"I accept," Hawkmoth conceded. "Nooroo, Dark Wings, fall."
Marinette let out the breath she hadn't realized she had been holding, and beside her Chat did the same. It actually worked, they did it. Chat Noir did it. It was over.
Carefully, Gabriel Agreste removed the pin, and offered it to the Ladybug illusion. "I… I have been considering doffing the Butterfly for some time now. I admit, your offer came at a perfect time. Nothing seemed to have been working. I… Thank you. Thank you for giving me this opportunity." His voice was almost sincere, yet something about it felt rehearsed. Begrudging, as if a child had been told to be grateful and was saying thank you only because they were told.
Marinette winced; did he forget she was just an illusion? She nudged Chat Noir, who was in a sort of daze. She couldn't blame him. This was the sixteenth attempt? She had memorized just a little bit of the math ahead of time, so that she would be aware of just how long Chat had been here for. Sixteen Chances means that he had been here just over an hour, while she only five minutes. In the long run, that was far better than Aspik had done.
No wonder he was somewhat dazed. Half of this battle was psychological too, how had he managed to keep it together? "Chat!" She urged him, standing up. She would have to ask him later, for now they had a job to do. This time, she would remember it all. He glanced up at her in slight shock, and she offered her hand such that he could stand.
She dropped the Shellter, and Chat wasted no time in dropping the Mirage. Hawkmoth's eyes widened, but he quickly spotted the two of them.
"…Ladybug and Chat Noir, I assume?" Marinette nodded confidently in response, striding over to him. Chat Noir matched her pace, though he was still somewhat out of it.
She took the pin and couldn't help the smile that reached her face as she felt the rush of power that a Miraculous gives. At last, the Butterfly Miraculous was back in Guardian hands.
They stood there for a few moments, the question, 'what now?' hanging unspoken. Marinette knew most of the story from what she had overheard, but it was Chat who had gathered the information. He mentioned the Grimoire, but she didn't have possession of it. She didn't actually know how to cure Emilie and was afraid of saying the wrong thing. She squeezed Chat's hand meaningfully, hoping he would speak up.
Fortunately, it seemed he caught the hint. "Thank you for returning the Butterfly Miraculous. If you could, we would also like to have the Peacock Miraculous, the Grimoire, and Master Fu's tablet returned," he commanded, almost monotone. Marinette frowned, just what had he seen?
"Ah yes, of course. Give me a moment," M. Agreste nodded, and activated the elevator, lowering himself out of sight.
Once she was certain he was gone, Marinette turned to Chat. "Hey. You did amazing," she smiled. He glanced up at her sharply. "How are you feeling? Are you okay?"
He watched her, almost expressionless, but there was something in his eyes that she couldn't quite define. Something… contemplative. As if he was deciding what he was feeling, or rather what to show. It sent a worm of fear through her. "Are you okay?" she asked again, worried.
He smiled. "Thank you, Marinette," he murmured. She froze, hearing her name, from those lips once again. Visions of a pure white cat filled her mind, but they disappeared almost instantly. She was literally holding the Butterfly Miraculous. It was fine. He was fine.
How did he know? He wouldn't have purposely found out? No, Chat would never do that.
She must have shown him herself.
She seriously wanted to know what happened during those previous fifteen attempts. She swallowed nervously, "Uhm."
He laughed lightly, it was weak, but it was relieved. It was stressed, but also a release. "Don't worry, I'll tell you everything. Just, not while we're literally waiting for Hawkmoth to come back. To answer shortly, no, I'm not really okay. But you were there for me. And I know you will be there for me." He pulled her into a long hug, simply holding her tightly. He released shortly after, though somewhat reluctantly. Then, they waited.
It was evening, Marinette sat in her Ladybug spots alongside Chat Noir, wearing his trademark bell and everything that came with it.
They sat in comfortable silence on the Eiffel Tower, simply watching the sun set.
Well, mostly comfortable. It had been a relatively quick affair, receiving everything from M. Agreste, and Chat had directed her to the pages in the Grimoire, which she had spent the rest of her day studying. Chat had to leave to his own civilian life, likely not having the same easy excuse that she had. (She told her friends and family that she was taking a mental health day.) He hadn't yet had a chance to tell her of what happened, and she sincerely hoped he could now.
If not, she would be willing to wait until he was ready.
But goddamn it, she wanted to know, and she wanted to help her kitty. He definitely had seen some things, and she really didn't want to push, but also like, she couldn't help if he didn't talk.
But he had promised to tell her everything. And she would trust him to.
So there the two of them sat, while she fidgeted endlessly, while Chat sat nearly still, watching the sunset.
"Hey, Marinette," he began, and she shivered. Something about him saying her civilian name while she was suited up…. That was different.
"Hm?" she replied, careful to keep her agitation toned down.
She blinked. "Uhm."
He turned to face her, and his eyes were shining with tears. "For everything. For being the most amazing partner I could ever have, for being by side for these years as a superhero, for always believing in me, and giving me the honored position as your partner and nothing less. Thank you for your strength, your kindness, your trust, I'm just so overwhelmed."
Marinette felt heat creeping to her cheeks at his earnest… confession? It seemed to be something more than a confession, it wasn't asking for anything in return. He just wanted to tell her how grateful she was.
"You've been my support in both my lives, and I never knew that till today," he continued, and her eyes widened. She didn't even know his civilian self, how…? "There's so much you've done… And, during those sixteen Chances today… I never could have done any of it without you. Every time, without fail, you put your full trust in me, you were kind, you thought on your feet even with what little information I could give you." It seemed she didn't need to worry about him not bringing it up, after all.
He took a shuddering breath. "There were several times I completely broke down. I revealed my identity just for those, and you… you just put it aside to comfort me. Once, I accidently revealed it within ten seconds, and you were practically paralyzed," he chuckled. "So, I know that took some will power from you."
Marinette held her breath. His secret identity again… Was he going to…?
He caught her eye, and her thoughts came to a jarring stop. "Can I show you who I am?"
She was breathless, this was it. Was she ready?
"Yes." She told him. Yes, she was.
"Claws in," he murmured.
Marinette closed her eyes as the transformation fell, and slowly opened them, but as she got a slight peek, her lids flew open.
"Adrien…?" She gasped.
He smiled sadly. "Hey."
Adrien. Lovely, sweet, perfect Adrien. She admits her crush on him had somewhat faded over time, being replaced with Chat Noir, but her heart had never quite given up on the blonde. No, he was just so kind, sweet, and held so much love in him despite being starved of it for so long.
The same as Chat Noir, who had stood by her side for years, her silly kitty, who had a sensitive side, who she trusted with her life. Her Chaton, who had just faced Hawkmoth by her side with the power of Second Chance-
Oh God. Hawkmoth. Gabriel Agreste.
"Oh, Adrien," she realized with horror. "You- oh…."
His sad smile remained, it was so sad, so strained, and she instantly pulled him to her chest in a tight hug. "Adrien, Chat Noir, my sweet kitty," she whispered. He stiffened for a bare moment in recognition but relaxed instantly.
"I've heard that before," he murmured, and her eyes widened. His body shuddered, and she realized he had begun to cry. "I needed that." She simply nodded, holding him tight.
The sun had fully set, and still they sat, Adrien in Ladybug's arms, long after he had stopped crying. She started to feel some aches from the hard ground, but the comfort from Adrien was strong enough to ignore it.
Eventually, he broke the silence, "Hey, Marinette?"
"I love you."
She sucked in a short breath. But then, she smiled.
"I love you too, Adrien."