What He Needed to Hear
Bunnix gave Chat Noir a very vague answer when he inquired about his relationship with Ladybug in the future.
"The future's not set in stone," he'd defended in his usual cavalier attitude.
What he didn't know at the time was how important and cherished that answer would be as the years went by.
The day had finally arrived and Adrien rubbed the sleep out of his eyes after turning off his alarm. He checked his phone to see the brightly colored reminder that took up almost half of the screen and hummed in thought. Well, he'd already arranged to be on vacation that day, so he resolved to take his time getting ready before leaving to meet his partner.
Paris was awake and alive that morning. Adults on cell phones chattered on their way to work while children giggled with each other on their way to school. The air was cool and crisp and he kept a leisurely pace through the city, enjoying occasional sips from a steaming cup of coffee in his hand despite the fact that it fogged up his sunglasses each time. No one around him had any idea that the city would, yet again, be at the mercy of an emotionally charged teenager who was controlled by a Miraculous-wielding psychopath.
It was odd being ahead of the curve, for once, on that.
The abandoned office space that became their ersatz meeting place was just as drab as it always was, with exposed ductwork and tall, bare windows that let the morning sun flood into the room unhindered. The beams of sunlight were cloudy with dust motes and he could make out the shape of a silhouette in the far corner of the room where the light never reached. Despite her track record for perpetual lateness in school, Marinette was always the first to arrive on the days they agreed to meet. He raised his cup in greeting and saw her do the same. Together, they finished their coffees in absolute quiet before retreating to opposite corners of the room to suit up.
Alix arrived some time later as she, too, knew what day it was. She hadn't been issued her Miraculous just yet, but she dropped by to let both heroes know she cleared her schedule and would be nearby whenever they needed her. They all agreed to play it loose and make sure that events occurred in the order they should without trying to resist them. All three people knew that day was the day the rabbit Miraculous would fall victim to a Cataclysm and there was nothing they could do about it.
Because it was supposed to happen.
"I remember how strange it was to see you as an adult. I can only imagine what it'll be like seeing us all as kids again," Chat remarked to her.
"Yea, I have the memories of seeing my older self, but it'll definitely be weird to see mini me. You know me, though, I'm too cool to be fazed by stuff like that."
Chat chuckled and nodded.
"I remember being very excited by the idea of time travel, especially where it concerned a certain bug," he looked over at his partner, who seemed to be preoccupied with something on her communicator. "I couldn't help myself and asked you what our relationship was like in the future."
"Oh yeah," Alix raised an eyebrow and cast a sly glance at Ladybug before whispering. "Any words of wisdom you want to pass along regarding that?"
He opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it and closed it again. Shaking his head, he placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
"No, you were there as well, remember? You already know what you're meant to tell me. The whole point of today is to make sure everything happens exactly as it's supposed to."
"About that, I don't actually remember the exact words I said that day, but I'm sure I'll come up with something good."
Chat gave her an encouraging smile.
"You've never let any of us down before. I'm sure today will be no different."
It was a much longer fight with Timetagger than he'd anticipated and he was beginning to tire. As that was the opening their foe was waiting for, he fell right into the trap laid out for him.
Claws brandished with a Cataclysm at the ready, he was teleported from where he had been running to appear in front of Bunnix, who'd been brought into the fight about halfway through. His momentum carried him the rest of the way and he stumbled into her, his outstretched hand making contact with the watch in the front pocket of her suit. He then tumbled through the empty space left behind after Bunnix blipped out of existence on her way to ancient Egypt.
Well, his idle curiosity as to how it was going to happen was finally sated, at least.
With Bunnix out of the picture, he threw himself back into the fray to keep Timetagger on his toes. The fact that both he and Ladybug had a near endless supply of Cataclysms and Lucky Charms respectively worked against their enemy, and he knew it. He voiced his frustration with them, to which Ladybug offered only a smirk.
"Maybe you should go back to the kiddie pool then, since you can't seem to swim with the big boys."
That appeared to give Timetagger the push he needed to teleport himself to the past to fight their much younger counterparts.
Now, all they had to do was wait.
His mind wandered as he stood in silence next to Ladybug, staring at the setting sun and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. He thought about his teenage years after receiving the black cat Miraculous. How strange and tumultuous they were, but also how peaceful. Things were so much simpler back then. Back before he stumbled headlong into adulthood.
Back before his father was outed as the mastermind behind Paris' akuma attacks, as if orchestrated by some unseen person, who all but left a trail of glowing breadcrumbs that led directly to his front door. Back before the police discovered his mother's body in the bowels of the compound he once called home. Back before the butterfly Miraculous disappeared once again.
Back before the universe decided that Adrien Agreste could bend a little too well and, instead, he needed to break.
His ears perked up at the zip of Ladybug's yo-yo and he turned to face the spot where he knew she'd land. Thick clouds covered the entire sky, blocking out any possible celestial illumination. He relied on the light pollution from the city below to identify the familiar curves of her body in the darkness. The air was thick with moisture, a telltale sign that heavy rains were due at any time. He knew he had no control over the weather—that would've been Aurore's deal back when she was Stormy Weather—but it seemed to be the perfect match to his mood.
Ladybug brushed the hair that clung to her in the humidity out of her face. He felt the twisting turmoil inside him ease a bit at the sight of her.
"What's up? Did you find out something important about the missing Miraculous?"
He shook his head wrapping an arm across his torso to grip at his opposing elbow.
"No, I-I just needed to talk to you."
He wondered if he looked as small as he felt. Not that it mattered, because Ladybug wasn't even looking at him. She was busy checking the time on her communicator.
"I'm sorry Chat, but it'll have to wait. I told Adrien Agreste I would check up on him tonight."
Instead of the irritated growl he wanted to make, he chose to go with a dismissive noise.
"Don't worry about him, he'll be fine."
"But I promised him I'd—"
"I said don't worry about him," the words came out harsher than he intended, but he was loathe to take them back.
He'd had enough of being the somber, contemplative Adrien around her. He didn't want to dutifully attend his (court-mandated) therapist sessions designed solely to making sure he never became like his father. He wanted to get angry and irrational. He wanted to scream and cry until his voice disappeared. There was only one other person who would understand what he was going through and she was currently reeling back as if his words had burned her. Her eyes narrowed at him.
"What's gotten into you?"
"I could ask you the same thing, you know," he sneered. "Your own partner, the person who has followed you blindly and never left your side is coming to you because he's having a hard time coping and all you can think about is him?!" he spat the last word out as if it were poison. "Why?"
Ladybug was unsettled by his behavior, this much was obvious. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Recent events had pulled them both too taut and just as he was beginning to snap, so too was she hanging by a thread.
They always did move in perfect synch with each other.
"Because I've been in love with him for years from the minute he lent me his umbrella on the second day of school. And now I'm the reason he's lost his only living parent to the judicial system!" she almost screamed, her voice suddenly heavy and hoarse. "This is the least I can do for him to make up for the fact that I selfishly stared at the back of his head in class for years and dreamed up an entire life for us, down to the names of our children, but never considered how he felt about any of it. I had ample opportunities and couldn't tell him. So this is my penance for basically ruining his life."
Ladybug clawed an irritated hand through her hair while he choked on the heavy, saturated air. The curse that he tried to keep internalized snuck out of his lips without his permission.
Her eyes opened wide with fear and he watched her shrink into herself while all of the color in her face drained away. Of course, that was all she needed to figure him out. His lady was known for unparalleled brilliance and quick thinking, he knew she had all the information she needed to reach the right conclusion.
"Adrien?" she asked in the smallest voice he'd ever heard.
She approached him, timid and unsure, and looked at his face. Really looked at it. He found it hard to meet her gaze.
"It's really you in there, isn't it?"
He could only nod and she took two steps back, her hands began shaking.
"Oh no, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I messed up."
His laugh was mirthless and hollow. A grimace stretched his lips thin across his teeth and his eyes shut all on their own.
"Yeah, well, welcome to the club. I lived under the same roof as our sworn enemy for years and never noticed."
She shook her head.
"Kitty, you can't blame yourself for that."
He glanced at her then, an eyebrow raised in disbelief. She looked ready to cry at any moment and every desire he'd usually have to hold and comfort her was replaced with numbness.
"Just like how you can't blame yourself for 'essentially ruining my life'?"
Her rebuttal died on her lips and he sighed.
"Exactly," he turned away from her. "Look, I'll always be your partner and I'm still here to help you every step of the way until we find out what happened to the butterfly Miraculous. But, I think we both need some time to sort ourselves out."
He left her standing there and disappeared into the city. At the very least, they knew the odds were fairly slim that either of them would be the target of an ill-willed butterfly. Whoever set things up for his father to take the fall while they disappeared with the Miraculous was avoiding attention for the time being. Thus, he made a hasty exit to put substantial distance between them, reaching the privacy of his apartment just before the sky opened up and the inevitable downpour began, painting his windows with sheets of water. He knew he wouldn't be able to withstand being around for her breakdown.
And he didn't think she'd want to be around for his.
They walked on eggshells around each other for well over a year after that. Sure, they still fought alongside each other when Papillon's replacement finally made their presence known to the citizens of Paris. They fought as well as they always had, each attuned to the others movements and gestures as if they were born knowing them their entire life. They had a job to do and the safety of the city and its inhabitants overruled any complicated feelings. It was everything outside of battle that had fallen apart.
The longing stares and wistful sighs were still there as they were both guilty of those. But, as each could read the other as fluently as mastering a second language, they knew neither of them were prepared for a proper reconciliation. Chat Noir didn't know how to talk to his Lady anymore and Ladybug was at a loss for words with her kitten. Similarly, and much to the confusion of their friends, Marinette and Adrien avoided each other like the plague with only the occasional awkward small talk when they were forced to be social.
So, they stood side-by-side without a word spoken between them.
When Bunnix returned with the familiar ball of polka dotted paper, they sprung into action without a second thought, making quick work of disarming Timetagger through the portal so their younger selves could finish the job.
Once the Miraculous Cure restored the city, Bunnix approached Chat looking uncharacteristically timid. She was one of the strongest of their allies, to be able to withstand the taxing psychological and physical effects of time travel. He knew this most recent akumatization was likely to be the most difficult one of all, what with encasing herself in stone to wait for at least a couple millenia only to be sent back with Ladybug's supposed note of surrender.
The sun prepared its closing remarks along the horizon behind her, casting deep shadows across her face.
"I'm sorry," she sighed downward at the white parasol in her hands. "I was so caught up in making sure things happened in the right order, I don't think I worded my answer very well when Kitty Noir asked me about you and Ladybug."
He smiled, appreciative of her worry despite the fact that it was the least important detail in the grander scheme of things.
"Don't worry about it." he assured her. "You told me exactly what I needed to hear."
Bunnix dropped her transformation, becoming Alix once more and handing the Miraculous back to Ladybug. They both thanked her for her hard work and she left the pair with a subdued wave. The spotted superhero eyed her partner with a curious look.
"You know, I remember what she said to us back then," Ladybug began, turning to face him. "How was that something you needed to hear?"
He stared at her in awe for a moment before responding. This was the first time in what felt like forever that either of them started a dialogue that wasn't related to an akuma in any way. This was the first time she'd spoken to him without either fumbling her words or aborting the conversation altogether and walking in the opposite direction. So, he did what he always did.
He was honest with her.
"Because, even though I didn't know it at the time, that was the one thing that kept me going when it seemed like everything around me was falling apart."
Chat was cautious, but moved closer and took both of her hands in his. He could see the faintest hints of tears brimming at the corners of her eyes. It was obvious that she still carried a great deal of guilt for what happened over a year ago. It was obvious because he, too, was weighed down by a similar guilt.
"The thing that was most important. The one thing I really needed to hear," he paused to release one of her hands so he could run his fingers through her fringe and tuck it behind her ear, "was that, even after so much time had passed, I was still by your side. That we were still a team."
Her smile was nervous and wobbly and she seemed to have a hard time meeting his eyes for too long. The tears in her own becoming more pronounced until one finally slipped down her cheek. He brushed it away with a swipe of his thumb.
"Kitty I— after everything we've said to each other, everything we've been through, I don't deserve you."
An empathetic breath left him and he looked skyward.
"The feeling's mutual, bug. But, this is the way it's always been and I pray it always will be."
He could feel the wetness on his own cheeks by then and he pulled her into a hug to keep her from noticing them. She wound her arms around his waist and he sighed into her hair.
"You and me—"
She squeezed him tight around the middle, cutting off the rest of his sentence.
"Against the world," she finished for him.
Today's story is proudly brought to you by ANGST Co. Ltd.: the manufacturers of a variety of world-famous products including I Just Want to Be Alone to Think About My Feelings™, Why Am I Like This?™ and the ever popular Tragic Backstory™. A number of you encouraged me to write more and post again for this fandom. So, here I am, back by (not really) popular demand. This is pretty much the only other story idea I had because I was so fixated on the Timetagger episode. Like, unhealthily so. There was so much that wasn't said or shown (on purpose, I'm sure) that you couldn't help but wonder what all the possibilities were.
This is one such possibility.
Do I enjoy writing reveals that happen under the worst possible circumstances? No. Are they fun to write, despite that? Absolutely not. I'm actually more partial to things of the fluffy persuasion. I knew this one wasn't going to be one of those but I went ahead and wrote it anyway like the glutton for punishment I am.
I hope you liked it!