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Pray For the Children You Lost Along the Way

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Snow…

Icy snowflakes fell gently on Marinette's face, melting and leaving cold pinpricks of water behind. It took a moment for her eyes to focus, her head spinning. Why is it snowing? It's summer…

“Marinette! You're awake!” A light fluttering pressed to her cheek. A few more blinks brought the bright red of her Kwami into focus.

“Tikki?” Marinette sat up slowly, gently gathering the small being into her hand. She looked around at the unfamiliar, fog-shrouded surroundings. This wasn't Paris. “Where are we?”

“I'm not completely sure.” Tikki shook her head. “The signs are in English; I think we’re in America. It's too foggy to see much of the town. It seems small though, based on the nearby buildings.”

Marinette got to her feet, head beginning to clear. “Where is Chat Noir?” As she fully woke, the memories of the events before waking up here came flooding back; they'd actually seen Papillon. The akuma had been a teleporter, and they'd managed to utilise its power to trick it to taking them right back to its source.

She remembered seeing just a glimpse of that room, with the eerie window and the white butterflies everywhere and Papillon's shocked face, before the world seemed to churn and then--

And then she had woken up here.

“I don't know.” Tikki said worriedly. “I sense Plagg -- close-- at least somewhere in this town,” she paused, voice rising in pitch as she continued. “I should be able to tell what direction he is, but I can't!” Marinette had never heard her Kwami so distressed. Tikki was clearly very worried about her counterpart.

Comforting the ancient god of creation was an odd change of the status quo, but Marinette hugged Tikki to her face. “We'll find Plagg, Tikki. I promise.”

Tikki nodded with what may have been a sniffle. “You're right. I'm sorry Marinette.”

“It's okay, Tikki. Plagg's your partner, like Chat Noir is mine.” She gave her a reassuring smile. It was easier not to be panicked herself when she had someone else to comfort. She was almost glad for Tikki distracting her from her own nerves.

Tikki fluttered out of her hand and darted around the area. “I think… I think Plagg's presence is a little stronger this way.” She reported after checking the perimeter again, pointing down a street.

Marinette nodded, beginning to walk. “Should I transform?”

“I think it's best if you wait. If we think we see anyone then do it as quickly as possible, but I won't be able to tell you if I sense anything if I'm inside the miraculous.”

It made her a little nervous to be untransformed in an unfamiliar place like this, but Tikki was right. “Okay.” They fell into silence for a moment. It occurred to her that if Tikki could sense her counterpart, then she would have known who Chat Noir was if they ever passed by in the street. She couldn’t help but wonder if it had ever happened. He was near her age, did he go to collége nearby? Had he ever been to her parents bakery? Had Tikki known who he was even before Dark Owl?

She was the one who pressed them to keep their identities secret, but there was still a part of her that was curious. He was her best friend and partner, how could she not wonder who he was?

The snow was falling more heavily now. Her breath rose in puffs of mist in front of her, and Marinette shivered, hugging her arms to herself. “What’s with this weather? It’s not another akuma like Climatika is it?”

“No,” Tikki replied. Her voice sounded distracted as she flitted around, trying to make sure they were headed towards Plagg. “This place isn’t the work of a miraculous. Or any magic humans can wield. I’ve never felt a place like this…”

“Wh--what do you mean?”

“It’s suffocating. Can’t you feel it?” Tikki glanced back at her.

Now that Tikki said it, she could. There was a tightness in her throat that wasn’t from the cold. A chill in her veins that had nothing to do with the falling snow. And on top of that, it felt like she was being watched.

Marinette shivered again, but this time from nerves. “I think I can. What's wrong with this town?”

Tikki just shook her head and flew another few meters forward.

And then stopped.

“Tikki, what’s wrong?” Marinette rushed after her and skidded to a stop, eyes going wide as she stared at the road ahead of them. Or rather, what should have been a road.

The ground abruptly gave way, leaving a jagged cliff edge. With the fog, it was impossible to tell how far the chasm went, or if there was even anything on the other side. Moving carefully closer, Marinette peered over the edge. If there was a bottom, she couldn’t see it through the fog.

“Should I transform?” Marinette asked nervously. “We can’t keep going this way like this…”

Tikki shook her head. “No. I don’t think it’d be safe. Let’s try to find another way around.”

Marinette nodded, following Tikki as they backtracked to find another route.


 

“Kid! Hey, c’mon kid, you need to wake up.”

Tiny paws batted at his cheek. Adrien groaned and swatted at the source half-heartedly before opening his eyes. His Kwami’s concerned green eyes met his own.

“Plagg?” Adrien blinked a few times before sitting up. “Where's Ladybug? Where's Papillon?”

“I sense Tikki somewhere within a few miles. No clue on the jerk.” Plagg reported with a scowl. “Your Buglet's probably made it here with Tikki considering they were transformed.”

“Good.” Adrien got to his feet and finally took note of his surroundings. He was in a dim room, lit by a single dying lamp on an end table in the corner. The floor was made of smooth porcelain tiles, and paintings lined the walls. He took out his phone and flipped on its flashlight to look around.

The paintings were quite morbid, full of blood and darkness. There were a few different styles; several of them had an early abstract touch to them that reminded him of the Klimt-inspired paintings in the house, while others were more art deco like his father's primary taste. He wasn't familiar with any of the subjects, though.

The nearest one, and the most disturbing, featured a strange man wearing a large, pyramid shaped helmet. He held a spear and wore a dirty, bloodstained smock, and all around him hung corpses suspended in cages.

‘Misty day, remains of the Judgement’ the placard underneath read, in English to his surprise.

Adrien moved on to the next one. This one was just as morbid, a piece with abstract shapes creating the form of a man with his heart carved out and held in his hand. ‘Absence ’, read this one.

The next was of a pile of bodies, blood and gore rendered in almost loving, bold detail. This one read ‘Necessary Casualty’ . Adrien shuddered, both at the painting itself and its meaning. No casualties could be necessary, in his opinion. Unavoidable, maybe, for some people with difficult jobs, but never necessary.

“Wow, whoever owns these is messed up.” Plagg commented casually.

Adrien tore his gaze away. “Definitely agree. Who would want something like this?” He tried to ignore the paintings, directing his light to the window. It was pitch black outside, and the windows had bars in front of the glass. It felt suffocating, the air stagnant and cold and still. There was something else too, a feeling he couldn't pin to any of the five senses, but it chilled him and made goosebumps spread over his arms.

“This place feels dark.” Plagg told him, looking around with a mixture of concern and disdain. “Like hunger and misfortune.”

“What, like you?” Adrien joked to lighten the mood.

Plagg huffed. “Rude! And no. I cause misfortune because that’s what I am. I don't want to hurt anyone. This, whatever it is, does. It wants to hurt, and feed.”

Adrien swallowed, feeling a prickling of fear added to the suffocating feeling of the room. “Oh.”

The tiny god of destruction flitted about the room, like he was looking for something. After a minute he flew back and landed on Adrien's shoulder, pointing to the wall right of the door, “Tikki is somewhere that way. I should be able to sense her direction, but something is messed up here, so we're stuck playing hot or cold. She's not in this building, that's for sure.”

“Should I destroy the bars and go out the window?” Adrien asked, moving closer to peer out the glass. Nothing was visible on the other side.

“Depends. Do you have cheese?”

With a frown, Adrien pat down his pockets. “Doesn't seem like it…”

“Save transforming for emergencies then.” It was odd to see Plagg cautious like this, and it made Adrien uncomfortable. This place must've really unsettled him.

He checked his phone. There was no signal, and no wifi access coming up, but his battery was alright. He could use it as a flashlight for a while longer.

He pushed open the door cautiously, shining the flashlight ahead of him. It was a wide hall, also lined with paintings. There was a large abstract one with a series of vertical stripes that went almost from floor to ceiling. Across from the lined painting was another the same size, dark except for a life sized curled up figure, hiding their face in their arms. The darkness felt like it was pressing in on the figure, trying to choke them.

Adrien quickly looked away from the painting. This one more than the others just made his skin crawl. He was grateful for Plagg's presence on his shoulder, a quiet reminder both that he wasn't alone and that he could transform if necessary. He resolved to ignore the paintings as he pressed on down the hall. There were doors along the left side of the hall and more barred windows on the right, but he ignored both in favor of the door at the end of the hall, the one most likely to lead him towards the building's exit.

It opened into a much larger and well lit gallery room. He turned off the phone's flashlight and stowed it in a pocket before looking around. There were more paintings, but some sculptures too, and in one corner there was a collection of several dressed up mannequins in beautiful clothes. Some girls, some boys, but all possessed the same rather vacant features and proportions that seemed a little younger than normal models. Adrien supposed that the clothes must've been the art.

As Adrien took another step into the room, already looking for the door, he felt another shiver go down his spine, arm hairs standing on end. On his shoulder, Plagg tensed. “Look out!”

Adrien reacted on instinct born from years of fencing and martial arts, rolling forward and trusting the Kwami not to get crushed. He heard movement behind him and the movement of air that indicated an attempted strike. His roll ended with him back on his feet and he whirled to face the attackers.

It was the mannequins-- but up close he could now tell that they were not truly mannequins, but dolls. Life size porcelain, delicate looking if it weren't for the knives they carried.

“What the heck are they?!” Adrien yelped, dodging back again as another lunged for him. “Akuma?”

“Not akuma! None of this is Papillon's doing!” Plagg sounded urgent. “These are monsters. Just transform and kill them already!”

It left a nasty feeling to hear the word ‘kill’. They had never killed anything as part of their duties. But these things were relentless, and he was vulnerable and unarmed. “Plagg, transform me!”

The Kwami vanished into the ring and the warm rush of magic spread over his body, not just covering him in a suit but infusing in his whole being. His vision sharpened but became shades of green as his ability to see in the dark kicked in. The next swing of a knife was blocked by Chat Noir's staff. He followed up with a low sweeping blow to knock them down. They made no sound besides the chinking of porcelain against tile.

He let the momentum carry on in a fluid movement until his staff was pointed defensively at the dolls. They seemed to be having trouble getting up, some of them tangled up clumsily in their dresses and each other, and others with cracked hollow legs.

Plagg had told him to kill them, but he hesitated. They seemed a little sad, all tangled up and broken. While he was transformed they weren't really a threat, surely. He had dodged more dangerous things even if they did get back up.

“Sorry Plagg,” he whispered, hoping he could be heard. Sometimes Plagg was aware of what had happened while transformed, and sometimes not.

He darted around the heap of dolls and went for the door on the far side. It was locked, and held despite an attempt to break it down. He could hear the dolls getting back up.

He could break the door with cataclysm, but could he get out of there in five minutes? He didn't know how big this building was. Just jumping out the building was probably his best bet, now that he was transformed anyway.

Clinking footsteps of half broken porcelain feet approached behind him. On instinct he dodged to the left and leapt over the creatures, making a beeline for the closest window.

"Cataclysm!"

Decay gathered in his hand as he ran it over the bars. Within seconds, it seemed to age centuries, the metal rusting and crumbling away to nothingness. He was out the created hole just in time to feel one of the dolls’ knives brush his hair near his neck.

It occurred to him only once he had leapt that he didn't even know how high up he was, but was relieved when it was only three stories and he had enough time to extend his baton and catch his fall. It lowered him safely to the ground.

He took a moment to get his bearings, mentally retracing his steps in the gallery to figure out the direction Plagg had said Tikki was. It was only after he oriented himself that he noticed how odd his surroundings were.

It was pitch black. No stars nor moon. In his green-tinted vision he could see mist swirling around, and a light, cold rain began to fall. He shivered, though mercifully the suit kept him warm enough.

For now.

His ring beeped and Chat broke into a sprint, vaulting with his staff to get high up in the hopes that he might spot Ladybug. He really hoped she had some spare food. Plagg didn't seem to mind his counterpart's cookies.

A second beep. Still no sign of Ladybug, but there were figures in the mist. They walked strange, contorted, not all of them even humanoid. He avoided them, superhuman speed letting him get past before they could even see he was there.

Third beep. He spotted a street name, in English as the placards had been before. It looked like he was in America, judging by the signs and the distance between buildings.

Fourth beep. He sped up until his legs burned from exertion, jumping from roof to roof as he searched for anything that looked fully human.

Fifth beep. He jumped down from the roofs as he felt the transformation end and automatically raised his hands to catch the exhausted Kwami. The cold rain now felt icy without the suit and Adrien hunched over to try to shield Plagg from some of it.

“Urgh… cheese.” Plagg whined. “So hungry.”

“I'll try to find you something soon, Plagg.” Adrien assured him. “Maybe there's a store in here I could buy cheese from.”

Though considering the lack of human life he'd seen, it seemed unlikely that there were open stores around.

The sound of footsteps made him tense. His senses may have improved a little since becoming Chat Noir but it was not enough to combat the complete lack of light. He could hear those things walking nearby, but he didn't think he could deal with them as a civilian. Especially without use of sight and with nothing to use as a weapon.

He pulled out his phone and turned it on, intending to turn on the flashlight, but the moment the lockscreen lit up Plagg hissed, “Turn it off and hold still!”

Adrien hastily mashed the power button and froze, listening for the sounds of movement. He thought there might have been a step or two closer, but soon they seemed to drift farther away.

“They were attracted to the light.” Plagg whispered. “Probably sound too.”

“So what do I do? I can't see a thing.”

He felt Plagg's tiny paw pat his hand. “Relax kid. I can see fine, one of the perks of being as great as me. I'll tell you where to go.” The Kwami was making an effort to sound like his usual relaxed self, and perhaps if he hadn't heard how urgent Plagg was earlier he might have bought it.

He appreciated it though, even if it didn't offer much comfort. Plagg always tried to help him feel better in his own weird way. Adrien held the Kwami closer to his chest so it would be easier to quietly whisper.

“Straight. Go slow.”

Adrien walked forward. It was nerve wracking to walk blindly forward, surrounded by something he had only seen blurry glimpses of and now couldn't see at all. He trusted Plagg not to steer him wrong, but it was still terrifying.

He hoped Ladybug was okay. She didn't have the advantage of night vision, and he didn't know if her Kwami did. Probably not, considering ladybugs in the wild didn't have good eyesight. Then again, magic.

“How close are we to Tikki?” Adrien whispered.

“Close.” Plagg said. “She's headed our way too-- stop!”

Adrien froze, heart racing. He heard footsteps draw close, then carry on past.

“It's safe now, go a little to the left to stay out of range of that thing over there…”

“What do they look like?” Adrien asked, not sure if he would like the answer.

“Like something took a corpse, left it to rot, then replaced its head with a knife.” Plagg replied, much more casually than Adrien liked.

Voice about an octave higher, Adrien gulped out a faint, “Oh.”

“We should get inside.” Plagg said absently. “Clothes store there. Probably shouldn't be running around in cold rain with short sleeves. Keep left-- now straight, and there should be a door right there.”

He felt for the handle and carefully pushed open the door, listening intently for any sign of monsters. Finding none and on Plagg's confirmation, he took out his cell phone light again. It was a clothes store as Plagg had said, and Adrien wasted no time dragging himself over to the men's section. His father would probably have a heart attack if he was seen wearing clothes off the rack, but he was too cold and wet to care.

Plagg remained by the door, keeping an eye out for Ladybug and her Kwami. Adrien would have to avoid looking until both of them were transformed, so he hid in the racks of clothes and changed into dry clothes and a thick warm rain coat. He kept an ear out, hoping to hear his Lady's voice at least.

He wasn't expecting to hear Plagg suddenly actually swear.

“Dammit, seriously?

“What's wrong?” Adrien called, tempted to come look but managing to resist.

“C'mere kid.”

Figuring it must be safe, he emerged from the racks to see Plagg muttering to himself-- or not. It seemer like he was talking to someone, but no one was there.

Adrien blinked, looking around again, but still nothing was there. “Plagg, what's going on?”

“Well, I got good news and bad news. The good news is Tikki and her chosen are here.”

Adrien blinked, looking between Plagg and the door and seeing no one.

Plagg sighed, ”The bad news is they're in a different plane of reality.”


 

Waking up untransformed after a close encounter with Ladybug and Chat Noir was enough to induce a panic. It took a moment for Gabriel to realize he was still wearing the brooch and that Nooroo was asleep beside him.

He picked up the Kwami and stood up, surveying his surroundings. Snow fell gently all around him, despite the season.

Where had his akumatized minion gone? He had accidentally transported the two heroes straight to Papillon, and then there had been some sort of magical explosion.

And now he was here, and though Gabriel could feel that his akuma was still active, he could not seem to reach him through the mental link. After a moment continuing the attempt, he withdrew his phone.

No reception.

“Nooroo.” Gabriel tried to wake him. After a few light shakes the butterfly Kwami was awake. He looked around in confusion.

“Master? Where are we?” He fluttered off of Gabriel's hand to hover by his shoulder.

“I was hoping you could tell me.” Gabriel said grimly. “I am still relatively inexperienced in magical matters compared to a being like you.”

Nooroo frowned, “That may be the case, but you were the one in command of the akuma. I was merely powering you. I do not know how the akumatized guardian’s teleportation powers went so awry. I believe I was rendered unconscious at that moment.”

“As was I. If you do not know what did go wrong, what likely options are there for what could have gone wrong?” Gabriel pressed.

Nooroo was always reluctant to part with information. He could not lie to his master nor ignore his commands for information, but he could also omit anything not directly asked, or give too much information to make it difficult to sift through. Gabriel could not truly blame him, though it was irritating. He was under no illusions about Nooroo being anything but his prisoner.

He awaited what workarounds Nooroo would try, but was surprised when Nooroo answered honestly. “A malfunction in the teleportation destination is one likely possibility. It is a tricky power to control and requires magical computation of coordinates. Interference from Ladybug and Chat Noir's magic may have triggered that malfunction.”

Nooroo thought about it for a moment. “Another option would be that in the moment the teleportation brought you to a space between dimensions, another force pulled you in.”

Gabriel frowned. “How exactly?”

“You are familiar with a compass? A magnet nearby can disrupt it. That is how another force could have pulled you in. Those two are the most likely scenarios.”

So a malfunction, or something deliberate. Gabriel did not like either of those options. Without his akumatized minion around, he might need to take more mundane options home.

But first he would need to find out where he was and where an airport may be.

Heaving a sigh, Gabriel returned his attention to his surroundings. “It is snowing. It is likely that we are in the southern hemisphere or high elevation. It does not feel like high elevation to me.”

Nooroo hesitated, before giving a small sigh. “We are neither. There is not a significant difference in elevation, and we are a similar distance from the north pole.”

Gabriel raised an eyebrow at Nooroo, wondering how he could know that, before it occurred to him that butterflies could sense magnetic fields. Wouldn't it follow that a butterfly ‘god’ could as well? It was a shame his transformation didn't seem to include that feature.

With a slight shiver, Gabriel moved down the street, trying to see the names of the shops more clearly through the fog.

English. Strange. There were street names but they did not stir any recognition. And every single shop was empty and most were boarded up. A few cars sat in the road, many ironically in front of no parking signs, but there was not a single person in sight.

Had he been transported to a ghost town? That would make returning difficult at best. He had no desire to walk to another city.

The faintest of sounds caught his attention. He turned his head to see a figure in the fog, facing away from him. 

His heart lurched. He quickly hid Nooroo in his pocket and stepped forward. He knew that bright blonde hair and those clothes -- Ones he designed.

“Adrien!”

The teleportation had affected him in addition to the akumatized. He hadn't realized that it may have extended past his hidden room. It hadn't occurred to him that it might have snatched his son from his room as well.

He sprinted towards him, but Adrien seemed not to have heard him. He was running away, quickly lost in the fog.

“Adrien! Come back this instant!” Gabriel shouted louder. But there was nothing, and the snow was not yet thick enough to leave prints. Finally Gabriel slowed to a walk, breathing heavily. He swallowed, throat suddenly dry from the exertion. He really should spend less time at a desk in the future.

He opened his pocket to allow Nooroo out. “Adrien is here. I need to find him. If I transform I could seek out his emotions--”

“Master, he would only run from you.” Nooroo pointed out quickly. “Everyone knows what the Papillon's mask looks like because of your message to the city during Stoneheart's akumatization.”

Though he swore quietly under his breath, Gabriel knew Nooroo was right. He would need to find Adrien as himself, while his son was not too far away.

He began again in the direction he had seen Adrien disappear into the fog.

Chapter Text

Gabriel was beginning to wish his summer suit was warmer. He’d personally designed it to be cool and breathable despite the layers, and his fashion fame was not exactly unearned. Of course, that meant he was absolutely freezing out here in the snow. Not helping anything was how very unused to long treks he was these days, and he was already feeling tired after just half an hour of walking. He hadn't paced himself well in the initial chase and his leg muscles were dying for a break.

The thought of Adrien kept him moving. His son had been even less well dressed for the weather, and an abandoned town was hardly a safe place for him to be alone. Gabriel needed to find him and make sure he was alright. He and Emilie had made sure Adrien was well trained in self defense, but he was still just a child. And training couldn't protect him from the cold.

It was terribly ironic that he was only in this situation because he hadn't allowed Adrien to go over to his friend’s house this afternoon. If he had, then he would have still been safely in Paris and he knew Nathalie and his bodyguard were capable of caring for Adrien on their own. Perhaps, when they made it home, Gabriel would try to arrange for a safe place for Adrien to be when it was time for an Akuma.

The roads by now had accumulated a fine sheen of snow and Gabriel was relieved when he finally began to see footprints. And they were fresh footprints from what he could see. He sped up, calling out again, “Adrien! Can you hear me?”

There was no reply. Brow furrowed, Gabriel carried on following the prints. They led to an alleyway, and he wasted no time in following them. Finally, he just barely made out a figure in the thick mist.

Gabriel opened his mouth to call out, but the words never left his lips. The figure moved towards him, and that was not how a human should move. It lurched, every step unsteady, twisting as it moved, its arms moving to balance it. He found himself staring, frozen, as it came close enough to see through the fog.

It was a sickly, mottled grey, like something that had rotted. It was about the size of an older child, and it was humanoid, but its face … it had no eyes or nose, just a grotesque mass of flesh that looked like it had been ripped vertically and several times horizontally. It had a mouth, huge and gaping with rows of sharp, bloody teeth. It held a bloodied knife out in front of it, twisted features fixed in his direction.

“What the hell!?” Gabriel finally managed to force his legs to move, and he took several steps back. “What is that?! Nooroo!” He snapped, glancing frantically at the Kwami tucked into his jacket's inner pocket.

“I don't know, Master!” Nooroo said quickly, looking almost as alarmed. “It is not human, for certain. It feels like despair and loneliness, but it-- it is different.” the Kwami shook his head frantically. “But I can sense it intends to kill you.”

Gabriel took a steadying breath, clenching his hands by his sides to try to stop them from trembling. He refused to be afraid of this thing. He was Gabriel Agreste. He was Papillon, bearer of the power of a literal god. He would not allow this creature to make him cower. “Then I will have to kill it first. Nooroo, transform me!”

The Kwami vanished into the brooch, the wings of the miraculous extending and glowing. He felt himself grow stronger as the magic infused his being, but there was a strange chill this time that was unfamiliar.

Something was wrong,

The purple magic began to wash over him, the magic suit replacing the ordinary one in its wake, but the feeling of wrongness , that strange chill, grew with every inch of creeping magic.

The transformation ended, and a raw scream left his throat as the source of that wrongness hit him like a bullet train.

The heart of the Butterfly's power was empathy, and transformed Papillon could feel the emotions of others. Emotions were what he was feeling now, but it was like nothing he had felt before. Anger, sorrow, despair, fear, pain, stronger and louder than he had ever felt. The flood of emotions pressed in on him, drowning him, blinding him, deafening him in the roar of agonized screams that existed only in his mind.

He couldn't move, couldn't think, couldn't breathe. His head felt like it was splitting open as the emotions of hundreds of souls tried to force their way into his mind, each demanding to be heard.

“Detransformation!” Papillon just barely managed to choke out, falling to his knees. The voices silenced, Nooroo tumbling to the ground beside him as he knelt, gasping for air. His head still ached badly enough to make his eyes water. It took every ounce of concentration to remember how to breathe, for what felt like eons.

Quiet shuffling and the crunch of snow dragged him back into awareness. He'd forgotten about the creature, and it was only a meter away. He scrambled to roll forward under the path of its blade and managed to come up standing, only long ago trained instincts keeping him from ending up with a knife in his throat. The familiar rush of adrenaline helped clear the fog from his head and Gabriel frantically looked for anything that could be used to defend himself.

There was a loose pipe near a gap in the wall. He rushed for it and turned to brandish it like a two-handed sword towards the creature. “Stay back!”

It gave no indication of hearing him and simply shuffled towards him again. Gabriel took a long, slow breath and gripped the pipe tighter. Defending himself against his own controlled security was the only time he'd fought something in a long while, and even then he had been transformed. He'd had the benefit of a magic weapon and a mostly invulnerable suit. Now he was nothing more than an aging man with a desk job. His power was to delegate fights.

But what choice did he have?

The creature was in range of his pipe but not close enough to try to stab him yet. With a shout, Gabriel swung the pipe with all the strength he could muster, catching it in the ribs. While it staggered back he swung it again overhead and smashed it into its skull. There was an awful crunching sound and blood splattered into his suit. The creature fell with a pitiful, much too human whimper and thrashed on the ground.

Gabriel stood there breathing hard, eyes wide, until he realise that it was beginning to get back up. He brought the pipe up, giving one final brutal swing down on its head again, and it went still.

He watched it for a moment warily, but when it remained unmoving he shook himself out of the stupor and stumbled over to the nearest wall to brace himself. He saw Nooroo drift up from the ground and look between the creature and himself.

Nooroo hesitated, then sighed softly. “Master? Are you alright?”

“What was that?” Gabriel snapped instead of answering. His stomach churned. “When I transformed I became overwhelmed by emotions.”

“I believe this place is cursed, Master.” Nooroo said timidly. “Trapped souls become very loud with time. As a being from another plane I am less affected than a human such as you bearing my power.”

“Can I shut it off? Is there any way to silence them?” Gabriel demanded.

“Yes, Master. Years of practice can train you to quiet the emotions of others.”

Gabriel exhaled slowly, rubbing his temples as he tried to contain his irritation. Sometimes, the simple truthful answers were the worst. “Is there a way available to me with immediate results?”

“Not to my knowledge, Master.”

Wonderful. Just wonderful. So he couldn't transform or he would be overwhelmed by the emotions in this cursed town. And his son was still not with him. He knew that Adrien was well trained in self defense, as he had pushed him to be, but these were supernatural dealings and likely more of these monsters. He desperately hoped Adrien was safe. He couldn't lose his son too.

He straightened up despite the aching in his body. “Come, Nooroo. We need to find my son.”

 


 

Marinette had never heard Tikki swear before. The Kwami quickly covered her mouth with her hands to muffle the rest of it.

“Tikki… What do you mean they aren't in this reality?”

“They're in some other instance of this town. I can still communicate with Plagg, because we aren't beings of the tangible plane to begin with so we're only partially here. But you and Chat Noir won't be able to see each other. They're right there. Plagg says Chat Noir is standing just by that rack.” Tikki pointed.

Marinette took a cautious step towards the indicated clothes rack. She saw only the hangers and clothes, still and silent. She reached out to the empty air, but there was nothing. She let her hand fall to her side, scowling at the ground. She didn't know what she was expecting.

Tikki fell silent, listening and staring in the direction of where surely Plagg must be. “What? No. It's foggy and snowing, but it's light out…” She trailed off to listen to Plagg's reply. It was like hearing half of a conversation on a phone and Marinette was not liking it. Tikki let out a worried little gasp. “What?! There's nothing like that on this side! Is he okay?”

Marinette was sure her heart stopped for a beat. She whirled to stare at her Kwami. “Tikki, what is he saying? Is Chat Noir alright?!”

Please be okay. She thought to herself desperately. Chat Noir was her best friend, her partner. She didn't know if she could handle anything happening to him while she wasn't able to help him.

“It's okay!” Tikki assured her quickly. “Plagg says Chat Noir is fine. They don't have any food for Plagg, so he can't transform back, but he isn't hurt.”

“Then what were you talking about? What isn't on this side?” Marinette pressed anxiously. It just wasn't fair that Tikki could see her kitty and Marinette couldn't see her own.

Tikki winced, clearly not wanting to worry her. “There are some… creatures, on their side. Monsters, and not ones he recognizes from anywhere. The creatures attacked them earlier but Chat Noir transformed and got away. Plagg says it's dark and raining there, and very cold. They stopped in here to get something for Chat Noir to wear and keep warm.”

Monsters. She tried not to freak out and focused on the matter at hand. “That's probably a good idea…” Marinette agreed with a little shiver. She didn't want to wander off in case Tikki found out anything else important, but… “I should do that too. I'm going to go find something.”

Marinette felt a little guilty about just taking the clothes, but there didn't seem to be anyone around, and it seemed as though it had been like that for a while. She still didn't really understand what Tikki had said about a separate instance of the town, but she didn't like it. She didn't like being in unfamiliar territory, partnerless and untransformed. And she liked Chat Noir being alone without the means to transform even less, especially if wherever he was there were monsters.

She managed to pull on a pair of pants over her capris and swapped her flats with socks and weatherproof boots and found a thick waterproof jacket. It took a few minutes for her body heat to warm the clothes, but she let out a relieved sigh when it did. She grabbed a scarf from the racks as an afterthought and wrapped it around her neck. She headed back over to Tikki.

“-- Yes, you're right. It definitely isn't another Kwami. Not even one of the unbound ones. It's old though, older than humans.” Tikki was saying to Plagg. Marinette stopped to listen. “And it clearly can create and control layers in the tangible world. No, I don't think we're in the main reality either, it's deserted, and there are holes in the street that don't seem to end.”

“What do you mean by ‘main reality’? I don't really understand what you mean by instances of the town.” Marinette said before she could stop herself. Tikki startled and looked her way.

“Oh. I guess that wouldn't really make sense to you…” Tikki frowned. “Think of it almost like seperate floors of a building. Each floor would be on the same place in a map, but they do not intersect except for places like the stairs and the elevator. That is sort of how they interact with each other, except they occupy the same space. There are a few of them that exist normally-- the spirit plane and the physical plane for example-- but there can be more local ones too. Numéric made them when he captured people with the camera.”

Marinette nodded slowly. “I think I understand. Or like when you stack pages on top of each other?”

“Yes! That may be an even better metaphor, because if you write on one it can imprint on another.” Tikki nodded with a smile. “Plagg and I are beings of one of those other realities. The Miraculous partially binds us to the plane it is currently on, but most of us is still in the abstract world. Our full strength would never be able to be contained in human-created gems!”

She supposed it made sense, kind of, sort of. She at least didn't think now was the time to be trying to understand the complexities of gods and reality. She focused her attention on the matter at hand. “Do you or Plagg or Chat Noir have any ideas? I was thinking we should probably try to get to a corner store or something to find food for you and Plagg. Chat Noir needs to be able to transform if there are monsters, and I'd like to have extra too.”

“That's probably our best option.” Tikki agreed. “Especially since while you both are on different planes we may have to transform back and forth a lot to communicate.” She turned to speak to the empty air again. “Plagg, M-- Ladybug thinks we should find a store with food. Will Chat Noir be able to travel if there are creatures?” A pause while Plagg responded, and Tikki winced. “Well, it isn't a perfect solution, but it's something. We can let you two lead the way.”

“What did he say?”

“It's too dark for Chat Noir to see untransformed, but Plagg was guiding him. We may have to stop and go a lot since he'll have to edge around hazards.” Tikki said. “Thankfully the creatures can't see in the dark either, so they were able to sneak around earlier.”

Honestly that didn't sound all that great. She knew for sure she would be terrified in pitch darkness, untransformed and guided only by Tikki while surrounded by monsters. But there weren't really other options, and Chat Noir was braver than her in many ways. He could make do.

She hoped.

“Okay. Then I guess you follow Plagg and I'll follow you.” Marinette didn't like anything about this. She didn't like being led around two degrees from her partner. She didn't like being alone except for Tikki in this creepy fog and snow. She didn't like that she had no control over anything in this situation.

But there was nothing she could do about it, so when Tikki beckoned her forward out of the store, she followed closely behind.

It was slow progress. Tikki stopped to wait frequently, and every time Marinette found herself holding her breath, knowing that it meant Chat Noir was close to one of those monsters and waiting for it to be safe again. Any moment, their luck could run out and he would be attacked and there wasn't a damn thing she could do to stop it.

“I hate this.” Marinette murmured, clenching her fists by her sides as they waited it out again.

“I know.” Tikki said soothingly. “Once we have more food we can try a lucky charm.”

Marinette brightened at the thought. The lucky charm could surely help them find a way to meet up in person. It always knew exactly what they needed to win any situation, and this wouldn't be any different.

It hadn't failed before, so surely it wouldn't fail now.

 


 

Adrien had taken the idea of separate instances of reality rather well. It reminded him vaguely of the multiverse theory and several theories on parapsychology. What he didn't take as well was the fact that his Lady was in a different plane of reality than him. He was still stuck here, powerless, communicating with Ladybug through two degrees of separation. It was frustrating and nerve wracking, but it still helped to know that even if he couldn't see her, she was there.

And it felt like she was there. He could now and again faintly smell the shampoo she used. And there was an echo of the odd, subtle sense that he always felt when they fought together, of security and wholeness. Plagg had been terribly unhelpful when he had last asked about the feeling and teased him for being so smitten, but he didn't think he was imagining it.

Plagg guided him down the street slowly. They had to stop frequently to let the creatures wander past. Now and again Plagg would whisper something to Tikki, letting her know the progress they were making and checking up on their end.

“Tikki’s talking to Ladybug. Sounds like your bug is stressing out.” Plagg commented to Adrien in a whisper when they got to a slightly clearer part of the streets. “Doesn't like you being separated like this.”

“I don't like it either.” Adrien muttered. “At least there aren't monsters where she is. If one of us has to be surrounded by monsters I'd rather it be me.”

“You're so hopeless, kid.” Plagg scoffed quietly. “You want me to say anything?”

He thought about it. “Can you tell Tikki to pass on that ‘I'm purrfectly capable of handling a few monsters even if I'm not transformed’?”

Plagg passed it on verbatim, though he was snickering even while Tikki replied. “Ladybug says ‘I'm sure you can, assuming you somehow manage to stop thinking of puns long enough to pay attention.’ Gotta admit she has a point.”

“Ow.” Adrien pouted, but he quieted upon hearing footsteps, focusing on the task at hand. Plagg warned him that the monster was getting closer, directing him a few steps to the left to avoid being in its path. The quiet rain couldn't quite block out the harsh breathing of the creature, but soon the sound was fading away.

“Safe to keep going. Straight ten feet.”

They fell back into mostly silence. Adrien was having trouble figuring out how long they walked in the pitch blackness. Time somehow didn't feel as real when there was no light to mark the passage of time. He kind of wished he could check his phone and see if it had been as long as it felt like.

What felt like hours later, Plagg’s instructions turned frantic. “Back up. Back up right now.”

He stumbled backwards, nearly tripping in his haste to get away from whatever it was making Plagg panic. “What is it?” He whispered.

“Keep backing up. This has got to be a new record breaking bad luck because--”

There was an uncomfortable tickling in his throat and nose and Adrien sneezed twice, loudly, before he could stop himself.

There was an animalistic screeching noise that made his ears ring and goosebumps rise on his arms.

“Birds.” Plagg said with the most aggravated hiss he'd ever heard. “Lots of giant birds who just heard you. Run! Get the light out you just need to run!”

He wasted no time, breaking into a run while taking his phone out at the same time. He heard more of those horrible screeches and had to suppress a shudder-- and a sneeze. A glance up and the dim light reflecting off the ground from his flashlight showed massive dark grey-feathered bodies and huge wings.

There were other creatures hiding in the dark fog. He nearly ran straight into one-- a humanoid creature whose arms seemed to be bound in a straightjacket made of its own seamless stretch of greyish rotten-looking skin. It had no face, or any features at all besides what looked like a huge, gaping wound in its chest.

Instinct made Adrien duck and roll, practiced enough even untransformed to come up on his feet in a run. Something splashed to the ground where he had just been and sizzled.

This was bad. Very bad. The giant birds were gaining and his allergies were getting worse with almost unnatural speed and he still didn't see any buildings that didn't have boarded up doors and windows.

“Down!” Plagg shouted. Adrien ducked his head and veered just in time for the claws of one of the birds to miss him and knock its wing into him instead. It veered off course and smacked into the ground, shedding feathers and Adrien tried to cover his mouth and nose with his sleeve, but he was definitely already having a pretty bad allergic reaction.

The Miraculous bestowed a degree of invulnerability to the wielders when transformed, lessening injury, illness, and other ailments. That included keeping his severe allergy to feathers just in the bad sneezing level. It was a good thing, considering how badly it would have gone with the capture ball of pigeons back when they were first starting out.

Unfortunately, he wasn't transformed now and had no such protection, and the birds could fly much faster than he could run. It was getting hard to breathe, throat and chest seeming to tighten as the birds viciously swooped down in turns to try to get him. It had been a long time since he'd had this bad of a reaction.

“There’s a door that isn't blocked down to the left!!” Plagg called. Adrien changed directions to make a beeline for it, unfortunately giving one of the creatures the opening to graze his shoulder with its talons. He almost didn’t feel it, too distracted with just getting away.

He reached the door and tried to open it. It wasn't locked, but it was slightly jammed. There was no time to do anything else so he stepped back to give himself room and kicked it in.

Before he could get through, he felt another bird get its talons around his left arm, sharp claws ripping into the inner side of his arm. He let out a choked cry of pain and tried to shove it away uselessly, but it held on tight with another loud screech.

There was an angry yowl and Plagg leapt for the creature and grabbed onto its leg. Flecks of darkness gathered, eating up what little light was near, and then there was a sickly squelching sound as the creature let out an agonized scream and then began to turn to ash. Adrien’s arm went limp to his side as he stared blankly at where it had been, what little concentration he had just focusing on keeping air in his lungs.

“Get inside!” Plagg hissed, shoving him with all the force the tiny being could muster. He stumbled in and shut the door and slid down against it, coughing and wheezing. He dropped his phone and started searching his pockets in a daze for his allergy medicine.

Plagg was saying something, but he couldn't make it out through the rushing sound in his ears. Nausea churned in his stomach as he finally located the blister pack of allergy medicine.

It was only after he had withdrawn them from his pocket that he finally looked down and saw what Plagg was making a fuss about:

Blood, and a lot of it. Much more than Adrien realized he'd been bleeding. The gouge left in his arm by the talons was much deeper than he thought, and more blood was pooling under him by the second.

Plagg was still talking, but he sounded far away and muffled, and Adrien could barely make out his luminous green eyes through his tunneling vision.

Adrien blacked out before he could even try to speak.

 

Chapter Text

Marinette had a bad feeling from the moment Tikki stopped and turned to look back in concern, the Kwami's large eyes fixed steadily on a spot in the air. ”Tikki, what--”

She was interrupted by a gasp from Tikki. “Come on! They’re running!” She urged Marinette, already beginning to fly quickly in the direction Plagg was apparently going. Marinette gasped and sprinted after her.

“What's happening?! Did they get spotted?!”

“Plagg said something about birds and hearing-- Chat Noir is very allergic to feathers, remember?” Tikki called behind her. “He must have sneezed or coughed loud enough to be heard!”

Marinette forgot to breathe for a second. Her mind was racing, trying to go over their options on instinct but there weren't any. She was useless right now, absolutely helpless. There wasn't a damn thing she could do to help Chat Noir and it made her feel sick and afraid and she hated it. She sped up to keep pace with Tikki, desperately hoping that she wasn't about to hear bad news.

“They're going left!” Tikki told her after a minute or two of trailing them. “I think that corner store over there. The door isn't boarded up.”

She followed Tikki to the door. It was locked, but Tikki merely phased through the door and unlocked it to let her in. Once she was through the threshold, Tikki let out another squeak of alarm.

“Plagg, what are you doing?!”

It seemed to be another few moments before Plagg responded, and Tikki looked horrified when he did.

Marinette tried not to panic when Tikki turned to her with urgency plain on her small face. “Transform and use a lucky charm! Chat Noir is hurt very badly and we need to get to them and heal him now.

Tikki had barely finished speaking before Marinette was shouting, “Transform me!”

The second the yoyo had materialized, Ladybug hurled it into the air with a cry of “Lucky Charm!” A spotted hand mirror fell into her hands. Ladybug glared at it. “I don't have time for a cryptic charm, I--”

Something clicked into place, and Ladybug slid open the yoyo to use its flashlight function so she could scan the room. She spotted the bathroom sign and rushed to throw the door open. There was a fairly large mirror over the sink, and she stepped in front of it. The charm seemed to be steering her in the right direction, because the room reflected in its surface was not the same as the one she stood in.

The other side was different. Darker, murkier, with half-peeled paint. Her light illuminated the same places in the mirror that it did on her side. She reached out to touch the mirror, hoping desperately that she had interpreted the charm correctly.

Nothing.

“Dammit! Let me through!” She screamed at the mirror, the outstretched hand curling into a fist as she pulled back and only barely restrained herself from breaking it. Her eyes were burning and she felt like she might throw up. The Lucky Charm had never failed her before, so why wasn't it working?

Ladybug squeezed her eyes shut and took a few shaky breaths, trying to think if there was anything else to the lucky charm. It was hard to think, when all her thoughts drifted to Chat Noir, alone and hurt and she didn't know how to save him this time. He could die, and if she couldn't get to him, couldn't repair the damage, then it would be real this time. She would lose her partner, and it scared her more than anything ever had in her life.

“Let me through, please.” She made no effort to stop her voice from breaking.

And a girl's soft voice answered: “Are you sure?”

Ladybug's eyes snapped open. There, in the mirror, was a little girl in a blue dress with a red ribbon at the neck. Dark eyes met hers, the girl's gaze seeming to stare right into her soul. The girl stepped closer, searching stare still fixed on Ladybug's eyes.

She was small, no more than seven or eight, with pale skin and long dark hair that fell loose behind her shoulders. Her expression was unlike anything Ladybug had ever seen on a child. Calm and serious and willful, but at the same time so weary.

“Are you sure you want to go to the Other World?” The girl said, in English this time. “You are safe here in this fog. It cannot hurt you here. Why do you want to cross into the darkness?”

Ladybug didn't understand what the girl was talking about. Not exactly. But right now she didn't even care. She blinked back tears, swallowed, then replied in English as well. “My partner. He's hurt. I can save him but only if I can get to him! He’s trapped in that other world!”

“There are monsters here. You could die. Many have died here before. You were fortunate to avoid it.” The girl’s voice was level, still just as soft as she issued the warning. “This world is full of nightmares.”

“I don't care!” Ladybug said resolutely. She stepped closer to the mirror, glaring at the girl now. “I don't care if it's dangerous! I'll do anything to save him!”

The girl's expression finally changed, and she gave the smallest of smiles. “Anything? You're that determined?” She reached out and placed her hand on the mirror. “Then I'll give you the power to pass through the reflection. Take my hand.”

Ladybug didn't waste a moment, placing her hand over the girl's. Despite the glass she could feel the girl's small hand press to hers, and then the world shifted . She had not moved, but the world around her had, and now she stared into an empty mirror showing the world she had just left. It smelled of damp and rust, and the girl was gone. She didn't bother wondering what it was that had just happened or what she had agreed to. She just stumbled to the door and flung it open.

The store was even darker than it had been on the other side. The only light besides the yoyo's flashlight was from a phone over by the door, just barely illuminating a figure slumped to one side.

“Chat!”

She sprinted to his side and knelt down beside him. His hair had fallen over his face, concealing his features from her, but what she could see of his face was an ashen white. There was blood everywhere and he wasn't breathing.

“Miraculous Ladybug!” Ladybug flung the mirror into the air without looking. Numbly, she felt for the pulse at his neck while she waited for the ladybugs to come down.

She couldn't find a heartbeat.

Ladybug kept her fingers pressed to the pulse point at his neck as the magic swirled down over his body. The magic ladybugs tickled her hand where they passed, but she didn't move until she felt a heartbeat flutter against her fingers and the relative silence was broken by a sudden shuddering gasp from Chat Noir.

She had her arms around him before he was even done with that first breath. “Oh god. You’re alive.” She buried her face in his shoulder with a shudder. She was crying, and she didn't care. He was alive, that was all that mattered.

He coughed several times, then let out a breathless noise of confusion followed by a few more coughs. It took him a minute for him to wrap his arms around her in return, rubbing her back soothingly as she sobbed. He rested his forehead on her shoulder, still trying to catch his breath. “What… what happened?” He asked shakily.

“You were hurt, bad. Lucky Charm helped me get here and heal you.” She held onto him tighter, though she was careful not to accidentally tap into the superhuman strength her transformation granted. A beeping from her earrings reminded her that she didn’t have long before that transformation would end.

Chat Noir tensed at the sound of the beep, lifting his right hand from her back. “I'm not transformed.” He said breathlessly. “You-- you didn’t want us to know, I'm sorry--”

“Secret identities don't do a damn thing if you're dead, Chat!” She cut him off. “You died! Y--your heart had stopped and you weren't breathing.” She let out another sob. “Oh god, I could have lost you.”

“Ladybug…” His hand was back on her back, trying to soothe her.

“I didn't-- didn't see your face, though.” Ladybug said in a mumble. “The way you were laying, I couldn't. It wouldn't have been your fault even if I had, okay? The only thing that matters is that you're alive. You're more important than your identity.”

Chat Noir let out a slow breath and leaned into her. He was trembling just a bit, as shaken by his brief death as she was but showing it differently. He wasn't crying like she was, just holding onto her and shaking.

“Are you okay?” Ladybug asked softly, her sobs beginning to fade by now. He wasn't okay, she could tell, but she didn't know what else to say. “I can't imagine what it must have been like.”

He was quiet for a moment, just breathing slowly. “I’m okay. It wasn't fun, but I'm fine now.”

“You know you can talk to me, right?” Ladybug said earnestly. “Always. Even if it's something that could give your identity away we can find a way to talk about it.”

He sighed quietly, “Thank you.”

She kept one arm firm around his waist, her other going up to run through his hair. It always seemed to soothe him when he was transformed, and it seemed to relax him now as well. It was odd to not feel the leather cat ears when she toyed with his hair. His hair was still wet and very cold from the quiet rain, and when her cheek brushed against his neck his skin was cool and slightly damp too. She'd been too focused on saving him and him being alive to notice earlier.

“You're freezing.” Ladybug said quietly in concern. Maybe his shaking wasn't just from his ordeal.

“It's raining and really cold outside, and I was stuck in the rain for a while. The clothes I took from the store helped, but…” He gave a slight shrug with the shoulder she wasn't resting on. “I'm fine.”

“Chat--”

Her earrings beeped a final warning, and Chat Noir startled, almost pulling away, but Ladybug held on. “You can't see my face right now, right?”

Chat Noir hesitated, but nodded. “No, I can't.”

“Then don't worry about it.” Secret identities were the least of her concern right now. Her transformation ended, magic retracting back up her body and rustling fabric and hair as it went. Marinette reached to catch Tikki, but a little black creature that could only be Plagg tackled her in midair and stopped her descent. She could faintly hear the Kwamis talking quietly to each other as they settled down to eat some food found around the store.

Marinette returned her attention to Chat Noir, pulling her hand from his hair to unravel her scarf and put it around him instead. “We shouldn't stay here. We need to get food for our Kwamis and figure out how to get out. Shut your eyes for a second, if we sit back to back we can look around better without seeing each other..”

“Okay.”

Marinette shut her own eyes and turned, while he did the same. She scooted back until she felt her back touch his, and on a whim she reached back with her left hand to grab his right.

A voice that must have been Plagg spoke up.”How are you feeling, kid? You two done crying it out?”

“I'm… I'm okay. I feel fine. I think the restoration took care of the allergic reaction too.” He said with a quiet sigh. “Sorry. I can't believe I got noticed because of my stupid allergy.”

There was a moment of silence before Plagg sighed. “Kid, you do know that it is literally not your fault you have an allergy, right? You didn't go up to someone in a past life and go ‘Hi, could you make me stop breathing if birds get near me next time?’ or something like that.”

“Your feather allergy is that bad?” Marinette asked. “You were only sneezing when we fought-- oh! The suit.” Her eyes widened. “Tikki said that any normal biological or chemical threat to us would be reduced.”

“Pretty much.” Plagg said. “It'd take hours to inhale enough to get that sick. Hell, you could eat a whole bowl of nightshade and still only feel like you had a cold.”

“It isn't really that bad. There was only really one time, when I was a kid, and I don't even really remember it that well.” Chat Noir admitted, embarrassed. “Mother was so-- nevermind."

Tikki finished eating and looked up at Marinette. The little Kwami flew up and pressed a little hug to her cheek. “Are you okay, M-- Ladybug?” She asked softly.

Chat Noir startled slightly at the sudden voice, but Marinette nodded. “I'm fine. I'm just glad we made it here in time…”

Tikki nodded and flew around her to Chat Noir's side. “It's nice to finally actually get to meet you! Plagg has said such nice things about you!”

“He has?” Chat Noir said. She felt his head tilt slightly. “I thought he would've complained more about me.”

The ladybug Kwami let out a little giggle. “Oh he does, but that's just how he shows affection. He complains that you're too nice and responsible for your own good.”

Chat Noir laughed quietly. “Yeah, he complains about that to me all the time. He says I do what I'm told too much.”

“You do.” Plagg said bluntly. “But it's okay, you're a work in progress. Someday you'll be snooping in your dad's stuff without me cracking the lock when you chicken out.”

“Plagg!” Chat Noir whined.

Tikki sighed. “Plagg, try to avoid details! We don't want them figuring out their identities unless absolutely necessary.”

“Ugh, fine, Sugarcube. You know I think this is stupid right? It'd be way easier if they knew.” Plagg whined. “Just because yours has--”

“Plagg!” Tikki cut him off. “First of all, what did I just say? Second, don't call me Sugarcube.”

“Okay fine. I'll can it.” Plagg huffed, then suddenly plopped down on Marinette's lap to her surprise, finally giving her a proper look at the cat god. He was shaped very much like Tikki but with cat features, pitch black with luminous green eyes. “Hi Little Bug.”

Marinette smiled at him, “Hi Plagg. It's nice to get to meet you properly. Even if I can't get to tell you my name or anything.”

“Oh don't even worry about that.” Plagg rolled his eyes. “I've known since the beginning. The decision to pick you two involved both of us. Ladybugs and Black Cats have to be compatible with both us and each other and be the types of people we think we can trust with our powers.” He paused. “Okay, so more mine than Tikki's, but a lot of chaos could still be caused by creation.”

“Speaking of powers… Plagg, earlier, you used cataclysm on that bird.” Chat Noir said hesitantly. “I didn't know you could do that.”

“It isn't usually much help.” Tikki sighed. “We aren't physical beings. We can't influence things so precisely on our own. Before the Miraculous, our power could only be used on a large scale. You know the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event?”

“The what?” Marinette said at the same time as Chat Noir said “Yes.”

“Dinosaurs.” Chat Noir clarified for her. “Though not just dinosaurs. Three-quarters of plant and animal life went extinct.” He paused. “That was you Plagg?”

“Kinda. Sorta. Yeah. I didn't mean to exactly.” He whined.

“The point is.” Tikki said quickly. “It was because we tried to use cosmic powers on a single planet. It was indirect destruction, many, many things going wrong over a longer period of time. When I tried to use my powers to fix Plagg’s mistake, it simply create more creatures to replace them, but didn't undo the damage. The Miraculouses changed that, so now we can influence the world with greater precision and on a smaller scale, but it still is risky. We still aren't of this world.” Tikki sighed.

“Last time Tikki tried a restoration she ended up with every bit of plant life that'd been taken out to make room for the town growing straight through everything.” Plagg said. “As for me, well… there was Atlantis. It was not easy to just kill that monster but trying to save you was worth the try. And uh… sorry you had to see what it does to a living creature.”

Chat Noir let out a slow breath. “No, I understand why you had to do it. That thing was gonna kill me.”

Plagg let out a small growl. “Yeah, it was. I still only bought you a few minutes before you bled to death anyway.”

Marinette shuddered at the reminder. “Let's not talk about that anymore please.”

“Yeah sure. Anyway,” Plagg said. “We can't stay in here forever. And since we can't talk to you once we're transformed and there is no way in hell the kid is going back out there untranstormed to go into anaphylactic shock, we need to talk about what to do. And about what to do about the monsters because the kid is too dang soft hearted to kill knife wielding doll creatures.”

“Look, I'm sorry, they just-- they looked helpless and it wasn't like I couldn't dodge them.” Chat Noir defended, embarrassed.

“Don't worry.” Tikki said gently. “He doesn't mean it, he just complains because he's worried about you. I will admit it may make things difficult.” She sighed softly. “The creatures outside are… strange. They feel like they are alive, but barely, like they might fade any moment. I think I agree with Plagg that if you are in danger you should kill them.”

“We have to defend ourselves.” Marinette said to Chat Noir quietly. “We don't have to kill them if we can help it, but we might have to. Can you do that?”

Chat Noir let out a shaky sigh. “I think so.”

Marinette squeezed his hand. The idea of killing the creatures was uncomfortable, but it didn't bother her as much as it seemed to bother him. They had to survive, and that might mean taking down threats, and she was willing to do what it took to get them out safely even if she had no desire to kill another living thing. “Okay. So we have an agreement for what to do about the monsters. We can try to get back through the fog through the mirror, but that would still leave us trapped, just safer. We don't even know what town this is--”

“Silent Hill.” Chat Noir interrupted. He leaned forward and then leaned back to pass her something. “There’s a stack of them over here.” It was a newspaper, bearing the name Toluca Times, and the front page article was about some kind of event in Silent Hill. She skimmed the paper with a frown. Most of the stories were ordinary and told her very little about the town, but she paused at the last article. A little girl had died in a fire, only seven years old. She always hated news like that.

“So we're in Maine.” Marinette said, folding the paper back up. “I don't know how we're going to explain this, but we can worry about that after we get out of this horrible place.”

“We could just try each road out.” Chat Noir offered with a shrug. “It's a start at least. Oh, maybe we can try the gps on our weapons! Maybe magic cellphones can get reception.”

“Good idea.” She smiled. “Okay, we'll need to gather as much food as possible before we go. And flashlights for backup, and a map if we can find one.” She paused. “Darn it. We'll need to get the food while untransformed so we have it when we need it. I'll look around.”

“Got it.”

Marinette reluctantly let go of his hand and grabbed some bags from the front. She loaded as much cheese as she could find from the fridges and even some weird packs of jerky and cheese just in case. Luckily it all seemed to still be good, and there were many packets of different cookies. She loaded the bags full and returned to Chat Noir.

They went about the rest of their preparations, finding extra flashlights and batteries, maps, some food and water for themselves, and a quick trip into the bathrooms before they were ready.

“Anything else?” Marinette went over their supplies, setting two flashlights and the maps on the counter so they would be accessible after transforming.

“Can't think of anything. I couldn't find a compass or anything like that.” Chat Noir said. “So, ready?”

“Ready. Tikki, transform me!”

“Plagg, transform me!”

As soon as the rush of magic over her skin subsided, Ladybug turned to look at her partner for the first time in at least an hour. He looked healthy again, but he was frowning, expression drawn with stress.

Ladybug reached over with one hand to take his, and then grabbed the flashlight and the map with the other, folding it up so she could carry it and the flashlight at once. She watched Chat Noir pocket his own map and put the flashlight poking out of the pocket at his chest so he didn't need to carry it. “I really wish I had pockets.”

Chat Noir blinked at her, “Why don't you give yourself them when you transform?”

She frowned, “What are you talking about? Tikki's the one who made the suit like this.”

He shook his head, “It’s based on what you imagine it. You must not have had anything in mind and then you expected it so it just gave you generic.”

Ladybug stared at him. “Really? I could've been wearing whatever I wanted? I didn't have to be in this plain thing?”

He snickered, and she flicked the bell at his neck. “Shh! I didn't know, okay? At least I'm not the one who has a bell like a little kitten.”

“It's cute!” He said defensively.

It really was. Her chaton was surprisingly good at being adorable.

“You are a very silly kitty.” Ladybug smiled at him and reached over to scratch behind his cat ears. It seemed like the stress melted off him, replaced with a silly, happy smile. Her own smile widened. That was the kind of expression her silly cat should have. The faint sound of purring caught her ears and it made her feel warm.

It took a minute for her to make herself pull away. “Alright. We wasted enough time. We should go.”

“Right.” He flashed her a smile. They headed to the store's bathroom. The foggy world was still visible, just barely illuminated by the light from the window.

“Oh! I forgot to tell you about the girl-- there was this little girl when I looked at the mirror on the other side. She told me it was dangerous here and asked if I would risk it. Then she told me to take her hand and she’d give me the power to go through the reflections.” Ladybug said, trying to remember the details. “I completely forgot, I was in such a rush to get to you…”

“A girl? Okay. Now this place is even weirder.” He shook his head. “So you think we can get back out through the mirror?”

“I hope so.” She took his hand and reached out with the other to touch the mirror.

At once, she was on the other side, and her hand was empty. She could see Chat Noir on the other side, looking surprised. He tried touching the mirror too, but nothing happened.

Scowling, she reached for the mirror again and once more was on Chat Noir's side. “Great. Looks like only I can go through, so I guess we're stuck here.”

“You aren't stuck. I am.” He pointed out.

“Which means we both are because I am not leaving you.” Ladybug said firmly. She grabbed his hand again and marched them out towards the door. “We are getting out of here together.”

And together, they stepped into the darkness.

 


 

Ladybug very clearly did not like this world. Chat Noir could see as far as the fog allowed, even better because of the flashlights, but Ladybug was stuck only seeing what the lights illuminated. They made their way to the roofs, where there were less monsters, but it was still slow going with the darkness impeding Ladybug.

“I hate this place already.” Ladybug muttered with a shudder. She hadn't stopped frowning since they left the corner store. “I would have been terrified if I was stuck here as a civilian.”

“It was terrifying.” Chat Noir agreed quietly. He was tense being outside now, even with the protection of his transformation. He was alright now, but he had died to these monsters. He'd ‘died’ before, in the fight against Chronogirl, but he had chosen to take that hit for Ladybug. There had been no choice here, he'd just been utterly helpless. That wasn't something he could just shrug off.

Ladybug being here did help though. She may not have been able to see that well in the dark, but she was keeping a wary eye all around them, her gaze repeatedly going back to him as if to make sure he was alright. While he didn't want her to worry, the concern made warmth bubble in his chest. She cared. She wanted to protect him.

Ladybug's frown deepened at his words. “At least we're transformed now, so we should be safe. I just wish it wasn't so dark…”

Chat Noir sighed. “I don't mind the dark, but this is…” He glanced up. “There’s literally nothing. No stars or moon. It’s like we're in this void . It reminds me of inside Numéric's camera.”

Ladybug stopped so suddenly that Chat Noir had to veer to the side to avoid smacking right into her. “Wha-”

“Numéric!” Ladybug turned to him, eyes lighting up with realization. “You used Cataclysm to get out! That was like this, wasn't it? A different plane. Maybe you can break this one too!”

He stared at her for a moment, thinking. “It could work. We can try at least. But we're gonna want to be on the ground.” He looked around nervously. The pocket dimension in the camera had been empty. If this didn't work-- and even if it did, it could cause a lot of damage. He was pretty sure any other ‘layers’ that existed would be fine, but if something fell on them halfway through destroying it…

Ladybug nodded, looking for a spot that had no monsters around and jumping down. He followed, taking in their surroundings carefully.

“Okay. This spot should work. I'll need to make sure I angle it right but we’ve got a decent amount of distance.” He took a slow, steadying breath in and reached out to loop his left arm around Ladybug's waist. She gave him a confused look.

“The safest place is gonna be where I am.” He explained. “Like the eye of a storm. Plagg said I wouldn't be able to hurt you with it unless I somehow wanted it to, but I want to be careful anyway.”

“What are you talking about?” Her nose wrinkled slightly with confusion, and he tried not to get distracted by how cute it was or that she was close enough he could count the freckles sprinkled on her cheeks. “Cataclysm is pretty contained isn't it?”

“It is, when I stop it at one object, like your lucky charm. That isn't gonna be strong enough to punch a hole in reality stable enough for us to get out, so I need to use my equivalent to the restoration.”

She stared at him. “You have one? You've never used it before, have you? Why not?”

“Just to get out of the camera.” Chat Noir said quietly. “I've never used it because it's equal to your restoration. You fix the whole city, heal people and even bring them back from death. This is its opposite, Ladybug. It would destroy Paris.”

He let that sink in for a moment. Ladybug let out a feeble ‘oh’ and wrapped her arms around him in return, suddenly nervous.

Chat Noir adjusted their hold on each other until he was able to hold onto her while pulling them into a crouch. He took one last deep breath to steady himself. “Cataclysm!”

The dark flecks of energy gathered around his hand, and he slammed it onto the ground, going straight for its full power instead of the Lucky Charm’s equivalent.

Not the town, this reality. He thought to the whirling darkness under his control. Destroy what's keeping us here.

The ground trembled, buildings collapsing as a wave of energy seemed to spread out from where his hand made contact with the ground. Darkness spread, leaving giant cracks in its wake that spread slowly apart. Through the ground and up the buildings and through the air itself. For a moment, sunlight filtered through the cracks.

And then the cracks suddenly slammed shut. The ground shook violently but it was somehow putting the buildings back together. It wasn't like it was healing and undoing it like the restoration, but rather rebuilding it. A loud, high cry of perhaps thousands of monsters throughout the town began to echo with rage. There was suddenly a splitting, burning pain in his head, sharp enough to make him gasp and let go of the cataclysm to clutch his head.

“Chat Noir!” Ladybug pulled slightly away and gripped his shoulder. “What's happening?!”

A voice echoed in his head that made the pain even worse. It was like a thousand voices screaming in his head: You have made a grave mistake, child. You will regret this.

“I think I made something mad.” Chat Noir said weakly, trying to get to his feet. It felt like he'd been attacked by the entity that had spoken to him. His Lady just stared at him, at a loss. “Really, really mad.”

The shriek of dozens of the birds from before came from all around them. It seemed to snap Ladybug out of her stupor.

“We need to get inside.” Ladybug said quickly, grabbing his hand. “You'll transform back and we need to be indoors before you do.”

He nodded, wincing when it made his head hurt worse, and let her tug him into a sprint. He covered his mouth and nose when he sneezed, and found there was blood on his hand as a result. His nose was bleeding. Just great. He wiped it off on his leg and swiped the back of his hand over his face to keep blood from getting in his mouth.

“I think something in this town hates me.” He said as they sprinted along. “I think it knows I'm deathly allergic to feathers and that's why there are like thirty of the giant birds above us right now.” He sneezed again.

“What are you talking about?!”

“It talked to me.” Another sneeze. “Okay, it yelled at me. In my head. Said I made a grave mistake and I would regret it. I think there’s something controlling the monsters. It didn't like me trying to destroy this place and now it's really angry. So I think it’s why there are so many birds, since I'm allergic. Does that make sense? I'm not making sense.” He was rambling and he felt slightly delirious. He definitely felt like his brain had been rattled by that mental yelling.

Ladybug glanced back briefly at him. “Okay. I'll believe you. You sound crazy but I'll trust you on this. Just keep running! Tell me if you see any doors that aren't boarded up!”

“Uh, okay!”

Most of them were boarded up, barred, or just missing the door entirely. To make matters worse, creatures were emerging from seemingly everywhere to try to block their path and the giant birds were cutting them off from the rooftops. Ladybug released his hand to get enough space for a yoyo swing, and Chat Noir extended his baton several meters to knock as many creatures aside as he could.

There were just so many of them. Many more of the creatures with their arms trapped in skin from before. More of the dolls, staring at them with their glassy eyes. There were demonic looking dogs and creatures that were humanoid except for the giant swinging blade where their head should be.

They slowed them down considerably. It seemed like no time before he was down to the last warning beeps. “Ladybug I've only got a minute!”

She lassoed another group of monsters and flung them away to grab him and then swung again to hook on a faraway building, trying to cover as much ground as they could. “Dammit there HAS to be a building we can get into-- Ack!” She yelped when one of the birds dive bombed them during a swing, but Chat Noir knocked it back with a quick extension of the baton. It was quickly followed with a sneezing fit.

This was going catastrophically bad and if he wasn't so rattled he would have used that pun out loud. He thought Ladybug might not appreciate it anyway.

“The school!” Chat Noir pointed to a building labeled with large letters ‘Midwich Elementary’. Its double doors were not boarded up.

Ladybug changed directions to make a beeline for it. The monsters were thinning out, except for the birds which were practically blocking out the sky at this point. There was nowhere else to lasso so Ladybug took them to the ground.

The last frantic beeps came from his ring and the magic withdrew up his body, leaving Adrien cold and wet from the rain. He managed to just barely catch Plagg before he found Ladybug's arm around him again.

Ladybug avoided looking at his face, hefting him easily with one arm to throw him over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes and kept up the sprint. A moment later she had kicked open the doors of the school and then slammed and locked the doors behind them.

She stood there for a moment, still carrying Adrien, before she let out a shaky breath. “Are you okay?”

He coughed, “Y--yeah. I will be.”

“You were wearing a jacket. Could you pull the hood up?”

He did so, and with that Ladybug carefully put him down on one of the benches that lined either side of the room.

She sighed in relief. “Between the hood and your hair I can't see most of your face.” She sat on the bench next to him, watching him with concern still evident in her expression, though she was careful not to stare too closely at his face just in case.

Adrien leaned back against the wall, but kept his gaze low to avoid accidentally revealing his identity. He stifled a sneeze followed by a cough. Now that the transformation was down his head felt fuzzy and his throat felt like it was full of scratchy needles. But at least he could breathe.

“Are you okay?” Ladybug asked again when he coughed. She put a hand on his arm and scooted just a little closer. “I'm sorry that turned out so badly. And I should have thought about the risks of your transformation ending out there. Can you breathe alright? Should I use the restoration again?”

Adrien shook his head. “I'll be fine. We should try to avoid having to recharge. I’ve got some medication for allergy attacks. You got me out of there before I was in any danger.”

Ladybug frowned. “We were only in danger because of my idea to begin with. You said you made it angry?”

“Oh he definitely made it angry.” Plagg spoke up. He rifled through one of Adrien's pockets for the cheese, and tossed him his allergy pills at the same time. “Can you detransform, buglet? Need to talk to Tikki and decide what that was.”

 


 

Gabriel wasn't usually one to shy from direct confrontation, but today he found that he had little choice. As he stepped back out into the main street after searching the rest of the alley, he found that the previous emptiness had been replaced by shuffling footsteps. These creatures, just barely visible in the mist, were unlike the one he had already faced. These at first looked like someone in a straight jacket, until he realized that it was skin-- greyish, rotten looking skin that trapped its own arms and stretched over a featureless face. It had what looked like a wound in the center of its face and walked in a slow lurching manner.

But the fog helped obscure him as well, though he didn't know how these creatures could see or hear without eyes and ears. He moved as silently as he could, trying to avoid crunching the slowly building snow. There were a few more streams of footprints that the creatures had left behind.

He let out a frustrated sigh, breath joining the swirling fog around him. “Nooroo. Do you have any ideas for how to find my son?”

“I do not, Master.” Nooroo said softly. “You cannot transform and I am unable to sense through the pandemonium in this town. I do not know Adrien personally, so I don't know where he would have gone.”

Gabriel frowned. It hadn't occurred to him to try to think from Adrien's perspective. And he found it difficult to do so now that he tried. Adrien was so very unlike him, much more like Emilie in temperment. And he had changed very much since starting at that school. Adrien's frequent attempts to escape from his bodyguard's watch and the incident on Christmas Eve  had indicated a certain amount of recklessness, but Adrien also was no fool. Surely he would have tried to find shelter from the cold and these monsters.

There had been only a few locations that looked like an appropriate shelter. His best bet was to proceed forward and keep an eye out.

The creatures were slow and easy to dodge out here in the wide streets. He kept the pipe ready, in case any managed to get too close, but he managed to outpace them and they lost interest quickly. Aside from the monsters, the streets were still empty other than the abandoned cars. Now and again he would catch sight of a door that wasn't boarded up, but it always seemed to be locked.

“Master, there is a Police Station.” Nooroo's voice said softly through the silence. There were no monsters on this street, and he almost missed the noise of their footsteps. It was so quiet here. “It isn't barricaded. If it's unlocked, maybe he tried to find help?”

It was a reasonable assumption. He made his way to the door and tried the handle. For the first time since arriving in this town, it opened easily.

The inside was dark, lit only by the faint light drifting through the windows. He withdrew his cell phone from his pocket and turned on its flashlight function.

It was as silent as the street had been, and long-since abandoned, but there was no dust at all. Nor any signs of life. He almost walked back out to continue the search before reasoning that if Adrien had sought shelter here he may not have stayed in the lobby. Besides, there might be something better than this pipe to use for a weapon.

As Gabriel passed by the main desk, he spotted a city map sitting open. ‘Silent Hill’ it said across the top, and Gabriel frowned as he read it and picked up the map. Something about that name seemed familiar, but he couldn't place it. He pushed aside the nagging thought and focused on learning the town's layout. There was a huge lake in the middle of the town, which seemed to be built around one side. There were no bridges, only ferries and a road around. A nearby town called Shepherd's Glen was shown on another shore of the lake, and there was another route away from the lake towards a town called Brahms. The map also helpfully informed him that they were in Maine, in the United States.

“Have you heard of this town before, Nooroo?” Gabriel asked, showing him the map.

“No, Master.”

He wasn't surprised, but he was disappointed. It was to be expected, of course, especially considering the United States’ brief history compared to the rest of the world. The Kwami had been all over the world, but it was likely that they were here before colonisation. He frowned at the map. “But you are certain it is cursed?”

“Yes. Though I cannot tell what kind or if it was a placed curse or developed one. What I can tell is that there are many trapped and suffering souls here. There is an entity -- or perhaps entities -- that is in control. I can tell the controller is not a Kwami, nor is it a human power.”

Gabriel looked up from the map at the Kwami. “You are being surprisingly forthcoming in information today.”

Nooroo looked down.

“Why? Wouldn't it suit you to have me fall victim here? You would be free.”

“It would.” Nooroo admitted softly. He looked back up and met Gabriel's eyes steadily, a strange certainty in his gaze that unnerved him. “But I honour the uses the Miraculouses were intended for. You may deserve such a fate for what you have done, but your son does not. Adrien is an innocent and this is no place for the innocent. I am not so selfish as to gamble the life of a child for my own gains.”

He could hear no blame or malice in Nooroo's tone, but he knew regardless that the words were intended as a slight, and they burned all the worse for his calm tone. Gabriel scowled, but knew that anything he could say would only make Nooroo more sure of himself. He simply grunted in acknowledgement and went back to studying the map, but out of the corner of his vision he could still see Nooroo watching.

The look in the Kwami’s eyes was defiant, but more than that it was old, and unworldly. It was as if Nooroo was looking into the very core of his soul -- and perhaps he was.

He looked away, trying to keep his face casual despite how unsettled he was, and folded the map. “Then I am glad I can count on your assistance to find my son. Feel free to contribute any ideas on how to find him.”

“Understood, Master.”

He stepped around the counter and into the back where the desks were. Perhaps there would be something of use back here, though he thought it might be too much to hope that an officer had left his gun unintended.

Or not.

Gabriel raised an eyebrow at the sight of a gun sitting out on the desk along with a box of .40 calibre ammunition. America was not exactly known for gun safety, but a gun sitting out on the desk like this? While he was certainly grateful, it was a bit concerning. The doors hadn't even been locked. He shook his head and carefully picked up the gun, checking the safety and the ammunition carefully.

He had little direct experience with handguns, but he knew enough he should be able to get by. There was a full clip of fifteen cartridges inside, and one more in the box. There was also a holster draped over the back of the desk chair. He eyed it distastefully for a moment before sighing and attaching it to his belt. He made sure the safety was on before he put the gun away. With that sorted he began to search the rest of the room.

One of the other desks had a flashlight designed to stick out of a front pocket, which he swapped for the phone's light. He also found a fully stocked first aid kit, a combat knife, a large empty satchel, and a handheld radio. He spent a moment trying to see if he could get anything to come through, but there wasn't even static. After a minute he simply placed it into the bag, leaving it on a likely channel in case something did come through.

It was a very odd feeling, to be scrounging through other people's long forgotten belongings. It had been a very long time since Gabriel had scrounged for anything , whether literal or figurative. Not since Audrey Bourgeois had seen his designs and his life had turned around completely. Despite Audrey's personality, he had to be grateful for her for that. It was through her that he had met his Emilie, after all.

He made one more sweep of the room for anything he may have missed, eyes landing on some kind of energy drink and an unopened water bottle sitting next to a paper. He frowned, but resignedly went to pick them up. He was exhausted, and very thirsty by now after all the running. Both were still good, so he stashed the drink in his satchel and downed the water.

As he began to head towards the police station's bathroom to refill the water, his eyes caught on the paper. It was an arrest report for a burglary and murder.

‘At approximately 10 pm on the 18th of May, 1992, a 911 call was made by a neighbour about the sound of gunfire. Officers arrived at the scene to find a broken window on the house's east side. Victim Michelle Anderson, aged 34, had been shot ten times and was declared dead at the scene. Suspect Scott Fairbanks, aged 31, was still on the scene in a state of shock, and willingly turned himself in.

By suspect's own admission, he had attempted to enter the house believing it to be empty, but was caught by Mrs Anderson and shot her in panic. Eight year old _____ Anderson witnessed the burglary and shooting and was taken to Alchemilla Hospital to ensure her health, and to reunite with her father Frank Anderson, one of the doctors at the hospital.

Scott Fairbanks has been cooperating with the investigation and his lawyer intends to enter a plea deal.’

The name of the child had been blacked out with a permanent marker. Gabriel stared at it, frown deepening. This sounded familiar, just as the name of the town had, but he couldn't remember why. The town itself may have come up at some point in his research into supernatural dealings, perhaps he had read about this case at the time? It was the only thing he could think of. He did have copies of most of his research books on his phone. Perhaps he could check later.

On a whim, he took the report and placed it, folded, in his inner jacket pocket. It might help as a reference later when he tried to see what information he had on the town.

He went to refill the water bottle and did one last sweep of the police station, checking the empty holding cells and rooms for anything he could have missed. There was nothing else he deemed useful, so he checked the map to determine his course. He was on the northern edge of town, and it seemed unlikely that Adrien would try to leave the town and the potential shelter of the buildings. South would lead him further into town.

Gabriel stepped out of the station carefully, making sure there were no monsters in the immediate area before he turned left to continue down what was labelled as Crichton Street.

He had only been walking about a block when he spotted a figure in the mist. At first he tensed, hand going for the holstered gun, but this figure didn't move like the monsters. It walked like a person, too tall to be Adrien but most definitely human.

“Wait!” Gabriel started towards them. If nothing else, he could ask questions, and maybe they had seen Adrien. And a part of him was just grateful to see another human being.

The person didn't seem to hear Gabriel's call and kept walking, slipping through the door of the large building ahead. Getting closer, he could see the large lettering overhead identifying it as Alchemilla hospital.

He followed quickly.

Like the station, there was no dust here at the front desk, despite the obvious abandonment. It was illuminated dimly by the windows, though it grew darker further into the hall. There was no sign of the person Gabriel had followed, but he thought he heard a door somewhere ahead. His eyes caught on a map of the hospital sitting on the desk and he snatched it up, skimming to familiarise himself with the basic layout.

“Nooroo, can you sense them?”

Nooroo peered out from the inner pocket he had hidden in at the sight of the figure. “Yes, Master. It is difficult with the circumstances, but I faintly feel at least one person in this building.”

“Good. Then we can still find them. Hopefully they will have some answers.”

Nooroo watched him for a moment. “Aren't you concerned that it may have been Ladybug or Chat Noir?”

Gabriel frowned. In truth, he had been too glad to see another human to even think about it. “No. Both of them are shorter than the person I saw. Ladybug is quite petite, and Chat Noir, while taller, is still shorter than most adults. This is someone else.”

And the presence of the heroes would not actually be unwelcome. He could find a way to spin some tale about getting caught in the Akuma's crossfire before they had arrived on the scene. They would protect an apparently innocent civilian like him and they were unlikely to be affected by the town's trapped spirits like he was. They would be able to help him find Adrien and keep him safe.

Dismissing those thoughts for now, he turned on the flashlight and stepped into the darkness of the hospital.

 

Chapter Text

Ladybug turned her face away before releasing the transformation. When the last of the magic had withdrawn back into Tikki, Marinette pulled up her hood to hide her face and began digging through their supplies. She located a water bottle and handed it to Chat Noir. He gave her a grateful smile and twisted the cap off so he could wash down the allergy pills.

“Are you both okay?” Tikki quickly flitted over to check on both Chat Noir and Plagg. “I couldn't hear it, but I felt it.”

Plagg pat Tikki’s little hand reassuringly. “Yeah. It couldn't mess with me directly and I kept the kid's brain from exploding or whatever it wanted to do. But it's pissed, and he was right. Those bird things were specifically for him.”

"Exploding?!”  Marinette made a noise between a squeak and a choke. She was feeling worse and worse for her decision to have Chat Noir try to break through the world they were in. Whatever they were facing was alive, powerful, and nothing like the enemies they were used to fighting.

She didn't know what to do, and it scared her.

“It's fine. Wasn’t gonna let that happen.” Plagg said, unconcerned. “But whatever that thing is, it had the power to rebuild after a full powered Cataclysm. Tikki, whatcha think? Demon? God of the Not-Kwami type? I can't think of any off the top of my head that would pull this kind of thing.”

“Even less who don't know to not mess with us after Alcaeus.” Tikki said the name like it was something foul.

“Alcaeus? Who was Alcaeus?” Marinette asked curiously. She glanced at Chat Noir to see if he had any ideas and frowned when she saw blood trickling from his nose. She started digging in her purse for the packet of tissues she was carrying.

“That sounds familiar.” Chat Noir said in thought, absently wiping away the blood with the back of his hand. “Was it someone in the Iliad or something?”

“Not the Iliad. No. Almost nobody knows him as Alcaeus anymore.” Plagg seemed equally disgusted by talking about him. “Doesn't matter. We made his life an eternal hell for what he did.”

Marinette wasn't paying attention. She found what she was looking for and held it out to her partner. “Your nose is bleeding… That isn't from the allergy is it? Are you alright?”

Chat Noir took the offered tissues and pressed one to his nose to stem the bleeding. “No, probably not allergies. I've never had that happen before.”

“That'd be because that thing tried to psychically attack you for trying to destroy its playground.” Plagg scoffed. “I was exaggerating about the head exploding, but not by much. But on the topic of ‘what the heck is happening’: Little Bug, about that girl you said you saw?”

Marinette looked down at her knees, feeling guilty. “I should have remembered to mention her before. Sorry.”

“I forgot it too,” Tikki shook her head. “Don't feel bad.” She turned to her counterpart. “Plagg, I wasn't able to sense anything distinct about her. It may have been because she was only communicating from through the mirror, or... Well, most of my power was being used on the transformation. I definitely felt a human astral presence, but that was all I could tell.”

“She looked about six or seven. Definitely not older than eight.” Marinette recalled, deciding not to ask just yet what exactly ‘human astral presence’ meant. “Black hair, dark eyes, pale. She was wearing a blue dress with a red tie. I think it was some sort of school uniform?”

“Like this one?” Plagg pointed to a picture on the wall. It was a picture of some sort of club in the elementary school with a trophy, and every one of the girls wore a blue dress with a red tie.

“Yeah, that's the same uniform! She must be a student here!” Marinette said with a nod. “Maybe she's trapped here too.”

Tikki and Plagg exchanged looks, like they were having a whole conversation without speaking, but Marinette didn't know what was said in that exchange.

“We should look for her. This is probably a pretty scary place for a kid, even if she has some power over it.” Chat Noir said while he got out a new tissue to replace the presently blood-soaked one, “And maybe she'd be able to help us?”

“Not like I have a better idea.” Plagg said after a moment. “And a school is as good a place to start as any. Even if she isn't here maybe you can figure out where her house is.”

Tikki nodded. “That seems reason--” She stopped abruptly with a gasp. Plagg glanced around the room, fur noticeably standing on end. Chat Noir shuddered, visibly tensing.

“What's wrong?” Marinette reached out on instinct to grab his arm with a strange fleeting thought that she needed to make sure he stayed with her. But she didn't even know why she would think that.

“I dunno. It feels weird.” Chat Noir shook his head, setting his hand over hers nervously.

“It's changing.” Tikki said in a whisper. “Look.”

Marinette’s eyes widened. It was like water dripping down the walls, wallpaper covering the dirt and rust and mould. There was a pulse , and suddenly there was light in the crack beneath the door, and the air seemed somehow lighter, but colder. The sound of rain stopped.

Tikki phased through the door and back. “We're back in the world Ladybug and I started in.” She reported. “There are still monsters, but not as many.”

“At this point I'll take any good news.” Plagg said. “I hear less creeping around the halls too.” He inclined his head towards the door that led into the school proper. “That’ll make looking for that girl easier.”

“Yes. At least one bit of good luck.” Tikki agreed. The Kwami hesitated for a moment. “I wish we had a way to communicate with you while you're transformed. We have had millennia to refine our ability to sense the supernatural. We haven't even started working on that ability with you…”

“Speak for yourself!” Plagg rolled his eyes, and when Tikki opened her mouth he quickly added: “Don't yell, Tikki. I don't tell you what to do with your Little Bug so you don't get to tell me what I do with my Kitten. I've been working on his senses in and out of the transformation.”

“You mean the better night vision and hearing?” Chat Noir asked. “Wait. Was that not supposed to happen?”

Tikki glared at Plagg. “No, it wasn't. We were supposed to take it slow and keep Papillon from finding out about any powers he might not know about. That, and giving you these abilities would leave you with permanent effects even if you were to relinquish the miraculous. You're both so young, I didn't want to rush you into it.”

Marinette was quiet for a moment. “What abilities are you talking about?” She didn't like the idea of permanent abilities, especially without time to think about it. But under the circumstances, anything that could get them out safely had to be considered.

“Enhanced senses, both for the supernatural and in general related to our animals. If you choose for us to give you those abilities, it would take some time for the senses to develop fully, though since Plagg has been allowing that ability to develop, Chat Noir will adjust faster.” Tikki said.

Chat Noir shrugged. “I can't speak for Ladybug, but I don't mind better night vision and hearing.”

There was a moment of silence before Marinette sighed. “We need every advantage when we don't know what we're up against.”

“See, Sugarcube? I told you some enhanced senses weren't as big a deal as you were making them.” Plagg said smugly. “Humans like having better senses.”

Tikki glared at him. “I can't believe you sometimes!”

“And I can't believe how careful you wanna be all the time. You just don't wanna admit I was right to start getting him used to it early.”

Chat Noir tuned out their argument and glanced at her. “Do you think you'll get to sense electromagnetic fields? That'd be pretty cool.”

Marinette was glad for the distraction from what was probably a centuries -- if not millennia -- old argument between their Kwamis. Though Chat Noir's question did puzzle her. “Sense electromagnetic fields?”

“A lot of bugs can. If you get bug-themed senses like I get cat ones, you might be able to do that. Tell which way is north, and other strong fields.” He said with a rather excited smile. “You probably wouldn't get better eyesight, but Ladybugs have a really great sense of smell.”

She frowned, nose wrinkling with distaste. “Of all the improved senses I can picture, smell is the one I want the least. But I guess everything helps in a situation like this. And sensing the supernatural sounds really useful.”

Chat Noir nodded, and cautiously checked his nosebleed. It had finally stopped. “I think I'm ready to go if you are.” He told her.

“Me too.” She set out the flashlight and the map so they wouldn't be lost in the transformation. “Tikki, Plagg. If you're done arguing, we're ready to head out.”

Tikki at least had the decency to look sheepish, though Plagg was clearly unrepentant.

“Yeah go ahead.” Plagg said. “We're done.”

“We're postponing this argument until later.” Tikki corrected with a glare. “Go ahead and transform.”

“Alright. Tikki, transform me !”

Pockets. She thought, remembering Chat Noir's earlier words. I really, really want pockets.

When the light cleared, Ladybug cautiously examined her outfit and found, to her delight, that she now had pockets at her hip and one at her chest and they seemed almost invisible, even when she put the map in them. She gave Chat Noir a wide grin as she saw the last of his own transformation fade. “It worked! Pockets!” She happily stuffed her hands in them, wiggling her fingers. While the map didn't seem to make the pockets bulge, her hands did. Probably magic. She put the flashlight in the chest pocket so she could keep her hands free and still see.

Chat Noir snickered. “Only nearly a year later.” He teased. She elbowed him and childishly stuck out her tongue. He returned the gesture and the two of them broke into giggles. It wasn't very mature of them, but at the same time… they were just young teenagers, really. Sometimes they needed to just be silly to keep sane.

“So. Shall we?” He gestured towards the door with one hand and retrieved his baton from its place on his back with the other. His cat ears twitched. “I believe I hear creatures down the hall.”

Ladybug nodded. She went quiet for a moment, trying to figure out if any of her senses really were better yet. She couldn't hear the creatures, but she did have a faint sense she had a hard time identifying, and there was a tinge of the smell of rain and copper in the air now. Giving up on it for now, she went for the door.

She could hear the footsteps now as she stepped into the darkness of the hall. She flashed her light down the hall, illuminating the two creatures. They were smaller than she had expected, one about her height and the other a little shorter. These ones were human shaped, but naked and mottled grey, with a grotesque mass of flesh containing perpendicular slices instead of a nose or eyes, but they had a mouth; a horrible, bloodied mouth with large sharp teeth. Both of them carried knives, and turned their eyeless faces towards her light and started towards her.

Chat Noir slipped through the door behind her, and she heard the baton extend. “One more over here, My Lady. They…” He faltered for a moment. “They look like children."

Ladybug hadn't realized, but he was right. Not just their height, but their proportions and the way they seemed to almost toddle towards them. She hesitated, thinking fast. The corridor was narrow and it would be difficult to evade them in such close quarters. But she wasn't sure if she was alright with killing creatures that resembled children this much, and even less sure about convincing Chat Noir to.

“See if they can be knocked out.” She decided. The one nearest was getting too close for comfort. She swung her yoyo out, going for the creature's head. It staggered back, and she tried again, this time angling the yoyo so it would get it from behind on the return.

That seemed to do it. The creature let out a groan that was much too human for comfort and slumped to the ground. There was another thump from behind her as Chat Noir succeeded in knocking out the one on the other side of the corridor.

The second creature took a few more swings with the yoyo to disable before it fell to the ground. “Is that all of them?” Ladybug asked.

“All of them in this hallway.” Chat Noir confirmed. “I can hear more in the other halls."

Ladybug nodded and turned her attention to their surroundings. With the threat mostly gone, she could now look around properly. To their left was a reception desk, mercifully stocked with a stack of maps for first day students. She grabbed two from the stack and passed one of them to Chat Noir. “We might be able to find some sort of record or yearbook in here.”

They stepped through the gap in the counter. There was a list of teachers sitting out, but that wouldn’t be very helpful finding a student. There were a few books, but none of them seemed to be yearbooks. There were student files in a cabinet on the right, but a quick rummage showed no pictures.

“If she’s between six and eight, she’s probably in first or second grade.” Chat Noir mused to himself, stepping over to one of the class schedules and comparing it to the map. “There’s one classroom per grade. Pretty small school.”

“Maybe there’s something in the first or second grade classrooms then.” Ladybug glanced down at her own map. “Let’s check the teacher’s lounge first.” She pushed open the door and stepped in, scanning the room quickly for anything that could be helpful. There were two couches and a table, and on the wall directly to their right was the most disgusting painting Ladybug had ever seen, two cloth-wrapped hanging bodies on either side of a rusty, bloody door.

Beside her, Chat Noir shuddered. “Great. More creepy paintings.”

“More?” She glanced back at him.

He nodded uneasily. “I woke up in some creepy art gallery full of paintings like this, and monsters that looked like life size porcelain dolls in some seriously high-end fancy clothes. Not fun.”

Ladybug frowned, “What is wrong with this place?” She shook her head and kept looking around.  Just a potted plant in the corner and a small red box on the table. On closer inspection, it turned out to be ammunition for a handgun. “What is this doing in a school?!” She picked it up to show Chat Noir.

“I have no clue.” He shook his head, frowning at it. “That kinda implies one of the teachers had a gun in school.”

She set it back down and turned away. “Nothing useful here. Let’s see about the first grade classroom.”

It turned out both doors to the rest of the corridor were locked, but the door to the courtyard wasn’t. Chat Noir caught her arm before she could open the door the rest of the way. “There are more of those things out there.” He said staring at the door instead of her, cat ears perked to listen. “I think…four? But they should be easy to get around in a big space like that. I don’t hear any birds.”

“That’s one positive.” Ladybug nodded. “Ready?”

“Ready.”

 


 

It took a moment for Chat Noir to get used to the light again after so long stuck in that dark other world. It had been mostly either very dark as Adrien or very green as Chat Noir. Out here it could be almost normal, if it weren't for the dense fog, unseasonable snow, and the lumbering monsters not quite visible through the fog. He could hear them crunching the snow, and feel their presence, though it was difficult to wrap his head around. He had sort of felt them before, but now it was a little stronger, almost like a nagging, reoccurring thought.

And on the bright side, Chat Noir was definitely sure he hadn’t just imagined the feeling when he was with Ladybug. Her presence was filled with warmth and light and safety and wholeness and that light fluttering of the ladybugs her restoration summoned. He guessed it was their Miraculouses, creation and destruction balancing each other and drawing them to each other like opposing poles of a magnet.

Ladybug plowed on ahead, though she tried to keep her steps light to avoid attracting unwanted attention from the creatures. It wasn't a terribly long walk to the other side, so if any of the monsters noticed them, they were through the door before any could act. This hall was nearly identical to the other one, except instead of reception and the infirmary, the map had labelled the rooms ahead as storage and a hall. There was only one creature here, this one even smaller than the others.

Two strikes from Ladybug's yoyo seemed to knock it out.

With the threat neutralised, Chat Noir took a moment to try to analyse their surroundings. He could hear another child-monster in the other hall, and a very faint static from somewhere a little further.

“Looks like the first and second grade classrooms will be to the left. I hear one monster and some sort of static. If this door is locked I could use cata--”

“No!” Ladybug almost yelled. She shook her head frantically. “Don't use it unless you have to. I don't want you transforming back unless we're sure it's safe, okay?”

He frowned, a little baffled by how aggressively she had rejected the idea, but nodded. “Okay.”

It didn't turn out to be a problem anyway. The door was not locked and they were able to pass into the next hallway without a problem. There was another creature further down the hall, which Ladybug took out again before Chat Noir could do anything.

“The static is coming from the second grade classroom.” Chat Noir told her. “Two monsters, I think.”

Ladybug nodded and pushed open the first door and let out a startled yelp when it turned out that one of the child monsters was right beside the door and it charged at her, grabbing her arms to try to keep her still while the other one approached with the knife.

With an instinctive growl, Chat Noir lunged with the baton, extending it to push the creature back further into the room. It let out a pained noise as it smashed into the wall and fell into a heap on the other side of the room.

The other one was too close now and there wasn’t space for Ladybug to use her yoyo. Instead she sidestepped quickly to grab its knife arm and threw it across the room. Now with enough space, she threw her yoyo to knock it out. It fell to the ground with a soft thud.

Chat Noir checked to make sure that the one he’d pushed back was still down, but his eyes caught on something else. In the corner of the room was a third monster he hadn’t heard because it was sitting still and silent in the corner, hunched over and motionless.

“Ladybug, look.”

She followed his gaze and tensed, “What is it doing?”

“I don’t know.” He hesitated, then extended the baton until it almost reached the creature and tapped the ground next to it. The monster didn’t move, though it seemed to be breathing. He poked it in the arm with his baton and it still didn’t move. “That’s really weird…”

Ladybug eyed it suspiciously. “I guess we don’t need to fight it, but don’t let your guard down.”

“Wasn’t planning on it.” Chat Noir assured her. Keeping the monster in his peripheral, he looked for the source of the static and found it in a small red handheld radio on the teacher table. He picked it up and started to bring to bring it back to her, but paused when he heard the static quiet slightly. He took a few steps back, then to the side, listening intently.

“What are you doing? ” Ladybug questioned.

“Listen!” He crossed to the room as far from all three monsters as possible. The radio quieted even more. “This thing gets louder when it’s closer to those things!”

“That could be really useful. Weird, but useful.” Ladybug leaned in to look at it. Chat Noir held it out to her.

“You probably need it more than me. I can hear them without it.”

Ladybug made a face, “Rub it in huh?” She turned down the volume slightly as she put it into her pocket so it wouldn’t be too irritating. Chat Noir began to search the teacher’s desk while Ladybug started checking student desks. Chat Noir found a class roster, but it didn’t have any pictures or anything that would be useful for identifying the students. He moved over to check what was pinned to the walls, finally finding a class photo.

“Hey. Over here. Is she in this?” He carefully unpinned it from the wall to show Ladybug when she came to join him. She took it and looked closely at the faces of all of the children for a minute before shaking her head.

“Not here. Let’s try the first grade classroom.”

The static carried on as they took the connected door into the first grade room, but Chat Noir hadn’t heard any monsters. At first glance, the room was empty. Under his suit he could feel goosebumps, and a sensation he could only describe as loneliness but it wasn’t his. Movement caught his eye and he realized that there were faint dark images of child-sized figures. They became clearer when Ladybug’s flashlight flickered over them, but they made quiet whimpering noises and tried to get away from the light. A few moments later they had disappeared and the static quieted, and that creepy feeling disappeared with them.

“Were those ghosts?” Ladybug asked nervously. “I’ve always hated horror films.”

Chat Noir stared at her. “Ladybug, we’re practically in a horror movie right now. We’re trapped in a town full of monsters, bottomless pits, and some sort of entity that was able to totally rebuild after a full powered cataclysm.”

Ladybug went pink. “That’s different! We can fight these monsters! I can’t punch a ghost.”

“Theoretically, Cataclysm would work on a ghost.” Chat Noir admitted quietly. “But I would rather only use it on a residual haunting and I don’t know if I could tell the difference between a residual ghost and one that’s actually a person. I don’t want to destroy someone’s soul.”

She gave him a strange look, “A residual haunting? What are you talking about, and why do you know so much about ghosts?”

I had a lot of time alone to read up on random things instead of making friends, he thought. “I just read a lot of books when I was younger. Parapsychology is a pretty interesting field.” Chat Noir said instead. “Residual hauntings are just imprints of emotions and memories being recorded into surroundings and then they can play back like a video or act on the emotions involved. And uh, to answer your question, I don’t know if that’s a ghost but it does fit a certain haunting appearance?”

“Great,” Ladybug groaned. “So there might be ghosts on top of everything else. I hate this town.”

“We can ask our Kwamis what to do about them next time we transform.” Chat Noir said reassuringly. “Come on, they’re gone now. Let’s see if we can find the class photo for this grade.”

“Right.”

They spread out into the room to look. Chat Noir searched the walls, finding nothing besides some slightly disturbing children’s drawings, and another class roster. When he turned to see what Ladybug had found, she was staring at a desk in the middle with a scowl.

“What’s wrong?”

“Look at this, it's horrible! I hate bullies.” She pointed to the desk. Etched into it were a number of angry scribbles, among them: ‘Thief’, ‘Witch’, ‘Drop Dead’, and ‘Go Home’.

Chat Noir felt sick. First graders should not have to deal with bullying that intense. “Poor kid.”

“I hope this kid’s doing better now, whoever they are.” Ladybug murmured. She paused, sliding open the desk’s drawer. “There’s something in here.”

It was the class photo. One girl was standing slightly apart from the others, a small girl with dark hair and a sad expression.

“That’s her!” Ladybug said excitedly, holding it close to examine it. “That’s the girl who helped me. I wish this labelled their names, but at least we know what grade she’s in!”

Chat Noir’s gaze caught on the back of the photo, and the small writing on it. 'First Grade Class, 1980.’

“Ladybug, this is from forty years ago.” He reached out to turn it so she could see the back. “So either she’s an immortal seven year old, or--”

“Or, I could be a ghost,” said a soft girl’s voice from behind him.

 


 

The first door Gabriel came across was locked. He glanced down at the hospital map for a moment and then took a pen from his pocket to mark it on the map. It was a large building and it would pay to be thorough in his search. Assuming, of course, that the door into the hall was accessible.

Mercifully, it was. There was a staircase to the second floor in front of him and just to the left of that were the bathrooms. Beyond that, another door led to the rest of the hallway.

The men's bathroom was blocked. The lock seemed to be broken. The women's bathroom opened but was empty and silent, so he progressed to the next part of the hall. “Nooroo, do you sense anything?”

“Not yet, Master. Just that there is still someone nearby. I may be able to find them if we get close.”

Gabriel nodded curtly. All doors but the office were locked in this hallway, and the stairs down to the basement…

“Someone barricaded the way down.” Gabriel observed. “Why?”

“I don't know, Master.”

Gabriel shook his head. “Thinking aloud, Nooroo. Most of the town seems simply abandoned. This is the first indication of something being wrong prior to its abandonment.”

He tapped the elevator button just in case, but the power was off, as he suspected. He turned back down the hall, intending to take the stairs he had seen before.

As he opened the door, the sound of static made him jump. The radio he had left on in his pocket was now emitting a mess of static loud enough he almost missed the lurching sound of footsteps. He took the gun from its holster and flicked off the safety as the source of the footsteps came into view.

It looked like a normal woman at first glance, but her eyes were covered in bandages, a strangely symmetrical blotch of blood on the bandages where her eyes were hidden. She wore a nurse’s dress that looked much more like something out of an old movie, but several buttons were loose to expose cleavage, though it was far from flattering considering how grey and dead looking her skin was. She had a blue cardigan open over the dress, and one of the folded nurse hats. A bloody scalpel was clutched in her hand as she stumbled her way awkwardly towards him, as if her body wasn’t quite responding right.

Gabriel hesitated. He couldn’t help it. Her shape was enough like an ordinary human at first glance that it gave him pause, worried for just a moment that he was about to shoot a human. But the scalpel glinted in the light of his flashlight and he tightened his grip on the gun, aimed, and fired.

The groan she let out was very human, and he shuddered but fired again. It took three bullets in total to finally down the nurse, by which point he had been backed into the door as she almost got within her scalpel’s range. She fell to the ground, limbs splayed out, and then after a moment’s stillness began to twitch . He let out an involuntary yelp of surprise and on instinct stomped on the monster’s head. There was a crunch, and she went still, and the static vanished.

Well, that was disturbing. Gabriel felt a little sick now, and he stepped carefully around the nurse to find someplace a little farther to rest against the wall and make himself breathe evenly.

There was a moment of silence, then Nooroo spoke softly. “If it is of any help, I could not feel any true emotions from her. Just an echo of lust, bloodlust, and longing. Though I am surprised you are bothered by killing something that seems human.”

“Of course I’m bothered!” Gabriel snapped, his anger overcoming the nausea for a moment. “Monsters are one thing, but people are another matter. She looked almost human, she sounded human.”

“You have killed countless humans already.” Nooroo reminded. “Many of your akumatized minions have caused mass destruction that cost lives.”

It was not news to him, though he never allowed himself to dwell on it.“That’s different!” Gabriel insisted. “Those deaths are not permanent. The restoration brings all killed in the battles back to life. Should one of my akuma succeed, I would use the restoration myself.”

“The memory remains, Master. You know that. They remember their dying moments. You’ve felt their fear when you search the city for new victims.”

“That is enough, Nooroo. Say no more about this topic.” Gabriel snarled. “I did not ask for your input about my actions. Those deaths are a necessary casualty, and they are temporary. I have never ordered my akumatised to kill.”

Nooroo kept silent, as ordered, but his expression was unrepentant.

Gabriel pointedly ignored him and straightened up, anger overwhelming his unease. He stormed up the stairs with Nooroo following quietly and obediently. There was a lobby of sorts at the top of the stairs, with a door leading to the rest of the hospital. This door was unlocked, to his relief, allowing him into a hallway full of patient rooms. There was a groaning sound, accompanied by unsteady footsteps. He steadied his grip on the gun and raised it in the direction of the noise.

A shot rang out, hitting the wall a foot from his head. Gabriel couldn’t stop himself from letting out an undignified yelp as he ducked away from the bullet. He raised his gun and the shine from the flashlight as quickly as possible to illuminate the source of the gunfire. It was another of the nurses, but instead of a scalpel, this one had a gun.

And she was preparing to shoot at him again.

But Gabriel shot first, rapidly firing into her head until she fell to the ground with a cry. When she fell, like the other one she began to thrash until he rushed forward to stomp her head. Nausea churned in his stomach again, but he refused to let it show. He would not show such weakness in front of Nooroo again.

He had no time to dwell, because there was sound of squeaking hinges from the door directly to his left. He whirled around, gun raised and ready, and found himself meeting a pair of hauntingly familiar bright green eyes.

Gabriel’s heart skipped a beat.

“Emilie?”

 

Chapter Text

For a moment the world seemed to still as if time had stopped. Gabriel stood frozen, staring at wide green eyes he hadn't seen for over a year, his hand with the gun dropping by his side. He finally forced himself to breathe, “Emilie?” He said again.

“I'm sorry.” The woman broke their gaze, looking down anxiously at the hem of her dark grey dress. Her voice sounded so familiar, but the way she spoke was different, more faltering and shy, and she spoke in English. “I'm not-- you're mistaking me for someone else. My name is Hanna.” She pronounced it ‘hah-nah’, an unusual variant for an American.

Gabriel looked away for a moment to regain his composure, holstering the gun and clenching fists by his sides. After a minute he looked back, observing the woman again and trying not to be distracted by her resemblance to Emilie. Unlike Emilie, her hair was just barely past her shoulders, a much less vibrant and more platinum shade of blonde, almost white. Hanna looked tired and sickly, bruise-like shadows under her eyes, and she didn't meet his eyes. She didn't carry herself like Emilie, or act like her.

And besides, he knew full well where Emilie was.

“My apologies,” he said quietly as he regained his composure. “You resemble my wife. She's been missing for over a year now and I reacted on instinct.”

Hanna nodded, sympathy plain on her face, “I'm sorry. I hope she's alright. Did she go missing here?”

“No. We live in Paris.” Gabriel found he had trouble looking into her eyes. “What are you doing here? This seems like a ghost town, and there are these creatures.” He gestured towards the nurse's corpse by their feet.

Wincing, Hanna glanced further down the hall. “It's not normally like this. Silent Hill is small, but it's a popular tourist town. When I woke up this morning it was like this, and my parents were gone. My dad works at this hospital and I was hoping to find him here.”

“So you're a local.” Gabriel frowned. “Have you seen anyone else? I saw my son but I was unable to catch up with him. He's about at my shoulder in height, blonde hair, fifteen years old.”

Hanna frowned, “I think I might have. I don’t know if it was him, but I did see someone about that height. I didn’t get a good look. I saw them go further into the hospital and I was just searching the rooms for them. What’s his name?”

“His name is Adrien.”

Hanna hesitated for a moment, “And yours?”

“My name is Gabriel Agreste.” There was no recognition from his name, which wasn't terribly surprising if she grew up in a small town like this. He glanced down the hall and then down at the radio in his bag. Still silent. “Do you have anything to defend yourself with?”

“I found a gun.” She took it out of her purse to show him the old looking handgun. “I don't have a lot of ammunition though.”

“Nor do I.” Gabriel hesitated, glancing briefly at the pocket where Nooroo had hidden himself. He would not be able to talk to Nooroo in this woman's presence. On the other hand, Hanna had a gun and was familiar with the layout of the town. He may be able to make better progress with her help.

And he couldn't help but think about Emilie and Hanna's resemblance to her, and how leaving this woman with her familiar green eyes to fend for herself would feel like betraying his wife. And besides that, rusty though he may be, he did have combat training and he highly doubted Hanna did. He wasn't heartless, no matter what Nooroo seemed to think.

Perhaps this might prove it.

“It would be safer to stick together.” Gabriel suggested with a quiet sigh. “We can look for my son and your parents.”

Hanna nodded, “Safety in numbers. I understand.” She knelt down to the dead nurse and gently pried its gun from its hands and emptied out the remaining cartridges before taking a small box of more from the nurse’s pocket. “These are .40 calibre. Is that what your gun holds?”

“It is.”

She divided the ammunition between them. “I just checked room 201. I haven't checked anywhere else yet.”

“Unsurprising. I saw you outside and followed you into the hospital, so I wasn't very far behind.” Gabriel reloaded his gun and decided to keep it out rather than holstered. If any more of the nurses had guns he wouldn't have much time to react.

They began down the hall. Room 202 had a broken lock and could not be opened. Room 203 had nothing but three of the same brand of energy drink he had picked up in the police station. To his surprise, Hanna grabbed them and passed two of them to him.

“Why would we need these?”

Hanna blinked, “Oh, I didn't think about it. They… they heal you here, for some reason. My arm was cut by one of those monsters earlier and when I drank one of these my wound disappeared. I don't know why.”

Gabriel's eyes widened. “They heal you? That is ridiculous, it makes no sense.”

“Neither does anything else here.” Hanna replied, shaking her head. “Please take them. They could save your life.”

He tucked them into his bag. “I suppose you have no reason to lie about such a thing.”

The last room was the largest, and the moment they started to open the door static came from his radio. He paused, peering in the crack in the door. Three nurses, all standing immobile.

He shut the door.

“That's everything in this hallway.” Hanna told him, heading for the door to the other side.

Gabriel followed, observing the door. “There is a keycard reader.”

“I have one of dad's spares.” She withdrew it from her purse and opened the door.

Finding Hanna had most certainly been a stroke of luck. Well worth the momentary lack of Nooroo's input.

Hanna gave him a small smile as she held the door open for him. Her eyes lit up with the smile the same way Emilie’s did, and he had returned the smile without a thought.

Once she was turned away though, he tried to force it down. What was he doing? This wasn't Emilie.

“You really do resemble my wife.” He found himself saying.

She paused in the process of trying to open the operation prep room door.

“Emilie's father was American. She lived in America during her childhood before her mother died. Perhaps you are related.”

It was strangely easy to talk to Hanna about Emilie.

“Maybe.” Hanna turned back to give him a very familiar smile. “My mother was born in France. It could be either way.”

She abandoned the door.

The rest of the doors in this hall were broken. They returned back to the stairs and the third floor. As they reached the top of the steps, Gabriel's radio began to emit static again. He raised the gun as they stepped into the third floor hall.

Three nurses with scalpels staggered towards them, drawn to them by the light. He fired on the nearest to the left, while Hanna fired on the one to the right without needing direction. They took out the last one together and moved to finish them off at the same time.

It was too fluid. Hanna worked with him the same way Emilie had, without needing to speak.

She isn't Emilie, he reminded himself again.

Room 301 had two more health drinks and two boxes of bullets. It looked as if it had last been occupied by a child, judging by the teddy bear on the bed and the colouring books. A clipboard sat beside the bed with a note on it, and curiosity overcame Gabriel.

‘Patient _____ Anderson witnessed the death of her mother during a break in. She suffered several cuts on her feet and knees from broken glass while trying to aid her mother. Mental state very fragile, avoid bringing up her mother’s death.’

That incident again.

Gabriel took the police report from his pocket and glanced between them. Why did it sound so familiar, and why couldn't he seem to place it?

“Gabriel?”

He startled, “My apologies, E-- Hanna. I was lost in thought.” He took the note and pocketed it with the report.

There was a strange look on her face before she gave him a small timid smile and looked away. Her eyes seemed to catch on the teddy bear on the bed for a moment. “What a cute little bear. My mother gave me one just like that,” she said with the same smile before she turned and left the room.

Gabriel followed. He tried to get his thoughts in order. “You said the town is not normally like this? Are there any legends or folk tales or anything in history that might explain it?”

Hanna looked thoughtful. “Well, it was supposed to be a holy place once. Before it was colonised, it was known as ‘The Place of Silent Spirits’ by the indigenous population. Of course we all know how history went for them,” she said with a sigh.

“I'm familiar with it.” Gabriel nodded.

“The first settlement was wiped out by a plague. Whoever was left abandoned it. Later, it was settled again as a penal colony. Brookhaven Hospital and the Prison were built around then. There was a second epidemic, but the town survived it.”

Gabriel hummed in thought. “Well, those are plenty of reasons for a haunted or cursed town. It does not explain where everyone went. If the monsters had killed everyone there would be more bodies or evidence of struggles.”

Hanna shuddered. “Oh god, I hope everyone is okay.”

Right… Hanna actually lived here and had people she cared about who might be dead right now. He half-wished he could transform just so he could have a better idea of what to say. It was much easier when he could feel things from their point of view.

All rooms in this hall were empty and the door leading to the next hall was broken, refusing to budge with Hanna's keycard.

“We might be able to cut through the linen room.” Hanna suggested.

Gabriel tried the door, relieved to find it unlocked, but stopped to stare at the door leading out to the other side.

It had a series of circular indents along the left side. The right side had five words in a row, clearly correlating to the indents.

‘Friendship

Innocence

Love

Isolation

Fear’

“Is this a puzzle?” Gabriel said incredulously.

 


 

The girl from the mirror had appeared by the wall behind Chat Noir without a sound, watching them calmly as they startled at her sudden appearance. Ladybug dropped the photo on the desk, hand halfway to her yoyo before it registered who was there. Chat Noir meanwhile let out a rather catlike yelp of surprise and scrambled to turn and back up at the same time.

The girl stepped towards them, her gaze going to the desk and all its carvings. She reached out to trail her finger over the word ‘witch’ with a frown. “You found my desk. You were looking for me?”

“Yeah, we were looking for you.” Ladybug hesitated, glancing down at the desk. “This was yours? Why would they do this to you?”

“They were afraid.” She said simply. She pulled back from the desk and glanced around the room, frown deepening. “I don't have much time. It doesn't want me interfering and I'm not strong enough to fight it for long.”

“What is ‘it’ anyway? You're talking about what controlled the monsters right?” Chat Noir asked.

“It's hard to define what it is, but yes. It has influence over the monsters and the warped reflections of the town. It's angry at you for trying to destroy the Other World,” the girl said to him.

Ladybug tried to ignore the guilt about that and focus on the matter at hand. “Those reflections -- you made it so I could go through the mirrors, but I couldn't take Chat Noir with me. Can you help him too? If it changes things like it did earlier we'll be stuck again.”

“I can't.” The girl said regretfully. She stared at Chat Noir with something like pity.

“But you did it for me!” Ladybug protested. “Why can't you help him too?”

The girl looked back to meet Ladybug's eyes with that same searching stare she’d had in the mirror. “I wish I could, but it won't let me. It couldn't stop me from helping you , but it had already claimed him.”

“Claimed me? What's that supposed to mean?” Chat Noir asked uneasily.

“It found something in you it could grasp. That's how it chooses new prey. I can't oppose it directly, I can only alter things. I'm sorry.” The girl suddenly sounded urgent, looking around again. There was something like a pulse, the light seeming darker for a split second. “I have to go. If you can make it to my room in the hospital, I’ll be able to talk to you longer.”

“Wait! What's your name?” Ladybug said quickly when the girl stepped back.

“Alessa.”

And with that, the girl had disappeared just as quickly as she appeared.

Ladybug turned to look at her partner, who looked quite nervous about the idea of being claimed as ‘prey’ by whatever that thing was. Chat Noir had already died once in this place, and it sounded like that entity wanted it to happen again. That wasn't going to happen if she had anything to say about it. If it wanted to hurt her partner it would have to deal with her first.

The thought still frightened her though. What if I fail him again? She couldn't get that nagging thought completely out of her head, but she tried to push it aside for now. In the end, it didn't matter; everything had a chance of failure. All she could do was try her best and refuse to give up.

Placing a hand on his shoulder, she gave him a reassuring smile. “We'll figure out how to deal with this thing. We always do.”

“I know. Maybe what we learned from Alessa will be enough for Plagg and Tikki to get an idea about what we're dealing with.” Chat Noir gave her a smile that couldn't quite hide his unease, but did seem at least a little comforted. He distracted himself by grabbing the class roster and scanning the list of names. “Here’s her full name. Alessa Gillespie.”

The name was ringing a bell. Ladybug frowned, thinking back, “I think that newspaper we saw in the corner store mentioned her. She died in a housefire when she was seven. Something about a boiler malfunction. I wonder why she became a ghost. I guess we can ask her when we get to the hospital.”

“And to think you were nervous about ghosts a few minutes ago.” Chat Noir teased.

She flushed and crossed her arms. “Helpful ghosts don’t count. Let’s just get out of here.”

They backtracked past the unconscious child monsters and towards the front door. From this side the doors unlocked, making it easy enough to get back to the main hallway.

The door outside wouldn't so much as budge. Even when Ladybug tried kicking it down. She glared at it as if it had personally offended her.

“I could break it down.” Chat Noir offered. She shook her head frantically.

“Then you'd detransform while we were still out there. Or that thing could rebuild it again. That's pretty much the last thing we need to happen. We could try--” she was interrupted by a sudden, terrified scream from somewhere nearby. It was high and sounded like it might be a child.

“That was from the courtyard!” Chat Noir opened the courtyard door in a rush. They caught a brief glimpse of a little girl with shoulder length blonde hair in the same Midwich Elementary School uniform that Alessa had been wearing. She disappeared into the fog and they heard the other courtyard door slam.

Ladybug darted into the courtyard after the little girl, nearly running straight into one of the child-monsters in the process. It tried to stab her, though the knife couldn't penetrate the magic suit. Chat Noir lunged forward with his baton to knock it away from her, following up with a blow to its head to knock it out.

Overhead, there was the sound of flapping wings and shrieking birds. Chat Noir shuddered at the sound, going pale, cat ears flattening and tail moving closer to his body. It didn't escape Ladybug's notice. She knew she would be freaked out by a monster if she had been briefly killed by it. He must have had been too shaken by the fallout of his cataclysm to react earlier.

The nearest one dived for them, but Ladybug quickly knocked it aside with a throw of the yoyo and followed up with another swing to hit another one that seemed about to lunge.

“Get inside!” She grabbed Chat Noir's arm and rushed to the door, shoving him through first before she shut the door behind them. As soon as she had it shut, she swung around to look at Chat Noir. “Are you okay?”

“I'm fine.” He said, beginning to look a little more relaxed now that they were safely indoors. “You're the one that thing tried to stab. Are you okay?”

Ladybug frowned. He'd dodged what she really meant, but he seemed to be feeling better now that they were inside. She decided to let the topic drop, for now. “I’m fine, it didn’t do anything. Do you hear that kid anywhere?”

He listened for a moment and then turned his attention to the ceiling. “Upstairs.”

They wasted no time, sprinting up the stairs as quickly as they could. Chat Noir led the way down the hall, following the sound, but they found the door at the end locked.

Chat Noir pulled back, “ Cata -”

The image of him lying there bloody and motionless in the corner store was suddenly at the forefront of her mind and Ladybug panicked, grabbing his wrist with a yelped: “Don't!”

He stopped, but looked at her in confusion, waiting for some sort of explanation.

Her heart was pounding so fast and loud that she was half sure he must have been able to hear it. In truth, she didn't know how to explain her reaction to him. First she'd found him dead and then her carelessness had risked his life again and then there was what Alessa had said about the entity claiming him as prey. Now the thought of him changing back and becoming vulnerable again was making it hard to breathe as panic spiked in her chest and seemed to make it ache. She felt awful and sick and dizzy, what was wrong with her?

“Ladybug?” He prompted gently. “Are you okay?”

Ladybug swallowed, trying to get herself together. “I'm-- I just. Don’t use cataclysm. Don't change back okay? I keep thinking about what could happen to you again and I feel like I'm going to throw up and I don't know why I feel so sick-”

Chat Noir's eyes widened in realisation, though she was too disoriented now to figure out what. He gently pried her from his wrist and took hold of her hand instead. “Ladybug, try to breathe, okay? Out for seven counts, then in for seven. I'll count for you, okay? One, two, three...”

She nodded shakily shutting her eyes and focusing on his hand in hers and his voice and trying to match what he said. It helped, more than she had expected. Within a minute she was no longer as dizzy or nauseous, and she seemed to be feeling calmer by the second. He kept counting for her, giving her something to focus on.

Finally, Ladybug felt almost normal. She opened her eyes.

“Better?” Chat Noir asked softly. “Was that your first panic attack?”

“Is that what it was?” Ladybug asked, voice small. She knew what they were, she knew some of her friends had them, but knowing was different from feeling. “I didn't know it would feel so…”

“Real?” Chat Noir guessed, with a wry smile. “Yeah, they are pretty awful. Tons of people actually go to the hospital for their first panic attack because they mistake it for a heart attack.”

“How do you know it isn't?”

He shrugged, “Guesswork mostly, I suppose. You get used to the feeling.”

Ladybug frowned at him, “Are you used to them?”

Chat Noir hesitated, looking conflicted, before he shrugged. “Yes, but I wouldn't say they are common. Don't worry, My Lady.” He gave her a reassuring smile. “And I promise I will not use cataclysm unless I absolutely have to. But we still need to get through that door.” He gestured to it.

“We'll go around.” She turned back up the hallway. “The whole school is one big square with a hole for the courtyard, right?”

“According to the school map.” Chat Noir followed after her. This door opened easily, revealing a hallway surprisingly devoid of monsters. The next hallway down was clear as well.

It almost made Ladybug more nervous.

 


 

They made it down to the last hallway. Chat Noir could hear the faint sound of a child crying from what had been marked on the map as the locker room, and there didn't seem to be any more creatures around. The radio in Ladybug's pocket remained silent.

The door to the locker room caught their attention right away as they stepped into the hall. It was a pitch black, unlike the others, and written in blood were the words:

 

‘Timid little child, where is your voice?

Tired little child, given no choice.

Fate sealed by the blood in your veins,

Will worn down till nothing remains.

 

How long will you wait for someone to care?

Through this way is loss and despair,

Poor lonely child who can only displease,

Enter with a promise and eighty-eight keys.’

“What is that supposed to be?” Ladybug frowned at the door's message.

“Creepiest poem I've read in a while.” Chat Noir ignored the uncomfortable feeling building from reading the message. He tried the doorknob and found it locked. “I hear crying inside.” He fought with the door handle for a minute without success.

Ladybug nudged him aside and knocked on the door. “Hello?! Can you hear us? We're trying to help!”

There was no response.

Chat Noir listened. He could still hear the girl crying, but it was faint. “I can't hear her well. It might be soundproof or something.”

“Is there another way in?” Ladybug checked her map.

Chat Noir shook his head. “It's the only door, My Lady.” He paused, hesitating. He was worried about upsetting her again after her earlier panic attack.

She inhaled sharply, not quite a gasp, realising what he wasn't saying. She took a moment to think. “It was able to rebuild after your Cataclysm before.” Ladybug said slowly. Her eyes flickered over the door’s message again, then narrowed. “I think this is a puzzle. Instructions for opening the door. If that thing locked the door earlier it probably can do this too.”

“You mean it's toying with us.” Chat Noir didn't like the sound of that. He reluctantly read the door's poem again. Was it about the girl hiding inside? Or…

He decided it wasn't the time to dwell about that.

“I hope we don't actually have to find eighty-eight keys.” Ladybug muttered, eyes flicking over the door with the same kind of focus as her lucky charm.

Chat Noir looked down at the map still held in Ladybug's hand. Eighty-eight keys… the only other room in this hall was the music room. “Ladybug, there are eighty-eight keys on a piano.

She blinked, glancing down at the map. “And a music room next door. That's probably it. I hope it doesn't want us to play a song.” She started for the door.

“Not a problem, My Lady!” Chat Noir grinned at her. “I play piano.”

Ladybug gave him a surprised stare. “Really? You do? I never would have pictured you sitting still long enough to learn.”

“You wound me.” He pouted. “I'll have you know I can be very patient.”

His Lady just shook her head and went through the door, edging aside to hold it open for him to slip through as well.

Strangely, there were no other instruments besides the piano in the room. It stood alone in the centre of the room. The only other thing here was more red writing on the wall.

Sheet music written in blood. Not a full song, but he didn't need it to be. He would recognise those notes anywhere.

Why was this here?

“That must be what you need to play.” Ladybug stepped closer to the notes to look at them. When he didn't say anything, she looked back and her expression turned worried. “Chat? Are you okay?”

Chat Noir just stared, all playfulness gone. “My mère wrote this song.” He said faintly. “She only ever played it for us. It shouldn't-- how is it here?” He finally tore his eyes away, looking to Ladybug, trying not to freak out. This was something personal, digging into his childhood. The poem really had been meant to taunt him, echoing his darker thoughts.

Ladybug caught his hands. “I don't know. But we'll figure it out and we'll get this thing back for messing with you like this. I promise.”

He let out an involuntary, slightly hysterical laugh. “That's the song's name, you know? Promise Reprise. That’s what that stupid poem meant.” He shut his eyes and focused on breathing for a minute. They still had a job to do. They needed to open that door.

Ladybug held his hands until he was done. “Will you be okay?”

Chat Noir nodded, opening his eyes again. “I'll be fine. Let's just get this over with.” He made his way to the piano and sat at the bench. For a moment he wondered if the slight claws that came with his costume would impede his playing, but they didn't seem to when he set his fingers at the keys.

He began to play.

It had always felt like a sad song, a little creepy, a little mysterious, but he'd liked hearing anything his mother played. It had been the first song she taught Adrien as a child, guiding his hands to the right notes and praising him when he learned it so quickly.

“Why is it a reprise?” He remembered asking, six years old and sitting on his mother's lap while she played. His mother had smiled, but it was a strange and wistful smile.

“Because this one is mine, and the first Promise was someone else's." She had said.

“What are you promising?”

His mother never did give Adrien a real answer. He supposed he'd never know now. She was gone, and his father would never tell him if he knew.

The last few notes of the song seemed to echo in the room, and then there was an audible click from the locker room next door.

Chat Noir stayed still for a moment, staring at the piano, hands still resting on the keys.

“That was beautiful.” Ladybug whispered in awe, pulling him from his thoughts. “You're amazing.”

His face warmed, and a smile crept into his face. “You think so?”

She nodded, smiling at him. “Definitely.”

Nobody had praised his playing since his mom.

“When we get out of here, you'll have to play for me sometime.” Ladybug offered him a hand up from the piano bench. “But we should go find that little girl.”

Chat Noir let her pull him up and followed her to the storage room door. This time when he tried the handle, it opened easily.

The sound of an air raid siren filled the air, startling Chat Noir into letting go of the doorknob. The world seemed to pulse, growing darker, and with it a splitting pain in his head that forced a cry of pain and made him stagger into the wall for support while he clutched at his head.

“Chat! Are you okay? What's happening?” Ladybug reached for him, but before she could touch him there was another pulse and suddenly she wasn't there.

The world grew darker, rot and decay seeping into the walls and the ground,  The air smelled like copper and mould and standing water. He could hear the footsteps of monsters in the halls surrounding him.

Slowly, the pain faded. Chat Noir pushed himself off the wall and looked around. He wasn't outside the locker room anymore. He vaguely recognised it as the first floor storage room.

The feeling he got when Ladybug was near had faded.

He was alone.

 

Chapter Text

Don't freak out, Chat Noir told himself as he took a slow, shuddering breath. He rubbed his upper arms, trying to stop shivering. It was actually warmer here than in the fog, but it felt like there was a chill under his skin. There was a prickling along his spine, a feeling of being watched.

He probably was being watched. That thing knew about his mother, and the things he thought when he felt tired and alone and unwanted. How did it know these things about him? Was it in his head, reading his thoughts? Had it been doing that all along or was this revenge for his failed Cataclysm?

Either way, standing around wasn't exactly going to be helpful.

The door into storage was open. He could see piles of school supplies: textbooks that had been damp so long that their covers were illegible, scattered pencils, rotted notebooks, and spare desks. The window at the back of the room was blocked with bars of thick metal, like the ones at that art gallery. He couldn't see anything of particular use, so he turned to check the door that would lead to the stairs hallway. If he could get back to where he had last seen Ladybug, that would be a good start.

Unfortunately, the door was secured with more of those bars. Chat Noir glowered at them as if hoping he could magically will them away, before turning towards the courtyard instead. He almost opened the door before he remembered the birds.

He paused, listening. He didn't hear wings in the area. He did hear footsteps, heavier than the child-monsters, but he could deal with grounded foes much better. He opened the door cautiously and peered outside.

It was pitch black again, so his vision had turned to shades of green. The fog made it difficult to see too far, but there didn't appear to be any creatures in the sky.

He could see the monsters on the ground though, and he had been right in thinking that they sounded different. These weren't the child-like monsters from before at all. They were similar in height, but much bulkier, and the skin more mottled, like there was too much flesh and skin on their bodies. Their whole face was just a gaping mouth and their hands turned into long claws.

Chat Noir extended the baton. There were at least six of them in the courtyard, and it would be difficult to avoid encountering them completely. He pushed open the door the rest of the way and stepped into the rain.

The chill bit through his suit worse than before, a shudder escaping his body at the frigid water beginning to soak his hair. It almost distracted him from the approaching creature, but a growl caught his attention.

There were more than six. He swung his baton at the nearest one, flinging it back. Another one made a surprisingly fast lunge for him with its claws. He blocked with the baton, but he wasn't able to stop a third from getting behind him and clawing at his back.

Pain forced a cry from him as he felt it actually rip through the suit, though it did at least seem to lessen the blow. It should have been impossible. The suit was pure magic, tougher than any known material. A monster's claws should have bounced off harmlessly like the child creature’s knife had on Ladybug's suit. This was bad. Really, really, indescribably bad if he couldn't rely on the transformation to protect him.

He needed to clear space, adjust to a more defensive style and watch his back. It was trickier without his partner. They were used to watching out for each other.

Chat Noir went for a low circular swing of the baton, extending it another meter to try to get more of them in the same attack. The creatures were slow and clumsy, easy to knock over. He examined his surroundings, intending to vault over towards the door on the other side, when heavy footsteps caught his attention and he felt his heart stutter. Every instinct he had was telling him to run, but he made himself hold off long enough to look at the footsteps’ origin.

A huge figure was approaching. It looked like a man, but it didn't feel human. Its head was obscured by a strange segmented metal helmet, each segment containing sharp spikes on the sides that gave an impression of some sort of insect, and on top it had a single metal horn. The helmet seemed to be fused to it, bulging inflamed skin around the neck and shoulders where the metal was bolted to flesh. It wore a long coat that may have once been grey, but now was faded and covered in dried blood, and thick leather gloves that went almost to the elbow.

The creature also carried a huge sickle, and was headed straight for him.

It was definitely time to follow his instincts and run, Chat Noir decided. He turned back, leaping over the downed monsters and back through the door. He could hear the creature's footsteps speeding up.

The left door was still barred, so he sprinted for the right one. It was locked from the other side, and like the others he couldn't break it down no matter how hard he tried. The only other door besides the other lobby was barred as well. His only option was to try to somehow get around the creature and go the other way.

He turned, and found a leather-gloved hand seizing him by the neck.

Chat Noir hadn't heard it enter the hall. He didn't have time to wonder how he could have missed it, because the creature was lifting him up by the vice grip on his throat and he couldn't breathe. By now, an ordinary human would have probably been unconscious. His transformation was buying him time but he was seeing spots already, sound warping as his vision tunneled. He struggled, trying to hit the creature away with both kicks and the baton and clawed at the hands around his neck, but it only tightened its grip.

In his struggle his hand hit against the bars on the door and a last ditch idea formed.

C-Cata...clysm…” He managed to choke out, barely audible. He slammed his hand back into the bars, willing the metal to destroy itself in a very specific way. And as always, the Cataclysm obeyed.

There was an awful squelching sound of metal cutting into flesh. The bars had rusted and coalesced and then shot out into the monster sharp as blades, slicing him in ten places as each bar had turned into an individual blade. The monster grunted in pain, struggling for a moment before going still and loosening the grip on Chat Noir's neck.

He fell to the ground in a heap, landing painfully and gasping desperately for air and coughing. His neck hurt horribly, and it felt like his throat was swelling up. He was still seeing spots.

The sound of movement caught his attention. The creature was stirring. Somehow it had survived the attack and Chat Noir was torn between relief he hadn't actually taken a life, and fear.

Chat Noir forced himself to his feet and made for the courtyard door, running mostly on autopilot. He extended the baton to vault over the monsters in the courtyard and was grateful that the door on the other side was unlocked. He sprinted through and to the infirmary before the monsters inside could even react, turning off the flashlight as he went.

He needed to hide.

It wasn't a perfect solution, but under the desk was the best spot Chat Noir could see. He climbed under, hunching up to lean on his knees so the gashes on his back wouldn't touch the wall. They weren't too deep and seemed to have mostly stopped bleeding. That was about the only bit of good luck he had right now.

A beep from the ring reminded him both that he had only a few minutes left to detransform and that hiding might be harder if the sound gave away his location.

“Detransformation.” His voice was hoarse and even quieter than the whisper he'd meant. The magic withdrew up, rustling his hair, and the moment it was gone fully Adrien let out a strangled whimper. Things had hurt even with the pain-numbing effects of the transformation. The gashes on his back burned in the cold, and his throat was swollen and badly bruised. He fumbled to try to catch Plagg as the Kwami re-materialized.

Plagg looked more serious than Adrien had ever seen him. He took just a moment to recover and then went to fetch the cheese himself. “Adrien, stay hidden. Our bugs are on the way, but so is that thing.” The Kwami started scarfing down cheese in record speed and quietness. Adrien nodded, shivering and curling up in on himself. It hurt to breathe.

“It's here.” Plagg stopped eating abruptly and flew in close to Adrien, resting on his shoulder. “Stay still.”

Adrien didn't need more instruction than that. Besides, fear had him frozen, terrified to move or breathe too deep because if that creature found him again, he would be most certainly dead. He heard the infirmary door open, and heavy footsteps enter the room and begin to search.

It felt like an eternity before the footsteps grew faint and the door shut behind the creature.

Adrien relaxed, taking as deep a breath as he could to combat the dizziness of mostly holding his breath while the creature searched. Plagg went back to scarfing down his cheese. Once he'd finished he flew up just in front of Adrien's face.

“Ready to transform. Tikki's down the hall, they'll be here soon. You'll be okay.”

With a shaky nod, Adrien whispered, “Transform me.”  Plagg disappeared into the ring, and the suit covered him once again. His wounds and bruised throat felt a little less terrible, maybe even better than they had before detransforming. It was a little easier to breathe.

Chat Noir could now hear light footsteps nearby that matched Ladybug, though it sounded like she wasn't transformed. Using Tikki to track him down, most likely.

And mercifully, it seemed that the creature that had attacked him was nowhere to be found.

 


 

Ladybug stared blankly at the spot where just a moment ago Chat Noir had been. Her flashlight had flickered off and when it returned he was gone. The air raid siren was fading now too.

The locker room door was open. It was full of various belongings and lockers and a small stack of loose pipes from some repair job, but there was no one inside. She knew somehow with certainty that there never had been anyone inside.

It was a trick. It tricked us into staying in the school instead of finding a way out to the hospital. Ladybug thought numbly. It knew we would find a way out and tricked us into wanting to stay.

The numbness turned to fury, at the entity for what it was doing, and at herself for falling for it. And now it had Chat Noir back in that other world. He was all alone there and he had been so freaked out about this thing targeting him and his mother’s song.

For a moment Ladybug found panic spiking, threatening to overwhelm her like it had earlier, but she shut her eyes and breathed slowly like Chat Noir had told her. She didn't have time to fall apart. She needed to get to her partner, now. She wasn't going to let that thing have him.

Ladybug took one more slow, deep breath to steady herself. "Detransformation.”

She caught Tikki, gently depositing the Kwami into her purse before going into the storeroom to grab a pipe.

“Marinette? What… what are you doing? Why did you detransform?” Tikki poked her head out of the purse.

“Because I can't sense Chat Noir, or the monsters, or any of this yet. But you can,” Marinette said. Her hands trembled slightly as she weighed the pipe in her hands, and she tried to steady herself. “And we need to find Chat Noir as soon as possible.”

Tikki stared at her with wide eyes. “This isn't like the akuma. You're really going to fight those things as a human?”

Marinette gripped the pipe tighter. “Yes.”

The Kwami simply gaped at her for a moment, before she shook her head. “If that is what you want… I can sense Chat Noir still in the building. I can tell he is still transformed.”

“Good. Hopefully he'll stay that way.” Marinette glanced down at her map, then went to unlock the door back into the hallway with the stairs. “That girl we saw was just an illusion, wasn’t she? Just a trick.”

Tikki sighed softly. “She was, yes. I wish we could have warned you somehow.”

“No, I should’ve been more careful,” Marinette said, eyes ahead of her as she tried first the boy’s bathroom as it was closer, then the girl’s. Both were locked. “Dammit, open!”

There was a faint flash of red as Tikki phased out of her purse and through the door, and the lock clicked open.

“Thanks, Tikki.” Marinette shoved the door open as Tikki returned to her bag. There was a mirror over the sinks and she wasted no time running to it. She held on tightly to her purse and placed her palm on the mirror.

The smell of copper and mould assaulted her senses so strongly she gagged. She pinched her nose shut and breathed carefully through her mouth a few times before trying to breathe in normally again. Luckily now that the initial shock of the smell had faded she seemed to be alright. “Which way, Tikki?”

“He’s on the first floor. Near the stairs in the hallway below us,” Tikki said after a moment. Marinette exited the bathroom and started to the left, squinting through the darkness her flashlight could not quite fully illuminate.

She didn't get far. Halfway down the hallway there was a thick set of bars, close enough together that she doubted she could even get her arm through past her elbow.

“I don't think you could bend or break that transformed,” Tikki said grimly. “Like the doors. I think we'll have to get around. I bet you only something like Cataclysm would break those.”

Marinette made a noise like an irritated growl as she turned back. The classroom door was similarly barred, so she would have to go around the whole upper floor. She didn't have time for this.

Static came from the radio the moment she stepped back through the doorway. There were three of the child monsters lurching towards her.

She gripped the pipe tighter to hide the tremors in her hands. These things were much scarier when she didn't have a layer of magic bulletproof spandex between her and their knives and teeth.

Tikki squeaked. “Marinette, are you sure you don't want to transform?”

“I'm sure. I want you to keep track of where Chat Noir is.” The nearest one came into range and Marinette swung the pipe like a baseball bat, aiming for the head. There was an awful sounding noise she hadn't heard from the distance with her yoyo, and it dropped to the ground.

Marinette readied the pipe for the next one, but got caught off guard by the one a pace behind it lunging for her. It managed to grab one of her arms and her middle. She struggled to try to free her arm, unable to get a good hit in at this angle.

The other one took the chance to slash at her with its knife just as she managed to knock the first one away. It sliced through her jacket at the forearm, just grazing her skin.

Marinette gasped and kicked it away from her. It was just a shallow cut, not even that long, but it hurt. The suit had always dulled the pain and given her higher pain tolerance it seemed. This may not have been the brightest of her plans.

She kept swinging the pipe anyway, stepping carefully out of range of being grabbed. Once that one was down she brandished the now quite bloody pipe at the remaining one's head.

The static went silent. Marinette was breathing heavily, much more tired than she had been expecting.

“Are you okay?” Tikki asked worriedly. Marinette nodded shakily, pressing a hand to her bleeding arm.

It would hopefully stop soon.

“Tikki, can you see if there are any monsters in the next hallway?”

The Kwami flew out of the bag and through the wall. Half a minute later she was back, looking concerned. “There are four. I can sense Chat Noir moving though. He's crossing the courtyard, heading in our direction-- Oh, he stopped there.”

“This is still going to be faster.” Marinette checked if she had stopped bleeding and then cautiously opened the door. The four monsters were a little further down the hall and hadn't noticed her yet, and the stairs were right there.

She surveyed the area for a moment and then muted the radio and shut off her flashlight. Immediately she was in pitch blackness.

“What are you doing?”

“Sneaking past,” Marinette whispered. She took quiet, careful steps, feeling the ground in front of her before she put her weight down. She kept the mental image of the hall in her head, counting the steps until she found the stairs and the railing.

From there it was easy to make it down. She turned on the flashlight and radio warily, and was relieved to see no monsters here.

“Where is he now?”

“He went back into the hall across the courtyard while you were coming down the stairs.”

Marinette scowled. “Come on, Kitty. Stop moving.”

She was only a few steps down the hall when she felt something . Like a wave of something cool and soft and restful and she couldn't quite nail down how she was feeling it. Tikki let out a small gasp.

“Chat Noir just used Cataclysm.”

Marinette blinked, looking first at Tikki and then the direction she had felt that sensation from. “That was Cataclysm? It felt…” She struggled with the words. “It felt so peaceful."

“Destruction isn't a bad thing. It’s a rest between harvests and breaking things down so that something new can be made,” Tikki said softly. She spoke of it with the same fondness she had for Plagg.

Still, it wasn't a good sign if he had used it. Marinette forced aside her thoughts about the nature of magic and cataclysm and started forward again, but moments later Tikki stopped her.

“He crossed the courtyard.”

Marinette swore under her breath and turned on her heel, making her way back towards the door next to the stairs. The door was locked from this side, so she unlocked it and pushed through. The smell of blood overwhelmed her and she coughed, covering her face as she shone the flashlight to try to find the source. There were three monster corpses, not the children-like ones, but beyond that they had been mutilated beyond recognition by something with a blade. Recently, if the fact that the blood pools were still growing was anything to go by.

“Wh--what did this? There's no way Chat Noir did this.” He wasn't capable of something like this, not even close.

“I don't know,” Tikki said nervously. “He's in that room-- the infirmary.”

Marinette stepped over the corpses carefully. “Tikki, transform me."

By the time she reached the door, the magic had settled into place. Ladybug pushed open the door quickly. “Chat Noir?” she scanned the room.

A hoarse, quiet “Here,” answered her. She shone the flashlight in his direction to see him scramble out from under the desk.

“Chat!” Ladybug had crossed the room before he had even finished straightening, tugging him into a tight hug. She froze and pulled back when he only partially managed to hold back a hiss of pain, and she realised that her hands were damp where they had touched his back.

The light of the flashlight showed a darker red on her gloved hands. “You're… bleeding?” She said slowly. She grabbed his shoulder, gently but firmly turning him so she could see. Three long cuts, like claws. “How are you bleeding?! Our suits are bulletproof! Basically invulnerable!”

“I--I don't know.” He seemed to be having trouble talking. She didn't miss him rubbing at his neck while he tried to force words out. She reached out to snag his collar carefully to pull it back enough to see the dark bruises springing up.

“Oh Chaton … what happened ? Wait, don't answer yet,” she said hastily when she saw him open his mouth. "Lucky Charm! Miraculous Ladybug!” She didn't even see what it was that had been summoned, because it was immediately back in the air and disappeared into the ladybugs. They fluttered down over Chat Noir, a couple branching off to take care of the little cut on her arm under the suit.

Everything should have been healed, but Ladybug checked him over anxiously anyway. Everything, including the ripped suit, was as if nothing had happened. “Okay. Now explain.”

“Thanks.” Chat Noir sounded tired, still. “There were these monsters with claws. Same height as the kid-monsters but bulkier. Didn't know it would be able to actually cut me until it did. And then there with other one with this sort of bug helmet, really tall. It tried to choke me so I used cataclysm to warp some bars on a door and stab it. Then I hid.” He gestured to the desk. “Fed Plagg. Transformed again.”

There was a beep from Ladybug's earrings. “Speaking of... Do you think it'd be safe to recharge?”

He listened and then nodded. “Sounds like it. If something happens I'll protect you.”

She sat down on one of the infirmary beds, angling herself so he couldn't see her face, and released the transformation. She held out her hands to catch Tikki and gently placed her on the mattress beside her while she got out the cookies. Chat Noir sat down on her other side, looking away.

“Did you find that kid?” He asked.

Marinette paused. She'd forgotten he might not know. “There wasn't one. It was a trick.”

“I didn't have a way to tell you it was an illusion,” Tikki said apologetically between bites of cookie. “I'm so sorry. I could tell there wasn't a presence to what you saw.”

Chat Noir let out a slow breath to calm down. “I'm so sick of being messed with. Between the illusion, and the song, and that stupid poem.”

“I know, mon Chaton .” She took hold of his right hand with her left. “Do you need to talk about it?”

“I'll be okay,” he said with a sigh. “I just want to get out of here. And maybe take a nap.”

“A nap does sound great. And a shower. And being warm,” Marinette sighed wistfully. “Pretty sure I'd kill for some hot chocolate.”

“You're cold? Sorry, I still have your scarf untransformed, don't I? Hang on.” Chat Noir got up and dug a sheet from the linen cabinet. “Little dusty, but it's better than nothing.” He kept his gaze low and wrapped it around her shoulders before he sat down beside her once more.

Marinette felt warmer than she should have from just a flimsy sheet. She pulled it closer around her shoulders. “Thanks…”

They fell into silence while Tikki finished eating the cookies. “I'm ready to go if you both are,” the Kwami reported.

Marinette nodded. “I'm ready. Tikki, transform me!”

 


 

Gabriel glared at the wall and its inscription for a solid minute before he stepped closer to get a better look at the indentions. “I can only imagine something must go here.”

“I think I saw something that shape in one of the other rooms, but I didn't know it was important,” Hanna said thoughtfully. “I guess we'll have to check the rooms again.”

With a sigh, Gabriel nodded and turned to lead the way back to room 301. They searched more thoroughly this time, looking for anything round that might fit into the indents. It wasn't until he picked up the teddy bear that he saw it.

It was made of grey stone with an ornate gold inlaid picture of a piece of jewellery. Specifically, a bracelet that went over the back of the hand, a strap looping around the middle finger to hold it in place.

He knew this bracelet.

It was Reflekta's mirror bracelet. Or rather it was Juleka Couffaine's bracelet that had been the akumatised object for Reflekta. A chill went down his spine. There was no way this was a coincidence, but at the same time how could anyone in this small town in America know about that? For that matter how had someone rigged up that puzzle? It made no sense!

“Gabriel, did you find anything?” Hanna asked from the other side of the room, where she searched cabinets.

He swallowed and turned to face her, slipping it into his pocket. “Yes. I found one of them. I doubt we will find more in this room.”

Hanna abandoned her search and they pressed on into the next room. Ten minutes of searching room 302 yielded nothing, nor did searching room 303. But upon a second search of room 304 they found a briefcase with a lock with space for four digits on it. And it was the strangest combination lock Gabriel had ever seen.

Instead of numbers, it had a series of images. A bee, a fox, a turtle, a peacock, and a butterfly.

Gabriel shivered, staring down at the images. These could not have been chosen by accident. They were the core Miraculouses, minus the Ladybug and the Black Cat. On top of the briefcase was a note.

 

 

‘The one who charms leads the way,

Followed by the protector without delay,

Next the halting one goes to war,

And last the dreamer lets hopes soar.’

The poem was even more proof that whoever had made this had intimate knowledge of the miraculous. He may not have encountered most of them, but Nooroo had filled in some blanks. He started turning the dials.

First, the fox. Illusion was the fox’s power, after all. The protector could only be the turtle. The next one was a little trickier, but the bee had the power to stun and hopefully that was it. The last one he paused at. The butterfly and the peacock had similar powers, both could be described as giving hope.

Something told him though that the butterfly was meant to be excluded, and sure enough the peacock in the final position opened the case.

“How did you know which order?” Hanna asked curiously, peering over his shoulder.

Gabriel startled, having almost forgotten she was there. He hesitated, trying to think of an answer that wouldn’t sound suspicious. “My wife gave me a book once with a fable about these animals. I was lucky and the associations were the same.” It was close to the truth, anyway. Emilie had given him his book about the Miraculouses. And she had been the one to discover their power.

Hanna seemed satisfied by that answer, so Gabriel returned his attention to the case. He lifted the lid to find the sole object inside: another stone circle, this one bearing a picture of a book.

This one was a little harder to pin down. He’d had multiple books be the akumatised object in the past, and it bore no title that he could see. Hopefully, the other ones would help him determine which space it would occupy.

Straightening, he pocketed it. “That makes two. Let’s check the second floor.”

He led the way downstairs, listening for any disturbance in the radio. He had caught on to its static in response to the monsters, which did make quite a bit of sense. Many supernatural things wreaked havoc with technology. He had encountered it plenty of times with Emilie.

Luckily, the creatures remained dead and the radio silent. He pushed open the door to 201 cautiously regardless.

Gabriel stopped, staring at the wall on the left. Bloody writing was scrawled all over it, fresh enough it was still dripping. Hanna gasped as she entered.

“This wasn’t here when I searched the room just a few minutes ago!” She gripped her gun closer to her body. “Honest!”

“I believe you,” Gabriel assured her, though that raised even more worrisome questions. Who had written this?

 

 

‘We thought we escaped, but it let us go.

It kept me on tethers made of my veins,

And it pulled me back when my heart stopped.

What a fool I was to think that I could escape my past.

My friends aren’t here to save me this time.

I only wish I hadn’t given it what it wanted.

Another circle. Another circle of blood.

My blood.

My fear.

My misfortune.

My curse.

The only wish I have is that the other one might remember,

That the innocent may be saved.

_____’

It appeared to have been signed, but the name was smudged beyond recognition.

And below the words on an end table was the next stone circle. This one was another bracelet, the one that had belonged to the child, August, who he had akumatised partially on accident. He put it in his pocket before glancing at the words again.

“Certainly ominous.” He murmured.

“Yes… and sad,” Hanna stared at it for a long moment. “I really hope what she wished for comes true.”

Gabriel sighed softly. “Come. We still have two more to find.”

Room 203 contained no stone circles, which left only the room with the three nurses at the end of the hall. Knowing his luck, that was where it was. He checked that his gun was fully loaded, and the pipe in easy reach, and directed Hanna to open the door so he could fire immediately.

“Okay,” Hanna gripped the doorknob, standing to the side. “One, two, three!”

She swung it open. The nurses began to twitch, and then move towards them, but Gabriel was already firing. The first one fell, twitching, and then a moment later Hanna’s fire downed the second, and Gabriel took town the third.

“We’re running low on ammunition.” Gabriel noted with a frown once he was sure all three nurses were truly dead.

“There’s two more boxes in the corner.” Hanna stepped over to it. “Do you see the stone?”

“Not yet.” He began his search while Hanna took the ammunition and started looking around the other side of the room.

“Oh! Found it,” Hanna said suddenly a minute later. She grabbed the pillow on the bed by the corners and shook it until the stone fell onto the bed. Gabriel took it.

A crumpled note was inlaid on this one. It was most likely Stoneheart’s.

He placed this one in his bag, finding his pockets growing full. “Just one more and we can get this over with,” he sighed.

They found it at the end of the second floor hallway, lying on the floor. This time, the object was a bubble wand. The one Nino Lahiffe had fidgeted with while he begged Gabriel to let Adrien have a birthday party.

A sour feeling gathered in his stomach as he pocketed the last piece. “That's it. Let's go back.”

 

Chapter Text

Unfortunately, Ladybug still didn’t have an actual plan for escaping the school, or the hellish dimension they were trapped in. That had been their whole purpose in trying to find Alessa in the first place, after all. She gave a shot at trying to pry open the infirmary window, but it quickly became apparent that nothing was going to get it to open or break short of a Cataclysm. Chat Noir paced, belt-tail lashing back and forth and cat ears perked to listen for any sign that something might be coming for them.

Ladybug frowned, pulling away from the window and taking note of his pacing with a tinge of worry. As the leader of their team of two, this was on her to solve, especially when Chat Noir was so distracted like this. Not that she could blame him in any way, considering she couldn't imagine that she would be any more on task in his position. She was already anxious enough just thinking about the fact that if that thing could get into his mind, what was keeping it from her own? Maybe it already had. It could know who she was, who her family was.

Stop that, Ladybug ordered herself firmly. There are bigger problems.

“What if we climbed out through the courtyard?” Chat Noir asked suddenly, pausing briefly in his pacing to catch her eyes. “We could get up to the roof with my baton, no problem.”

Ladybug considered it. It had been what she was actually going to suggest before they had been distracted by the illusion. It didn't seem like a very good idea now. “I bet if we tried to get out that way the birds would swarm us. It'd be harder to fight them off if we're trying to get high up at the same time, and if they can cut through our suits like those other monsters you saw…” she trailed off as she saw Chat Noir visibly wilt, leather cat ears flattening.

Ladybug felt like her insides were twisting up. She reached over to scratch behind his cat ears and thread her fingers through his hair as if he was a real cat. “It was a good idea though. I was thinking about it earlier,” she said quickly. “It might end up our only option, but I'd like to at least try go find a safer route.”

Chat Noir was already relaxing at her touch, and before long she could hear a faint purr. She didn't know if an actual cat would be quite so receptive to being touched while stressed, but her partner was always easy to soothe with affection. At the moment she was grateful for that fact. She didn't have any answers or solutions yet, but at least she could comfort her kitty. She absently kept playing with his hair while she thought.

“Maybe I could try a lucky charm again,” Ladybug mused. “It helped me get Alessa's help before. It could help us now.”

“You'd have to transform back. Are you sure?”

Ladybug nodded. “I've still got some cookies left. Besides, I know you'll protect me.” She gave him a smile, and reluctantly pulled her hand from his hair. It was really quite nice to play with, his hair was very soft and obviously well cared for.

"Lucky Charm!

Into her hands fell a paperback book. The book itself seemed to be blank, albeit with a red spotted cover, and the only thing of note seemed to be a due date slip inside. She had a feeling that was what she needed to look at. She removed it for a closer look, tucking the book into her pocket for now while she looked it over, Chat Noir moving to read over her shoulder. The title of the book was The Monster Lurks. There was a short list of checkouts: A. Gillespie, C Mason, H. Lynn, E. Anderson.

“I think we need to go up to the library and find this book,” Ladybug said, tapping the name of the book. “If the ‘A. Gillespie’ is Alessa, either she checked it out or the charm wants us to know it's related to her.” She turned to meet his gaze and see what he thought.

Chat Noir looked thoughtful. “I think I heard of that book. But I don't remember what it was about, I think it was one I looked at one time I was mass-ordering books.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Mass ordering books? You don't even remember what topic you were looking through at the time?”

He frowned, glancing away to avoid her gaze. “I was kind of going for everything. I was trying to distract myself from something. Anyway. We should let Tikki recharge so we can get moving.”

It was a quick affair to feed her Kwami and retransform. Tikki agreed between mouthfuls of cookie that searching the library was the most likely meaning of the charm.

She also told Marinette to hold onto the charm. If she focused on recent events and what exactly she wanted repaired, she would now be able to use it to trigger the restoration without triggering the countdown. It was a relief to have that as a backup in case they were injured.

Once transformed again, Ladybug checked the school map, grabbing a pen from a clipboard to jot down what she had encountered so far. “I didn't explore all that much because I was looking for you, but I think we should be able to get through to the library from the stairs to our right.”

Chat Noir shrugged. “I'll follow your lead. You probably explored more than I did honestly. I pretty much only ran through the courtyard from the halls on either side.”

They stepped out into the hall and the both of them gagged at the strong coppery odour of blood. It was only now that Ladybug remembered the mutilated monster corpses. She winced, both from the awful smell and the look of horror and confusion on Chat Noir's face when he saw the carnage.

“I don't know what did this,” Ladybug said, voice slightly muffled by her hand as she tried to block out some of the smell. It was even stronger now than it had been when she had first entered the hall, and she had a feeling it was those new ladybug senses. She definitely wished she had heightened eyesight instead.

“I think it was the thing that tried to choke me.” Chat Noir headed for the door to the stairs, clearly eager to get out of the source of the smell. “It had a sickle.”

Ladybug followed close behind and shut the door behind them, gladly taking deep breaths of the less strong air. How did animals deal with that? Though she figured animals didn't have their sense of smell develop abruptly in their adolescence.

“Okay,” Ladybug said once she had caught her breath. She started up the stairs, readying her yoyo as she went. “There were four monsters in this hall before. I snuck past them so they're probably still here…”

She hadn't gotten a good look at the monsters before. Tikki had told her their numbers but not what they looked like. They growled in reaction to her flashlight and turned to amble towards them, giving her a good view of them. These must have been the same type of monster that Chat Noir had said clawed through his suit earlier. They were bulkier than the grey child monsters, their skin more of a reddish-tan flesh colour and there was just a hole where the face should be, and they had three huge claws on each hand.

Ladybug wasted no time in putting herself in the middle of the hall, between the monsters and Chat Noir. She threw the yoyo before they could get any closer. She definitely didn't want to deal with these in close proximity after seeing the results of their claws.

Chat Noir aimed past her carefully, extending the baton quickly to throw the second-closest one and then the third against the wall while she dealt with the nearest. They let out groaning noises as they fell still.

Ladybug took out the last one and continued forward, only to encounter another set of bars. “Oh come on! This is ridiculous!” She kicked the metal in frustration before trying the door into the classroom. The radio started to buzz with static.

But there were no monsters inside. Just more of the ghostly shadow figures that disappeared after the light shone on them. Ladybug shuddered. She really didn't like those things, they creeped her out. She glanced back to see Chat Noir staring where the figures had been with a thoughtful frown on his face.

“Chat Noir?”

He blinked. “Huh? Sorry, got distracted.” He hurried over to the door connecting the classrooms. “It's not locked. Come on.”

Ladybug quickly went after him, a frown on her face as well. She didn't like how quiet and distracted her kitty was acting.

There were no more monsters between them and the library, and the door into the library was unlocked as well. She checked the library slip again to make sure she knew the title while they spread out to search. It wasn’t easy to find. It took about ten minutes before Chat Noir called out, “I found it.”

It was a red book, worn and dirty like everything else in this place, the pages deeply yellowed with age. Ladybug opened the front cover first, checking the due date slip, but it contained none of the names that her lucky charm had except the most recent: E. Anderson. There was a folded piece of paper inside, being used as a bookmark. There was a paragraph highlighted.

‘Likewise, poltergeists are also thought to be in this category. Negative emotions, such as severe anxiety, fear, and stress, are able to manifest as external energy with physical effects. It has even been confirmed to occur during sleep in some cases, seemingly triggered by nightmares. This phenomena, however, cannot be manifested by most people. These abilities are largely innate and occur most commonly in adolescent children, especially young girls.’

The chapter title this was under was called ‘Manifestation of Delusions’.

She passed it to Chat Noir to read while she opened up the folded paper. It seemed to be a printout of an email.

‘Dear Tina,

I hope you guys are all doing well! Say hi to Eric and the others for me, okay? And thanks so much for the birthday card and the new piano book!

I’m still not very good yet, but I’ve learned to play a couple of songs and it’s been lots of fun, and I’ve even tried making my own song! When I see you, I’m gonna play it for you. Speaking of that, Daddy decided we are going to move in with my Mommy’s family after all. We’re going to send our stuff ahead, and he said we can visit you before we go if it’s okay with you. Let me know! We’re moving next month.

I’ve been researching about that weird stuff I was telling you about. My nightmares have been better, but I still dream about the lake at least once a week. Last week I broke the window somehow while I was dreaming. I found a book that talks about poltergeists, when people with innate abilities have negative emotions. Especially kids like me. I think I got it from Mommy, she knew things sometimes before they would happen. I wish she had known about the burglary, but I guess it wasn’t perfect.

And I think that’s why the boat disappeared, too. Drowning would have been a really scary thing that made a lot of negative emotions, like the book said. In one of my dreams, I saw the water explode up and it knocked over the boat. I still don’t know why I have those dreams or why I look so much like her, though. You’ve been researching it too, right? Do you have any ideas?

Daddy says dinner’s ready, so I gotta go! Take care!’

Underneath it was written in black sharpie:

‘Pass through time to the other side,

Find the moon in the place of melodies,

And the sun in the place of solutions.’

“Just what we needed,” Ladybug sighed heavily. “Some kind of puzzle.”

 


 

Chat Noir had gotten distracted skimming through pages of the book. No wonder he remembered reading the title: while he’d been reading any and everything in the months after his mother’s disappearance to distract himself, he had been singling out parapsychology books in particular. There had been a large part of him that was hoping he might find out a way to communicate with his mother’s ghost. He’d even tried to talk Chloe into helping him do a seance, but she had given him one of her most ‘are you kidding me?’ looks and informed him that she was not taking part in the setup for a horror movie. He’d reluctantly agreed it was probably a bad idea.

Besides, it was always possible they’d manage to contact one of the other things that had sometimes lingered around Emilie Agreste.

His Lady’s complaint about the puzzle drew his attention from the book. He leaned over to read the email and the writing below. “Well, that’s probably the music room, and then I guess the chemistry lab?” He frowned. “It probably means chemical solutions. The chemistry lab’s just in the other hallway too.”

Ladybug folded up the page and put it with the charm in her pocket. “Do you think we should take the book?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t see anything else highlighted. We might’ve just needed the note. I wonder why it was in a parapsychology book though,” Chat Noir said, absently tapping the page he was on. “Maybe trying to tell us something about Alessa? Bullying would definitely be a good reason to manifest poltergeists.”

“I didn’t know poltergeisting was from the living,” Ladybug said, looking down at the book. “I thought they were just another word for ghosts. I wonder who this person was. I don’t think Alessa would have been able to send an email way back in 1980, so it isn’t her.”

Chat Noir glanced back at the email, trying to see if he could glean anything else from it, but his mind kept going blank. He must be getting tired, considering how easily he was getting distracted right now. He shook his head. “No idea.”

Ladybug sighed, “Then we might as well get going.” She went for the door. Chat Noir shut the book and put it away before following her.

There were two more monsters in this hall. Ladybug had knocked out the first one before he could even react, and was already on the second one. He was starting to get a bit worried, with how aggressive Ladybug had been with the monsters and the way she kept making sure she was between the monsters and him. Usually he was the one trying to protect her, but she seemed to be getting progressively more protective of him.

It was nice admittedly. It meant a lot to him that Ladybug was trying to keep him safe, even though he was worried she might get hurt in the process. He would need to be careful to make sure she didn’t get too reckless. On the other hand, he really wasn’t doing great. He was just… drained. Mentally and physically exhausted. Ever since he’d read that awful poem and played his mother’s song he had been getting progressively more stressed.

It was getting so hard not to just shut down.

Ladybug pressed on ahead to the chemistry room, but paused to turn back and wait for Chat Noir to catch up and then grabbed his hand. “C’mon kitty. We’ll be out of here soon.”

“Yeah.” He tried to smile.

They entered the lab. It was easy enough to find what they were looking for, because in the middle of one of the tables was a statue of two frighteningly realistic hands holding a golden oval shaped medallion.

“Must be that…” Ladybug stepped closer, still holding onto Chat Noir’s hand. She took the medallion and pocketed it. “So one down, one to go. Let’s go back around.”

With the monsters already downed, it was a fast route back to the music room. The piano’s cover was closed over it now, and it looked old and burned. But sitting on top of it was a flicker of silver that Ladybug scooped up.

“So we’ve got them both. Now what?” Chat Noir asked. “It said something about passing through time…”

“Well, it’s just a guess, but I think it might mean the clocktower,” Ladybug said thoughtfully. “Down in the courtyard, remember?”

He nodded.

“So let’s--”

The sound of heavy footsteps caught Chat Noir’s ears. He raised a hand to signal to Ladybug to be quiet. “I hear something. I think it’s the monster with the helmet from before.”

It was close, and then the door at the end of the hall was ripped off its hinges as the monster suddenly burst through. Ladybug yelped and shoved Chat Noir towards the door to the stairs. “Run!”

He didn’t need to be told twice. They sprinted through the door and down the stairs. “What should we do? Should we hide?”

“Let’s try the clocktower. I think-- I have a feeling it’s where we need to go right now. I think we can get away from it that way.” Ladybug said, sounding confident about it, though at the same time a little confused about why she was confident about it.

“Okay. I’ll trust you on that.”

They turned into the front hallway and then towards the clocktower. There were monsters ambling towards them, and Ladybug tossed him both medallions and started knocking them back with the yoyo. “There’s indents on either side! Put them in!”

Chat Noir hesitated for just a moment, wanting to help her fight, but he obeyed her orders. One side of the tower said ‘A Golden Sun’, while the other said ‘A Silver Moon’, it was easy enough to tell which one went where. There was a click from the door, and suddenly Ladybug was at his side, opening the door and pushing him in first before she followed and slammed the door shut behind them. He could still hear the helmeted creature advancing, now through the courtyard.

“Down the ladder,” Ladybug urged. Chat Noir hadn’t even seen the ladder, too distracted by the noises outside, but now he looked ahead and saw that the room was just a tiny cramped room with a ladder going down at the end. They headed down into the room below, a dark short hallway.

As they hopped off the ladder, the sound of air raid sirens filled the air. Chat Noir felt a weird twinge in his head and felt a little dizzy at the sound, but it wasn’t the intense pain it had been when he heard the siren before. It felt colder somehow now, but at the same time there wasn’t that chill under his skin anymore. Ladybug did not pause in stride, simply grabbing his arm to tug him along. At the end of the hall there was another ladder, they ascended it to find themselves in a room that looked just like the one they had entered from.

When Ladybug pushed open the door, they were back in the courtyard, and it was foggy and snowing and there were no more monsters. It was dim, but still light out, the faintest red tint to the light as if sunset was coming. Maybe it was.

“How did you know that would work?” Chat Noir asked quietly.

Ladybug frowned. “Honestly, I have no idea. I just did. We can ask Tikki when we get a chance…” She took hold of his hand again and tugged him onward. “I think we’ll be able to leave now.”

She was right. This time the front doors opened easily. Static started from Ladybug’s radio, but it was quiet and distant. There were much fewer monsters now. Ladybug looked around and then checked the town map. “I think we should find some place to rest,” she said, looking at him with unmistakable concern. “You look awful, and I don’t feel much better.”

“Aw, just what every guy wants to hear from a girl,” Chat Noir tried to joke, but it fell flat. He was too tired to get a joking tone across. “So much for my pretty boy reputation. My father would be furious.”

Ladybug gave him an odd look, but decided not to comment. She just led him along the street, scanning the houses and occasionally checking doors until she found one unlocked that she seemed to think was a good place to rest.

It was dark inside, besides the little light coming from the windows. The power seemed to be off, because the light switch did nothing at all. Ladybug locked the door behind them and checked around for any dangers before she relaxed.

“This should work. There's a good pile of wood next to the fire place so we can get warm.” She located a box of matches on one of the couch end tables and set to work getting the fire started. Chat Noir checked the rest of the house while she did that. It was a three bedroom house, clearly meant for a family. While it seemed abandoned, it was free of dust, and the water was still running. In fact, even the hot water was. It must have been a gas boiler.

When he returned to the main room he saw Ladybug testing out the stove and oven. “The water works in here,” she reported. “And the stove's gas. I think I could heat up some food for us.”

“The hot water works too,” Chat Noir told her. He glanced back in the direction of the bathroom. “I think… if it's okay, I kinda want to change back and take a shower.”

Ladybug frowned, but nodded. “I guess it should be safe enough if you have Plagg with you.” She hesitated. “When you're done I might take a shower too. I feel kind of gross.”

“I'll try not to use up all the hot water.”

He managed to find some clean pyjamas in one of the bedrooms that looked about his size, and located the closet with the towels. Once he had what he needed in the bathroom he sighed, leaning against the door.

“Plagg, detransform me…”

 


 

 

 

‘Friendship

Innocence

Love

Isolation

Fear’

Gabriel frowned, staring at the words on the door for a minute before he withdrew the collected stone circles from where he had stored them. Hanna looked between the stones and the door, perplexed.

“I have no idea what those objects have to do with those words.” She said after a moment.

“That's alright. I do.” He murmured, looking down at the first of the stones. It was August's bracelet.

Innocence was the most likely one here. A child had such strong, uncontrolled emotions, unable to comprehend the scale of what bothered them. That child’s distress had been so innocent in cause.

He slotted that one next to the word and looked down at the next: Juleka's bracelet. That could only be Isolation. He remembered her emotions that day well, another victim of Chloe Bourgeois’ cruel attitude. Juleka had despaired at being ignored and forgotten, of leaving no mark to signify that she existed.

Next was the crumpled note that had belonged to Ivan. He slotted it immediately next to the word ‘Love’.

This left the book and the bubble wand. The bubble wand was friendship, of course. He remembered the Bubbler especially well. He had been the one responsible for that boy's anger after all. The first time he personally manipulated someone for the sake of an akuma.

If he was honest with himself, it was the only one he felt any remorse for, though he knew it had to be done. He had felt how much Nino Lahiffe cared for Adrien. His anger had been on Adrien's behalf, a selfless desire to help his best friend be happy.

It would have been a far better birthday for his son if he had succeeded. If Emilie had returned.

But of course Nino could not know that. Nor could he know the extent of what was needed to keep Adrien safe. He'd been lax of late, allowing concessions like the school and allowing Adrien to go to his friend's concert. But Adrien had been rebellious since Emilie had disappeared, and they were small concessions that at least ensured he stayed with his bodyguard. Those little compromises seemed to help curb his rebellious tendencies. Emilie had always been better at making sure Adrien didn't do anything foolish.

“Gabriel?”

His thoughts on his wife, he startled at the sound of her voice. For a moment, he saw Emilie instead of Hanna.

But then the moment was over, and the woman in front of him was simply Hanna again, looking confused and concerned.

“I apologize.” Gabriel rubbed his temples to try to clear his head. “I was lost in thought. I suppose this only leaves the spot for fear.”

Ah. Now he realized what the book was. It was the blank sketchbook he had used in his own akumatisation. It had been his fear of being discovered and failing to fulfil his promise.

There was a click as he placed the last stone in its place. With a loud, slow creak, the door opened on its own.

The hall beyond looked ordinary enough. There was a locked door to the storage room in front of them, and to their left the three remaining patient room doors. All three doors refused to budge, leaving only the door to the elevator landing.

This one opened. The lights were on in this room, and a few dozen moths swarmed around the light, periodically bumping noisily into the glass casing. A few of them lay dead on the ground. In the middle of the room was a large strange box propped up on a stand. There was a switch on one side, some kind of screen in the middle, and a wooden statuette that seemed to be made out of many squares like a twisted 3D tetris game.

Out of curiosity, he flicked the switch. A light mostly drowned out by the overhead lights flicked on. It was too dim to make out the distinct shape, but the silhouette was enough for him to realize what it was. It was a shadow puppet display.

“It's too bright.” Hanna noted, stepping over to the room's light switch. She flicked it off, and the projected image cleared. The odd shapes formed an intricate house when the shadow was cast.

Within seconds though, the moths were swarming the light, so many of them that almost the whole projection was thrown into shadows. Hanna turned back on the overhead light, and Gabriel turned off the puppet box.

The moths returned overhead.

“What is this doing here?” Gabriel murmured, staring at the puppet box. After a moment he returned his attention to the rest of the room, finally noticing a small wooden trunk sitting beside the box.

On top of it was a piece of cardstock with three inky images on it, representations of shadow puppets. The first was a family, a father and mother standing on either side of a child, and a small amount of white space gave the image a smiley face. The second was a different child, standing alone, and like the other one there it had a simple face, but crying. The last one was a man, facing away from the other two images, seemingly shouting up at the sky with raised fists. Unlike the others, the man had no face.

 Shadow Puppets

Inside the wooden trunk was a collection of wooden statuettes. Some were much more geometrical, built of cubic or pyramid shapes, while others flowed much more organically, but all of them seemed at first glance to be very abstract.

It was easy enough to see what this puzzle wanted of him. He began to search through the pieces in the trunk, but faltered.

“What's wrong?” Hanna asked.

Gabriel looked up to meet her gaze. Her expression when concerned was just like Emilie's. “Why am I doing this?”

“What do you mean?”

“The puzzles. There was very little chance of Adrien being in this hallway. That door would have stopped his progress. I don't even know why I would do this one. It isn't blocking my progress.” His head felt strange, and heavy. The light felt too bright, too yellow then too red.

Hanna knelt down to him, a gentle smile on her face as she reached out to him, placing a hand on his cheek. The shadows the moths cast fluttered over her face-- Emilie's face. She spoke now in French. “Oh mon chéri , you can't always do things your way. You remember when we found the brooch, don't you?” She trailed her hand down his face, stopping to rest on the miraculous at his collar. “If we had gone the way you wanted, if we hadn't found this, you would have lost us both.”

“Emilie.” The room itself felt heavy, like pressure was building up, pressing in on him. He couldn't think. “But you were… Hanna.”

“I am still Hanna.” She gave the mysterious smile he had first fallen in love with. The shadows from the moths seemed to grow deeper and more numerous, the remaining light a deeper and deeper red. “I was always Hanna.” The shadows blocked out the light completely.

Gabriel was kneeling by the trunk, a statuette held limply in hand. The lights were normal, just the occasional fluttering from the moths casting shadows. Hanna wasn't in front of him, instead observing the elevator, testing the button. When he turned to look at her, the smile she gave him was shy-- not Emilie's smile. Had he imagined it?

He must have. Even now he was forgetting the details, drifting away like a dream. He shook his head and returned his focus to the statuettes. Whatever he had just seen, he knew he had to do this.

It was a slow process, turning each piece until he could see the image it would created, and he had only seconds to check how the final image would look each time before the moths swarmed the shadow box's light. Finally, he was sure he had it.

Gabriel straightened up and reached for the switch on the box. “Hanna, the light please?”

She flicked it off at the same time he turned the box on. There it was, a perfect recreation of the scene on the card.

There was a ding from the elevator. The doors slid open, casting light from inside into the room as the moths swarmed the light from the shadow box. There was a noise from the hall, something hard clicking rhythmically against tile. It was joined by a second noise, and a third, and it dawned on Gabriel as static began from his radio that they were footsteps .

“Into the elevator!”

The two of them rushed in. Gabriel frantically mashing the button to close the doors as a heavy pounding began on the door into the room.

A crashing noise followed as the door flung open and he caught a glimpse of something horrible and tall and while it was bipedal it would not ever be mistaken for a human. It looked like some sort of insect, gangly and armoured and skeletal, enormous feelers sprouting from its head that looked like barbed wire. It had no eyes, only holes where they should have been, and no mouth. Its hands reminded him of a crab in shape only segmented and sharp.

The elevator door shut. The sound of an air raid siren came from nowhere, loud enough to deafen. That pressure was back and his head hurt and he was so terribly dizzy.

Gabriel was unconscious within seconds.

 

 

Chapter Text

Gabriel woke to a mild headache and a bruised arm and hip from falling to the ground.

With a quiet groan, he opened his eyes and sat up, rubbing his temples as he tried to clear the fog from his head. Something seemed off about his surroundings, but he was still too groggy to tell what.

“Are you alright, Master?” Nooroo asked quietly from near his shoulder.

“More or less, I…” Gabriel trailed off, his eyes widening as he realised that Nooroo was out in the open. A quick search of the elevator confirmed that they were alone. “Where is Hanna?”

Nooroo shook his head. “I do not know. While you passed out the lights went out, and when they came back it was like this and she was gone. You’ve been asleep for several hours. I tried to wake you but you wouldn’t respond.”

Gabriel frowned, carefully getting to his feet and shining his flashlight around. The elevator looked different, rustier and dirtier, though admittedly he didn’t get much of a look in their rush to escape that insectoid creature from before. “Do you know what happened? And did you notice anything strange about Hanna?”

“I don’t know what happened, and no, there seemed to be nothing particularly strange about Hanna. Her emotions felt human, though tinged with mainly dormant psychic abilities.”

“Another similarity to Emilie,” Gabriel murmured, his frown only growing. “That makes quite a lot of coincidences.”

“It does,” Nooroo agreed. “But I don’t know what that could mean. Many cases of doppelgängers act maliciously, but Hanna helped you and I couldn't sense deception. Sometimes people do just have lookalikes by pure chance.”

“Is she still nearby?”

Nooroo welt quiet for a moment, searching for the woman's presence. “I believe so. I at least sense the emotions of a human in the area.”

“Then hopefully she is alright, regardless.” Gabriel returned his attention to his surroundings. Rusty and dirty, and there was an odd, seeping chill that was more than physical. He pressed the button to open the elevator door.

They should have been in the basement, according to the display on the elevator. But it didn't look anything like what he imagined a hospital basement to be. The walls were lined with curtains of varying colours and fabric types. Here and there the fabric had been pulled flat to display a painting over it. Rugs covered the floor, but the bits he could see of the walls and floor were like the elevator, rusty and encrusted in dirt and brown stains.

“Odd look for a hospital.” Gabriel stepped out into the landing and looked around. It was not a large basement, only four rooms and the door to the staircase. The door directly across from the elevator was labeled ‘Morgue’ and he decided to check that room last, and only if he had to. He had no desire to surround himself with the dead.

“Something feels very strange about this, Master.”

Past the door on either side of the hallway was two paintings. Though he knew he should keep moving, he couldn't help pausing to look at them.

The one on the right was quite desaturated, painted with solid colours. It showed a strange man in some sort of smock, a huge triangular helmet on his head and a spear in each hand. It was captioned ‘Executioner’.

The other one was a similar style, but different subject matter. Many shadowy figures in the mist, circled like they were surrounding the viewer, staring through the painting. Gabriel found he couldn't look at it for long, but with his thoughts on Emilie it reminded him of something else.

“Nooroo… You recall the shadows that followed Emilie?”

Nooroo nodded. “Yes, Master. I remember them.”

Gabriel found himself frowning as he thought about it. “I have no ability to see such things. What happened to them after Emilie's… condition?”

“For a time they moved to follow Adrien, but they abandoned him after Stoneheart and now linger around Emilie's body,” Nooroo replied. Gabriel resisted the urge to shiver. Those shadows had then been around him every time he visited Emilie. Though that was at least better than them haunting his son. While they never seemed to cause any harm, it had always been chilling to see Emilie look at nothing and know something was in the room with them, watching.

They never did find out what those figures wanted.

Still, that left several months where they had followed Adrien. He was like his mother, so he must have known. Why hadn't Adrien told Natalie? His assistant would have passed it along to him immediately if she knew. Not that they had a means of dispelling the haunting right now, but he should have at least been informed. Perhaps he could have eventually found a way. Hopefully, he still would, when Emilie was returned to them.

The store room was locked, but both the boiler room and the generator doors were not. Both of the rooms had cloth covering the walls, just like the hallway, but otherwise appeared perfectly ordinary. He turned on the generator on a whim, figuring power would likely be helpful for exploring the hospital. The light overhead in this room flickered on, but there were sparks from nearby. All but one of the lights in the hallway were broken, the one at the end of the hall that illuminated the elevator, but at least it was something.

Something else occurred to him.

“Nooroo. The power was off earlier, when I was dealing with the shadow puppets, wasn’t it? And yet the light was on.”

“Yes, Master.” Nooroo gave him an odd look. “I had been wondering why you didn’t pay it any attention. And why you kept solving the puppets, even though there was nowhere else Adrien could have gone.”

Gabriel frowned. “I… I recall thinking that as well. Nooroo, did I say anything about it? Did Em-- did Hanna talk to me as though she was Emilie?”

“No, Master. I didn’t see anything like that. I felt you grow confused and disoriented, but then you returned to normal,” Nooroo said, clearly confused by the questioning.

“I see.” Then he had to have imagined it, surely. Hanna had acted as though nothing was wrong, and hadn’t even been near him. And she couldn’t know about the miraculous, about the trip to Tibet where they had located the brooches. Perhaps the stress of the day was getting to him.

Returning his focus to the matter at hand, he checked the door to the stairs. The blockade that had been there before was now gone, as if it had never existed. But when he got to the top of the stairs the door was shut tight and wouldn’t budge. Nooroo passed through the door and returned almost immediately. “Master, there are six of those nurses right outside this door. I may be able to unlock it, but…”

“But I would likely become overwhelmed by them.” Gabriel sighed, turning to go back down the stairs to step back into the elevator. It seemed to be working just fine now. He went for the second floor button. Hopefully if he went back down the other stairway he might have a better opportunity to avoid an ambush.

When the elevator doors slid open, he found it looked nothing like the second floor had before. Like the basement it was as if the walls and floors had aged decades within moments, and there was the mixture of fabric drapes and paintings down this hall as well. There was now a sign hanging down, indicating that the maternity ward was down the hall to his left.

Not at all what was claimed on the map. Gabriel pulled it from his bag and double checked. Sure enough, this floor was supposed to contain an intensive care area and operation rooms. Not the Newborn Intensive Care Unit and the maternity rooms and surgery rooms. It had not been the case when he had explored these rooms with Hanna before.

It was as if the hospital had completely changed.

“Nooroo, what is happening?” Gabriel demanded. Nooroo shook his head frantically, just as confused.

“I don’t know! I haven’t seen something like this before. I felt a shift in the town-- darker, more negative emotions from the trapped souls-- but I don’t understand how everything could change like this!”

Gabriel repressed a shiver as he looked around at the scarcely lit halls and the deep shadows it cast on the curtain folds. Nooroo was ancient, older than humans, he still did not know anything about what was happening. What kind of place had he found himself in that even an ancient immortal god did not understand?

 


 

Adrien reached up automatically to catch Plagg and set him down on the counter with some cheese, too tired to say much as he turned on the water. It felt like detransforming had sapped the rest of his energy, and part of him wanted to just curl up and fall asleep right here.

For once, Plagg didn't immediately scarf all the cheese down. “How are you feeling, Adrien?”

“Tired,” he said, pulling off his jacket with a shiver. “My head feels weird.”

“There are all kinds of intense energies floating around in this place. I figured you'd be the type to be more sensitive to that kind of stuff.” Plagg said, still not eating his cheese yet. “Side effect of expanding your senses like we did. It woke up those innate abilities fully in the process.”

Adrien was quiet for a moment. “You knew about that when you picked us, didn't you?”

Plagg blinked at him. “Wait. You knew? I didn't think you noticed. You never mentioned it.”

Getting into the shower, he shrugged tiredly. “It wasn't a big deal.”

“Not a big-- kid, you are the weirdest person I've ever chosen, you know that?”

“Mmm…” was his only response. Plagg seemed to give up on the line of questioning for now, letting Adrien shower in peace while Plagg ate his cheese.

Whoever had once owned this house had left soap, shampoo, and conditioner, for which Adrien was grateful even if it wasn't as nice a brand as he had at home. He felt gross, like the fog and darkness of this town had seeped into his skin. Showering at least made him feel better, even if the feeling of creeping shadows wasn't something that could be washed off. And at least the hot water drew some of the chill from his skin. Today had shaped up to be among the worst of his life.

It fell only just short of the day his mother died. The day he tried very hard to never think about. One he only remembered bits and pieces of, long stretches of blackness that ended with him waking up with the certainty that his mother was dead and his father insisting she was merely missing. Now that he wasn't in immediate danger, he found his mind revisiting it. There had been the same kind of feeling of despair and helplessness, and he hated it.

Then there was his mother's song, and that taunting, stupid poem, and the knowledge that something was crawling around in his head and in his memories and it had to know about when his mother died. Adrien felt utterly helpless. It was just one thing after another.  He'd died, not in a fight but just because he couldn't protect himself. He’d nearly died a second time to that monster in the helmet, and at least one of the creatures here could slice straight through the magic of his suit. And he didn't know how to keep that thing out of his mind. He just didn't know what to do at all.

Mechanically, he turned off the water and got dressed. He grabbed some blankets from the hall closet and dragged them over to the couch in front of the fire, curling up into the corner against the armrest.

He didn't know how long he was asleep. He woke up to find one of the lighter blankets draped over his face, the sound of movement in the kitchen and Plagg’s familiar weight and purring on his chest, and the smell of… bread?

Adrien pulled the blanket from his head, blinking drowsily. “Wha?”

“Hi to you too.” Plagg stopped purring to roll his eyes. “If you were wondering, the blanket was so Ladybug wouldn't see your face on the way to shower. It's ridiculous that you two won't give up on this secret identity thing, you know that right?”

“S'what she wants,” Adrien mumbled, voice still slurred with sleep. He rubbed at his eyes and sat up. Groggy though he was, he felt better. The sleep had done him a lot of good.

“Chat Noir, are you awake?” Ladybug called. “I’m coming in, and I’m not transformed, so I need you to avoid looking this way.”

“Okay.” Adrien made sure he was staring at the fireplace. Ladybug set something on the end table beside him before stepping back around. Once he heard her on the other side, he glanced at what she’d put down. It was a large plate with a bowl of soup and several thick slices of bread. “Did you make that?” He said, impressed.

“Just the bread. The soup was canned,” she laughed. “All the ingredients for bread are shelf stable, and I thought it might be nice. Plus, I’m pretty sure I could bake bread in my sleep, I've made it so many times.”

“I can’t cook anything , so that’s extra impressive.” He thought for a moment, then scooted forward off the couch, resting his back against it. “There, you can sit on the couch and we won’t see each other’s faces now.”

“You sure you’re okay sitting on the floor?”

“Definitely.” Adrien reached up to the end table to move the plate to his lap. The bread was simple, but quite good, especially considering how hungry he was. He heard Ladybug step around and sit down on the couch, her knees right by his head so he would have to look straight back for either of them to see each other’s faces. She smelled like the shampoo from the bathroom. She must have showered while he was asleep. “This is really good bread.”

“Thanks.” She sounded proud, the smile audible in her voice. “It's my dad's recipe.”

They fell into a comfortable silence while they ate. Tikki and Plagg sat by the fire with another slice of bread between them, occasionally throwing glances back at the two of them. He had a feeling they were waiting to talk about something without them hearing.

Ladybug finished eating first, a clinking noise indicating she had set the dishes down on the closer end table. “So, it's a little silly, but I found some of those sleep masks in one of the bedrooms. You know, those ones for blocking out light? If we're wearing those we won't accidentally look at each other. This couch has a pull out bed under it, so I figure one of us can sleep on that and one of us on the couch.”

Adrien paused, swallowing his food before answering, “That sounds fine to me. Warmer over here than the bedrooms.”

“And safer. If anything happens we'll be together.” Ladybug fell quiet again until he finished eating and set the plate aside. “How are you feeling?”

“Way better after that nap.” He leaned back into the couch, hair brushing against the side of her knee. “What about you?”

“I'm okay, I think,” she said. Ladybug started absently playing with his hair. He had a feeling she hadn't noticed she was doing it, but he wasn't about to complain. He loved that she was comfortable being affectionate with him, and even untransformed he had a new extra appreciation for head scritches. “I mean, I'm stressed, and I don't really know what to do about all this. But now at the same time I feel more… sure of things, I guess.” She seemed to be trying to find the words. “Even though I'm scared, I feel like I’ll do whatever I need to and I will figure it out, no matter what.”

Adrien found a fond smile spreading over his face. Ladybug always amazed him. “I’m sure you will. You're stubborn like that.”

“Hey!” She laughed, nudging his leg lightly with her foot.

“I mean that a good way! Mostly.”

“I'm sticking my tongue out at you. You can't see it, so I'm telling you.”

It was impossible to not laugh at that, spurring another laugh from her in return. He felt less gloomy, his chest much lighter now with that familiar warm happy feeling that Ladybug or even the thought of her always gave him. It was easy to relax now, warm and fed with His Lady brushing through his hair with her fingers and wonderful sound of her laughter. They fell again into a pleasant silence for a minute before Ladybug spoke again, more seriously.

“Hey, Chat? I know this whole thing has been really hard on you… So, I wanted to say-- to promise -- that it's going to be okay,” Ladybug said. Her other hand dropped down to his shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “I'll do everything I can to protect you, and fix this, and I'm gonna make that thing regret ever hurting you.”

“I…” What did he even say to that? She sounded so resolute and caring. Like he really was important to her, despite what he sometimes worried when he was feeling down. “Thank you,” he said quietly, not sure what else he could say. He was pretty sure blurting out how much he loved her was not a good idea, even though at the moment he loved her more than ever. She'd already told him that she loved someone else, and he didn't want to ruin the moment. Being loved like this as a friend was more than good enough.

So he just covered her hand on his shoulder with his own hand, appreciating that one positive to this situation was he got to hold her hand without magic cloth in the way. He gave a smile she couldn't see, and said more confidently: “Thank you, Ladybug.”

 


 

About an hour later, Marinette was lying curled up on the couch under a pile of blankets, listening to the crackling of the fire and Chat Noir's breathing on the pull out bed beside her. They had decided he was too tall to fit comfortably on the couch with the armrests in the way, whereas Marinette fit quite easily. She supposed that was one benefit of being short. She could stretch out as much as she wanted and still not hit the armrest with her feet.

She was tired, and the noise of the fire and Chat Noir's steady breathing should have lulled her to sleep, but Marinette was having trouble settling. Her thoughts kept drifting to her partner, and the rollercoaster of emotions that day in regards to him was leaving her restless. She'd spent nearly the whole day worried about him, desperate when he had been hurt and devastated when he had died and overjoyed when he was alive again. And when the world had shifted and taken him back into the dark Otherworld, part of her just snapped.

Marinette would have fought her way through every monster in this hellhole -- not as Ladybug but as Marinette -- to get him back. Even if she got hurt, or if it risked her life. He had quietly become the most important person to her without her even realising it. But at the same time it wasn't a surprise; they were partners, she trusted him with her life and he trusted her with his. It was only natural that she came to care about him so much.

Rolling over, Marinette tried again to get comfortable. The air felt strange, like it was charged with something. She could feel something-- multiple somethings-- and it was like emotions but it somehow wasn't, it was something more abstract, like what she had felt from the cataclysm earlier or the strange feeling of darkness in this town. She could still feel that darkness around them, and the fog and the hunger of something horrible she couldn't understand. It wasn't stronger, but her ability to feel it had grown.

She supposed that was what Tikki had talked about in regards to giving her a sense for the supernatural. This town was full of it, not just that darkness permeating it all but wisps of feelings here and there: sadness, anger, pain. They were weak and soon became easy to shut out.

The new senses weren't all bad at least. In front of Marinette, radiating from her partner, was a feeling of security and wholeness, like a cool night breeze, peaceful and so incredibly gentle. Like relaxing on her balcony at night with a light wind in her hair; or the nights spent up on the Eiffel Tower after patrol, trying not to laugh at Chat Noir's horrible puns. And while the feeling itself was pleasantly cool, it brought a very different, very warm and bubbly and familiar feeling to her chest that had nothing to do with magic senses.

Something like that should have been relaxing, but after Chat Noir had fallen asleep, while she was listening to his breathing and nearly asleep herself, she finally realised what the feeling was. It was the same as what Marinette felt around Adrien, only she hadn't noticed. Because with Adrien, there were always butterflies in her stomach, her heart a few beats too fast and words tumbling out of her mouth in the wrong order. According to everything she had heard, that was how love was supposed to be.

There was nothing like that with Chat Noir. No butterflies or jitters. Just that same warm affection when he was on her mind. She felt calm and happy and confident and brave when she was with him. She knew that of course she loved Chat Noir very much as a friend. But not once had it occurred to her that she might be in love with him on top of that.

Of all the times to have a realisation like this, why did it have to be now?  Marinette sighed quietly, turning onto her back, trying to distract herself from her own thoughts. This wasn't the time for sorting out her feelings. And she still liked Adrien, she couldn't just forget him and how kind and sweet and thoughtful and ridiculously pretty he was. She didn't know if she could ever forget that day in the rain when he quietly explained that he'd never had any friends and gave her his umbrella.

But I still can't even talk to Adrien, I'm no closer to telling him how I feel at all. I talk to Chat Noir all the time, she couldn't help thinking. I don't need to worry about making a fool of myself in front of him. He’s seen me be clumsy or make bad decisions plenty of times and he doesn't care. And he's just as kind, and I've seen how sweet and romantic he can be. She thought of the rooftop he had brought her as Marinette after she hadn't gone to meet up with him as Ladybug. He'd been so down, but he still tried to cheer up Marinette, who he only knew from that time with Le Dessinateur and the times he had saved her.

And now, thinking about it, when he brought her there as Ladybug later, and she had told him she loved someone else, when he had just smiled genuinely despite his sadness and kissed her cheek and told her that she was his best friend too and to keep the rose because it matched her costume, her face had felt so warm and her heart had sped up just like it did around Adrien. She should have realised how she felt then! She wanted to shove her face in her pillow and scream with frustration.

Marinette spent at least the next ten minutes arguing with her own thoughts back and forth. She tried to stop thinking about it, and she was tired, but fretting about her love life and catastrophising about small things had a flaw of hers even when she had only been directing her romantic anxieties towards one person. She did not know how to handle having feelings for two people.

What if she got what she had been trying for all year and confessed to Adrien and they got married and had three kids and a hamster like she wanted, but then Marinette spent all her time dreaming about Chat Noir and turned their marriage loveless and Adrien would break up with her and take custody of their kids and they'd hate her forever? Or if she started dating Chat Noir, and Marinette realized she loved Adrien too much to give him up, and it broke his heart-- she wouldn't be able to handle breaking his heart. It was hard enough seeing him sad when she told him she loved someone else. Chat Noir was so, so important to her, she couldn't bear to break his heart by accidentally leading him on like that!

Maybe it was better to just never date or get married, and live out her life as a crazy old hermit with thirty cats. But then the cats would always remind Marinette of what could have been with Chat Noir if only she had figured out what to do! And Marinette wanted to get married someday, and have three beautiful kids and get to be a mother and a wife and be as happy as her mom and dad were. Marinette wanted to someday be as excited about going on anniversary dinners and live life together with someone just like her parents.

If only Marinette could talk to Alya. She would have to talk about Chat Noir like he was someone else that Alya hadn't met, but Alya would have advice and help her figure out her feelings. But Alya was back in Paris, and Marinette had no way to contact her or get home. But maybe she could talk to Tikki. Her Kwami was very wise from living so long and had given her lots of good advice before.

Cautiously, she removed the sleep mask, peering through the dim light of the fire at the sleeping Chat Noir, his own face half obscured by the other mask. It was a bit silly, but it at least kept her from recognising him. Tikki had once explained that there was just a hint of magic at work, even untransformed: it was a bit harder to connect the dots between civilian and hero, though the magic wasn't strong enough to keep someone from recognising her if they looked her right in the face. It worked from intent, so as long as she wanted to speak as Ladybug and he didn't see her face too clearly, Chat Noir would not accidentally recognise her as Marinette.

For a minute she watched him, making absolutely sure he was really asleep. And definitely not thinking about how cute he was, all curled up with a pile of blankets and hugging a pillow, bright blonde hair mussed and catching the firelight. Marinette wondered what he would look like without the mask. She knew the shape of his face due to the Miraculous’s skin-tight mask, but the lines changed contours and that bit of magic made it hard to imagine his face without it. She wondered what his eyes looked like; obviously they didn't normally have cat-pupils and green sclera. What colour were they? It was difficult to imagine him with anything but green eyes.

Movement caught her attention. She turned to see Tikki move close and whisper, “What's wrong?”

“I need to ask you about something,” Marinette whispered back, glancing back at Chat Noir to make sure he was still asleep. She carefully edged to the armrest and climbed as quietly as possible over the side. She dragged a blanket with her and wrapped it around herself so she wouldn't freeze and crept over to one of the bedrooms, pulling the door most of the way closed but leaving it open a crack so she could hear and react quickly if anything happened.

“Why do we need to talk in here?” Tikki asked, confused. “I think we could have talked without waking up Chat Noir. He seemed very deeply asleep.”

Marinette shook her head. “I need to make sure he can't hear this,” she whispered frantically, anxiously shifting her weight from foot to foot and pulling the blanket tighter around her shoulders. “Tikki, I just realised I'm in love with Chat Noir! And I can't stop thinking about it and I don't know what to do because I still love Adrien too and I don't want to give up on him but I can't just fall out of love with Chat and I think I really, really love him. And what if I pick one but then can't get over the other and--”

Quiet snickering made Marinette jump and slap her hands over her mouth to muffle a squeak. Luminous green eyes peered out of the darkness as Plagg laughed.

“Plagg!” Tikki hissed. “This isn't funny.”

Plagg grinned, only barely visible in the faint light from the crack in the door. “No, you're right, Sugarcube. It's hilarious . You should tell her.”

“Tell me what? And it isn't funny!” Marinette whisper-wailed.

“Plagg don't you dare, ” Tikki fumed.

Plagg rolled his eyes. “Relax. Unlike you, I actually remember that I can't say my wielder's name in the proximity of other Kwamis. But you can say his name. C'mon Tikki, you gonna let poor Marinette suffer over her love life? I thought I was the cruel one,” he teased. “Trust me, Lil’Bug. It would make your dilemma much easier.”

“You can't solve everything the easy way,” Tikki scowled. “It's her decision to make if she wants to give up their identities. And it might just make things more confusing for M-- for Ladybug. Reconciling how she feels about them isn't necessarily going to be easier.”

Marinette wasn't sure what to think of the direction this conservation had turned. She didn't see how knowing who Chat Noir was would change anything, as much as she was curious. Whatever his real name, or the details of his life, she still knew him. The masks gave them power and anonymity, not new personalities. It might have been easier to be confident at least on her part with nigh-invulnerability, super strength, and magic on her side, but Tikki had always assured her that everything about her as Ladybug came from Marinette. It would be the same for Chat Noir.

“Or, it could save them time and heartache,” Plagg said. “Come on, Tikki. You know I'm right, just admit it.”

“Some things are worth spending the time on,” Tikki argued. “Coming to terms with it beforehand would be better for--”

“Can you not talk about me like I'm not in the room?” Marinette interrupted. Both Kwamis, even Plagg, had the decency to look ashamed about it. She crossed her arms and glared between the two of them. “How about I decide what's best for me? First of all, I don't see how knowing Chat Noir's real name will help or hurt.”

Tikki sighed softly. “I can't tell you what you should do or how you should feel. I can try to help you figure it out if you tell me what you are thinking, though.”

Marinette nodded, but hesitated, trying to think of how to start. “I don't know… It really isn't the time to deal with it, but I can't stop thinking about it. I only just realised, while I was trying to sleep. Chat Noir doesn't make me get all flustered and clumsy like Adrien does, but I really do love him the same way.” She fidgeted, bouncing on her soles to try to get rid of some nervous energy. “And… I think I care about him even more than Adrien.” It was so weird to say aloud. How could anyone matter more than Adrien? “I care about Adrien a lot, but Chat Noir is my partner and I know him better even if I know less about him, I trust him more than anyone.”

Tikki nodded, listening intently, and she shoved her hand over Plagg’s mouth to keep him from saying something sarcastic.

“But I've spent the last year in love with Adrien! How can I just give up on that? All that time, and the stupid plans, and--” Marinette barely managed to keep her wail to a whisper. “What if I break Chat Noir's heart because I can't get over Adrien?”

“Why don't you just talk to him?” Plagg pushed Tikki's hand away. “Seriously. You know what he did after you rejected him? He spent the rest of the night just smiling like a lovesick idiot ‘cause you said he was your best friend. He would definitely understand. Look, Little Bug, you've been talking about how much you care about him the whole time. I think you already know what you should do.”

Marinette stared at Plagg, gaping. He was right. For the most part, she had been thinking about the problems her feelings for Adrien would cause for her relationship with Chat Noir, not the other way around. Tikki seemed equally as surprised by Plagg sounding sensible.

Plagg crossed his tiny arms. “I've seen you around the kid at school. You're a mess , you can't get over the crush enough to be his friend first. You're already friends with my kit, and trust me, I have about fourteen billion years of relationship experience. Successful relationships happen when they're your best friend first, and lover second.”

“That was actually really good advice,” Tikki said after a moment of stunned silence. “I'm impressed you stopped pretending romance is gross long enough to say something like that.”

“It's still gross,” Plagg huffed. “This is just exhausting to watch. Humans live, what, a century? Not enough time to waste it being dumb about love.”

Tikki smiled softly. “Oh, Plagg.”

Plagg turned back. “I'm going back to bed,” he said flippantly.

Both of them watched him disappear through the door before Tikki spoke again, “Do you think that helps, Marinette?”

“I think so,” Marinette said quietly. She still felt torn, not quite ready to decide what to do, but Plagg was right: she could talk to Chat Noir about it. Now was not a good time, though. She didn't want to give him another thing to think about when he was already in a bad place mentally. But later, when they were out of this awful place and at home and safe, she would tell him how she felt and her worries about it and they would figure it out together. “At least, I think I can sleep now.”

“Then let's get you back to bed.” Tikki pressed a reassuring ‘hug’ to her cheek before landing on her shoulder. “You need all the rest you can get.”

Marinette nodded, stepping back through the doorway and climbing back over the side of the couch. Chat Noir was still deeply asleep, but when she laid down on the couch, he rolled over, facing in her direction. His messy hair fell over his face, tickling his nose and making his face scrunch up. She tried not to laugh at his expression while she reached over and brushed his bangs back. With that done, she pulled the sleep mask back over her face and curled up on the couch.

This time, she drifted off easily.

Tikki waited until she was sure Marinette was out before she floated up to sit on the back of the other end of the couch and quietly called to Plagg, “She’s asleep. She’s a very deep sleeper, so it’ll be fine to talk now as long as you think Adrien’s not going to wake up.”

“He won’t. He’s chronically sleep deprived and doesn’t really sleep for days and then crashes. He has definitely crashed.” Plagg gave his wielder a look that was somewhere between fondness and exasperated. “This place’s been rough on him.”

“I’m not surprised,” Tikki sighed softly. “Your chosen are always so worn down by the time you find them. You’ve been good for him, but…”

“But his dad’s still a controlling jerk who expects him to be perfect,” Plagg grumbled. He glanced over at Marinette. “The kid would have shut down by now without Ladybug. She gonna be able to handle it? Keeping herself and him going is gonna be pretty stressful.”

“She can do it,” Tikki assured him without hesitation. “She doesn’t overthink things in the moment , and she deals with pressure for serious matters quite well. And she’s one of the most stubborn people I’ve ever chosen. She fought her way to Chat Noir untransformed when the town shifted earlier, so that I could keep track of him. Even if it’s a lot to handle, she’ll manage.”

“So she keeps her calm fighting monsters without powers, but freaks out because she thinks she’s in love with two boys?” Plagg snickered.

Tikki giggled, “She’s young. Relationships are much more confusing at that age. We’ve chosen teenagers before, so you should know that by now. Anyway, I know you didn’t just want to talk about my wielder’s tendency to think her love life is the end of the world. What did you want to talk about earlier?”

Plagg’s expression darkened. He glanced back over at Adrien, “I’m pretty sure there’s a curse on my kit.”

 

Chapter Text

“What? A curse?” Tikki gasped, turning to stare at Adrien intently, focusing to feel for any signs of magic. There was the darkness of the town around them, of course, and the familiar feel of Plagg pulling at her like a magnet, Marinette’s vibrant sunny aura, Adrien’s cool and calming one, and of course the fortune that emanated from Marinette, and the misfortune from Adrien. But nothing she could call a curse. “I can’t tell. If there is one, it must be embedded deep, and his Bad Luck is overpowering its aura.”

“Yeah, that’s why I didn’t notice until now,” Plagg said grimly. “He wouldn't be the first of my wielders to already have a curse. Hard to tell when they’re all cursed anyway.”

“Bad Luck isn't a curse, Plagg.” Tikki reminded him gently.

He scoffed, but didn't bother rehashing old arguments. “I felt it when the shift happened earlier, and when it shifted back. I don’t think I could have felt it if he wasn’t transformed at the time, cause you’re right, it’s definitely a deep curse. Probably started when he was still an infant, if he wasn’t outright born with it. The curse reacted to the town shifting, like it was resonating with whatever power controls this place.”

Tikki glanced back at Adrien worriedly. “It might be a similar type of power as what exists here. That’s not good, it would make him more vulnerable… It might even be why it thinks it can claim him even though he's bonded to you. But why would he even have a curse, and why hasn't it acted until now?”

“Wish I knew. But we’re gonna need to be careful, try to negate it if it does anything.” Plagg scowled. His tail was lashing and his ears turned back. Tikki wished she knew of something to give as a solution, anything that would make Plagg feel better about the situation. Her other half usually preferred to pretend to be uncaring and lazy, so showing open concern like this meant Plagg was very, very worried.

She hugged him. “We’ll keep it from doing anything. Whatever it is, we’re stronger,” she reminded him. “We’ve made everything that ever crossed us regret it. If it tries to hurt him, Ladybug and I will hunt down whatever gave him the curse and make it pay,” she said fiercely.

Plagg smirked. “Gonna teach her how to hunt huh? How do you think Paris will react if they find out ladybugs are actually relentless predatory hunters?”

“Well, maybe they shouldn’t have forgotten why ladybugs are good luck,” she huffed. She didn't stay indignant long, though. “I'm guessing you don't want to tell them? You hate having to keep secrets.”

“Difference between not liking secrets and maybe waiting to tell them until I think they won't have a stress meltdown.” Plagg shrugged. “And unless we condense years of magic training into a few hours, they aren't going to be able to do much about it. Kid is talented, but no way I'm gonna let him try breaking a curse without experience, especially not on himself.”

Tikki winced. She very clearly remembered the last time one of the Black Cats had tried something similar. At least her Ladybug at the time had been nearby to bring that Black Cat back, but neither of them had a desire to see the incident repeated.

“No, you're right,” Tikki agreed. “We'll tell them when we're home and they are safe. The Guardian can hopefully help us break it without resorting to that. They don't need to worry about something beyond their control.”

 


 

Adrien knew right away that he was dreaming.

It had been a long time since he'd had this dream. He hadn't had it since the day he got the Miraculous. For as long as he could remember before he began to wear the ring, this dream had been part of his life. Sometimes multiple times a week, sometimes months in between. It never changed, replaying the same events every time. Unlike most times where a dreamer knew they were dreaming, there was no controlling or changing these events.

The dream always began on the deck of a ship.

He was sitting next to a girl on a bench, blonde-haired and green-eyed just like Adrien, though her face looked pale and drawn, and she was thin and frail looking. She wore a simple grey dress and hugged a teddy bear to her chest, staring out at the water with a peaceful smile. She couldn't have been any older than nine.

On the other side of the girl sat a man, tan and dark haired with a mustache and a kind face, dressed in a uniform. The captain of the ship.

For a few minutes they simply sat there in silence. It would have been relaxing if he didn't know what would happen next. There was no changing or avoiding it. The dream centred on this spot, and Adrien had long since stopped trying to stray from this part of the ship. Something about the dream wouldn't let him, freezing his dreaming body in place until he moved to return. Finally, after what always felt like an eternity, the captain spoke gently to the girl.

“It's nice to see you out and about, and feeling better. It's been years since you got to come out on my boat, hasn't it?”

The girl nodded. “It's so nice to be at the lake again! I missed it a lot. It's always so pretty and peaceful. Even when it's all foggy like this.”

The captain laughed. “I'm glad the dreary sky hasn't ruined your day. I'm sure you miss the sun.”

“It's okay. Maybe next time it will be sunny. I've been feeling a little better, so while I'm better I want to go out again!

The girl stood, stepping over to the railing to get a better view, but suddenly began to cough. A deep and painful sounding coughing fit that took several minutes to subside. She clutched the stuffed bear close with her left arm like it was a lifeline, covering her mouth with her other hand. The captain jumped to his feet and rubbed her back gently until the coughs subsided.

As the coughs subsided, the captain stepped back. “I'll be right back with some water.”

“Thank you,” the girl replied, voice a tiny bit hoarse, but she gave him a smile all the same. While he went inside to find her water, she returned to looking out over the lake. Only a minute later a woman's voice called: “Hanna? Hanna? Where are you?”

The source of the voice was a woman who looked to be in her thirties, dressed in an old fashioned blue dress and her brown hair was tucked into a neat bun. Hanna turned, smiling at the sight of her mother's approach, but Adrien shuddered. The mother had an almost dead look in her eyes, tired and sad. Like she had lost all hope.

She probably has, Adrien thought.

“Mommy!” Hanna rushed forward and hugged her with the bear-free arm.

The woman smiled hollowly as she hugged her back and affectionately smoothed Hanna's hair with her fingers. “I was looking for you.”

“I was talking to the captain!” Hanna said. “It’s really nice to see him again.”

“Yes, it is,” the mother said, letting go of Hanna. The girl beamed at her mother and then stepped back to peer over the railing.

“Can we come again soon mommy? Maybe when it's sunny out. When the sun shines on the water, it looks like it sparkles. It's so pretty!” Hanna said, innocently oblivious to her mother staring at her oddly.

“Don't worry, Hanna. You'll see the lake a lot more.”

“Really? Thank you, mommy!” Hanna said happily.

There was a minute or two of peace. Hanna staring out at the lake water contentedly. She did not notice her mother stepping towards her slowly until she was less than an arm's reach in front of her.

“Hanna…”

Turning with a smile, Hanna looked up at her mother, but it faltered when she saw the hard, almost angry expression on her mother's face.

Adrien could never look away from this part of the dream. No matter how he tried. His body in this dream just refused to do it. He couldn't look away, couldn't stop it because he wasn't really here and couldn't touch them, couldn't do anything but watch helplessly as the woman took hold of her startled daughter and lifted her roughly over the railing. Hanna cried out in fear, dropping her bear as she scrambled to try to stop her mother from pushing her over the edge.

“No!” The captain emerged from inside just in time to see Hanna disappear over the rails. The captain rushed to the railing, shouting, the now forgotten glass of water shattering on the ground. But it was too late. He was always too late.

Hanna screamed as she fell, voice silenced abruptly by the water.

There should have been an explosion from where Hanna had fallen. It was supposed to knock over the ship with its shockwave and then the dream would end. That was how it always went.

Instead, he felt a presence, the same as the one that had shouted in his head during the failed cataclysm. There was that same sudden pain in his head, and a horrible, prickling crawling feeling in his mind. The dream pulsed and warped.

Then suddenly Adrien was the one in the water. It no longer felt like just a dream. He felt the shockwave in the water, but couldn't see what happened next. There were hands, elongated and skeletal and just barely covered with rotted, stretched skin. They grabbed his arms and legs and shoulders, pulling him deeper no matter how hard he struggled. Icy cold water burned his skin as he sank. He couldn't breathe, the water pressed in and grew darker as he sank deeper. He tried to fight and hold his breath as long as he could, but his lungs felt like they were burning. He needed air.

Instinct took over, forcing a desperate gasp and water filled his lungs. What little vision Adrien had this deep in the dark water was filling with black spots. His lungs were still burning, forcing another gasp that only brought more water. For a moment, he forgot it was a dream, all he could think was that he was going to die.

But instead of dying, Adrien woke up. With a strangled yelp he rolled onto his side, gasping for air. He pushed himself up till he was half sitting, coughing and wheezing, and trying not to throw up. He could still half feel the water in his lungs, like an echo from the dream. He fumbled for the sleep mask and ripped it off without a second thought, needing to be rid of the darkness so like the depths of the lake.

“Chat?!” Adrien heard a surprised and worried yell from Ladybug from behind him. Her hand was soon on his shoulder, other hand on his back, steadying him and trying to soothe him.

“What the heck?! Kid, are you okay?” He heard Plagg somewhere overhead.

Tikki fluttered into sight, eyes wide. “What happened?”

Adrien tried to answer, but had another coughing fit into his hand instead. Ladybug gently rubbed his back while he tried to get his breath back. It took a moment for him to regain enough composure to speak. “Just… just a nightmare that felt too real. Sorry I woke you.”

“It's fine.” She assured him. “Not like it's your fault. And you've had plenty of reasons for nightmares today.”

He sat up fully and shook his head. “It wasn't about that. It was this-- there was a dream I used to have. It’s just never ended with me being the one drowning before.”

There was a moment of quiet before Ladybug said softly, “You dreamed that you drowned?”

“Yeah.” Adrien shivered. “It felt like I really was drowning. I couldn't breathe and I could feel the water in my lungs…”

Ladybug's arms wrapped around him from behind, left around his waist and right around his shoulders. Her forehead pressed lightly into his left shoulder. “I'm so sorry, Chaton. That must have been awful, are you alright?”

Adrien's face warmed. “I'm okay. I just need a minute.” He was glad she could not see the blush. She had hugged him plenty in the time they had been partners, but for some reason this felt somehow more intimate and he had no idea why. Still, the gesture helped a lot. His Lady always managed to make everything feel brighter.

Adrien shut his eyes, trying to calm his still-racing heart. There was quiet for a few minutes. The only noise the crackling fire and their quiet breathing, hers even and his gradually slowing to match as he calmed down. Their Kwamis settled on the mantelpiece to watch over them.

Once Adrien was reasonably sure he was back to normal, he opened his eyes again and glanced over at the Kwamis. “How long did we sleep?”

“About ten hours,” Tikki replied after thinking about it. “You both must have been very tired.”

He still felt tired. He felt like he could sleep another ten hours and still be tired.

“If you think you're rested enough we should probably get moving,” Ladybug said reluctantly, lifting her head from his shoulder. “The sooner we can get to the hospital and get more answers, the better.”

“I slept enough to keep going.” Adrien shrugged. He did way better aside from the dream, even if he was still tired. Besides, that was no different from normal. He was used to being tired, especially these days.

Ladybug let go of him, and Adrien tried not to be too disappointed. Plagg was right, he was absolutely hopeless. Some superhero he was, getting sad because he couldn't just spend hours cuddling-- platonically even-- with the girl he loved. He tried to distract himself by focusing on the matter at hand: finding Alessa again and finding a way out.

They ate some leftover bread and canned food for breakfast and ‘borrowed’ more clothes from the bedroom closets. They fit quite well actually, considering they had no idea what kind of people the clothes belonged to. They refilled water bottles and restocked what they could of their supplies, and Ladybug wrapped up the last of the bread she had made and put it into her bag.

“Is that everything?” She asked, facing away from him while she checked everything one more time.

“Everything I can think of. You ready?”

“Ready! Tikki, transform me!”

“Plagg, transform me!”

Magic rushed over his skin then settled. The skin-tight suit felt both warmer and more secure than the normal clothes he was wearing before. Not for the first time, Chat Noir wondered what exactly happened to their normal clothes and carried items when they transformed. He’d never gotten an answer out of Plagg, because his Kwami insisted it was too complicated and wasn't important and Plagg could spend that time napping or eating cheese. Maybe Tikki would answer him if he remembered to ask.

Chat Noir waited a moment to be absolutely sure that Ladybug had finished transforming before turning to face her. He smiled warmly without even realising he was doing it, happy to see her face. That was one of the downsides of all this time untransformed, because he really loved seeing her eyes and smile. The smile in question was presently directed at him.

“Come on, let's go find that hospital.” Ladybug turned to the door. He noticed her face was a little redder, probably from the cold. It was a good thing their transformation would give them some amount of protection. Still it was not exactly pleasant to step out into the icy air.

At least the snow had stopped for now. There was about an inch of it on the ground, crunching underfoot as they went. The fog was just as thick though, making it even harder for Chat Noir to see than when it had been dark. From one side of the road they could only just barely make out the shape of buildings on the other side, and it was so quiet it almost felt like the world only existed in the area around them.

Ladybug checked the map periodically against any landmark they could find as they went. It would be much too easy to get lost in the fog and the silence. They headed east along Bradbury Street until the road ended near the river, then turned north onto Ellroy Street. They could have made better progress over the roofs, but Chat Noir could hear birds overhead that hadn't noticed them but definitely would if they went up that high. They agreed it was best to stay on the ground.

Unfortunately, they didn't get very far down Ellroy Street before the way forward was blocked by a massive hole, like the ones they had seen before. The other side, if there was one, was nowhere to be seen.

“Should we try to cross it?” Chat Noir asked. The hole made him nervous. It felt empty somehow, like it might swallow them whole.

It seemed Ladybug felt the same way, because she shuddered and said. “No, I don't think that's a good idea. Something's weird about those things, and I can't exactly lasso the other side if I can't see it. Let's try going around.”

They turned back down to circle around, double checking the map as they went. They were at the corner of the block when a realisation hit him and Chat Noir stopped abruptly and looked around, listening hard.

“Do you hear something?” Ladybug asked, tensing.

“No,” Chat Noir said quietly, repressing a shiver. “That's the problem. I haven't heard or seen anything since we left that house besides the birds way up high. Not a single monster on the ground. But there were tons before.”

Ladybug’s eyes widened and she scanned the area, too. “You're right. They're all gone. Why would they be gone? Not that I want there to be monsters, but it's strange. Is that thing planning something?”

“I don't know. I don't like it, though. Be careful, My Lady. It might be some kind of trap.”

She nodded, taking a step closer to him before they continued on. North onto Bachman Road, then East again onto Bloch Street. But halfway down the block was another hole in the street.

“Dammit,” Ladybug hissed. Chat Noir stared at her. She didn't usually swear, so this must have really been frustrating her. She turned to stomp back the way they came, when the silence was broken at last by a thunderous toll of a bell. Both of them startled, whirling to face the source.

It was the church just beside them. The bell continued, echoing in the empty streets, incredibly loud after the utter quiet. They saw one of the doors of the church open slightly. An invitation.

“I guess we're going that way,” Ladybug murmured with a scowl.

 


 

Heavy wooden doors like this would have been difficult to push open as Marinette, but Ladybug had no problem at all. She slammed them open as if they were light as plywood, a hand going to her yoyo in case anything was ready to jump them. The radio remained silent, but there was someone sitting in the pews.

That someone stood at the sound of the slamming doors and turned to them. It was a young woman with light red hair, dressed in long white robes with some sort of shawl-like cloak draped over her shoulders. It looked like an outfit from a different time, like something from an ancient religion. The woman gave them a smile that did nothing to make her look friendly. It was almost predatory, and she gave off a feeling of the fog and darkness, and smelled of blood and smoke.

“My God has told me about your arrival, bearers of Creation and Destruction.” The woman spoke in English, stepping towards them with that smile fixed in place.

“Who is your god?” Ladybug said uneasily, in English as well. “And who are you? What do you want?”

“My god is The Holy Mother, The Lord of Serpents and Reeds,” the woman said reverently. “I am first among Her priestesses. My name is Jessica Carroll. As for what I want, I desire nothing more than my God's will.”

“Okay, so what does she want then?” Chat Noir asked. He sounded agitated, cat ears partially flattened and belt-tail moving back and forth. Ladybug felt the same; Hearing about this supposed god filled her with dread she couldn't identify.

Jessica Carroll looked towards Chat Noir, her smile verging on a smirk. “Just what is Hers, and nothing more,” she said. Her eyes flicked towards Ladybug as she continued. “That is why She has sent me here, to deliver a message to you, Lady of Luck.”

Ladybug crossed her arms. “Well? What's the message?”

“She wants you to leave this town. You do not belong here in Her domain,” Jessica said, watching Ladybug with unsettling fascination.

“We’d love to leave, but in case you hadn't noticed, the roads are all bottomless pits,” Ladybug said, meeting her gaze with a glare in return.

“You may leave at any time,” Jessica said, as if it was simple. “You simply need to sever the bond between you and the boy. If one of you were to renounce your jewels and the gods within, you would be able to leave. It is him that belongs here, not you.”

Ladybug couldn't remember ever feeling this angry before. She glanced at Chat Noir, finding a mixture of shock, guilt, and fear, leather faux ears flattened fully now and tail close to his body. Worst of all, she could tell he was considering it, his eyes flicking to his ring. She grabbed his right hand, lacing her fingers with his, just in case he did something impulsive. Stepping in front of him protectively, Ladybug returned her glare to Jessica and snarled. “No way in hell! Your god is an idiot if she thinks I would ever abandon my partner!”

She looked back at Chat Noir, softening from angry to stern. “I am not leaving you here.”

Chat Noir still looked stunned, but he gripped her hand back tightly, swallowed, and looked towards Jessica. “Why does your god want me here?” He managed to keep his voice steady, but she could feel his hand trembling slightly. She squeezed his hand reassuringly.

“She didn't tell me why.” Jessica shrugged. “It was not part of Her message. I was only told to pass on to the wielder of creation that if you remain in this town and continue to interfere, then She will have no choice but to kill you.”

“You mean she can try,” Ladybug said firmly, without hesitation, and fixed Jessica with a cold glare. A small part of her was afraid, but she refused to let that part gain the upper hand. “Tell your god that Ladybug and Chat Noir are going to stop her. And I am going to make her pay for hurting my kitty.”

Ladybug stormed past the woman, tugging a surprised Chat Noir alongside her down the centre aisle and slammed open the front doors that led back outside on the other side of the chasm. As soon as they were out on the street she whirled around to face him, still holding onto the hand with his Miraculous, and prodded him in the chest with her free hand.

“Don't you dare take that ring off,” she said firmly. His eyes widened, and he opened his mouth to speak, but Ladybug cut him off. “I could tell you were considering it. No. I am not leaving you. Ever.”

Chat Noir averted his eyes. “Paris needs you, Ladybug,” he said quietly.

“Paris needs both of us. I need you, Chat. You're my partner, and my best friend.” She reached up, gently placing the hand not entwined with his on his cheek and turning his gaze back to her. “I care about you so much, Chat Noir. I don't know what I would do if I lost you-- I hate even thinking about it.” She shuddered.

For a moment Chat Noir just stared at her, trying to figure out what to say. Finally, he relaxed, giving Ladybug a gentle, warm smile. He reached up and gently took her hand from his cheek and turned it so he could press the back of her hand to his lips. All the while, his vivid green eyes never left hers. “I would never knowingly cause you any grief, My Lady.”

Ladybug's face warmed until she was certain her cheeks were as red as her suit. She needed to focus on the important things, like getting out of this horrible place, and she should most definitely not do anything foolish like blurt out her feelings or kiss him. But he was being sweet, and it was charming, and his face was so close to hers, looking at her in that way she'd only truly noticed after the Glaciator fight: like she was the most mesmerising thing in the world. And she simply didn't know how to react to that.

It was almost a relief when the sound of static startled them both. Chat Noir unclipped his baton and pulled away, turning to face the incoming monster. It was one of the ones with the gaping hole in its chest and its arms restrained by its own skin.

“I'll get this one if you get the one on the right,” Chat Noir said, glancing her way with a half-smirk.

“The one on the--”  now she could hear and see it coming towards her. It had a human-like body, but a strange stretched and split head with blades on the end. “Yeah, I got it.”

She watched it lumber towards them for just a moment, getting a feel for how it moved. Before it could get too close, she lassoed it with the yoyo and spun it around and into the chasm behind them. Chat Noir seemed to have a similar idea, getting the armless monster up into the air with one swing of the baton and following by simply extending the baton with the force and speed to send it flying up over the other side of some buildings.

Once it was gone, Chat Noir retracted it to quarterstaff length and listened for a moment. “Still more down this street. I have a feline Mme. Carroll’s god wanted to make sure it didn't take too long for us to get to the church before. Unfurtunately, it must be back to trying to stop us.”

Ladybug rolled her eyes with a groan, which only made him grin, but she couldn't quite keep a smile off her own face. He must have been feeling better, if he was making cat puns. She had never imagined missing his bad jokes and puns until now. It was a wonderful relief to hear Chat Noir joking and see him smiling and acting more like his usual borderline hyperactive self.

“All the more reason to keep going. If it doesn't want us to go to the hospital then we must be on the right track, don't you think?” Ladybug said cheerfully.

“I absolutely agree, My Lady,” Chat Noir said with an even wider grin.

They pressed into the fog. Ladybug lassoed another of the armless creatures that tried to block their path. Flinging them away seemed to work quite well, so she repeated the earlier tactic. There was one more, but Chat Noir took care of it, flinging it over the buildings again.

Finally, they reached the river. A bridge lay ahead of them, but as they got closer they saw it had been raised to allow passage of boats. With the fog, they couldn't see the other side of the bridge.

Ladybug eyed the bridge apprehensively. “We could maybe use your baton to get across. I can't snag anything to swing us across if I can't see it.”

“It isn't much better with the baton,” Chat Noir murmured, glancing over the bridge railing. “We'd probably end up in the river. And I'd kind of like to avoid a repeat of my dream if that's okay.”

Right. His nightmare. Ladybug had almost forgotten. That was a pretty good reason to want to be careful about water. She looked around for another solution, “There should be bridge controls somewhere… There!” Just visible was a staircase leading up. She grabbed Chat's hand and tugged him up the stairs to the control room. The door was unlocked.

The machinery panel didn't look too complicated, but she examined each button and lever carefully. She was about to lower the bridge when the sound of a boat's fog horn startled them both. Chat Noir stepped closer to the window as the fog seemed to lift around the incoming boat. Still hazy, but just enough to see the name ‘The Little Baroness’ on the side of the boat.

“What's a boat doing here?” Ladybug murmured, staring out the window. “Do you think it's really there, Chat?” When there was no answer, she looked back at her partner to find him staring out the window, eyes strangely glassy and pupils blown wide. ”Chat? Chaton? What's wrong?” She shook his shoulder gently.

He startled, blinking a few times before he looked over at her. “Huh? Sorry, zoned out I guess.” He shook his head and ran a hand through his hair anxiously. The boat was now past the bridge and disappearing back into the fog. “That boat just… It reminded me of the one in my dream. It looked just like it.”

Ladybug watched him for a moment, not removing her hand from his shoulder. “Is it okay to ask what happened? In the dream. I know you said you didn’t drown before, and you had it a lot. It was on a boat?”

Chat Noir nodded. “Yeah. Just like that one.” He glanced back out the window where the boat once was. “I kinda don’t wanna think about it too much. But basically it’s always on the same boat, and a woman throws her daughter over the rail and then the boat sinks. I've kinda always had that dream, and it was awful, but I never drowned before. This time though…” He hesitated, trying to keep from looking upset at the thought. “I think that thing from before messed with the dream and basically changed its viewpoint so I was the drowning kid and it felt real. I guess just to try to freak me out.”

Ladybug hoped that this thing had a corporeal face somewhere so she could punch it repeatedly. “I'm sorry I brought it up, mon chaton.” She gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze.

“It's okay.” He smiled at her. “I've had nightmares before, I can deal with it. Besides, My Lady,” the smile turned into a playful grin. “Efurything is brighter with you here.”

Torn between blushing madly and rolling her eyes, Ladybug ended up laughing instead. She didn't miss how his eyes lit up and his smile widened at getting a laugh from her. It was a nice feeling that she could make him smile like that, just by letting him make her smile. “Alright Minou, if you're okay enough to pun it's time we got going.”

Chat Noir did an exaggerated bow and gesture to the control panel. “As you wish, My Lady.”

Ladybug giggled as she worked the controls to lower the bridge.

 


 

It took a minute for Gabriel to gather the composure to press on. He felt as though he was being manipulated, watched, though by what he didn't know. It knew about him, about his secret identity as Papillon, and the champions his Akuma created. “You said that there was an entity in control of the curse on this town, Nooroo?”

Nooroo bobbed his head in a nod. “Yes Master. I can tell it is an empathic being, and quite powerful.”

“Is that all you can tell?”

The Kwami seemed deep in thought, his eyes closed as he searched with a sense that an ordinary human may never feel. “No, Master. I can sense that it is old, not as old as the Kwamis of the Miraculous, but older than humanity. And it is hungry, and cruel, and angry, and it delights in suffering.”

That was not a good sign. “Could it be responsible for changing the hospital?”

“I do not know,” Nooroo answered honestly. “It may be, but something doesn't seem right. It's too precise for a being like that to do usually. It could still be that entity, or it could be the trapped souls, or something else entirely. It could be something I just can't sense.”

“So we just don't know what did it,” Gabriel said quietly. He made sure the handgun was fully loaded before he went through the door to the hall. Static greeted him, and the moans of the nurse monsters. In response to his flashlight they began to move towards him, their steps awkward and jerking and inhuman.

Gabriel aimed carefully, wishing their movements were a little more controlled and less random because it made hitting them difficult. Still, he managed to get the first one in the head, and it went down without even twitching.

The second one he missed the first shot, and the second and third shots went into its torso. It took one more to make it go down. Like the others before, it began to twitch and flail wildly on the ground. Gabriel drew out the pipe and rushed forward to smash in its head.

Silence fell, the static dying with the nurse.

Gabriel let out a slow breath he hadn't even noticed he had been holding. It was getting easier each time to deal with these monsters, but still it was nerve-wracking. He turned his focus to the rooms; he had a feeling there would be another puzzle to get out, and its pieces may be scattered throughout the area. The hall was just like the lobby, expensive-looking and high quality draped cloth covering the walls, obscuring the rust and blood and mould underneath. Multiple doors bore a picture frame, though it was difficult to make out any particular details from a distance. Gabriel could vaguely make out some repeating small shapes only barely illuminated by the dim light.

The first door, room 206, was broken, the lock jammed. It was unlikely to open, even if Gabriel found the key or had Nooroo try to unlock it from the other side. It too had a frame, but the canvas had been cut out leaving only shreds of cloth remaining. Something about the empty backing made his skin crawl, so he quickly moved on to the next door.

Room 205’s painting was intact. In the direct light of his flashlight it was quite brightly coloured. It featured a stylised woman draped in a loose dress holding a young child, their eyes shut, peaceful. Their clothes both somewhat blending into the background, both being made of many elegantly flowing shaped symbols that resembled four-petaled flowers against a backdrop of gold. It greatly resembled Gustav Klimt’s work, likely inspired by it.

This door was unlocked. He pushed open the door cautiously, ready in case there was a monster inside.

There wasn't. The room looked ordinary, none of the odd drapes or rust. The light was on, bright white and steady. The bed was clean and had been neatly made, and a teddy bear sat on the pillow. A comfortable looking chair sat next to the bed, and there were several bouquets of flowers and a number of propped open cards on the end table beside it. As Gabriel stepped closer he could see they were ‘Get Well Soon’ cards. On the other side of the bed was an IV stand holding a bag of blood.

The room felt familiar. It nagged at Gabriel, the memory just out of reach, like so much of this had been so far. For a minute he tried anyway, thinking hard on where he had seen this room. Gabriel hadn't been to a hospital since the day he lost Emilie. This wasn't like that hospital room Adrien had stayed in afterward. That had been a smaller room, with only one bouquet and one get well card, both from Chloe Bourgeois. The walls had been a different shade of off-white, tiles smaller, curtains a deeper blue.

Gabriel checked the cards carefully, making sure to put them back in the same place when he was done. They were all similar, various well wishes, recipient’s and sender's names smudged beyond recognition. Nothing seemed particularly important about any of them, and he moved on to search the rest of the room. Hidden among the flower vases, he found a round wooden box, about fifteen centimetres tall and thirty centimetres in diameter.

It was made of a reddish wood he guessed to be rosewood, ornately detailed, inlaid with gold around the edges. At the top there were two rings that looked as if they could be rotated, surrounding an engraving of swirling branches, one side with the branches carved in and the other with the negative space carved around it. There were small round indents in the rings, five on the inner and twelve on the outer. It had no lock, but would not open.

When Gabriel tried to rotate the rings, they did not move. On closer inspection, there were small metal pins of some sort inside the indents that could be pushed but would spring right back. He stared at the box for a moment, considering, before he set it back down with a sigh. He could guess that this meant he would need to gather seventeen of something to open the box.

For a moment he wondered what this place's obsession was with puzzles. There was some kind of strange logic to this town that he couldn't quite figure out. Puzzles, monsters, those energy drinks supposedly somehow healing wounds… it seemed very deliberate. It would make sense if the supposed entity was behind it, but at the same time, he couldn't figure out its motivation. What could it gain from this?

“Master? Are you alright?” Nooroo's soft voice pulled him from his thoughts.

Gabriel composed himself. “I'm fine. Just wondering about the nature of these obstacles. I can only assume I will somehow need to solve this puzzle box in order to get out of here. That seems to be the way things work in this town.”

Nooroo nodded. “It seems that way, yes.”

“I do not care for being manipulated like this.” Gabriel glanced around the room once more to see if anything remained hidden.

There was a brief pause. Unnoticed to Gabriel, Nooroo seemed to struggle internally for a moment before finally saying, “But you don’t mind manipulating others.”

Head snapping to glare at Nooroo, Gabriel clenched his fists. “That is different, Nooroo. My deals are valid. I give them power and in exchange they help me. They are free to say no.”

“Your abuse of the miraculous causes mental confusi--”

“Silence. Speak no more of this,” Gabriel hissed. He roughly pushed open the door and stormed back out into the hall. It was probably reckless to be so noisy, but he didn't feel like containing himself. He wasn't in control and Nooroo was taking advantage of that weakness to be more defiant. He needed Nooroo's help too much in this place to limit his words too much.

The next door was the NICU, and his anger faltered. Gabriel resisted the urge to shudder, skin crawling at the sight. He had forgotten quite how much he hated hospitals, but this one was bringing back the memories -- that awful, awful helplessness. The NICU brought back some of the worst of it. He half hoped the door would not open.

Instead, it swung open easily. He swallowed and stepped inside.

Rows of incubators and beds with warmers greeted him, three incubators and three warmers in total. There were many more machines: ventilators, light therapy lamps, ultrasound machines, monitors, and more he couldn't quite identify. Cords and wires were everywhere. And most unnerving, every bed and incubator was occupied. For a moment he thought they were real babies, but a second look revealed them to be nothing more than highly realistic dolls.

Slowly, Gabriel exhaled, trying to calm his nerves while he explored the room. It was well lit in here as well, and it was almost worse than the darkness. It was just too bright, too clean. Like the other room it didn't match the halls, lacking the dirty walls concealed by cloth. It had been easier to pretend it wasn't a real hospital in the other areas.

Avoiding the beds and incubators for the time being, he searched around the machines and cabinet for storing medicines. He found another box of handgun ammunition in there, but the rest of the medical supplies were specialised for use with infants in the NICU.

Now he had searched everything but the dolls’ beds. He hesitated for a long moment, but made himself walk towards the nearest of them, one of the beds with a warmer rather than a full incubator. This doll was a little larger than the others, representing a less early premature baby or perhaps one that had simply been born sick. Initially there seemed to be nothing, but a second glance found a folded note, the white paper almost blending into the blanket.

 

‘I am the the east, the spring, the living forest.

Find me in the place where life perseveres,

Hidden in the eastern wall.’

“Another puzzle,” Gabriel grimaced. “Of course.” He didn't have any particular ideas for what that could mean. He moved on to the next infant bed-- a smaller one that had a lamp shining on it, finding just another note again.

 

‘I am the south, the summer, the blazing inferno.

Find me in the place where fires nourish,

Shrouded in the enclosed heat.’

That at least he thought he knew. ‘Fires nourish’ had to be cooking, and the ‘enclosed heat’ might be an oven.

It was the same with the last of the beds, the smallest of the dolls besides the incubator. This doll had a tube running up to its nose with a nasal cannula providing extra oxygen. Or at least it would if it was a real baby. This note read:

 

‘I am the centre, the intermediate, the fertile soil.

Find me in the place at the middle of it all,

Masked in the smallest weaves.’

“Somewhere in the laundry room, then…” Gabriel guessed quietly. Nooroo nodded in agreement.

On the other side, in the incubators, the baby dolls were even more covered in wires. All three had nasal cannulas, but the farthest was hooked up to a CPAP machine instead of just oxygen. He wished they didn't look quite so lifelike. It was disturbing to see the dolls, looking so small and frail. It brought back bad memories. The note was clenched in the doll's fist and he had to pry it out carefully to read it.

 

‘I am the west, the autumn, the forged steel.

Find me in the place where blades pierce,

Concealed in the physician's tools.’

The operation room was the only one that made sense to him for this one. He moved over to the middle doll in the incubators. This note sat on the bedding.

 

‘I am the north, the winter, the flowing river.

Find me in the place where rain falls,

Unseen in the moving water.’

That one he didn't get. He hoped it would come to him as he searched for the others.

The last doll seemed oddly familiar, though its face was obscured slightly by all the wires and its eyes were closed, face scrunched up as if uncomfortable. He found his gaze drawn to it. He’d always imagined that it could not have been pleasant for the infants, newly born and unable to understand what was happening, unable to even be held.

It was not pleasant on the parents’ end for certain. Hopefully he could solve the puzzle and get out of here soon. He hated being surrounded by reminders about those frustrating weeks.

Gabriel forced himself to focus on the present. The final note lay at the doll's feet. He shivered when he saw that this one did not follow the same pattern as the others.

 

‘What do you know about me?

What did your ego allow?

I am the quiet darkness.

I am the still water.

I am the gentle soul.

I am the dutiful child.

I am the end of all things.

You cannot find me like the others.

For I was there all along.’

Chapter Text

Interlude I: 'Same Old Memories When We Fall Asleep.'

Ten years ago…

When Emilie was a child, she would wake screaming and crying when she had The Dream. It would bring her father to the room in a panic, and he would just hold her while she cried and heaved, holding her hair back while she threw up into the bucket they had started leaving by her bedside. Sometimes, something would be broken, and it had terrified them both when a window had shattered during one of these incidents, afraid for a moment that it might be another burglary.

Now an adult, Emilie had grown more numb to the fear and pain of her dreams. Occasionally some of the pictures would be knocked askew or a glass of water tipped, but she had managed to mostly control these outbursts. She stayed quiet as she woke, racing heart the only sign anything was amiss, and reached out to the other side of the bed.

It was empty.

That was right. Gabriel was working in London for the rest of the week. Emilie sighed, drawing her arm back and rolling onto her back, vacantly staring at the ceiling. Though she was no longer scared by the dream -- no longer a frightened little girl -- she still wished her husband was here. His presence alone made her feel better.

Something pricked at her thoughts. Fear that wasn't her own mixed with a familiar soft, quiet energy. Emilie knew before she heard the door open that it was her son. In the moonlight she could just make out Adrien's bright green eyes peering through the crack in the door.

“Mama?” he whispered in a trembling voice. “Are you awake?”

“Yes. I'm awake.” Emilie sat up and turned on the bedside lamp to get a better look at her son. Five year old Adrien was teary eyed, holding tightly onto a slightly ragged teddy bear that she had passed down from her own childhood. “What's wrong, mon chéri?

“I had a bad dream.” Adrien scurried over to the side of her bed, sending a nervous glance at the corner, where the shadows seemed darker. “I think I dreamed it before but I didn't remember.”

Emilie scooped him up, settling him on her lap. She smoothed his sleep-mussed hair back gently and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “What was it about?”

“I was on a boat.”

Her blood ran cold.

“And there was a girl and a man talking, but it was in English and I didn't know all the words. The girl was sick. And then -- and then when the man went away her mom came and pushed her off the boat.” He sniffled, setting down the bear to bury his face in her nightshirt. “Why would she do that, mama?”

Slowly, Emilie let out a breath, gently stroking his hair. “Her mother was very sad,” she explained softly. “Hanna was very sick. She was dying. Her mother was so sad for her, and a… a bad thing got into her head.” How to describe it to a child? What could she tell him about that being that wormed into hearts and minds and whispered horrible things? “She wanted to stop Hanna's pain, and the bad thing told her that was the way.”

Adrien sniffled and looked up at her, “How did you know her name, mama?”

“I have that dream too.” Best not to let him know that Emilie experienced the dream more directly, that she felt Hanna drown. She gently wiped away his tears. “I've had that dream since I was a little girl. I even had it tonight. It wasn't a very fun dream, was it?”

“It was scary,” Adrien nodded, more tears replacing what she had wiped away. He clung to her waist, “I don't like it. Can you make the dream go away, mama?”

Emilie took a slow breath, trying to keep her composure. Her poor little boy didn't deserve this at all. This was supposed to be her burden, not his. “I'm sorry, Adrien. I don't know how to make the dreams stop.” She continued to run her fingers through his hair soothingly. “But next time you have that dream, try to remember that it’s okay in the end. Hanna isn't under the water anymore, and she knows now that her mother still loves her very much. She’s at peace now, and so is her mother.”

Adrien was quiet for a moment before he whispered anxiously, “She died, didn't she? Like papi.”

The loss of Emilie's dad was still quite fresh, and she tried not to let tears well up. “She did,” she admitted quietly. “But it was a long, long time ago.”

“You wouldn't do something like that, right mama? If you or papa were sad and I was hurting, you wouldn't do that to me, right?”

“Oh mon chéri, of course not!” Emilie hugged her son tight with a shudder. “Your father and I would never do that. We don't have that bad thing making us think wrong things like Lorr-- like Hanna's mother.”

Still, he seemed anxious. “But what if the bad thing did make you do it?”

Emilie shook her head. “That won't happen, Adrien. I promise. I know how to fight the bad thing now.” Did she though? The words felt meaningless and her promise felt hollow. But Adrien didn't need to know that. He was a child that needed to think his mother was fearless right now.

Finally, Adrien calmed. He pulled away from the hug and rubbed his eyes. “Mama, can I stay here tonight?”

“Yes, you can.” Emilie lifted up the blankets so he could wriggle under the covers with her. Adrien snuggled into her side. She turned off the lamp, trying not to imagine Hanna's eyes shining through the darkness, gaze accusing in the face of her lie. She tried not to imagine Hanna's mother, Lorraine, either, with the dead look in her eyes as something whispered in her head to end her daughter's life.

In silence, Emilie fought to keep her thoughts in the present for several minutes. She tried to focus on her son, the boy's soft breathing reassuring, keeping her grounded. It was some time before she spoke again, “Adrien?”

“Yes, mama?”

“Please don't tell your father that I have that dream,” she asked quietly.

“Okay. Why not?” Adrien blinked up at her curiously.

A good question. One Emilie couldn't answer, even to herself. Why didn't she want Gabriel to know about Hanna? It didn't change anything about her, or their relationship. She was Emilie Agreste, and no one else, certainly not a girl who had been dead nearly a century.

But then why didn't she want anyone to know about Hanna? Why did she still dream of her life and her memories and her death?

She forced a smile, “I’ll tell you when you're older, but it's a very important secret. It can be a secret just for us to know. I can trust you, right Adrien?”

Adrien nodded with all the solemness a five year old could muster. “You can trust me! I promise!” He reached out his hand, and Emilie giggled softly when she saw that he was holding out his pinky. Chloe had taught him about pinky promises just a few days ago.

Humoring him, Emilie linked her pinky with his.  

With that settled, Adrien put down his hand and shut his eyes, curling up to sleep. “Goodnight, mama.”

“Goodnight, Adrien.”

Emilie waited until his breathing had evened out into sleep to reach over to her bedside table and snag her phone. She turned down the brightness so as to avoid waking Adrien, then scrolled down her contacts until she found the name she was looking for and started a new email. There were only two people who knew the truth, who she could really talk to about this now.

She typed out her email then turned her phone's screen back off and tried to sleep. Hopefully, this time she wouldn't drown.


 

 

Chapter Ten: 'Can You Hide Who You Are? Take a Look At Yourself.'

  

Gabriel decided it would be better to go downstairs before continuing to search the maternity ward. It meant some backtracking, but he wanted to get rid of the nurses that had blocked the stairs up from the basement, so that there was no chance of being caught off guard later. He made sure the gun was fully loaded before descending down.

The hallway on the first floor was devoid of monsters as Gabriel came down the stairs. The hallway here was completely dark, lightbulbs seemingly all broken. The radio remained quiet until he crossed through the unlocked door into the other hall. It was strange how the static started the moment he entered through a door where monsters resided. Could it not pick them up through sealed walls?

Another question he doubted he would get an answer to.

Gabriel raised his gun as he stepped forward, peering into the gloom lit by the flashlight. The nurses twitched as the light flickered over them, their heads as one turning to the light. They began to walk towards him jerkily, every step seeming unsteady.

He braced himself, aimed, and fired. The first one fell, thrashing and groaning, and another bullet silenced it. Using the extra ammunition to finish them off made him nervous, but there were too many of them to use the pipe on.

A shot rang out that wasn't from his gun. Frantically, he dove to the side, the bullet just grazing his left arm. He wasted no time, immediately dodging back to the left, taking cover behind the hall corner.

One of them had a gun that he hadn't seen in the shadows cast by the other nurses. Gabriel's heart raced, and he had to fight to keep his hands steady as he peeked back around the corner to fire at the one with the firearm. The nurse got off one more shot, but it went too far to the right, hitting the office door instead. Before she could fire a third time, he had fired three bullets into her head and she went down, still and silent.

Of the remaining four nurses, three had scalpels and one had a steel pipe as a weapon. They were slow, but not slow enough that Gabriel felt safe taking his time. He fired as quickly as he dared, with an extra few shots to finish off three of the nurses. When it came to the last, however, to save a few more bullets he rushed over and stomped as hard as he could on the nurse's neck. The noise of the static died with her.

Shuddering, Gabriel took a step away from the bodies and caught his breath, one hand pressed to his bleeding arm. He leaned into the wall for support, feeling every bit his age. If only he could transform, this would be so much simpler, and safer.

"Master, are you alright?" Nooroo asked quietly. "Perhaps you should try those drinks Hanna told you about."

Gabriel had nearly forgotten about that. He gave a curt nod in reply to Nooroo and dug out one of the drinks. It had an odd taste, like wheatgrass, kombucha, berry, and bitter leafy greens. After only a few sips he found the pain fading from his wounded arm. It was nearly healed now, just a tiny, shallow part of the gash remaining, only a bit of blood and torn cloth the only other remnants of the wound. Fascinated, Gabriel took another sip and watched the cut close completely, leaving only smooth skin behind.

"Incredible." Gabriel breathed. He was awed, and it was a surprisingly refreshing feeling after so much cynicism lately. It brought back memories of better days, when he had still been a newlywed. Being led by Emilie on adventures across the world, in search of secrets and magic. Back when magic was a wonder to explore, and not a means to an end. "If I could find a way to replicate this somehow, it would be revolutionary."

"It could save many lives." Nooroo agreed, looking as if he wanted to say something else.

Gabriel pretended he didn't notice that Nooroo had left something unsaid. Instead he set about checking the rooms. The director's office was boarded shut, but the kitchen did open. It was far warmer than the rest of the building, the first time since arriving that he didn't feel cold.

If he remembered correctly, one of the notes had mentioned being in enclosed heat. That still sounded like an oven to him, so Gabriel stepped around the island counter, feeling the air grow even warmer as he approached the oven. It was a gas oven, and it was lit, the heat turned up to the max.

How long had it been lit? Gabriel was surprised the whole building hadn't caught fire. Even the knobs were uncomfortably warm when he moved to turn the oven off. He grabbed the handle-- intending to open the oven and see if he was right and something was inside-- but it was much hotter than expected. Gabriel yelped and cursed, drawing his hand back so quickly that he stumbled.

I hope that oven manufacturer burns his hand on one of these, Gabriel thought bitterly as he hurried to the sink to run cool water over the burn. Luckily, it didn't seem too bad. He'd let go quick enough that it was only a little bit red. Who designs an oven with a handle that can burn?

"Are you alright, Master?"

"Mostly." Gabriel frowned, glancing back at the oven. "I may have to wait until it cools down." Still holding his hand under the water, Gabriel fished out the partially drunk health drink with his other hand, only to struggle to open the cap one handed. It kept turning when he tried to twist off the cap, the counter insufficient to brace it.

Before Gabriel could figure out a method, he found pastel purple wings in front of him. Nooroo held the bottle still with surprising strength, and finally he managed to twist it off.

For a moment, Gabriel was quiet, staring at his Kwami. Nooroo turned back to look at him, confused by his silence. Finally, Gabriel made himself speak, though he stumbled over the words. "I-- thank you Nooroo."

Nooroo seemed surprised to be thanked, but the smallest of smiles spread over his face. "You're welcome, Master."

A sour feeling seemed to be in the pit of his stomach. The same as how Gabriel had felt looking at the image of the bubble wand: guilt. Nooroo could have easily let him struggle with the bottle. He would have gotten it eventually. It would have cost Nooroo nothing, and a minute or two would likely have made no difference to their search for Adrien. It was simply a kind gesture.

Gabriel didn't think he would have done the same, had he been in that position. He would have watched, let himself be amused by the struggle of an enemy. More than that, he could not be sure he would have put aside his hatred of a captor for the sake of a child, especially not the captor's son. What did that say about Gabriel? Nooroo was a god, immortal and ageless, and to him human lives must have seemed to last no more than a heartbeat. As inconsequential as an insect, meaningless in the grand scheme of the universe. And yet, Nooroo was willing to sacrifice his own goals.

Dwelling would do no good, Gabriel had to remind himself. It wasn't his concern what Kwamis felt or did, as long as it wasn't impacting his plans or survival. Regardless of the how, he had the health drink open now and could heal himself. One sip was enough to take care of the burn. He shut off the faucet and shook off the water before turning to eye the oven again.

It would be safest to wait for it to cool down, but he didn't really feel like standing around waiting. It could take a very long time, possibly hours. Gabriel started searching the drawers for a hot pad, finding ladles and utensils and all manner of other cooking implements. Finally, the very last drawer contained a set of red and black polka dotted oven mitts.

Grimacing at the pattern, Gabriel put them on and carefully opened the oven, turning his face away from the wave of hot air that stung his skin but mercifully didn't burn. He took a few steps back to let some of the hot air dissipate, then crouched to aim the flashlight inside. The inside of the oven was a dull, dark matte grey, but the flashlight caught on a glint of shiny silver at the very back, tucked into the corner. Gabriel could just make out the shape of a coin, but not what might have been etched on its face.

With the oven still burning hot, there was no safe way to reach it. The mitts protected Gabriel's hands, but reaching it would still require half-crawling into the oven. An extremely bad idea even if he had been confidant on his ability to stick his head and shoulders in without bumping against any of the burning metal. And if he somehow succeeded at that, he doubted the mitts allowed the dexterity to pick up the coin from where it lay tucked in the corner.

Gabriel glanced at Nooroo, a half-formed thought on his mind, but it never made it to words on his lips. For just a moment, he had considered telling Nooroo to get the coin for him. But it occurred to him that while he knew the forms Kwamis used in the material world were not their true bodies, he didn't know if Kwamis could feel temperature, or pain. Knowing it would not really damage Nooroo would have probably been enough to order him regardless, but now…

The thought alone left him feeling guilty. He was not heartless, no matter what Nooroo or anyone else thought. Gabriel would not reward Nooroo's genuine help and gesture of kindness a moment ago with such a callous order. He supposed he could ask if Kwamis could feel those things, but he didn't really want Nooroo to know that he had never even thought of it before.

Sighing, Gabriel stood up straight, wincing when his knees and back protested the movement. "Nooroo, I don't suppose you noticed any tongs laying around here? Or anything long and heatproof."

Nooroo thought about it. "Only very short serving tongs. But there were some large metal spoons in one of the drawers you opened earlier. I think the one beside the fridge."

Gabriel did indeed find a long metal spoon in the drawer Nooroo had indicated. After a moment's thought, he grabbed a set of tongs as well, then returned to the oven. With the mitt protecting his hand from accidentally brushing against the oven, he began the process of dragging the coin towards him. Once it was in easy reach, he used the serving tongs to pick up the still-hot coin, and carried it to the sink. Running cool water over it cooled it enough to safely touch within a few seconds.

Nooroo fluttered near his shoulder to look. "Fire. Surprisingly straightforward," the Kwami noted. "Maybe the others are elements as well?"

Gabriel set the cooled coin on his palm and inspected it. There were geometric patterns lightly etched on the coin, but the most noticeable feature was the large etched on it. As Nooroo had said, the letter for fire in Chinese and derived writing systems. He could not remember the precise details of the clues before, but it sounded about right. He wished he had written it down.

He tucked the coin into his pocket. "You are likely correct. I need to have another look at the clues, and write them down this time. Hopefully there is paper in the office."

There were no nurses to get in the way, to Gabriel's relief. The office door was unlocked, and he found both a notepad and two boxes of handgun ammunition inside. He checked that his gun was fully loaded before stepping back out into the waiting room. He took a moment to update the markings on his map to reflect where he had already explored, then began back towards the stairs. He was almost to the door when he realised his Kwami was not by his side.

Gabriel paused, glancing back to see that Nooroo was floating in the air facing the waiting room, still and silent. “Nooroo, come. This is not the time to be distracted.” He said impatiently.

“Yes, Master," Nooroo said in a strangely weary tone, and obediently followed him through the door.

 


 

Luckily, the hospital wasn't very far beyond the bridge, because it seemed as though more and more monsters were coming out to try to stop them from making progress. The two heroes had the advantage out here in the open, making it easier to dodge even if they had more enemies to face. They fell into an easy system with no need to discuss it. Chat Noir took care of the grounded creatures, baton more suited for close combat, and meanwhile Ladybug targeted the flying monsters, keeping the birds from getting too close to her partner.

There was another new monster in the skies now. It resembled a moth, its wings bearing an eye-like pattern that unnerved them, but it was the size of a human and had horribly sharp looking pincers and mandibles.

Ladybug tried to lasso it and throw it out of the sky, but its wings were deceptively fragile, ripping like wet paper in the wake of the yoyo’s indestructible string. The creature gave a pained shriek that made them both shudder. Ladybug withdrew the yoyo quickly, trying not to be sick, as the moth monster fell off somewhere on a roof. She hadn't meant to rip its wings off like that. It was much more brutal than she would have liked. She was more careful with the next one.

Despite that disturbance, fighting out in the streets like this was almost a comfort. The two of them were in sync, like they always were back in Paris, maybe even more so. Awareness of each other in battle had turned into instinctive knowledge. Ladybug no longer needed to even hear or see him to know where he was. As soon as they entered combat it was as if everything focused. She could feel Chat Noir's presence like a compass needle finding north; the cool, restful aura washing over her, soothing her nerves, making her feel safe even now surrounded by enemies.

Not only could she sense Chat Noir -- though her awareness of him was the most intense by far -- she could also feel their enemies when they got close enough, letting her easily keep out of their range even before she saw them. Just before they attacked was when it was strongest, her skin prickling and a metallic smell and taste briefly registering as she dodged their blows.

“I see the hospital, My Lady! Not much further!”

“We should hurry -- was that another pun?” Ladybug groaned, trying and failing to keep a straight face. “In the middle of a fight?”

“Impawsible! I would never start kitten around in a fight! Purrhaps the stress is getting to mew?”

Ladybug almost giggled before she could stop herself. She stuck her tongue out at him before leaping over him to get a better angle on the bird monster swooping down towards him. He swung around to guard her back from one of the blade-headed creatures.

After taking down the attacking bird, for a moment the skies were clear enough that she took a gamble. She grabbed Chat Noir around the waist and flung her yoyo to snag on a barely visible light pole in the distance, letting it retract and propel them towards the building. Both of them landed easily, past the monsters that had tried to stop them, but the hospital doors were locked tight.

“Should I…?” Chat Noir hesitated, gesturing with his right hand and fixing her with an uncertain, searching look. Remembering her previous panic when he had attempted a Cataclysm, probably. Ladybug deliberated a moment -- considering they were about to be indoors, and they could find a safe place to recharge -- before nodding. She was still nervous about it, but she quashed the panic before it could begin with a reminder to herself that she could protect her partner.

He flashed her a reassuring smile and turned to the door. “Cataclysm!”

Chat Noir placed his hand on the knob, and to Ladybug's surprise it looked like nothing happened at first. Before she could think any more on that, he pushed the door open. Catching her stunned look, his smile turned just a hint smug, “I only destroyed the lock, so we can still close it behind us.”

Surprise turning to a smile and then a laugh, Ladybug reached up to give his hair a light ruffle as she stepped into the hospital. “I'm glad I have such a clever kitty.”

Out of her peripheral she could see his look of pride and delight in response to the compliment as Chat Noir followed her in and shut the door behind them. The radio remained silent, for the time being. The hospital smelled of standing water and blood, coming from deeper within. Here in the lobby it wasn't too bad. Ladybug checked the lightswitch, but nothing happened.

"Power must be off."

Chat Noir paused to listen, his false ears twitching and swiveling in response to noises she couldn't hear. “I think we're safe for now. I hear something walking in the hallway in front of us, but nothing in the rooms to our left.”

“Then it should be safe to stop and let Plagg recharge here.” There were benches and two couches without armrests in the lobby. They sat down to wait, Chat Noir facing away, swinging his legs over the side of the couch before he released his transformation.

Since he was facing away anyway, Ladybug found herself watching curiously. Whenever she transformed or untransformed, the magic surrounding her was pink-white and sparkling, with a soft sound almost like chimes and faint rushing wind. His was green, electric, and she could hear it sparking as if it were real electricity. She wondered if it felt different for him when he transformed. It was odd to be thinking of that only now after so long fighting together.

Ladybug watched him catch Plagg, setting the Kwami on his lap and retrieving a piece of cheese for him. Her eyes caught on his right hand as he did that, more specifically on his ring. She hadn't really noticed before, that like her earrings they changed when there was no Kwami inhabiting it. It was silver now instead of black, no sign of the pawprint in its circle face.

It looked familiar. At first Ladybug thought maybe it was because she was familiar with its shape already, but something nagged at her. She’d seen it before, in this dormant state, and she was more and more positive the more she looked. Where though? It couldn't have just been in passing, for her to feel that it was this familiar. She frowned, for a moment forgetting that she shouldn't be trying to figure out who he was.

Her eyes ran over the back of his head, his back, and again back to his hands, now tapping absently on his knee. His hands were slender for a boy, something Ladybug had known because she had held his hands plenty of times but never quite grasped as a fact about him. His bright blond hair was a little tidier right now, not quite the wild look he favoured while transformed. And the sight of it was so familiar that it was frustrating that she couldn't just connect the dots.

“My Lady? You okay? You're being quiet.” His voice snapped Ladybug out of her thoughts. She went red, spotting Plagg peering past Chat Noir and snickering, and looked away.

“I'm fine. Just thinking. That's all,” she said hastily. She kept her eyes firmly on the wall in front of her, but Plagg's snickering brought back something she hadn't properly registered before.

“I've seen you around the kid at school.”

Ladybug froze, but her thoughts were racing along with her heart. He goes to my school. That's the only way Plagg would be there to see me around Adrien! I shouldn't be thinking about this! But she couldn't seem to stop her mind from going over the boys in the school. There was a blond boy in Mme. Mendeleiev’s class, but his hair was much shorter. She didn't really know the other classes that well, but she remembered seeing a few others around, and the only boy with blond hair in her class was--

A yowl from Plagg stopped her thoughts, and she whirled back to stare as the Cat Kwami darted up. “Nooroo!”

“What?!” Chat Noir jumped to his feet at the same time that Ladybug did. Both of them staring where Plagg was looking.

Plagg was bouncing in the air in agitation, every bit an angry cat with a wildly lashing tail. “Nooroo, you gotta tell us how to find you! Where does Papillon live? Or where could we find him? I know you can't say his name, but you can tell us that! Nooroo, say something!”

“Tikki, detransform me!” Ladybug blurted. This was something Tikki needed to be there for. Plagg was visibly panicking. A moment later, the red Kwami was by his side, clutching onto one of Plagg's pawlike hands. The cat Kwami seemed to calm just a bit at the touch of his other half.

“Oh Nooroo…” Tikki gasped out.

“Come on, I know you can see and hear us, so why won't you talk or at least do something--”

“He can't, Plagg!” Tikki cut him off. “Look at him! He must've been given specific orders not to communicate with anyone. Papillon would have made sure he can't contact us.”

“But that means he's here.” Marinette's heart was pounding loudly in her ears, so loud it was hard to hear her own voice. “Papillon is here, and he isn’t transformed. He's in that other world.”

Plagg turned to Marinette, and she was startled to see he was teary-eyed. “What if you went through a mirror? You could find out who he is and stop him.”

“Plagg are you nuts?!” Chat Noir yelped. “I can't go through with her. It'd be dangerous to try to fight him without backup, even for Ladybug.”

Marinette clenched her trembling hands by her sides, trying to calm herself down. Papillon was right there, they could finally end this -- but Chat Noir was right. Papillon was experienced, and didn't care if he killed, and for all she knew his weapon could have been better suited for close quarters combat compared to her yoyo. This wasn't something she thought she could do without her partner.

Chat Noir's hand found hers, and on instinct she opened her hand to wrap around his, gripping it tightly before she spoke. “You're right. I can't fight him alone.”

“We can't, Plagg. You know we can't.” Tikki said gently, reaching over to take his small pawlike hand. “We have to stay together. We promised after what Alcaeus did to Léaina and Hippolyta, remember?”

“But Nooroo’s right there…” Plagg said helplessly, turning his gaze back.

Tikki turned too, voice apologetic. “We'll save you soon, Nooroo. We promise.”

Silence fell. Marinette blinked back frustrated tears, swiping the back of her hand over her eyes to dry them. She watched as the Kwamis stared after Nooroo, Plagg sniffling quietly, as presumably both the Butterfly Kwami and Papillon himself went down the hall and out of their sight.

“You'd best transform. You can't do much about Papillon when you both are still in such danger.” Tikki advised gently. “You need to find that girl’s -- Alessa's -- room, like she said.”

Plagg scrubbed at his eyes, looking away. “Yeah. Let's hurry it up. I'm sick of this place.”

“We should -- Chat Noir, are you okay?” Tikki said abruptly, brow furrowed in concern. Marinette almost looked his way, starting to turn her head before she remembered not to look.

“Chat?” She said instead, without looking at him. She squeezed his hand. “Chaton?”

“Huh? Sorry, I just…” He seemed to snap out of it, squeezing her hand back. “Thought I felt something, but it was probably nothing. I'm ready to go if you are.”

“You sure?”

“I'm sure. Don't worry, My Lady." He said cheerfully. She could picture him smiling, but she knew it would be that particular charming smile he used when he was trying to divert attention from something. She frowned, but didn't comment for now.

The first order of business once they had re-transformed was to obtain a map of the building. It would do them no good to get immediately lost, after all. Luckily, they found some at the reception desk.

Their next objective was to try to figure out which room had belonged to Alessa Gillespie approximately forty years ago. Chances were high that the records from back then were no longer kept, but Ladybug had decided that it was worth a look in the office anyway.

They jumped the desk, and Chat Noir took hold of the doorknob first, opening it with a flourish and a partial bow. “Ladybugs first,” he joked with a grin. Ladybug elbowed him lightly as she went through the door. His smile widened when he saw her suppress a giggle.

They both split without needing to say anything once they stepped into the office, Ladybug moving towards the left and Chat Noir to the right, dividing to each search a section of the office for anything that could lead them to the right place. There was a file cabinet with patient medical records in alphabetical order, to her relief. She started searching the G section, hoping that maybe the hospital had forgotten to purge their records.

Nothing. Just in case she checked the A section, in case someone had accidentally filed her under her first name. There wasn't anything on her in here either, but one particular file was turned on its side, standing out amongst the other files. Curiously, she picked it up to read.

 

 

 

'Patient Name: Anderson, Emilie

DOB: 01/13/1984

Age: 8 years old

Sex: F

Admission Date: 05/18/1992

Problems: Acute Stress Disorder, Lacerations with embedded glass in hands and lower legs.

Ms Anderson was witness to the murder of her mother following a burglary attempt. She sustained several wounds from broken glass while attempting to stop her mother's bleeding. The glass was removed upon admission to the facility and the lacerations were cleaned and stitched, but it is recommended that she remain here for a few days.

Since admission, Ms Anderson has been in denial of her mother's death, insisting that her mother is alive and waiting for her at the lake. Brookhaven Hospital has been contacted to send a counselor to speak with Ms Anderson and determine a treatment plan.'

There was more to it, just details about the treatment, but she merely skimmed those notes until she came to the last page, where a sticky note had been attached. It read: 'Sometimes that girl refuses to answer to her name. Insists she's really called Hanna and acts strangely. That Brookhaven guy is sure gonna have his work cut out for him.'

Ladybug filed the chart back away. It hadn't exactly given any more clues about Alessa, but that note implied something else odd about this place. She wondered how the girl on the chart was doing now.

The sound of wood grinding against tile startled her. She whirled, yoyo ready, and relaxed to see the cause was an apologetic Chat Noir who had been moving the desk.

"Sorry. There was something jammed behind the drawers and the space was too narrow to reach." Chat Noir gave her a sheepish smile before he turned back to the desk. There was now enough room that he could reach into the gap with ease. He smoothed out the paper to show her. It looked like a police report, or at least a draft of one, with the first paragraph crossed out.

 

 

'Looks like the fire started on the first floor and spread to the rest of the house. Circumstances are suspicious.

Seems there was an accident in the basement. An old boiler caused a fire that spread to the rest of the building. The cause would appear to be accidental.

Despite fire fighters’ best efforts, it spread to the surrounding houses. Alessa Gillespie was declared dead at the scene by Dr. Kaufmann. Her body was identified by the mother. Death certificate and coroner's report will be forthcoming.'

Ladybug reached out to take the paper from Chat Noir, rereading it with growing unease. She could make out the words at the beginning despite them being crossed out, and she didn't like it. An accidental death was tragic enough, but if this was right… then that little girl was likely to have been murdered.

She'd never dealt with murder. Not really. The akuma attacks were mass destruction, like a hurricane or an earthquake. The akuma's victims couldn't be held accountable for the deaths caused, and none of the dead remained that way because of Ladybug's powers. Even when they dealt with regular crimes on their patrols, she could use her powers to revive anyone involved.

Humans who could kill each other were far scarier than any akuma.

Shuddering, Ladybug turned the page over in case there was anything on the back. Sure enough, there was childlike writing on it:

 

 

'They lied.

I didn't die.

Even though the fire should have killed me…

They wouldn't let me die.

It wouldn't let me die.

Seven years of agony,

Down there in that sickroom.'

"Well, that's freaky." Chat Noir said when she showed him the back. "No wonder Alessa became a ghost. I'm not sure this helps though. I mean it kinda confirms she was around here somewhere but not where here."

Ladybug forced aside her nerves, taking a slow breath as she reread Alessa's cryptic note. She had a feeling Alessa wouldn't have left them with something that didn't serve a purpose.

For a moment she shut her eyes, focusing on that state of mind that she was always in when she used her Lucky Charm, letting herself think, but not too hard. Ladybug opened her eyes again, gaze catching on the last line of the note, and she found herself smiling grimly. "No, it says where she was." She tapped the last line. "Down. She must have been in the basement."

 


 

Despite the fairly serious situation and the little bit of lingering guilt about the fact that Ladybug was only here because he was stuck here, Chat Noir actually felt quite good.

Outside that church earlier, Ladybug had said she cared about him, with such conviction even the most pessimistic part of his brain was having a hard time twisting the words around. He’d practically felt the fury radiating off her when the priestess suggested she leave him, and when she swore that would never happen, he truly believed her.

It wasn't that he hadn't believed her before, exactly. He always trusted His Lady. There had just been a part of him lately that was having trouble processing people caring about him-- trouble making it feel real. He had been struggling with that since his mother died and his father had become so much more distant and uncaring. No longer having that tiny lingering doubt where Ladybug was concerned was a relief. It was good to feel certain of something.

As they pressed into the next hallway, Chat Noir felt a faint presence. The same one he had noticed earlier in the lobby. He couldn't find the words to describe it yet, a mess of contradicting feelings prickling at his mind. It felt familiar but he couldn't quite narrow down what it was. There was no reason to bring it up to Ladybug when he didn't even have a clue what it was he was feeling. Besides, it was gone before he was even sure it was really there.

That seemed to be the trend here, between the shadow ghosts, and the boat, and the odd feelings here and there of forces he didn't understand. On top of that, there was this building, lingering feeling of familiarity. He felt as if he had forgotten something, but he didn't know what it was. And he had a feeling it was something very important. It was like the memories of his time under the control of akumatised villains-- somewhere in there the memories existed, but his thoughts always seemed to circle around them without ever reaching what lied there.

There was no time to dwell. Static started buzzing from Ladybug's radio the second they opened the door into the eastern hall. From around the corner there was a disturbingly human groan and the clink of high heels, and then its source stepped around.

The two of them froze. It looked human at first glance, proportions perfectly ordinary, a full head of hair, and an old fashioned nurse's outfit. But her skin was ashen grey, and her face was concealed by bandages. He could make out her lips moving behind the fabric as she groaned and shambled towards them unsteadily, hand limply hanging by her side like it was too heavy to lift and clutching a scalpel loosely.

The static grew louder as she took steps towards them. The hallway grew more oppressive.

"That has to be a monster, right?" Ladybug whispered dazedly. "She doesn't smell like -- she smells like the other monsters. But she looks like a human."

Chat Noir swallowed and raised up his baton, trying to will himself to calm down. "It's a monster. Has to be."

But it still felt wrong when he extended the baton to slam the nurse monster into the wall, where she slumped down immobile with a pitiful, all too human cry. Chat Noir shuddered at the sound, tempted to cover his ears even though the nurse monster had already gone silent, unconscious.

"You don't think that used to be a human, do you?" Ladybug blurted. "She doesn't smell or feel like a human at all. So she can't be, right?"

"God, I really, really hope not." Chat Noir shivered. "Jeeze, you had to get that idea in my head, Ladybug?"

"Sorry," she said guiltily. "I panicked. This place freaks me out."

Well, now he felt guilty for making her feel guilty. "I didn't mean -- sorry. I wasn't blaming you, just also kind of freaked out, and I didn't mean it like that at all and… sorry." Why did words have to be so hard? He'd never been around someone this long besides Plagg, and then Chloe at sleepovers when they were kids. Talking to people like a normal person was hard , it turned out. Even when it was someone he was as comfortable with as Ladybug. “I didn’t mean to make you feel bad."

"I know you didn't, mon minou." Ladybug assured him gently, before he could babble any more apologies. For some reason, he could see concern on her face as she reached out to squeeze his shoulder gently. She looked like she wanted to say something more, but instead she looked on ahead down the hall and consulted the map.

Ladybug led the way down the hall, to where the stairs down were labeled on the map, and through the door to the dark stairwell. The flashlights cut through the gloom and landed on a set of thick, close together bars keeping the way forward blocked.

That would be a problem. Chat Noir pushed on them, just in case they might budge and let them through, but nothing came of it. He stepped back and observed the bars and the stairs beyond. He could see another set of bars further down, and he could tell it was too far to catch both in a cataclysm if he tried to break them.

Chat Noir huffed and gave the barrier a glare, "It has to be doing this on purpose. I can get the first set, but there's another one back there. It would take two recharges."

"By then something like the helmet monster could come back." Ladybug said grimly. She looked around the hallway in silence, and then on the map. "We could maybe break the floor, but I don't know how much cheese you have left…" she trailed off expectantly.

Quickly doing math, Chat Noir shook his head. "Not much. Maybe four more, and we don't know when we'll find more. What about you?"

"Starting to run low too. About six or seven transformations worth, but…" She hesitated. "I don't want to use the charm unless I have to. I don't want us to be caught without my restoration."

Wincing, Chat Noir nodded. "Yeah, definitely." If she hadn't been able to use her power back when he had been bleeding out… He didn't want to think about it. "So what do you want to do, My Lady?" He gestured at the blocked stairs. "A cataclysm to get us through, or another option?"

Ladybug considered their options, frowning in thought. "No powers except for emergencies," she decided. "Too dangerous if one of us gets stuck untransformed for a while. Even if we can protect each other we shouldn't take that chance. Plus… there's the risk we'll see each other's faces. Even if we try not to look there is always a chance something will go wrong. We've worked too hard on keeping our identities safe."

There was something odd about the way she talked about their identities. She wasn't meeting his eyes, and her voice had lowered, like it wasn't meant to be directed at him. He stared at her in confusion for several moments before she glanced back at him, turned red, and turned around.

Now Chat Noir was twice as confused. Ladybug nearly tripped in her haste to get over to the elevator, but she managed to catch herself before he could. She jabbed the call elevator button a few times, but nothing happened.

"The power is probably off, remember?" Chat Noir said hesitantly. "You said that when you tried the light switch."

"I-I knew that!" Ladybug squeaked. "I just -- I wanted to try it just in case it worked. But it didn't, so." She cleared her throat and took a deep breath before turning around. "In the school it made us solve those puzzles. I bet it will do the same thing here. So let's try searching the area."

The closest door was the director's office, but it refused to so much as budge an inch, even to both their combined superhuman strength at once. The kitchen didn't open either, though that door at least seemed to be only locked. Every other door in this hall seemed to be locked as well, so they backtracked towards the stairway up.

Static alerted them to another monster in the hall. Chat Noir raised his baton up and peered at the corner, waiting for the monster to move into sight. It staggered into view after a moment, something metal held loosely in one hand. It raised it faster than expected.

Neither of them expected the sound of a gunshot. Ladybug yelped in pain, jerking to the right and into the wall. Chat Noir reacted on instinct, moving to shield his partner with a spinning baton just as another shot rang out and ricocheted off.

"Are you okay?" Chat Noir didn't dare look back at her, keeping his eyes focused on the armed nurse, but one ear turned back towards her.

"Y--yeah." Ladybug sounded more startled than in pain. "Just grazed my leg. Not too bad."

That in itself was worrying. They had taken bulletfire before without issue when they took down regular criminals. The transformation protected even their exposed skin, though to a lesser extent than the suits. Somehow, now they were vulnerable to these monsters, and that was very, very bad. It meant it hadn't just been that one type of monster. Something had changed and now their magic couldn't fully protect them.

At least their weapons still worked right. Ladybug aimed the flashlight past Chat Noir first and then sent her yoyo flying, intentionally bouncing it off the wall to get around Chat Noir's spinning baton. The yoyo hooked around the gun and Ladybug yanked it away.

The nurse didn't seem bothered. She took a knife from her pocket and began to advance on them, but without the threat of a ranged weapon it was a simple matter for Chat Noir to knock the nurse out with his baton.

The static silenced.

Chat Noir turned back to Ladybug, checking over her for that gunshot wound. It really was a fairly minor graze, just clipping her left thigh. Still, it was bleeding, though it was difficult to see on the red of her suit.

Ladybug was frowning down at her minor wound with a frown, carefully testing movement and holding her weight with that leg. "Should be okay. The transformation is numbing the pain enough and it isn't bleeding all that much. A bandage should be enough."

"Nurse center right there. That probably has something." Chat Noir pointed at the nearest door. "Can you walk okay?"

"Yes," she gave him a wry smile and began to walk towards the door. "I'm fine, you don't have to worry so much about me, Minou."

"I know," he said sheepishly, following a few paces behind. The nurse center was empty of monsters, but full of medical supplies. It was easy to find alcohol pads and bandages. "Here, sit down. It'll be easier if I do this for you."

"You're right," Ladybug sighed, but sat down on one of the chairs to let him clean and bandage the wound. It only took a minute, and she barely even winced, looking around the room critically while he worked. "We should take some of this stuff. Make use of these new pockets."

"They fit a lot more than they look like they do, but not much more than an ordinary pocket," Chat Noir commented thoughtfully, tapping his right pocket as he straightened up in the other chair. "Plagg doesn't like explaining anything, but I did figure out certain things in my real pockets turn up in the suit's pockets when I really want it to."

"You keep things in your pockets?" Ladybug blinked. They really must have been magic, considering the skintight leather-like material showed no signs of anything being there. "Like what?"

"Just this good luck charm a friend gave me," Chat Noir smiled at the thought of the pink charm Marinette had given Adrien when they practiced for the mecha strike tournament. "I carry it everywhere. I figured I could use her luck when fighting."

"That's sweet. I'm sure it would mean a lot to her if she knew you carried it into battle," Ladybug said.

"You think so?" Chat Noir rubbed the back of his head, feeling a little embarrassed though he wasn't sure why.

"I know I would," Ladybug stood up and offered him a hand. "Let's grab some supplies and get back to exploring."

He let her tug him up, and they went through the nurse supplies, grabbing mostly wound cleaning supplies and bandages.

When they finished, Ladybug consulted the map. "Let's start by the elevator and work our way back towards the stairs."

They went back out into the hallway and crossed over to the elevator doors. The first door was broken with a jammed lock, but the second hospital room door opened to bright white lights. Chat Noir winced and raised his hand to shield his eyes while they adjusted to the bright light.

Ladybug simply stepped inside. "Okay, weird. The lights are on just in this room." Ladybug turned slowly to look around. "This is a different style than the rest. Look at the tiles."

Eyes adjusted, Chat Noir looked, and his heart skipped a beat, and he suddenly felt cold. The room was familiar. Horribly, horribly familiar. He remembered the off-white, small tiles of the floor, the blue of the curtains. He remembered the end table beside the bed, laden with a lovely bouquet and a single get well card.

A get well card that Ladybug was picking up, looking at it curiously before she moved to open it.

"Wait!" Chat Noir yelped, scrambling over to her and held the card closed. "Don't open that!"

Ladybug jumped at his yell. "What? Why? Chat, what's wrong?"

Trying and failing not to shiver, Chat Noir took a shaky breath, pulling the card out of her lax grip. "I know this room. And if I'm right, this card has my real name in it."

Chapter Text

For a moment there was silence. Ladybug stared blankly at him; whatever she had been expecting, it wasn't that.

"You…" Ladybug trailed off, looking around the room apprehensively, then back at him. "This was your hospital room?"

Chat Noir found himself having trouble meeting her gaze, making himself look down at the card in his hands instead. A cute cartoon bee with the words 'I hope you'll bee better soon!' printed on it. Chloe didn't share his love for puns, but she had searched very hard for a card that would make him smile. "Yeah. It was my room."

"When?"

"Before we met." Chat Noir kept his eyes on the card. The real one was at home, tucked into a box with prints of some of his favourite photos of his mother and of Chloe and him as children. He carefully opened it, keeping the inside hidden from Ladybug's view, just to make sure he was right. Sure enough, he remembered the words written inside.

'Adrien,

I wish there was a way to make this easier on you. If there is anything, ANYTHING I can do to help you, tell me okay? 

Love, Chloe'

Ladybug was choosing her words carefully as she spoke, pulling his attention away from the card again. "But you're okay now, right?" He heard her take a step closer when he nodded. "So why is this room here?"

"Because that jerk god of the town or whatever it is wants to mess with me I guess." Chat Noir set the card back down on the end table. He was worried he might accidentally crush it if he kept talking about this. But now he had no excuse to avoid meeting Ladybug's gaze.

Ladybug looked torn, staying silent for a long minute as she just… stared at him. Chat Noir wasn't sure what he should be doing, or saying. What could he say? Their identities and all the details about it were secret by her request, but it seemed she was changing her mind. At least she couldn't tell who he was from this. His father had worked hard to keep everything about the incident out of the news. One of the few times he was grateful for secrecy, because he didn't think he could stand being asked about it by a stranger on the street. But His Lady was not a stranger.

Finally, with a shaky voice, Ladybug asked: "What happened?"

Chat Noir shut his eyes for a moment, breathing slowly, trying to compose himself. He had never told anyone about this that didn't already know. He had never even told all of it to Plagg. The words were catching in his throat, and he didn't even know how to begin to explain.

He felt Ladybug take his hand, guiding him to sit on the side of the hospital bed. She brushed his hair back from his face before settling her hand on his shoulder. "If it is too hard to tell me, you don't have to. I didn't mean to make you more upset--"

"I was kidnapped last year," Chat Noir blurted. Ladybug gasped. He opened his eyes, finding Ladybug's wide, horrified blue ones only inches from his own. "Along with my mom."

"You what? Oh my god." Ladybug's grip on his hand tightened, but it was shaky. " Why?"

"I don't know." That was a question that had haunted him. "Father has a lot of money, but there was no ransom."

"Did they--" Ladybug faltered. "Did they hurt you?"

"Broke my arm when I tried to fight them, and hit my head pretty hard. Some other stuff from the struggle."

"Are they in prison?" Ladybug asked sharply, voice colder, but eyes blazing with anger. "Please tell me they didn't get away with it."

Chat Noir shook his head. "I don't know what happened to them. I never heard anything about them being caught, but father made sure nothing got out to the press so it probably wouldn't have been on the news. And he refused to tell me anything." He sighed softly. "He hardly even looks at me lately, so it isn't like I have many chances to ask him though. He cancels whenever he is supposed to see me."

"Oh… that-- You didn't see what happened?" Ladybug seemed unsure what to say, the anger fading from her eyes, gaze concerned.

"I'm missing most of that day," he admitted. "I guess from the concussion. I remember trying to fight them off and getting hurt, and a little in the room we were trapped. I think I was hallucinating from the blow to the head, or something. I'm not really sure if what I did see was real. Everything kept going blurry and out of focus." Chat Noir didn't like to recall that day, but he found the memories flooding back much too easily and much too vivid despite how surreal and hazy it had been to his concussed brain.

He was too deep in memories to even notice the stricken look on Ladybug's face, or that she was now holding his hand with both of hers. Chat Noir took a breath and continued. "Some of the people who took us didn't look quite right, like there were canvas bags over their heads and they moved weird. And I thought I heard father's voice saying… something, about being safe, I can't remember most of it. But there was no way he was there, I would have known. The only thing I remember was mom collapsing and knowing something was wrong. And then the next thing I knew, I was here." Chat Noir gestured towards the bed. "And I just… knew mom was dead. I could feel it."

Ladybug let go of his hand. A moment later she had pulled Chat Noir into a tight hug, and halfway onto her lap in the process. "I'm so, so sorry. I can't even imagine how horrible that must have been." Her voice trembled, but her hands were steady now as she gently rubbed his back, then shifted slightly so he could rest his head on her shoulder. "And now this stupid place brought it back up."

For a moment, Chat Noir wasn't sure what to do. He was still tense, but he stiffly moved his arms around her waist in return. "I never told anyone about what happened," he mumbled into her shoulder. "Not even Plagg. Not the whole thing, if they didn't already know." And only Chloe knew, because she was there , because she had been right here when he had woken up. For once without makeup, hair out of its ponytail and disheveled by sleep because Chloe had been there every second from his arrival to the hospital, holding his hand and eventually falling asleep in the uncomfortable hospital chair with her head resting on the side of the bed.

Something Adrien had never been able to explain when asked why he was still friends with her. He couldn't say 'Oh, well she was there for me after I was kidnapped and she cried for nearly two hours when I woke up because she was so glad I was alive.'

"Why not?" Ladybug's voice broke him out of the memories. 

Because I was afraid, and I had never had anyone but Chloe before so I don't know how to open up to people. And I was afraid that it was too much to drop on anyone and they might freak out and hate me. Chat Noir thought, but instead said, "I never knew what to say, and I didn't want to bother anyone. I shouldn't have bothered you with it either. I'm sorry."

Her hand moved up his back to run through his hair gently. "I wanted you to tell me. You have nothing to be sorry for. I want to know when something is hurting my Kitty. We're partners. You're always protecting me and making me feel better when I doubt myself. I want to be able to do that for you, too."

Slowly, Chat Noir began to relax. Even in this horrible place, surrounded by memories of the worst day of his life, he felt safe and warm in her arms, like nothing would ever hurt him as long as he stayed here. It was a few seconds before he could respond, in a slightly choked whisper. "Thank you, Ladybug." 

"I'll always be here for you, Chat Noir." Ladybug rested her chin lightly on top of his head, mindful of the fake ears. "You can talk to me whenever you need. When we get back, we'll figure out some way for you to contact me even if I'm not transformed. So if you need me, I'll be there."

His eyes stung, so Chat Noir shut them and pressed his closed eyes into her shoulder. "You'd really do that?"

"Anything you need, mon minou. I promise."

For a moment, it was quiet. Just the comfortable near-silence of their slow, even breathing. Finally, Ladybug broke the silence.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Chat Noir's breath caught. "I… I don't know. Maybe? But not now. When we're home."

Ladybug nodded, "Okay. Whatever you need, Kitty."

"Thank you." Chat Noir waited a moment more, enjoying the hug, then pulled away until he was sitting beside her on the edge of the hospital bed again. "You know that goes for you too, right? If you ever need to talk about anything that's bothering you--" he gave her a smile, a little less broad than usual but still genuine. "I do currently have four ears, so I'd say I can make a good listener."

The resulting smile and laugh from Ladybug made his smile widen, a bit more tension leaving him. Chat Noir loved hearing her laugh, and as cheesy as it sounded, her smile really did always brighten his day. He really was hopeless, wasn't he?

"Well… there was something I did want to talk about," Ladybug said when she had gotten her laugh under control. Her smile turned a bit embarrassed. "It seems so silly to be worried about it now, compared to everything that's going on."

"Silly or not, I'm happy to listen," Chat Noir said earnestly. 

Ladybug leaned into him, tilting her head to rest it on his shoulder while taking hold of his hand again. "Later. I don't think it's a good time for it, but I'll tell you later, promise. Maybe we can have a picnic on the roofs while we talk, like you wanted to before."

Chat Noir wasn't quite sure what to make of that suggestion. Ladybug knew how he felt about her, and she had seen how he had kind of gone overboard with the romantic nature of that picnic he set up. There was a small part of him that hoped that was what she was implying. And no matter how hard the rest of him tried to shut down those thoughts that would just lead to disappointment, he never seemed to be able to stop hoping. Still, spending time with her in any capacity was always wonderful. "That sounds nice."

For a minute or so they sat in silence before Ladybug sighed, “How are you feeling? We should probably try to get moving soon, but if you aren’t ready we can wait.”

“I’m okay,” Chat Noir sighed. “The sooner we get out of this place the better.”

Ladybug nodded and pulled away to stand, then turned back to offer him a hand up. She didn’t let go of his hand when she had finished pulling him to his feet. “If any of this gets too much for you, tell me, okay?”

“I will,” he said, a warm smile spreading across his face. The caring in her voice made him feel warm despite the chill of the world around them. 

“Good,” Ladybug met his smile with one of her own. She leaned up, standing on her toes, and pressed a gentle kiss to his cheek. Chat Noir’s face burned with the force of his flush, and if his smile had turned giddy and foolish, Ladybug mercifully didn’t comment. She did seem almost amused for a moment though, before she pulled him back out into the hall. “Okay. So, we need to get to the basement.”

Chat Noir had truthfully forgotten entirely about their actual goal. But that was one of the reasons Ladybug was in charge of fights and he wasn’t. Ladybug was already back on track, the hospital map in her hand while she compared it to their surroundings. She had to let go of his hand while she marked their progress on the map, and Chat Noir took the chance to listen around. 

There were no footsteps of moving monsters, but he could hear breathing from some of the rooms. Ragged, unnatural, wheezing breaths that almost hurt just listening to them, as if every one of the monsters' breaths were a struggle. There were some in the rooms nearby, a couple in the intensive care unit and in the operating prep room and operating room beyond it. 

Ladybug put the map back in her pocket and looked back at Chat Noir, noticing the way his cat ears were moving. "Hear anything?"

"Nothing's moving," he replied, frowning. "I can hear them breathing, but that's it. Sounds like those nurses."

"Great." Ladybug grimaced. "Those are so freaky. Well, let's start exploring. Are there any in the ICU?"

"Yeah." He moved to the door and carefully opened it. With his night vision he could see the nurses before the light of their flashlights came through the door's opening. They were holding perfectly still, their poses strange and contorted and painful looking, the only movement from their breathing. 

Then Ladybug's light flashed through the door and as one the nurses started moving, taking unsteady steps towards the door. Chat Noir shut the door immediately, and he heard them go still again.

"Why'd you do that?" Ladybug asked, puzzled. "There were only a couple, we could have handled them."

"They only moved when the light hit them," Chat Noir explained. "We might be able to avoid fighting them if I go in there by myself. I don't need light to see."

Ladybug didn't look pleased with that idea, her lips pressing into a thin line and her fists clenched by her sides as she narrowed her eyes. "You want to go into a room full of monsters. Alone."

"It makes sense. Less risk of injury," Chat Noir insisted. "They can pierce our suits, My Lady. We should avoid conflict whenever possible. You wanted to only use our powers when we have to, and keeping out of situations where we need healing is a way to do that."

"What if you're wrong, and they'll move even without light?"

"Then I'll book it back out here, and we'll deal with them together," Chat Noir shrugged. 

Ladybug still looked upset, but after a moment she sighed. "You're right. I hate it, but you're right. I just don't want us to get separated… Be careful."

"I'm always careful, what are you talking about?" he joked, pleased when she scoffed and rolled her eyes, but failed to hide a smile completely. It seemed to make her less tense at the very least, and that was all Chat Noir could hope for.

“If you’re always careful, I don’t think I ever want to see you be reckless,” Ladybug prodded Chat Noir in the chest. “Fine, we’ll try this your way."

Chat Noir smiled at Ladybug in what he hoped was an appropriately reassuring manner. "Don't worry, My Lady. If anything goes wrong I'll call and you can be the knight in shining magic spandex."

This time her smile was even more poorly hidden as she turned off first the radio, then her flashlight. Chat Noir followed, sending them into the pitch black. His vision turned green, like night vision goggles, and he could see Ladybug frowning, staring around blankly in the dark. He reached out and touched her hand and saw her jump slightly. "Chat Noir? That's you, right?

"It is," he assured her. "We should probably be quiet, since they can probably hear. But I won't close the door behind me, so you can hear if anything does go wrong."

"Okay," she agreed, grasping his hand for a moment before letting go. "Let's get this over with."

Chat Noir stepped back over to the door and opened it as silently as possible. The nurse monsters were still in the position he had last seen them, their bandaged faces turned towards the door, but they didn't react to his movement.

Despite the heavy boots, it was always easy for Chat Noir to be silent when he wanted (provided of course that there were no birds around). His suit was magic, and between feline instincts and years of practice sneaking away from bodyguards, tutors, and staff, he had no trouble moving soundlessly across the room. The nurses didn't even twitch, the only movement from them the ragged rise and fall of their chests.

The room itself looked much more like it belonged in this hospital than the previous room. This one clearly was not transplanted out of a memory. There were a couple of beds paired with equipment for tracking vital signs, and the four nurses standing together in the middle of the room. 

He stopped a careful distance away, scanning the room carefully for anything that didn't belong, but Chat Noir was careful not to let the nurse monsters fully out of sight. 

The main downside to Chat Noir's night vision was that in the complete absence of light it turned to shades of green, and that meant difficulty picking out some details. But as he edged around the nurses to check out the other side of the room, something bright caught his attention on one of the beds. It was a smooth stone, round but fairly flat, about the size of his palm. It looked white to him, or at least close to it.

Chat Noir made one last search around the room, and finding nothing, left the room and closed the door silently behind him, trying not to be disturbed by their unseen faces staring in the direction of the doorway. Ladybug was shifting from one foot to the other nervously, fidgeting with her ribbons. Despite his quiet, Ladybug turned towards Chat Noir as he moved back into the hallway, a small, relieved smile lighting her face and the tension melting from her body. 

He turned on the flashlight, leaving both of them blinking in the sudden light for a moment. Chat Noir offered her the stone, which in the light was white like he had guessed. "I found this in there, My Lady. It seemed like a weird thing to be in an intensive care unit, so I took it."

"Good call, mon minou," Ladybug nodded, giving his hair a quick scratch behind the cat ears before taking the gem from him to examine it closer. "Now we just need to figure out where this goes or what it does." The gem was opaque, with a pearly sheen, though Chat Noir couldn't be sure what kind of gem it was right now. He could tell it wasn't mother-of-pearl, so moonstone, maybe, or a type of quartz? Chloe usually went for gold and diamonds, so his knowledge was limited to reading labels in boredom while Adrien waited for her to find what she wanted.

Ladybug pocketed the gem and smiled at him again, reaching over to take his hand and lace their fingers together. "Ready to move on?"

"Definitely.”

 


 

It was world-changing to realise just how much Ladybug hadn’t known about her kitten. She still firmly believed she knew him, even if she didn’t know the details of his life. She knew Chat Noir’s loyalty, his intelligence, his bravery, and of course above all his kindness, both to Ladybug, and to all of Paris. He was always the one to comfort the most distraught of akuma victims, especially children who had a grasp on what had happened, the severity of the destruction and sometimes deaths caused, temporary or not.

But there weren’t a lot of details, just the little things, like his favourite pastries and his musical taste. She’d never thought much about the rest, not seriously, not past simple curiosity. If Ladybug had known that there was something like this in Chat Noir's past… what would she have done? Their identities were important for a reason, if either of them got akumatised or put under the right kind of control, it would endanger them both. Their family, friends, everyone they cared about would be in danger. When there was something that could get into their heads like that, they needed to be careful.

Was secrecy worth it anymore? Ladybug wasn't so sure. Secrecy wouldn't matter if they never made it out of here. It was annoying to deal with and slowed them down and the constant vigilance when detransformed was exhausting. Above all, though, Ladybug wanted to be able to talk freely to Chat Noir. This 'god' was messing with him, opening up old wounds Ladybug hadn't even known he had. She still felt sick thinking about it, imagining the kidnapping he had described. It was so hard to process -- they were heroes , more than any kidnapper could deal with -- but he hadn't been a superhero back then. Just a boy, human and fragile. 

She hadn't even known his mother was dead! She knew that it was a bad habit of hers, to assume everyone's families were whole and happy like hers, even though it wasn't as common as Ladybug felt it should be. Ladybug never suspected that the cheerful, joking Chat Noir could have been hiding so much pain. And that was what made Ladybug feel most guilty, because now the signs seemed all too clear that Chat Noir had been suffering in silence all along. The way he always seemed to be out in Paris more than her, the way he so rarely brought up his life even when Ladybug let things slip. The quiet things he sometimes said to himself that she'd thought she imagined, or the sad look he sometimes got. 

Weren't they supposed to be partners? Light and dark, creation and destruction, fortune and misfortune-- Shouldn't the Ladybug be able to tell that something was wrong with her Black Cat? It shouldn't have taken a cursed town bringing his memories to life to realise he was hurting. If it had been Ladybug, she knew Chat Noir would have been able to tell.

"Ladybug?" Chat Noir's voice cut through her thoughts, concern in his voice and on his face. She almost snorted at the coincidence, as if the universe was mocking Ladybug by proving her point; Chat Noir knew something was bothering her. "What's wrong?" he asked, squeezing her hand gently. 

"I was just thinking…" Ladybug said with a sigh. "I'm sorry."

"For what?"

Ladybug lowered her gaze. "I should've known something was bothering you. You always know when something's bothering me,  and I had no idea that you were… That you were dealing so much. I feel like a terrible partner."

Chat Noir shook his head frantically, "No no no, you're not a terrible partner! I was the one hiding things." He said quickly. His voice softened slightly, turning a little distant in thought. "I've always been hiding the things that upset me. Everything's been planned for me since I was born, and I could never tell my parents what I really wanted." He frowned, "I guess I've always been too afraid. What if the truth upset someone? Or made someone angry at me. I got pretty good at hiding things."

"Someone being angry or upset isn't the end of the world, you know." His words did make Ladybug feel better at least. Failing to notice something he actively hid was a lot better than missing he wasn't trying to. Maybe she really was just remembering the signs now that she looked for them. "You can tell me anything. Even if you did do something to upset me, I'll forgive you. Always. We'll work through whatever happens, together. I promise.” 

There was a particular smile he’d given every time Ladybug said something like that. His eyes lit up, part surprised, part moved, and full of tears he never let fall, his smile soft and sweet and warm and somehow both happy and sad all at once. Ladybug couldn’t tell if she loved or hated that smile. Loved because it meant he knew she cared, he felt cared about, and felt loved-- and she hated it because he shouldn’t look so surprised to be loved. The fact that someone cared should never be a surprise to anyone, least of all her partner. 

That smile was back now, a little brighter and a little less teary this time. It was a start.

"You always amaze me, My Lady."

"I'm just saying the truth. You don't need to hide anything. Not from me," Ladybug frowned, a little part of her wondering why he felt like that. But secret identitites-- stupid, stupid secret identities.

"Well, it's true. You're incredible, Ladybug. You're always trying to become a better person and learn from your mistakes or improve a situation like this. I think that's amazing. So many people just give up. You don't," Chat Noir said earnestly. There was that loving look in his eyes again, and Ladybug wasn't quite sure how to handle that anymore.

Turning the same colour as her suit, Ladybug gave an embarrassed laugh. "You're flattering me too much. I'll get a big head," she joked, because it was a little easier than dealing with feelings. "And we should get going."

They got themselves back on track. The door to the operating prep room and the operating room beyond was locked. The only way left to go was back into the hall with the stairs back down, and the rooms on that side.

Both bathrooms were blocked-- not just locked, but clearly the locks were both broken and barricaded from the other side. Room 201 was unlocked, and the inside of this room was devoid of nurses. The only things inside were a couple of energy drinks sitting on the counter and an upturned bed.

The next room held the sound of static and a horrible squelching noise. Ladybug nearly dropped her flashlight, staring with wide eyes at the three nurses surrounding a bed with another monster -- humanlike in shape, but with a massive hole in its chest and hands fused to the hole on either side like it was ripping its own chest apart -- and the nurses were stabbing its limp form over and over again, widening the hole in its chest.

Chat Noir shut the door while she was stunned, looking sick. “Let’s just… only go back in that room if we really need to, okay?”

“Okay.” Ladybug shuddered, tightening the limp grip she had on her flashlight. “Happy to never go back in there, thanks.”

“Agreed…” Chat Noir’s hand touched her back gently, in comfort, before he took a shaky breath and returned his focus to the hall around them, his eyes narrowing. “Hey, look at the end of the hall.”

The door to what should have been room 204 was completely different from the others. It was a huge, circular door, one side black and the other white, just like the yin and yang symbol. The only difference was the spots of yin in the yang and vice versa were missing.

Ladybug’s eyes narrowed, and she took the smooth stone Chat Noir had found from her pocket, slotting the white stone into the black side. It sank in with a satisfying click. “Looks like you were right to grab this thing. We must need a black one to open the door.”

“Then we’re halfway there already,” Chat Noir said optimistically. A little forced, but she’d take it, considering everything. 

There was only one room left in this hall, and it was locked. That left going up to the third floor, and investigating there-- but when they got to the top of the stairs, it was heavily barred and barricaded.

On the floor was the other stone, a smooth and shiny pure black stone the same size and shape as the first. Ladybug took it with a scowl.

“My Lady?”

“Too easy. I don’t like it. I feel like it’s trying to trick us,” Ladybug said grimly, clenching the stone in her hand. “But unless you have an idea, we’re stuck with this.”

Chat Noir shook his head apologetically. “Unfortunately, no ideas.”

“Then let’s go,” Ladybug sighed, snatching his hand and leading the way down. She had a sick, nervous feeling in the pit of her stomach. Something was suddenly telling her that something was wrong, and that she needed to keep Chat Noir close, needed to keep him safe. Like that feeling in the school, when the world had changed the first time and she’d felt like she needed to hold on to Chat Noir so he wouldn’t get separated from her. 

So Ladybug held onto his hand tightly the whole way back to the yin-yang door. She took a deep breath and inserted the stone. Like the other one, it sank in with a solid-sounding click. The door began to change, red dripping down the white like blood, while the black retreated up the other side, leaving green behind. Then, finally, the doors rolled to either side, the yin and yang sides separating-- No, it wasn’t just that, this meant the Ladybug and Cat miraculous, didn’t it? This was directed at them. It was threatening to seperate them. Taunting them.

Ladybug tightened her grip on Chat Noir as they stepped through the door and saw the inside of the room-- a mirror. The wall in front of her was a mirror, reflecting a much grungier hallway behind the door, the paint outright stripped from the walls.

“Nope. This is a bad idea, we can’t-- I’m not.” Ladybug shook her head, her eyes and face feeling too hot and her hands too cold. “I won’t…” As she watched, though, the images in the mirror wavered and shifted, melting into a totally different hospital-- this one pristine, scarily so, blindingly bright white. Then to yet another, this one with walls covered in paintings and ornate drapery. Then one more, lit by a faint, reddish tinge with exposed mesh in place of some of the walls. Writing appeared on the mirror for this one, reddish like blood.

‘I’m here,’ it said. It looked like Alessa’s writing on the note earlier, and she knew somehow it was really from her. 

“What do you see?” Chat Noir asked quietly, resigned. She didn’t need to ask to know he had figured out what this room was about too.

“There’s… There’s different worlds, here. One of them is Alessa’s,” Ladybug said shakily. “She wrote on the mirror, it says ‘I’m here’. She wants me to go through and find her. But you can’t go through and I can’t just leave you here. I won’t leave you.”

“I think you might have to, My Lady,” he said so gently, with such acceptance that Ladybug almost wanted to be angry at him. “Like you said, unless you have another idea?”

“You know I don’t, or I wouldn’t be freaking out about this!” Ladybug almost snapped. She reached over, grabbing his other hand. “Chat, we can’t get seperated.”

“I don’t like it any more than you do! I don’t want you to be all alone out there, and I don’t want to be alone, but…” Chat Noir swallowed, squeezing her hands in comfort. “The only ally we’ve got besides our kwamis right now is somewhere in one of those other worlds. Right now, that’s the only way we might be able to get out. We can’t stay here in this town forever.”

“I hate it,” Ladybug hissed. “I know you’re right, but I hate it.” She lowered her head, blinking back angry tears with a small sniffle. “I’ve already lost you once here. I don’t want to give it another chance.”

“I’ll be careful,” Chat Noir promised seriously. “Promise. No recklessness from me, as long as you’ll be careful too.” He pulled one of his hands away, setting it to hold against her cheek, and Ladybug's resolve started to wilt at the contact. A part of Ladybug was absolutely furious at herself for letting herself even consider this, but at the same time… Ladybug had decided she was saving him from this place no matter what. She just hadn’t realised the ‘no matter what’ required willingly leaving him alone.

Taking in a shaky breath, Ladybug covered his hand with hers and blurted, “I love you.”

“... What?”

That hadn’t been exactly what Ladybug meant to say. But too late for that now. “I love you.” She said again, instead. “I was stupid and too distracted by a crush to realise I loved you and always had. And now we’re stuck here and everything’s terrible and this is the worst time to realise how I feel about you and I was going to wait till a better time. If we survive this, I’m always going to remember confessing to you in a literal hellhole while trying not to cry.”

“Oh,” was all Chat Noir could seem to manage. He looked so baffled, his eyes wide and confused, and it was honestly pretty adorable. Which was not fair when Ladybug was such an emotional wreck in so many different ways at once. For a moment he didn’t say anything, seeming to try to choose his words. “You love me? The same way I love you?” he added, just in case, nervous. “Really?”

“Yes, really,” Ladybug said with a soft sigh. “This wasn’t how I planned on telling you at all.”

“I don’t mind,” Chat Noir assured her breathlessly, a smile-- this one without that trace of sadness the others had and just love and utter joy-- spreading over his face. “All the more reason to be extra careful and make sure we find each other, right?”

“I guess you’re right,” Ladybug said. His smile was making her smile too. He looked so happy. “When I… when I get back, and when we get home, we should talk about this without all of this looming.” She gestured around. “But I’m already putting this off and if we start talking now I’m going to keep putting it off. I need to figure out a way to get us home, don’t I?”

“Plans are always your speciality,” Chat Noir laughed, a wide smile on his face. “I know you’ll get us out of here.” 

He said it with such confidence that Ladybug couldn’t help but believe him. 

Ladybug leaned up, pressing a light kiss to his cheek before giving him a quick hug. “I’ll be back soon, kitten. Be safe.”

“I will. You be careful too.” 

With one last smile, Ladybug pressed her hand to the mirror before she could change her mind.

 


 

The operation rooms were Gabriel’s next goal. 

He guessed from ‘physician’s tools’ in the riddles that it meant somewhere amidst the surgery tools. Hopefully it didn’t mean something more obscure, or a more obscure storage place for them. Gabriel didn’t want to have to scour every room in search of the coins. He was getting more worried for Adrien with every monster he encountered, and delaying for any reason was painfully frustrating. 

Back in Paris, it was much less worrying when Adrien was in danger. It was always an akuma, and if he failed then Ladybug would bring everyone back and heal any wounds, and if he succeeded he could use the power himself. But here… if something happened to Adrien, it would be permanent. Failure to get the miraculous would no longer be an option at all. He would never be able to live with himself if Adrien were to die. 

“Nooroo,” Gabriel started as he started up the stairs. “Do you have any ideas where the other coins may be? Wood and Water are the ones that did not make sense to me.”

The kwami hummed in thought for a second. “Well, I’m not sure about wood yet, but the water medallion is likely on the roof, because it is the part of the building that receives rainfall.” Nooroo frowned in thought. “And Wayzz did always like watching the rain from rooftops.”

“Then we’ll check that after-- wait, what?” Gabriel looked back at Nooroo. “Wayzz, the turtle kwami? What does that have to…” He took the box from his bag, staring at it as the pieces seemed to come together. “ You’re the elements.”

“We are an aspect of them, like the seasons or directions or colours. But in this case, I believe it’s alluding to us specifically. Why else would the box reference a miracle box?” Nooroo flew closer, pointing. “The elements are representing us Kwamis of the Inner Circle. The remaining are almost certainly referencing the zodiac.”

Gabriel frowned at the box. “So the controlling entity knows of the kwami?”

“Most old beings like it know,” Nooroo said with a little shrug. “Though the specifics of the miracle box are a little stranger. It might…” the kwami trailed off, looking concerned. 

“Might what?”

“I think it may be reading minds. I’m not sure whose-- I would probably know if it was in my mind, if it could even get to me as a kwami, and you didn't know…"

"So it may be from Ladybug or Chat Noir's memories?"

"It might be," Nooroo admitted. "They were there when you were transported here."

Gabriel sighed heavily. "I honestly wish we would find them. They would surely protect a 'civilian' like myself and help me find Adrien."

"They are heroes, using the Miraculous as intended. I'm sure they would. They would certainly help you find Adrien even if they knew who you were." 

Ah, Gabriel had been wondering when another slight would come. The almost pleasant conversation had clearly gone on too long. "Nooroo," he said in warning. Nooroo sighed, but did not look apologetic in the slightest.

Deciding to ignore it for now, Gabriel made his way to the surgery prep room. The door was unlocked, but the radio began to emit static the second he opened the door an inch. He shut it again long enough to make sure he had his gun at the ready before opening it again. 

Two nurses stood inside, by the bed. One held a scalpel and one seized the IV stand when she saw him. They staggered towards him, much too close already because of the size of the room. He managed to fire off a few quick shots at the one wielding the IV stand, downing her, but the other one had reached him. 

"Master!" Nooroo cried.

Pain blinded Gabriel for a moment that felt like an eternity, his side burning from the scalpel digging around in his flesh. He threw out his arm on instinct, shoving the nurse away as possible.

"Master, the gun!" Nooroo's voice pulled him out of the haze of pain enough to realise that his Kwami had grabbed his gun -- dropped in the struggle -- and was holding it for him. 

Gabriel fumbled for it, his aim shaky, but to his surprise Nooroo helped steady his aim. Three careful shots and the nurse lay dead. Nooroo let go of the gun and dropped to his bag to take out one of the health drinks and offer it to him.

Slumping down to sit on the floor, Gabriel took it and downed it quickly, watching Nooroo as the Kwami fluttered to sit on the floor in front of him. Once his wound had healed, Gabriel ventured to speak.

"Thank you. I…" Gabriel swallowed. What use were words when he could not yet give up the miraculous and stop his akumas? And yet, Gabriel was not without heart. "I probably would have died without your help. I am… I'm very grateful that you care enough about my son's life to help me, when my death means your freedom." 

"I am empathy," Nooroo said simply, though he looked curious from Gabriel's gratitude. "It's my nature to care… even for those that hurt me."

"That must be frustrating," Gabriel said, surprised. He started getting to his feet as he spoke. "Caring even for your enemies."

Nooroo tilted his head slightly, looking at Gabriel with a look he couldn't quite identify. "Sometimes. But time passes, old lives are destroyed and new lives are created. To see that, and to interact with that, is why my miraculous was made."

"You chose to let it be created?" Gabriel asked curiously. He stepped up to the operation room door and listened at it for a moment, before determining that it was likely empty. There was a table in the middle and assorted machinery and cabinets spread throughout. Gabriel began to search them.

"Yes, Master. We chose the Miraculous."

"Then why can I control you? Why would you make it so?" Gabriel frowned, looking over his shoulder at him. Nooroo was searching the other cabinets..

"The mages who created the miraculous thought they could control the gods. We wanted to be part of reality bad enough to allow them to make that part of the Miraculous. Not our wisest decision, but…" Nooroo smiled. "When we get the chance to choose, it makes it all worth it. Finding a human who matches us and needs what we have to give. It's like raising a child: Nurturing them, guiding them, watching their achievements as you help them become the person you know they can be."

A mixture of guilt and -- was that jealousy? -- struck Gabriel, and he had no idea why (Liar, he thought he heard heard a voice say in the back of his head but he ignored it). "I see," was all he could think to say, redoubling his focus on the search. 

Finally, he found it. The coin was hidden, surprisingly, not with the surgical tools but with the medications. Gabriel supposed they were just as much physician tools as the surgical equipment. He turned the coin in his hand for a moment, looking at the 金 inscribed, before calling Nooroo over.

"Oh! You found it." Nooroo sighed in relief.

"Which of you is associated with metal?" Gabriel asked as he pulled the box from his bag and set it on the cabinet. He may as well add the coins now and make sure they worked.

"I am," Nooroo said, looking over the box. "Do you know where they go?"

"No," he admitted. "I never put that much research into the elements."

Nooroo smiled gently. "Metal on the lower left. Fire on the upper right."

The coins slotted in perfectly. Gabriel put it away before consulting the map again. "The linen room next, then."

There were no more monsters on the way. There were washers and dryers, with several large laundry bins full of different things. Gabriel checked the phrasing of the note again. "Smallest weaves… perhaps either the smallest item or the tightest weaving." 

A bin of surgical masks was to the right of the door, so Gabriel started searching there while Nooroo looked for any other small items. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack, trying to find a single tiny coin amidst a bin of masks. Finally, Gabriel’s fingers brushed the smooth metal, but he didn't get a good grip on it before it fell into a gap between the masks. He had to stoop further over, almost at the point of falling in, to finally grab it.

“Found it,” Gabriel straightened to show to Nooroo. With the Kwami’s help, he put the 土 coin in the correct space. “Now the roof… And to figure out where the last one is.”

Nooroo hesitated before speaking. “I think I might have figured out where it is. The newborn intensive care unit-- it said where life endures.”

Gabriel winced. He really didn’t want to go back to that room, but it seemed that was the only option.

“Why does it upset you?” Nooroo sounded curious. “Both Adrien and Emilie lived.”

“After weeks of intensive care,” Gabriel said, making his way towards the roof. He hated thinking about the time around Adrien’s birth. “We could barely even see him.” Everything had happened so suddenly and gone so wrong. Emilie had been fine -- mostly, anyway, aside from the dizzy spells -- and then suddenly was showing symptoms of severe tuberculosis and tests showed fetal distress, leading to an early induced labour. Adrien had been born struggling to breathe; He’d spent the first few weeks of life with a machine keeping him breathing. Emilie couldn’t see him at all until her tuberculosis stopped being contagious.

Abruptly, Gabriel stopped. “That room. The one that didn’t match the rest. It was Emilie’s.”

“That makes sense… The entity controlling the town is pulling things from your memories as well as changing things. It is incredibly powerful.” 

Unable to resist a shudder, Gabriel clenched his fists, trying to force himself to keep calm despite the sickening idea of some unknowable entity crawling in his head. "Come, Nooroo. Let's get this over with."

There were no nurses between them and the roof, where the 水 coin was simply sitting in the drain pipe. It almost made Gabriel nervous as they proceeded back to the maternity ward.

The NICU was just as unsettling as before, with the looming machinery and the dolls that seemed much too small and frail. He tried not to look at them, proceeding to the eastern wall and searching until Gabriel found a small removable panel behind one of the machines.

It didn't feel like the triumph he had hoped as he pulled the coin from the wall. He stared down at the 木 engraved on the coin in thought. "Nooroo?"

"Yes, master?"

"Which of you is associated with this one?" Gabriel turned it over in his hand, still staring at it.

"The peacock," Nooroo said slowly.

"I had a feeling," Gabriel murmured, before taking out the box and placing it in the remaining slot. There was a faint click, and he found he could turn the inner circle. When he turned it far enough, there was another click and it pushed out slightly, just enough to grip the grooves and pull off the upper circle.

Inside was a small compartment, and a key labelled with a tag that said 'Room 204'.

"More scavenger hunts around the hospital, I suppose," Gabriel grumbled. He took the key and put the box back in his bag. It was on the far end of the other hallway, but it was still on this floor and only took a few minutes to find and unlock.

The second he began to push the doorway open, he heard the sound of sirens. 

It was the same as the elevator, his head feeling like it was under pressure, the room and the mirror against the far wall shifting under his gaze. And then something changed.

His vision flickered, the walls returning to the way they had been before the change, but in the mirror something stranger was going on. The hospital on the other side was much brighter, and--

"Adrien!"

His son was facing the other direction, wearing warmer looking off-the rack clothes and looking around warily and holding something to his chest. But at the sound of his voice he whirled around, wide-eyed. "Father?"

The images on the mirror flickered like a light going on and off. Gabriel stumbled forward, reaching out for the mirror in a desperate hope that it would let him through somehow. But by the time he touched the mirror, Adrien's image had vanished, the siren fading, and the hospital settling into the 'normal' way it had been before the elevator. They both stared in shock in the mirror.

And if Nooroo's shock was mixed with realisation, Gabriel was much too distracted to see it.

Chapter Text

Plagg was somewhat grateful for his experience in handling bad news over the time since the universe's creation. Things almost always went right for Tikki, and when things went wrong they were unexpected and alarming and caused quite a bit of a panic. But for Plagg, things usually went some variation of wrong, and he knew how to keep calm in a crisis.

It meant that nothing about what he had just discovered showed on his face right now. Even as his eyes subtly followed Nooroo, keeping an ear out for anything Nooroo might say.

Adrien was panicked, of course. He had tried poking at the mirror, just in case, and was now pacing slightly. "Do you think maybe Ladybug could take him through the mirror with her? Maybe the town's god won't want to stop him."

"I get a feeling that it does." Plagg was starting to figure out exactly how this thing worked. He'd been able to sense the 'god's hunger, and its desire to hurt. These things were not unrelated. It was thriving off pain, anguish, guilt. And guilt was something that Papillon would have plenty of, whether that man realised it or not. The Ladybug's power didn't undo the things, only repair the damage. Everything he'd done, every person killed-- it had happened. Many of them remembered. Adrien had a tally of the deaths memorised.

It would not give up such a meal easily, and Plagg had little desire to try and rescue the man. Plagg had hated Gabriel from the beginning, because he was an awful father who didn't realise what isolation and expectations were doing to Adrien. But he had similarly tolerated him because he was Adrien's father, and Adrien loved him, and seemed to think he was doing his best (and mostly because running away and helping Adrien get a job as some kind of an apprentice wasn't an option in modern times). And even then, he would never have wanted to harm Gabriel, because it would emotionally harm Adrien much more.

It really wasn't fair. His newest kit was probably the most gentle Plagg ever had. The kind of child who would never wish harm on anyone, who would never be able to take a human life without breaking (and judging by his reactions to the monsters, almost any life). It was one of the reasons he chose him: His power of destruction could be trusted in the hands of a child who would never seek to hurt with it. 

But now Plagg would have to tell Adrien that his father was a terrorist and murderer. 

Telling him would hurt, and Adrien hadn't been able to mend the fractures in his will the town had caused yet. If Plagg told him now, would that be too much? Would it be the break to make him shatter? It wasn't worth the risk to tell him right now. Plagg could cheer him up and make the kid smile, but he wasn't good at feelings. He really didn't want to try to get Adrien through this without Ladybug's help. 

A second secret to keep. Plagg really hated secrets, but he could acknowledge when they were needed. This wasn’t going to be a case of keeping him in the dark forever, just a temporary delay until it was safe. Others may decide knowledge needed to be kept forever ‘for their own good’ but Plagg knew that never worked, and it took away the freedom to act or choose-- and if there was one thing Plagg would never take from his chosen, it was freedom. That was why he’d talked Tikki into helping him find a way to interact with the world, even if he’d never admit it to anyone but her: Once upon a time, another too-gentle child needed freedom, and back then, Plagg couldn’t help. 

Plagg could help Adrien. 

The Little Bug and Tikki would help too. Adrien wouldn’t be alone-- he’d never be alone again, Plagg would make sure of that. The buglet had a good family, maybe they’d be willing to take in another kid. Not like he wasn’t going to eventually be their son by marriage anyway. If they said no there were Nino’s parents, or Alya’s. And there was no way Chloe was going to let some stuffy child services people take away her oldest friend. There was plenty of room at the hotel. 

Nooroo glanced his way, just briefly. Probably sensing the surge of anger and hatred Plagg was feeling towards Gabriel Agreste. Plagg was unrepentant, but both Kwamis kept their faces carefully blank. Nooroo, because he was forbidden to communicate with anyone, and Plagg because he couldn’t let Adrien know what he was seeing. Soon though Nooroo was looking back at his ‘master’ to respond to a question.

“I don’t know. I think maybe he was entering the changed world as you were exiting. It’s up to the whims of the town’s entity…”

“Plagg? Did he see you?” Adrien suddenly asked, stopping his pacing to look at him worriedly. “What if he knows who I am?”

“He doesn’t,” Plagg assured him. Nooroo’s conversation with Papillon would be very different if he had. “He didn’t see me. Promise.”

 


 

Adrien had waited in the room for several minutes before the loneliness began to creep on him. He’d always hated being lonely, but now that he knew what it was to not be alone, it bordered on fear. The silence always felt too deep and painful, the lack of presence like a chill in his bones. Plagg was there, sort of, in the ring, but he still felt uncomfortable in the silence.

So he’d detransformed, facing away from the mirror so Ladybug wouldn’t accidentally see his face if she was still there. Just a few minutes later, the siren rang out again and the room flickered. His head had hurt so bad Adrien thought for a moment he might pass out. The walls changed, an even cleaner, painfully bright white, all signs of neglect gone. 

And then Adrien heard his father’s voice-- heard his name-- and he’d seen his father through the mirror.

He’d looked awful, for that brief moment, bloodied and ripped suit, damp with sweat and with cold, his hair in disarray. His father had no Ladybug to fix everything in the end, and he had to be fighting through all this alone. What if something happened to his father and he and Ladybug couldn’t get to him? For all the disagreements, and the restrictions and rules and expectations, Adrien loved his father and couldn’t stand the idea of something happening to him. 

His father was still here, in this room, too. Adrien could feel it, though not nearly as strongly Ladybug’s… aura? Was that the word to use? His father’s ‘aura’ felt very different, dry, like old books with pages that crinkled when you turned them. It felt of weariness and sadness  and a desire to hide. It had been like that ever since his mother died and Gabriel Agreste had become a complete recluse.

It had been there a couple of times on the first floor, by the offices and the lobby. It did feel a little different right now, though; normally Gabriel's presence didn't feel quite so conflicted, and that was one of the things that had made him uncertain. Besides, most of the teleportations had shown up elsewhere in Paris so surely his father had to be home safe? But apparently not. And he could feel it even more powerfully now

Stopping his pacing just for a moment, to look over at the mirror worriedly and then back at Plagg before resuming again, "What should we do, Plagg? Even if-- I mean, when-- we manage to meet up with father, we’re going to have to tell Ladybug who I am because father’s going to be looking for me, and Ladybug won’t leave without me. I don’t know what to do.”

“Ad-- Kid, calm down. We’ll figure it out, I’ll talk to Tikki and we can talk to Ladybug and we’ll figure it out. It’s just your identity, not the end of the world.” Plagg said firmly. “You trust Ladybug to get you out, right?”

Adrien stopped his pacing. “Of course I do!” He said earnestly. Sure, there were some anxiety-induced doubts, but when it came down to it, Ladybug was relentless and she would find a way. Ladybug was the type of person to fight until her last breath once she was determined enough. The reminder from Plagg helped greatly, and he felt at least some of his anxieties fall away. 

Only to spike again when Plagg’s ears twitched and his face turned grim. “Transform, now. I hear the monster with the helmet coming and there’s nowhere to hide here.”

Now-frantic, Adrien called for the transformation and Chat Noir sprinted out into the hallway. Like the room, it was absolutely spotless, the walls too white and the lights so bright they hurt his eyes. He could hear the footsteps, loud and heavy, coming from the other side, past the Nurse Station. He ran for the staircase just as the door between the hallways was kicked down.

The monster looked different. When he’d seen it before, it had been covered in long-since dried blood and grime. Now, it was as clean as the world around him, the long coat spotless, the leather gloves shiny and polished, the helmet and sickle too looked as if it had been given a good cleaning. Not even a drop of blood or dirt.

It was also unfortunately faster than it looked, but at least there was no clutter on the floor to slow Chat Noir down, and he had his superhuman strength and speed on his side. He hurried down the stairs and bolted for the right hallway. The door mercifully opened and he sprinted full speed down the hall towards the elevator. Chat Noir mashed the call elevator, and heard it begin to move-- it was on the second floor, from the sound of it. He glanced back towards the stairwell and the sound of quickly approaching footsteps, then checked the door behind him-- unlocked, surprisingly. If the monster got here before the elevator was open then Chat Noir could make it out into the courtyard and hope he could loop back around without getting attacked by the bird monsters. 

The footsteps were just outside the hallway door when the elevator doors opened, and as Chat Noir ran in and frantically pushed the close doors and third floor buttons, the hallway door slammed open. 

“C’mon, close close close.” Chat Noir hissed, pushing the close door button a few more times even though he knew it wouldn’t help. The doors closed with surprising speed, just as the monster was turning the corner, and then he was going up, past the door and continuing upward.

Chat Noir took a few deep breaths, feeling dizzy from panic, and listened out, trying to make out noise past the sound of the elevator. It was hard to get a clear idea of where the monster was while the elevator was in motion, but when the doors opened on the third floor he could hear it thundering up the stairs from the second floor towards the third. 

So Chat Noir pushed the first floor button. The monster was still going towards the elevator on the third floor when it stopped, his loud footsteps audible even from down here to Chat Noir’s supernaturally enhanced hearing. He ducked out of the elevator, pushing the second floor button as he went and letting it go up on its own-- hopefully, that would throw the monster off Chat Noir’s trail. He went for the offices, as quietly but quickly as possible, and ducked into one of the bigger cabinets, glad when it was large enough to fit Chat Noir inside completely. His night vision kicked in, but there was nothing to see except some bottles, so he shut his eyes and just listened, waiting. 

The monster was storming around the third floor, checking doors, sometimes slamming them shut behind him, and eventually it tried the second floor as well, then it went into one of the rooms on the far west side and the sound from it stopped, completely and abruptly.

Had it gone through the mirror somehow? It sounded close enough that it could’ve been room 204. Which of the other worlds had it gone to? He hoped it wasn’t the one with his father, or the one with Ladybug. But even if it had, he couldn’t do anything about it.

Taking a moment to steady himself, Chat Noir rested his forehead against his knees, hugging his legs to his chest. Ladybug can handle herself, he reasoned to himself. And father… I think he was carrying a gun when I saw him. Plus, it hasn’t shown up for Ladybug yet, only me, so maybe it won’t even go after either of them.

He spent another few minutes rationalising before Chat Noir climbed out of the cabinet and took a proper look around the office. Like the upstairs, its walls and floor and ceiling were an unnatural shade of pristine white. The furniture all looked a lot like what the office had before, except it was all just nicer, more expensive woods, better design and craftmanship. The cheap metal drawers had been replaced with polished wood ones, The cabinet Chat Noir had hidden in was similarly an expensive wood piece. 

This was weird. Much weirder than the dark and grimy Other World they had encountered in the school. This one was outright surreal, and too perfect, like it belonged on the pages of a furniture magazine rather than a real place. In these bright rooms, Chat Noir stuck out oddly with his black leatherlike suit. 

“Plagg, detransform me.”

Adrien caught the kwami as he was expelled from the ring. Plagg’s bright green eyes looked up at him in a mixture of concern and curiosity. “What are you doing?”

“I… The monster’s gone, and you can let me know if he shows up again, and I don’t want to be alone.” Adrien blurted. “I’ll transform again if I need to, but I’m not even invulnerable to the monsters here while transformed, so it doesn’t matter THAT much, does it? Besides, I can fight without being transformed.”

Plagg stared at him oddly, floating up from his hands, “You’d really rather fight things without superpowers than be alone?”

“Yes,” Adrien found himself flushing, feeling foolish and childish. “I guess I got too used to being around people now. When I’m transformed there’s always Ladybug and when I’m not transformed there’s you. But Ladybug isn’t here.” He looked down at his shoes, shifting his weight from one foot to the other nervously, and brushing some of his hair behind his ear, just to do something with his hands. “Sorry.”

“Adrien,” Plagg said slowly, calmly. “I’m not going to yell at you for being afraid to be alone.”

“I’m not afraid.” Adrien protested half-heartedly, but Plagg gave him a look.

“You are. You’ve got plenty of reason to be.” Plagg paused. “I know a thing or two about this kind of thing. Any wielder who can really attune with my ring has to have misfortune in their lives when I find them. That’s how this works-- and before you start thinking I picked you just because you were unlucky, there are plenty of unlucky people in Paris. I picked you because I could tell I could trust you to never abuse my powers. Not an easy thing to find, let me tell you, I wouldn’t even really trust destruction with your bug.”

“Oh.” Adrien said, unsure how to respond to that. It felt good to know his kwami thought he could be trusted above even Ladybug with his power. 

“Anyway,” Plagg continued. “I’m not gonna judge you for being scared of being alone. You’re not the first kitten I’ve had that was afraid of being alone, and probably won’t be the last if humanity doesn’t melt itself first. Someday we might be able to work you past the fear, but either way, you’re not gonna be alone again. Ever. Even not bringing in your friends and Ladybug, I’m gonna be hanging around mooching cheese off you and unrolling all your toilet paper for the rest of your life.”

Adrien laughed, feeling a lot better. Sure, Plagg had made it less serious in the end, but that was Plagg trying to cheer him up, as he’d figured out was often the case. “Thanks, Plagg.”

Plagg just grinned at him and flew over to settle on his shoulder. “Alright, now, promise me you’ll transform if anything too tough comes at you. I know it doesn’t really help, but I am still there with you when you’re transformed. I can hear and see as long as I’m not tuning it out, like when you’re doing mushy things.” He wrinkled his nose indignantly, making Adrien laugh again. 

“Yeah, I know. I prefer having you to actually talk to, though.” There was an umbrella stand by the door, and Adrien picked out the sturdiest looking one of them all. It wasn’t an ideal weapon, but it would be enough to knock some monsters aside until he found something better. If they had guns he’d transform, but he could always detransform and retransform without worry if he hadn’t used his power. 

He started for the stairs.

Adrien didn’t get far; there was a barred door in front of the staircase. They were shiny and polished like the rest of the hospital, and definitely too close together to squeeze through. The bars  didn’t so much as wiggle when he pushed on them experimentally. They had also definitely not been there before. He’d run down this staircase just a few minutes ago in his escape from the helmeted monster. 

“Plagg, can you unlock this?” Adrien asked the kwami, now nestled on his shoulder. Plagg flew down from his perch to inspect it, then stuck his hands through the lock, trying to mess with the mechanism.

"It won't move." Plagg made a face as he returned to Adrien's shoulder. "I guess it doesn't want you going up there." 

"Of course not." Adrien groaned, scowling at the bars. "Doesn't want me meeting up with Ladybug." He turned to the left, intending to try the hallway towards the elevator, when a dry feeling caught his attention and an odd, tingly feeling seemed to pass through him. He startled, whirling to face the direction it had gone, towards the lobby. "Father just went this way." 

"You gonna follow?"

"We had to leave the room before. Maybe I can still get through to him." Adrien insisted, going through the door to the lobby. He stopped dead in his tracks, a chill going down his spine. There was someone else here, a shadow, barely visible. Like the shades he'd seen earlier with Ladybug, but even fainter. And it wasn't just his father's presence in the room anymore. 

This presence was very different. Where Gabriel Agreste's aura was dry and stiff, this one was flowing and graceful, and felt cool and damp, as if it were water brushing over his mind. It was a presence that should not have been there. His breath caught, and for a moment he felt like he couldn't speak, like the air in his lungs wouldn't move, until finally he choked out: "Mom?"

"What?" Plagg hissed, tiny claws pricking Adrien through his sleeve just barely.

"It's-- my mom's here." Adrien said breathlessly as he stepped forward, wide eyes on the shadow. It was shaped right to be her, though the details were indistinct. "It's her. I know it’s her.”

“Kid, your mom’s dead, you know that. You told me you were sure.” Plagg said quietly, but firmly. “Even if this really is her, it’s just a ghost. She’s not going to stop being dead.”

“I know, but--” Adrien stopped moving forward. “ Why is she here? Why isn’t she at home, or where she died? Why does this town have my mom’s soul?”

For a moment, Plagg fell silent. “I don’t know. I really don’t, but I do know this place has tried to trick you before. Even if that’s really your mom, I don’t trust anything in this place.”

“I don’t trust it either, but I have to find out why she’s here and if she is here then I need to tell her I’m sor--”

The ghost abruptly started moving. Both presences were out the shut door before Adrien could snap out of it enough to try to follow, but the door was now firmly locked, stuck so firmly it wouldn’t budge. 

“Wait! Mom! Father!” Adrien called frantically. “Plagg, transf--”

“You can’t waste your cataclysm going out there,” Plagg said quickly. “You need to wait for Ladybug. You can’t chase them across the town. What would she say if she came out of that mirror and found you’d ditched her?”

Adrien went still. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“We’ll find your father, and probably your mom’s ghost too. But we gotta be smart about this. Weren’t you the one insisting Ladybug couldn’t go off after Papillon alone?” Plagg poked him obnoxiously in the jaw, the furthest he could reach from his shoulder. “And now you’re wanting to go chasing a ghost through the streets. You’ll look for them together.”

Wiping his eyes as subtly as he could, Adrien nodded. “O--okay. Then we’d better… we need to get back to the mirror.”

 


 

It took all of Gabriel’s willpower to not outright punch the mirror in frustration. So close! He was so close to finding Adrien, and he’d already lost him again. He backed up and looked around, hoping to find something, anything, that might be a hint for how to get back into contact with Adrien. The room was barren except for the mirror, which only reflected him and Nooroo. His kwami was staying still and silent, looking lost in thought, which implied he had no more ideas than Gabriel did.

“Adrien?” Gabriel tried calling out again. “Adrien, can you hear me? If you can, say something, or try to give me some kind of sign.”

He waited, holding his breath, but nothing answered Gabriel’s call. He turned to his kwami. “Nooroo, is he still here, can you tell?”

“Yes. I can feel his emotions, though only faintly. He’s worried for you.”

“Hmph, he should be more worried about himself.” Gabriel muttered. “He’s the one who’s just a child.”

“Worry for loved ones is has little regard to age,” Nooroo said quietly. 

Gabriel had no idea what to say in response to that, so he moved on, going back to watching the mirror. Nooroo looked back at the room itself. “Do you know why we saw him in the mirror? We’re sharing the same space, I’m gathering, but then why did we see each other? How do we get to the world he’s in?”

“I don’t know. I think maybe he was entering the changed world as you were exiting. It’s up to the whims of the town’s entity…” Nooroo said, turning back to him.

“Wonderful, just wonderful.” Gabriel grimaced. 

“He did look well enough, though,” Nooroo said optimistically. “Considering the monsters, that is quite a blessing.”

“It is,” Gabriel didn’t want to think about the alternative. “So, the hospital is not changing itself, but we are passing between different versions of the hospital, correct?”

“That’s what I am assuming.” Nooroo nodded. “That’s probably why I can still sense his emotions, but muted. And why we lost contact with Hanna in the elevator. There’s at least this foggy world, and the world we just left with the curtains, if not more.”

“I almost forgot about Hanna,” Gabriel frowned, glancing away from the mirror towards the rest of the hospital. “Is she here?”

“I think she’s downstairs,” Nooroo said after a few seconds. “It’s hard to tell in this place. Are you going to go find her?”

He hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “In a moment.”

There was nothing he could do right now, as he was well aware. He had no way to get through to that other world yet, and so standing here staring at the now-ordinary mirror was useless, but still.

Be safe, Adrien, he thought. Then he turned and left the room. 

Everything was as it had been before the elevator. Still grey, with dark fog visible through the windows. The nurses he and Hanna had killed were still dead, and he had to step over their bodies to make his way to the stairs back down. As they reached the bottom landing, Nooroo moved to hide inside his pocket.

In the lobby, Hanna was laying on one of the couches, for a moment so still that Gabriel was afraid she wasn’t even breathing, but then her eyes opened and she sat up, eyes widening. “Gabriel! You’re alive!”

“I’m glad to see that you’re alright,” Gabriel sighed in relief. “When I woke up after the elevator, you were gone.”

Hanna blinked, green eyes wide with confusion. With her resemblance to Emilie, it looked so much like Adrien’s expression in the mirror that it once more made his chest ache with worry about his son. “What do you mean? You were the one who disappeared. The lights went out and then you were gone.”

“It was… there was this other world, I think.” Gabriel said slowly, unsure how to explain to someone who had no knowledge of such things. “It was the hospital, but it was full of rust and dirt, but covered with expensive curtains and some places were different. I’m sure this sounds quite mad--”

“No, no! It doesn’t sound crazy at all!” Hanna assured him earnestly. “With all the monsters, I have no reason not to believe something like that!”

Gabriel couldn’t help feeling relieved. Maybe it was just that she looked like Emilie, but a part of him wanted her approval. Being a madman would have certainly not been something to approve of. “So you were still here in this… foggy version of the town?”

She nodded, “The monsters vanished after you disappeared. I searched for you for a while, but then… Well, I got tired. I thought I would just take a short nap” Hanna said sheepishly, gesturing to the couch. When she glanced back at him, her eyes narrowed slightly, the same way Emilie’s did when Gabriel spent the night designing and forgot to eat or sleep. “Speaking of… when was the last time you slept?”

“I’m uncertain,” Gabriel sighed, unconsciously hunching just a bit. Some of his white-blond bangs fell into his eyes, having fallen from his usual slicked back style. He pushed it back impatiently. “I was unconscious after the elevator, but I’m not sure for how long.”

“Maybe we should find a place to rest.” Hanna suggested, eyes still narrowed and small mouth twisted into a frown. Gabriel couldn't help but feel he was being lightly scolded.

Regardless, Gabriel quickly shook his head. "No, I can't. I saw my son upstairs, through the mirror when the town changed back. He's here somewhere and I need to figure out how to get to him. Or to bring him here. Something."

"How, though?" Her expression softened. "We don't know what's going on or how it works."

"I know that, but…" Gabriel ran his fingers through his hair, trying to smooth it back. "This is the closest I've gotten. He's here."

"Then maybe--"

There was a noise, a clicking of something hard against tile. It was the same footsteps they had heard before the elevator, from that strange bug man. Hanna grabbed his wrist, tugging him back away from the door. "Do you hear that?"

Gabriel nodded grimly, going for his gun. Hanna released his wrist to take out her own, ready, as the clicking got closer and suddenly the door burst open. There it was again, as tall and horrible as before, its eyeless face turned towards them.

They fired. Each emptying an entire clip into the monster, but it only seemed to slow it down. It didn't care about the bullets. It didn't bleed.

"We need to go!" Hanna shouted frantically, grabbing for his hand and tugging him towards the front door.

"But Adrien--" Gabriel started to protest, but Hanna cut him off.

"You're not any good to him dead!"

Finally, he relented, allowing her to drag him through the door and slam it behind them.

"What if we went back in through the other entrance?" Gabriel hesitated. "We could go through the elevator if it still works, get a lead on it."

"Okay. Sounds like a plan."

They crossed the courtyard, but the door was locked. The door handle wouldn't even turn, no matter how much Gabriel tried. It wouldn't budge when he pounded on it either. Now desperate, he ran back to the other door.

It was the same. It wouldn't open.

"No!" He slammed his fist against the door. "I need to get back in there. My son is in there!"

"Gabriel--"

Gabriel whirled on Hanna, "You made me leave and now I can't go back in!"

"I'm sorry, but we had to." Hanna's eyes shone too bright with tears, timidly looking down at her feet. And his anger began to recede, despite his best efforts. He couldn't remain mad at her, and he hated that fact.

He clenched his fists and took a slow breath. "Now what, then? Where do we go?"

"I don't know," Hanna said cautiously, as if worried he might yell again. Guilt prickled his conscious. She took a few steps towards him, "Maybe we could check--"

Crunch. 

Surprised, she took a step back and reached down to the thing she had stepped on. It was a set of conjoined masks, one smiling and one frowning-- the symbol for a theatre. 

“Not very subtle,” Gabriel frowned, guessing at what it wanted him to do now. He threw a glance back at the hospital. Maybe if he broke a window? But he had a feeling it wouldn’t work. That was how this place seemed to operate. 

“No, it really isn’t.” Hanna shook her head, putting the masks in her bag. “I was going to say, though, that maybe we could find something at the Silent Hill Historical Society. Maybe someone else has been here before and encountered something like this?”

“Then let’s try there next. If we don’t find anything we can go to the theatre.” Gabriel decided, but Hanna frowned and shook her head. 

“The Historical Society’s on the other side of the lake. We’d need to take either a boat or walk around. The theatre’s about two blocks east from here,” Hanna told him. 

Gabriel took a moment to be grateful to have the help of a local, who knew the city without consulting a map. “Very well. We’ll have a look at the theatre first.”

There were more monsters on the streets now. There were nurses out here, now, too. There was also another new creature, a big hulking thing with a humanoid body but massive dragging club-like arms, and when it turned slightly, he caught a glimpse of smaller legs on its back, but he didn’t dare go closer to get a better look. In the fog and the wide streets, they were able to avoid any confrontations for the two blocks it took to make it to the Artaud Theatre.

Like the rest of the town, it looked worn and long abandoned. An aged sign overhead showed that the current play was Hamlet.  

Hanna seemed puzzled. "They were playing Much Ado About Nothing. I saw it just a few days ago." 

"Then I suppose that's changed along with the rest of the town." Gabriel said. 

"Do you think…" Hanna hesitated before continuing. "Do you think everyone might be in the 'real' world? And we both just somehow ended up in this alternate world, but everyone else is safe and fine in there?"

Gabriel paused. "We've seen comparatively few bodies. I believe you're right."

It was a strange thought. In this same space, there could be dozens of people. Gabriel might have to ask Nooroo what he thought when next he got a chance.

Hanna sighed with relief, "Then my mom and dad are probably okay. Thank goodness." She gave Gabriel a smile, and he felt his face warming.

"Come on," he looked away and focused on the doors beyond the ticket booth. "Let's get inside."

 


 

Alessa's world was very hot.

Ladybug was glad for the protection of her transformation, because it kept her from being at risk of heat problems. She could still feel that it was hot, and it wasn't pleasant, but her tolerance had gone up considerably, and she wasn't even sweating.

Aside from that, there was nothing between her and the goal of the basement. No monsters, no blocked doors, nothing. It was so quiet that the sound of her own footsteps on the metal grating was alarmingly loud. But it gave her time to really take in the world. It was dim, with rusted, bloody grating everywhere. Many things looked burned and there were bloody gurneys and wheelchairs everywhere. And the place's scent was overpowering, and smelled like smoke and blood and metal.

The doors were all open on her path, like she was being welcomed. They led her down the stairs, then into the storeroom, where a cabinet had been pushed aside to reveal a secret door.

Ladybug's skin prickled with raised goosebumps at the sign of the hidden door. Nothing good could come of hiding rooms in a hospital. But she pressed on regardless. She came to a hall with several doors, and one was open.

The room was cramped and sweltering hot, hotter than the rest of the world, and smelled even more strongly of blood and sickness and ash. The walls were yellowed and blackened like a fire had been inside, and the floor was so encrusted with dirt it was hard to make up the tiles beneath. 

In the centre of the room sat a bed similarly yellowed and dirty, stains of dried blood and pus splattered on the sheets. To the right of the bed was an old fashioned vitals monitoring display with a tabletop and a chair, and to the left were several long-empty IV bags on a stand.

Is this really Alessa's room? Ladybug thought with a frown. There was a photograph of Alessa on the table though, so surely it was. She glanced back over her shoulder into the hallway nervously, feeling watched. When she looked back, Alessa was sitting on the chair, her small legs swinging slightly.

“Hello,” Alessa said with a small, pleased smile. “You like to be called Ladybug when you're transformed, right?"

"Yes…" Ladybug said hesitantly. Now that she was here, in front of Alessa after all the work that had gone into finding her, she wasn't sure where to start. "You said if we found your room, you could talk to us longer."

Alessa nodded. "This is the centre of my world, and the town has almost no power here anymore. It wouldn't let you go down to the basement in the fog, so I had to bring you directly here instead."

Ladybug took a slow, calming breath. "I had to leave Chat Noir alone back there."

"I know. But you needed my help to save him. And I need your help to be free." Alessa gave her a sad smile.

"What do I need to do?" Ladybug asked, steadying herself, trying to temporarily put aside her worry for Chat Noir. "And why does it want him? Why not me?"

"Because you have lived a happy and loved life, free of suffering or guilt." Alessa said. "It latches onto people with bad memories. It creates a world out of their worst memories and fears. But there's nothing about you the town can grasp. It has no power over you."

"But it does over Chat Noir." Ladybug said slowly. Even not knowing everything, he already had gone through more than enough tragedy.

Alessa nodded, sympathetic. "It usually prefers people who have sinned-- people with guilt they refuse to deal with. But it can take an innocent like him if there is enough pain. However, for some reason..." She frowned, as if puzzled. "It's in his blood, the same way it was in mine, and everyone else born within the town. But he wasn't born here."

"What do you mean in his blood?!" Ladybug demanded. Dread churned in her stomach, making her feel sick, because the way Alessa said it made it sound like a death sentence. 

"It means the town hasn't just claimed him, it had him under its power from the beginning, before he was even born. The town called for him when your teleporting accident with that-- what was it called? Akuma, right?-- happened. It took the butterfly man as well because of his sins. And it took you because of your connection to your partner." Alessa was smiling now again, strangely. "You told me when I met you in the mirror that you'd do anything to save him. Is that still true?"

"Yes." Ladybug said without hesitation. "Anything."

"Good." Her smile widened. "You'll need to save him to free me anyway."

"What happened to you anyway?" Ladybug asked with a frown.

Alessa's expression hardened. "My birth mother burned me alive to impregnate me with their god. I was kept in here for seven years, so it could feed on my pain."

"That's-- that's horrific! How could someone do that to a child? Especially to their own!"

"Not all parents care." Alessa said softly. "And even if they do, it doesn't mean they take care of them. Sometimes humans are more monstrous than anything this town could create."

Ladybug couldn't even imagine the pain the child had gone through, or how alone she must have felt to be trapped here for seven years. To have her own mother do that to her. 

But Alessa was smiling again now, expression gentle. "Sometimes there are good people though. I split my soul into another body so some part of me could be free of pain. The baby was found by a wonderful couple and raised as their own. When she was called back to the town, her father followed her. He was just an ordinary man who loved his daughter so much that the town could not keep him out. It gave him the strength to endure everything the town threw at him-- he even killed its god, with nothing but a gun and his will."

"He sounds like a wonderful father." Ladybug gave Alessa a faint smile. "I'm glad he was there for you, even if it couldn't undo what happened. It sounds like you love him very much."

"I do. He was a good man, who tried to protect everyone he met and never once considered leaving without his daughter." Alessa said wistfully, before she met Ladybug's eyes again. "You're just like him. But you have powers beyond an ordinary person. You and Chat Noir can end this for good."

"How?" 

"First, you need to save him from the town." Alessa said. "You have to help him save himself. As long as he represses his memories instead of accepting them, the town has control. Then, he needs to destroy it."

"We tried that, but it didn't work."

"It was able to influence his power and get in his head to stop it. If he's in control, it won't be able to stop him. Once he destroys it, you need to act before it can reform itself, by taking the pieces and making them into something else." Alessa explained. Ladybug had a feeling she was missing something still, something she'd need Tikki to explain.

"Okay. So… I need to help him deal with his memories first." Ladybug frowned, "Isn't that something that needs time and a therapist?"

"He doesn't need to get over them, just accept them. He has to let himself feel and remember. And he has to do it without breaking-- that's why he needs you. Most of the people who get that far are tempted by the town into ending their lives--"

"What?!" Ladybug yelped, her eyes going wide. Her heart started beating too fast. "But he-- Chat Noir wouldn't..."

"Do you know that for sure? There are a lot of things you don't know about him," Alessa said. "And the town changes things. It whispers in your head, makes it sound like your own voice telling you to do things."

Ladybug shuddered, hugging her arms to herself, feeling cold despite the scorching heat. She felt like throwing up at the mere thought.

"It'll be alright," Alessa said gently. She got up from her chair and stepped towards Ladybug, putting a solid but somehow unnaturally too-light hand on her arm in comfort. "The others were alone. But he has the little cat god, and your ladybug god, and he has you. Even just being around him is a reminder he has things to live for." Alessa smirked. "That's why the town hates you so much. It knows you give him hope."

"Well I hate the town too." Ladybug mumbled. She took a shaky breath and closed her eyes for a moment, trying to calm herself. 

"Be careful. When you next go into his Other World, it's going to try to kill you. That's one of his deepest fears, losing you, and that means it can use his mind against you." Alessa warned, taking her hand away. "But exploring those worlds and solving its riddles is also the best way to recover the memories it's hiding from him, and help him face them. Those Other Worlds are a fight between the town and the victim's will. That's why there are weapons around, and energy drinks that heal wounds-- and why there is always a solution to its puzzles."

"So we just… we do what it wants, do those stupid puzzles and fight the monsters and let it lead us around?" Ladybug scowled.

"Yes. Do what it wants, but don't give in. And don't let him hide from the truth. You need to make him face it." Alessa nodded. "If anyone can do it, I know it's you."

"You don't even know me, how can you have so much confidence in me?" Ladybug asked.

Alessa laughed. "I'm a spiritual manifestation of a very powerful psychic. I know. I was able to watch you both some of the way. I saw you transform back and face the Other World as a normal human for his sake, despite your fear. You won't give up, not on him."  

"Of course I won't." Ladybug was feeling a little calmer now, determination replacing the mixture of fear and horror. "I won't let him down."

"And you'll help me too? You'll destroy and remake the town's power?"

"Of course! You deserve to be free. Besides." Ladybug gave her a smile. "You helped us. It's only fair we help you."

"Thank you," Alessa said, smiling but weary. "I've waited a long time for this to be over."

"Just wait a little longer. We'll end this. I promise."

Chapter Text

Chat Noir wasn’t in the mirror room when Ladybug returned. 

There was panic, for a few moments, all the worst scenarios rushing through her head before Ladybug shut them down and shoved them aside, taking a slow, deep breath to focus herself and shut her eyes.

Tikki had been able to sense Plagg. And Tikki had expanded her own ability to detect things-- she’d been hyper-aware of Chat Noir’s presence when they were fighting. So, surely, now Ladybug should be able to sense him too? Tikki was inside her earrings, her power coursing through her body, and the same was true of Plagg and Chat Noir. To an extent, when she was transformed a part of her was Tikki, even if her mind was her own. So the part of Ladybug that was the goddess of creation right now should be able to find the part of her partner that was the god of destruction.

It was easier than Ladybug had expected. 

So easy, in fact, that she half wondered how she had never been able to do it before. Creation and destruction were like opposite ends of a magnet, pulling eternally towards each other. Like a compass needle in her mind and soul and body guiding her north. It wasn't as precise as she had hoped, but it had been causing trouble for Tikki and Plagg too.

He was downstairs. She could tell that much. But was Chat Noir in this world or had he been stolen away to one of the others? She supposed she wouldn’t know until she went downstairs and looked. 

She didn't get far before a surge of energy caught her off guard. The feeling of 'Chat Noir' split apart. It was harder to sense him now. She could only tell he was close.

“Why’d you transform back, kitty?” Ladybug muttered to herself with a frown. “You’d better be okay.”

Ladybug went down the stairs. The nurses stayed unconscious, thankfully. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs, “Chat Noir?” she called. “Are you down there?”

She waited a few moments. Surely, if Chat Noir was here, even untransformed Plagg would have heard and caught his attention. When a minute passed without any kind of reply, Ladybug frowned and started back up the stairs towards the mirror room.

He wasn’t in Alessa’s world, obviously, but which of the three other worlds? 

They cycled slowly through the mirror, first the dark and dirty world, then the bright pristine one, then the one covered in curtains and finally back to Alessa’s. Did the others belong to someone else? If so, who? Again the images cycled through, bearing no clues to her partner's location. Finally, she just picked one at random.

Ladybug reached out to the dark world's reflection.

It was warmer here, but the air was stale and damp. As she'd seen from the mirror, the walls were stripped of all paint and wallpaper-- no, looking closely, they had never been painted in the first place.

The whole room was like that, and the hall beyond. The structure was all there, but it was bare and unfinished, and it had fallen into disrepair as if it had been put up and then immediately forgotten. The floor was bare concrete without tiles, covered in a thick coat of dust that left footprints where she walked.

She made her way towards the staircase down, her thoughts on Chat Noir and her worry more than her surroundings. So when the sound of clinking porcelain sounded quietly from above, Ladybug didn't hear it until the monster lunged down from the ceiling, a knife glinting in its hand before the blade plunged into her right shoulder.

Ladybug cried out in both pain and surprise, staggering back. It hurt, a lot, and she wasn't used to feeling such pain, especially not while transformed. Still, she managed to act quickly, grateful at least that it hadn't gotten her dominant arm. The yoyo sprang out and looped around the attacker-- a life-size porcelain doll, dozens of deep cracks covering every inch of it, with a once fancy dress ripped and burned at the edges and so dirty it was impossible to make out its original colour.

With a flick of her wrist, she sent the monster flying across the hall, where it crashed against the wall with the sound of breaking porcelain, and lay still.

"Shit." Ladybug hissed, in too much pain to care about watching her language. There was only Tikki to hear anyway. She reached up to the knife still embedded in her shoulder, intending to pull it out, but hesitated. She wasn't an expert, but Ladybug was sure she had heard something about removing a knife being a bad thing because of blood loss.

She was tempted to use Lucky Charm and summon the restoration, but Ladybug hesitated. What if Ladybug needed it sometime later -- what if Chat Noir got hurt again, or if he died again? This wound wouldn't kill her. Tikki's power healed Ladybug faster than normal, and would mend wounds partially upon transforming back. It hurt like hell, but she could endure it.

The nurse center was behind Ladybug. Hopefully, this version of it had some first aid supplies. She could get some out of her yoyo but it would be difficult to get the larger things through without transforming back. And if Ladybug transformed back-- well, it hurt already with the pain tolerance of a superhero. She didn't trust herself to deal with it untransformed.

The door was unlocked, but sparsely stocked. A plain metal desk held a half empty first aid kit, and three of the same brand of energy drinks Ladybug seen around elsewhere in the town. She was looking through the first aid kit when she remembered the conversation with Alessa.

"That's why there are weapons around, and energy drinks that heal wounds", she had said.

It sounded a little nuts, like something out of a video game, but Ladybug supposed it was worth a shot. She carefully twisted open the lid of one of the bottles and took a sip.

Immediately, the pain lessened. Eyes going wide, she took one more sip and found that the blood slowly trickling past the knife had stopped.

"This is nuts," Ladybug said to herself quietly, shaking her head, but she grit her teeth and pulled out the knife, biting her lip to hold back a scream of pain. She dropped it onto the desk and gulped down more of the energy drink. It took the whole bottle, but when she had finished the stab wound was as if nothing had even happened, and the cut on her leg from earlier had fully healed too.

She really wished she'd known to pick up the other ones before. Ladybug tucked the other two into her yoyo's storage and stepped back out with her yoyo at the ready. 

Right into an ambush of dolls. Five of them, at least. The static nearly deafened Ladybug as it went from silent to roaring, and she only barely managed to duck and roll under the knife blows. She came up standing, yoyo spinning into a shield as she surveyed her attackers.

Three looked like boys and two like girls, their clothes torn and burned enough that while they still covered them, it was impossible to tell what kind of clothes it was before besides that the girls were wearing dresses and the boys some kind of pants. They were all holding knives, and much, much too close. 

She took a few steps back, but stopped when she heard the clink of porcelain from behind her. More dolls. Two of them, blocking her in the hallway.

Alessa wasn't exaggerating when she said the town was going to try to kill her. She could feel it now -- it hated her, wanted her dead, its possessive hunger unable to feed upon her and so it only wanted her out of its way.

Ladybug had no intention of getting out of its way. She wouldn't let it win.

Suddenly, the dolls started running away. The ones in front of her to the elevator hallway and the ones behind her to one of the other rooms. She heard footsteps on the stairs.

Something prickled in her mind, warning Ladybug to be wary as a figure came into view. It looked different from the other monsters, but there was no doubt in her mind that it was. It looked like a fencer, dressed in pure white fencing gear, so clean and bright against the dirt and the dark it almost seemed to glow in the light of her flashlight. It was holding a rapier, walking with purpose towards her.

If the monsters were afraid of this thing then Ladybug did not want to deal with it. Ladybug turned and bolted for the nurse station again and through to the door on the other side of the hall's doors, on the side closest to the elevator, and made her way towards it as quickly as possible. She could hear the scurrying of other dolls fleeing the Fencer as she went, but nothing bothered Ladybug on the way. She reached the end of the hallway and mashed the call elevator button, but it was without power. Ladybug hadn't truly expected it to work, but she'd had another idea. 

Ladybug gripped both edges of the elevator door's opening as best as she could and pried the doors open with ease, taking a moment to be grateful for the more mundane of her powers: enhanced physical capabilities. The elevator was on the third floor, so she stepped through and dropped down to the bottom of the elevator shaft. Transformed, a one story drop was nothing to her-- she may as well have hopped down from a one foot ledge. In the light of her flashlight she could make out the outer door of the first floor's elevator and started to pry that open too.

There was a loud creak from above Ladybug, and the sound of cables snapping threw her into a panicked rush. She threw her full weight into opening the doors and practically fell through just as the elevator loudly crashed behind her. She stumbled and turned to stare at the wreckage, dust filling the air. She coughed, dust making her eyes water, and waved some of the dust away before she glared at the destroyed elevator.

"Nice try." She crossed her arms. "But you're not going to stop me. Do you hear me? I will find him, and I will save him. You made a mistake when you messed with us, and I'm going to enjoy watching him destroy you for good."

 


 

The theatre looked normal enough to Gabriel, for the time being, at least. There was a grand lobby inside the doors, two stories tall with a large staircase on the left side and an intricately patterned carpet. It wasn't dusty, and the lights were on, but it seemed dimmer than it should have been somehow. More subdued than a place where people should be frequenting. 

"Surprisingly big, for a small town theatre," Gabriel commented.

Hanna shrugged. "Well, we're a tourist town. People come from all over, and the plays are pretty popular. I watch a lot of them…" She paused and smiled softly. "I was thinking of auditioning next time."

"You want to be an actress?"

"Yes," she nodded, turning the smile on him now. "I love acting. Throwing yourself into a character and letting your real world problems fall away. Bringing a story to life… It's wonderful. I did some plays in highschool, and I think I was okay." Hanna laughed sheepishly. "At least for a highschool drama club."

Gabriel couldn't help a smile of his own. "My wife loved to act, too. She did mostly theatre plays, but she was in one movie a mutual friend of ours directed."

"Really? What was the movie? Maybe I've seen it."

"It was called Solitude, and there weren't many copies, so I do doubt it." Gabriel shook his head. "I have one of the only ones."

"Oh." Hanna sounded disappointed. "That's a shame. I would've liked to see your wife's acting."

"Maybe…" He hesitated. "When this is all over, perhaps I'll make a copy for you. I'm sure Emilie would be flattered that you want to see her movie."

"Thank you." Hanna beamed at him. The timidness she had previously displayed seemed to be gradually fading away as they talked, and Gabriel found that he was enjoying her company. When had he last just talked to someone? Even Nathalie, his closest confidant, spoke to him as her employer -- and suddenly he found himself wishing that they could talk as equals, like this. "I can't wait to see it."

They stepped along towards the auditorium, and as they got close, Hanna spoke again. "What about your son, does he act too?"

"A little," Gabriel replied. "Mostly commercials for me -- he models some of my fashion lines -- but I've been encouraging him to branch out. I recently arranged an audition for him as a voice actor in an upcoming animated film, and he was cast as the lead." That was right. He'd almost forgotten in his panic since arriving here, about his suspicions about Adrien, and the ring he wore. His suspicions had been part of the reason for his recent push to give him more obligations, trying to catch him leaving for an akuma, as well as attempts like Clara Nightingale's music video. 

But every time Gabriel had glimpsed him here, he'd been as simply Adrien, and he'd seen no sign of the hero. It was Gabriel's empathy powers that kept him from transforming, but Chat Noir would've had no such barriers. That made it very unlikely that he would be Chat Noir, considering in a monster-filled place, transforming would be the sensible option, and his son was no fool. It was looking highly unlikely that Adrien was Chat Noir after all. 

"That's great! He must be very talented," Hanna said.

Gabriel felt a small burst of pride. "He is an exemplary son," he said, pushing open the auditorium doors. The inside was a little dimmer, just bright enough that one might find their seats, but not enough to see clearly. It was a massive room full of comfortable looking, well spaced out chairs, and a large centre aisle for the audience to walk down. Up above them was balcony seating, and ahead was the stage itself, barely visible through the dim light, with a cream coloured safety curtain hanging down in front of it.  

Hanna held up her flashlight to look around the theatre better. "I don't see anything that looks different. But there must be something, considering the puzzles in the hospital... Unless it was limited to just the hospital."

"No, I do not think it is restricted to the hospital." Gabriel shook his head. "Since the monsters are town-wide, then it would follow that those absurd puzzles would be all over the town as well. I doubt very much that they are unrelated."

"That's true," Hanna said. "So there must be something here." She took a few more steps down the aisle.

There was a loud click that made them both jump, like a switch being flipped, then the spotlights turned on, reflecting off the safety curtain and illuminating the room a little better. But then the curtain raised.

Behind it was a series of what looked like mannequins, frozen in place as if acting out a scene from Hamlet. An early scene, Hamlet confronted by the ghost of his father, with the guards standing in awe. Each of the mannequins had blank faces, only the slightest impression of where their features should have been, and they all wore beautiful clothes that Gabriel couldn't help looking at them admiringly. He particularly liked the elaborate embroidery on the hems of both Hamlet and the King's doublets, both the same design despite the different colours, as if to show their relation. 

Hanna's voice pulled him out of his examination, bringing him back -- mostly, anyway -- to the matter at hand.

"Are those dolls?" Hanna questioned, frowning at the scene. She was right, upon a further examination of their faces and not their clothes-- they were made of porcelain, not plastic, and there were other little details, like the way the hair was clearly attached, almost real-looking, rather than a wig. 

"I believe so," Gabriel answered. He cautiously approached the stage for a better look, coming to a standstill when he saw the dolls move, their heads all turning to look at him in unison. At least they didn't move further. "On second thought, let's not go that way."

Hanna shuddered, moving closer to him. "I agree. Where should we look though? There's the hallways around the stage…" She removed the conjoined masks from her bag and turned it over in her hands. "I bet you we'll need these masks somewhere in here. Question is where."

There was a sudden clinking sound of moving porcelain, and Gabriel quickly looked away from the mask. The dolls had started moving again, moving with a particular purposeful walk like models on a runway, before they reached the end of the stage and gracefully dropped down.

More emerged from backstage. Each was dressed as another character from Hamlet-- he recognised what must've been Ophelia, with an innocent-looking white dress, and Queen Gertrude, and likely the king Claudius, but he had little time to observe more before Hanna grabbed his arm and tugged him back, towards the door.

"Come on! I don't want to fight those things!" Hanna urged.

Gabriel followed her quickly. "Right. Sorry. I was -- I was looking at their costumes," he admitted, flushed. "I am a designer. They were very well made costumes."

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Hanna gave him a fond but exasperated smile that matched Emilie's exactly. He imagined for a moment what this situation would be like with Emilie at his side. She would have given him that same irked yet caring smile. She would likely have scolded him, saying--

"You should focus on yourself more than your job," Hanna said, her words echoing his thoughts exactly. Gabriel nearly tripped, staring at her as she turned back to the path in front of them and shoved open the door to pull them both out. 

Every time he started to properly think of her as a different person, Hanna seemed to do something or say something so very like Emilie. It unnerved him, but at the same time he couldn't help but feel comforted by her presence. He couldn't help but trust her implicitly.

But why?

 


 

Adrien hated this Other World already. Too bright, too clean, too coldly clinical. It was also physically cold, just as much as the fog with only the benefit of a lack of actual snowfall. The warm clothes from the house and from the store helped, of course, but the icy air still bit at his face. Plagg had curled up inside the scarf at his neck, making a little patch of extra warmth.

"Do you get cold?" Adrien wondered as he stepped down the hall towards the elevator. He'd assumed during his runaway on Christmas Eve that Plagg could get cold, but he never asked. "I mean, do you really get cold? Or do you just not like it?"

"I just don't like it," Plagg confirmed. "These bodies we inhabit can feel the cold and the heat, but it'll never endanger us. It’s just really unpleasant."

"I'm glad I don't have to worry about you freezing if something goes wrong," Adrien said, but he was tucking the scarf more securely around Plagg as he spoke. He was rewarded by the start of some soft purring against his neck, bringing a smile to Adrien's face. He loved Plagg's purring. It made the ancient god of destruction seem like a tiny kitten and it was frankly adorable. 

The door to the elevator hall was barred off now too, the same as the stairs up. Adrien had a feeling, even before he asked, that Plagg would find the lock unopenable here as well.

He was right, the lock wouldn't budge. 

Adrien tucked Plagg back into his scarf and glared at the bars, shivering from a little more than cold. The only way left to go now was to hope he could cut through the examination room and medicine room to get around to the other hall. If all the doors that way were similarly locked, he'd be trapped.

When the door to the examination room didn't open either, his breath caught with a nervous shudder.

"You okay?" Plagg poked his head out of the scarf to look at him.

"That's most of the doors. If the one through the reception is locked too, then we're stuck," Adrien said. He tried to keep calm, but it was reminding him of a nightmare he often had, one that had nothing to do with long-dead little girls. A normal nightmare, about being trapped by bars that kept springing down and enclosing him in an ever tighter space.

He didn't think he was claustrophobic, exactly. He had been fine hiding in the cabinet a few minutes ago. It was only when he couldn't leave that it bothered Adrien. He could have opened the cabinet door at any time. But the bars felt like a prison.

"Excuse me, you are not stuck," Plagg said indignantly, though Adrien could tell he was pretending in order to lighten the mood. "You've got me. There's nothing in the universe that could trap you while I'm here."

Aside from alternate realities, it seemed, but Adrien chose to keep that to himself. Plagg's pretend indignance had its desired effect, though, and he felt calmer. He could get out of the physical barriers with cataclysm and Ladybug would help him escape the Other World once she got back from talking to Alessa. He just needed to get back and meet up with her. 

They went back to the lobby and jumping over the counter was easy, even without his powers. The door to the office and the examination room both opened, but Adrien stopped in the doorway.

Inside the examination room, a life-sized doll like the ones he'd seen in the gallery sat on the edge of the table. This one was a little girl, dressed in an expensive looking pink sundress, shoulder-length blonde hair held back with a matching pink headband. The glass eyes staring vacantly forward were green.

And its face was incredibly familiar.

"Hanna?" Adrien said aloud, without thinking about it. He kept his grip on the umbrella in case it decided to move, but for now it stayed still. 

"What?" Plagg phased through his scarf. "Who?"

"The girl in that dream I have. The one who drowns," Adrien said, staring at the doll in confusion. "Her name's Hanna. Mom said she died about a hundred years ago. This doll looks just like her."

"How'd your mom know when she died?"

"She had the dream too, since she was a kid," Adrien shrugged. "I guess she looked into it."

Plagg stared at him, then looked at the doll and then back at Adrien again. "Hang on, you've had the same recurring dream as your mom your whole life?"

"Yes?" Adrien said, confused by Plagg's reaction. He hesitated. "That's weird, isn't it?"

"Super weird, yeah. Your mom wasn't a normal lady, was she?"

Adrien shook his head. "She made things move when she was mad or upset sometimes. She could see things and feel things that other people couldn't see. There were often these ghosts in the house, too, haunting her for some reason."

"Is that where they came from?" Plagg frowned. "They were haunting you when you got the ring. I chased them off. Because my chosen are unlucky it's not uncommon for there to be ghosts hanging out, so I didn't think about it."

"You chased them off? I wondered. They started following me after mom died. They were creepy, but they've been around my whole life and they never did anything," Adrien said.

Again, there was an odd look from Plagg. "I had no idea you had so many secrets."

"I wasn't keeping anything from you on purpose!" Adrien said quickly, shaking his head. "I didn't think -- and mom always told me never to tell anyone about the stuff we could see. The only person who knew was Chloe.”

“Right. Not uncommon, I guess.” Plagg looked back at the doll again. It was still holding still, for now. His frown deepened. “So this Hanna girl, you ever find out why you were dreaming about her?”

“No…” Adrien cautiously edged around to check the drawers in the room, keeping an eye on the doll.

“You ever noticed she looks like you?”

“What?” He stopped abruptly, turning to stare at the doll incredulously. “No she… doesn’t…” but Adrien faltered, because Plagg was right. Not exactly, but enough that she could have been a relative. They had eyes and hair of the same shade and while their features weren’t identical, they were definitely similar. “I never noticed, no.”

“Seems weird.”

“Maybe a little,” but it didn’t seem that strange. Surprising because Adrien had never noticed, but not surprising in general. People sometimes just looked like each other. He went back to looking through the cabinets. There seemed to be nothing of interest, just some medical tools and a couple more of the energy drinks he’d seen around. No keys or anything that fit the kind of puzzles the town seemed to like to throw at them. He was glad to be out of the room though, and away from the doll, as he moved into the medicine room.

Nothing interesting here either. Adrien still had a good stock of first aid supplies because they hadn’t needed it yet, so he didn’t take any medicine or first aid. To his relief, the door into the elevator hallway opened.

The relief went away when Adrien found the hallway down the way was lined with dolls, six at least. He kept as far back as possible and edged along the wall towards the door to the store room. That one was locked, but the back office was unlocked.

"You gonna transform to go back out there?" Plagg asked once they shut the door behind them. 

"Probably. That would be a lot to fight on my own," Adrien sighed. He started searching the office. "I bet the elevator has some kind of stupid puzzle or is locked or something."

He quickly skimmed over a file out on the desk without paying much attention, looking for anything that might be a puzzle hint. It was something about a kid acting strangely after her mother's death, but he almost had forgotten it by the time he moved onto the cabinets. 

Plagg flew over to land on the desk. Unlike Adrien, his attention was immediately caught by the file, and he read over it while Adrien searched.

"Did you see this?" Plagg called over to him.

"Huh? I skimmed it, why? Did I miss something?" He returned to the desk.

"Maybe." Plagg hesitated, then seemed to come to a decision. "Adrien," he said slowly. "What was your mother's name again?"

"Emilie, why?" Adrien replied, brow furrowing with confusion at the strange question.

"And where is she from? Was she born in France?" Plagg said, an intent and serious expression on his face.

"No, she was born in America. Where are you going with this?" His head began to hurt, a throbbing deep behind his temples, scattering his thoughts. Adrien rubbed his forehead with a wince.

"Where in America?" Plagg prompted, flying closer.

"Why does it matter?" His headache seemed to get worse with the question, but Adrien didn't connect the two. He was having trouble thinking.

"Because that thing's messing with your head! Do you remember where your mother was born?" Plagg pressed.

His head throbbed in time with his heart, now beginning to race. "Why is this so important?!"

"Do. You. Remember?"

"I…" he came up blank, and it was so hard to think through this sudden headache. "O--of course I do. She told me when I was a kid."

"Tell me where it was."

"Plagg I don't understand why you're--"

"Just answer the question, Adrien! That thing's messing with your memories. Where was your mother born?"

Irritated, headache worsened by Plagg's shouting, he snapped without thinking about the words he said. "Silent Hill! She was born in Silent Hill, okay?"

Everything seemed to freeze. The pain in his head receded, leaving a wave of dizziness and Adrien found himself stumbling back into the wall to brace himself. "Mom was… how could I have forgotten that? She told me when I was a kid. She was born in Silent Hill, and they moved to France after her mother was killed in a break in." He felt sick, and weak. He buried his head in his hands with a shuddering breath and a slightly hysterical laugh.

"Are you okay?" Plagg asked cautiously.

"Yes. No. I don't know," Adrien said shakily, squeezing his eyes shut behind his hands. "It makes sense now, at least. Is that a good thing? That's why it affects me so easily, why it thinks it owns me. It does."

"No it doesn't," Plagg growled softly, landing on his shoulder. "Nobody -- nothing --  owns you."

"Are you saying that as a friend or as a cosmic being?" Adrien said with a humorless laugh. 

Plagg's silence was reply enough.

 

Chapter Text

Adrien slid down the wall, drawing his knees up to his chest. He needed a moment to process this. To let the memories flooding back settle in his brain, now that the town wasn't holding them back. He remembered his mother's warning to never come here, and the fear in her eyes whenever she spoke of the town. His mother had never told him why, but he was pretty sure he knew why now. 

Emilie Agreste must have known the truth about this place. She'd seen it-- the monsters, the way things here changed, the fog… That must be why she was here. In death, the town had called her back to the place where she had started life. 

"Plagg, what is this actually going to do?" Adrien took a shaky breath and looked up. "Sentiment aside, what is this going to mean for me?"

The Kwami scowled, moving to perch on Adrien's knee. "It's a sitebound deity. It shouldn't have as much control over you as it should on your mom, but I think it cursed her before she left. Made it so that she could leave and… well, 'infect' others that it could call back here. She must have passed it on to you."

"Are you saying that this-- this 'curse'-- is contagious? Other people around me could be pulled here?" Adrien sat upright, eyes going wide. "Like Nino and--"

"Hey, no, don't worry about that . Your friends aren't what it wants. The only people who should've been brought here with you are Ladybug and Papillon." Plagg said quickly, before Adrien could really start to panic. "Papillon's got the guilt of a freaking terrorist, which is the kind of thing I bet this place wants."

"But what about father?" Adrien asked anxiously. "Why is he here?"

Plagg hesitated for only a short moment. "You might not know everything about your father, kid. Might be something that happened before you were born, or just to do with your mom."

Adrien wasn't convinced, and he was about to say as much when Plagg whirled to face the door. He didn't need to ask why: Ladybug was in this room, but not this world. He could feel the warm fluttering feeling, like her restoration's magic ladybugs. "My Lady?" Adrien breathed, hardly daring to hope she might hear him. He stood, and Plagg followed him into the air.

It didn't seem like she could hear him. Nor Plagg when the kwami called out.

"Try transforming," Plagg said. "I can kind of see her, can just barely hear her. Maybe it'll work if you're both transformed."

"R--right. Okay. Plagg, transform me."

When the magic cleared and he opened his eyes, he was only inches away from a very surprised looking Ladybug. She looked almost like a ghost, mostly transparent and only faintly visible. But she didn't feel like a ghost, she just felt far.

"Chat Noir?" Ladybug reached out to him on instinct, but her hand passed straight through his with a faint tingly feeling. Her voice was distant, but audible. "Where are you? Are you okay? You weren't there when I got back."

"I…" His throat felt tight. Chat Noir took a slow breath to try to calm down. "The world changed again and there was that helmeted monster. I can't beat it alone, so I ran and hid."

"Oh, kitty…" Ladybug's worry was easy to detect even worlds apart. "Next time, we'll take care of it together, promise. I talked to Alessa and found out what we need to do. Where are you though? Which world are you in?"

"Everything's really bright and creepily clean."

Ladybug swore quietly. "Of course I picked the one that looked the opposite. Let's go back up the stairs and I'll come over to your side"

"There's bars in the way there now. Do you want me to break them?"

She thought for a moment. "Yes, but wait for me to meet you on the other side of the bars. I don't want you recharging without me there to watch your back. Let's go back and you let me know when you can't keep going."

Should he tell her about his father being here? About what Plagg had found out concerning his mother? It didn't seem right to, just yet, when they couldn't even touch and could barely hear each other. When they were back in the same world he would tell her, and she'd hopefully know what to do.  

They began their way back to the stairs, until they reached the bars and Chat Noir stopped. "Here they are."

Ladybug stopped and turned, stepping closer to him. "I'll be right back," she told him. Again she reached out to him, her fingers just brushing near his hand before she pulled back. "See you in a few minutes."

Then she hurried up the stairs, leaving Chat Noir alone. It felt like an eternity, but was likely only a few minutes before Ladybug was sprinting down the stairs several steps at a time. 

He didn't wait for her to reach the bars. He was calling for cataclysm almost without conscious thought and by the time the bars had crumbled into dust Ladybug was there and her arms were wrapped tightly around Chat Noir's shoulders. Chat Noir buried his face in her hair, uncertain if he wanted to cry or laugh. Either way, His Lady was here and everything felt so much less terrifying.

It felt like too short a moment before Ladybug pulled back, reaching up to brush some of his hair out of his face, then put one hand on his cheek.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm not hurt or anything,” was the most optimistic answer he could give her. "But I-- can we talk in the lobby or something? Some stuff happened.”

Clearly catching his omission, Ladybug nodded and followed him to the lobby, tugging him over to sit down on one of the couches with her. “Alright, what happened?” She asked.

Chat Noir sighed, anxiously running a hand through his hair. “Not sure which to start with. I guess in order… My father’s here,” he confessed. “I saw him in the mirror when the town changed. Could kind of feel that he was around too, he went right through me.”

“Oh no.” Ladybug’s eyes went wide. “He must’ve been one of the people teleported by the akuma. Why would he have ended up here too though?”

“That’s the other thing,” Chat Noir said. “Plagg noticed something that-- that the town was keeping me from remembering. My mom was born here.”

Ladybug gasped. “She’s from here?”

“She moved to Paris after her mother was killed in a break in. She told me where she was from and everything, I just-- I couldn’t remember at all. It’s like my mind was skipping everything to do with that. I even read something with her name on it and I didn’t notice.”

There was a pause before Ladybug spoke again, cautiously. “Emilie Anderson? Was that her? I saw something earlier that mentioned her but I didn’t realise it was your mother.”

He nodded. “That was her. So… yeah. I guess that’s why we’re here.” Chat Noir rubbed his arms, feeling like there was a chill in his skin that just wouldn’t go away. Ladybug scooted closer and put her hands on his arms, perhaps noticing. It was probably just psychological, but it did seem to drive away the chill a little. They barely registered the beeping of his Miraculous.

"Alessa said it was in your blood," Ladybug said quietly. "She didn't know why. Now we know. But it doesn't change what we need to do."

"She told you how to get out?" Chat Noir asked, relieved.

"Apparently, the first thing we need to do is break its hold on you," Ladybug said. "Then you'll be able to destroy it, and apparently I need to remake it into something else somehow-- I need to talk to Tikki about that, find out how to do it."

"And how exactly are we supposed to break its hold?" His mood was dipping again, just a little. The longer it messed with his head, the more intimidating the entity behind the town seemed to Chat Noir.

Ladybug winced. Perhaps it had shown on his face more than Chat Noir had thought. She moved her hands up to his shoulders, gripping them in reassurance. "It's probably not gonna be fun, but you can do it. She said, basically, that you need to accept all the memories the town's been throwing at you. You need to remember anything that's been repressed, and… I guess accept that things happened."

Oh.

Chat Noir went pale, fists clenching at his sides. It sounded so simple in theory, and maybe for someone else it would have been, but... what hadn't Adrien Agreste repressed in his life? Nearly every complaint, concern, worry, or fear was something Adrien couldn't show and so he had locked it all away. Being Chat Noir was the only time he was free to act how he chose.

"That… might be tricky, My Lady," Chat Noir said through a tight throat. "I don't-- the person I am outside this mask isn't really me, not when people are looking."

"What do you mean?" Ladybug's eyebrows furrowed. "Nothing about our personalities change."

"Not all masks are physical, Ladybug. When people know who I am, I have to be perfect constantly. I can't do or say anything wrong or my father won't let me see my friends." Chat Noir blurted out. It was more than he had ever said and really more than he should have said considering their identities, but how else could he explain?

Ladybug stared at him for a moment. "Can I punch your father?"

That startled a small laugh out of him. "Please don't, but I appreciate it."

"Fine." Ladybug frowned, but didn't look away. "But you deserve better, Chaton. No one should have to pretend like that, but especially you. You're the most kind hearted person I've ever met." She leaned forward slightly. "If I can't punch your father, can I kiss you?"

Chat Noir's face burned. "Wha-- Yes of course you can, but how are those things related?!"

"Because you-" Ladybug poked Chat Noir gently on the nose - "need to know how much you mean to me." And before he could say anything else she had caught his lips with hers.

It wasn't the most skilled of kisses, but it was everything he'd ever hoped for. Her lips were soft and warm in the cold air, and they managed to avoid even bumping noses. Chat Noir felt like melting into a puddle of happy cat goo. His Lady was kissing him. His Lady loved him and was in love with him and now she was kissing him. 

Unfortunately, frantic beeping from his ring startled them apart, and they only just managed to turn their faces away before the electric-like magic surged up his body and left Adrien behind. Plagg landed in Adrien's outstretched hands.

"Ugh, too mushy," Plagg whined, but was easily shut up with some cheese.

"Sorry, My Lady," Adrien said, bright red. "I completely lost track."

"So did I." Ladybug kept her face carefully away, but felt for his hand and squeezed it. "Still. It was nice while it lasted."

"It was."

Plagg pretended to gag. "Gross!"

Adrien rolled his eyes. "You're as old as the universe, but you act like a little kid when it comes to romance. You're secretly the equivalent of eight, aren't you?"

"Wha-- I am not!" Plagg spluttered indignantly. Ladybug was laughing, and it brought a grin to Adrien's face. The Kwami glared at them and then returned to his cheese, scarfing it down quickly. "Anyway. Really hate the timing with this, but we gotta talk."

"About what?" Adrien asked, worried by the way Plagg's voice turned serious. 

"I wanted to wait until Ladybug was here to tell you. It's better you hear about this from me and not from something in this town. You remember the room you saw your dad?" Plagg asked.

"Yes?"

"I saw Nooroo in there. With your father," Plagg said quietly. 

Adrien could barely hear Ladybug's gasp over the rush of his own heart. "Wh--what?" He choked out. "But he-- father can't be. He was akumatised before!" He didn't notice himself getting to his feet.

"He must've akumatised himself to throw off suspicion," Plagg said as gently as possible. "I'm sorry, kid… Your father is Papillon."

His eyes were burning. No. It can't be father. But it still made too much sense, just as before. The logos, his isolation, even the way he sometimes deliberately antagonised people-- like Nino. Had everything he'd said to Nino on Adrien's birthday been just to manipulate his friend? He felt sick.

"Chat Noir…?" Ladybug said quietly. "I'm so, so sorry."

With a hysterical laugh, Adrien buried his face in his hands, feeling the dampness of tears he couldn’t hold back. "Guess I need to tell you who I am now," he half-babbled. "Not how I wanted to do it but I don't want you finding out by seeing my father and putting the pieces together. You don't have to tell me who you are. I know you don't want to--"

"My name is Marinette Dupain-Cheng.”

 


 

It wasn’t at all how Ladybug had wanted to reveal themselves. 

Since the beginning, she’d had a clear picture of how she wanted this to happen. They’d defeat Papillon, hand him over to the cops, and then go find somewhere private. There was supposed to be relief and joy to have defeated their enemy at last and finally get to know the person who had become their other half— not this. Not with Chat Noir crying and devastated, his whole world crumbling into a million pieces right in front of her. 

Now Ladybug's mind was reeling. It was too much, far too much all at once and her poor kitty was breaking under the strain. She was looking at Chat Noir fully now-- what was the point in secrecy when his father was the goddamn Papillon?-- but his face was still hidden behind his hands. But at her proclamation, he gasped and lowered them, just enough that she could see his wide but teary eyes-- as bright and beautiful green as they were transformed, just with human sclera and pupils. Familiar eyes, but she couldn’t seem to grasp where she’d seen them before. 

Ladybug forced herself to breathe evenly, reaching out to gently grip his shoulders. “I’ve always wanted you to know who I was. I just thought it was too dangerous… But there’s no point now and— We’re in this together. I trust you to know who I am.” She managed a shaky smile. 

Slowly, he lowered his hands the rest of the way, and Adrien Agreste stared at her in shock. Ladybug found her own heart skipping a beat, but the butterflies in her stomach when she looked at him were gone. The concept of being nervous around Chat Noir was laughable. Now that she knew Adrien was Chat Noir, it was as if all her nerves had quieted.

But now she felt vaguely sick. 'The person I am outside this mask isn't really me,' Chat Noir had said. 

And she’d been completely enamoured with that side of him. When had that changed? It was not the model she had first fallen for, but that hint of the person underneath when he had given her his umbrella. The kind of person who would stand out in the rain so someone else could stay dry. She still had loved that side of him, falling more with every kind act, but she had become obsessed with the model side too, the expertly practiced smiles and perfect facade— the pictures on her wall were all fake smiles and she’d spent a long time swooning over them.

But then, Ladybug had fallen for him a second time the right way. Maybe it was okay then, that she’d been so infatuated with a celebrity crush. Either way, it was definitely not a problem to deal with right now. What mattered now was that Adrien was Chat Noir, his father was Papillon, and they still had a town to destroy.

"Tikki, detransform me."

The magic retreated back over her body. Marinette gave him a reassuring smile, pleased when he smiled back weakly in response. 

"I can't believe you were literally right behind me this whole time," Adrien said, shock morphing into more like awe. It made her blush. "It makes sense though. You're the coolest girl I know, so of course you'd also be Ladybug."

"I'm the coolest girl you know?" Marinette's face had to be a tomato by now. "Really?"

Adrien nodded, now a little pink now too, but he looked curious. "You're not stuttering anymore."

Marinette groaned, "Please don't ask. I don't feel like dying of embarrassment until we're home. The short version is now I know that I've made a fool of myself in front of you enough times that I have no shreds of dignity left."

"Then why would you die of embarrassment?" Adrien was smiling a little more now. At least her humiliation was providing a distraction from what was happening. 

"I have my self respect left." Marinette crossed her arms. "Already a lost cause with you. I tangled us both up in my yoyo our first day, bonked you with my yoyo, and then failed to catch the akuma. All my fretting about avoiding humiliating myself in front of Adrien was useless."

He chuckled quietly. "I still think you're amazing," Adrien assured her. “I have from the beginning. I’m glad you’re you.”

“I’m glad you’re you too,” Marinette said. When Chat Noir smiled, it was real, and Adrien deserved to be happy. And it at least made things easier. She wouldn’t have to have a talk with him about her feelings for them both afterall. 

" Finally," Plagg said in exasperation, startling them both out of their moment. "I told you keeping identities secret from each other was stupid, Tikki."

"Plagg!"  Tikki scolded. The two kwamis had sat down on the desk to watch them. “You know it was because of akumatisation risk.”

“I think it caused more problems than it prevented.” Plagg crossed his arms. “None of our other charges had to keep themselves secret.”

Tikki glared at him. “I didn’t make the decision, you know that.”

“Stop arguing, you two.” Marinette rolled her eyes. “It doesn’t matter anymore. We know now. And we need to figure out what to do." She sat down with a sigh. Adrien scooted closer to her, and she put an arm around his shoulders, wryly thinking about how she would have reacted a few months ago to the gesture.

"Right. Sorry, Marinette," Tikki said apologetically.

Marinette blinked. "You can say my name in front of Plagg now?"

"You know who each other are. The spell is no longer needed… not that it was helpful since Plagg and I usually choose a pair together, and he already knew your name," Tikki said. "And even if we hadn't, well…"

"You could tell you spent every school day a few feet apart?" Marinette guessed.

"Exactly."

Shaking her head at the absurdity of this spell, Marinette tried to focus. "Right, nearly forgot. Tikki, what do I do to remake the town when it's time? That's different from usual."

"Not very different at all, actually," Tikki said. "When Adrien destroys the deity, it will be scattered and formless. Open the yoyo like when you purify an akuma, but hold it up instead and you should be able to draw it in… then, don't release it. Use what you gather for a Lucky Charm instead, and focus on what you want it to become."

"I recommend something that won't turn evil this time," Plagg added. "Like a god of cheese or something."

"I don't think cheese is the right-- wait, a god? I can just… make a god?" Marinette stared at the kwamis, eyes wide..

"Lesser one, but yes," Tikki said, confused by her reaction. "It needs to be something of similar power. It doesn't have to be a god. It could be an object of power instead. It just has to be of equal power."

"Oh," was all Marinette could think to say. Truthfully, that sounded terrifying. Making a purse or an outfit was one thing. Making a god, or something of equal power to a god-- that was something different.

To her surprise, it was Plagg who seemed to catch on to her nerves. "Don't worry, little bug. People with way less sense than you have worked with things way more powerful and nothing too catastrophic happened. You want it to be something good, that won't hurt anyone, right?"

Marinette nodded.

"Then it will be," Plagg said confidently. "That's all there is to it."

"Really?" Marinette said, looking between the two Kwamis. "So I just… I want it to be a certain way and it will be?"

"That's how my cataclysm works," Adrien said. He had grown quiet while they discussed this until now. His voice was soft. "I bet your lucky charm does too, if you really wanted."

"It does," Tikki confirmed. "What you want when you use the lucky charm is help or guidance, so it gives you something that will help you win… but if you wanted something in particular and knew it would help, you could intentionally create anything."

"Anything? How anything are we talking?” Marinette frowned.

Tikki hesitated. “Anything. And Adrien can destroy anything. There’s a reason we choose carefully. When we’re wielded by someone with an affinity for our power, the scope is virtually limitless.” She glanced at Plagg. “We put limits on it so you have to intentionally trigger it, which is why Chat Noir doesn’t risk destroying Paris every time he uses Cataclysm.”

Adrien looked alarmed by that information, reflexively closing his right hand and holding it closer to his chest as if nervous about accidentally destroying something. Marinette gave him a reassuring smile before looking back at Tikki, though internally she was reeling too at the scope of their powers. She’d had no idea. The Lucky Charm had seemed like such a small thing. Sure it always worked, always led to victory, but it made a spoon once for goodness sake! She was having trouble equating that with the creation of gods .

“Okay. So just focus… I’ll brainstorm what to make,” Marinette said, still feeling a little nervous about making something with godly levels of power. “I mean. We’ve got time, right?”

“We do,” Tikki agreed. They fell into quiet for a moment before Adrien spoke up.

"So La-- Marinette. How are we supposed to do this? You said I needed to remember things and deal with all the stuff I've repressed. That sounds like a job for a therapist and I'm pretty sure we're out of those."

"That's what I said when she told me. According to Alessa, this world is made from your mind. And if we explore and solve its riddles, you'll have to face things… we just have to get through it. Beat it at its own game," Marinette explained.

"You think we can? I mean it's an ancient deity that apparently has a lot of practice with this."

"We can," Marinette said firmly. "And we will."

Adrien glanced her way. "I don't know, you're probably more resilient than me. I bet in my position, this place wouldn't be able to mess with your mind."

"Only because it doesn't have anything to use against me," Marinette said quietly. "I'm just… lucky. You're just as resilient, your life just sucks."

"I guess." He hesitated, then looked down. "My father really is Papillon… what am I going to do when he's in prison? He's the only family I have."

"I'll ask my parents if you can stay with us. Or Nino could ask his parents, or Alya… and I guess there's Chloe too." Marinette made a face and was a little surprised to hear Adrien chuckle quietly.

"She's got the most space," Adrien said, managing a weak smile.

Marinette tried not to be annoyed at the thought of Adrien living with Chloe. It wasn't important right now. "No matter what happens, though, I'll be here for you. If you can't stay with me, I can always just sneak in your window. Or the other way around," she lifted her hand from his shoulder to run through his hair. "I won't let you be alone. Neither will Nino, or Alya, or Chloe. People care about you, Adrien."

"Thank you, My Lady,” he said softly. "It's hard sometimes to remember that."

"I can't pretend I know what you're going through," Marinette said. "But I'll do my best to understand."

Adrien's arms were suddenly around her shoulders, and he pressed a light kiss to her cheek. "You're amazing, you know that?"

"Not as amazing as you." She moved to hug him back. They stayed like that for a few moments before Adrien pulled back and stood up, offering Marinette a hand up. 

"Let's get this over with."

"You sure you're ready?" Marinette took his hand and let him pull her up.

"No," Adrien confessed. "But I want to be out of here, so let's go."

They checked that the Kwamis were ready and called for their transformations. She noticed Chat Noir watching her transform with fascination, just as she was observing his. As he did, as if out of habit, he ran his hands through his hair, knocking it out of its somewhat neater style. 

Ladybug blinked. “Wow. I guess I never realised how long your hair is when you don’t have it styled.”

Chat Noir gave her a half-smirk. “Well, I figured changing my hair a little would help with the secret part of a secret identity.”

"Clever,” she said, tugging on one of her pigtails. “Probably would’ve been smart for me to do. Maybe I should change it now that I know I can… Or I could change how I wear my hair as Marinette.”

“You could do braids,” Chat Noir suggested, smirk turning to a smile, reaching up to lightly bat at her other pigtail like a cat playing with a string. “Still the same kinda feel, and you’d look adorable. I’ll even braid it for you.”

“You know what? Sure.” Ladybug smiled back at him, face warm. “I can live with that. Anyway.” She shook her head. It was time to be the hero, not a teen distracted by the boy she loved offering to braid her hair. She took out her hospital map. “It looks like the layout stays mostly the same when we change areas, so we have that going for us. Where have you been so far?”

“Not far. The door to the next hall is locked, but there was a way through the medicine room.” He tapped the path with the tip of a claw. “There’s a super creepy doll in the examination room that looks like a girl who died a hundred years ago, but this one didn’t move.”

Ladybug stared at him, unsure what to say in response to that until she finally simply blurted, “What?”

Chat Noir paused. “That was weird, wasn’t it? Okay, so I told you about that recurring dream? The thing is, it happened. It was a girl named Hanna, about a hundred years ago. My mom looked into it.”

“Yeah, that’s really, really weird. Why would you have dreams about something that happened a hundred years ago?” Ladybug asked, baffled. None of this made sense to her.

“Because…” Chat Noir looked uncertain about how to explain. “I don’t really know, but my mom always had that dream too. I think it might have happened here, in Silent Hill, now that I remember that mom was born here... “ His brow furrowed as he frowned in thought. “She always seemed weird about it. Normally it was okay to tell— to tell father, about weird things. She didn't want him to know for some reason.” 

There was hurt on his face as he mentioned his father, and it made Ladybug’s heart ache.

 


 

It was like a change had gone over the theatre, but not to the extreme of the hospital before. It felt as if the still and silent theatre had come alive. But not in a good way. There was static coming from the radio, a result of the number of monsters now wandering the entrance hall. The air felt heavier, pressing in on his head, which was now beginning to ache a little.

There were more of the child-like monster he had first encountered in this town. They ambled around, apparently not seeing them yet, perhaps due to their faces lacking eyes. Hanna shut the door behind them as quietly as possible, nervously looking around at the monsters, taking a crowbar from her bag and gripping it tightly. “I’m not sure this room is actually better,” she whispered.

“No, it isn’t.” Gabriel pulled away enough to grip his pipe in one hand and gun in the other. He didn’t want to be caught off guard by something getting too close. 

“Let’s go right,” Hanna said, still keeping her voice as low as possible. “We’re too exposed out here. In a hallway, they’ll have a harder time surrounding us.”

Gabriel nodded and followed her to creep along the edge of the room, towards the hall door that would eventually lead to the backstage area. The static lessened just a bit, and the nearest monster was barely visible in the gloom-- another child-like monster, ambling around and bumping occasionally into the walls, like it had trouble with dexterity. They raised their weapons and proceeded forward, wary. About six feet away, it finally turned towards them with a quiet cry and stumbled towards them with its knife raised. 

Gabriel made use of the pipe’s longer reach to smash at its weapon-hand, knocking the knife down and away, while Hanna swung towards its head with the crowbar, hitting it twice in quick succession before it fell to the ground and she stomped, hard, on its neck. Gabriel cringed at the sound of snapping bones. He couldn’t seem to help but pay attention to the sounds they made now, after the nurses. The way the breaking bones and flesh sounded like any living thing. It made him think of what it might sound like if it was done to a human. And unbidden, the thought came to him that maybe this is what it had sounded like the times an akuma’s destruction had killed someone.

The thought wouldn’t go away completely, like a burr on a sock, it stuck to the back of Gabriel’s mind and latched on. 

I am not a killer, he told himself. Those were accidents.

“Where do you think these things come from?” Hanna asked, stirring him from his thoughts. She was staring down at the monster at her feet, and at the bloodied crowbar in her hand. “What they are… They make such awful sounds when they’re hit, so they must surely feel pain. I feel bad about killing them.”

“I…” did he? They made Gabriel have uncomfortable thoughts, but did he truly feel guilt about these monsters that tried to kill them? These monsters with their sometimes human-like screams. “I think I do too,” he admitted. “But we have very little choice, don’t we? Holding back will get us killed.”

“I agree, I just… wonder,” Hanna said, shaking her head. She gave the dead monster a pitying look. 

And now Gabriel could not help but wonder too. It did not serve to help his headache.

"Do you know anything else about the town's history or legends?" Gabriel asked. "You said it was a holy place to its indiginous inhabitants. Did they have a deity they worshipped?"

"Some of them did, I think. I'm not really an expert. I know that eventually a religion formed here that took elements or inspiration from the original worship of the area. And I know they worship a god, but they took a lot from what they already believed." Hanna shrugged. “A sun goddess, if I remember right."

"Quite ironic for a place with no sunlight." Gabriel said flatly.

Hanna gave him a halfhearted smile. "The sun comes out sometimes. But it's often foggy without all this." She gestured around. "Maybe that's why. Each sunny day was something precious to the settlers."

"I suppose that makes sense," Gabriel said. "Do you know anything else about this deity? It must be what is manipulating the town like this."

"You really think so?" Hanna asked softly. “You think it’s real?”

“More things are real than the average person thinks.” Like the little god sitting inside his pocket. Who would believe that if he told them without proof? 

For a moment, Hanna was quiet. “You’re right. It probably is real, and probably is behind it. What do you think it wants?”

“What does its scripture say it wants?” Gabriel asked in return. 

“I don’t know,” Hanna admitted. “I never really looked into it. Maybe at the Historical Society we’ll find out something more. In the meantime, I think we need to figure out what to do with this mask.”

They carried on down the hallway. It felt as if it got darker and darker the farther they went, but Gabriel wasn’t quite sure he wasn’t imagining it. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, but things were beginning to feel… foggy. It felt almost like the static from the radio was becoming visible, clouding his vision just slightly. He almost didn’t recognise what the static meant until Hanna stopped him.

“There’s something up ahead. It’s… different.”

Gabriel looked up, blinking through the gloom and the fuzziness of his vision to try to get a good look at the monster as it came towards them. It moved strangely and slowly, stumbling often as it ambled towards them. Its arms were fused into its body, but there was a hole at its chest. He’d seen a few of them before in the fog, but this one had something different-- a flesh-coloured cloth, of some kind, wrapped around its ‘face’. It let out a quiet moan as it staggered towards them.

How did the monsters know where they were? They lacked any kind of visible sensory organ. And while they didn’t seem to be good at detecting them, they had more awareness than they ought to. 

Pulling out the pipe, Gabriel tried to ignore those curious thoughts. Instead, he lunged forward with the pipe, taking a swing at its head with another of those horrible crunching sounds. A sound like a water hose followed, and suddenly there was burning on his shoulder, up his neck, splattered on his cheek. The creature had sprayed acid.

With a cry, Gabriel scrambled back and struggled to get his coat off before it could eat through the fabric much more. 

“Gabriel!” There was the sound of two gunshots and a crunch, before Hanna was at his side, helping him with the coat, trying to dab off the worst of the acid from his face. “Gabriel, oh no, that looks really bad. Hold on.”

His vision filled with more static, but he didn’t hear it from the radio anymore. It looked like an old vhs tape, spots of black appearing over his vision, and a rushing filled his ears. And then it was like someone flipped a switch, and something was different but he didn’t know what. 

“Oh Gabriel,” he heard a whisper, as his field of view began to tunnel. He managed to look up, just enough to meet green eyes. Concern on her face that was achingly familiar. “Gabriel, love, what have you done?”

“What… are you talking about?” Gabriel asked deliriously. Somehow he could see her so clearly despite his tunneling vision. His skin crawled, tingling and cold, and it didn’t feel quite real. “You called me-- you’re not Emilie. You shouldn’t call me that. You’re Hanna.” 

“Of course I’m Hanna. I was always Hanna,” she whispered.  “Do you know what it is like to die, Gabriel? So dark, and cold, and alone. Even if you come back, that memory stays. It haunts you in your dreams.” One hand, warm and solid, cupped the unburned side of his face. “You’ve sinned, Gabriel. You can’t escape what you did, no matter what you say to justify it.”

“It was necessary.” He fumbled his words. “I had to.”

“You didn’t have to, and you know it. You could have moved on. You could have done anything but what you did.” Her voice grew fainter. The tunneling vision finally begin to blur her image. The last thing he heard was just the faintest, whispered:

“You are a murderer, Gabriel.”