"Girl, we need to talk."
Alya yanked Marinette away from the boys and put her hands on her shoulders, staring scrutinisingly into her eyes.
"What is going on with you? First you seem almost happy that Adrien is in love with Ladybug, and you're acting way less nervous around him now too. Don't tell me you're getting over him?! Or is there something you're not telling me?" She whispered furiously, shooting daggers with her eyes at Nino and Adrien, who had been looking at them curiously but now quickly looked away. Marinette frowned, trying to think of a response that would make sense.
"Of course not! It's just... well, I want him to be happy, and I guess he deserves Ladybug... and I guess now that he's taken I don't have anything to worry about, because I don't have a chance to blow, you know?" She rambled, and started walking back to the boys. Alya frowned and narrowed her eyes, still slightly suspicious, but followed her.
They all walked to the park and were just about to start on some delicious cookies from Marinette's parents' bakery, when a nearby tree swayed and cracked. Adrien looked up and saw it falling towards him rapidly, when a sudden force hit him around the middle and he went flying, the tree just missing him. Marinette was clinging to him, having thrown herself at him to get him out of the way. She blushed and let go, standing up and holding out her hand to help him up. He took it and was just about to thank her when a shout drowned him out.
"ADRIEN, WHERE IS YOUR LADYBUG? GO GET HER SO YOU CAN BOTH HAVE YOUR HEARTS CRUSHED TOO!"
Another tree came crashing down, and Adrien had to step quickly towards Marinette to avoid getting hit. Still holding her hand, he looked down at her. They were both breathing heavily with their faces incredibly close together. Adrien noticed for the first time what beautiful blue eyes she had... his eyes widened as she let go and stepped away, stammering, "I'll ah... go get help!" She stepped over a tree and ran around the corner. Adrien whipped around to face the now laughing man dressed in pink with an ornate red staff. He quickly made a decision to not find a place to transform, instead circling so he could keep an eye on the advancing man and still watch the corner around which Marinette had disappeared.
"You crushed my Chloe's heart... now Heartcrusher will crush you!" The man exclaimed, pointing his staff at him and shooting fire from the end of it. Adrien ducked and rolled, the back of his shirt just getting singed but not much more. He came up from the roll and had started running, when he heard the zip of Ladybug's yoyo and looked around. She came from around the corner Marinette had ran to, and Adrien smirked before turning and waving at her cheerfully.
"He's after us! I think he might be the Mayor!" He shouted at her, and she nodded, flicking her yoyo at the laughing man and snagging his staff. She tore it out of his hands and caught it, raising it above her head. She smashed it on the ground and it broke in half... but no akuma emerged.
Heartcrusher smiled. He held out his hands and the two parts of the staff flew into them, both spurting multicoloured fire that forced Ladybug to run backwards. She was bewildered. Where was the akuma?
As she ran, she frowned, looking around for Cat Noir. Yet again, he didn't seem to be showing up. Distracted by the terrifying thought that he might have given up on her, she ran into a tree and rebounded, stumbling backwards. Heartcrusher threw his two sticks and they landed on either side of her, creating a box of fire around her and trapping her in it. As he stalked towards her, Adrien realised he was going to have to transform, and fast. He leapt behind a tree and exclaimed, "Plagg! Claws out!"
Ladybug looked up as she saw a green flash, and watched as Cat Noir jumped out from behind a nearby tree and ran towards her. He threw his staff at Heartcrusher and it hit him in the back, rebounding off him. Cat Noir caught it as Heartcrusher roared, wrenching his sticks from the ground and releasing Ladybug, turning to face Cat Noir. It was then that Ladybug noticed the red, white and black sash he wore, and as Heartcrusher retorted to whatever cheeky comment Cat Noir had just made, she jumped on his back and ripped it off him, tearing it in half. The akuma flew out and she caught it, then released the butterfly.
"Nice going Milady, that was too easy - we didn't even have to use our powers!" Cat Noir said, leaning on a nearby tree in a way that was clearly to show off his muscles. She marched up to him and poked him in the stomach, making him double over.
"Oof! What was that for?!" He complained.
"Where. Have. You. Been?! First you didn't show up at all to the last battle, and today you showed up late when I KNOW you were in the area because I saw the end of your transformation - something else that you need to explain! Why weren't you being more careful, you could have been seen, I almost saw your secret identity myself! You have so much to explain, I really needed you the other day but you didn't show so someone else had to put themselves at risk to save me - "
Cat Noir put a finger to her mouth and slid his arm around her. She tried to push him away but he didn't let go, saying, "hey stop, let me talk Worry-Wart!" She stopped struggling and shut up, glaring at him as she waited impatiently for an explanation. He tried to think of a believable way to explain it, but he couldn't, so he hung his head and stepped away.
"There's something I need to show you... it will explain," he muttered in an unusual show of sombreness. She unfolded her arms and watched him, worried by his suddenly serious attitude.
"Plagg," he whispered, "detransform."
Ladybug gasped and shut her eyes tightly as he detransformed, saying, "What are you doing?! I can't know who you are, it's dangerous and against the rules! Get out of here Cat Noir, explain later if you must but don't let me see... what are you doing? Stop!" She hit out at him blindly as he took her hand and leaned in to hug her.
"Ladybug," he said, and she stopped. His voice sounded different... gentler, and familiar. "I need you to see who I am. It's the only way."
With every word he spoke, the bubbling feeling of horror grew in Ladybug's stomach. She stepped away from him and opened one eye slightly, squinting at him nervously. Through blurry sight she saw blond hair, fair skin, green eyes, an unbuttoned white shirt over a black tee, jeans and sneakers... she shut her eyes again tightly and shook her head. It couldn't be true... she couldn't have been rejecting HIM all this time...