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Grass is Greener

Chapter Text

Stand Straight.

 

Look ahead.

 

Hold it. Hold it.

 

Beautiful.

 

Try that on. Try this on.

 

Perfect.

 

Ignore the stiff muscles and sore backs. They have fancy new machines and medicines to cure your insignificant ails! Don’t whine at me! I’m making you famous. Ride home, nightly routine. Wake up. Shower, moisturize, apply skin products, hair products. Whiten teeth. Use those fancy back machines and medications. Smile at adoring fans. Go to college, ignore that Lila girl who totally has a crush on you. She’s just another crazy fan. They are all just crazy fans. Keep good grades, the newspapers are watching. Father’s watching. Fans watching.

 

Everyone’s watching.

 


 

Adrien’s life was perfect for everyone.

 

Everyone, that is, except him.

 

He was perfect. He had to be perfect.

 

Being a model has to be amazing. Standing there for hours is amazing.

 

He’s so hot! Do you have acne? Again? I’m so disappointed.

 

No one really looked. No one really cared. It was a show for them. Him, another piece of the world of entertainment they built around themselves. Did that make them happy? Probably not. It’s all a game for them. If only someone understood. If only he had someone to talk to.

 

Plagg was always there to talk, but that wasn’t really his thing. He would float there, piece of cheese in his tiny paws, going “Uh-huh.” and “So sorry, kid.” every now and again. He often found himself coping with his thoughts by jumping across roofs as Chat Noir. It wasn’t mature of him, per ce, but it was refreshing all the same. Hawkmoth’s attacks had dwindled over time and there had been six months in which only two akumas had appeared. As it was it had been a month and a half since the last attack. His time as his alter ego was cherished, due to how little he actually used it. And his time with Ladybug was cherished even more. But of all the cherished time he spent as Chat, there was one person he loved to use it the most with.

 

Marinette Dupain-Cheng.

 

They had been meeting for some time now, always sometime at dusk. She never really knew when he was going to show up, so, every night at sunset, she would sit on her new balcony with one project or another, waiting for him. If he didn’t show up before the sun set, she would go inside, but leave her window unlocked. This was their silent order of operations.

 

Chat showed up right as the sun dipped below the horizon. Marinette was packing up the sweater she had been knitting when he landed, nearly silently. He crouched down and held his hands out in front of him as he snuck forward. She had just picked up the last ball of yarn when he attacked. Hands outstretched and fingers wiggling he tickled the back of her neck and quickly worked his way down her spine. She gasped and spun. Quick as a wink he was on her. Their lips connected and Chat’s armed embraced Marinette. Her twenty year old body felt warm as it melted against him. When they finally broke apart Marinette was glaring playfully at him.

 

“I thought Death had finally come to meet me, covered from head to toe in black leather,” she scolded him gently, poking his chest while she looked up at him. He was a good foot taller than her so he merely chuckled at the “threatening” finger. He suddenly grabbed both of her wrists and pulled them down by her sides. She squealed while Chat leaned down in front of her.

 

“I am Death, and I am here to steal your breath away,” and with that Chat placed a soft kiss against her lips. It promised that there would be more. More days like this to look forward to. More sunsets where he would meet her. This was what was holding Chat, as well as Adrien, up in life. Without this he would be lost, forever wandering the depths of the black, repetitive, ocean of his life.

 

Marinette had approached Chat years ago with a love confession. In the end her father had gotten akumatized and it was all very dramatic. Chat had decided to pursue her after seeing her crying on her old balcony at her parents' bakery. She had just broken up with Luka after he told her he fancied Kagami. Wanting to help her, but also having to keep up appearances as Adrien, he met her as Chat. After his first visit she asked if he could come back the next sunset. And he had come back. Again and again. Sunset after sunset. Day after day, week after week. And they fell in love.

 

Their first kiss was a strange memory. Chat’s visit had started like any other night. He landed on Marinette’s brand new balcony on her brand new store, which sold everything from knitting needles to thin sundresses. She had sat down next to him on the railing, leaning her head on her shoulder. She was tense tonight, Chat had felt it in her shoulders when she sat down next to him. He had naively assumed it was the stress of owning a new business, but he couldn’t have been farther off.

 

“Who are you Chat? Really? Who are you?”

 

He had stiffened and looked down at her. She was squinting at him suspiciously with tired eyes. The thought had occurred to him, in the midst of his panic, that he had never kissed her. So he did. Out of impulse. It was a shy thing, that kiss. A question without words. Do you love me and trust me enough to know that I will tell you? It asked. Marinette had pulled away first and Chat looked away, regretting the impulsive decision and fearing the consequences.

 

“Chat?” Marinette had asked, taken aback by the kiss and confused by his apparent reaction to her question.

 

“I… I’m not ready yet, Mari. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure you’ll take me as who I am.”

 

Marinette, knowing she had said similar things to Chat as Ladybug, nodded in understanding. “I’m OK with where we are, Chat. And I trust you, I really, really do,” and with that she pulled him down to face her and passionately kissed him. A real, confident kiss. So much more than the shy thing they had just experienced.

 

Chat didn’t know why this thought crossed his mind now, but he still knew he wasn’t quite ready to reveal himself. Soon, he thought to himself, soon, for her.

 


 

No ones life is perfect. She knew that.

 

Yet, so many people thought hers was.

 

How wrong they were.

 

It might seem great. All the attention. The fans. The news. A whole fandom based around you.

 

But people seem to forget that with every job there are downfalls. Hers had more literal downfalls than others, but they were downfalls all the same. As Ladybug she was constantly helping the police force with violent criminals, muggers, and downright evil people. Every now and again they would have to fight an akuma, but those were rare nowadays. All of that came with very high risk of injury, and  sometimes death itself. And as Marinette she was running her own small business with two coworkers in a room with a floor space of 10 by 6 square feet.

 

No ones life is perfect, especially not hers.

 


 

The small alarm that went off on her phone was especially unwelcome at this time. She was in the middle of measuring a woman’s biceps for a custom wedding dress that was expected in twelve days, when it went off. Marinette groaned and called Luise to finish the measurements.

 

“What is it?” the woman asked.

 

“My grandfather can’t walk and needs me to go get something for him,” Marinette lied easily. That was her excuse for the annoying alarm, and it always would be.

 

“Why can't he just call?”

 

‘He’s… not very modern, to say the least.”

 

“Oh,” the nosy woman seemed at a loss for words at that, as though she hadn’t wanted Marinette to leave just because her “uncle needed her.”

 

“I’m so sorry, Luise,” Marinette apologized in a low whisper as she left the room.

 

“I get it,” Luise answered in turn, “My aunt’s the same way.”

 

Marinette thanked her again then rushed out the door. She rushed down the street, cursing every time an alleyway had a drunken bum roosting in it. She needed to transform. Fast. There was an akuma on the loose and Chat needed her. She had connected her yo-yo’s receiver to her phone so that whenever Chat sent her a message an alarm would go off and her yo-yo would automatically trace it back to Chat. She let out a relieved cry when she turned into an empty alleyway. She quickly transformed behind a dumpster and went to join Chat.

 

This akuma was the second one this month. A very rare and not at all celebratory occasion. Chat was busily assessing the akuma’s power, goal, and weaknesses by the time she got there.

 

“So sorry I’m late,” Ladybug said, rolling out her shoulders. She hadn’t swung in awhile. She needed to get out more. Ladybug put that on her mental “I need to find more time to do this because it should be necessary” list. It was a long list nowadays. She didn’t have any time anymore. Heck, just last week she had fallen asleep while waiting for Chat on her balcony. He had ended up carrying her inside and putting her to bed while she protested that she was perfectly capable of walking and putting herself to bed.

 

“Hey, that’s not a problem, bugaboo,” Chat responded casually, snapping Ladybug back to the present. The pet name “bugaboo” sparked something in Ladybug. She supposed she was just irritated from all of her work at the shop, but it annoyed her that even though Chat had a girlfriend, herself no less (excusing the fact that he didn’t know that), he still called her pet names like “bugaboo” and “love-bug.

 

She would have to mention it later though because, at the moment, they had a problem on their hands. "Chat, report."

 

"Young female. Calls herself Petrection. Like protection for pets. I think that's really clever," Ladybug made an annoyed sound so Chat rushed on, "She has surrounded herself with cats, dogs, and birds, and she seems to be targeting all pet owners."

 

"Weaknesses?"

 

"Not many. She is constantly surrounded by animals, so she doesn't have any blind spots. She can't fly so we have that advantage. She controls the birds less so the air is pretty clear. And she is directly surrounded by puppies and kittens. I assume this is to protect them, but if we jump on her from above, she is pretty defenseless, save for her ball and chain, well, spiked collar and chain."

 

"Got it."

 

The battle ensued. Ladybug and Chat Noir flew through the air. The non pet owners whooped and hollered their encouragement. When the pair reached the top of the tornado of birds, they didn't hesitate. Down they went. It would've been a beautiful sight if it weren't for the occasional peck or claw from one of the rainbow specimens. When they reached the bottom Ladybug used her lucky charm while Chat stalked back and forth, looking for a weak point. They both knew the akuma would be in the spiked collar and chain.

 

"Ava fishing line?" Ladybug bug asked incredulously. She looked around. Of course! She could hook the line up to Chat’s stick, hook the akuma’s object, and bing bang boom, fight over. "Chat, give me your staff."

 

Chat obliged quickly turning for half a second to throw his staff at her. Ladybug caught it deftly and started wrapping the fishing line around it. Chat smiled as he figured out what she was thinking. It was no wonder he had a crush on her for years. He turned back to face the threat a second to late. The spiked collar caught him in the left temple. The world went grey as he touched the gaping wound. He fell to his knees as he pulled his hand away, the glove slick with blood. He was dimly aware of Ladybug screaming, but he couldn't respond because already the world had faded to black.

 

I am Death. And I am here to steal your breath away.

 


 

"Chat! Chat, no!" Ladybug was screaming. She whipped her hand made fishing pole and caught the akuma’s weapon. If Chat were still on his feet she knew he would have made a pun. But he wasn't on his feet, in fact he was laying on the ground, clearly unconscious. Ladybug ripped the collar in half and cleansed the akuma as fast as humanly possible. Her earring beeped right as she finished. Chat’s blood was pooling around his head.

 

Not enough time.

 

She reached Chat in two steps. She picked him up like one would a baby, and zipped away before the cameras could appear. She made it to an alleyway by her shop before her transformation dropped. She carried Chat in and closed the store. Luise and Ava took one look at her and ran to help.

 

"What the hell? Is that Chat Noir? Why do you have blood on your shirt?" Ava shot rapid fire questions at her. She was very talkative, but amazing at sewing and cleaning. Luise looked very concerned. Marinette's  rush of adrenaline was dying, and she had to put Chat in the closest office chair available. She was shaking from carrying him all the way back and she hadn't even noticed she was crying until this moment.

 

"He… he just… and I… I can't lose him. Not now," Marinette's words were shaky and Ava embraced her while Luise got the first aid kit.

 

"You love him, don't you?" Luise asked quietly when she came back. She immediately got to work cleaning Chat’s wound. It wasn't as bad as Marinette had originally thought, but it was still awful.

 

"Is it that obvious?" Marinette asked with wide eyes. She was going into shock and Ava mumbled comforting words to her.

 

"I left at sunset once and you two were on the balcony, kissing.” Luise replied while bandaging the wound, "There. When he wakes up I'll have painkiller on hand."

 

"Thank you. Thank you so much," Marinette whispered.

 


 

Chat’s head throbbed. He kept his eyes closed against the sharp spikes of light that filled the room. Was he in the hospital? He remembered getting hit with the collar. He remembered the sharp spike slicing through his temple. It hadn't hurt then, but boy did it hurt now.

 

He groaned and curled up on the couch he was on. Couch? So not the hospital. He hadn't used Cataclysm, so he was still Chat Noir. Had Ladybug taken him here? Was he in Ladybug’s house? Would he meet Ladybug’s civilian form?

 

Too many questions. All he wanted right now was for the pain you stop. He groaned again, gloved hand coming up to his head. A hand caught his wrist and he tensed. If he had to fight now her would surely loose, but he would fight all the same.

 

"Don't touch it. It hasn't healed yet. Here, drink this," a thick, sweetly scented beverage was handed to him. He opened his right eye a crack, just enough to see that it was a purple red color. He wrinkled his nose.

 

"What is it?" he asked. He wasn't stupid. No one with sense would drink that foreign substance.

 

"Painkiller. And if I'm right, you want it desperately." The voice was right, he did want painkiller. So, the pain making his final decision, he drank, "That should kick in in a few minutes."

 

"Where am I?" Chat asked, squinting his eyes to look around.

 

"Spotted Fashion. Miss Marinette Dupain-Cheng’s fashion store. I trust you're familiar with her?" there was a smile behind the words that told Chat that this stranger knew about what he had with Marinette. He flushed and the person laughed kindly, "Don't be embarrassed. Marinette is a lovely person. And so are you. Your lives must be nearly perfect."

 

A humorless "ha" came from the other side of the room. Foot steps made their way closer to them. Chat heard someone crouch down next to him.

 

"Hi, Chat," a light kiss was placed on his forehead. He smiled and reached out, searching for Marinette’s hand. When he found it he pulled it to his chest.

 

"I was lost and you found me again, Princess." And in that moment, all was right with the world.

 

But all good things come to an end.

Chapter Text

Adrien knew when he was surrounded by fan girls. He was seen as single too, which didn't help much. His father didn't pay enough attention to notice just how many girls approached adrien, but when he caught them, he obviously didn't approve. Adrien worked with fan girls everyday, both as Chat and himself. Many people thought he was lucky to have so many options. His life was so perfect. If only they knew how wrong they were.

 

"Adrien, how are you?" Lila came up to him, leaning on his shoulder like that were a couple. He had never been able to shake her manipulative affections.

 

"I'm fine, Lila. Thanks for asking," he replied casually. He turned sharply, dislodging Lila's head from the crook of his neck. He was glad Marinette wasn't around today. Even though she didn't know they were a couple, having girls flirt with him, especially when she was around, made him uncomfortable. Lila was by far the most consistent fan he had ever met. At age 14 she had been insufferable. Now at age 20, she was even more so. Lila looked up at him. He had picked up the pace, but, unfortunately for him, Lila was a tall model also. She was only a few inches shorter than him and therefore was hard to out run. She approached him often, flirting and touching him. He was single, after all. He was worried for the day when Lila finally asked him out.

 

"Hey, I was wondering…" she tucked a stray hair behind her ear, "Are you free at sunset tonight?"

 

Adrien breathed a sigh of relief. He hated lying, and now he wouldn't have to. He was busy at sunset tonight. It was Marinette’s birthday. He refused to miss it, "No. I'm not free. And I'm not looking for a relationship either," he hadn't meant to come off so cold, but it was out now.

 

"Oh, ok," Lila smiled at him in a sickeningly sweet way. She was mad, really mad. Good thing akumas were as rare as they were.

 

"Seeing you around, Lila," Adrien said as he walked towards his limousine. The glass door shut silently behind him. He heard an angry huff behind him, then the clicking of heels as Lila retreated back into the building. Adrien didn't let himself relax until he was safely in his car.

 

"Home?" his driver asked, expressionless. Since he had moved out of the Agreste mansion, he had entirely new employees. It still surprised him sometimes when his bodyguard spoke. Adrien shook his head to clear his thoughts.

 

"Yes, thank you."

 

As they were driving his phone chimed an unfamiliar ringtone. He let the call go to voicemail, only to have a notification appear on his screen seconds later. Adrien sighed and picked up his phone. He read the text twice before it made sense. Then he read it a third time, just to make sure this was real.

 

"Mr. Adrien Agreste, we regret to inform you that Mr. Gabriel Agreste suffered from a heart attack at 7:20 pm. He was found dead at 7:21 pm. We offer our condolences." The message was followed by a list of funeral homes and their contact info, but Adrien didn't see it. His hand was shaking, he realized. He's gone. Tears filled his eyes and he leaned back in his chair. He knew his father had been ill, but not this I'll. He turned to look out the window. It was sunny and happy outside.

 

He closed his eyes and let the darkness engulf him.

 


 

Chat was late.

 

That wasn't rare, but after the akuma attack a week ago, he hadn't been late once. Marinette supposed that holding it against him would do any good, but it still hurt that today was the day he showed up late. She waited outside twenty minutes after the sun had set for him to appear. She finally went inside when the bugs became insufferable. She waited there for hours. After her clock beeped one o'clock she gave up and went to bed. She had a busy day tomorrow. Lots of clients and orders to fill. She needed sleep.

 

She was too tired to notice the warm tears running down her face.

 


 

Marinette wasn't able to check the news until noon the next morning. What she saw hit her like a spear through the chest. Gabriel Agreste had died. He had fallen and hit his head after a heart attack. Adrien had shown up for an interview, only to leave less than 20 minutes later due to extremely insensitive questions. She closed the computer, disgusted. She picked up her phone and barely hesitated to call Adrien straight up. He picked up after the third ring.

 

"Marinette?" he sounded so sad. Marinette held the phone close to her ear and thought of what to say.

 

"Hi Adrien. I saw about your father. How are you?"

 

"I'm fine."

 

It was so dismissive. Marinette paused open mouthed. Adrien wasn't normally rude at all. He was most definitely not ok. She needed to cheer him up somehow. She pondered this for a moment.

 

"Do you want to come over for croissants later at the bakery? You seem to need some cheering up."

 

"Thanks but no. I'm good. Thanks for the concern. I've got to go Marinette. Talk to you later," the line clicked and he was gone. Marinette took a few seconds to gape at her phone before she headed back down to her shop. She was thinking about the strange conversation when she heard a loud crash from downstairs. Her head snapped up and she rushed down. A scream came from the office and she opened the door without hesitation.

 

Luise was being held against a man with a gun to her head. There was a man in front of her also. He had a gun striped to his hip. The first man noticed her and opened his mouth to warn his compatriot. Marinette ran forward and yanked the mask off the second man's head. The man spun around and grabbed his gun from its holster. Marinette turned to the door, planning to run, but someone was in her way. They grabbed her arms and forced her face to his chest so she couldn't see anything.

 

"Meddling bi-" someone said before they were cut off by a harsh whisper.

 

"Shh. We don't know if there are more people in the shop. We can't risk talking too much. We take the money and go."

 

"She saw me. We have to kill her now," a third voice said. The man she had taken the mask off of. She struggled to get out of her captors grip to no avail. She felt the cold barrel of a gun pressed against her temple and she whimpered as her insides tied themselves  in knots.

 

"No. I will not have blood on my hands. Let's take her and hand her off to someone else. We can sell her over to Asia or something. Get some money in the process."

 

"What about her? She didn't see anything," the gun was removed from her head and she slumped against the man in front of her. Luise didn't make it sound.

 

"Knock them both out. Leave that one after she gets the money. Drag this one to the truck and let's get out of here."

 

Marinette listened for more but heard nothing. Someone grabbed her shoulder and she hadn't even gasped before something hit her and the world went dark.

 


 

Chat bounded over to Marinette's balcony at sunset. He needed to apologize for not being there yesterday. He had no excuse but excuses weren't going to save him anyway. Marinette would probably brush it off and forgive him before he had even said anything. When he reached the balcony, no one was there. He tried the door and window, but they were locked.

 

She's probably talking to one of her coworkers. I'll just go in the front door. They know me anyway.

 

Chat landed in front of the building. The sign was flipped to closed, so when the door opened at the lightest touch, he was surprised. A) the lights were out except for the office. He headed in that direction. He didn't hear anything. Chat realized Marinette had probably just lost track of time. He opened the door, ridiculous pun ready to go, when he suddenly stopped.

 

The room was a mess. A chair laid broken on the ground, wires pens and cloth lay strewn on the floor. He looked around the room and stood statue still when he saw her. Bruises running up her arms and neck tattooed her pale skin. She was lying with her eyes closed. Some blood had dried on her forehead. Chat looked around the room again as he approached her. See that no one else was there, he knelt down and gently shook her shoulder. She groaned and cracked open her eye. She covered her face with her arm.

 

"Please don't hurt me," she whispered. Her voice was raspy and her words were slurred.

 

"It's OK. I called for help," he pulled out his staff and called the police and hospital with his location. He would leave her with water as soon as she told him one thing, "Where is Marinette?"

 

"They took her. She saw them, so they took her. She's not dead, just gone."

 

Chat got her water then left. He ran across rooftops looking for something, anything, that would help him find her. For hours he looked, knowing he wouldn't find her. She was gone. Lost and couldn't be found. First his dad, now Marinette. He yelled his anguish at the night sky as he fell to his knees. He covered his face in his hands and cried.

 

What had he done to deserve this?

 


 

HIs scream woke her from her unconscious state. He was close. Chat was close. And he was in pain.

 

Her mind flashed back to the akuma attack just a week ago. She had been so scared then. He might have died. She tryed to pull her hands up to her face, but found they were bound above her head. She heard Chat scream again. She opened her eyes to take in her surroundings. She was lying on the floor with her hands tied with rope to a pole behind her. A window to her left showed she was high up in an abandoned building.

 

Chat screamed.

 

He was outside. The sound came from the window. She sat up and strained toward the window. She opened her mouth to yell, but a hand clamped over it. She screamed and writhed, trying to get free.

 

"I will knock you out again, doll. Or I could kill you and get it over with since my wimp of a partner isn't here." Marinette stilled instantly and didn't make a sound. She would wait for him to remove his hand. Then she would scream.

 

He removed his hand after a couple of seconds, but as she opened her mouth again, he shoved a price of cloth violently into it. She tried to spit it out, but he forced her mouth closed. He pulled her face close to his and breathed in her face before saying, "You make a noise, you're dead."

 

Chat, I hope you're listening.

 

Marinette kicked the man in the groin and smiled as he yelled. If she could hear Chat, Chat could hear that.

 

Perfect.

 


 

Chat heard the yell come from the window to floors down from the roof he was on. It was followed by a roar of anger and a lot of yelling. He quietly scaled the wall down to the window and peeked in.

 

He didn't know if he was lucky or very unlucky.

 

He had found Marinette. Unfortunately she was tied up and very violent men surrounded her. One was holding he collar of her shirt and waving a gun around, yelling at the other two men in the room. Marinette was smiling a bit but when the man holding her saw it, it vanished. The man snarled and slapped her. She flinched away and fell to her knees as the man dropped her. Her nose was bleeding, Chat realized. The man laughed at her prone figure and kicked her before leaving the room with the other men. Marinette curled up on herself as silent tears streaked down her face. Chat listened until the steps of the men had faded before entering the room.

 

"Marinette?"

 

Her head snapped up and she was still beautiful with a blood and tear streaked face. She gave a cry and leaned toward him. Her mouth was taped shut and the ropes at her hands were tearing at her wrists.

 

"Shh, it's OK. I going to get you out of here," And with that he pulled off the piece of tape and cloth and set to untying her hands.

 

"I'm so glad you're here, Chat."

 

"Me too, me too."

 

He untied the last rope with a flourish and helped Marinette to her feet. She wobbled so he picked her up bridal style and walked toward the window. He was preparing to leap off the building when…

 

BANG!

 

Chat yelled and jumped off the building. He landed on the next roof over and crouched behind a billboard. He grimaced and looked at his leg. Marinette covered her mouth and stifled a cry when she saw the blood. The bullet had grazed his left calf. He pulled out his staff and called the hospital and police. Explaining the situation more frantically as time ticked by. Marinette had done as much as she could to stop the bleeding. Now all they had to do was wait.

 

"Happy birthday," Chat said as they waited for help to arrive.

Chapter Text

He banged his fist on the table so hard that it shook. He couldn't believe it. It had been all over the magazines, news, and pretty much anywhere else that you could get gossip.

 

“Chat Noir saves Fashion Designer!”

 

“Chat Noir has a New Lady!”

 

“Chat Noir Shot Saving Lover!”

 

“Marinette Dupain-Cheng; Future Mrs. Chat Noir!”

 

“Ladynoir no longer; Try Marichat on for Size!”

 

“Spotted Fashion; The Home of Chat Noir’s Latest Love Interest!”

 

He picked up the newspaper he had been reading and ripped it in half. That probably hadn’t been necessary, but it felt good to do it all the same. He reached into the pocket of his black jeans and lightly touched the cold purple gem that had been sent to him just the day before. He thought of his reaction to the strange envelope and almost laughed. At first he’d been appalled that someone thought he was that desperate, but as soon as he saw the news, he’d decided that this was the obvious course of action. Dark Wings, rise. Those were the words he’d been told to utter. He pulled out the gem and studied it.

 

It glowed, inviting him to use what he had to retrieve what had been stolen from him. He needed to show her that he was the better choice. He could create a world in which Chat Noir didn’t exist. A world in which Marrinette was his for the taking again. In her defence he had left her . But after his crush’s rejection, he needed her back. And she had just galavanted off with him .

 

He picked up the letter that had been written to him. He looked back to the gem in his hand.

 

“Dark Wings, rise.”

 

As moths swarmed him he smiled and thought of all the things he would do to get Marinette back for himself. After the transformation into Hawkmoth, he glanced at the letter that lay, forgotten, on the table next to him.

 

It read; “You were chosen by me to become whatever you want. The gem in this package is a Miraculous; the Butterfly Miraculous. If you are able to gather both the Cat and Ladybug Miraculous, you will be able to create an alternate reality. If you have this letter, I am dead, so I hope you will make my final wish come true. When you finally capture both the Miraculous of creation and destruction, you will be able to create a world with one change. That change would be to bring back Emily Agreste. Of course, I've noticed that you have an eye on a girl. If you word it correctly, we might both be able to get what we want. Make the wise choice. All you must say is ‘Dark Wings, rise.’ And all of our dreams will come true. Enjoy this while it lasts.”

 

There was no signature and no mention of his own name. He picked up the paper and ripped it to shreds. That was to the insignificant man, unable to reel in his girl. He was now someone able to do just that. He turned and searched Paris for his first toy.

 


 

Marinette was stuck.

 

She had no problem with being stuck with Chat in the hospital, but if that hadn’t been the case, and she had wanted to leave, she wouldn’t  be able to. She had been informed quietly by Chat’s nurse that there were a lot of people in the waiting room looking to talk to her. Marinette thought it might have been her family and friends that had come to talk to her, but when she saw who it really was she was gone before one question was asked.

 

News reporters.

 

Here Chat was, undergoing heavy treatment in the hospital, and all these people wanted to know was what his love life was like. Who was the lucky gal? How did they meet? Had they kissed? Stupid reporters.

 

Marinette peeked out the window and laughed out loud. There were news trucks, RVs, and tents outside. She looked back at Chat. He was sleeping. He looked so peaceful asleep. She smiled sadly to herself. Not only would the news want a report from Chat, but they would want one from Ladybug as well. Woopee. If there was anything she was absolutely ecstatic about, it was interviews.

 

She walked over to Chat’s side and reached out to touch his face. She pulled back at the last second, scared she would wake him. His leg was covered in bandages and she grimaced at the sight. That was her fault. If he hadn't come after her that wouldn't have happened. She didn't realize she was crying until she tasted the salt that dripped down her face. Marinette turned away from Chat and tried to eradicate the tears that overwhelmed her eyes. If she had just transformed while they were in the truck and snuck out the back, none of this would have happened. She had been scared though. And that fear, that hesitation -Kagami’s words came back to her, had gotten Chat hurt.

 

She walked out of the room that Chat rested in, and began her restless pacing in the hall outside. There was a screen in the hall with the news on. There was no volume, so at first she didn't notice it. After a few minutes of letting her thoughts wander, she finally stopped to look at it. News, news, news, breaking news. Marinette read the subtitles carefully. She didn’t miss a word. The longer she watched the more horrified she became. Not now, anytime but now. She glanced back at Chat for a millisecond, not wanting to miss any part of the in-depth description of the akuma.

 

The akuma.

 

She groaned and leaned against the wall behind her for support. There wasn’t time for this. It had been weeks since the akuma that had injured Chat. Weeks! She wasn’t even close to mentally prepared for this. She had just been kidnapped, abused, and rescued by her secret boyfriend that the world now knew about. Mentally prepared seemed to be the last thing she could possibly be at this point.

 

She went through the list of things that needed to happen in the next minute. Chat needed to wake up, be ready to fight an akuma, and not worry about the fact that Marinette had disappeared to fight that akuma as Ladybug. He wouldn’t know that she was safe and would most likely put akuma as number two on his list of important things. Marinette put her head in her hands. Why did he always have to be so difficult and over protective? She didn’t have time for this! She looked back up at the news screen. Female, teen, Game of Thrones fan. Oh, come on!

 

Just then, a nurse came rushing down the hall. She saw Marinette staring at the TV in horror and looked quite sympathetic. She walked briskly toward Marinette and gently touched her shoulder.

 

“Looks like you saw it,” she said gently in that motherly nurse voice that all nurses seem to have.

 

“Ya,” Marinette said emotionlessly. What else was there to say.

 

“The doctor told me that we should wake him gently. He doesn’t like it but even he knows that Chat Noir will be needed.”

 

“Ya,” Marinette said again, “I’ll do it, don’t worry.”

 

“Oh, hon. You don’t have to do that. You’re tired as it is and you should get some rest too. According to my nurse training, waking someone wakes you yourself more wakeful by activating the brain stimulation of-”

 

“No it’s fine, I’ve got this one,” Marinette trudged over to Chat’s room and crouched by his side. She reached out and didn’t hesitate this time to touch his face gently. His eyes suddenly snapped open, startling Marinette. She jumped back as Chat sat up warily. He looked around him, seemingly confused until something appeared to click. He reached gingerly toward his leg, not quite touching the small wound where the bullet had grazed him. He looked up again, this time his eyes finding Marinette’s immediately.

 

“What’s happening? I know that I passed out after they stitched me up but why do I get the feeling that you didn’t wake me up just to talk?” Chat looked from Marinette to the door to his leg, his brow furrowed as he tried to puzzle out the strange and slightly sick look on Marinette’s face.

 

“Akuma,” Marinette said in barely a whisper. Chat shouldn’t have been able to hear it but he did. His head whipped around to stare at her. He reached one clawed hand up to his temple subconsciously, remembering the last akuma attack he had fought in. Marinette felt the blood leave her face as she remembered the awful incident. There had been blood everywhere, filling up all corners of that memory. Chat seemed to notice her suddenly horrified demeanor and put his hand back in his lap.

 

“I can walk on it,” he said more to himself than her, “I may not be 100%, but I’ll give myself at least 75.”

 

“Are you sure, Chat. Ladybug can probably handle this one well enough. You don’t really need to leave and risk hurting yourself. In fact that’s a great idea. You stay here and… and…” Chat stood up as she spoke. Marinette stopped talking and watched him as he carefully made his way over to her. She gasped when he stumbled the first time he put pressure on his injured leg. She took a step forward to catch him if he fell, but he had already righted himself. He made it to her and turned on his signature cheshire grin, then spun toward the window and walked quickly over to it.

 

“Chat, no! You cannot just jump out of the first window you see. You don’t even know where the akuma is!”

 

“I bet I can find out pretty fast. Unless you want to make this really easy and just tell me,” he winked at her and prepared to jump. Marinette glared daggers into his back before grudgingly telling him the location, “Thanks princess,” he yelled over the downpour outside.

 

“You are not welcome,” she said right after he was gone. She quickly transformed and followed him out into the rain.

 


 

“Good evening, Ladybug.”

 

Chat found her scouting out the akuma. She jumped when he appeared out of the storm. His black suit hid him in all of the shadows of the stormy night. Ladybug glared at him, but didn’t say anything. Chat strode over, but his stride was more careful than he’d care to admit. HIs wound was bothering him more now that he was walking and jumping up and across rooftops. Ladybug eyed him in a way that made him feel like an experiment that needed extra attention. Chat grinned at her and wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. Though he had stopped with the pet names, he still couldn’t completely demolish his flirtatious side. Ladybug rolled her eyes and went back to studying the akuma.

 

“Got anything yet?” Chat asked curiously.

 

“It’s another Game of Thrones fan.”

 

Chat groaned. That show was so old . It had been a topic of great distress at the time of it’s finish, back when Fortnite was popular. Chat himself knew next to nothing about the show or the books, only that Game of Thrones akumas were there second most dealt with akumas, right after Mr. Pigeon and Rat. He didn’t understand the appeal to something that would cause so much pain.

 

“Who died this time?” Chat asked, not expecting the answer to make any sense.

 

“Eddard Stark, season one. This one is going to be trouble.”

 

“I don’t know who that is but he looks easy enough to deal with. No flying spikes of death,” Chat said humorlessly, “I don’t like the look of that sword though.”

 

“Ya, well, if this akuma is getting worked up during season one, we’re going to have a lot of akumas on our hands.” It was obvious that Ladybug doubted her own statement. Akumas were so rare, why would they have to deal with multiple in one week?

 

If only they knew.

 


 

The akuma knew they were coming. And it knew their weaknesses.

 

“Now, Game Master, Chat Noir has managed to injure his left leg. It will still be weak. Exploit that. If you manage to hit him, take his Miraculous before moving on to Ladybug,” Hawkmoth’s voice informed the akuma of all of the black cat’s weak points.

 

So when the pair of superheroes showed up, they were unpleasantly surprised. The akuma held off from Chat, and as a result Chat got cocky. He assumed the akuma knew nothing of his injury, and ended up getting to close. He snuck up behind the cosplaying teen as Ladybug distracted him, but as soon as he got in range, the akuma spun on him and swept hospital legs out from under him. He was careful to hit Chat’s leg tight where it was injured. Char howled in pain and curled up on himself. Ladybug took the akuma’s momentary distraction to knock the sword out of his hand and snap the hilt off. She cleansed the akuma and went to see Chat as soon as she could.

 

"How is it?"

 

Chat groaned in response. She tried to his face to assess the pain, but he was carefully hiding it. Ladybug frowned and reached under his arms, which were covering his face, and grabbed his chin. She yanked it up so he would have to look at her, then pried off his arms. She sacked in a sharp breath. Chat wouldn't meet her gaze. His eyes were red and puffy, his face was wet with tears. This hurt a lot more than she thought it had.

 

"Oh, Chat," she examined his leg. The fabric was still torn because he hadn't detransformed. The wound was open and bleeding, the stitches had come out. Ladybug murmured comforting things to him as she wrapped up his leg. Chat was ashamed of his tears and couldn't look at her while she bandaged his leg. He grimaced as she helped him onto his feet - or foot, as it was. He wrapped his arms arm around her shoulders as she wrapped hers around his waist. Then, without a moment's notice, she swung off to the hospital.

 


 

Ladybug flew out of the window fifteen seconds before Marinette rushed into his room. There were tears in her eyes. She had been holding them in as Ladybug, but as Marinette, she allowed herself to show a bit of weakness, a bit of worry. As Ladybug she was required to be perfect. No emotion, no mistakes, no slip-ups. She could afford them. She was a public image as a superheroine. She feared that if she talked to the press she would have to become perfect as Marinette too.

 

She embraced Chat and cried into his chest. He hugged her gently and pulled her closer to him. He tried to sooth her, calm her down a bit, but Marinette didn’t feel like being soothed.

 

"I was so scared, Chat. So, so scared. I didn't know what to do when Ladybug carried you in curled in on yourself!" Marinette felt strange talking about her alter ego in third person but it was something she grew used to it.

 

"It's OK. I'm here now, I won't go anywhere."

 

"But you can't promise that. Akuma attacks for instance; I never know if you get hurt, and if you do, I'm helpless. And you have to leave eventually, I don't know who your civilian form is."

 

Chat frowned. Marinette pressed her lips together. She shouldn't have said that. She refused to tell Chat who she was as Ladybug, why should he have to yell her who he was? That wasn't fair.

 

"Nevermind. That's not right of me to say. It's none of my business."

 

"No you're right," Chat sighed and ran a hand anxiously through his hair, "I will tell you eventually. I'm just not ready yet."

 

"You have every right to keep your secret, after all, you're not the only one with a secret," Marinette stood up to leave and Chat let her. "Get some rest, Chaton," she called before shutting the door. She didn't notice Chat’s frown.

 

Chat leaned back on the bed and closed his eyes thinking back to only a few seconds before. "You're not the only one with a secret."

 

What's your secret, Marinette? What are you keeping from me?

Chapter Text

The next day was, to say the least, interesting.

 

As soon as Marinette returned to her shop she was swarmed by reporters, fans, and admirers. She treated the mass of people lick a bear, backing away slowly into her shop. When the door was safely closed and locked behind her she was able to breath and look around. She stood there, open-mouthed, and took in the extent of the damage. Or, in this case, lack thereof. Not one piece of lace hung out of place. The room was so clean in fact that she considered that it was her finally snapping from the pressure of running her own shop. She walked into her office slowly, still checking the main area of the shop for any sign of disarray. She turned toward the office and Louise gasped, her eyes filling with tears.

 

“Oh, Mari!” she cried, leaping up from the chair she’d been sitting in to greet Marinette. Marinette took a step back, startled at her coworker’s sudden movement. She still hadn’t gotten back the feeling of relative safety when she wasn’t Ladybug.

 

Louise froze in her tracks when she saw Marinette’s eyes widen with surprise. Tears filled her eyes, and she spun away. "I'm so sorry, Mari," she ducked away from Marinette and held herself, “you probably hate me. I should have seen that coming.”

 

Marinette took a step forward, then stopped. That wasn't what she had meant. That wasn't what she had wanted to happen. Louise meant so much to her. And yet, as she looked at the prone figure in front of her Marinette couldn't find the words. She had seen too much today, dealt with too much today. Too much pain, too much anxiety.

 

She turned and ran.

 

Coward. Coward, coward, coward.

 

The last thing Marinette wanted was for Louise to think she hated her, but after dealing with news reporter after news reporter nothing was right. I'm sorry , she thought.

 

Marinette stayed in her room for a while. After a while she went out to her balcony, completely out of habit, to wait for Chat. But after the sunset she realized he wouldn't be coming tonight, or any night soon for that matter. She shuffled back inside her room and laid down on her bed.

 

She cried herself to sleep that night.

 


 

Chat insisted that he was fine. He told the doctors and nurses time after time that his leg didn't hurt, that he could stand comfortably. He promised he would go easy on it, try not to walk too much. The nurses weren't having it, but the doctor finally agreed that he "was responsible enough to know not to hurt his leg." 

 

Ha! If only they knew.

 

Chat estimated that it would take one hour to leap to Marinette's balcony if he took it easy. It would take twenty minutes tops if he went full speed. It wasn't a hard decision for the "responsible Chat Noir.”

 

So, twenty minutes later, he found himself crouched on the rooftop next to, the now well known, Spotted Fashion store.

 

He took the last leap and landed silently on Marinette's balcony. He crept up to the window and peeked in. He couldn't see or hear anything. It was too dark. The irrational part of him panicked. She was gone, taken from him. She was hurt and in danger. He wouldn’t be able to find her this time.

 

He opened the window and slid into the room. He crossed the floor as fast as possible without making any noise. As he approached the bed, he heard her breathing. He exhaled a long breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. She was OK, she was here. Safe. He neared her slower now, no longer worried about her safety. He stood next to the bed and looked at her. She was facing away from him, but she seemed to be OK.

 

“I love you. I love you so much,” he whispered into the darkness.

 

“I love you. I love you so much ,” a mocking voice in the dark responded. Chat whirled around, searching for the source of the voice.

 

“Who’s there?” he asked warily, crouching defensively in front of Marinette.

 

“Who’s th-th-there?” the voice mimicked him back, laughing at his hiss of frustration.

 

“Who are you? Stop copying me!” Chat shouted, temporarily forgetting that Marinette was sleeping.

 

“Chat?” Her voice whispered.

 

“Mari? Oh, I’m sorry for waking you. Stay still. There’s someone else here.”

 

Marinette tensed on her bed. She rolled over and peered into the darkness, “Can’t you see them with your night vision?”

 

“No, it’s like they’re invisible.”

 

“Like they don’t exist?”

 

“No, they definitely exist. Stay there Mari, I’m going to deal with this. If I can find them.”

 

“Chat, are you OK? I can’t see anyone and I haven’t heard anyone but you this whole time.”

 

Chat walked away from her, gritting his teeth as not to say anything rash. Someone was here, he knew it. They were probably an akumatized villain. Even if Marinette doubted him, he would find them. He turned in a slow circle, scanning the whole room. After he made the full circle he heard something behind him, the creaking of a door. They were downstairs! He turned and rushed down them. He heard Marinette call after him once, but he ignored her, too focused on his chase.

 

That happened to be his one mistake. If only he had gone back, everything would’ve turned out differently.

 


 

Marinette called after Chat, shocked at his sudden rush down the stairs. He didn’t respond.

 

“Stipid cat,” she mumbled to herself. She threw off the covers and stood slowly. She stretched, gathering her thoughts. Chat wasn’t fully healed yet. He was probably still on painkillers. He was probably having a hallucination. Marinette sighed and headed for the stairs. He needed to calm down, he would be fine after that. 

 

But she never made it to the stairs.

 

She didn’t see anything. The hands that restrained her were tight and unrelenting. She opened her mouth to yell or scream, signal that she needed help, but a piece of cloth was shoved firmly in her mouth before she could react. She screamed against the cloth but the noise was feeble at best. Her captor started dragging her towards the balcony.

 

No. Not again. She would not be kidnapped again.

 

Tikki was in the room, she knew. She had used the mental bond with her kwami more than once. It had strengthened over the years. Aging into adulthood was a rite of passage for all kwami holders, allowing them to form a psychic bond with their kwamis as well as being able to use their abilities multiple times during one transformation. The bond Marinette had been practicing with Tikki for the past three year was what she used now.

 

Tikki, spots on! Marinette thought to her kwami. She smiled against the gag. Her attacker was about to get a good surprise.

 

The pink glow that surrounded Marinette filled her with a surreal sense of calm. She almost laughed at how confident the transformation made her. She felt the cool, skin tight fabric of her “costume” surround her body. As the glow faded, she remembered Chat. He couldn’t come up here while she was Ladybug. She turned toward the door to take a step forward, but was restrained.

 

What? She thought to herself. She struggled against the person holding her. She looked down at the hands holding her and screamed in frustration. They were invisible. Crap.

 

But not being able to see your opponent didn’t change the fact that they were indeed made of solid matter. And, therefore, this grip was nothing a good ol’ ball shot couldn’t fix.

 

She brought her foot up, and voila, she was free. Ladybug raced to the door and locked it before Chat could come up the stairs. She spun quickly and assessed the room that appeared to be obviously empty. She took a battle stance and prepared to fight. Her enemy was in this room. She would find him.

 

Or not because he was suddenly visible beside her.

 

Ladybug screamed. And when I say screamed, I mean screamed . It was a miracle the glass didn’t shatter on the spot. It was also a miracle that Chat wasn’t already banging on the door, demanding to be let in.

 

And for all that has ever happened in her life, Ladybug had the right to scream right now. Mostly because no one should ever have a human being appear right next to them without warning, but also because that human being should never, ever be your greatest supernatural enemy/ex boyfriend.

 

Yes ladies and gentlemen. Luka was standing in front of her for no reason other than to scare the bejeezus out of her.

 

He also just so happened to be dressed as Hawkmoth, but who cares about that.

 

“LuKa!?!?” Ladybug screamed, her voice going up another octave. Although his face was almost completely covered in a mask she knew she would recognize that face anywhere (Throwback to Oni-Chan. “Kagami!?!?” LOL).

 

“Hello, Ladybug. Or should I say Marinette. That was quite a useful reveal on your part.”

 

“But… how… what…?”

 

“Shhh, doll. All will be very clear soon,” he leaned in and pecked her on the lips, “But for now I have to let your boyfriend in on the action.”

 

Ladybug suddenly heard Chat banging on the door. She realized that she was still transformed and quickly said the sequence. As the pink glow lit up the room she heard the door creak open, then smash into the wall. She heard Chat’s yelp of surprise and Luka’s chuckle fading out of the room. All of this happened as she was detransforming. Great.

 

The glow faded, and Marinette fell to her knees, not looking in Chat’s direction.

 

“Mari?” she heard a feeble voice ask.

 

“Ya?” she rasped. Her voice was nearly gone from all of her screaming.

 

‘You… You’re L… La…?”

 

“Ya,” she said quieter. Her head felt heavy all of a sudden. The room was spinning.

 

The darkness that swallowed her was a welcome thing.

 

Chapter Text

Marinette woke up sweating and frightened. Had it just been a dream? No, it couldn’t have been. It was too real. But then Chat knew she was Ladybug. And Luka was Hawkmoth. And her life was over.

 

Nope, totally a dream.

 

Marinette sighed in relief and laid back onto her bed. It hadn’t been real. She was just having another ex-boyfriend nightmare. Classic ex-boyfriend is your mortal enemy and your boyfriend finds out your deepest, darkest secret. Every teen’s normal Tuesday night. Except she wasn’t a teen anymore and it had been years since she had even spoken to Luka. Maybe she should get back in touch with him.

 

Marinette closed her eyes and rolled over, facing the wall.

 

She didn’t see the lurking shadow that escaped from her balcony that morning.

 


 

Chat woke up that morning in a place he didn’t recognize. He barely remembered last night, just a lot of screaming. A nightmare, he assumed. He had just gotten off of the drugs the hospital had been giving him, maybe he was experiencing some form of withdrawal. He shook his head and looked around. The room he was in was dark. The ceiling was incredibly tall and a large window dominated one side of the room. Chat frowned and looked around once again, expecting something or someone to appear. How had he gotten here?

 

He started to stand. Something was off about this place and he needed to leave. He got to his knees when a wave of pain crashed over him. He cried out and curled in on himself, holding his head. When the spell passed he tried to stand again, this time getting one foot underneath him before the shock. He yelped and fell to the floor again.

 

He was shaking, he realized. Something was wrong, horribly wrong. He needed to leave but he couldn’t even stand. He couldn’t hold in the whimper that escaped from his lips. He screwed his eyes shut and waited. Maybe someone would come out of the shadows that appeared completely empty.

 

Chat didn’t know how long he laid there, waiting. But he wasn’t prepared for the taunting voice that met him next.

 

“Chat Noir. Come here kitty,” the voice sounded just like Ladybug’s, but it was cruel and twisted. Chat looked up and sure enough Ladybug was standing just at the edge of the shadows.

 

“Ladybug?” he knew full well this wasn’t really Ladybug, but his tortured brain didn’t have the energy to give up on what appeared to be hope.

 

“Hi, Chaton. Why don’t you come here, I want to see you better,” her voice was mocking and she smiled as she said it. Instinctually, Chat tried to take a defensive stance, but once he got halfway there, the pain returned. He groaned and fell back to the floor once again. Ladybug laughed.

 

“Chat Noir, what a pleasant surprise. Although I suppose I’m not surprised because I’m the one who brought you here. I need that ring on your finger, you know, so that I can rid you from this world,” this new voice made Chat freeze. He recognized it, but he hadn’t heard it for years. He and the owner of this voice had once been good friends but then…

 

“Luka?”

 

“Congratulations. You are the winner. Now hand the ring over,” Luka wasn’t happy he had been discovered so easily. Chat gritted his teeth and curled around his hand.

 

“No.”

 

“Oh, we’re going to play this game are we? Lovely,” Luka gestured to the frozen shape of Ladybug behind Chat, “Hon, do the honors, will you?”

 

Ladybug sauntered forward and crouched in front of Chat smiling, “This can be easy, Chaton. Or it can be very, very hard,” Chat remained silent, “Well don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

 

Then there was pain.

 


 

Marinette waited for Chat to arrive at her balcony. The hospital had said he had been released last night and had gone home. It made sense but Marinette would have expected Chat to come immediately here.

 

Maybe he had learned his lesson.

 

Nope not possible.

 

So then where was he?

 

A section of her brain was still being annoyingly pushy about last night. It wasn't just a dream. It was real. He knows. He hates you now. She shook off the unwelcome thoughts, convinced that she was still just paranoid after the strange dream and all of the recent traumatic events she’d experienced.

 

But what if…

 

After everything that had happened recently her brain pushed her into the dark corner. She sat down with her head in her hands. What if, what if, what if. Her thoughts were overwhelmed with countless possibilities, each one worse than the last. Tears streamed down her face but Marinette didn't bother wiping them away.

 

He's disappointed. Why did it have to be you?

 

He hates you. He's risked his life, and for what?

 

He despises you.

 

He never wants to see you again.

 

You aren't worth it.

 

Your alone. You've always been alone.

 

She was sobbing now, the painful, heart wrenching sobs that people avoid at all costs. No one wants that sadness. As a whole we swerve around it like the plague. No contact. No support. No comfort. We let people deal with their own problems. Why should we care?

 

When we reach the point of no return, the point where you are lost traversing around the shadowed corners of our own mind, we are lost. Lost and never found. Finding the person like that, that is the moment they see the light at the end of the tunnel. If you leave them, broken and lost, the darkness will never leave, never end. There will be no escape from the darkness.

 

We all look up at the people who have succeeded. The people you find on the news and on magazine covers. Idols, heroes, and stars. All of them lost. And no one even knows they need to be found.

 

Marinette let the darkness swallow her. A few hours later she took a shower and went downstairs to open her now famous shop. It was the busiest day she had ever experienced. She smiled and thanked all the customers. She signed autographs and assured everyone who asked that she and Chat were both recovering fine. She ignored the glares if jealous fangirls and chatted with the various friends that showed up.

 

She smiled, laughed, and put on a show. Her life seemed perfect to all of them. She got to date a superheroes, run her own business, be on the news. What more could a person need.

 

No one knew that the shadows surrounding her thickened with every word, every false smile. She was lost, drowning. And no one even knew it.