Ladybug's mind was a whirling storm of emotions, memories, confusion, and inner turmoil as she swung through the unfamiliar cityscape, ignoring the dozens of bystanders below snapping photos of her, pointing in awe.
Adrien Agreste, the boy of her dreams, the most perfect, gorgeous, polite, kind, sensitive, intelligent boy in all of Paris...could very well also be the corny, flirtatious, obnoxious Chat Noir.
It...it just wasn't possible, right? And yet...
Adrien was in Tokyo.
Chat Noir was in Tokyo.
Her instincts told her it was no coincidence. The way the Sailor Soldiers refused to meet her gaze, didn't deny it when the subject came up...
Ladybug found cover half a block from her hotel and changed back, thankful her parents had gotten a separate room for her even though they were probably still out shopping and exploring. As soon as she was safely behind a locked door, Marinette flopped onto the room's plush love seat and sighed.
Tikki floated beside her. "Are you okay?" she asked.
"Yeah, I'm..." Marinette shook her head. "No, Tikki, I'm confused. I'm kind of freaking out here. I mean...is he? Is Adrien Chat Noir?"
"I don't know," Tikki said. "But it's a strange coincidence, him being here, Chat Noir being here."
"Yeah." Marinette stood up and started pacing. "I...I can't believe it, but..."
"But?" Tikki prompted.
"But the more I think about it, the more I start remembering stuff," Marinette said. "Stuff I should've noticed a long time ago."
"Well...remember when my great-uncle was Akumatized? The hotel was sealed off, but Chat Noir was there." Marinette frowned. "Now, it's a hotel, there's a lot of people in a hotel, but..." She shook her head. "And then there was Horrificator."
Tikki frowned. "Yeah," she said slowly. "Now that you mention it, what was Chat Noir doing at your school when it was supposed to be empty except for your class and Director Damocles?"
"Right," Marinette said, nodding firmly. "And then there was Adrien's shoe. It didn't have any of that pink slime next to it. Like..." Her eyes widened. "Exactly like the phone I planted to make it look like Horrificator got me."
"So you think Adrien did the same thing with his shoe?"
"If he's Chat Noir, that's exactly what he did," Marinette said. She groaned. "Why did it never occur to me to wonder how Chat Noir got inside a totally sealed off school?"
"Well, you did kind of have other problems at the time," Tikki said placatingly.
"Yeah, but that's the kind of thing I should've noticed," Marinette replied. She stopped suddenly, then groaned. "Speaking of things I should've noticed," she muttered.
"Adrien's always running off in class or showing up late, just like me," Marinette said. "I know sometimes it's because of his modeling, but..." She shook her head. "Mademoiselle Sancoeur would've started scheduling his photo shoots around school hours, I know because, well..." She blushed. "So yeah, when he up and disappears—"
"Kind of like you do?"
"Yeah..." Marinette sat down again, heaving a tremendous sigh. "Great," she moaned, covering her face with both hands. "The boy of my dreams is a dorky alley cat."
Tikki perched on her tummy. "Is that so bad?" she asked quietly. Marinette spread her fingers to peer down at her with one eye. "Marinette, the Ladybug and the Black Cat are two halves of a whole. It's always been that way. Every single Ladybug and Chat Noir ever have been connected." She paused, then added, "Besides, remember Copycat? Didn't that whole thing happen because Chat Noir—"
"Told Theo we're a thing," Marinette finished, cheeks reddening. "Oh my gosh, Adrien said that..." She paused, frowning. "Okay, so he lied and caused Theo to be Akumatized, which is not cool, but..." She shook her head.
"All I'm saying is if you start going out with Adrien, and he really is Chat Noir, at least you won't have to deal with, y'know, a jealous tomcat going after your boyfriend."
Marinette grimaced. "Thanks for that, Tikki," she said flatly. Sighing, she flopped over on her side. "So what do I do? Do I go up to Adrien and say 'oh by the way, are you Chat Noir?'"
Tikki shrugged. "It's up to you," she said. "I think you're at the point where you can make that choice by yourself now."
"I'm gonna take a nap," Marinette decided. She curled up in a ball on the love seat and closed her eyes.
Tikki smiled down at her, then nestled into the crook of her neck. "It'll work out," she whispered fondly. "It'll all work out."
* * * * *
While some of the girls had helped Makoto clean up and Usagi had retreated to a corner to read manga, Ami and Twilight huddled over the living room table, equipment and diagrams spread out before them. Kim, Ron, and Sonata, finding themselves with nothing of worth to do, settled onto the sofa and channel-surfed.
As the sun began to set, Ami and Twilight emerged from their deep nerding. "Well, we think we've figured out where the crystal is," Twilight announced.
Everyone focused their attention on the two scientists.
Ami adjusted her glasses. "I fed Sparkle-san's data through the Mercury Computer," she said. "We were able to pinpoint the magical signature of two Rainbow Monkey Crystals within Tokyo. One of them is the one you brought with you. The other, we've located at Yamagoto Plaza."
Makoto winced. "Uhh...you realize how big Yamagoto Plaza is, right? I mean, you took away a whole lot of the hay, but that's still a pretty big haystack to search."
"Yes, but there's more," Twilight said. "The Crystal is moving. Somebody has it."
The others looked around at each other.
"That's...gonna be a problem, isn't it?" Ron asked.
"Well, at best, it means we have to find out who has the crystal and convince them to give it up," Mamoru said, frowning. "At worst, well..." He sighed. "Yamagoto Plaza is a shopping complex and a hotel. That means whoever has it..."
"Likely won't be there long," Ami finished. "Unless they're one of the hotel's permanent residents, but we can't afford to assume that." She pushed her glasses up. "We're going to have to get that crystal as quickly as possible if we want to avoid having to chase one person to God knows where."
Kim frowned. "Can you figure out who has it once we're in?"
"Working on it," Twilight said. "I may have to build a second scanner, that could take a few hours."
"Do whatever you need to," Kim said. "We need to get that crystal and move on to the next dimension as soon as we can." She blinked, looking around. "Not that you guys haven't been great! We really appreciate your hospitality and all, it's just—"
"We get it," Minako said with a smile. "You've got a world to save. We know the sitch."
"I'll get right on that tracker," Twilight said.
"I'll help," Ami offered.
* * * * *
Night fell over Tokyo.
At the Ladybird Hotel, the Dupain-Cheng family had dinner together, Marinette talking excitedly about her plans to go sightseeing with Adrien the next day while concealing her conflicting thoughts and feelings about what she had learned.
Ami and Twilight remained at Mamoru's apartment to work while everyone else had spread out and gone home. Mamoru slipped out as his alter ego, Tuxedo Kamen, to patrol the night for trouble.
Adrien Agreste could barely sleep, excited for what the next day would bring, mind whirling with the possibility that his amazing (and cute) friend Marinette could very well be the girl behind the mask...his Ladybug, the girl he loved.
And Le Papillon...well, even supervillains sleep.
* * * * *
After struggling to figure out which line she needed to ride, getting aggravated, and wasting fifteen minutes fretting about being late meeting Adrien and the myriad ways he would react (ranging from refusing to speak to her to leaving a bad Yelp review of the boulangerie to becoming Akumatized and attacking her), Marinette finally decided to transform into Ladybug and take the direct aerial route to Yamagoto Plaza, where she and Adrien had agreed to meet shortly after nine in the morning to spend the day sightseeing.
At five minutes to nine, Ladybug dropped into a rail station, wandered into a water closet, and emerged as Marinette. Five people saw her. None of them cared. After all, this was Japan. Marinette whistled cheerfully to herself, largely to calm her jangling nerves, as she made her way to Yamagoto Plaza, keeping her eyes peeled for the ornamental statue Adrien had sent her a picture of, which was to be their meeting place.
"There it is," Tikki whispered from Marinette's purse. Following her gaze, Marinette headed for the statue, finding several benches situated around its base. Seeing no sign of Adrien, she sat down, drumming her fingers nervously on her knees.
Ten minutes later, Adrien walked up briskly. "Sorry I'm late," he panted breathlessly. "Got caught up." He looked Marinette over, a faint blush dusting his cheeks. "You uhh...you look really cute today," he said.
Marinette had chosen to wear pink and black pinstripe tights, black flats, a cherry blossom pink pleated skirt with black trim, a dark pink crop top, and a light pink half-jacket with a matching beret. She blushed prettily, wringing her hands. "Th-thank you," she said. "Umm, you look...you look great too." She took Adrien in; he was wearing more or less the same clothes he always did, but his hair and skin were as flawless as ever, his green eyes gorgeous, his smile perfect... *It's not true, is it? He isn't...* But her mind messed up Adrien's perfect hair, made it tousled and wild, and gave his gorgeous eyes and perfect smile a mischievous twinkle and a rakish tilt.
"Umm..." Adrien scratched his cheek. "So, uhh...ready to get going?"
"Huh? Oh...yes," Marinette said, standing up and smoothing out her skirt. "So, umm...where are we going?"
"Well," Adrien said thoughtfully, "I gotta admit I'm kind of interested in checking out Tokyo Tower. I mean, I know we've got pretty much the same thing back in Paris, but..." His smile took on a teasing edge. "As long as we're here, we might as well get an Eiffel."
Marinette gave him a blank, half-lidded stare. After a long moment, she facepalmed. "Ugh," she muttered. "That was bad, minou."
Adrien shrugged, jamming his hands in his pockets. "What can I say? I'm always trying to reach new hei—" He broke off, his eyes wide. "Umm. Did you just—"
"Yeah," Marinette said roughly, nodding.
Adrien's surprised expression changed to one of wonder. "So you are—"
"Yeah," Marinette said again. She swallowed. "You...figured it out?"
"Well, it's...it's a bit too much of a coincidence," Adrien said. "Both of us being..."
"Yeah, it...it kind of is," Marinette agreed. They both laughed self-consciously.
Adrien took hold of Marinette's hands, prompting a full-on blush. "I've...I've wanted to know for so long who you really are," he said.
Marinette ducked her head. "And now that you do?"
Adrien brushed his fingers through her hair. "I'll follow you anywhere in the world, My Lady. If you'll let me."
Marinette let out a funny little squeak, but her eyes shone brightly. "O-okay," she said. She looked into his eyes, then ducked her gaze again. "But, umm...maybe we should just...do some sightseeing. And...and later...we have a lot to talk about."
* * * * *
The north end of Yamagoto Plaza was home to Yamagoto Stageplex, a concert venue which mostly hosted idol groups signed to various business partners of the Yamagoto Group.
An early morning special appearance by popular idol unit Next HarMEOWny was well underway at Yamagoto Stageplex, with a crowd of adoring fans gathered around the stage. One fan, a scrawny, plain, messy-haired NEET wearing baggy sweats, suddenly crawled up onto the stage, pulling brightly-colored garments out of a backpack. "Wear these!" he cried to the girls, who stopped singing and turned to him, backing away in confusion. Stagehands began scrambling as the director and the group's manager spoke rapidly into radios. The crowd yelled at him to get off the stage, many whipping out phones to record the disturbance. He ignored them, throwing lacy, silky, diaphanous pieces of costume clothing at the girls.
A pair of bright red panties landed on one idol's head. She screamed.
The stagehands finally managed to tackle the man and haul him away, with him screaming encouragements and demands to wear his costumes at the girls all the while. More stagehands furiously gathered up the scattered bits of clothing, and after five minutes, the concert continued.
In the security office, the NEET sat on a steel chair, head bowed. His phone hadn't been confiscated; he sat reviewing the pictures he'd taken before he'd been hauled away.
A purple-black butterfly landed on his phone, and a dark shadow spread across his face.
Otaku. I am Le Papillon. Your passion for idols is an inspiration. Go forth and fill this city with your dreams of perfect idol groups! In return, I ask only that you bring me the Miraculous—Ladybug's earrings, Chat Noir's ring!
Otaku chuckled darkly as an oily purple-black mist roiled across his body. "Yes, Papillon," he said.
* * * * *
At half past nine, Twilight, Ami, Rei, and Kim arrived at Yamagoto Plaza. "Spankin' mall," Kim observed as she looked around the shopping complex.
"Tourist trap," Rei commented.
"Really?" Twilight asked, frowning. "But I see a lot of Neighponese—"
"Tourists don't only come from other countries, Sparkle-san."
"Actually, a lot of locals shop here too," Ami said absently as she studied the screen of her phone; she and Twilight had made adjustments to their scanning equipment so that it sent data to her phone via Bluetooth, eliminating the need to openly wave around their little science experiment. "It's like any mall. Lots of stores selling overpriced stuff, a number of places to get food or drinks, some entertainment facilities—"
"There's a cinema, an idol stage, an event hall, and a bowling alley," Rei interpreted in a bored tone. "Also two arcades."
"I'm getting something," Ami said. "The Rainbow Monkey Crystal is..." She frowned. "Executive suites, second floor from the top..."
Rei blinked. "Somebody that rich and important has it?" she asked.
"I'm also detecting a second magical signature in the immediate vicinity of the Crystal," Ami said. She put her phone away and pulled out her Mercury Computer, eyes narrowed as she tapped away intently. Her mouth pressed into a thin line. "The signature..." She looked at the others gravely. "It's identical to the Miraculous."
The others digested this. "Le Papillon?" Rei suggested.
"So it seems," Ami confirmed.
"Okay, so French archvillain staying in the executive suites and he has the thing we need," Kim said. "This just got interesting."
"We need to find Ladybug and Chat Noir," Rei said.
"Wait," Twilight said. "Before that, we need to get a list of everyone staying on that floor."
"French residents of those suites," Ami said, nodding. Her glasses reflected the overhead lights eerily. "I already thought of that." She sighed. "Chat Noir is not going to like what I have to tell him."
The girls looked at each other with unhappy frowns. Kim sighed. "Right," she said. "So first thing's first, we need to—"
Hundreds of female screams filled the plaza, a growing wave of noise that came out of nowhere and drew closer by the second. Twilight's eyes widened. "Wha—what's going on?"
"Akumatized," Ami said, frowning at her computer. "So that's why Le Papillon's Miraculous is active."
Rei pulled out her phone. "I'll call—"
A bright rainbow beam of light struck her.
She began spinning in place, her clothes exploding away from her body, revealing her naked glory to the world. New clothes formed on her body, beginning with brightly colored silk and lace underwear; when she stopped spinning, she was wearing a gauzy layered skirt in alternating shades of cream and seafoam, a top made almost entirely of pink and periwinkle ribbons, pink bicep-length gloves tied with dark pink ribbons at the top, and shiny pink platform shoes with pink ribbons. Satin cat ears perched atop her head, and her phone had turned into a microphone. She began dancing on the spot, twirling and singing.
Call me, call you, call RAINBOW SUNSHINE
Dancing makes me happy and I love it for you!
LOVE FOR YOU CALL LOVE FOREVER! Dancing Rainbow Sunshine!
The others stared at her. "Uhh...okay?" Kim said.
Twilight ducked behind Kim, quaking. "L-look," she said.
The plaza was full of young girls dressed in similarly garish outfits of clashing colors, all singing the same insipid song and dancing the same dance.
Ami hurriedly fired off a text to Marinette, then pulled out her henshin wand. "MERCURY CRYSTAL POWER, MAKE-"
The rainbow beam hit her before she could activate the protective energies of her transformation. In seconds, she was dancing right alongside Rei.
Kim and Twilight looked at each other, gulped nervously, and turned to run.
They didn't get far.
* * * * *
Marinette and Adrien emerged from a JR terminal, looking at the brightly colored signs and storefronts of Azabu-Juuban. "I wish we had more time here," Adrien said. "There's just so much to see."
"Yeah." Marinette took a shaky breath. "S-so...umm...there's still things I...still things I need to tell you. I mean, we talked about the whole, you know, superhero secret identity thing on the train, but..." She blushed and fidgeted with her purse. "I, umm...I still need to tell you something—"
Her phone vibrated in her purse. She almost ignored it and pushed on, but Tikki suddenly shot out of the bag, eyes wide and alarmed. "Akumatized at Yamagoto Plaza!" she said. "That was from Ami! They're in danger!"
"Ami?" Adrien asked.
"Sailor Mercury," Marinette said, her blush and stammer gone, replaced by the firm steel of Ladybug. She glanced around, then nodded to a narrow alley between a nail salon and a bookstore. Adrien nodded, and the two teens ducked into the alley.
"Tikki, spots on!"
"Plagg, claws out!"
Ladybug and Chat Noir blinked at each other once their transformations were finished. Ladybug covered her mouth and giggled. "Wh-what was with that pose, Adrien?" she laughed out. "And that claw thing at the end, are you a Pokemon now?"
"Oh, like you're one to talk," Chat Noir said. Leering, he added, "Love the thing you did with your leg there, very—"
Ladybug punched him in the face.
"New rule. We don't do that in front of each other ever again," she said, face as red as her mask. She whipped out her yo-yo and threw it at the nearest tall building. "Let's go!"
Chat Noir snickered as he extended his baton and followed. "Oh, I'm so not done teasing her about that leg thing," he said. "I don't care how many times she punches me in the face..."
* * * * *
In a small coffee shop in the heart of Yamagoto Plaza, three effeminate young men watched the chaos unfolding in the mall with worried frowns. "Is this...is this something we should get involved in?" the pale-haired of the three wondered.
"We're not even supposed to be here," the one with slightly messy, slightly curly dark hair pointed out. "Sailor Moon and her Soldiers can handle it."
"I'm not so sure about that," the third one said gravely. "Because I think I just saw one of them dance by."
They looked at each other. The pale-haired one sighed. "Guess we're up," he said. Headsets appeared on each man's left ear: microphones attached to an earpiece with a star-shaped ornament on the side and a gauzy, backswept angel wing at the top.
"FIGHTER STAR POWER..."
"HEALER STAR POWER..."
"MAKER STAR POWER..."