GOLDEN BALANCE


Chapter 10


The tickets Fu had left them were not so late in the day that they could nap now and trust themselves to wake up in time. Sleep would have to wait. But there was enough time for them to have showers and to stop somewhere for a quick breakfast along the way to the train station.

When it was Adrien's turn in the bathroom, Marinette washed and put away the tea things, then stood in the silent kitchen feeling numb and disconnected.

She had started half a dozen conversations only to stop when she realized Tikki wasn't there anymore. For the first time in years, Marinette was alone with her thoughts and judgements with no external source of optimism to place things in a more forgiving light.

In her mind, she had lost Chat just as sure as she had lost Tikki. Hawk Moth was gone, so they should be celebrating. She had planned for this achievement for so long; it meant that she could finally reveal herself to her partner, confess her feelings, see if he truly felt the same way. But it had gone all wrong. They had already revealed their identities and a mutual attraction. And then, in a flash, she had killed his father, and that was not something people got over or put behind them.

Marinette had wanted to defeat Hawk Moth for nearly as long as she had been Ladybug, but not like this. Not with irreversible death. Not by taking the only surviving parent from the person dearest to her in the whole world.

And it was so stupid! She had never used that power before, hadn't even realized that she had been granted it. She had no idea how to call the power or how it worked. When the time came, she had merely reached out and used it without a thought for the consequences. And she had killed someone.

Adrien walked into the kitchen at that moment to find her sobbing. He bundled her into his arms to soothe her, but that just made her feel worse. She pushed away to shield him from her tainted touch.

"You don't need to come with me," she sniffled out. "You probably want to stay in Paris. I know where to find my parents."

"Bug?" he gaped at her, trying to discover what had brought this on but she turned away from him in self-disgust. "Bug, I've just lost everything else, don't let me lose you too."

"And I'm the reason you lost it!" she exclaimed. She wanted to howl and tear her hair out.

"Hey," he said, turning her around to face him. "That's not true. I… I'm still trying to… to process what happened, but I don't hold you responsible for anything bad that happened. He would have killed you, I would've killed him if you hadn't stepped in. And you had never done that before; you didn't know you could do that."

It was a lot of the same thoughts she had had while he was in the shower, but coming from him - the injured party and the one who has the least call to forgive her - the arguments had more weight.

"After everything that's happened, Bug, I can't be without you right now," he concluded. "I know it makes me sound weak and everything, but I really need you to keep your guilt from pushing me away."

She broke down into more tears but this time she let him hold her.

When her tears finally stopped, and her face was washed again, they locked all the doors and left.

They traveled to the train station in silence but Adrien held onto her hand in the crowds to keep her close. The sidewalks were more full than usual, and cars honked in celebration whenever they drove past a particularly enthusiastic group. Word of Hawk Moth had spread and the citizens of Paris were reacting accordingly.

The impromptu festivities carried over into the métro, causing delays. It was by the skin of their teeth that they took their seats on the train, a bag of breakfast pastries and coffees clutched in their hands.

Soon they felt the sensation of movement as the train began to leave the station. Relief washed over them at making their escape. Marinette was hungry, but she was more tired. The pastry would still be waiting for her after a brief nap, and the coffee was less tempting now that she was sitting down. She curled against Adrien's arm and promptly fell asleep.

.o8o.

The little seaside town was crowded with vacationers. It should have been hard work to find two people in that mess of beach, shops, restaurants, and hotels, but Marinette found them within an hour. She first tried the places with the strongest memories and lucked out on her second spot, almost as if Tikki was still looking out for her. Of course, it didn't hurt that her parents had heard about Hawk Moth's defeat and were hoping to see their daughter now that the danger was over.

Her parents gasped when they saw her, and quickly pulled her into a crushing and tearful hug. Adrien stood close by, observing the loving family with a touch of envy. His mother had been sometimes affectionate like that, but Adrien had no memory of his father behaving with such abandon and in public.

His melancholy lasted until the moment it was swallowed by surprise as Tom saw him and shifted position to swoop Adrien into the family huddle.

They stayed like that on the sand until eyes were dry enough and Sabine could release her hold on her daughter. At Tom's suggestion, they gathered up the blankets and walked back to the one-bedroom unit they were renting where they could talk in private.

Once settled on the sofa with glasses of water and a plate of snacks, Marinette and Adrien gave an account of events that followed closely the version they had given the police as Ladybug and Chat Noir. By the time they were done, fatigue was catching up with them again.

Her parents left them to nap in a real bed while they went to the train station to purchase tickets for their return.

Upon waking, Marinette was feeling more human (and less superhuman). Tikki and her miraculous earrings were gone, and the reality of their absence was becoming more fixed. But at least Adrien was still there. After everything that had happened, he hadn't left her or turned away in disgust. He didn't hate her, or want her to suffer for what she had done to his father. Not yet, at least.

Marinette knew that they were far from alright. The events of the last few days - of the last few years! - needed to be processed. They both had issues they needed to work through alone and together. She just needed to make sure that she didn't push him away in the midst of her own internal struggles.

But for the present, she could still curl up next to Adrien, at least until her parents came back and began to bustle with preparations for dinner and for leaving the next day.

Dinner was low key. Her mother made the most of the tiny kitchenette while the other three packed and tidied. Conversation was muted until Tom recalled some stories from their last trip to the town years ago. Adrien begged for details about his girlfriend and Marinette's father willingly complied, keeping up a steady stream of increasingly embarrassing anecdotes until Sabine stepped in with stories of her own. They kept up the conversation all through dinner until everyone's faces were aching from smiling or laughing or blushing.

When the plates were put away and the towels were hung up to dry, Tom and Sabine went to bed. They had not completely surrendered their baker's hours while on this forced vacation and expected to return to work in a few days. They claimed the bed, trusting their daughter and her boyfriend could sleep well on the fold-out sofa in the main room.

To keep the place quiet while her parents drifted to sleep, Marinette took Adrien for a walk on the beach. He teased her briefly, asking if she would reenact any of the escapades he had heard over dinner. She refused, leaning into his shoulder to push him slightly off course.

"So I guess we're officially dating now," he said at last. Her parents had referred to him as her boyfriend so many times and neither had bothered to correct them.

"I guess so," Marinette agreed, then tried not to stiffen. "Unless you're not okay with that…"

"My Lady," he said, squeezing her hand reassuringly, "that's been something I've wanted for years." But there something to temper the happiness in his voice, as if publicly claiming the title didn't wipe away the difficulties that had sprung up between them.

"Chaton, if I could go back in time -" she started to apologize but he stopped her.

"I'm the one who was living with him all these years!" he countered. "If there is guilt, then let me have my share of it. He was right there in front of me, and I never knew it."

"There was magic preventing you from seeing clearly," she told him. "It protected you from him. I, on the other hand -"

"Magic protected you too," he said gently.

She nodded and they both fell silent. They both felt guilty and wrong, they both wanted to make amends to each other for having gotten into this predicament. They were both willing to give up the one person they loved and respected most in the world in penance, and they both signaled to the other that such sacrifice was unnecessary and that forgiveness was assured. But as much as Marinette wanted to keep Adrien at her side, as completely as she forgave him for not discovering that his father was Hawk Moth sooner, as completely as Adrien forgave her for the role she had played in his father's death, neither could not make the other forgive themself. But both could support each other through the healing process.

"So, what now?" asked Marinette. She could easily imagine a distant, rosy future - after the excitement over Hawk Moth's death faded, after the curiosity over Gabriel Agreste's disappearance turned into grim resignation, after she could look at her partner and not see her own failure reflected back at her - but she wasn't sure how to get there or how long it would take. As much as she had lost when she gave up her miraculous, she figured that Adrien had still lost more; they were with her parents, and Adrien would never be with his parents ever again. So she would follow his lead in this, pace it however he wanted even if they never got to where she wanted to be.

Adrien frowned and squeezed her hand. The same worries that weighed heavily on her shoulders fell on his too, and he could not shrug them off. He wondered how he should mourn the father who had already been gone for years when all he felt now was emptiness, when he couldn't publicly admit yet that his father was truly dead rather than missing. He wondered how he could return to the empty house in Paris and sleep in his old bed when memories of his enemy crowded every room or if he might convince Marinette's parents to let him spend a few nights on their sofa. He wondered what was the least suspicious explanation for how he ended up with the keys to an abandoned massage parlor, and when was the earliest that he could move into the flat above it.

But truthfully he didn't want to think right now. He just wanted to escape for a little bit longer. He cast about desperately for something to do. The bright bulbs of a cinema marquee caught his eye and inspiration struck. It didn't matter what was playing - comedy, romance, action, thriller - or if they had seen it before. He picked up the pace and tugged her into step beside him.

"Where are we going?" she asked, intending to go with him no matter what.

He shrugged and kept pulling her along. "Want to catch a movie?"

/the end/

So yeah. That's it. Yay me!

Endings on long-ish stories are not my forte. Once I reach the denouement, my inspiration dries up and I race to the last line. But if you're interested... I can certainly see how we'd get to a HEA but not within a compact time and as so much of the story happened quickly (it was 3 weeks that Chat went missing but from his reveal to the walk along the beach was 4 nights/3 days), it felt wrong to slow way down for the inevitably long process that follows or to skip ahead until things resolve happily.

Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who showed interest by favoriting, following, and commenting.

-snafsnaf