mustafa ali: > defender of justice, brave heroic paladin > beautiful gold and blue gear > flippy and talented, a friend of the sky > pure hearted, full of encouragement and wisdom > will change the world and make it a peaceful, forgiving place > most breathtaking human alive > laughs at his own jokes
baron corbin: > defender of furries, smelly and mean > uglie ripped up camo edgy hot topic gear > large, no flips, friend of feral creatures > clogged heart, full of minions and bad music > will make the world look like his titantron (colony-esque, post apocalyptic) > professor filch lookin’ werewolf but he works it > laughs at his own jokes
It hadn’t lasted of course. Plagg had known it wouldn’t. He had sensed the switch and known about it as soon as it had occurred, but he hadn’t expected his kitten to pick up on it so quickly too. It almost made him sadder; this set of chosen ones could have been one of the greatest Ladybug and Chat Noir pairs they’d ever had. Instead his silly kitten had screwed the pooch and now, they were stuck with someone else.
He hadn’t told the boy the truth. Evading his questions with complaints about hunger and cheese had become an unwelcome but familiar routine. And Adrien didn’t let go of things easily - he wouldn’t have been such a good black cat if he did. As it was, Plagg did all he could to be as obnoxious and annoying as possible, trying to put Adrien off the scent.
It had worked to a certain extent. Adrien had stopped asking, but he hadn’t stopped looking. He knew something was wrong with Ladybug, off, but he hadn’t once thought the girl was a different one. Tikki was cunning, or maybe her girl was - the first one - because she looked exactly the same. Her voice was slightly different, and her fighting style was completely at odds with the first girl Tikki had picked, but she wasn’t at all a bad match for the creation Kwami. Adrien was another story.
The rapport that he’d built with the first girl had taken a year to make solid, but it had been there from the start. This one took a bit more work. She was flustered and blushing half the time, which allowed Plagg to distract Adrien with teasing and jabs at him, wondering at his complaining now that he had finally captured his lady’s heart. Those comments, which were a little below the belt, even Plagg would admit, only distracted him for so long. He wasn’t stupid. He noticed that Ladybug’s yoyoing style had changed. That she seemed not to know people they had previously met several times, that she wasn’t as quick to figure out the lucky charm the first few times. Soon, however, impossibly quickly, as if she had coaching of some kind, the new girl picked up her own slack and they were back in business.
Adrien remained faltering and unsure until one night, the new Ladybug kissed him. It had sent his kitten on a rollercoaster of messed up emotions, diving into confusion from heights of bliss and happiness when the kiss felt wonderful, and yet unreal and wrong at the same time.
It all came to a head on the third day of school. Plagg would have found it poetic if it didn’t break his kitten’s heart into sharp fragments. The akuma sent was particularly destructive. Demolition themed and armed with wrecking balls for arms, he’d already reduced a handful of buildings to sawdust, and a baby crying inside one of them had been the siren’s call for any Ladybug. And of course; of course Chat Noir followed where his Lady went.
Plagg sensed Tikki the moment Adrien’s transformation gave out. He led his injured but mobile charge to where he could hear his other half’s reedy voice, and was right on time to see a blond head, covered in blood and trapped under a number of beams, before someone else walked up.
‘You came!’ Tikki exclaimed tearfully, and Plagg willed Adrien to be quiet, to shut up and listen. Maybe his kitten was learning, or maybe he was too shocked to speak as the red Kwami jumped up and nuzzled another girl’s cheek, but he barely breathed.
‘Of course I did, I followed every battle as closely as I could. Alya wouldn’t say no to another camera angle, after all, and after being arrested three times my parents have as many white hairs as they can get from this.’
She chuckled slightly before looking down. ‘Is she alive?’ she asked, her voice tremulous.
‘Yes, but hurt very badly,’ Tikki replied with sorrow. She turned to the girl, her back to Plagg and Adrien, wearing camo gear, a tank top and dark pigtails. ‘Will you?’
‘I will always help where I can. And this will even throw them off Magda if we work it well. I think the dogs are sniffing around her, now?’ Tikki only nodded. ‘Well then. Let’s celebrate our anniversary, shall we!’
Tikki nodded, the girl picked the earrings and said the words. Plagg was not sure his kitten had words left in him until he said a very important one.
Ladybug - the original one, though no one would ever know the difference - turned. Adrien stared at her aghast, and Plagg was not sure whether his charge was thinking a million things, or nothing at all.
She stared at him a moment longer before straightening. ‘Are you hurt? Will you be able to fight?’
‘You’re Ladybug,’ was the only thing he said.
‘No, she is. I’m only borrowing this to help out. We need to hurry, she’s hurt bad.’
‘You’re Ladybug,’ he insisted, apparently too lost to hear her. ‘I know you, You’re the one who I fought with first!’
‘She’s the one you fight with now,’ Ladybug reiterated. ‘Do you believe that there really has been only one of us since the beginning of time? We change all the time.’
‘But you’re my Ladybug!’ Adrien insisted, his brain apparently only capable of short, cut sentences.
‘That’s wrong on all accounts,’ the girl replied, in a clipped tone much harder than before. ‘Look, she doesn’t have much time, and even though the cure will bring her back, I don’t want her to die in the first place. Help me save her, Madelaine loves you.’
‘And you?’ he asked in a gasp. ‘Did you ever-?’ he went quiet, pale, and swayed alarmingly. Plagg thought for an instant that his injuries were worse than he had originally thought. Then he realised that Adrien must have remembered Valentine’s day, a little more than half year ago.
Marinette, Ladybug, looked at him steadily. ‘Once,’ she said simply. ‘Now we have an akuma to stop, and some very interested police officers to distract. Let’s get to it, Chat Noir.’
He whimpered, and Plagg knew, beyond all doubt, that it was because she had failed to call him any of the beloved nicknames she’d had for him before.
‘Unless, you’re too injured?’ she asked, concerned.
‘No,’ Adrien said, ‘Let’s … let’s get this over with. Plagg, transforme m…’
The Kwami had nothing more than faint recollections of feelings until his kitten detransformed. He was standing on a rooftop, tears streaming down his cheeks, hand still held up as if to finish with the customary fist-bump the new girl had kept. But there was no Ladybug, only the detransformed girl.
‘I have to get Tikki back to her proper wielder. She’s going to be worried,’ Marinette said, matter of factly.
‘One last time,’ Adrien begged, nudging the air with his fist. ‘Please, just one last time.’
‘There isn’t time,’ Marinette replied, and Plagg was not sure he believed one of Tikki’s bugs could be this heartless if he hadn’t seen the sheen of tears in her eyes. ‘I tried to tell you, Adrien. Ladybug doesn’t exist.’
‘You exist! You’re here, and, I beg you, please…’
‘The current Ladybug loves you,’
‘I don’t love her!’ he burst out. ‘I’ve been trying to understand for past month why I can’t seem to feel for her as I used to! She looks exactly like you, but I just didn’t feel anything anymore when she spoke to me, or fought with me, or laughed with me or kissed me.’
That got a reaction out of the girl, making her gasp briefly before she cut it off. Adrien seized the opportunity, rushing forward to grab Marinette’s shoulders.
‘I couldn’t understand it,’ Adrien said, voice caught between sobs. ‘I should have been happy, but I wasn’t. I felt awful, fickle and bad. I never even realised I’d driven you away.’
‘I did it because of the Surete, mostly,’ the girl hedged.
‘Don’t lie,’ Adrien replied.
‘I’m not,’ she huffed back. ‘It … it solved multiple problems.’ She looked away, at last unable to contain her tears, and Adrien hugged her hard. Plagg flew to Tikki, sitting beside her on the roof’s perimeter fence.
‘I’ve missed you,’ he whispered, hugging her too and purring. They watched quietly as the two humans spoke in hushed voices to one another, Adrien begging, Marinette hesitating. ‘These last few weeks must have been hard. I’m sorry my kitten is an idiot.’
‘So am I,’ Tikki replied with melancholy. ‘If I hadn’t insisted she keep her identity from him, Marinette may have told him; she wanted to some months before it all went south. We could have avoided all this.’
‘Maybe they needed it, to grow and learn to talk to one another,’ he tried.
‘All they learned was not to trust one another. It will be hard now, you know it as well as I do, Plagg. If they work out at all this cycle, it will be a lot of work, and only because they’re both stubborn enough to try. They could have been so happy.’
‘They still can be,’ he insisted. ‘If your bug loves him half as much as he loves her, that is.’
‘I don’t know, Plagg,’ Tikki replied sorrowfully. ‘That’s the point. You know how my charges get - the task is more important. Their head before their heart; I even teach them that, but this time it may mean, that…’
‘We have to trust them,’ Plagg replied, watching as Adrien cautiously, gently kissed Marinette; a light brush of the lips that lasted barely a second. Marinette moved away, reluctant and uncomfortable, and then she sighed.
‘What will I tell Magda…’
‘I’ll tell her I have a girlfriend,’ Adrien said. ‘I know we are not that yet,’ he added quickly when he saw Marinette start. ‘But I’m yours anyway. I made this bed, I’ll lie in it, and I’ll help you fight off the damn Surete. You should have told me; I just have to phone my dad, he’ll sick something on them to leave you alone.’
‘The ladybugs have finished,’ Marinette said by way of an answer. She moved out of his grasp, his hands falling limp at his side as she walked to the perimeter fence. They were both silent for a moment, then she went on. ‘I started Lycee two days ago. A new start. I thought…’ She fell silent again.
‘I started public school a year ago too. A new start.’ Adrien joined her at the parapet, looking out the restored city, electric illumination beginning to flicker on and competing with the sunset for spectacle lights.
‘I fell in love with you exactly a year ago today; on the third day of school.’ Plagg saw Adrien turn to stare at her. ‘It was raining. I was being horrible to you because of something you hadn’t even done, and I didn’t even give you the chance to apologise. Then, you were so kind and polite.’ She stopped for a moment, smiling fondly at something far away. ‘You gave me your umbrella and got wet on the way to your car.’
‘I remember being so happy that you’d forgiven me,’ Adrien replied in a similar hushed tone, quiet with memory and melancholy. ‘This time I don’t even deserve it. But if you could, if you could give me another chance…’
‘I … ok.’
Plagg could have yowled in happiness. As it was, Tikki slapped a hand onto his mouth so he wouldn’t interrupt. It was tentative anyway; he could see how tense and unsure she was, and he knew Adrien would have a lot of work to make up for his mistakes. They watched as Adrien put an arm around her shoulders, gently squeezing while Marinette stood still. She didn’t reciprocate the gesture, but she didn’t push him off, even leaning into him slightly.
‘It won’t be easy, Kitty,’ Marinette went on.
‘I don’t deserve it to be,’ Adrien replied.
‘I mean, for me, too.’ The girl shook her head. ‘I’m not sure I can be Ladybug again, not when there’s another girl to take into account now. And I may … it may not be easy for me with you, at first. I think I’m still a little angry.’
‘I’ll take it all. That’s the point of a second chance; I’ve got to grovel.’ He kissed her temple very slowly, careful for a sign of rejection. It didn’t come and he sighed into her hair. ‘I’m willing to work as hard as you need.’
‘And if I need months? Or years?’ she whispered back.
‘Best way to spend my time, if you ask me,’ he replied. Plagg nodded at Tikki.
‘Well,’ he said, flying up the them. ’The best way to spend my time is eating cheese.’
‘Not that anyone asked,’ Adrien snarked back.
‘We should look for Magda. She must be worried about Tikki. She may do something stupid; expose herself while looking.’
‘In that case, Ladybug could always swoop in and automatically get her out of trouble,’ Plagg suggested. They began walking towards the stairwell, night wind catching their hair. Marinette didn’t deny the possibility, and it was enough to tell Plagg she was at least thinking about it.
‘You know, this idea to switch Ladybugs is brilliant to get the police off our backs. Maybe I should see into getting an understudy myself.’
‘Maybe there is someone I could suggest; from Magda’s life,’ Tikki quietly suggested, speaking for the first time. They all stopped to look at her. ‘All good Ladybugs have their potential Chat Noir.’
‘Let’s go meet them, then,’ Adrien decided. Plagg looked on carefully. Tikki’s body language was much lighter, aura relieved. Adrien walked with a determined lilt in his step that spoke of stubbornness and his will to make amends. Marinette’s step was a lot more hesitant, unsure. She looked at Adrien a few times, sometimes walking farther away, sometimes walking closer, as if she wasn’t quite sure whether she wanted to be near him or run away. Plagg supposed, under the circumstances, it was a victory that she wasn’t sending him to hell.
They had work to do. They were undeniably broken. But for the first time since February, Plagg had hope.
And hey, if he got another Chat Noir, that meant double the cheese. You wouldn’t catch him complaining.
Fun Fact; Magdalains are lovely, spongey sweets that are often served with coffee. They are fiendishly hard to get right, but their taste is more than worth the labour of love. As Tikki subsists on sweets, and Marinette’s name has a bread pun in it, I thought it was fitting to name another Ladybug after a type of cake.
I very nearly did not end this on a positive (?) note. I almost had Adrien never know who the original Ladybug was, and just spend the rest of his days knowing that the one he was fighting with now wasn’t the one he’d started with, and being forever unable to find her. But then I couldn’t be that cruel. As it is, they still got lots of work to do.
(from my end. Anyone who wants to pitch into it, be my guest!)
Trade shows were the absolute worst, and if Tobirama could foist the responsibility for attending every single of one of them onto his brother, he would - the Sage alone knew that Hashirama, despite everything, somehow managed to charm the socks off every damn client and sub-contractor this side of the Western Seas - but as the newly promoted COO of Senju Security, he had to make an appearance at this, the first conference of the season, and reassure the public that the company was in good hands with the recent change in leadership. Well, he’d come, he’d given a reasonably well-received speech on integrating traditional small troop formations with cyber support in retaking hostile urban areas, and if he managed to get through another six hours of this nonsense, he could slip away on “business” during the usual rounds of evening parties. Hashirama wouldn’t notice for hours, and by then, Tobirama would be long gone, preferably joining Kawarama on a last minute reconnaissance mission in Rain’s borders.
“My, that’s an angry face,” a low, hoarse voice commented from his left.
“Hatake, always a pleasure,” Tobirama said steadily, not breaking pace. As expected of the woman, she fell into step at his side, long rangy legs easily keeping pace. Hatake Mitsuru had proven herself quite stubborn and almost supernaturally competent in the years he’d known her, especially given the aura of lackadaisical disinterest she aggressively projected. She’d appeared at trade shows and conventions, gate-crashed at least three extremely private client meetings, and once, memorably enough, showed up in the middle of a mission gone terribly wrong on the always-fluid border between Fire and Lightning - and that wasn’t counting the dozen-and-a-half times he’d hired her for business reasons. Tobirama was fond of her, as far as sub-contractors went, but sometimes she could be a bit much.
“Now, now, I think we’re on familiar enough terms that you can call me by my first name, Tobirama,” she murmured, no louder than a whisper in the crowd.
He glanced at her between one step and the next, only to confirm she looked the same as she always did: a tall woman with fair hair worn loose and lazy dark eyes. She was wearing a surgical mask, one of many odd affectations she’d had as long as he had known her. She always wore casual clothing, and she was always soft-spoken, which was a pleasant change from most of the bounty hunters he’d hired over the years. The Inuzuka couple, for instance, never seemed to change out of camo gear and always spoke at a volume only a little less than a full yell.
“Mmm,” Tobirama said, noncommittal.
“Ah, so that’s how it’s going to be,” Mitsuru replied, a mocking lilt in her voice.
“Are you still upset I turned down the chance to go with your crew to the Canyonlands? Because I told you at the time, I was busy with another job. I know Settan and Taya are loud, but they’re better suited for rural tracking, anyway.”
Tobirama shrugged one shoulder minutely. "Nothing of the kind, Mitsuru, it’s just been a long day and-”
“-and it’s about to get even longer!” another voice shouted from a corridor ahead of them. "That’s right, Senju - you’ve heard the news by now, I’m sure: my company just won the contract on the President’s security detail. Run back to Hashirama and perhaps reconsider your sales strategy in the future - the Sage knows you’ll need to, with all the business you’ve been losing, lately.“
This second interruption came from a man, one clearly used to having his way, at least judging from the strident tone of his voice. Tobirama immediately lengthened his stride. He recognized that voice too, and unlike Mitsuru, he had no desire to ever engage in conversation with the person currently speaking. He’d long been familiar with Madara Uchiha - it was hard not to, when your companies were direct competitors and had been since their respective founders had suffered a falling-out decades before. But even if that hadn’t been their shared history, Tobirama was sure he would have despised Madara anyway, for the other man was loud, abrasive, and honestly quite obnoxious. Why Hashirama continued to insist the other man wasn’t so bad was quite beyond Tobirama’s faculties.
For a moment, Tobirama held out hope that Madara would leave well enough alone and ignore him after heckling him in passing, but no such luck. Instead, as Tobirama and Mitsuru walked by the intersection, Madara intercepted them, walking backward in front of Tobirama, all the better to taunt him. Of course, Madara couldn’t leave well enough alone; when had he ever? Tobirama saw the other man looked the same as he always did: impeccably dressed in a gray suit, tie forsworn for an unbuttoned shirt collar and suit jacket thrown over his left shoulder. His hair was even longer and more unruly than usual, falling over his right eye and cascading over his broad shoulders.
“What, cat got your tongue, Senju?” Madara taunted, visible eye narrowed in unholy glee. “You know, I told your brother that you required more seasoning before he promoted you - it’s a shame he didn’t listen…"
Tobirama considered three different ways of incapacitating Madara with his own hair before discarding them as too disruptive. No, better to find some other way to rid himself of this pest-
"Is it just me, or does this guy get even more ridiculous every time I see him?” Mitsuru wondered aloud, and Tobirama felt a tiny smile curl the corners of his mouth as Madara made a hilarious, put-upon face. "I mean, what kind of idiot wears dress shoes without socks?“
"The kind of idiot who wants to look suave, but fails to see he comes off as a buffoon instead,” Tobirama responded slyly in turn, and Madara sputtered in rage.
“Oh, so he’s that kind of guy,” Mitsuru drawled, not bothering to keep her voice down. Some of the passing crowd was beginning to slow and stop, always ready to see yet another verbal battle between Tobirama and Madara; Madara’s visible eye kept twitching away from Tobirama towards the crowd, always antsy at public attention he hadn’t carefully cultivated himself. “The dumb kind of guy.”
Madara flushed, from the bridge of his nose all the way down his neck. Tobirama eyed that unbuttoned collar for one long moment, idly wondering exactly how far down his chest the other man was flushing, before tipping his eyes back up and meeting Madara’s infuriated gaze. Then, he smiled.
Madara blanched as he came to a sudden halt, blinking once, twice, thrice in surprise. Tobirama simply smiled wider. It was a nice smile - at least, Mother had always told him so. No one had ever run screaming from it. Well, no one had ever run screaming from it yet - it looked as though Madara might be the first.
“Have I entered an alternate universe, or did you really just crack a smile for me?” Madara asked, totally unnerved. At Tobirama’s side, Mitsuru broke out into wild, unrefined guffaws, forcing Tobirama to stop and support her before she fell over.
“Oh, not for you, Madara,” Tobirama chided mildly. "Never that.“
And then Tobirama serenely walked away, Mitsuru half hanging off his shoulder as they went. Tobirama kept half an eye out, just in case Madara decided to try his luck again, but apparently, the other man was sufficiently discombobulated by the whole experience that wasn’t willing to dare Tobirama’s smile again. Either that, or he was still puzzling through the insult Tobirama had offered him. It might take him awhile to figure it out. Madara, after all, was stubborn, but not exactly clever.
"So what, exactly, are you planning?” Mitsuru asked in her raspy low voice, still bursting out into chuckles every moment or two. "Because I’ve seen that look on your face before, and it’s usually a prelude to a good time for all.“
"You’re the only person in the world who would say that,” Tobirama said dryly, directing the woman through the crowd towards the street exit. Come to think of it, a tracker would be useful out in the bush, and Tobirama knew from previous experience that Mitsuru and Kawarama got on well.
“Most people don’t know how to have a good time,” she agreed wryly, raking her hair off her face. "Aren’t you lucky you know me?“
"Kawarama says that all the time,” Tobirama agreed with no small degree of sarcasm in his voice. "As for the party I’m planning… are you aware that Uchiha Surveillance Services were terminated from their contract with Uzumaki Corporation three weeks ago?“
"No, I wasn’t,” Mitsuru murmured, eyebrows raised. "Although it doesn’t surprise me. Madara has such a nice personality, after all.“
Tobirama laughed once before stifling it. "Then you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the source of the breach was reportedly deep, irreconcilable personal differences between Madara and the Uzumaki heir?”
“It wouldn’t surprise me,” Mitsuru said with a diffident shrug of her shoulders.
“Lastly, were you aware that I managed to finagle an invitation for Hashirama to attend the Uzumaki holiday party three weeks from now?”
Underneath the mask, Mitsuru was grinning so widely her eyes were half closed. A full, rich laugh erupted from her throat.
“Oh, Tobirama, you really are a bastard in all the best ways!”
Two months later…
“…Uzumaki Corporation’s share price just surged today after word leaked that Senju Security would begin augmenting the corporation’s already formidable internal security. This comes just weeks after the former chairman’s daughter took control of the company after her father’s unexpected retire-”
The television abruptly turned off, leaving Madara brooding in silence.
“Madara, why do you even care about this?” Izuna asked in aggravation, and Madara just grunted at him in response. "Our margins were always pretty slim on that contract - if the Senju want to deal with her royal highness, let them!“
"It’s not that,” Madara said impatiently, raking his hair back into a messy ponytail before pinching the bridge of his nose. "It’s the fact that Tobirama has won that irritates me.“
"Oh, god,” Izuna murmurs with dread. "Please tell me you aren’t going to try and get back at him for some kind of imagined slight.“
"It’s not an imagined slight!” Madara snapped on reflex. "And there is no way in hell I’m letting that albino bastard get the better of me. Find out when he gets back in country…and get Harogomo on the line, I’m gonna need his help.“
Izuna just signed heavily and rubbed his face with his palms. "Oh, Sage save us all from dumbass brothers with a grudge…”
(“You know, I’m not sure I’d qualify Madara’s feelings as a ‘grudge” as this point,“ Saburo said, sotto voce, to his brother, careful not to draw Izuna or Madara’s attention.
"Ugh, I really don’t want to think about it,” Shiro complained, a frown creasing his brow. "And Goro is way too young to hear this.“
"Too young to hear about what?” Goro asked, lifting his eyes away from his phone for the first time in an hour. Saburo and Shiro looked at Goro, then at each other, then back to Goro.
“Adult stuff,” Shiro advised.
“Worse,” Saburo drawled. ”Madara stuff.“
“Oh, never mind then,” Goro muttered in disgust, looking back at his phone.
Saburo and Shiro surreptitiously traded high-fives. The Talk: successfully averted until Madara’s next crisis!)
*pulls on camo gear, gathers military weaponry, body armour, and helmet* Ok guys. We know this time of year would come back soon enough. Swooping season. We've lost good people over the last few years, but I know that if we stick together we can do this. *glances outside* they're already gathering. We've prepared you all we can. Pray to whatever gods you believe in that we all make it out of here alive.