* * *
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Adrien was slumped at his desk, staring miserably at his computer. His mother's past-time smiling face gazed back at him, but he couldn't smile back. All he could do was listen to the clock tick and wish she were still there with him.
Plagg was on the couch a little behind him, noisily devouring his camembert. Per usual, he was no help at all.
Thoughts of all the negatives in his life whirled through his head. His poor relationship with his father. His constant longing to have his mother back. Normally he could put these thoughts aside and focus on all the positives, like hanging with Nino, being with Ladybug, and helping her destroy evil. But here, now, all he could think of was sadness.
He finally stood up, walked out his door, and slowly descended the stairs to the main room. Strangely, Nathalie was nowhere in sight. The Gorilla was standing by the base of the stairs, unacknowledging of Adrien's appearance, like the normal. Sighing, he continued towards the doors, but halted as he heard voices coming from his father's room.
Curious, he moved closer to the occupied room's door and leaned closer, trying to make out what his father and assistant were discussing. He managed to make out Nathalie's voice saying, "So then, if you already had a copy of the book, why'd you go through all that trouble?"
Book. The strange book about miraculouses that he'd lost just the day before, until his father had somehow recovered it. That had to be what she was talking about.
But . . . his father had another copy? He'd told Adrien that the book was one of a kind. But it was his father's reply to Nathalie's question that startled him more.
"I did what I had to do to keep my secret."
Unable to help himself, Adrien pushed the door open ever so slightly, just to get a glimpse of what was going on inside. To his shock, his father was standing in front of the portrait of Mrs. Agreste, running his two hands along the surface. Upon reaching a specific position, he pressed harder with his fingers, revealing special indents where he'd pressed. He then stepped back and descended through a small tunnel into the floor. As soon as he was down far enough, a panel closed up again where he'd vanished so it looked as if there was nothing but floor.
Where had he gone?
But it was Nathalie's next words that struck him the hardest.
She turned around and walked back to Gabriel's desk, then glanced back at the painting and said softly, "Bon chance, Hawk Moth."
* * *
Ladybug had been right after all.
A small part of him was wondering how he'd akumatized himself, but the rest was swallowed up in shock and grief.
His father was the supervillain of Paris. Hawk Moth. Hawk Moth. For real. This wasn't some huge nightmare.
What would he say if he knew his son was Cat Noir?
* * *
Things were never the same from then on. He couldn't look his father in the eyes or speak to him anymore. He wasn't cheered up at the sight of Nino anymore. He couldn't look at an akumatized victim without knowing that his father was responsible. The smallest bit of comfort he got was being with Ladybug. Seeing her smile, and hearing her voice. But also knowing she'd been right and being unable to tell her.
But another shock was yet to come.
Just a couple days later, after a vicious fight with a supervillain, he'd detransformed and was walking through the upstairs hallway on his way to the library. Trying to focus on the book he was planning on getting and not his father's terrible secret, he wasn't expecting anything strange, but the first person he spotted inside was . . . Ladybug.
What was she doing here?
But that thought only lasted a heartbeat. She'd been the first person he saw, but the first sound he heard was the familiar beep of her power-declining earrings. She'd used Lucky Charm after he'd used Cataclysm, he remembered. He forgot to look away, he was so startled, and in just a few seconds saw her suit and mask vanish in a blinding flash. And beneath the strong disguise, wearing the familiar pink capris, white T-shirt, and dark overcoat . . . was the girl he'd labeled as just a friend countless times.
His eyes widened, and he just managed to hoarsely whisper, "Ladybug?" unaudible to her, before backing away and racing back down the hall. She hadn't seen him.
Marinette . . . all this time . . . the clumsy baker girl . . . was somehow the same person as the confident, strong-willed Ladybug he'd fought alongside and fallen for.
It, and finding out about his father, was all too much to take in. School being basically ended, he forgot all about the Gorilla picking him up and ran all the way back to his mansion. As soon as he arrived, he went straight to his room, slowed down, and stopped by his window, panting, too shocked to speak or do anything else.
Plagg emerged from his jacket and zoomed up beside him. He stared at Adrien curiously for a few moments, but, unlike the usual, he remained silent.
Stunned, he eventually slid down against the window, almost shaking. Time passed, and he gradually began to calm down enough to think clearly again. But maybe that wasn't a good thing. Now, all he could feel was more sadness. A very small part of him was relieved to finally know his Lady's identity, but he knew she'd wanted to keep it secret. He already wasn't planning on telling anyone, as she'd always wished, but he knew nonetheless. Of course, he didn't have to tell her . . .
Yes, I do, he thought, near-reluctantly. I would never lie to her. But I'll assure her that I won't tell anyone. Maybe that will make things better.
But his thoughts quickly drifted away from reassurance as he heard his father shouting at someone on the phone somewhere outside his room. It only deepened his sorrow and he once again tried to take in the fact that his father was his worst enemy.
He very slowly picked up his right hand and cupped it in his left palm, staring down at the blank, silver face in misery. He was a superhero. He could change a lot of things. But this was one he couldn't.
Just a minute later, Plagg suddenly cried out in fear, startling his owner half-out of his daze. He looked up in what seemed to be slow motion and spotted a dark purple butterfly flapping towards him.
An akuma, he vaguely thought, but didn't register what his mind had just said. And before he ever got the chance to, he dropped his head again, and the akuma absorbed itself into his miraculous.
"I am Hawk Moth," a deep, all-too-familiar voice announced silkily. Adrien gazed sadly back at the two blue eyes watching him through the glowing Moth symbol, and replied quietly, "I know."
The blue eyes narrowed ever so slightly, but, otherwise unfazed, Hawk Moth continued, "So many secrets have they kept from you. From now on, you have the freedom to discover them all. Only one will try to stop you, but I can assure you she will fail. I will give you all you've ever wanted. All I ask is a small favor in the end."
"I know," he repeated softly. "To bring you my ring and the Ladybug miraculous."
There was a long hesitation, and the supervillain finally answered, "Yes. That's all. What has Ladybug done for you? She's rejected your love, taken advantage of you, and kept secrets from you as well. The task will be simple. So do we have an agreement?"
Deep down, Adrien knew he should refuse. Hawk Moth was purely evil. But he ended up responding, "Yes, father," and didn't wait to see the villain's reaction. He barely heard Plagg cry, "Adrien, no!" as he added, "Claws Out," and the black cat kwami was sucked into the miraculous along with the akuma. A moment later he was transformed into Cat Noir, but he felt different. Stronger, tingling with energy, but also wrong. He turned towards the window, still with free will, and with a small smile lunged through the open space to the outside world, the new but still wrong motivations spinning through his head.
* * *
* * *
"Well, that was a wild day," Marinette told Tikki as she walked through the streets, which were mostly empty. "Imagine: two supervillains in one day! And Adrien is back in school, thank goodness. I wouldn't have been able to stand it if he didn't come anymore."
"I know," her kwami laughed in response. "You don't have to tell me. The day's almost over, too! Something tells me you're going to be oversleeping tomorrow morning."
"Tell me something I don't know," Marinette sighed, then smiled away her negativity and began walking a little faster.
Suddenly, a burst of shrieks erupted from up ahead. She jumped, then whispered in horror, "Another one?!" and started running forward. The first person she saw was her BFF Alya, her phone raised as she filmed the apparent supervillain. Her facial expression was something like awe and terror at the same time, and her hands were shaking. Confused by Alya's strange emotion, Marinette picked up her pace and whipped around the corner, but the sight she was forced to take in made her heart drop to her feet.
Because the person standing there, black suit reflecting the sunlight, staff barely touching the ground, was none other than her partner, Cat Noir. But that wasn't what had startled her so much; there was a glowing, purplish Butterfly symbol in front of his eyes, and a faint voice was talking to him.
Hawk Moth. That voice was Hawk Moth.
Which meant the cat standing just a few feet in front of her was no superhero. He'd been akumatized.
And as if she hadn't been shocked enough, when the Butterfly symbol vanished, he looked at her with those piercing green eyes and said, his voice soft-toned but cold, "Glad to see you, m'lady."
She stopped, trembling, and could do nothing more than gaze in fear at him for a few moments. Then, snapping back to Earth, she turned and ran.
He knows. How does he know?
Jumping down a set of stairs into an underground Metro station, she opened her bag to let Tikki out, and before the kwami could say anything, swept the back of her hand over her left earring and shouted, "Tikki, Spots On!" But this time, there was no smile on her face as she transformed.
Skillfully flinging her yo-yo up the next flight of stairs, she swung outside again, then circled around through the air back in Cat's direction. He was still there, and when he saw her, he burst into a strong sprint straight towards her, then launched himself off the ground using his baton and swung it down for her as gravity claimed him again. She swiftly leapt up out of the way, then spun and threw her yo-yo once more, this time wrapping it multiple times around his wrist as well as his weapon.
She was no stranger to all this. She'd had to fight him several times before, when he'd been manipulated by Dark Cupid, Puppeteer, and Princess Fragrance. But those times were different. He'd been cured as soon as she'd used Miraculous Ladybug, except in the case of Dark Cupid. But even that power couldn't cure an akumatized victim.
Meanwhile, he'd yanked his hand backwards, and with his greater strength jerked her forwards and off balance. Then, swiftly freeing himself from her yo-yo's grip, he turned and took off down the streets, mostly using his staff to go faster. Ladybug retrieved the loose string back into her yo-yo, then raced after him, hastily pulling herself up through the air and to the nearest roof with her weapon. True, he was stronger than her, but she was quicker.
But a question was still ringing through her head as she pursued him: Where was the akuma? Her first thought was his ring, but she quickly pushed the idea away. She couldn't break a miraculous. Maybe she could physically, but what would that do to her partner and his kwami? She didn't love him romantically, but she still cared about him, even if he was trying to kill her.
Next option: perhaps his baton? It would make at least some sense, since it was rather common for the akumatized object to be something the supervillain fought with. But there was only a 50% chance of that. He'd have to have been in superhero form when akumatized, but if he'd been in civilian form, he wouldn't have had his weapon with him.
And that left . . . what?
Snapping back to the present, all thoughts cleared from her head as he stopped on the bridge between the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadéro and whirled around to face her. She slowed to a walk, once again pulling the string back into the yo-yo. "Cat Noir," she started protesting, "stop it! It's me! What are you—" She cut herself off as he lunged at her again, this time hitting her. "I don't need your words!" he shouted as she slid to a smooth halt on the pavement. "I only need an answer."
"An answer to what?" she asked, momentarily confused. But his answer caught her off guard.
"Whose side are you on?"
That's what stopped her. She jumped, startled, then her eyes widened as she realized that she couldn't give him a reply, because she didn't have one to give. Whose side was she on? All the time before, she'd fought against evil, but done it alongside him. There'd always been another villain. But now, the one she'd always fought alongside was the one she was supposed to be fighting against. He'd been akumatized. That meant . . .
She didn't know what it meant.
* * *
That fight was ended with no winner and no loser. Back in the bakery, she would hide in her room, unable to do anything as TVs, radios, and broadcastings reported more attacks from who had used to be their superhero. Her superhero. Her partner. Her Kitty-Cat.
Once again, physically, she could do something. She could figure out something to convince him that Hawk Moth was lying, or . . . take . . . him . . . down. Just like any other supervillain. But Cat Noir wasn't like all the others. He was her closest friend, and she didn't think she could bring herself to go fight him again. She'd had a similar experience when Alya, her civilian BFF, had been akumatized into Lady Wifi. But even that wasn't the same. Alya didn't have a miraculous.
Finally, she did transform. She was sick of fear and hiding. She had to end all of this. This wasn't who she was. She was confident. She was strong. She was Ladybug.
While she was out on the rooftops searching for him, though, another startling thing happened. Her yo-yo started ringing, alerting her that he was calling her. She quickly pulled it off her waist and pushed on the center, accepting the call, and when the top half slid down, he was on the screen. "Cat!" she gasped, grabbing the sides with both hands. She opened her mouth to continue, but he beat her to it.
"I'm waiting for you in our place," he told her coldly.
"Chat!" she yelled, "wait—" but he'd already hung up.
* * *
She was at their special meeting place in thirty seconds. Normally, they met here to discuss plans to take down their foes. But now . . . what would happen this time?
At first, it appeared to be empty. Everything was quiet, and nothing was moving.
But all that changed when suddenly he leapt down from a bar along the ceiling, yelling as he brought his staff down hard on the floor she'd been standing in just a moment before. Having jumped out of the way, she regained her balance and asked desperately, "Cat, why are you doing this?"
"All they ever gave me were lies!" he shouted in response. "No one gave me truth. Everyone deceived me and kept secrets from me. Including you!"
She stopped, speechless at his answer. But while she tried to think of something to reply, something in him changed. All his fury and aggression dissolved, his shoulders slumped, and he lowered his head. "But maybe that's what I deserved," he finished sadly, his tone the complete opposite of what it'd just been. He looked up at her again, her still trying to speak, and continued in a new voice, one she couldn't define, "You know what to do."
"What . . . ?" she at last managed, still shocked.
He smiled, but it wasn't real. She knew him well enough to know which of his smiles were which. But this one was different. It was more the ghost of a grin. "Break my ring."
Everything in her froze. The akuma was in the ring?! That meant she couldn't break it without . . . without . . . losing him . . . He was still talking, but she could barely hear him above the fear ringing through her head.
"And you'll never see Cat Noir . . ."
"No!" she finally burst out, having found her voice again. "No, I . . . I can't do that! It would . . ." She trailed off, horror now being the emotion creeping through her. She stared at the floor, paralyzed, unknowing of what to do. At last, she brought her hands to her face and whispered in a broken voice, "I can't."
Then, she felt his hand on her shoulder, claws resting gently. "Come on," he urged, his voice soothing and comforting despite what he was telling her to do. She looked up into his brilliant green eyes as he added, "Me or the world?"
She flung her arms around him, burying her face in his chest and sobbing as she truly realized what she had to do. He embraced her, too, and she relished it, knowing that this was really the last time she would ever get to. She wanted so badly to choose him, to keep him with her as her faithful partner forever. But he was akumatized. She had to do her job. This was the end.
This . . . was . . . the . . . end.
The thought made her cry harder.
Finally, reluctantly, she slowly pulled away, and then told him three words she'd never thought she'd tell him, because of a certain other blond-haired, green-eyed boy. But this was Cat. The real person she'd truly gotten to know, not the distant boy she'd admired from afar.
"I love you."
The response was something she loved seeing: he smiled, and this time for real. His eyes were somehow shining, and he replied, "I love you, too."
But, as cruel reality would have it, the warmth and love she felt didn't last. She still had to do it. There was only a small positive in this moment: at least now he knew how she felt about him. He knew she loved him. Over the long time they'd known each other, he'd moved closer and closer into her heart, and now he was in for good. Even though this was the last time she would ever see him, at least he knew. At least he was happy. And she knew that no one would ever take his place, as partner, or as loved one. He was one of a kind.
And now, it was all coming to an end.
"I'll respect you this much," she said quietly, then took his hand and closed her eyes. Her arm was shaking, but, the tears still clouding her eyes, she took a hold of his ring and pulled it off his finger. His detransformation sounded in her ears as she stepped back, dropped the ring, and smashed it. Instantly, everything around her went completely silent.
There was no joy or enthusiasm in her as she captured the akuma and purified it. And there never would be again. Because he wasn't there with her anymore. She had no one to do "Pound it" with. And when she at long last opened her eyes and turned around, the cocky, loyal, annoying but endearing sweetheart of a cat she'd grown to love was gone.