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The Bravery of Adrien Agreste

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Adrien shivered as he stood overlooking the Seine, his arms resting against the railing.  He rubbed his dry eyes. There would be a sunrise this morning.  The past three mornings, the clouds gradually lightened until night turned into day, but there were no colors in the sunrise.  But today, only high clouds speckled the starry night sky.  Yes, today there would be a sunrise.

Though, he sighed thoughtfully, the cloudy nights were much warmer than the clear ones.  This last night was rough.  Adrien gently petted the sleeping kwami in his pocket.  The temperature had fallen to just above freezing, and Plagg had been able to hold his transformation almost the whole night. When the transformation faded, Adrien picked up his tired kwami, climbed down off the roof, and started walking.  He wasn’t so chilled if he was walking.

When Adrien was Chat Noir, he didn’t feel cold.  A fact he was grateful for.  When the nights got cold, Plagg insisted he transform to get some sleep.  And for once, Adrien listened.  He found a new rooftop every night, finding little cubbies or niches to crawl into.  Last night, he slept above a pool, curled up beside some piece of machinery that hummed all night.  Adrien found it soothing.

After they left Adrien’s father’s house, Plagg was giddy with ideas.  They were going to live it up.  The little god quickly reminded him that locks were inconsequential to beings that could phase through matter.  Empty apartments, hotel rooms, you name it, Adrien could take his pick.  He could phase through bank machines to grab cash.  The city could be theirs.

Plagg didn’t understand when Adrien politely declined the offer.  No, he ran away so he could be the the person he wanted to be.  And that person wasn’t a criminal.  Plagg insisted that the people of Paris would gladly help their hero in his time of need.  But Adrien refused take anything that wasn’t offered willingly.  He wouldn’t steal.

Plagg pouted for hours in response to Adrien’s stubbornness, even claimed he’d refuse to transform.  But in the end, the tiny god couldn’t let his chosen freeze to death on a roof.  He begged Adrien to transform, to get some sleep.

The suit provided protection from the elements, but it didn’t make a hard roof any more comfortable.  Adrien slept when he was exhausted, but woke up when he had slept enough for the discomfort to win out.

It was a constant battle between discomfort and exhaustion. But Adrien was always tired.

Pale pinks started warming up the clouds.  Today was Monday, Adrien mused, it would be the second day Adrien missed school.

He should miss his friends, he supposed, but the relief was greater. Without him there, Nino wouldn’t have to worry and dote. Without him there, Marinette wouldn’t be disappointed.  Out here, he didn’t feel like a failed friend. Or a failed son.

Adrien buried his nose in his bright yellow jacket.  The jacket was way too big, and often drafty, but it was a precious gift.  An Algerian tourist gave it to him. The man explained he was flying home and had no use for such a big downy jacket. But Adrien suspected that was just an excuse. The man was just trying to be kind.

Then later that day, an elderly woman handed him a knitted hat she had made for the homeless. Adrien was struck speechless by her generosity and barely remembered to say thank you.

Adrien had left home four nights ago.  He left without a plan, hell, he even forgot to take his jacket. Though, a tailored designer jacket would not doubt attract attention.  Adrien knew he had to stay in Paris in case of akuma attacks, he also knew his father would be looking for him. So, he had to say as hidden as possible.

It was easier to do than he first thought.  Without a generous amount of product and styling, his hair fell into his eyes.  It gave him a feral, unkept look.  It also served to hide his green eyes, one of his more distinguishing features.  Adrien also kept to the less desirable parts of Paris.  While nowhere in Paris could really be considered poor, there were areas that homeless and refugees gathered.  And that’s where Adrien chose to spend his days.

Bright oranges began to glow in the sky as the horizon changed from the dark blue of night, to the pale blue of day.

People had been kind to him.  He wasn’t expecting that.  Adrien had absolutely nothing to give in return, and yet people were kind.  He had found a coffee shop with an old piano.  The barista smiled at him and told him he could play, even without buying anything.  The shop was warm and smelled like coffee and pastries.  Adrien played songs he knew well.  His mother’s favorites.  Clair de Lune, Moonlight Sonata, Swan Lake.

When a little girl sat next to him wearing a ballet leotard, Adrien played Waltz of the Sugar Plum Fairy.  The little girl danced and squealed with excitement.  Her mom bought him a coffee and muffin.

Yeah, people could be kind.  Adrien wished his father knew that. For so many years, he watched his father fear the world, fear other people.  His father’s paranoia had kept Adrien isolated almost all his life.  You were wrong, father.

But to be fair, not everyone was nice.  A well dressed couple bought him dinner and offered to let him use their flat to shower.  Adrien was eager to accept their offer, but Plagg bit his hand in warning.  The little god was convinced their generosity had ulterior motives.  Later, Adrien asked Plagg to elaborate, “you don’t wanna know,” was all he said.

The sky was awash with colors now.  It was truly beautiful.  Something out of a painting.  A woman, who was out walking a dog, stopped to take a picture with her phone.

There would be a mass starting soon.  Adrien wasn’t religious, but the church would be warm.  The daily masses were shorter than the Sunday ones. Still, it would be an hour he could spend inside.

Then, Adrien would walk to a laundromat. He could easily spend 2 hours inside there without arousing suspicion.  Adrien had no idea how to do laundry, and he was beginning to think it was a very individualized process.  As he watched the people around him, he noticed some used liquid soaps while others used powders. Some people put all their laundry in a once, while others seem to do loads by color.  Adrien knew his clothes were starting to smell, so this was something he really needed to learn.

Then, around lunchtime, Adrien would walk by open air restaurants.  There, he would watch and wait.  When people finished dining, there was window of time that their uneaten food was left unattended. He could easily run by and snag a half eaten sandwich, an unfinished baguette, or chips. It wasn’t stealing, not really.

Adrien also found that he liked public libraries. He’d never been to one before. To his surprise, libraries were so much more than just books.  There were computers, story times, children’s puzzles and games.  Adrien used one of the public computers to check the Ladyblog.  Without his phone, he didn’t get the alerts of akuma attacks. Thankfully, there hadn’t been one.  He was relived to see that he hadn’t left his lady to fight on her own.

However, Adrien was surprised that his disappearance wasn’t in the news. Not even in the entertainment webpages. Sure, there were millions of people living in Paris. A runaway 16-year-old wasn’t that important in the long run. But it still seemed odd.  Before, he would often find his name in the gossip pages, even when the story was a complete fiction. Why nothing now?

Perhaps an exposé on why a fashion heir would choose to become a homeless youth would be bad for the brand? Adrien thought bitterly.

——

Marinette clung tightly to the macaroon box as she ran to school Monday morning.  All weekend long, her thoughts drifted from Chat to Adrien.  Chat never returned to her balcony, so she would have to wait until patrol to see in again.  And Adrien…?Was he okay? Was he thirsty? Did Nino and him play their game?  She wished she had known the location of the photoshoot.  Because, you know,… maybe Ladybug needed to interrupt. And grab Adrien out of there for a top secret akuma-related mission.

In the end, Marinette just kept herself busy all weekend long. She worked on her assignments, sketches, and commissions. She tried to distract herself from the unease she felt in the pit of her stomach. The guilt she felt from knowing that Adrien could be hurting, and there was nothing she could do. And from the fact that she never got to apologize for her behavior on Thursday.

As she ran up the steps of Françoise Dupont High School, she found Nino pacing back and forth.

“Isn’t class suppose to start in like two minutes?” Marinette asked as she ended her sprint.

“Yeah,…” Nino kept looking to the street, watching the cars go by.  “I’m waiting for Adrien. Haven’t heard from the dude all weekend.”

“Oh,” Marinette looked at the box of freshly made macaroons in her hand.  “You never got to play your game?”

“No. I’m worried about him.” Nino admitted, staring at the street.

Yeah,… me too.

Marinette looked at the steady line of cars passing in front of the school.  Adrien was never late.  Sometimes he missed school for work, but he was always on time the days he was present.

“Let’s go, Nino,” Marinette gently touched his arm. “Adrien wouldn’t want us to be late because of him.” She tried to smile reassuringly, but Nino only gave her a sad look back.

At roll call, Miss Bustier asked Nino and Lila if they knew where Adrien was.  Lila relayed that she had done her super sexy photoshoot solo. While part of Marinette was relieved that Adrien didn’t have to pose with Lila, she felt more and more bothered by Adrien’s absence in the seat in front of her.

Not that the seat was empty.  Alya sat next to Nino.  Sometimes holding his hand, sometimes stroking his arm.  Her actions were warm and comforting, but they lacked the flirty nature she normally showed.

After class, Marinette headed to the locker room.  She was lost in her own thoughts when she sat down on the bench in front of the lockers. What’s going on, Adrien? Marinette stared at the floor. Was he grounded? And his father just took it to the extreme? And I thought losing my phone was bad.

Suddenly, a familiar pair of red boots stood in front of her. Ugh! Not her. The last time she spoke to Lila, she barely resisted punching her smug little face.

“Adrien missed our photo shoot Sunday.”  Lila stated, staring coldly at Marinette.

“Yeah, I heard in class,” Marinette replied disinterested.  Engaging in small talk with Lila was the last thing she needed right now.  Marinette stood up to leave, but Lila blocked her way.

  “According to Gabriel, he was…”

“Oh, so your on first name terms with Mr. Agreste? How nice.” Marinette retorted with false sweetness as she walked around Lila. “What close pals you’re becoming.”

  “According to Gabriel,” Lila repeated, “he was having some sort of tantrum.”

“A tantrum sounds soooo like Adrien.” Marinette’s voice was dripping with sarcasm.

“Hey! Listen to…"

“Are you even trying this time?” Marinette cut her off as she turned around. “At least the sugar daddy thing was original.”  She made no attempt to hide the mockery in her voice.

Lila grabbed her wrist, but Marinette quickly swatted her away.

“If Adrien backs out of our deal, I’m going to stop being nice.”  Lila warned.

“Since when were you ever nice?” Marinette taunted.

“Oh, Marinette,” Lila smiled wickedly “you don’t wanna see...”

“Shut it, Lila!” Marinette snapped. “There is no way I’m believing anything that comes out of your mouth.”

Lila’s mouth dropped open in shock.

“So, whatever your plotting, I’m not letting you set me up again.” She crossed her arms, “I’m not taking the bait this time.”

Lila glared back, her hands in fists.

Marinette smirked before turning to leave. “I’m done being played by you” she yelled as she pushed open the locker room door.

—-

Dawn was still a few hours away on the cold Thursday morning. It had been six days and seven nights since Adrien left his father’s home.  It was December now, and the nights were very cold and very long. 

Adrien huddled next to the large mechanical box on the roof of the pool.  He wasn’t even sure what is was for.  But it had a pleasing hum, and it was warm.  All night long, he alternated which side he leaned against it. He could sleep a little bit, here and there.  But, he never knew for how long.  Adrien didn’t have a watch, so he had to patiently wait for morning. 

Long before sunrise, the car noises would start.  Traffic in Paris was terrible, and the sound of cars and trucks was ever present.  Except for in the dead of night. Hours before sunrise, the street noises would slowly come back to life.

Adrien curled and relaxed his toes, trying to get the blood flowing.  He didn’t wear his socks; he had no way to dry them after yesterday’s downpour.  Instead he wrapped his feet in paper napkins.  They provided a meager barrier between his feet and his damp canvas shoes.  The napkins were fragile, however, and Adrien could no longer walk endlessly to keep warm.  Not that his feet could handle it, anyway.  They were covered with blisters and sores. It was probably a good thing the cold numbed his feet.

Plagg stirred in Adrien’s pocket. Adrien petted him gently, grateful for the heat of his little buddy. At least one of his hands was warm.

The constant transformations were wearing the tiny god down.  Surprisingly, Plagg never complained.  During the day, Adrien was always sure to wonder near markets and cheese shops.  Plagg would phase through the wall and eat his fill before returning to Adrien.

It was harder for Adrien to get food now.  With each day, he was looking grimier, more haggard. It had been over a week since he had shaved. While a full beard might have helped keep his face warm, Adrien’s teenage scruff just made him look dingy.  The open air restaurants were now aware of his grab’n’go tactics. Two days ago, he was caught by a busboy and brought to the manager.  Adrien was giving the option of washing dishes or talking to the police.  He chose dishes.

Adrien tried his best, he really did. But he had never washed dishes before, and the water was scalding on his sensitive hands.  Also, there was a large metal sanitizer box that he didn’t understand.  Why did you steam the dishes after you washed them?  He burnt his fingers when he tried to take out the pots and silverware too soon.

To reward his efforts, the manager bought him a large dinner.  Adrien ate it greedily, with bandages on his hands. The sympathetic man offered to let Adrien try again.  He just needed his social security card to officially put him on the books.  Adrien politely declined.  He didn’t even know if he had a card.  He didn’t see it in the safe that night. Besides, his father could probably use it to find him.

Adrien twisted around so his other side was against the warm metal. He gingerly picked up his sleeping kwami and put him in his other pocket.

Plagg wanted him to go to Marinette. Just explain the whole Lila thing! She’ll understand. Plagg assured. 

She might, Adrien mused, then what? Marinette literally lived right across the street from the school. If his father found him, his wrath would be extreme. It could kill the young designer’s career before it even started.

No, Adrien couldn’t risk doing that to her. Not after everything else. He wouldn’t her hurt again.

The exhaustion was winning again, and Adrien felt his eyelids get heavy.  Only a few more hours until dawn.  A few more hours until the churches, laundromats and libraries would open.  He could make it until then.

—-

Thursday morning, the unexpected happened.  Sure, the day started out like another other. By now the students in Miss Bustier’s class were getting used to Adrien’s absence. But that didn’t make it any easier.  Marinette sighed as she sat alone while Alya and Nino sat in the front seat.

“Bourgeois, Chloe?” Miss Bustier began her roll call.

“Uh… Don’t you mean, ‘Agreste, Adrien?’” Chloe responded, rolling her eyes.

Miss Bustier exhaled sadly, “Adrien’s no longer on my class list,” she explained.

Everyone started talking at once. Well, almost everyone. Marinette just sat, slack jawed. She felt like she was falling.  Adrien, gone from school? Forever?

Marinette bitterly remembered the other time Adrien was pulled out of school.  It was a punishment for loosing his father’s precious book.  Did something happen to make Mr. Agreste so angry again?

She looked down at the tiny macaroon box on the seat beside her. How was she going to see Adrien again if he was locked inside his house? He hadn’t been responding to texts or calls, from anybody.

A loud WHAMP startled Marinette from her thoughts.  Nino had slammed his fists down, hard, on his desk.  The classroom, that was so noisy moments ago, became quiet and still. No one moved.

After a moment, Alya reached out to touch him. But Nino shrugged off her touch, grabbed his bag and marched out of the room, slamming the door.

After that, no one spoke much during class.  The shock of it was so raw.  Marinette heard Chloe’s soft cries and sniffles, but she herself was stoic and dry-eyed. It doesn’t make sense. Marinette was beginning to wonder if she ever understood anything anymore.

—-

“Hey Marinette?” Alya called to her after class had ended. “I umm,.. I know you and I are not doing so hot right now,” She was fidgeting with the strap of her book bag, “but I need to ask you about Adrien.”

“Adrien?” Marinette asked, surprised. She loaded her books into her bag.  “I haven’t spoken to him since he was last at school. We’re not close." She said sadly, “you know that.”

Alya narrowed her eyes. “I thought I knew a lot of things about you.”

“C’mon Alya, if you’re still mad about,…"

“No. I’m sorry, I’m not,” she interrupted.  Alya’s gaze softened then she continued. “It’s just… Nino is really scared, so I’m following up any leads I can.”

“Leads? About Adrien?” Marinette asked, voice full of concern. “Do you have any?”

“Um,.. not yet.” Alya looked around nervously. “Can we go somewhere more private?"

Alya walked toward the classroom doors and beckoned for Marinette to follow.  Silently, they walked to the girl's restroom.  Once inside, Alya checked every stall to make sure that they were empty.

“Why all the secrecy?” Marinette looked at her friend curiously, as Alya finished inspecting the row of stalls?

“I just don’t want to make things any worse for you right now.”

“Oh.” Marinette stared back at her friend, confused.  "I thought this was about Adrien.”

“It is.” Alya took a deep breath, “okay, two days before he disappeared, Adrien was really worried about you.” Alya explained, “He started asking me a bunch of questions?”

“A bunch of questions, about me?”

“It was right after you were grounded. I was upset, and extremely worried about you.”

Marinette looked down at her hands.

“I, umm…” Alya winced, “I told him why you were grounded”

"But you didn’t know?!” Marinette protested. “The rumors Lila has been spreading about me are…"

“Arg! Lila again.  No, Your mom told me!"

“My mom? But why would she...” A cold realization swept over her. She steadied her breath. “And you told Adrien?”

“Not at first,” Alya admitted reluctantly, “but he kept on digging for information.”

“Alya!” Marinette whined. “What exactly did you tell him?”

“That your parents saw a boy leave your room in the middle of the night.” Alya grimaced.

Marinette groaned and covered her face with her hands.

“He wanted to know if your parents knew who it was, but I told him they only saw his back. And, it couldn’t be Luka  because it was someone with blond hair.”

A fresh wave of embarrassment hit. Whispers amongst students were one thing, but Alya and Adrien actually knowing was another.

She was just so ready for this to be over.

“What does this have to do with Adrien leaving school?”

“I think he told your parents it was him.”

“What?!” Marinette shrieked

“Right after I told him, he stormed out of here. Then, Nino saw Adrien head to your parents bakery. You were grounded, so it couldn’t have been to see you.  And it’s not like the boy eats carbs.  The next day, you were back at school, ungrounded, like nothing happened.”

Marinette’s mind struggled with the new information.  It didn’t make sense.  Was he there when Lila pulled off her scarf? Did he see the mark on her neck? Why would he claim it was him?

But, if he did…  if Adrien confessed to leaving her room that night.  It might explain her mother’s strange behavior.  She went from grounding Marinette for life, to saying she’d support her and her friends. It didn’t make sense at the time, but Marinette wasn’t about to complain.  If Adrien told Sabine it was him, that would explain her mother’s attitude shift. Her parents liked Adrien.  If they believed Marinette was lying to protect him…

But still,...Why would he do that for her? If something like that ever got back to his father…?

Marinette gasped and covered her mouth.  She could feel her eyes start to water.

Alya grabbed her shoulders and looked into her eyes

“Now, don’t freak out, Marinette. It’s just a lead, we’re grasping at straws here.”  Alya assured.

“It’s hard not to freak out. If I somehow got Adrien in trouble...”

“We’re not there yet, girl!” Ayla tried to assure her friend.  “Did your mom or dad say anything?  Could they have contacted Adrien’s father?”

Marinette shook her head. “They wouldn’t do that.” She was confident in that. “They’ve never been comfortable with how his father treats him.”

The tears in her eyes were rolling down her cheeks now.

“Hey Marinette? Marinette?” Alya tried to get Marinette to look at her. “There’s no need to cry, this is a good thing.”

“A good thing?” She choked.

“We’re one step closer to figuring out what happened to Adrien.” Alya half smiled. “And this is one theory we can scratch off the list.”

“He lied to defend me!  It wasn’t his fault,.. and he,...” A sob excepted her throat. He's a coward. Her words burned in her mind. Oh god! she was wrong,… she was so so wrong.

“Alya!” Marinette realized in horror, “The last time we spoke, he said he wanted to help me.”

Marinette hugged her arms and tried to calm her breathing. Hot tears now fell in her forearms.

“He helped me! He helped me when he didn’t have to.” Her throat was tiny and tight. “It could have cost him so much! Why would he do that, Alya!?”

Marinette desperately tried to swallow another sob, she couldn’t give into panic. No, no, no… not here.  Inhale.. She tried to breathe, but her shaky lungs wouldn’t cooperate.  She dug her fingernails into the fabric of her blazer, trying to focus on the pain.  Come on, Marinette! Calm down, calm down.  She looked up at the high windows of the bathroom.  Marinette needed to be able to run if a butterfly found her.

She felt warm arms surround her as Alya pulled her into hug.  Marinette froze at the unexpected touch, then she tightly squeezed her back, burying her face in Ayla’s shoulder.

“Shhhh…” Alya soothed, stroking her hair.  “He did it because he loves and cares about you.  We all do.”  She cradled her friend against her, as Marinette held on for dear life.

“I’m so sorry, Alya.” Marinette's tears were falling in her hair. “There’s so many things I wish I could tell you.”

“I know, girl.” Alya assured rubbing her back, “I’m sorry too, for the way I’ve been acting.  Just remember, I’ll be here. If you feel like you can talk, or not, I’ll be here. Or,” Alya forced a chuckle, ‘we could even play video games?”

Marinette hugged her friend tighter. “We have to find him, Alya,” she whispered. “I have to see him again.”