GOLDEN BALANCE


Chapter 9


Word had gotten out that the police had responded to an emergency call at the home of renowned fashion designer Gabriel Agreste. Reporters learned that Ladybug and Chat Noir were allegedly at the scene and their curiosity grew. Claims that the superhero duo were spotted leaving the area only confirmed that they had somehow been involved with whatever had happened at the Agreste residence, and as it was Ladybug and Chat Noir, speculation automatically included Hawk Moth. When a detective emerged from the front of the mansion and spoke to the gathered reporters, he took no questions, neither confirming or denying any hypothesis shouted at him, but announced that a press conference would be given in two hours that would explain the events of the night. The detective had taken Chat at his word when estimating the needed time.

.o8o.

The death of Hawk Moth and her critical role in it shook Ladybug's confidence like nothing else. It took all of Tikki's nurturing skill and Chat's familiarity with his partner to coax her back from the metaphorical precipice. Hearing she had to then go to the police and explain what happened sent her back to square one.

It was two hours after the scheduled start that the police chief finally stood at a podium sprouting a microphone. A wall of uniformed officers stood behind him, and Ladybug and Chat Noir were standing to one side. The photographers that had remained leapt into action to capture the scene.

Ladybug stood tense and tight-lipped. She had cried for a half-hour at Fu's flat. Had she remembered her vanity, she would have felt grateful to be wearing a mask over her puffy, red eyes. Chat had a hand on her back, his thumb resting on her spine, fingertips curled just over her shoulder. After all that happened today, he should hate her but he didn't; she drew comfort from his touch.

The duo had spent over an hour with Parisian law enforcement, telling and retelling the sequence of events that they had decided upon with Master Fu. Now they only needed to stand there while the chief read the statement and answered a few questions.

Chief Grillot cleared his throat into the microphone and began to speak. "The citizens of Paris may rest easy today, for I am standing before you to announce that the terrorist known as Hawk Moth died at approximately 22h last night and his remains are currently in police custody."

There was a burst of noise as the crowd reacted to the news but Grillot held up his hand for silence and then continued. Chat knew what the man was going to say, but it still felt surreal to hear the words. He knew the truth from living through it, from discussing it with Marinette and Fu. He also knew how they had planned to distort it in their story to the police, and how the details warped even further when he and Ladybug had sat down and talked with Grillot and some detectives. Now was the final coupe as the chief focused on the parts that the police department wanted to make public, obscuring even further what had really happened. There was mention of an informant (Adrien Agreste) and hints that Gabriel Agreste had been coerced into aiding the criminal due to threats to his family, including his missing wife.

To stave off spurious questions and to control the story, the chief had more to say. "I would like to remind everyone that this is an ongoing investigation, and that while you have many questions, very little has been confirmed. We simply haven't had time to verify the facts and we know that some civilians may still be in danger. I ask for your understanding and cooperation as we investigate this case fully."

A barrage of questions followed the brief silence. Who was this mysterious witness? Was anyone else hurt in the raid? Where were Gabriel Agreste and his son? How exactly did Hawk Moth die?

While Grillot refused to give most questions a straight answer Chat felt Ladybug lean into his hand. That caught his attention which had been wandering and he finally noticed the twitch in her shoulder that directed his gaze to a cascade of curls amid the sea of reporters.

"What about the disappearance of the Dupain-Chengs?" called out Alya Cesaire. "They've been missing for over 24 hours and were recently spotted with Adrien Agreste."

The man at the podium refused to comment.

"Is that a confirmation that you are at least investigating their disappearance?" she shouted as another reporter attempted to ask a question.

Ladybug pressed herself into Chat's hand and he gave her a comforting squeeze in reply. There was nothing they could do to alleviate Alya's worry on this stage; nothing short of producing Marinette and her parents would be enough.

The rest of the conference was an unproductive blur. The police chief was too experienced to release information accidentally, no matter how many different ways he was asked the same question. At last he announced that he was done, and turned on his heel and walked out. Others on the dias followed him as the audience abandoned their earlier restraint and began shouting questions to those that remained.

As Ladybug turned to exit, a voice rang out, "Chat Noir, did you kill Hawk Moth?"

Her head snapped back in confrontation. "Who said that?" she glared at the crowd. "Who dared to say that?"

The assembled reporters fell into an uneasy hush as they shied away her angry eyes.

"My Lady," Chat whispered to her, "leave it. Let's go."

She didn't budge but continued to stare down the journalists until they all grew too conscious to look at her.

"Ladybug!" a voice cried out at last. "I'm Alya Cesaire with the LadyBlog. My friend Marinette Dupain-Cheng sent me a text saying that Adrien Agreste was dangerous shortly before she and her parents disappeared. Do you believe Hawk Moth and the Agreste family are responsible for the Dupain-Chengs' disappearance?"

There was so much wrong with Alya's question that Ladybug didn't know how to answer, but Chat Noir did. He tightened his grip on her shoulder and silently pulled her away from the crowd, toward the exit that Grillot had used.

The police chief thanked them again and tried to get them to stay longer, but the duo was exhausted.

"Can you come back in at noon, then?" the older man asked. "We have more things we need to discuss with you."

They nodded mutely, too tired to engage in conversation. Then they left the station and snuck across town to Fu's place. Dropping their transformations had to wait until they were within sight of the old massage parlor. They could navigate with greater speed and secrecy while transformed, and they wanted to avoid anyone seeing Adrien Agreste wandering in Paris at that hour.

Fu was up, waiting for them with a pot of tea steeping and a set of octagonal boxes on the table. Two suitcases were packed and waiting at the front door and the apartment smelled faintly of cleaning products, as if he was preparing to go away for a while.

The two heroes were exhausted. Even if they hadn't fought their greatest foe in a battle to the death, even if they hadn't needed to maintain a consistent facade in front of Paris' law enforcement and press, it was nearly five in the morning and they had spent the previous night sleeping on the floor. So when Fu ushered then in and sat them at the table, they were too tired to help him much and far too tired to argue.

He poured the tea into their cups, serving first his guests and then himself. Once done, he raised his cup as if in a toast. "Let us take this moment to be grateful for our victories: Hawk Moth has been stopped; the moth and peacock miraculouses are back in my care; and Paris is safe once more, thanks to her heroes."

He took a small sip of his tea and set it down. "And now I am afraid that I must ask you to prepare for travel," he said and pushed forward two of the octagonal boxes to Adrien and Marinette who sat motionless in their chairs.

"Where are we going?" Adrien asked, trying to muster the energy to grasp his teacup.

"The two of you are going to find Monsieur and Madame Dupain-Cheng. Someone has promised to deliver their daughter to them," Fu reminded them. "I have a different destination. The Guardian's job is ideally very passive, protecting the miraculouses until a new threat emerges. I can do it anywhere. After Paris has seen so much action, I think it best if I perform my duty somewhere else, somewhere quiet. But before I leave, I need your miraculouses to complete the set."

Fu opened the boxes on the table. One was clearly meant to hold a ring and the other was for earrings.

"Are you crazy?" Adrien blurted out.

"Ask your kwami if you doubt me," Fu forestalled further protest. "Your work is done. It is time for you to retire."

Adrien looked at the cat kwami who sighed heavily. "What is left to do? We beat the bad guy. You've found your ladybug. Kid, we've won, game over. I'll always remember you; I remember all of my wielders. But now I belong with the Guardian."

Before Adrien could prepare another argument, Plagg nuzzled against his shoulder. "Think of what your parents would want." Hawk Moth would no doubt encourage him to hold onto the ring and its power no matter what. His mother… knowing her fate, she would beg him to surrender the ring. It was a cheap shot but it silenced him more effectively than anything else.

Marinette then turned to her own kwami. "Tikki?" she prompted.

The little god flew close and wiped a tear from Marinette 's cheek. "I will miss you, Marinette, but the time has come to let me go. The Golden Touch is not a power you are meant to keep."

The mention of that new power caused Marinette's mouth to twist in frustration. "You should never have given it to me in the first place. If you hadn't -"

"If Hawk Moth was to be killed, it was always your burden to do it, not Chat's. Surely you can see that," Tikki said quietly, looking at her charge with big blue eyes. "Ladybugs bring order and restore balance. Of all the things that could have happened, this was the best way."

"You don't know that," Marinette said while Adrien gripped her hand in comfort.

"I know that," said Master Fu. "I saw it as the best path out of the conflict. I am sorry he was Chat Noir's father, and I am sorry, Ladybug, that it was you who took action, but that one death saved so many other lives and prevented so much suffering. I for one am grateful to you. And perhaps knowing this will ease the burden you must bear."

Fu gave them a soft, sympathetic look. "But now I must ask again for your miraculouses. I have a plane to catch and I don't want to be late."

"But we can't give back our miraculouses yet. The police are expecting Ladybug and Chat Noir to return at noon for more questioning," Adrien pointed out. They couldn't appear in their civilian forms.

"Do you think it is wise to appear again?" Fu asked gently. "You have given them something other than the complete truth. A further review of the events of last night can only put you at greater risk. Give up your miraculouses and the police with not be able to find you. Ladybug and Chat Noir will vanish, as mysteriously as they first appeared. The exact truth will never come to light."

Adrien looked to his partner. Marinette tried not to flinch as she met his eyes. In her mind, the Golden Touch was an awful power, and she would bear the guilt of using it for all the days of her life. That, she was beginning to understand, was her gift to her partner. In exchange, if the only way to get rid of the threat of this new power was to get rid of her miraculous, she was ready for it.

Adrien read it all in the set of her frown and the sadness in her eyes. He nodded and agreed. Let that be his gift to her.

They each have their kwami one last sign of affection and then removed their miraculous, Marinette first then Adrien, and put them in the correct box. Master Fu gave a wrinkly smile and removed the boxes from temptation.

"And now I have gifts for you," Fu said as he brought an envelope to the table. "In here," he said, "are two tickets leaving from Gare de Lyon later today. They will take you south so that you can be reunited with the Dupain-Chengs. Pay attention to the time as the tickets are non-refundable.

"To help you on your trip," he added, "I will heal your wounds so that no one notices that either of you is injured exactly like Ladybug or Chat Noir were during the press conference. And I will apply a glamour to your faces so that no one identifies you as Marinette Dupain-Cheng or Adrien Agreste until you are far from Paris. The glamour will fade over time and you should be back to your regular selves by the time you reach the coast."

He pulled a ring of keys from his pocket. "And finally, I do not expect to return to Paris. The shop and my flat are no longer of any use to me. These keys should open every door. Please remember to lock up when you leave. I have left some paperwork behind. You have only to find it and file it to take legal possession of this property."

He placed the key ring on the table with a noisy clatter, took another sip of his tea, then carried his tea cup to the kitchen to wash it. He then returned to the table to make good on his offers to heal and disguise them. In a few minutes, a car horn was heard from the street and Master Fu announced that his ride had come to take him to the airport.

The two recent heroes rose from their seats in a daze and shuffled to the door to see him off.

"Marinette Dupain-Cheng, Adrien Agreste, you have both made me very proud. I wish you joy and success in your future; you certainly deserve it," he told them. "Now, I meant it about the tickets being non-refundable. Do not sit in a stupor all morning. Check the time for the train and begin to prepare. Your family is waiting for you."

With those parting words, he gathered his suitcases and stepped out to the waiting taxi and was gone. Plagg was gone. Tikki was gone. The most exciting chapter of their lives closed with barely a whimper.


Only one more chapter, but it already feels like, "what's left to tell?"

Thanks to everyone who has stuck with it thus far.