Adrien’s feet smacked hard against the cement. His breath came in deep painful gasps. The warm May sun glared oppressively on his sweaty neck and shoulders. His heart pounded in his ears, but he was acutely aware of all the sounds surrounding him: the distant traffic, the birds fluttering on the telephone lines, the low chattering of people walking past. He ignored them and continued to race toward the park and beyond, to the large cement building which, though it may look like a prison to some, was his hope for freedom. He was running like his life depended on it.
If I don’t get there in time... But I have to!
Arriving at the park, he checked himself and glanced hastily around for any sign of the familiar sleek black car which was supposed to chauffeur him everywhere he went. It was nowhere in sight, so he dashed ahead, weaving his way around the few people strolling along the path: a couple holding hands, a mother pushing her baby in a stroller, a young man jogging with his dog.
He clutched at the stitch in his side and pushed himself still harder as he felt his energy slack. He had mere seconds remaining!
He raced around the corner and the shadow of the school building fell over him. Waiting at the base of the front steps sat the familiar black car which belonged to his father. Standing outside the car his father’s assistant, Nathalie, stared up at the front doors anticipating his exit from the school when the final bell rang.
He swallowed hard and darted down the nearest street, out of sight, ran up to a side entrance and made it into the school just as the bell rang.
“Phew!” he sighed, as all down the hallway classroom doors opened and students came pouring out. He put on his most casual expression and started walking amongst the crowd toward his chemistry class, where he would need to retrieve his book bag before finally going to catch his ride home.
“What am I going to tell her this time?” Adrien lamented under his breath. He’d already used up every excuse in the book, and even invented a few gems of his own.
“I don’t know, but whatever it is, make it fast. I’m starving!” The small voice of Plagg, his Kwami, griped from my jacket pocket. Plagg looked like a cross between a black kitten with an oversized head and a bug. A very cute bug with large, green, almost human eyes and chubby cheeks. But Adrien would never tell him this. Plagg thought of himself as impressive and powerful, which he truly was, and being called cute might offend him.
Adrien turned his mind back to figuring out how to excuse his absence from most of Chemistry class. Whatever he told Ms. Mendeleiev, it couldn’t be the truth.
What had actually happened was that, right as the class started receiving a lecture on the noble gasses, he had noticed strange flashes of light in the distance out the classroom window. When he looked more carefully, he could tell by the unnatural color of the light, and the fact that the source seemed to be moving up the street, that it must me an akumatized person. Someone who, in the grip of despair or anger, had been overtaken by the power of Hawkmoth and turned into a supervillain.
He had made a hasty excuse of needing to use the restroom and hurried outside. The moment he was alone, he’d called on Plagg to transform him into Chat Noir, one of Paris’ greatest superheroes.
He’d spent the next twenty minutes fighting a crazed, delusional, akumatized girl who seemed to want to transform everyone in Paris into a puppy. Every time she made a transformation, a strange pink or sparkly blue light flashed; this was what he had noticed through the classroom window.
Fifteen minutes into the fight his partner showed up. Ladybug, as powerful and skilled as she was mysterious and beautiful, discovered where the evil akuma was hiding, and they were finally able to release the akuma and save the little girl, who had been distraught that her puppy had run away. With her final spell, Ladybug, was able to put everything right again and the two of them were free to return to their normal lives.
He couldn’t tell any of this to his teacher, however. Because his true identity had to be kept a secret. So he needed to come up with some other lame excuse why he had been in the bathroom for so long.
Adrien raised his hand to wipe the sweat from his forehead, but stopped, struck by sudden inspiration. Instead, he pushed the door open to Ms. Mendeliev’s classroom and let all the weariness he was feeling show on his face. He was still flushed from running for the past half hour, his blonde hair was streaked with sweat and sticking to his forehead, and he was still breathing rather heavily.
Ms. Mendeleiev, nevertheless, eyed him suspiciously as He entered the now empty classroom.
“So, Adrien, you’ve decided to return to class after all?”
“I’m sorry. I think something I ate must not have agreed with me.”
“And last week you had an urgent phone call you had to make to your father. And before that you forgot your textbook in your locker, and it took you an hour to retrieve it!”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
“And it’s not just in my class, young man. I’ve had a talk with your other teachers, and they all report the same problem. Running out in the middle of lessons, or not showing up at all! What would your father say if he found out you were cutting classes?”
“Please! Please don’t bother my father with this! It’s honestly just a misunderstanding! I swear. I really do feel unwell.”
“Well, there’s one way to tell for sure,” Ms. Mendeleiev said curtly. She stalked over to her desk and pulled out the classroom’s first aid kit, opened it up, and pulled out a shiny black strip of plastic. “This is a thermometer. If you really are sick, we’ll soon find out.”
She held the plastic up to his forehead, it was cold against his skin. Adrien’s mind raced, trying to figure out what to do if he wasn’t warm enough to register a fever.
“Honestly, you children need to take your education more seriously. How do you expect to learn anything if you’re always running out of class to play, or buy candy, or kiss under the bleachers, or whatever it is you’re doing?” Ms. Mendeleiev grumbled, still holding the plastic thermometer to his forehead. “In all my years of teaching I never knew any student who skipped out as much as you do. Except maybe Marinette. That girl cuts class every chance she gets. Is she the one you’re running off to see all the time?”
“M-Marinette?” Adrien stammered, hardly registering what she was implying. Marinette was a shy, awkward girl who he’d known ever since he started attending this school. His best friend, Nino, was dating her best friend, Alya, so he did end up spending time with her in groups. But they never really seemed to be able to make a connection. She was a nice girl, but didn’t seem very sure of herself. So it was difficult to really get to know her.
“If you two want to have your little romantic rendezvous,” Ms. Mendeleiev continued, “I’ll thank you not to have them during school hours. If this kind of nonsense continues I’ll be forced to bring it to your parent’s’ attention.”
“But-But I’m not.”
She held up a finger to silence him and squinted down at the thermometer. “Well, it does appear that you have a low grade fever...this time.”
Just then the door burst open and in came Nino, Adrien’s best friend and, metaphorically in this circumstance, lifesaver.
“There you are!” Nino exclaimed, looking relieved. “Dude, I’ve been looking everywhere for you! I grabbed your book bag for you when you didn’t come back during class.”
“Well, you may go now.” Ms. Mendeleiev said curtly. “But let this be a warning for you. I won’t stand for any more tardiness or unexcused absences. You’re a senior this year, and if you expect to graduate you need to attend your classes.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Adrien turned to Nino with an appreciative smile and took the book bag from his outstretched hand. “Thanks.”
“So, what happened, man? Where’d you go?” Nino asked, as soon as the door closed behind them.
“I don’t know,” Adrien grimaced, “It must have been the bouillabaisse I ate last night or something. I’m starting to feel better now, though.”
“Well, that’s good, at least... that you’re feeling better, I mean.” Nino chuckled. “So, I was wondering. Or, actually, Alya was wondering, if you might be able to get out of fencing lessons today. You see, she and Marinette want to go catch a movie. But Alya wants me to come, too. And she’s worried that Marinette might feel like a third wheel, you know? So if you came along, it would be more like a group thing and Marinette wouldn’t feel so awkward if I was there. What do you think?”
“Hmmm...” Adrien frowned as they exited the school, among the last stragglers left in the building. “I don’t know, Nino. My dad is pretty insistent that I always go to my classes.”
“I know, but it couldn’t hurt to try, right? You could at least ask...Hey, I know! Maybe you could tell your dad that you want to take a girl on a date? He’s got to want you to start seeing a girl sooner or later.”
“A date? You want me to tell my dad that I’m going on a date with Marinette?”
“Well, since I’m dating Alya, Marinette is the only other option.” Nino rolled his eyes as though Adrien was missing the obvious.
They paused at the top of the last flight of steps. Nathalie had opened the back door of the car for Adrien and was standing by, waiting for him to get in. He waved at her to say that he would be there in a moment.
“Somehow, I think that telling my dad it’s a date will make him less likely to let me skip fencing.”
“I’ll ask him. But I’ll just tell him the truth. I’ll give you a call to let you know what he says, okay?”
On the way home in the car, Adrien surreptitiously took out a piece of Camembert cheese he had stashed in his book bag and poked it into his inside jacket pocket. Plagg snatched it and began devouring it quietly while Adrien pulled out some of his books and notes and pretended to study, turning pages and shuffling papers to disguise the sound of the little kwami chewing.
A date with Marinette? The thought came unbidden into his mind, as though it had been waiting under the surface, ready to bubble up as soon as he had a moment to dwell on it.
The idea wasn’t entirely unappealing, if he admitted it to himself. She was a pretty girl. And, it was impossible not to notice, she thought a lot of him. But most girls were infatuated with his fashion model, wealthy man’s son, image. He figured it would just take a while for that to wear off, and then she could really get to know who he was. And when that happened, he could really get to know her. Still, he doubted whether she could ever hold one hundredth of the attraction for him as another girl he knew. Another girl who, if he came to think of it, Marinette reminded him of a bit, if only in appearance. Perhaps that was one reason the idea of a date with Marinette intrigued him, why he found himself looking at her in class sometimes when his mind wandered. She reminded him of his superheroine partner, Ladybug.
Ladybug...He smiled softly. It hadn’t taken long at all for her to steal his heart completely. Their very first day working together, her confidence in the face of adversity, her boldness in confronting evil, her cleverness in battling akumatized victims, even the gracefulness of her movement captivated him.
Ever since that day he had been desperate to convince her how completely he loved her. He’d never managed to quite get the words out, but he made it no secret. Still, no matter how flamboyant he was, or how much he tried to joke with her and make her laugh, or how chivalrous he behaved toward her, she dismissed all of his affection as mischievous playfulness and demanded that he focus on their work.
He had thought, for a while, that he might discover who she really was under the mask. If he knew her true identity, they might be able to spend more time together. And maybe he could win her heart. But she was vehemently opposed to this idea, insisting that their true identities must remain a secret, even to one another.
Sure, Adrien had thought of many arguments against this. If they knew each other’s identities, they could help one another, covering for each other’s mysterious disappearances. If one of them discovered an akumatized person, they could call or send a text to the other’s cell phone to alert them. And they could spend more time together formulating plans on how to find and defeat Hawkmoth.
But, he understood her reason for secrecy, even if she didn’t say it. What if one of them ended up akumatized at some point? Adrien shuddered, he didn’t know how much Hawkmoth could control his victims. But if he, Adrien, was ever under his influence, would he really be able to resist telling Hawkmoth everything he knew? He’d been mind-controlled by Hawkmoth’s victims before, several times, and he had no control of himself, and no memory of his actions once the spells were broken. How could he be sure he would keep Ladybug safe if Hawkmoth akumatized him? The only way to be sure was to not have the dangerous information in the first place.
The car approached the gate to his father’s estate and his bodyguard, “the gorilla” as Adrien thought of him because of his massive size and stoic nature, punched in the key code and the gate slowly swung open.
The Agreste estate was the most prominent building on the hillside, and in the neighborhood, and even in the entire residential district. Built like a fortress, with all the latest technological defenses and luxuries, it should have felt like living in an extravagant resort. But to Adrien, it mostly just felt cold and lonely. It was better, now that he had Plagg to keep him company. But his father barely had time to notice that his son existed. And, while Adrien loved his father, he couldn’t help feeling resentful.
The car stopped at the top of the hill, Adrien thanked the Gorilla and Nathalie for the ride and made his way to his room, closing the door for some privacy.
Plagg flew out of his jacket, darted toward the tray of snacks left out for Adrien, and began munching on another wedge of cheese.
“You know,” Plagg said, “Your friend might have a point. About convincing your father to have the evening free, I mean.”
“You need to take a break once in a while like anybody, right? Maybe if your dad thought you had a girlfriend, he might ease up a little bit.”
Adrien sighed. “Plagg, if you’ve learned anything about my father, you should have learned that ‘easing up’ basically isn’t in his vocabulary.” He glanced at the clock; he had two hours until his fencing lesson.
Adrien dropped his bag and went to his bathroom to take a quick shower and wash off all the sweat and dust from the day’s adventure. When he was done, he changed into clean clothes and sat down to begin his History homework. With all the private tutors he’d had before beginning public school, most of what he was learning was review anyway.
“Well,” Plagg continued, picking up the conversation as though it hadn’t been interrupted, “it couldn’t really hurt to try, right? And maybe you’ll like Marinette more than you think.”
“What?” Adrien shook his head in confusion. “I like Marinette just fine. She’s a nice person. And I promised Nino I would ask. So I will.” He eyed the little kwami suspiciously. But Plagg just shrugged and grabbed another chunk of cheese.
Adrien finished his history homework quickly and moved on to Chemistry while Plagg started flipping through the channels on the television. Chemistry was a bit more difficult for him, since this material was new and he’d missed the whole class. He read the chapter in his book through a couple of times, and did some research on the internet to figure out parts that were confusing.
“...because once again, the great heroes of Paris have saved the day!” a reporter announced from the television, breaking into Adrien’s concentration.
“Thank you, June. And in case you’re just tuning in, Ladybug and Chat Noir were seen today near the Champs Elysees, rescuing yet another victim of the notorious supervillain, Hawkmoth.”
Adrien looked up at the television, and saw shaky footage of himself and Ladybug, tiny in the screen, jumping around and dodging the pink and blue beams of light the little girl was shooting at them. Seeing himself as Chat Noir always amazed him. He could scarcely believe that he was able to jump so high, or perform such acrobatics, or withstand such beatings. He certainly couldn’t do anything like it without Plagg. The little kwami imbued him with an enormous amount of power and skill when he transformed him into Chat Noir.
“The citizens of Paris are exceedingly grateful for the ongoing vigilance of our two superheroes. But we have to ask ourselves, when will these attacks ever end?”
Adrien stopped listening to the news report and focused on finishing his homework. The reporters always said the same thing: “Thank you so much. But why haven’t you defeated Hawkmoth, yet? When will these attacks stop?” He wished he had an answer for them.
He and Ladybug had been trying to work out who Hawkmoth was for years, with little success. They knew it had to be someone who had access to the moth kwami, Nooroo. But, according to Plagg, and Ladybug’s kwami, Tikki, Nooroo was being influenced by a dark energy. Hatred, or despair, or grief so powerful it turned Nooroo’s power into a force for evil. Hawkmoth probably lived in isolation, or isolated himself from the people around him at every opportunity. He might have in his possession other artifacts related to the kwamis. And he might show some sort of fascination or obsession with Ladybug and Chat Noir.
They had discovered that the reason Hawkmoth wanted their miraculouses - Ladybug’s earrings and Chat’s ring, with which they bonded to their kwamis and accessed their power - was so that he could use their combined power to grant a wish. What that wish might be, however, was still a mystery. But, with the way their power worked, every action would have an equal and opposite reaction. If Hawkmoth wished to gain power, for instance, someone else would have to lose power. If he wished for wealth, someone would become impoverished. If he wished for a long life, someone’s life would be cut short.
Adrien finished the last line of his essay, tucked his homework into his bag with a sigh, and glanced again at his clock.
“I guess I’d better go now, if I’m going to go at all.”
“That’s the spirit!” Plagg chimed, flitting over to Adrien and tucking himself into his inside pocket.
Adrien paused a moment to grab a few small pieces of cheese, wrap them in wax paper, and tuck them into another pocket, out of reach of his kwami. He’d been caught too many times without food, and he couldn’t transform into Chat Noir if Plagg was hungry. But he also knew what a greedy little glutton Plagg was. If he could reach the cheese, he’d eat it all before he really needed it.
Adrien made his way up to his father’s study, through many empty rooms and long lonely hallways. It almost seemed eerie that his footsteps didn’t echo in the vast open spaces, but the rich carpeting throughout the estate made him as quiet as a cat wherever he went.
When he arrived, he knocked tentatively on the door, suddenly feeling quite nervous.
“Yes, come in,” his father’s voice called. The door opened, and Nathalie motioned for him to enter.
“Adrien,” Gabriel Agreste, Adrien’s father, said his name in monotone nearly void of all emotion. “What can I do for you?” This was also said in monotone, but Adrien thought he caught a hint of, “what do you want? Hurry up so I can get back to what I was doing.”
“I...I was wondering... Some of my friends are going to see a movie today. And they invited me to come, if I could make it. I was wondering if it would be okay for me to miss fencing, just for today, so I could go with them?”
“Hmm, I’m not sure that’s a good idea. You know how important it is to keep up with your practice. And once you start missing practice to run off and have fun, it’s difficult to stop the next time. No, you will go to your fencing lesson unless something really important comes up.”
Adrien bowed his head and started to turn. But then he thought about what Nino had said. That Alya was bringing Marinette. But Marinette would feel awkward, like a third wheel, maybe even feel unwelcome unless he came. How would he, Adrien, feel if he went somewhere with Nino and Alya and the two of them were absorbed in one another, leaving him to feel like he really shouldn’t be there. Even though they were both good friends and would never mean for that to happen, it surely would. And Marinette was his friend, too. He had to try a little harder, for her sake.
“Yes?” Gabriel lifted his eyes from the computer screen in front of him, seeming slightly confused that his son was still in the room.
“You see... the thing is...,” Adrien felt himself blushing furiously and looked down at his feet. “There’s this girl coming and... It’s kind of a date. A double date....” He paused and dared to glance up at his father, whose face was as expressionless as stone. “My friend is taking his girlfriend. And I would be going with a girl from school... I really want to go. Please?”
Gabriel regarded his son for a long moment, saying nothing. If Adrien had looked around, he might have seen that Nathalie was staring at him, somewhat in shock. Then Gabriel sighed, folded his hands, and leaned forward.
“Adrien, if you want to ask this girl out, I suggest you schedule your date around your other obligations, not vice versa. I’m afraid the lady in question will just have to be disappointed today.”
He leaned back and gave his computer his full attention again.
Adrien turned and slowly walked out of the room.