The main door in Prison Block B had opened after Hunk poked around in its innards, but the hallway stretches forward into the distance full of locked doors. When Bee breaks the lock on the first door with a fire extinguisher, a tall woman about Jo's age stumbles out and collapses against Hunk in relief. "Oh, thank god. Another thirty minutes and we would've been out there again." Behind her, the other inmates nod wearily.
Hunk and Bee exchange glances. "What are you talking about?"
"Hawkmoth's top henchman, he can't keep us all under control at once, so we go in shifts."
"He's got a villain called Extractor who uses mind control to force us to work on Hawkmoth's project. No one has ever managed to resist him."
"Uh, what happens when a group is about to start a shift?" Hunk asks, thinking of Lance and Ladybug, who broke off towards Prison Block A and might be running directly into danger.
"Extractor replaces their will with the desire to aid Hawkmoth and then the doors unlock one by one."
Hunk's eyes widen. "We need to warn everyone else."
"I'm on it." Bee clicks on his mic and starts talking to the others. Lance and Ladybug have already guessed about mind control being a factor, but Princess Peacock and Pidge shift their focus to taking out Extractor first.
Before they can start coordinating an evacuation plan, though, there's a crackling sound and suddenly a television screen that had been dormant in the corner flickers to life. Hunk's heart stops for a long moment when the figure on the screen becomes clear. It's the first look that he's ever had of Hawkmoth, but despite the dark butterfly mask across his face, there's nothing gentle about him. Hunk is frozen in terror, but a stifled sob from the girl in his arms reminds him that this could be Shay, would be Shay if Hunk didn't do something.
"Greetings," Hawkmoth booms. "I see we have some special guests in the building this evening. What a momentous occasion indeed. Not only are all of the so-called defenders of justice present, we are also graced with the return of the villain Champion. I remember, you knew so much about the Garrison and shared so willingly under the hands of Extractor. Then, after your memory was damaged, you were one of my best villains. It was only a fluke that you were the one to escape."
"No," Bee breathes. "It can't be. I wouldn't."
And Hunk realizes that if Bee is the only one who's ever escaped Hawkmoth, then he's actually Shirogane Takashi, and if Shiro is here, in the place where his trauma weighs the heaviest on him, then it's going to be up to Hunk to act.
He starts by jumping up to press the power button on the monitor, cutting Hawkmoth off from doing further damage to Bee. "We'll get this sorted out when we catch Hawkmoth, but now there are people here that need us. Let's start by getting the rest of the doors unlocked." Shay has to be in here somewhere, and Hunk vows that he won't rest until his friend is safe again.
Fortunately, Lance and Ladybug manage to block the entrance to Prison Block A by having Lance slide anything and everything he finds in front of the door while Ladybug leans against it.
Unfortunately, in their quest to meet up with the other heroes to find a solution to the mind control problem, they somehow end up in a room the size of an airplane hangar that's filled with giant metal contraptions and no fewer than a hundred people who are most definitely brainwashed by Hawkmoth's pet akuma.
Fortunately, many of these people aren't trained in combat.
Unfortunately, that means that they see nothing wrong with resorting to fighting six-on-one, throwing expensive equipment, and hair-pulling.
Lance can't tell whose luck they're having tonight, his or Ladybug's. At least Lance's hair is too short to pull on.
After a few intense minutes in the center of the fray, Lance glances over to check on his partner and jerks to a stop mid-punch as he realizes that he's never seen Ladybug without his hair pulled back. It's practical to have it out of the way during a fight, of course, but only now that Ladybug's hair tie has been yanked out does it strike Lance that it's also less noticeable that way. Lance's jaw drops open and the words are out of his mouth before he can fully register their meaning: "I'd recognize that mullet anywhere!"
"Oh my god, what now?" Ladybug looks over to throw him a glare and suddenly his mouth falls open too, eyes widening in horror as his brain catches up to the fact that they're not at school right now and the person he's talking to is his superhero partner.
"You're Ladybug?" Lance shrieks as he shoves another enemy away.
"That's my line!" Ladybug is Keith. Keith is Ladybug. What the actual hell. "I can't believe you beat me at being a superhero too!"
"For god's sake, Chat, you want to do this now?"
"Well –" he dislocates a shoulder and feels briefly guilty about injuring someone who's brainwashed, "–it's not ideal, obviously, but we have to do it at some point!"
"I don't know about you, but I'm not willing to spill our personal business to a room full of witnesses. When the battle's over, then we'll talk."
"Ugh, fine, be reasonable about it."
They spend about an hour just tossing Extractor's thralls left and right, trying to do enough damage to keep them down without causing any long-lasting injury. In a word, it sucks. Lance is exhausted, and Ladybug's movements are starting to slow down too. Most of their battles don't last this long. Lance wants a break, but he knows that even though this wasn't part of the plan, he and Ladybug are essentially the distraction. If the brainwashed victims get even a hint that Bee and Hunk are probably freeing the other prisoners, they'd charge off to stop them.
Lance is so tired that he can't block fast enough anymore, and one of the victims gets in a lucky blow to his face. It's probably not enough for a concussion, but it still brings tears swimming to his eyes. "Ow!" While he's blinking his vision back to normal, another blow connects on his shoulder from a second brainwashed prisoner. He stumbles backwards until he hits a warm obstacle.
"You okay, Chat?" he hears behind him.
Recognizing the voice, Lance leans against his partner's back for a moment. "Gimme a second."
"I do keep telling you that you should train more," Ladybug says, but the words are halfhearted and tired like Lance.
"Hasn't done you much good, has it?"
"I'm in better shape than you."
Lance assesses the situation, with the two of them running out of steam and too many of Hawkmoth's prisoners surrounding them, still looking eager to fight. "It's not going to be enough." It would only take one serious blow to the head to take either of them out of the battle permanently.
"The odds aren't looking good," Ladybug agrees.
Lance sends a prayer that his family will understand if something happens to him. He takes a deep breath to prepare himself for the prisoners' next offensive –
But then luckily, miraculously, the room falls perfectly still.
The television monitors come to life again, but instead of Hawkmoth, Kit appears with a bound, unconscious Extractor. Given Pidge's untamed imagination and her particular determination in this case, it had probably been more involved than "creating some harmless old ghosts" as she claims. Keith wouldn't be surprised if the man has nightmares for the rest of his life. Princess Peacock joins her shortly thereafter to direct the newly freed victims to the elevators and reassure the ones still locked up that the police are going to assist in making sure everyone gets out.
With the immediate danger gone, Keith can feel the adrenaline leave him. Completely drained, he lets the others lead the evacuation and just listens to the news coming through the other heroes' mics. They find out that Hawkmoth had vanished like one of Pidge's illusions during the confusion of the battle, if he'd even really been in the secret facility in the first place. The genuine Hawkmoth supporters that they capture eventually reveal that this is only one of several underground locations where Hawkmoth is coercing some of the world's best minds. None of them can provide any information on Hawkmoth's ultimate goal, and the majority of the records stored at this location have mysteriously disappeared. In fact, the police find nothing in the files but a name: the Voltron Project.
It's about 3am by the time the police are sure that they've gotten all the victims out, and although the heroes do find Shay in the crowd, conversations with other victims reveal that the Holts had been moved to one of Hawkmoth's other underground labs months ago. Kit leaves after that, dully citing school in the morning, and Keith wishes he could find the right words to express his sympathy for her still-missing family. Bee starts speaking with the police and a few sleepy members of the press about tonight's events, and Princess Peacock and Coran disappear to parts unknown. Jade Turtle volunteers to escort Shay home, so it's just Keith and Chat Noir on the rooftop. Or rather, Keith and Lance.
Keith is about to fall over from exhaustion, but he jerks awake when Lance sighs. "Seriously, you couldn't have let me have 'being a secret superhero' as my own thing to win at?"
"Listen, Lance, no one is losing here. We're working together, like we have been for months."
Lance starts to make a dissenting sound, but then hums thoughtfully. "Huh. You know what… I didn't lose. You're right," he says. Keith is so shocked that he forgets the rest of what he'd been going to say. "I didn't lose," Lance declares again, and there's a one-second window in which Keith thinks that Lance might have matured after all before he continues, "I actually won this, didn't I?"
"You think I'm awesome."
Lance looks smug. "You said so, during the class debate. You think I'm loyal and have good character and can quickly make good decisions."
Keith's jaw drops. This is not the reaction he'd been expecting. "Wha – you – you practically wanted to be captain for Team Ladybug! You think I look good in my costume! And I definitely heard 'clever and honorable' in there!"
"I was exaggerating for the debate!"
"You kissed me after we fought Bond."
"Only because you kissed me first!" Fighting with Lance is familiar, but this situation is decidedly surreal.
"Aha, but I kissed Ladybug, hero extraordinaire, and you knowingly kissed me."
"When you were Chat and I was out of costume, you wanted to be my friend. You brought it up to me!"
"You were different when I talked to you as Chat."
"Yeah, because you laid off the over-the-top flirting that you try on Ladybug."
"Do you have a problem with the way I interact with people, Mr. Antisocial?"
"Yes! It's annoying and I can't return the flirting because –" Keith stops, realizing that he'd almost just blurted out his feelings to prove a point in an argument. Definitely not the ideal scenario for a confession.
"Because what? You're as red as your costume, Keith."
"No reason. That's just a trick of the light."
"There was literally no change in the lighting up here. And don't underestimate my ability to pry the answer out of you. I have several siblings."
"Let me pull out some of the puns I've been saving…"
The fact that Keith can't get rid of his goddamn feelings for Lance truly boggles the mind. "God, you're such a child."
"Yeah, but you like me anyway." Keith opens his mouth to lie, but the words get stuck on his tongue. For all that he's been fine lying to cover up being Ladybug, it seems that now, in this moment, he can't think of anything to say but the truth. He can feel his face turning redder as the silence stretches between them and the denial that Lance is obviously expecting goes unsaid. "Wait, you like me?" Keith's stomach twists unpleasantly at Lance's surprise, wishing he could undo the last few minutes and just go home. The only good news here is that absolutely no one will believe Lance when he inevitably mentions it at school.
Keith's pause has gone on too long for a lie to be believable now. "When you're not being a complete idiot, you have some qualities that aren't terrible," he manages to get out.
Instead of gloating that he's won against Keith or being horrified by the admission, Lance's face reddens. "I, uh, like you too. I mean, it's Ladybug that I started out liking, but it's not hero-worship like we get from fans, you know?" He would be one to know the difference – Keith briefly recalls the proposal he'd walked in on and the date invitations that they've both received from complete strangers. "I like battling akuma with you and patrolling with you. I like the face you make when you realize exactly what to do with your Lucky Charm item and the smile when we fist-bump at the end of a fight. I kind of even like that you hate my puns, because it gives you something to complain about and I get to see a side of you that no one else does." Lance pauses for so long that Keith thinks he's done, but then he makes one last confession: "I liked the way it felt when you kissed me."
"I did too," Keith whispers, but it's Lance who leans in to close the distance between them. It's just a brush of lips, barely a kiss at all, but Keith's whole face feels hot when he pulls away.
"You know," Lance says with a slowly widening grin, "akuma are going to be in a spot of trouble from now on, 'cause we are gonna make an even more purrfect team."
"No." And the spell is broken.
"Ha, it's too late, LB, you're stuck with me now."
Keith sighs. "You're delirious, go to bed."
"Are you coming with?"
Notes: I hope you enjoyed the identity reveal, because I certainly laughed while writing it. Of course it would be an inappropriately-timed revelation that makes everything clear.
For those of you who feel that some plot elements in the story-line are left hanging (e.g. Shiro's history in Hawkmoth's clutches and the fact that they haven't found the Holts yet), that's because I have a lot of ideas for backstory and about how the heroes are going to track down more of the secret facilities for the Voltron Project. It might be a while before I'm able to write more, but I would love to revisit this 'verse!
Thank you so much for all your support, especially the readers who left such wonderful comments!