A/N: Turns out I had most of this chapter already written? Plus thanks to the state of the world & finals being over I suddenly had the urge to return to this fic so... here I am, lol. Thank you so much to everyone that's left a comment!
Tobey's adrenaline rush of the afternoon had turned into resolve by the time he got home (with wire from the hardware store in his possession, at last). When he entered his laboratory he immediately dragged his blueprint easel out of the corner of the room and flipped to a clean page. Plagg watched him scribble a title on the paper.
"How to win Ladybug's heart," the kwami read, sounding amused. "You're actually going to make a plan for that?"
"Quiet, you," Tobey retorted. He tapped the pen on his chin, considering the blank paper before him. "Now… obviously the best way to accomplish this is to impress her with how heroic I am." He ignored Plagg's snickers as he started sketching ideas out. "First, I need to impress her as a superhero. Now I already have the intellect, of course, but this will require physical prowess as well - which I will admit in the privacy of my own lab that I… sorely lack. Second, I must convince her that my civilian identity has completely abandoned villainy and does not plan to return. During both of these steps, my natural charm should be more than enough to - Plagg I am trying to monologue, if you don't stop mocking me I'm only buying you American cheese for a week," he snapped at the kwami, who had graduated to loud chuckles. Plagg quickly sobered up at the threat.
"Thank you," he said, turning back to the paper. "Now… the first part shouldn't be difficult to accomplish. I just need a way to train, and robuts will be perfect for the job!" He flipped to a new page and began sketching vague shapes.
"What about that robut for your mom?" Plagg said, mimicking his accent.
Tobey looked over at the robot, which was still strewn across the desk. "Oh, right, that." He glanced back longingly at the blueprints, then sighed. "I'll… finish it now," he said, and pulled out the chair to sit down. "But I can't give it to her tonight, she'll be working late."
Plagg floated down and settled next to his elbow. "Tomorrow, then?"
Tobey shook his head and pulled a few tools off of their designated hooks. "Ladybug wants to meet tomorrow, I can't."
"... The day after that?"
"I'll get around to it when the time is right," he snapped. "It just... doesn't feel right yet."
Plagg watched his miraculous user work, connecting wires to circuit boards and other components in a manner uncharacteristically delicate of him. The contrast between his treatment of robots and of… nearly everything else was pretty jarring. Plagg was starting to see how giving Tobey powers of destruction may not have been one of Tikki's worst ideas ever. The issue hadn't exactly been that Tobey was destruction-prone in general - more that he saw it as a way to create problems which required his crush to solve them.
But if Plagg was being honest, he still wasn't sure that this was a good idea. Both he and Tikki had watched too many of their heroes fall to evil, yet she managed to retain a stubborn hope that they could recover to the very end. Plagg wished he could too, but no one knew bad luck quite as well as he did.
When Tikki had told him her plan - to give the ring to a former villain - Plagg had made his reservations known to her, but she seemed adamant that it would work so he gave in. He remembered Tobey, or at least the young, volatile, stuck-up kid that he'd been when he was first akumatized, and had been interested at first to see why Tikki had decided on him of all people. He was still waiting on an answer; it seemed that much hadn't changed, except for maybe the 'young' part somewhat, if Plagg was remembering human age standards correctly. (Spending half of his multiple-millenia lifetime in stasis really didn't help with understanding the whole human-aging thing, but Tobey did at least seem taller.)
Anyway, from the hesitation Tobey showed at every step of the way to his still-obvious crush that seemed to be the only reason he'd taken up the offer in the first place, Plagg was finding little to assure him that this would work out. Sure, he'd saved that one guy in the alley, but that could easily have been a fluke inspired by adrenaline from his first transformation. And yeah, he was making his mother a robot, but giving one long-overdue apology was hardly grounds for being worthy of a Miraculous. Maybe she'd seen something in him while Plagg had been stuck in the box? Some sign of heroism waiting to break free?
Yeah, that had to be it.
Scoops and Rose were determined to write an article about the day's events in time for it to be the headline of the next morning's edition of the Daily Rag (the high school's version, of course). Becky answered questions from Scoops until dinner about the new hero, Hawkmoth's possible motives for sending out two villains at once, her progress on the whole 'defeating Hawkmoth' front, and which villains she thought would strike next. She finally excused herself from the phone call, only to be confronted at the dinner table with endless questions from TJ about what Scoops and Rose knew about Cat Noir.
It wasn't until late in the evening that Becky got a chance to actually reflect on what had happened. On normal nights she'd be out patrolling by that time, but it was unlikely that Hawkmoth would create an akuma so soon after using two stronger akumas earlier that day - not to mention that she was dangerously close to falling behind on homework and needed to catch up. (Though honestly, when wasn't she? If only her Miraculous granted super-speed...)
"That was surprisingly… not a mess," Becky said absentmindedly as she filled out her packet of history notes. "The battle, that is."
Bob chattered from the seat in the corner. You should've seen him try to battle Miss Question. He really has no idea what he's doing.
Becky snorted. "His face looked so panicked when he first arrived, I was surprised he'd managed to lead her to the museum in the first place."
"But he did," Tikki chimed in.
"Yeah. I mean, I don't blame him for being scared. When I got my Miraculous being invincible and jumping headfirst into danger all the time felt natural, but I can't expect everyone to be like that, especially not at first."
"That's true," Tikki said. "By the way - Becky, now that I know he's accepted his position, I need you to understand something."
"For the good of both of you, you must keep your identities secret from each other."
Becky and Bob both frowned. "What? But in the past you said -"
Tikki shook her head. "That was a different person, a different time. No matter how much you grow to trust this person, please believe me when I say that with the way certain things are right now, revealing your identities would be a very bad idea."
Becky slumped in her chair. "Alright, I'll be careful of that." She left it at that as her pocket buzzed. She pulled out her phone and smiled as she saw Violet's name flash on the screen.
Violet: [image of Priscilla, Violet's cat, curled up and dozing off]
Violet: look who fell asleep on my arm! i cant feel it anymore haha
Becky: Aww! You had better not disturb her.
Violet: id never dream of it!
Violet: by the way u can still make it to my audition tomorrow right?
"Whoops," Becky muttered aloud. It had completely slipped her mind; thankfully she hadn't asked to meet Cat Noir earlier in the day.
Becky: Of course! Have you decided on a monologue yet?
Violet: im probably going to recite pucks speech at the end
Becky: 'If we shadows have offended'?
Becky: Nice choice! :D
Violet: yeah i hope so!
It was no surprise to Becky that the school was buzzing with the same energy it had the previous day. It was, however, a surprise that Tobey seemed to be in a good mood two mornings in a row.
"Hello," he said as she sat down, and she frowned to balance his quiet smile.
"Hi?" she replied.
"Wonderful morning, isn't it?"
"Uh, sure." He'd rested his elbow on top of his notebook, which was unsurprisingly filled with robot sketches. "What are the blueprints for this time?" she said, nodding at them.
He smirked. "Oh, nothing of much importance."
"If it isn't important, then why are you being so enigmatic?"
Tobey huffed; either a sign that he was out already (unlikely) or that he didn't actually know the word and wanted to just move on. "Is it a crime to be secretive about matters which are completely irrelevant to other people?"
"Of course not, but somehow I don't believe that's the case."
Tobey looked like he had a retort ready, but Scoops entering the classroom interrupted him before he had a chance to use it. As Scoops walked to his chair, classmates pulled newspapers off of the pile he was holding. Violet passed one up to Becky, who hadn't tried to reach for one.
Tobey cleared his throat and turned around. He seemed to want to say something, change his mind, then change it back again. "Violet, would you pass me a copy as well?" he finally asked.
Violet looked confused - he never read the Daily Rag unless he'd just gone on a rampage - but obliged. He thanked her, turned back around, and… yeah, he was actually reading it. Weird.
She looked down at her own copy. The image under the headline was an up-close picture of Ladybug and Cat Noir waving to a sea of reporters behind the camera. The camera had caught her new partner in a wide grin, with his gaze aimed out at the crowd and a posture that, despite the tense shoulders, suggested more confidence - comfort? - than she would have expected from a neophyte. Becky lingered on the image for a moment longer before moving on. She already knew what the text would contain, so after skimming the front page in a show of reading it she folded the paper back up and got out a book. Her hand felt for the bookmark and she flipped to the page it was wedged in front of, but the book remained unread in her lap as she noticed that Tobey was still reading.
"Thought you didn't care for vapid superhero gossip, Tobey," she remarked, and he jumped.
"I don't," he said, folding the paper back up and putting it on his desk. "But I also don't care for being ignorant of current events."
"So you're scoping out the competition, huh?" she said, and smirked as he flushed slightly. He really was too predictable.
"Competition in him? As if," he replied with disdain. "This new 'hero' barely managed to accomplish anything besides scamper around the city and get in Ladybug's way. She could do much better."
"Of course you'd say that," Becky said, rolling her eyes. "Well, I see potential in him. Ladybug wasn't perfect on her first day either, you know."
"Hmm," was all he said in reply, and he returned his attention to the newspaper.
Ten minutes into homeroom, the classroom door swept open again. Victoria entered wearing a flat, distracted expression. The conversation that had been going on about the upcoming play auditions fizzled out; Victoria had been banned from them, and everyone knew she hated being reminded of it. The volume of the room fell to an awkward hush as a result, which she stiffened at.
She grabbed the newspaper off of Becky's desk, stalked over to her seat, and began to read. Despite the lack of interest on her face, her hands clenched the sides of the paper like she was trying to strangle it. Becky squinted, trying to tell whether she was akumatized (the eyes were always a dead giveaway), but she couldn't tell for sure. It was unlikely, since Victoria's last incident had been several months ago, but one could never be too cautious.
Their teacher frowned and marked something on the attendance record. Victoria's grip tightened.
"Morning, Victoria," Becky said.
"Beckface," Victoria replied tersely, keeping her gaze on the newspaper. Ugh.
Becky set down her book, trying to feign interest. "How's the article?"
"Could be better." Victoria's eyes finally flicked up as she spoke - nope, they were their usual shade of grey-green. No akuma, at least for now. Becky let out a small sigh of relief and nodded. She flashed a lukewarm smile at the girl, which was ignored.
Tobey was usually loathe to admit that Becky could be right about something, but she had called Cat Noir competition and expressed belief that he'd be a good superhero, and he really, really wanted to believe it. Her vote of confidence meant more to him than he wanted to admit.
His classes passed in a blur as his thoughts bounced between the training robot and developing a strategy for the evening's meeting. If he played all his cards right, he could completely make up for his first impression. He needed to be suave, to impress her in every single way, and to somehow accomplish this without reminding her of his true identity - which would likely be the most difficult task of all. He couldn't underestimate her intelligence in this area (or in general, but he needed to stay focused); she knew his villain self so well she could often predict not only his moves in battle, but his witty comebacks or larger plans.
Speaking of being predictable, he needed an AI that would learn his own moves during practice, and several fail-safe procedures. He also needed a way to model the fighting techniques of major akuma villains, and -
He needed a lab partner who wasn't so nosey.
It wasn't until biology, near the end of the day, when his focus was finally broken - by Becky unceremoniously shoving his papers into his arm and crumpling some in the process. "Hey!" he hissed, smoothing them back out.
"Keep your papers on your side," she whispered back. "Some people are trying to take notes."
He huffed. "And some people are trying to design works of engineering genius, though I'm not surprised you don't have any appreciation for -"
He cut off and both of them froze as their teacher sent a glare his way. After a long moment, she turned back to the blackboard and continued her lecture.
"For art," he finished, dropping to barely a whisper.
"Works like what, again?" she asked with a frown, and his heart jumped to his throat as she squinted at the paper in his hand, the one he'd been writing ideas for robots (... and other things) on.
He held the paper to his chest. "I assure you, it hasn't become any more relevant to you since you asked this morning."
Her eyes lingered on the vague sketches that were still scattered over his desk. "Whatever," she said at last. "Just keep the mess on your side."
Becky only managed to catch vague sketches, but whatever he was designing seemed to be a larger-scale bot, which was strange. Usually the robots meant for akumatizations were miniatures, which he used his powers to magnify and control. Maybe he'd managed to break another one of his cleaning bots.
Maybe he had more nefarious plans in mind. She hoped not.
She immediately pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind, trying to stay focused on the lecture. There was no use adding it to her long list of things to worry about right now, not when she didn't even know for sure if Tobey was up to something.
The foremost issue on the list took over her thoughts instead. She'd known what she was getting into when she let Tikki take the ring, but only yesterday did she actually experience it. Sure, Cat Noir's presence had worked out well in the end, but it had also been the cause of a double akumatization. Between her and Huggy there was a comfortable routine that hadn't been disrupted for two years, and she still wasn't certain if she wanted it to be… not to mention how many emergency plans she and Huggy had altered and created since the last Cat Noir disappeared. She only had ideas for changing around half of them, and that was assuming that the new hero used the same fighting style. It would take a while to redesign the strategies, and then even more to practice them - more time than she was sure Hawkmoth was willing to grant.
No, no, that was too much for his second day. She needed to stick to the basics for now, just make sure that he knew what he was getting into and such. Maybe she could cover all that while showing him the patrol route? Yeah, that could work.
Becky found Violet pacing back and forth by the auditorium ten minutes before she had to audition. After a few encouraging words she ushered her friend into the backstage area and then left, intending to make her way to the auditorium seats.
Instead of that she nearly ran straight into Victoria, who was standing right outside the door.
"What are you doing here?" Becky said, trying to close the door behind her silently. Both of them winced when she failed.
"Auditioning, duh," Victoria said. She crossed her arms and leaned forward in her usual intimidation pose, but she looked pale.
"Why? You're banned."
Victoria smirked, but it didn't reach her eyes. "Not anymore."
"How - whatever," Becky said, frowning. "I don't know if you hypnotized the teachers again or what this time, but I'm watching you."
"Go ahead! I'm the best at getting my way without being akumatized," Victoria said. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have a monologue to perform perfectly." She shouldered Becky aside and disappeared into the darkness of backstage.
"Sure you are," Becky muttered, and started down the hallway at a considerably faster pace than she'd planned.
Three hours and one successful audition from Violet later:
"It's gotta be somewhere around here…" Becky sighed and knelt down to gain access to the bottom of her bookshelf. Her room might be messy, but the mess had a system, and that system almost never failed her… the key word being 'almost'.
Bob rolled his eyes, pulled over a chair, and retrieved a box from the top of her closet. The book she was searching for, Superheroes and You: A Practical Guide, was lying underneath a notebook of battle strategy ideas and some old newspaper articles.
"Oh, thanks," Becky said as he handed it to her. She stood, meaning to just pack it immediately, but instead she let herself take a moment to stare at the cover. It featured an illustration of the previous Ladybug and Cat Noir she knew from her childhood, surrounded by other symbols which corresponded to Miraculous she only knew about from the book. Above the title the author's name, Prof. Boxleitner, stood out in bold as if the letters were trying to convince her that he still existed.
She sighed and flipped the book open. On the inside cover, 'Property of Ladybug, Fair City' and the date she'd received it were written in practiced cursive letters. She'd used her sparkly pink pen that she saved for special occasions.
She allowed herself two more seconds to mourn the impending loss of her guidebook, then stuffed it inside a bag from her local library and transformed.
Ladybug arrived at the clock tower during its eighth and final chime, but her new partner was nowhere to be found. She frowned and leaned on the half-wall, idly watching for unusual movement. As the minutes ticked by above her she started playing with her yo-yo out of boredom.
"Late, yet again," she muttered.
You said to meet 'around' eight, not 'at', Huggy reminded her.
"Yeah, yeah," she muttered. "But if he isn't here in another five minutes, I'm patrolling without him."
Barely twenty more seconds passed before she heard metal sliding against stone somewhere close by. She spun around just in time to see Cat Noir land in a crouch on the opposite wall. If it weren't for the busy city lights behind him he would've melded with the night sky, save for those glowing blue eyes-
- Eyes that were all too easy to get lost in, that stubbornly stayed fixed on her own. She forced herself to blink. "Hey."
"Hello," he replied softly.
She crossed her arms and leaned back on the wall. "Almost thought you weren't going to show."
He hopped down and approached; despite the shadows, she could make out a grin. "I'm afraid I was held up, but it won't happen again. I wouldn't dream of deliberately missing a moment with you, Ladybug."
She snorted. "So before all this were you a superfan, or are you just always like that?"
He ran a hand through his hair as he glanced away and chuckled, sounding kind of nervous - so she'd guessed right? "Please. As if most of the city's populace wouldn't consider themselves fans of you."
She laughed. "I guess. I hope you aren't intimidated by me, or any of this - although you don't seem to be."
He shook his head. "I know what I'm getting into."
"Good to hear. Speaking of which, though… I still need to ask. Being a superhero does take up an immense amount of time, and you'll have to drop what you're doing, even if it's important, if an akuma appears. There's also patrols, though I guess those are optional since they don't need more than one -"
"I'm prepared to do whatever it takes to become worthy of this ring," he said, and she beamed.
He was there, and they were talking, and she was smiling at him, and yes he may have botched his entrance somewhat with the overly flirtatious line but his heart had already driven the mistake from his mind to make room for more important things. Like how her eyes sparkled when she grinned, back in his villain days the expression had been an incredibly rare sight -
His smile faltered; he needed to focus. "Uh," he said. "So… what are we doing tonight?"
"Well, there's a lot we need to go over, and a lot more that we can't deal with until we're actually in a battle," she said. "Tonight I just wanted to go over some basics - make sure you're on the right track and don't have any misconceptions about the job, that kind of stuff."
He nodded. "We wouldn't want any misunderstandings now, would we."
"Exactly," she said, smiling at the use of a synonym. "So first of all… well, you've already been chosen and you've participated in one battle so far. If you continue, you need to be aware that being a superhero isn't a job you can show up to only when you feel like it. You'll have to skip obligations if the need arises. Are you okay with this?"
He hesitated for a moment, then nodded. His expression since her one teasing question had become unreadable.
"Alright. Next… some ground rules, I guess, though they really should go without saying. Don't reveal your identity, don't give your Miraculous to anyone except me or Huggy, and don't get akumatized, because that'll make you break the first two rules," she said, counting them out on her fingers.
"Obviously," he said.
"Yeah. Next…" She picked the library bag back up and handed it to him. He looked confused until he pulled out the book and read the title. He held it more carefully after that, gently flipping through the first several pages as she talked. "I've learned almost everything I know about being a superhero from that book," she said. "It has general information and guides for different heroes inside. I could teach you everything myself since I've basically memorized it cover-to-cover, but you'll probably want to refer to it for a while."
"This is… this will be incredibly helpful. Thank you," he said.
"No problem," she replied, waving a hand. "But I want that book back in perfect condition when you're done."
"Of course, m-" he seemed to catch himself. "You can trust me."
"I'm sure I can," she said, and he smiled again, though this time it was wry.
Tobey's plan was falling apart. He'd aced the beginning, but as soon as they'd started actually talking she'd turned what was meant to be flirtation on its head, and he was at a loss for what to do next. Usually he was great at improvisation, but he was so completely out of his element at this point that all he could do was nod along.
The book was a surprise, though. He knew Doctor Two-Brains had written a similar guide for villains, and he knew the doctor's previous identity, but he wouldn't have expected his old name to be connected to a book like that. Since when was Boxleitner an expert on Miraculous?
He slid the book back in the bag she'd brought, feeling a bit awkward at her last statement. Why did he have to say that? Whether she meant her reply as a jab at his chronic tardiness or as a sincere gesture of faith, she wouldn't be saying that if she knew who he was.
She seemed not to notice his grimace though, instead just moving on. "So I'm sure you already know the point of battling akumas is to purify them and fix the damage they've caused. Once you get more comfortable with your powers and fighting style, we can figure out new battle strategies. Until then… we can just improvise, I guess. How familiar are you with the major villains?"
"Ah… pretty familiar, I'd say." To put it mildly.
"Good, so we probably don't need to go over that. The difference between a regular akuma and a permanent one, though..." She frowned and looked away, thinking. "Eh, it's not important right now. We can go over that later."
He didn't know what to say to that, since he already knew the difference but couldn't let her know, so he just nodded. "Fine with me."
"We still have plenty of time tonight, which is what I was hoping for. If you can spare an hour, I'll show you the usual patrol route?"
"Of course. After you," he said, gesturing with a half-bow to the city beside them. She chuckled.
"I always start going north, not east. Come on," she said, and leapt out the window. Right before she would've hit the ground something red streaked away from her, and then she was soaring into the air. He looked over the edge hesitantly, trying to see where to place his baton. How had he gotten up here, again? It had felt so easy, going up….
"Just jump!" Ladybug yelled from the top of a building not too far away.
"I'm getting there," he yelled back.
"Trust your instincts! You can't take your time like this in battles, and if you fall you'll be fine. Your Miraculous makes you practically invulnerable."
"Invincible, impervious, immune" he muttered, and jumped.