think I’m in love with Alya as well,” she says.
“Oh,” Chat Noir says.
“I knew I was infatuated with her for like the first week and she’s always been really pretty but not…love. I didn’t know until she made me realise.”
“When she kissed me on the cheek before we rescued you and – and I – she helped me so much, she’s kept me grounded, I couldn’t have saved you without her but this was never part of the plan, and I always thought she was off-limits because she was with Nino so my brain just never went there –”
“I don’t mind.”
“And I know – wait.” Ladybug squints at Chat Noir. “You don’t mind?”
“I was in love with Marinette and Ladybug.”
“I’m the same person, you idiot.”
“Even if you weren’t, I’d still love both.”
“So…what? What are you saying?”
Chat Noir grins at her. “I don’t mind, Marinette. Drag Alya down with you if Nino’s cool with it. I know I still have you at the end of the day. I know how much you love me.”
“Heaven knows why,” Ladybug mutters. Chat Noir pouts.
“Meowch. I try to be a good boyfriend and this is what I get.”
“You’re insufferable,” Ladybug says, rolling her eyes, but she still plants a quick kiss on his gorgeous mouth. “I wasn’t expecting anything to happen with Alya. I just knew she and I had to talk about it after the cheek kiss and I wanted to talk to you first.”
“I seriously don’t mind,” Chat Noir says. “I’m not losing anything. I’m…not, right?”
“No,” Ladybug says straight away. “If you think I’d drop you after I gave up my Miraculous for you, you’ve got another thing coming.” She looks down, rubs her finger over his amok, and jokes, “I command you to know how much I love you, Adrien Agreste.”
“Yes, milady,” Chat Noir says in a horribly cheesy robotic voice. “Anything for you, Marinette Dupain-Cheng.”
“Good,” Ladybug grins. “You know who’s really in charge here.”
Chat Noir breaks the act to sag against her and laugh. “I love you so much, Marinette,” he chokes out and kisses the back of her hand. “So much.”
“You know,” Ladybug says, with difficulty since Chat Noir’s now trailing kisses up her suited arm, “we really should stop calling each other Adrien and Marinette in the suits. That’s a bad habit waiting to happen.”
“I can’t help it if I love both sides of you to the moon and back,” Chat Noir pouts. Moon – broken – it flashes before Ladybug’s eyes but Chat Noir’s warm green eyes chase it away, keeping it at bay for now. She hums, smiles, and snuggles against him even closer.
“I love you more,” she says.
“No. I love you more.”
“Alya was right,” Ladybug groans. “We are that disgusting couple.”
Chat Noir cackles. “Well, I’m happy being the most disgusting person on Earth if it means having my equally disgusting lady by my side.”
“Charming,” Ladybug drawls. “You really know the way to a girl’s heart.”