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Adrien groaned. The acrid smell of smoke burnt his nostrils as he struggled to get his eyes open. He wasn’t usually so tired even mid-battle.

He didn’t usually hurt so much.

His hand -- and it was a hand, with carefully manicured fingernails and not his familiar claws -- grasped onto the equally familiar jacket lapels.

Struggling to focus, Adrien’s fingers gripped the soft wool. He’d frowned at the familiar, expensive material, registering the higher quality feel to the fabric. It was not something he’d expect on someone rescuing people from a battle zone.

Fleetingly he’d wondered if it might be his father’s suit jacket, as he struggled to open his eyes. But that just wasn’t possible. Why would his father be out of the house, in the middle of a battle?

Dimly, Adrien registered the muffled din of sirens and voices echoing above his ear.

He panicked, trying to find Ladybug. He might be okay, but where had she gone?

Was she still back in the building?

Reaching out blindly, scrambling against the grip. “No.”

He whimpered as he was restrained. Something was wrong.

He should be stronger than this.

He shouldn’t be anywhere else but at her side.

It was some time later when he woke up in a hospital bed, sedated, disoriented, and wearing only a drafty hospital gown.

He felt naked enough with the nominal coverage from the hospital gown and the thin sheet for modesty, but the lack of his ring on his finger was entirely disconcerting.

“Excuse me?” He murmured, catching the attention of the nurse sent in to check his vitals. “Where did all my stuff go?”

“Standard procedure, I’m afraid.” The nurse smiled ruefully. “All of your personal effects, jewelry included, is stored away for safekeeping until you are ready to leave. It’s mostly to prevent theft since not everyone is awake all the time while they are here.”

He blinked. Was it even possible for someone else to take it off him? He didn’t think anyone would be able to take the ring off unless he had given it up willingly? There had been enough close calls that even Plagg had mentioned it once or twice.

“Is there any chance I can my ring back? It’s kind of a sentimental item, and I think it will help calm me down.”

The nurse smiled, tucking a small notepad into her pocket. “No promises, but I will go check, okay?”

It was scarcely fifteen minutes later that Nathalie -- a bit more out of sorts than usual -- had entered the room, carrying the dull silver ring. She had arched a brow upward, but otherwise had set it into his hand. “The nurses said you asked for this back?”

Adrien plastered a smile on his face, hoping she’d be a bit too distracted to notice, noticing the ring looked a bit more tarnished than usual. “Yeah. It kind of helps me calm down.”

She sighed, handing it over to him, the metal heavy and cool in his palm.

“How did you end up inside the Museum, anyways?”

He blanched. “The last thing I remember, there was an Akuma attack.”

“You darted out of the car several blocks away.” Nathalie pressed her lips together. “It took us some time to find you, and even then it was only after the hospital had identified you and tried to call your father.”

Adrien shook his head, raking his fingers through his hair, trying to assembled the scattered maze of memories in his own mind. “Sorry. I’m not really sure that I can remember all that much.”

He leaned back into the bed when Nathalie headed off, declaring the need to fill out even more paperwork for his stay.

Adrien wasted no time. As soon as the door clicked shut, he tried to call Plagg out to talk.

He frowned, sitting up as much as he could manage with the array of tubes in his hand. If Plagg wouldn’t come out, he could always try to force him to come back out after detransforming.

But it was no use. Plagg didn’t come out.

And he could shout all he liked, but it didn’t bring the Black leather suit and unrestrained propensity for puns.

Just a bunch of very concerned nurses.

He sighed, dropping his head back onto the pillow. This whole situation was troubling, and he was having the worst time trying to make sense of it.

When he had woken up on that morning, not a single thing seemed any different from any other.

Just barely after dawn, Nathalie knocked on his door. A summer storm plinked heavy, noisy droplets against his bay windows, bringing him to drowsy awareness mere minutes before her alarm had come.

Dutifully, he had gotten up and started the usual morning regimen. Plagg had been devouring every morsel of Camembert he could sink his tiny teeth into, as he perused the Ladyblog.

Not half an hour later, they were in the car on the way to a photoshoot when the sirens started to blare.

By the time Chat Noir had neared the scene, Ladybug was already waiting across the street from City Hall talking to an older Asian man on the roof.

“Are you ready?”

Ladybug looked...worried. More worried than he had ever seen her. “Do I really have a choice?” she answered.

He frowned, stroking fingers over his beard. “No. I am not sure that you do.”

Chat landed eyes, narrowed in concern. A civilian observer was unusual enough, but Ladybug had clearly been talking strategy. “What did I miss?”

“How much trouble we are in, I suppose.”

His eyes widened, meeting her blue ones.

“Hawkmoth is here.”

Adrien had dressed again, the nurses rushing him back into Nathalie’s care to be discharged.

He was dimly aware, nodding as they ran through a long list of discharge instructions. Following Nathalie dutifully to the car and back into the safe cage that was his room.

But luckily the internet would have updates from the battle.

He knew that they had fought. For hours it had seemed.

Ladybug had kept looking back at that civilian. Making sure he was safe.

They kept having to de-transform and re-energize.

If he had known it would be the last time he would see his Lady as Chat Noir, he would have fought harder. The last time he would hear Plagg’s voice, alternating between concern and chiding, he would have pushed himself to the brink

He would have given anything to have that all back.

Would have pushed himself harder. Right up to his very limit, until the smoke forced him out and away.

He was terrified that Ladybug had still been in the building, until the news reported -- almost a full day later -- that only one body had been recovered, that of an old man. He was saddened by the news, of course. He never wanted anyone to die because he couldn’t move fast enough.

It must have been the old man, the one he had seen with Ladybug

That guilt weighed on his conscience, as heavy as the permanently silver ring that remained heavy and lifeless on his knuckle.

No matter the transformation words or poses, no matter how many piles of Camembert.

He just hadn’t known that last blast would knock him out.

And when he woke up, untransformed and gasping in the smoke filled air, everything that had made his life so altered and amazing had been gone.

Except for one little thing.

Unfortunately, that took away all the rest of the people that made boring old Adrien Agreste feel special, too.

His shoulders fell as he dropped uselessly back into the desk chair.

If only he had known how everything would end, there was so much he would have changed.

So much more he would have done.