Someone else groaned across from her, and she felt a tsunami of relief flood through her heart at the sight of Chat Noir blinking his eyes open from where he was slumped against a trellis pole opposite her. Still safe, then. Not hurt, at least, but there was no telling where—
"I see you've both come around." A voice said again, and Marinette's gaze was fixed on a darker corner of the garden. it was still night, otherwise she would've spotted the thing earlier. Only, now it stood from where it had been sitting, and strode into the light—and its hood was down. It wasn't an it at all. It was a boy in a costume. The things she'd thought were hollow, evil eyes were just white lenses in a mask. Under his cloak his clothing was a mix of reds, yellows, greens, and blacks. If it weren't for the sword sheathed at his side and the smug smirk on his face, she'd have thought he was a teenager going to a costume party—not the demon she'd just defeated. Almost defeated.
"Let us go." She said, managing a commanding voice in spite of the fear pooled in her gut.
"In due time. I require information first—and confirmation that neither of you will try anything unduly hasty against my person." The boy replied.
"What, you mean like you just did to us?" Marinette snarled, trying to pull the handcuffs apart—to no avail.
"Nothing personal. And, certainly, people do seem to take exception. I must say, you caught me off guard—it's been awhile since someone landed a hit on me like that." He said.
"Is that supposed to be a compliment or something?" Marinette said, scowling at him. Just looking at the smug look on his face was making her annoyed. It was yet another emotion to add to the confusion, terror, and achiness that left her feeling like punching him in the gut and throwing him in the Seine for good measure.
"M…milady… am I dreaming?" Chat said, and Marinette glanced back at her partner. She'd expected a setup for some sort of dumb pun—instead, she saw him staring at their assailant with something approaching awe.
"Chat…?" Marinette said. Her kitty turned to face her, and she swore she could see his concern morph into relief in front of her very eyes. He gave her a reassuring smile, but then looked back at sword-boy.
"You—it is you, isn't it! What're you doing here?" Chat said, ears perking with excitement. Their attacker smirked.
"Chatton, what are you talking about?" Marinette said, frowning. Her words came out sharp and harsh, moreso than she'd intended. Chat Noir flinched, looking back at her.
"B-but, Ladybug… don't you know who he is?" Chat asked. Marinette stared back at him for a second, then squinted at sword-boy. For a second, something tugged at the edge of her memory, but it went away quickly.
"Nothing? Nothing at all?" Sword-boy said, grinning at her patronizingly.
"Sorry. Maybe you're not as popular as you think you are." Marinette said, matching his tone.
"Uh—milady, he's Robin! The boy wonder!" Chat said, staring at Marinette like she'd just fallen from the moon. Out of the corner of her eye, Marinette saw sword-boy twitch.
"The who?" She asked. What kind of person went by 'boy wonder'?
"You know—" Chat said, looking back and forth between her and sword-boy wonder. "Batman's sidekick!"
"Protege." Sword-boy wonder corrected, clearly trying—and failing—to not look irritated.
"Batman… he sounds familiar. He's a superhero?" Marinette said. She watched Chat's mouth fall open in absolute shock, and had to chuckle. "What?"
"Y-yes, he's a super hero! He's one of the founding members of the justice league, milady—the world's greatest detective!" Chat said.
"I thought that was Poirot?" Marinette said, genuinely a bit confused. The Justice League definitely rung a bell—the international superhero association, if memory served—but she honestly hadn't heard much about it. Superheroes were exciting, sure, but Marinette had always belonged to the worlds of baking and fashion. She happened to know Poirot as much for his detective work as for his trend-setting style and impeccably trimmed mustache.
"Uh… who?" Chat said, cocking his head. It was Marinette's turn to be shocked.
"You know, Hercule Poirot! The great detective of Belgium. He's solved thousands of cases." She said.
"Oh… uh, well, I'll take your word for it, milady—I guess Batman is the world's second-greatest detective." Chat said. Sword-boy wonder twitched again.
"So, wait, I've definitely heard of the Justice League—which powers does Batman have, again? Is he the one with the ring?" Marinette asked.
"Alright, that's it." Sword-boy wonder said, stepping forward and reminding Marinette of exactly what situation they were in. "Fascinating as this conversation is, neither of you are leaving before you answer my questions. But first, yes—I am Robin. I'm Batman's protege, and I'm here on behalf of the Justice League." Robin said.
"What? Really!? But why?" Chat Noir asked. Robin squinted at him—his mask even articulated it, and Marinette had no idea how.
"You tell me. Paris is in crisis. We hear stories of storms, gigantic monsters, armies of knights—hell, even dinosaurs. Yet, no hard data. No one seems to be able to tell us anything specific about it. Bits and pieces filter through the news, but all anyone really seems to know is that something called Hawkmoth is causing all of this mess and Ladybug and Chat Noir are here to save the day." Robin said.
"Oh, so that's why you attacked us out of nowhere and handcuffed us to posts?" Marinette said, glaring at sword-boy wonder, who sniffed dismissively.
"No. That was a test. The Justice League deputized and sent me here to evaluate you both, the scale and nature of the threat that you face, and determine whether you're up to the task on your own." Robin said.
"Wait, really?" Chat Noir said, and Marinette heard reverence in his voice that irked her even more.
"I suppose they told you to sneak up on us in the dark and try to kill us both, too?" Marinette said, sickly-sweet. Robin met her glare evenly.
"That was on my own initiative; I've seen some footage. The segments of your fights that I observed told me you only ever make your move when you have a plan—you always seem to have prior warning. I simply wished to test your reactions in an ambush scenario… and I must say, you did about as well as expected. Also, you were never actually in danger. The situation was under control." Robin said, finishing with a small smirk in Marinette's direction that made her teeth clench in irritation. His smug arrogance reminded her of Chloe, if the blonde girl had been more precise and clever about it. Before she could respond, however, he continued.
"That isn't important right now. There are three things I need to know; the first is, though the answer is rather obvious, have you been formally trained?" Robin asked. Marinette glanced at Chat Noir. His eyes met her own.
They'd become a great deal better at nonverbal communication over the course of their partnership—she could tell from the small furrow of his brow and the look in his eyes that he was going to follow her lead. Much as she didn't want to give sword-boy wonder anything, and much as he'd drugged her, scared her, insulted her, and generally gotten on her nerves, she also didn't want to spend another minute in his company.
"Not really. Why, do superheroes usually have training?" Marinette said.
"If they don't have powers, yes. Speaking of which—what powers do you possess?" Robin asked. Marinette felt a twinge of unease at this, and decided that no mention would be made of Tikki, or Chat Noir's kwami. In fact, since there was a chance of slipping up and giving up personal info…
"That would take a lot longer to explain than I really want to. Besides, the profile in the stat page of the Ladyblog is accurate enough." Marinette said. Robin cocked an eyebrow in her direction.
"The what?" He asked.
"You know—the Ladyblog. The one run by Alya Cesaire, the journalist?" Marinette said. The sword-boy wonder's eyebrows furrowed—actually furrowed—for a moment, and it was another moment more before he said anything.
"The… Ladyblog." He said. Marinette felt something like victory at the abject confusion he seemed to be trying and totally failing to hide.
"That's the one." Marinette said.
"You… you gave an interview, about your powers, to some amateur blog?" Robin said.
"It's not amateur!" Chat Noir piped up. "It's the best source of Ladybug & Chat Noir news around. It's all beclaws of Alya's hard work." He said. Robin said nothing for another moment.
"I… see." He said. "Well, then—what about you? Have you received training?" He continued, not-so-subtly changing the topic. Marinette held in a snicker.
"Uh… no, not really. Wait—I trained in fencing! Does that count?" Chat said. Sword-boy wonder's brow furrowed a little.
"…I suppose so." Robin said. Chat Noir grinned.
"Hope I haven't foiled your line of questioning—just trying to stay sharp." Her kitty said. Marinette giggled. Robin stared.
"Did you just—never mind. Second question: what do you know about these anomalies, and this Hawkmoth creature that is causing them?" Robin asked. Marinette and Chat shared another look.
"Again, all of this is on—" Marinette started.
"The Ladyblog. Got it." Sword-boy wonder said, frowning. "Have you given everything you know about this to this Alya Cesaire as well?" He asked. Marinette shrugged as best as she could with her arms still shackled.
"Pretty much—the more the public knows about them, the more they can help, and the safer they can be." Marinette said. Robin stared hard at her for a moment, then nodded.
"Fair. Last question: what aid do you require from the Justice League?" He asked. Marinette felt a surge of irritation, even anger, building inside her. The gall—the absolute nerve of this boy—to ambush them and bind them to trellis posts, now to ask them what help they needed and assume that they wanted or needed help at all.
She was about to open her mouth and tell him exactly where he could send his 'aid', but then she glanced over at Chat Noir. The look in his eyes made her pause. He didn't look indignant or offended. He looked expectant, even hopeful. His eyes were wide, his mouth up in a small grin.
Marinette thought back to those moments where they'd needed help desperately, where only luck and quick thinking had stood between them and disaster. She remembered exactly how hard it was to keep this up, and schoolwork, and still manage a social life, and get any sleep at all. It occurred to her that her kitty must have had to work through the same things, might even have it a little worse if she'd understood the hints he'd given about his home life correctly. This decision wasn't just about her.
So, she sighed. She let go of as much of the frustration, anger, and fear as she could, letting them flow out with her breath. Last, she looked up at Robin.
"What kind of aid are you offering?" Marinette asked.
"Anything the League can provide, within reason." Robin said. Marinette frowned.
"Well… I'm not really sure what we would ask for. Any ideas, Chat?" She asked. Her partner mulled it over.
"Hmm… a steady supply of camembert cheese would be a purrfect start, if it's not purrsumptious to ask." He said, winking at Marinette. Sword-boy wonder's entire face seemed to twitch.
"I… but… you—I can't even—you cannot be serious." Robin said, spluttering. Chat frowned.
"No, for real. It would be a big help, actually." He said.
"I'll… run it by the league." Robin said, sounding as if he couldn't quite believe what he was saying.
"Well, we answered your questions. We'd appreciate it if you'd let us go, now." Marinette said, forcing politeness. Robin looked as if he was going to say something else, but then just shook his head. Marinette was expecting him to walk over and uncuff them one by one, but instead he simply tapped a button on one of his gauntlets and Marinette felt them unclip from her hands. She her hands up and glanced at them, rubbing away a little more of the achiness, before looking back up to see Robin standing with two pairs of handcuffs hanging off of a gauntlet. He noticed her stare and smirked, stowing them away in one of what had to be a dozen separate pouched in his belt.
"Homing cuffs. Surprisingly good investment. Anyhow, I'll be in touch." He said. Marinette felt like sticking out her tongue at him, but didn't want to give him the satisfaction. Instead she went to check on Chat Noir, who stood unsteadily from the ground and grinned at her.
"Don't worry about me, milady—I've still got all nine lives." He said. Marinette scoffed.
"Of course kitty. No little bird could put a scratch on you." She said, glancing back to see sword-boy wonder's reaction-only to be met with an empty garden. A chill raced up her spine.
"Where did he…"she started, looking around. Robin, however, had vanished.