He flies through the clouds, and closes his eyes, letting a soft smile make its way over his lips. Volpina won't be easily defeated. It's a moral choice that he made, but it's going to pay off. This will be the last time people suffer, ever. By the time the sun rises, he's certain that he'll have the earrings and the ring.
Volpina hid a bomb in a warehouse, and it's going to send the city to ash. He'll go through the wreckage, and find the Miraculous. Then he can rebuild the city, and the people in it, except better. Everything's going to be so much better than it was, and then… then he won't be the villain. He'll be a good person again, or if not good, at least moral. And then Marinette will love him again.
"Master," the voice echoes through the connection. "I have the earrings. Or the girl attached to the earrings at least."
He nearly falls out of the sky, twisting his pin wildly. "You what?"
"Yes. In the warehouse. With the bombs. They detonate in about… seventeen minutes. So I'll have them off her at that time."
His heart stops in his chest, and he feels the mental link switch off. It's still there, but she- it- isn't listening anymore.
That's the thing about the flowers. They brand his will on the soul of the akumas, but they make things like simple orders much less severe. And he never branded Volpina to keep Marinette safe. Something she knows.
Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe he can let it happen, and just bring her back. He'll get rid of her memory of it, and even his memory of it. Nobody will ever need to know that once upon a time he let her die…
As soon as he blinks, he sees a hand. Timebreaker. She's racing towards Ladybug, his Marinette, the girl he can hardly believe he's been hurting for over a month now, and no, no, he can't let this happen. It just won't. Before he even thinks of what he's doing, his wings are open over her, and she's staring up at him in shock, and it hurts, but it's for her, and he'll never regret it…
His wings snap wide, and he begins racing to the warehouse. No. No, he's going to protect her. He is never going to let his Princess down. How could he have forgotten that?
He loves her. No utopia, no validation is going to be worth more than her life.
The flames around the building part, and he lands on the windowsill, taking a shaky breath. "Volpina, call off the explosives," he orders, closing his wings. Marinette is tied to a chair, and looks up at him, smiling slightly.
"I knew you'd save me," she laughs softly.
He cringes. "I almost didn't."
"But you still did."
Volpina rolls it's eyes. "I'm not calling the explosives off. Not in my programming."
Adrien jumps down from the sill. "Your programming is to obey me."
The girl- the creature- smirks. "My programming is to destroy, and get the Miraculous at any cost. Her life is the cost."
Adrien clenches his fists, walking in, and taking another breath. He stands between Marinette and Volpina. "I won't let you hurt her."
Volpina tilts her head. "I'm your tool. I'm what you made. If she dies, you killed her."
The bomb chimes, almost the same way a Miraculous about to time out would. Ten minutes left.
"Please," he looks between the bomb and Marinette. "Please, I will do anything, just let her go!"
"Anything?" Volpina gives that empty smile. "Will you take her place?"
She almost looks surprised, as Marinette gasps. "No! No, Adrien, this isn't what I wanted, there's got to be another way out, I don't want to lose you!"
He clenches his teeth, and spins towards her, fighting tears. "I don't want to lose you either." He looks back at Volpina. "Let me see her out. Just let me see her leave. I'll stay here, and I'll block the explosion."
"If you fail, she will die. They're strong enough to take out the whole city," Volpina warns. "And the fire will not part for you."
He nods. "I understand," he murmurs. Volpina tosses him a knife, and he slices the ropes binding Marinette. "As soon as you're out, run."
"Adrien, no, just give me the pin and I'll destroy it, and then everything can go back to normal…"
He takes her hand, and kisses it gently. "Princess…"
"It's not fair," her voice breaks. "We were just going to take the pin, not hurt you. And then we… we were going to be happy. After everything, we were finally going to be happy."
Watching her tears, suddenly, it's all clear to him.
"We weren't," he leads her to the door as the bomb chimes again. Five minutes. "You were never going to forgive what I did. I was fooling myself. There is no magic justification for what I did. I am nobody's hero. But please," his voice drops, softer, "know that I… I'm sorry, and that I loved you, Marinette Dupain-Cheng."
The fire parts, and he detransforms, looking at her with clear green eyes. His own eyes, filled with nothing but pure love. Gently, he pushes her out the door, and the wall of fire goes up once again.
"Well?" Volpina snickers. "Are you going to cover the bomb?"
He nods, taking quicker breaths. He knows he'll be found out as Papillon eventually, and after that, remembered forever as one of the worst villains Paris ever saw. But maybe, if he's lucky…
He transforms, and spreads his wings, letting the scared tears fall as he uses them to cover himself, and the bomb. Maybe, in Marinette's memory…
He remembers rain falling, and holding an umbrella out. He remembers the way she broke through the pain, and made something that, for a short time, was beautiful. Those memories can't be changed. They really were happy, and they'll always be that way, as long as she bothers to remember that it happened.
For an instant, everything hurts, and then, nothing can anymore.