Because I fixed the scene that was bothering me in the final chapter and because I have exactly no chill, you're getting chapter 2 earlier than I'd planned.
In case you were wondering, all of the chapters titles will follow the English opening theme for Miraculous Ladybug.
A character is mentioned in this chapter who doesn't sound like they fit into a Miraculous Ladybug AU (you'll probably guess when you read it), but all will be revealed with time.
The first time Keith saw Lance, he'd fallen a little bit in love. Not because he was "handsome" or "fantastic" or whatever else Lance likes to say when he's listening to himself talk, but because Keith caught him in a moment of kindness. Keith had been filling out his school application on a park bench when a child nearby started to wail. Keith had never had any younger siblings or cousins, so he wasn't sure if this one was hungry or tired or something else entirely. Either way, Keith looked back down at his papers and tried to concentrate on the application questions. The kid hadn't stopped crying after three straight minutes and Keith had been seriously thinking about relocating when he heard: "Hey there, what's wrong?"
He looked up to see a guy about his age crouched down in front of the little girl.
"I-I can't…" she whimpered.
"Hey, it's okay. Where's your adult?"
"That's – she – I can't find her."
"Gotcha. Let's go look for her, then, yeah?" While the kid picked up her toys, the guy checked the time on his phone and winced, but when she looked back up he was smiling again. The guy cracked a joke and got a watery giggle from her, and as they walked away he began, "So when my baby sister got lost on the day of my brother's wedding, what had actually happened was…"
This act of random kindness, of a stranger taking it upon himself to do something altruistic, made Keith pause. He'd experienced this brand of selflessness before from his adoptive family, but seeing it here surprised him. Keith left the park that day with a good impression of the sweet stranger.
The first time Keith had actually met Lance, the emotional whiplash had been so bad that it took a double session of martial arts practice to get his mind off it after school. He'd been strolling into his new homeroom on the first day of school when he collided with someone walking out. Keith had automatically murmured an apology as he looked up and then his heart skipped in recognition.
"You!" the cute boy said, and Keith had about a second to wonder why the stranger would remember him until he continued: "You're the one who beat me out for first place on the entrance exam!"
Keith blinked. He hadn't looked at the list after learning his own placement, but apparently this stranger had. The homeroom teachers each had a class register with headshots of their students, so stealing a peek wouldn't have been too hard for him. "Oh. Who are you?"
"The name's Lance, and I'm going to be your rival!"
"Rivals! You know, neck-and-neck on tests, trying to break each other's records in gym class, stuff like that. I'm going to win it all!"
Keith had opened his mouth and then shut it. Was this really the same guy who'd been so charming in the park? Did he have a twin? Keith finally said, "I'm not interested in having a rival." It sounded like a lot of work for something unnecessary.
Lance huffed. "People like you and me who are on the same level just have to compete! That's the way it is."
"But we're not on the same level," Keith said, thinking of Lance's demonstration of compassion and people skills, both of which were much better than Keith's.
Lance, unfortunately, took that the wrong way: "First of all, that's rude, and second of all, I'm going to kick your ass this year and show you that I can totally be on your level." He stormed away before Keith could argue, and then Keith got busy over the next few weeks as school kicked into gear and he stumbled upon the ladybug miraculous, so their interactions had only gone downhill from there.
The kicker is, it's been months since then and Keith still doesn't really hate Lance. All of Lance's irritating outbursts about their rivalry aside, his frustrating desire to flirt with anyone in a ten mile radius aside, he's still a decent person and a good student. Every time Keith feels like he's reached the end of his patience with Lance, he'll do something sweet like help one of the older teachers carry textbooks to another classroom or decorate a locker for someone's birthday and then the annoying feelings that Keith had mercilessly squashed down on that first day of school just surge back a little stronger.
Lance can be nice when he wants to, so why is he always so infuriating?
As Lance sets the bowl of popcorn down on his bed next to Hunk, Pidge opens with: "So what's this about you and Ladybug catching an akuma on its way to the victim last night?"
"How do you always know these things?! Neither of us even reported that part!"
"Wouldn't you like to know."
Lance stares at her suspiciously. "Do you spy on me? I bet you can access security cameras with your laptop. Is that how?"
"Keep guessing. You're not that interesting, Lance," Pidge says, complete with eye roll.
"Wait, hold on, I have an idea. Listen, LB went to track the akuma's smoke trail but didn't find anything useful. Could you look at the feed from security cameras to see where it came from?"
Pidge's eyes brighten as she considers. "Maybe. Depending on its point of origin, there may be blind spots where we lose its path, but if we do find Hawkmoth's headquarters, we'll be a step closer." A step closer to taking down the city's most persistent supervillain and a step closer to getting back the people whose disappearances are linked to Hawkmoth – including Pidge's brother and father. "I'll definitely look into it. For now, tell us more about the akuma." Lance recounts the events of the previous night and the two of them listen, occasionally asking for clarification.
"So, movie time?" Lance prompts when they're satisfied with his account.
Hunk holds up a hand to pause him. "I – we – have another thing." He makes eye contact with Pidge and the two of them get an excited look that says they've been tinkering with some new creation. "We know you and Ladybug have communicators in your staff and yo-yo, which is useful for long distance communication, but what about during battles when you're using them as weapons? I was thinking that mics might increase your efficiency, and Pidge thought of something the two of us could make." On cue, Pidge fishes a small piece of tech out of her backpack and holds it out to him.
"That is awesome. Awesomer than awesome. That, my friends, is fantastic."
"You're a model of eloquence," Pidge deadpans.
Hunk continues their explanation: "Now we know your superhero costume is the product of magic, but if you clip the mic onto the collar when you're in Chat Noir mode, it might stay with the costume when you release the transformation. We can test it out before you give another one to Ladybug."
"Magic and science combined," Pidge says with a grin.
Lance rubs his ring with his thumb. "Let's take it for a test drive."
A few quiet nights pass after the akuma with the laptop. When the streak breaks – on the same night that Pidge and Hunk clear Lance to take two sets of mics out for himself and Ladybug – the superheroes get two akumas in one night. Lance is about to call it quits after they vanquish the second villain when a voice catches their attention: "Chat Noir, Ladybug!" Lance turns around and his heart stops. The speaker is Shirogane "Shiro" Takashi, a famous pilot from the military university. He'd separated from the growing crowd around the akuma attack site and had managed to catch up with Ladybug and Lance as they ducked down a mostly deserted side street.
Lance might be the one in a magical skintight costume right now, but Shiro has been his hero for ages. Can Lance say something about how cool Shiro is? Would that be weird? It's okay to be in awe of Ladybug, since they're both superheroes, but Chat Noir getting all starry-eyed in front of someone he's just saved might be strange. Shiro's a pretty well-known guy – should Lance acknowledge that, or pretend not to know him?
"I need to speak with you," he says, interrupting Lance's mental debate. "It's urgent."
Lance and Ladybug share a glance and silently agree to hear him out, so Lance looks around for a secluded spot. There's a park nearby, emptied after the akuma attack broke out, and the garden hedges are the perfect cover. Once they're situated inside, Ladybug clears his throat to get their attention. "What was it that you wanted to tell us, Sh– sir?"
"Thank you for hearing me out. My name is Shiro, and I escaped from Hawkmoth's imprisonment. I – I've been gone a year, but unfortunately, I don't remember much of it."
It takes Lance a long moment to process that. Shiro had disappeared from the spotlight a while back, but it had been speculated that he was recruited for a mission which couldn't be shared with the public. To think he'd been abducted… it's unreal. Hoping to avoid the growing feeling of horror, Lance focuses on the last part: "You don't remember anything?"
"I only have bits and pieces of memories from between the time I was taken and now."
Ladybug jumps in, his curiosity clearly sparked. "Do you remember anything about your escape?"
"No, but I thought that if I talked to you or the other hero about what I did remember, you might be able to help me piece it together." The other hero is a mystery, someone who's been around much longer than Ladybug and Chat Noir. The hero has been quietly rescuing citizens in danger since before Hawkmoth even came into the spotlight, and they've never spoken to any members of the press. This underground champion is tentatively known as the Indigo Hero for the dark blue costume sometimes seen in the shadows. "You've been heroes around here for a while, right? I've been back for a few days and I found some articles that mentioned you while catching up on the news."
"Six months, give or take," Ladybug says. "You must have been one of the earliest, if you've been gone a year. The city didn't even officially hypothesize that Hawkmoth was taking people until just before we came onto the scene."
"He takes people who could be a hindrance to him, that much I remember. The prisoners there specialize in different fields, but every one of them is a potential obstacle to him."
Lance raises a hand. "Uh, not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but why doesn't he kill them?" he asks. "For someone of his position, it would make more sense to eliminate all threats. Plus, he wouldn't have to pay for their upkeep."
"I don't know. I think… he might have been trying to get us to work on something, something that could change everything."
A chill goes down Lance's spine. "He's going to turn his biggest weaknesses into an advantage?"
"It looks like it."
Pidge drops her soda. "Did you say Shirogane Takashi?"
That had pretty much been Keith's reaction too, but he just watches the bottle roll away towards the teacher's desk in the classroom where they're holding their clandestine meeting. "Yes. Do you know him?" Keith does, and he's kept his phone on and charged in case Shiro wants to contact him. He's hurt that Shiro hasn't said something yet, maybe contacted Keith to say that he's not dead, but then Keith feels guilty for assuming that he would be a priority for Shiro after returning from a year in Hawkmoth's clutches.
"He worked with Matt and my father. He went missing when they did. You said he escaped? Was there anyone else with him?"
"No, he was alone. He seems to have some issues with memory, possibly because of something Hawkmoth did to him. Chat Noir and I are going to meet with him again tonight to discuss things further. I wanted to get more details last night, but both of our miraculouses were running low after the fight."
"And tonight you'll have the full time to talk about it. Okay, that's good." Pidge looks optimistic and Keith hopes that the information from tonight's meeting doesn't disappoint her. "You have to tell me everything when you're done."
"I had an idea about that, actually, especially since I was going to ask you about this device anyway." He holds out the mic that he'd gotten from Chat Noir yesterday. "Take a look at it. It's clearly crafted from spare parts to other machines, and it almost looks like something you would have put together."
Pidge accepts the gadget. "Maybe Chat Noir is an engineer."
"Maybe," Keith echoes, but he doesn't really think so, and the idea of Chat Noir having an improvised gadget made by someone else has interesting implications. "I could leave this one with you and ask to borrow Chat's on the pretense of leaving mine at home. That way, you could hear the conversation yourself."
Pidge misses the obvious hole in that excuse –the fact that asking for Chat Noir's set would leave him without one – but Keith chalks it up to her excitement. He can mention Chat Noir's spare set later when she's looking to pick Keith's apart. "Thanks. Let me know when you're heading out to meet with them." Keith nods. "Talk to you later, then. We should probably get back to lunch before people notice we're gone." Keith privately thinks that Pidge is the only one at school who would note his absence, but he knows that she spends lunch with Hunk and Lance, who would definitely come looking or at least ask questions.
Pidge had approached Keith shortly after he acquired the ladybug miraculous and offered her help to take down Hawkmoth. He still doesn't know how she'd figured out his identity, but in exchange for knowing his biggest secret, she'd shared hers: Pidge had revealed that she was not a boy, as the rest of the school believed, and explained that she'd needed to come to this school in disguise to find her family. Her brother and father had worked with the principal, Mr. Iverson, who like them was associated with the military academy down the road. Matt and her father had been doing research on a clandestine project for the university when they'd disappeared. Pidge, believing that something had been covered up, had come to the school in disguise and hacked into Mr. Iverson's computer.
The university, and Mr. Iverson by extension, had no idea what had happened to Matt and Samuel Holt, but Pidge kept digging around in recent news articles and found other victims taken under similar circumstances. She'd made the connection that Hawkmoth was responsible, and Keith wouldn't be surprised if she had quietly planted the idea for the city's investigation team to notice.
Having Pidge as a confidante means a lot. Keith needs someone to talk to about his superhero life who's not going to see Ladybug, a champion of the city. He gets along well enough with Chat Noir, but they'd agreed to keep their identities secret in case Hawkmoth captured one of them. He'd initially considered telling his adopted parents, who've known him for seven years now and would definitely believe him, but they're away for a year on sabbatical and something like this is hard to bring up over the phone. Pidge is brilliant and determined and, most importantly, she treats him the same way that he's seen her treat Hunk and Lance, her friends.
It's not an unpleasant feeling.
Notes: Honestly, Keith and Pidge's friendship is so important to me and I hope we get to see more interactions between them in the upcoming season