It seemed like the final week was stretching on forever. She was so close to getting her cast off, and yet each day inched by, time slowing down as if to prolong her time before the cast could come off.

The two mid-week akuma attacks helped break up the trudge down the final stretch, as did her friends' efforts. They had taken note of her flagging mood and tried to help, sending her funny pictures and popping in for visits and now, they had arranged a trip to the movie theater to try to distract her.

"Don't worry, we chose a fun movie," Alya told Marinette as they headed towards the theater. She and Nino were walking slowly so that Marinette could keep up without struggling, but they were going almost too slowly. Marinette tried not to sigh.

They meant well, that was all that mattered.

"Yeah, no horror movies," Nino agreed. He glanced over at Alya. "Though there is one with pretty good reviews running right now. Maybe for our date this weekend...?"

Alya nodded, grinning. "Yeah! That would be cool. I might not be able to stay on for, like, lunch or dinner afterwards because of the twins, since Nora took over my babysitting today, but we could at least get out for a movie."

Marinette shuddered at the thought. Horror movies on a date? No thank you. She dealt with enough monsters and scary situations in real life, thank-you-very-much. There was no need for her to go watch scary movies and kick-start her overimagination into worrying about less magical threats like serial killers, too.

Or supernatural threats that (probably) wouldn't exist outside of an akuma setting, like evil ghosts and zombies and skeletons and- anyway.

It wasn't her idea of a good time, and she hoped that when she went on dates- in the future, after Hawkmoth was no longer an issue and she wouldn't be interrupted all of the time- that any visits to the movie theater would be for fun movies, not creepy ones. Alya always said that the jump-scares and creepy scenes were a fantastic excuse to cuddle close to a boyfriend, but was that really worth the nightmares? Couldn't the air-conditioned chill of the movie theater be enough of an excuse for a cuddle?

"Anyway, it's a very family-friendly movie, sure to be 100% Marinette-approved," Alya added after another minute of date-planning with Nino, clearly realizing that- well, it wasn't exactly pleasant to turn Marinette into the third wheel. She nodded down the block, to where the movie theater had just come into view. "And, well, I think the company is going to be Marinette-approved, too."

Marinette blinked, confused, and then she followed Alya's gaze. There, in front of the theater, stood Adrien's bodyguard. And in front of the bodyguard stood Adrien, looking very relaxed and at ease. He lit up when he saw them coming, waving cheerfully as they approached. He looked a bit tired, but Marinette couldn't blame him. Adrien had missed the entire afternoon of classes for an extended photoshoot, and from what she had heard, those kinds of shoots were absolutely exhausting.

Not as exhausting as they had been when Lila was there and constantly gumming up the works, maybe, but still exhausting.

"Dude, I'm glad you made it!" Nino told him, reaching over for a fist bump. After a second, he fist-bumped Adrien's bodyguard, too. "I thought you were going to text if you got permission to come!"

"I was just about to, honestly," Adrien told him with a laugh. "Just in case I missed you and you had already gone in. And then I saw you coming and- well, it wouldn't have made sense to text then, right?" He grinned, then nodded towards the theater. "Should we go in now? Then we can try to get good seats."

They went, and the Gorilla followed them in. Marinette almost asked about that, but it didn't take a genius to figure out why he had come along instead of just dropping Adrien off. The last time they were in a movie theater, Adrien had practically gotten mobbed by fans. Maybe that had been because he had just been featured in a perfume ad- one that had been heavily featured across Paris, not that it made much of a difference once people actually started trying the fragrance and found it rather lacking (and once people found out that no, Adrien: the Fragrance wasn't actually what Adrien the model (and occasional voice actor) actually wore)- but it was better safe than sorry. Hopefully the presence of the Gorilla would keep the pictures and mobbing to a minimum.

Inside, a line had already formed in front of the ticket counter. Not a long line- it was the middle of the week, after all- but they were hardly the only students who had just gotten out of school. Alya grumbled for a moment, but a nudge and a quiet murmur from Nino got her to settle down while they waited. It wasn't a bad wait, really, and then they were headed through the lobby.

"Snack time!" Nino cheered, veering off towards concessions. "Anyone else getting stuff?"

Marinette and Adrien both shook their heads, though Adrien's had been after a pause, after he looked to his bodyguard first. Marinette wouldn't be surprised if he just simply wasn't allowed to have junk food, which- well, most of the time she would say that was a pity, but movie theater junk food was just terrible in general. He really wasn't missing out on anything.

Alya groaned. "Nino, the snacks here are terrible. Their popcorn- I don't know what they do to it, but it just tastes awful."

"I was thinking of getting something chocolate, but- yeah, I guess if no one else is gonna get anything, I'll pass." With one more glance towards the concessions stand, Nino hurried back to join them. "Okay, so which room are we in? The fourth screen, right?"

"Yeah, that's what the ticket says," Alya confirmed. She started making a beeline towards the right door, only to come to a screeching halt a couple meters away when she realized that Marinette wouldn't be able to keep up. "Oh, sorry! I went too fast-"

"You could go ahead and scope out seats for us," Marinette suggested. She nodded towards her foot. "Just remember that it'll be easier for me to get to a seat on the end of a row instead of in the middle."

"Ah, good idea!" Alya grinned at her, then snagged Nino's hand and pulled him after her towards the usher waiting at the screen's door, only pausing to glance back and wink at her. Marinette rolled her eyes back, knowing full well what Alya was trying to do.

But did Alya seriously think that Marinette was going to ask Adrien out when his bodyguard was right there?

"I'm glad I was able to come," Adrien commented as he stepped up next to Marinette, letting her set the pace as they headed after Alya and Nino. "I've gotten so used to photoshoots running overtime and then I can't make it to outings, but this one ended on time- early, even! It was a nice change."

Marinette frowned. "I would have thought that your father would run a tight enough ship that going over wouldn't be an option unless something went really wrong."

"Yeah, it- well, that's the way it usually is, admittedly," Adrien told her. "It was really just when Lila was there that things always took longer than they should have. Unless there was something that she really wanted to be at, that is."

Marinette wasn't even a small bit surprised.

"And then the last few shoots, I guess part of the problem was that we had to re-do shots from earlier shoots, where Lila was modeling," Adrien told her. "I think originally Father was just hoping to get away with using those pictures and then just not use Lila as a model going forward- not that he could, since she's not even in Paris anymore- since not that many people would know what she had done. But then Alya posted that article on the Ladyblog about how much of a fraud and a bully Lila is, and people were starting to put two and two together. So all of her photos got scrapped."

Marinette cringed. "Even now that she's gone, she's still causing problems."

"I think you're feeling the effects for the longest." Adrien fell quiet for a few seconds, then nodded towards her leg. "But at least the cast is coming off pretty soon, right?"

"Two more days," Marinette told him, unable to keep from smiling at the thought. She was sure that those two days would drag out endlessly because of the anticipation, but there wasn't much she could do about that. It was getting increasingly hard to not just jump the gun and ditch the crutches- she could probably walk on her leg by now, considering Tikki's (and Sass's) healing boosts and how close she was to getting the cast off, but she didn't want to risk anything before the doctor could look at it again. "I can't wait."

"Yeah, I remember the feeling from when I broke my leg. I swear time slows down when cast-off date gets close." Adrien handed his ticket over to the usher, then passed Marinette's over as well. "You're doing better than I did, honestly. I tried to ditch the crutches as soon as it had been a couple of weeks and my leg wasn't really hurting, and it took the doctor threatening to leave the cast on for even longer to get me to stop." He laughed. "For some reason, I had been convinced that if it didn't really hurt anymore, it must be fine. And maybe I had weeks left in the cast, but I just must be a super-healer!"

Marinette giggled. "You practically read my mind. I was just thinking about how it's been getting harder and harder to remember to grab my crutches when I want to hop up and grab something or just walk a short distance. Part of me wants to think that there's no possible way that I could re-damage something at this point, but I'd rather be safe than sorry."

"That's smart," Adrien agreed. He dropped back behind Marinette as they approached the wide steps leading up to where Alya and Nino waited, ready to steady her if she had trouble going up. "And, uh, did they tell you that you might still need crutches even after the cast comes off? Because they dropped that particular bomb on me when they were in the middle of taking the cast off."

Marinette groaned. "No."

"Maybe you'll be lucky and not need it, since you've been following directions and taking care of your leg better than I did." Adrien's hand rested against her back, pressing a little more firmly as soon as she wobbled and retreating after she steadied herself. "And you didn't have a terrible break in the first place, right? That should help, too."

That, and she had the power of tiny gods on her side helping her heal, but Marinette wasn't about to tell anyone else that. "I hope it does. I'm so tired of crutches."

"I'll keep my fingers crossed for you, then."

Marinette smiled as she stood back to let Adrien slip into the row next to Nino before she took the aisle seat. "Thanks."

The movie itself positively flew by, and before she knew it, it was over and they were waiting for the majority of the audience to leave so that there wouldn't be as much risk of Marinette getting knocked into.

"This was fun," Adrien commented once the crowds had thinned out and they had gotten out of their seats, making their way down towards the door. "We should do it again sometime."

"We do it all the time, dude, you just gotta get your father to agree to it more," Nino told him. Adrien just shrugged helplessly.

"He can't always spare the Gorilla to come out with me. And honestly, it's not necessary most of the time, but he's paranoid." A shadow crossed Adrien's face for a moment, and then he shook it off and perked up. "So, have you heard that Marinette's cast is coming off in two days? I think we should go out for ice cream or something to celebrate afterwards!"

"It'll be late when I get back from the doctor," Marinette warned him, carefully navigating the last low step before making her way towards the door. "Since we wanted to wait until after school and my parents didn't want to close the bakery too early if they could avoid it. And that might not be a problem for me or Alya or Nino to come out, but..."

Adrien grimaced. "Yeah, Father might have a problem with that. Uh, the next day, maybe?"

"Sounds good!" Nino agreed. "Or whatever works with our schedules. We gotta keep it flexible. But a celebration would be great! Andre's?"

Adrien shook his head. "His moving around could make things difficult. And Marinette probably shouldn't be running all over the city after an ice cream cart right after her cast comes off."

Marinette hid a giggle. Running all over the city had actually been in her plan after getting the cast off, as long as the doctor cleared her for walking on her leg again. But running around with a Miraculous and running around without on were two very different things. Especially since Marinette could always ask Tikki to add a bit of extra support for that leg, just in case.

"Besides, sometimes Andre has some really odd flavor combos," Adrien added, his eyebrows furrowing. "And I get that it's because of the love thing, but then sometimes he starts mixing it up and talking in riddles and- anyway, sometimes I just want a plain old cookies and cream cone, you know?"

"And Andre's double- and triple-scoops are sometimes a bit much for a snack," Marinette added. She appreciated the thought behind Andre's ice-cream cones, but sometimes she was a bit over ice cream by the time she got partway through the last scoop. "And my favorite is raspberry chocolate chip, but I never get that there. He doesn't take requests."

Alya groaned. "The point of Andre's isn't the ice cream flavor, it's the experience! But I suppose we could mix it up and go somewhere else. There's a place near Marinette's house that has a pretty good selection. My little sisters love it."

"We'll plan on that, then," Nino decided. "And figure out a day and time later, once you talk to Nathalie. And if they don't let you come out then, maybe we can try to sneak a trip in over lunch on Monday. We'll make it work."

Adrien nodded, a grin lighting up his face. "Yeah! Yeah, that sounds good."

Marinette smiled, watching Adrien's face. His smile was real, unrestrained and completely happy. She wouldn't be surprised if he had been bracing himself for his father refusing to let him come out and not being able to come to the outing that he had come up with in the first place. It would be nice, of course, if they could go over the weekend- they could take more time to talk and linger instead of rushing- but if waiting until Monday meant that Adrien could come along with them instead of video-calling them while nibbling his way through a scoop of ice cream from his chef at home, then it was completely worth it.

As much as she hated to admit it, as Cast-Off Day approached and then finally arrived, Marinette had found her excitement competing with more than a little apprehension about her return to superheroing. She wasn't worried about being rusty on strategy- after all, that was what she had been getting a ton of practice with- but she knew that she was going to be out of shape. It was inevitable. She had even lost muscle tone in her good leg, she could tell, and that one had been used on a regular basis to hop along with her crutches. Sure, the supersuit provided bonus power- a lot of bonus power, considering the jumps that she and Chat Noir made on a regular basis- but being in shape as a civilian certainly didn't hurt.

Marinette could only hope that six weeks hadn't dulled her fighting instincts too much. She had worked hard for those instincts, thank-you-very-much, and getting set back would just plain suck.

There were other concerns, too. Akuma attacks would most likely be returning to their regular lengths once she returned as the Ladybug holder, and she didn't know how that would be received. And- her most recent concern- was about how the month and a half of a different routine would affect her partner.

Chat Noir had been following her directions during fights for every single akuma battle since- well, since the first week after her leg got broken. Maybe there had been some fights where he hadn't really needed much direction- some where he ended up holding off Hawkmoth or Mayura while Coccinelle dealt with the akuma, so as long as he didn't get overpowered or hurt, Vipera had just let him be- but for the most part he had been, as he said, her puppet. How that- and how having the safety net that was Vipera there to erase his mistakes and gambles that didn't quite pan out- affected his ability to function in normal battles remained to be seen.

It had only been five weeks, really. Hopefully- hopefully- Ladybug's break and their different approach wouldn't throw their teamwork and ability to fight into unexpected shambles. Maybe if they took that into account when Ladybug came back instead of assuming that everything would slide into place easily, then they could account for some of the places where they might be weaker.

She could talk to Chat Noir about it, and maybe her mom could step into the Snake position for the first couple of fights just in case. She wouldn't direct the fight like Vipera had, but if she could tap into that sixth sense that Vipera had used for the first few fights to know when to activate Second Chance, then that could help cover the worst of their slips. If there were slips.

Hopefully there wouldn't be. Hopefully it would be easier than Marinette thought to re-adjust.

"I can hear you worrying from here," Mrs. Cheng told Marinette as she steered the van through traffic. She spared a quick glance to the side. "You know that Tikki said that you were healing well. The doctor is hardly going to look at the x-ray and immediately turn around and slap the cast back on your leg."

"It's not getting the cast off that I'm worried about, really." She was really looking forward to that bit, to getting to wash off her leg for the first time since the cast came off and hopefully, hopefully, getting the all-clear to actually walk on her leg again. "It's re-adjusting to things again. It'll be easy to return to normal on the civilian side, but I've been worrying about how re-adjusting to battles will go."

"Well, if a fight isn't going well, you can always pull back and trade with me," Mrs. Cheng told her. "We might need to figure out who will need to hold on to what Miraculous so that we can do that quickly and safely, but considering that Hawkmoth just attacked earlier and- well, and what happened during the attack- I think we'll have a few days to iron out plans before he sends out another akuma. And if he sends one out sooner, before we have a plan in place..." She glanced over at Marinette before returning her eyes to the road. "I know you're eager to get back out there, but I can always handle another fight or two if needed."

Marinette knew that, and maybe it would be a good idea to wait for a fight or two to further throw off her recovery timeline in the public eye, but- ugh, it was easier said than done. She was just eager to get back in shape and to get a better read on what they needed to do to re-adjust (if anything), sooner rather than later so that she wouldn't be catastrophizing unnecessarily. And then there was also the whole matter of- well, Paris was getting increasingly impatient and unsettled as they got closer to a week with no Ladybug after the press conference.

Clearly the public weren't thinking along the same lines of what might have happened as her classmates had. They weren't reading between the lines like Alix about when the injury might have happened, and therefore not considering injuries like Marinette's as a possible clue to Ladybug's identity. That was a good thing, but it was really only a matter of time before more people started thinking the same way as her classmates.

Alya had shown the good sense to not put up the class's theories about the timeline of Ladybug's vacation versus the injury on the Ladyblog- well, after both Marinette and Alix had pointed out that there was no reason to undo any of the work that the superheroes had done with obscuring potentially identifying details. But Marinette had still heard some speculation starting up, and while her teammates were really good at countering the questions that were flung at them, it would probably be better if Ladybug just showed up herself.

Her mom's favorite tactic in response to the pestering was asking why people wanted Ladybug to put herself at risk by rushing back. It's not a good idea for pro athletes, Coccinelle always pointed out, so why would it be any different for superheroes? And if people really cared about their superheroes as people, then why did they not seem to care about their health- or their safety, considering that the general public seemed to want the superheroes to give up potentially identifying information?

People shut up pretty quickly after they got asked that, particularly if they had been trying to interview the superheroes live.

Thankfully, though, Marinette suspected that her mom was right and that she would have a couple days to get her bearings before another akuma popped up. The akuma that had attacked only that morning- well, it hadn't been alone. So Marinette's dad had gone out with the Turtle again (and Chat Noir with the bee) and then spent most of the battle cheerfully giving Hawkmoth a very through beatdown. In fact, there had only really been a little bit of actual fighting at the start, and then Hawkmoth spent the rest of the time cowering under heavy, repeated blows from the turtle shell until Mayura rescued him and they dashed off.

At the very least, Hawkmoth probably wouldn't be coming out for a few battles. He was nothing if not a coward, and coming probably his closest to defeat should make him rethink not hiding entirely behind his akumas.

"Don't let the public pressure you if you decide that you need more recovery," Mrs. Cheng added after a long pause. "Your safety is more important, always. And remember that it's not just your safety, but Chat Noir's as well."

Marinette had to laugh. "You really do know exactly how to get through to me, don't you? Okay, I'll do my best to be realistic about what I can handle."

Mrs. Cheng looked pleased.

It didn't take long for them to get to the doctor's office and get sent through to do her check-up. Marinette got an x-ray taken first, and when the doctor comes back in with it, he looked impressed.

"Well, good news, you are a very quick healer," he told her, settling down in his chair. "Possibly one of the fastest I've ever seen. Your leg has moved past the stage we would normally expect at this point and with the type of injury you got. I'll tell your physical therapist that we can go a bit more intensive on your therapy. You'll be able to handle it no problem. And while you'll want to ease your way into more intense activities, you can start working your way back."

Marinette grinned, nodding. This was definitely the news she wanted to get.

"And you won't need to keep using your crutches," he added. "But you'll want to keep them around, just in case your leg starts feeling sore. If you're going to be doing a lot of walking, I would definitely recommend that, at least until you've built up your endurance again."

"That's fantastic," Mrs. Cheng said, beaming at Marinette. "Do you have any exercises we can maybe start doing at home?"

"Yes, I'll print off some along with the care instructions later." He smiled, then pulled out what could only be the cast saw. "Now, let's take that cast off!"

As soon as her leg was in position, the saw whirred to life and started cutting into her cast. Marinette had to look away as her doctor worked, doing her best not to accidentally twitch or anything.

She was sure that he had loads of experience and was very good at his job and there were safety measures with the saw and all, but sharp blades near her leg was just a big load of no thank you in her book. When he finally put away the saw and picked up a pair of scissors to finish the job off, Marinette couldn't stop her sigh of relief.

"And all done!" her doctor announced, finally pulling the cast away from her leg. "That went nice and smoothly. You can hop down now, if you'd like."

Marinette nodded, glancing down at her leg and immediately having to do a double-take.

She had known that her leg was going to look odd after being in a cast for a month and a half, every single site that she had looked at had said so. But reading it and seeing it were two very different things.

Her skin looked weird. The hair on her leg looked weird. The muscle- it had shrunk even more than the muscle on her other leg, which was maybe to be expected but still made Marinette wonder how long it would take for her to get it back to something resembling normal. And now that the cast was off...

Well, she would be washing her leg tonight, that was for sure. Marinette didn't want her sheets to smell like that. Besides, the skin just looked- and felt- gross.

Taking a deep breath, Marinette slid down off of the table, taking the entire impact of the landing with her good leg. Then she took her first normal step in a month and a half.

It didn't hurt at all. Thank you, Tikki.

"I'd like to go out into the hallways now and have you walk up and down it. I want to see how even your steps are," her doctor requested. "Then I can send that to the therapist and she'll be able to tailor your plan to what you can do."

Marinette nodded at once, following him towards the door and trying not to over-analyze how her steps felt. Overthinking might just end up in her walking weird when she didn't have to, and- well, that wouldn't help anything at all.

"Okay, you're looking good," the doctor called to Marinette as she headed up the hallway. She felt a little off-kilter, but the doctor seemed pleased. "There's a bit of weakness in the one leg, but that's to be expected. With exercises and use, that should even up soon enough."

Marinette bit down the urge to ask how soon. She didn't want to seem impatient, especially since she was doing so well with her recovery already. Besides, her physical therapist would probably be able to tell her more after she actually started doing her exercises.

"I'll print off a care packet and some exercises for you to add to your routine, and then you'll be good to go," he told Marinette as she returned. He grinned. "Good job on the healing. Now, please- do at least try to not overexert yourself."

Dinner that evening was takeout, a rare occurrence in the Dupain-Cheng household, but they wanted something special to celebrate Marinette's cast coming off and something fast so that they wouldn't spend a large chunk of the evening cooking and cleaning up.

"Your dad and I can move things back up to your room tonight," Mrs. Cheng told Marinette as she finished up the last of her meal. She smiled at Marinette. "I'm assuming that you're eager to move back up there, since you're walking well. And while we do that, well..." She reached up, pulling the Ladybug earrings off and handing them to Marinette. "Chat Noir is expecting to have someone join him for patrol tonight, as usual. I didn't tell him that you would be the one coming, just in case you weren't feeling up to it, but I suspect that you might want to go out."

"Yes!" Marinette pulled out her placeholder earrings- she hadn't want anyone to notice that her ever-present earrings had vanished while she was on crutches, so she had found a lookalike to wear instead- and popped in the Ladybug Miraculous. It wasn't an unfamiliar feeling since she had been wearing them most nights, but knowing that they were going in to stay there now was great. Then she paused. "...but then people will see us and that might give away my recovery timeline, since Coccinelle was seen earlier today."

"You can always temporarily modify your costume to look like Coccinelle's outfit!" Tikki suggested. "Then from a distance, people probably won't notice that you've switched off. And since it's dark, that should help, too."

Marinette nodded, her grin inching back onto her face. "Okay. I'd definitely love to do that, then! As long as you and Dad don't want help moving things, that is."

"We'll take care of the moving," Mr. Dupain assured her, reappearing at the table with a large cake. He deposited it in front of Marinette and pulled out a knife to start cutting pieces. "Partially so that you can go out and have fun with your friend, yes, but also because we'd really rather not have you trip over a blanket while carrying it upstairs and have you sent back to square one."

Marinette opened her mouth to protest that, considered it, and then closed her mouth again. As much as she hated to admit it, her dad... had a point. "Okay. Thank you so much!"

"Anytime, darling." Mr. Dupain paused, considered that, then tried again. "I mean, I'd rather it not be necessary again, but if you need any help, we're here for you. And if you want to have us come out on patrol ever, or come out on fights with you..."

She had to laugh. "You've gotten over your fear of running over rooftops, then?"

"It's growing on me. Slowly." Mr. Dupain served up three generous slices of cake, passing them around before sitting back down. "And I can't say that beating Hawkmoth up wasn't entirely satisfying. I'm definitely more than willing to do that again."

Marinette nodded, making a mental note of that. Her dad couldn't really come out often, probably, since the bakery needed to keep running, but if he could join them at random sometimes...

It was something to keep in mind.

"I wish I could have watched," Mrs. Cheng commented, scooping up a forkful of her cake. "And no one got any footage of it, either! Such a pity."

Marinette had to laugh. "It was quite satisfying. Honestly-" she made a few fast mental calculations, a list of pros and cons, and then came to a quick decision. "You could probably keep the Turtle on you, and just come out if we're struggling or something and you have some time to spare. It would be easier than me having to come back and get the Miraculous out for you."

Her dad looked vaguely offended. "If you're struggling and if I have the time? Marinette, if you and Chat Noir are struggling, I will make the time. And if I have the time, if there's an attack when the bakery isn't open or I'm not needed, I'll be there. I'd love to beat up Hawkmoth again."

"If you start vanishing too much during akuma attacks, your employees are going to notice," Marinette pointed out. "And it's going to be for more than a few minutes most of the time. Not like what it's been for the fights you've gone out for before."

Her dad looked a little stumped. "Hmm."

"If I have access to the Horse, I could drop him off and collect him," Mrs. Cheng pointed out. "That cuts out travel time there and back. And it could be an element of surprise, too- if Tom is transformed and knows exactly where I'm going to Portal him to, he could ambush the akuma or the sentimonster or the supervillains with almost no warning."

Marinette opened her mouth, about to say something about how it probably wasn't a good idea to have too many Miraculous out and active in one household, then shut it again. That- actually, why wouldn't it be a good idea? If, heaven forbid, Hawkmoth and Mayura found out who any of them were, then they could all jump in and defend themselves right away. Maybe Master Fu wouldn't have approved, but Master Fu wasn't the Guardian anymore, was he? She had to do what worked best for her. "Actually, I like that idea. And if I need any of the other Miraculous for backup, I could text you and you could just Portal it right to me, no need for me to come back here."

That was a really good idea. The fewer trips she made to the bakery as Ladybug, the better. And it would be faster, too.

Why hadn't Master Fu thought of that? It would have made so much more sense than her having to disengage herself from the fight for at least fifteen minutes to go to Master Fu's house, with the potential of having supervillains spotting her and figuring out where she was going. There would still be a pause while she found the holder she wanted for that particular Miraculous, but that really couldn't be avoided.

"You know what I would love to see?" Mrs. Cheng told Mr. Dupain after a minute of quiet eating. "Your mom with a Miraculous. I'm not sure how effective of a fighter she would be, but can you picture her scolding Hawkmoth?"

Mr. Dupain laughed. "I think you underestimate her. She's taken more than a few self-defense classes over the years. Partially because she tends to travel alone or in groups of people she's not super familiar with, and partially because it's part of experiencing different cultures. Or that's been the excuse that she's given me, at least."

"D'you think, if she transformed while on her motorcycle, that would get magic powers, too?" Marinette asked, the picture of a Superhero Nonna Gina zipping around and running over Hawkmoth with a superpowered flying motorcycle already floating through her mind. "Because that would be super cool."

Tikki giggled. "Probably not. Unless...?" She tilted her head, considering. "I don't know, actually. You'd have to try it. I don't know if anything like that has been attempted before!"

...she was a responsible Guardian, and she will not find an excuse to give Nonna Gina a Miraculous the next time she's in Paris and try to get her to attempt to transform with the motorcycle. She will not, she will not, she will not.

"Oh, that's a picture," Mrs. Cheng chuckled. She scooped up another bite of cake. "We might be able to test that with one of us and a regular bike, maybe on one of our days off. Just for curiosity's sake, you know."

"Research," Mr. Dupain agreed cheerfully. "Very important, you know."

Marinette had to laugh at that.

They finished up, and then her parents shooed her off as they started the work of carrying things back up to her room. Marinette still snuck in a couple trips with some smaller things, and then she hauled herself up to her balcony. She exchanged an excited look with Tikki, taking a deep breath to steady herself.

This was actually happening. After weeks of longing to be back out on the rooftops, running and swinging around, she was finally returning.

"Tikki, transform me!"

In a flash of pink light, Ladybug replaced Marinette on the balcony. She took a moment to make sure that her outfit looked more like Coccinelle's than her own regular outfit, and then she was off. The yo-yo went out, Ladybug jumped, and she was flying through the air again.

It. Felt. Amazing.

Ladybug grinned, resisting the urge to whoop with joy. She had to keep her return low-key for now, which meant that she wasn't quite free to do whatever she wanted yet, but that was fine.

She was back, and that was what was important. The whoops and cheers and fancy swings down low over the street could wait until she had made her official return.

It didn't take long at all to reach the place where Mrs. Cheng had told her that she and Chat Noir would be meeting up for patrol. Ladybug landed- carefully, her good leg first and the healed leg second, though it didn't hurt at all- behind her partner and bounded forward, unable to keep the grin off of her face. Chat Noir had perked up as soon as he heard her land and he almost tripped over his own feet in his hurry to turn around. He stumbled, catching himself almost right away, and his eyes landed on Ladybug. His expression turned puzzled for a moment when he caught sight of her outfit, but the confusion was wiped away and replaced by straight-up excitement as soon as he caught sight of her face.

"Bugaboo!" Chat Noir exclaimed, pouncing on her at once and nearly bowling her straight over in his excitement. "You're back! Is it- is it for good? The cast is off, you're clear to come back?"

Ladybug grinned, nodding. "Yeah! I just got it off today. And I couldn't wait to come out, but I didn't want to give all of Paris a timeline for me being back if they spotted me, so-"

"Thus Coccinelle's outfit," Chat Noir finished for her. He straightened, pulling Ladybug to her feet. He grinned at her. "That threw me off, I'll admit, but it's not a bad look on you at all."

Ladybug grinned, doing a little spin just because she could. "Thanks! I- oh!" She tripped over her own feet and stumbled. Chat Noir caught her at once, putting her back on her feet.

"Careful! You only just got back out!"

"Oh, gosh, not a good start," Ladybug said with a small giggle. Thankfully her stumble hadn't been because of her leg acting up, just one of her normal stumble. "If that happens during battles, maybe you'll end up wanting Coccinelle back! I don't think me stumbling around will help make the battles any shorter."

"Don't say that." Abruptly, Chat Noir was serious, grasping her hands in his own. Ladybug blinked, taken aback. She had just been joking around, but her partner clearly wasn't, and the intensity in his eyes had taken her off-guard. "Don't worry about the time fights take, Ladybug. Seriously. Having you back and fighting at my side? That's more than worth it."

Ladybug smiled. "Thanks, Kitty."

"Of course." Chat Noir beamed at her, bright and happy and excited. A few moments passed, and then he nodded across the rooftops, grinning. "So. Are you ready for patrol?"

"Are you kidding? Let's go!"

a/n: Ladybug's back! Woo!

One more chapter to go! And as always, comments make my day :)