Chat Noir swore as his baton clattered away from him as his wrists were pinned to the ground. A second later, handcuffs were locked into place around his wrists, holding his hands together tightly enough that he wouldn't have been able to use Cataclysm, even if he still had the energy to do it. That meant that even if he managed to keep the villain of the week off of his ring, he'd be running out of energy soon and reverting back to his normal form.

"You're mine now," Exodus the Spectacular cackled, cracking his knuckles before reaching for Chat Noir's ring. "Soon your Miraculous will be mine, and Ladybug will be easy pickings when you're gone- and then everyone will have to enjoy my magic tricks!"

Chat snarled, twisting away and holding his hands close to himself. "Don't talk about her like that! She's stronger than me!" And smarter, he added to himself. He chanced a glance up at the sky, desperately hoping that Ladybug would show up and save him, like she had so many times before. She hadn't shown up yet, doubtless delayed by something. She always had luck and timing on her side, so he was sure that would lead her to him right aboutā€¦. now.

And nothing.

The akumatized magician dug his fingers into Chat's arm, dragging his hands away from his chest inch by painful inch and trying to pry his hands open enough to pry off his ring. The few citizens that hadn't run were gaping, and something bitter in Chat Noir commented on how much they relied on his help, but when push came to shove, he couldn't rely on them.

And then a blur of pink and white whirled past his head and there was a swoosh of air as Marinette brought his baton down, aiming for the back of Exodus's head. The villain rolled out of the way of the attack and Marinette just only managed to stop her swing before it collided with Chat's face. She didn't even pause before charging right after the magician as Chat gaped in disbelief.

Marinette. Sweet, kind Marinette. Charging at the villain who had just overpowered Chat Noir.

He didn't want to look, but he couldn't pull his eyes away. The villain was laughing at first, not fighting very hard because he clearly didn't see Marinette as a serious threat. The girl, in contrast, was holding nothing back as she landed a flurry of hard blows on his front and side. Hawkmoth's purple mask flashed over the villain's face for only a moment before he stepped up his game, fighting back. The sliver of his wand-turned-weapon clashed against the black of Chat's own as Marinette swung the staff with surprising strength and skill. Chat Noir scooted away as quickly as he could without drawing attention to himself. He'd be no use to Marinette in this fight with his hands cuffed, no matter how much he wanted to step in and protect her.

Marinette needed no protection. She dodged every hit, landing heavy blows on Exodus and throwing him off. Her teeth were bared as she fought. She didn't fight like Chat did, using the staff like his fencing saber. She fought using it as a staff, spins shifting quickly into strikes and blocks and back again in a whirl of color and movement.

Gorgeous, Chat thought before realizing that he probably had a thing for kick-ass women. First Ladybug, now Marinetteā€¦

Marinette yelled something in rapid-fire Chinese, fast enough that Chat didn't catch any of it. Her mother did, though, the small woman vanishing back into the crowd in the direction of their family's bakery. He didn't have time to worry about that as the fight got closer to him, forcing him to roll out of the way. Mrs. Dupain-Cheng returned just as Marinette managed to land a heavy blow on the back of Exodus's neck, sending him down to the ground like a stone. She wasted no time in grabbing the contaminated wand and cracking it with surprising ease over her knee, releasing the akuma. Just as it started to flutter upward, Marinette's mother reappeared and trapped it in the jar, screwing on the lid as the defeated villain lay sprawled on the ground, his magician's cape in a puddle around him.

Chat Noir's ring was really making a racket now, letting him know that his transformation would be wearing off any second. Marinette and her mother exchanged a few quick words before the older woman was running off with the jar back to the bakery. Marinette crouched down next to Chat Noir before lifting him in her arms with barely a grunt, then running with him to the bakery.

Holy cow, she was strong. Chat could feel her muscles digging into his back as they got closer to the bakery. Her father stood there, holding the door open as they blew by. If he was surprised to see his daughter sprinting past carrying a handcuffed one-half of Paris' Lucky Duo, he certainly didn't show it. Chat only just made out the sound of the bakery door closing and locking to keep out curious citizens as his ring increased its frantic beeping.

"We'll get the handcuffs off after," Marinette promised in his ear as she slid to a stop. Chat only had a second to wonder at her words before she was dumping him in a back room and taking off, closing the door securely behind her just as his transformation released with a flash of light.

"Wow, she could have found out who you were but didn't," Plagg commented as soon as he left Adrien's ring and collapsed onto a shelf. "That's really nice of her. Doesn't she want to know?"

"Maybe she doesn't care?" Adrien didn't believe that, though. Marinette seemed immune to the whole superhero craze now, but she had certainly acted star-struck the first time he had met her as Chat Noir, and surely she was at least a little curious? "She probably just respected that I didn't want to be known. I wish her friend could do the same."

"There's no cheese in here," Plagg complained, already disinterested in their previous topic and rattling around in the pots and pans. "How are we supposed to recharge without cheese?"

Adrien's face flushed. "Plagg! Stop snooping! We can ask if they have cheese, maybe, but you will not complain about what type it is. They've already done so much for us."

A knock on the door made both of them freeze. Adrien bolted to hide behind it as it opened a crack and Marinette's voice drifted through.

"Hey, I brought you-"

"CAMEMBERT!" Plagg squealed, shooting through the crack in the door without even a pause. Adrien froze, expecting Marinette to scream, or bolt, or at the very least freak out at the kwami's appearance.

She laughed.

"Do you need anything, Chat Noir?" Marinette asked over the sounds of Plagg's delighted chewing. "Some bread perhaps? Or do you want some cheese as well?"

"No cheese!" Adrien said quickly, making her laugh again. "Bread would be nice. Anything is fine, really." He snapped his mouth shut quickly, worried about talking too much. Without the glamour protection of the Miraculous, it was fully possible that Marinette might recognize his voice.

Marinette's hand reached through the small gap, roll in hand. Adrien took it from her with a quiet thanks as Plagg zipped back in with what was left of the cheese. She closed the door behind her, leaving Adrien in shadows once more.

"Did you really have to go zipping out there, Plagg?" Adrien demanded. "Civilians aren't supposed to know about kwami."

The small black cat shrugged. "She didn't care. Besides, she had cheese." He popped the last bit in his mouth. "Delicious."

Adrien ate with a bit of difficulty, the handcuffs severely restricting his movement. The moment the last crumb was in his mouth, he held out his hands. "Plagg! Transform me!"

With a flash of green light, Chat Noir was standing there once more. He didn't waste any time in opening the door (which would be so much easier without handcuffs). Marinette stood with her back to the door, watching the hallway (guarding him?). When she heard the door open, she didn't so much as turn her head.

"All transformed? It's safe to look?"

Chat Noir grinned. "All safe, Princess. I don't suppose you have a bolt cutter for the handcuffs?"

Marinette gave him a dry look as she turned around. "No, I do not. I'll get the handcuffs off you if you come over here, though."

"Removing handcuffs without key or bolt cutter? I have to see this, princess." Chat stepped up in front of her, offering up his hands.

Marinette let out an unladylike snort before reaching up into her hair and pulling out a bobby pin. She yanked his hands towards her and started fiddling with the pin.

Chat raised an unimpressed eyebrow. "A hair pin? I think you've seen too many action movies-" He let out an undignified yelp as the first handcuff came loose. He raised his freed up to his face in disbelief as Marinette worked the second cuff free. "How- what?"

Sweet, innocent Marinette knew how to undo handcuffs with a hairpin? How? Why?

Marinette laughed as the second cuff came free. "The girl I babysit once got her hands on a pair of handcuffs and locked me to my desk before running off and losing the key. I had to call my best friends over to watch her while I picked myself loose." The handcuffs fell to the floor. "Exodus the Spectacular has stopped fighting, but I think you have a butterfly to get to a certain Ladybug, right?"

"If I can find her." Chat accepted the jar Marinette held out. The purple akuma fluttered around inside of it. "Thank you for the rescue, Princess. I would have been in trouble if you hadn't stepped in." He grinned at her. "In fact, I'm starting to think that Ladybug selects you specially to be my babysitter and keep me out of trouble when she's not available."

"I think trouble is attracted to you, kitty," Marinette teased. "It would take a miracle to keep you out of it." She turned and led him towards a door in the back of the bakery, then up a flight of stairs. "You can leave from the roof. Hopefully you find Ladybug before you crush the jar." Chat pouted when she turned to eye him dubiously, but he couldn't blame her. He was worried about the same thing. The akuma's makeshift prison was plastic, but given his luck, he'd probably slam into the edge of a building and manage to destroy it anyway.

"Oh! Here, you can carry the jar in this bag." Marinette snagged a bag off of the wall of the hallway they were walking through and tossed it in Chat Noir's direction. "The strap is long enough that you can carry it over your shoulder so both of your hands are free."

"Purrr-fect. Thank you, Princess." With that Chat Noir bounded away, keeping an eye out for his Lady even as his thoughts floated back to Marinette.

...I wonder if she would be willing to teach me a few tricks?