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The Bravery of Adrien Agreste

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As hard as she could, Marinette threw the magazine against the balcony floor. Angry tears threatened to fall down her cheeks.  Deep breathes. In through the nose, out through the mouth, peaceful thoughts. You can do it girl.

Screw that! God, she wanted to be angry right now.

Marinette rammed her hand in her pajama pocket, reaching for the charm bracelet there. Her fingers cataloguing the beads one by one.  Each bead was different, but she knew their unique textures by heart.  It was a meditation that normally helped calm her. But tonight, the action felt empty.

Her eyes fell to crumpled magazine. Of course it fell open to that page.

It was a picture of Adrien and Lila. Their beautiful smiling faces turned toward the camera. Lila’s hand on his chest, fingers splayed possessively.

Figures. She had carefully selected that fashion magazine. It focused on pattern building and draping.  It was one that Gabriel never featured in. But there they were! It wasn’t even an article, just a half page perfume ad toward the back. 

Adrien was looking beautiful as ever, but Marinette could see the discomfort in his eyes. He didn’t want Lila to touch him. And, Lila seemed to know that too. Marinette stared at the triumphant gleam in her eye, bile rising in her throat.

She inhaled a shaky breathe.  Held it for five counts, and exhaled.

Does it matter, as long as you and I know the truth. Adrien’s words hunted her.

“Yeah, it matters.”  She spat aloud to no one in particular.  “It’s worse.”

She pulled the blanket tighter around her body. It was after 11 o’clock, on a cool autumn night.  She sat on the floor of her balcony, her back resting against the wall.  The past few hours were a busy whirlwind of essays, studying and working on her commissions.  Some alone time with her new magazine was her reward for a solid 5 hours of work.  

Marinette sipped her mint tea and gazed at the Paris lights. She pulled out the charm to look at it. The colors were muted in the yellow glow of her string lights.  Adrien tried his best to copy the one she gave him. The colors and materials were different. But the size and number of beads was the same. It was a sweet gesture, it really was.

“Evening purrrinccess.”  A familiar black leather clad figure appeared on her railing, sitting on his haunches.

“Hi, Chat,” she answered politely.  “What are you doing out? It’s not your patrol night.”

“It’s nice to know your keeping tabs on me.” Chat smiled playfully.

Marinette knew she should try to think of an excuse, but she couldn’t bring herself to care.  The patrols were hardly secret.  There was probably a Ladyblog post about them.  Akuma attacks never happened on patrols.  It was more to show the people of Paris that their superhero team was always there for them.  Not to say Marinette didn’t enjoy their jaunts around the city.  Jumping from roof to roof was exhilarating when there wasn’t an Akuma chasing you.

Marinette realized that neither had said anything in a while.  Chat remained at his perch, watching her.

“I’m afraid I’m not good company tonight,” she admitted.

“Anything I can do to help?” Chat offered, jumping down from the railing to sit beside her.   “They say, cats are very good listeners.”

Marinette exhaled and stared at the skyline again.  She liked having him next to her, as Marinette.  His rooftop visits were few and far between. But she always enjoyed when he stopped by.

Chat was different around Ladybug.  With Ladybug, his bravado often overpowered any trace of sweetness.  Over the years, the flirting subsided, but Marinette’s uneasiness remained.  Ever since Bunnyx showed her that horrible future, she strived to always be professional.  She always worried that a touch here or a wink there might lead to. She never wanted to give Chat false hope.

“You seem upset,” Chat said after a minute. “I can go if you want me to."

“I don’t, it just,... it’s just,” Marinette sighed, “I guess I am upset, I shouldn’t be. Its just me being stupid.”

“I don’t think you’re stupid.” Chat smiled sweetly.

Marinette gave a halfhearted laugh.  “You don’t know me that well.”

She went back to studying the string of beads in front of her.

“What’s that?” Chat asked.

“It’s a luck charm.”  She stated flatly. “It doesn’t work.”

‘Oh,” he said quietly, shifting slightly. “Why do you keep it then?”

Marinette could feel tears start to fill her eyes. “A good friend gave it to me. Or at least, I thought he was a friend.” 

Chat seemed to wince at the words.

“What changed?”

“Nothing really.  I just realized something about him.”  Marinette took a shaky breath, already hating herself for what she was about to say.

“He’s a coward.”

She didn’t look at Chat, but she could tell her was watching her.

She sighed and leaned head head back against the wall, gazing up at the stars.

“I mean, I get it. His father is super strict.  He was homeschooled forever.”Marinette closed her eyes and exhaled. “He probably never had the chance to stick up for himself, much less anyone else”

Marinette expected Chat to say something, but he remained silent.  She debated how much she should tell him.  It wasn’t really fair to unload on him.  But after the expulsion fiasco, she couldn’t really talk to Alya or her parents.  And Chat did offer to listen.  After several moments she continued.

“There’s this girl at school. Lila. You’ve met her. Volpina. Chameleon.”  Marinette twisted a few beads. She saw him nod out of the corner of her eye.

“She hurts people.”

“Not physically, though.” Marinette clarified. She’s much too clever. But she lies, and she manipulates.” She could feel the tears escape her eyes.  “And if you ignore her threats, she turns everyone you love against you.”

Marinette could feel her voice cracking. “Parents. Friends. It doesn’t matter. She’ll get them in the end. She’s good at telling people what they want to hear.

“She had me expelled, you know? She had my parents believing the most horrible things about me.”  Tears were streaming down her face now.  “And just like that, she got me reinstated.  Just to gloat over the power she has over the school!”  She could feel Chat fidget beside her, but she continued looking straight ahead.

“Early on my friend convinced me to take the high road, not to expose her.”  Her throat tightened.  “I shouldn’t have listened.”

Marinette clutched the charm tightly in her fist and brought it to her chest.  Her breath was coming out as shaking sobs. “I loved him so much! I would have done anything he said.”

“You loved him?” Chat’s voice was barely above a whisper.

Marinette half choked, half sobbed. “Yeah,…"

She took a few more breaths to calm her breathing.  Chat made no attempt to speak.  He really was a good listener. “I was cruel to him when we met.” Marinette admitted.  She opened her fist to look at the charm again.  “I thought he was a privileged spoiled white kid.  But he had amazing kindness and sincerity to him.” Her finger trace the carved rooster figure in the charm.

“I was so awkward around him, and he was so patient with me.” She paused a moment before she continued.

“After I got to know him more, I learned how much his home life sucked. But he still gave his best, always believed the best in people.”

She could feel a sob rising in her chest.

“But,.. He knows what she is, he’s known all along! And then, he  smiles with her! He holds hands with her!” Marinette knew she was yelling now, but she didn’t care. “He lets her touch him when his eyes are screaming for her to go away!”

Marinette leaned forward so she could bring her arm back. With the years of throwing her yo-yo, her muscles knew the action well.  Using all her strength, she hurled the charm bracelet against the hard stone of her balcony.  The red string broke on impact, scattering the charms.

She wrapped her arms around her knees and sobbed, making no effort to calm herself. Chat was here, if a butterfly came at her, let him  cataclysm it.  For once, she could let herself feel. Let herself cry, let herself behave like a normal teenage girl!

The dam broke.  All the emotions she keep pushing down, came at her with full force.  She felt so alone, with the weight of the world on her shoulders.  Fu was gone.  She had no idea how to be a guardian.  Her friendship with Alya was slipping away.  Her parents no longer believed her.  Lila was making her life a living hell, and she had no idea how to stop her.

The sobs continued to tear at her throat as hot tears poured out. 

And then there was Chat.  Chat who loved Ladybug but knew absolutely nothing about her.  And that was the way it had to be.  If it slipped, if Chat ever found out. Well, shit, that could end the world!

She knew she was ugly crying now,

Even though Ladybug could never allow herself to get too close to him, to show true affection, Chat was forever loyal, ever faithful.  Even now, without having any idea what is going on.  Chat was being there for her. Supporting her. The immense gratitude she felt for her partner further prompted more sobs.

He had no idea how much she needed this. But then again,  he always had her back.

After a few minutes, Marinette’s breath slowly steadied. She wiped her nose and eyes on her blanket, wishing she had brought a tissue.  She sighed again, feeling some of the tension leave her muscles.  Marinette leaned back against the wall of her balcony, staring up at the sky.

“I’m sorry he disappointed you.” Chat whispered, his voice weak.

Marinette turned to face her partner.  His shoulders were slumped, his head down, he was staring at hands. Tears were dripping down his mask and falling onto his gloves.

She made Chat cry?

“No, Kitty, no.” Marinette shrugged off her blanket to kneel beside him. Chat looked away from her. 

“Hey,” she cupped his cheek. Gently, she used her thumb to wipe away a tear. “Don’t be sad, none of this is your fault.”

He made a slight choking noise.

“Please, Chat. Don’t be upset.”  He wouldn’t turn his face to her.  Chat seemed to be staring intently at one of the scattered charms.

“Dear sweet kitty, I shouldn’t have unloaded on you like that.  That wasn’t fair. When you give so much to the city every day.”  Her thumb kept wiping away tears, but they continued to fall.

“I should have helped you.” Chat finally spoke.

“No!” She said louder than needed.  “Don’t feel bad over this. There was nothing you could have done.”

“You don’t know that.” He sounded so small.

“Chat, you’re the bravest person I know.”  She cupped both his cheeks now. “Please look at me.” She pleaded.

Chat didn’t move.

“You are brave, kind, selfless, and amazingly sweet. You’re a wonderful friend and and extraordinary partner.” Marinette paused for a moment.  “And occasionally, you’re jokes are even funny.”

Chat scoffed.

He turned his head to look at her, eyes bloodshot. “You’re only saying that because you were in love with me.”

Marinette smiled at the memory of her bizarre rooftop confession. 

“Yeah,” she admitted, “I do love you.” Marinette meant it too. Sure, it was a different love than she had for Adrien.  It was different from the love she felt for her parents and Alya too.  She leaned her forehead to his. “I can’t help it. You’re very lovable.”

“Not to ladybug,” Chat stated dryly, his eyes shifting down.

Marinette’s heart froze.  How could her poor kitty even think that?  She sat back on her heels and grabbed his gloved hands.

“Hey,” she coaxed.  “I need you to look at me.”

Marinette waited, and after a few moments, Chat finally met her eyes.  

“Ladybug. Loves. You.” She said slowly, enunciating every word. 

His chin quivered as he shook his head. “No, she doesn’t.” His voice small. “She always says,…"

“She says what she has to say!” Marinette interrupted. “She can’t let herself be in love with you. But NEVER doubt that she loves you.”

Chat seemed to be stunned by her outburst.  Marinette continued anyway.

“She has to be the responsible one, especially now.”  She was saying too much, but she just desperately wanted her kitty to understand.  “If she truly gave herself to you, the power and intensity of that love…” She paused at a memory of a white clad, blue eyes kitty. 

“It could destroy worlds,” she whispered.

Her eyes were weeping again. Though, the sad expression on Chat’s face been replaced with pure bewilderment.  He watched her with confusion in his eyes.

“Please don’t be sad anymore,” she sniffed. Slowly she leaned over to kiss his forehead, tenderly stroking the hairs out of the way. 

She heard Chat sigh into the gentle contact. She cupped his face and gently smiled at him.  He was gazing at her, almost curiously.

She leaned forward to kiss his cheek. Chat closed his eyes, ever so slightly turning into her hand.

Marinette pulled back to look at Chat.  His eyes were still shut, his face still rested in her hands. There was a soft contentment to his expression.

Her heart warmed. She did love her kitty.  Ladybug couldn’t show him, but he needed to know.  He needed to know how incredible, how amazing, how lovable he was.

She tenderly kissed his lips.

It was slow, but chaste. Chat’s lips were warm and soft against her own. Surprisingly soft. His skin smelled lightly of aftershave. He didn’t kiss her back, but he made no attempt to turn away.

Marinette broke the contact, leaning back in her heels. “I’m sorry, I should have asked.  It was highly inappropriate,…"

“I didn’t mind.” Chat admitted, his voice low.

Marinette was at a loss for words.  She stared at him stupidly until Chat broke the silence

“So, ummm,.. thank you?”

"Uh, sure. I mean you were sad and I just,... uh.” Marinette groaned. This is a disaster.

“Well, I guess I’m less sad now.”

“Yeah me too.” 

Marinette played with the hem of her pajama top as moments of awkward silence passed between them.

“Marinette?” Chat asked, his voice soft. “May I kiss you again?”

She felt his gloved hand on her cheek, guiding her toward him. Chat was leaning forward now, so there was less space between them.

She let him lead her forward until their noses touch. She could feel his breath on her skin. “May I?” He asked again, his words creating feather light touches against her lips.

Marinette pushed forward ever so slightly to complete the contact. A shiver raced though her body, as her stomach twisted in knots. Her heart started pounding in her chest.  The kiss was so different than just moments ago.

Chat broke the kiss for a split second before pressing into her again. Another long slow kiss. Marinette’s hands shyly touched his arms before sliding them up to his shoulders

She felt his lips pull back in a smile.  Her own face broke into a giddy grin.  Marinette felt herself being lifted and resettled on the tile floor between Chat’s legs.

Marinette wrapped her arms over Chat’s shoulders and around his back.  She buried her nose in his neck and inhaled deeply.  God! He smelled good.  Marinette felt him pull her against his chest, Chat’s fingers gently caressing her back.

She could stay like this forever.

Marinette couldn’t remember the last time she left so content, so protected, so safe.  Even dancing in the arms of Adrien, she never felt like this.  This was something different, something calmer.

Marinette frowned when his arms left her back.  She wasn’t ready for this,… whatever it was, to end.  Stubbornly, she gripped Chat tighter, squeezing her eyes closed.  

She felt the familiar texture of the blanket on her shoulders.  Marinette could feel the muscles of Chat’s back move as he positioned the blanket over her body.  Once he seemed satisfied, Chat returned his arms to her back, holding the blanket in place.

Marinette pulled away from his neck to rest her head on his shoulder, gazing at Chat’s profile.  He seemed pretty pleased with himself.  Chat was staring straight ahead with the smallest grin on his face.

“Thank you, Chat.”  Marinette beamed, smiling brightly.

“You’re welcome, Princess.” Chat whispered, turning his face toward her.

There was so little space between them now. Marinette tried to look at his eyes, but her focus kept drifting toward his mouth.  Oh God! His smirking mouth, where just a minute ago, those smooth warm lips were on her own.  Marinette suddenly couldn’t breath.  They were so close, and she desperately wanted to feel his lips again.

She forced herself to look at his eyes.  They were heavy and staring at her lips. Marinette slightly tipped her chin up towards Chat, watching him closely.  Her heart was pounding in her ears.

Chat’s eyes met hers for the briefest of moments, before he bent his head down. And kissed her again.

Marinette sighed into his impossibly soft lips.  The kisses were harder this time, and faster. All she could hear was her pounding heart, and the tiny wet noises from their mouths.

Marinette tightened her hold on Chat’s back. She wanted to feel more of him. Marinette twisted in his arms until her chest pressed against his own.

A sudden jolt of pain made Marinette jump in Chat’s embrace.  Her hands came suddenly to her lip. Did Chat just bite her?  She looked up to see his cocky face.  Oh, two can play at that game!

Marinette sat up on her knees and turned to face him straight on.  He was taunting her, daring her.  He didn’t need to say anything, Marinette could tell what her partner was thinking with just his eyes.  And she was up for a challenge.

He watched her with an amused expression on his face. Marinette smirked back at him.  Then, climbing onto his thighs, she took his head in her hands, and attacked his mouth.

He didn’t even defend himself, not really.  Within seconds Marinette triumphantly nipped his bottom lip.  Then, his top one for good measure.  She felt his hands grab her waist, pressing her toward him. Both of their mouths were wet, but she didn’t care.

The hard fast kisses gradually slowed, but the intensity increase.  Marinette fingers traced Chat’s jawline as she gently coaxed his mouth open. She ran the tip of her tongue shyly across his bottom lip. 

She felt Chat’s body freeze.

Oh no! She went to far. Marinette tried to move off his lap when strong hands grabbed her and held her in place.

“Sorry,… I didn’t mean...” Chat stammered.

“No, its okay,..” Marinette could tell her face was bright red.

“It just surprised me is all.”

Marinette suddenly found Chat’s bell very interesting.

“Could you, um,.. do it again?” Chat asked quietly.

Marinette felt herself smile, but she still didn’t look at him.

Once again, his mouth was on hers, his tongue shyly begging entrance. It was like a jolt of electricity when their tongues touched.

She moaned into his touch, fingers in his hair. It should be illegal feel this good.  She broke the kiss to catch her breath, arching her back to look up at the stars.  Chat continued kissing her jawline, then down to the sensitive skin on her neck.

Marinette heard gasps escaping her throat, but she didn’t remember making them.  But, she couldn’t find it in herself to care either. Chat was suckling at the base of her neck. Liquid pleasure filled every ounce of her being.  

She closed her eyes, wanting to focus completely on the new sensations flooding her body. Marinette squeezed Chat’s shoulders in encouragement, grinding her hips against his.

A sudden flash of green glowed through her eyelids, as Chat’s naked arms clamped tightly around her.

“This it NOT what the super suit it for!” Shouted an annoyed voice.

Marinette heard the sound of a tiny object whizzing through the air at high speed, then it was gone.

“Plagg?”

Chapter Text

 

“Claws out!” 

Nothing happened.

The girl in his arms squirmed, but he maintained his vice like grip.  Marinette had pulled her arms off his back, but they still hovered over his shoulders. Adrien’s hand cradled the back of her neck, forcing her chin over his shoulder. 

His naked shoulder.

“Plagg! Stop this now! This isn’t funny.”

Silence.

The cold reality of his situation washed over Adrien.  He was in a very compromising position with Marinette.  A girl who just moments ago, was kissing him, and pressing herself against him. Oh, yeah, the same girl he had absolutely screwed over with the whole Lila thing.  A girl who loved him once, but hated his guts now. And with good reason.

“Plagg, please?” his voice was tiny and pathetic.

Marinette still straddled his hips.  Without his suit, he could really feel the heat of her… of her…  God! There were only thin pieces of pajama fabric separating them. How had things got this far so fast?

If she sees me…?

Adrien suddenly felt like he was drowning.  His breathes came in short shallow bursts.  His throat felt tiny as he gulped down air. Adrien knew he was holding Marinette too tightly, but he couldn’t even begin to relax his arms.

“Chat, please relax.” Her voice was strangely calm.

“You don’t understand, I can’t be here, you can’t see me.” Adrien’s voice was high and tense.

“I won’t look.”

“I,.. but Plagg,.. you can’t” he barely choked out the words.

“Breathe with me, okay?  Inhale.”  Marinette breathed an exaggerated breath, encouraging Adrien to do the same.  After serval attempts he was able to fill his lungs deeply with the night air.  “Hold for 5.” Man, the beating of his heart was deafening.

“And exhale…”

Adrien let her coach him though a few more breaths. He relaxed his grip on her back, but still held her head firmly over his shoulder.

“We can figure this out.” Marinette assured.

“But he just,…"

“Has this ever happened before?” She interrupted.

“No.”

“Do you think he’ll come back?”

“I don’t know, he seemed pretty annoyed.” Adrien sighed.

“Chat, its okay.  We can get though this.” Marinette was using her confident class representative voice now.  It was impressive really. Shouldn’t she be freaking out? A strange man was holding her against him. He gulped. In an extremely intimate way.

“First. umm,… Chat?” She hesitated. “Are you wearing anything?”

“Just my pajama bottoms,” Adrien blushed, then cringed.  Great! She thought was naked.

“Ohthankgod” He heard her mutter under her breath.

“If I bring you downstairs, out to the street. Can you get yourself home?” Marinette asked.

“I think so.”  Getting into is house was another issue.  Its not like he carried keys.

“I need you to trust me.” There was that strong voice again.

“But, if you see,..” He sounded desperate.

“You trusted me before. As Multimouse, remember?” Yeah, he remembered.  It was a good memory too. Marinette was amazing.  

“I also promise, not to say a single word to Ladybug.” There was a slight tease in her voice.  Despite the tense situation, Adrien found himself half smiling.

He took a deep breath. “Okay, how do we do this?”

“Chat. My eyes are closed tight.  I need you to let me go.” Marinette instructed.

Adrien slowly peeled his sweaty palms off her body and wiped them on his pant leg.  Marinette leaned back to face him.  True to her word, her eyes were clamped shut.  Like, really shut, as if she was trying to use all the muscles in her face.

Marinette climbed off his lap, finger tips delicately touching the ground.  With her eyes still closed, she turned away from him and crawled toward her skylight.

Adrien watched her crawl away, his eyes falling to the curves of her bottom.  Get a hold of yourself, Agreste. Stop lusting after your friend.

Once Marinette reached the skylight she sat back on her heels, ending Adrien’s view.

“I need to open my eyes to use the hatch.” Marinette explained.  “My back is turned, I won’t be able to see you.  Once I’m inside, wait 60 seconds then head down.”

Marinette disappeared and Adrien began to count down from 60. His eyes wondered over to the scattered beads on the tiles.  Still keeping the countdown in his head, he gathered them one by one.  A few were scratched and cracked, but none were broken completely.  He paused when he came to the silk cord.  He sighed.  There wasn’t any way to fix it.  Poetic justice, he supposed.

When he got to zero, he headed toward the skylight.  “I’m coming down,” he whispered as loud as he dared.  His heart was pounding in his chest again.  What if Marinette forgot about the countdown? What if she looks this way?

He scrambled down onto her bed and down the ladder of her loft. Channeling his inner cat, he went as quickly and stealthy as he could.  Marinette was standing by the trapdoor opening of her room. Her head down and her back toward him.

“Come, stand right behind me.  I’ll go down first.” She whispered.

The ladder stairs creaked under her weight.  Adrien didn’t remembered it being so noisy.  The steps groaned louder when he followed her down several moments later.

Marinette stood in front of the entry door, her back safely toward him.  Adrien could feel relief wash over his body.  This was it.  They were going to make it!

Marinette finished unlocking the last lock. She began opening the door. The relief was so immense, Adrien almost felt giddy as he walked over toward her.

He was startled back to reality when a light behind him flicked on.

“Marinette? What’s going on?” A female voice said.

Marinette spun around to face him. Eyes clamped shut.

“Go! Run. Don’t look back.” She commanded, holding the door open.

Adrien leaped past her, and fled.

He jump down the stairs five at a time, heart pounding in his chest. He crashed into the exit door at the bottom of the stairs, adrenaline coursing through his veins.

Bare feet hit the sidewalk as the rough texture scraped his feet.  But Adrien didn’t care.  A mantra kept playing over and over in his head.  I’m going to kill him. I’m going to kill him. I don’t care if he’s a god.  I’m going to kill him.

After several blocks, he stopped to catch his breath.

“Plagg! Get back here! That was too close!” He wheezed.

If it wasn’t so tragic, it might be funny.  Here he was, standing alone in the street.  Barefoot, shirtless, and in his pajamas.  Taking to himself like a crazy person.

Once his breath had steadied, he turned again toward his house.  Walking slowly this time.  He shouted any and all threats he could think of.

“I’ll take the batteries out of all the remotes!”

“I can change the password to my Netflix!”

“Come back. Or I’ll buy dairy free cheese!”

Suddenly, the tiny flying cat appeared in front of him.

“Fine! But you owe me an apology.” Plagg insisted, crossing his arms.

“Me, owe you? You detransformed! She could have discovered my identity!” Adrien retorted.

“May I remind you, I am the suit! It is for fighting akumas, not grinding against your girlfriend.”  Plagg accused.

“She’s not my girlfriend.

“Yeah, I heard. Doesn’t think too much of Adrien. So what possessed you to start making out!?!”  Plagg’s little arms were on his hips now.

"I,... I wanted to make her feel better.” Why was his voice so high?

“You wanted to make her feel better?” Plagg repeated doubtfully.

“Maybe, she loves Chat Noir.” Adrien sighed  “Or at least she used to.”

“And what about the whole ‘Ladybug loves you. Your love is so powerful blah blah blah.’?” Plagg mimicked in his falsetto.

Adrien looked down at the ground.

“She was telling you exactly what you’ve always wanted to hear!” Plagg shouted.  “You’re both so... so... Arg! This is why I stick to cheese!”

Adrien wrapped his arms around himself, squeezing the loose charms in his hand.  Honestly, he didn’t even know what to think anymore.  His mind was struggling to comprehend all the things that happened tonight.  The things Marinette said.  The things Marinette did.  The things he did with Marinette.

“It’s cold, Plagg, Can we go home?” Adrien asked, defeated.

“I want to hear you say it first.” Plagg insisted, still acting offended.

“Really?” Adrien grumbled. “Fine. I’m sorry. I won’t make out with girls in the suit again”

 

———

 

The front door slammed shut. 

Marinette hesitantly opened an eye.  Sabine had an unreadable expression on her face. Empty glass in her hand.

“Who was that?” Sabine asked firmly.

“Just a.. friend?”

“A friend? At 11 o’clock at night. In his pajamas? Who was that, Marinette?”  Sabine demanded.

“You and dad are usually asleep by now.” Marinette offered weakly, crossing her arms.  She should not not have said that. Sabine’s expression shifted.  Oh man, here it comes. She rarely saw her mom this angry. 

“How long has this been going on? Do you sneak boys into your room often?  Marinette! We trust you to be more more responsible than that. If you have a boyfriend over, we need to know.”

Marinette bent her head down. A lecture. Well, I guess it was to be expected.

“Your a teenager now.”  Sabine continued, “and we know you’ll start having more mature relationships. But with that come certain expectations and responsibilities.”

“Nothing happened, Mom.” Marinette whined, “he’s just a friend.” 

“Marinette, I know your lying!” Sabine’s voice was much stronger now.

“Is everything alright girls?” A sleepy-eyed Tom appeared in the hallway.

“Mom, please don’t tell,…"

“Marinette was sneaking a half naked young man out of her room.”  Sabine stated, matter-of-factly.

“Our Marinette?” The confused expression on her father’s face broke her heart.

“Dad, I’m sorry."  Marinette said, pitifully.

“Who was it?” Tom asked softly.

“She won’t tell me.” Sabine snapped.

“I,…”  Marinette hated this. This wasn’t fair!

Tom walked over to her.   Marinette just stared at floor.  She felt his hand squeeze her shoulder.

“Marinette, Honey, we are worried. Please talk to us.  Who was that?” His voice was gentle and soft.

"Umm,... Chat Noir?” She confessed pathetically.

“Chat Noir? Who’s love with Ladybug? Who rejected you months ago.  Was up in you room, in his pajamas? Doing God knows what!” Sabine quipped.

“Nothing happened!"

“Stop it, Marinette!”

It never occurred to Marinette that they wouldn’t believe the truth.  She starred back at her mother dumbly.

“Furthermore, This is highly inappropriate giving your fathers history with Chat Noir.” Sabine reminded.

Marinette looked over to her father.  She saw his kind eyes fill with shame. 

“Honey,” Tom spoke gently, “if it was Chat Noir, he could have left through the roof or window.  He wouldn’t have needed to sneak out of the front door.”

Marinette sighed “I’m sorry. Dad, It won’t happen again.”  She was suddenly very tired. “Can I go now?”

“That’s not good enough Marinette.” Her mother was staring, arms crossed over her chest. “Until you start telling the truth, I’m afraid your grounded.”

“But, Mom!”

“Please go get your phone.” 

Marinette huffed up her ladder, grabbed her phone, and stomped back down.  Glaring at her mother, she silently handed it over.

“For how long?”  Marinette demanded.

“Excuse me?” Sabine seemed surprised.

“How long am I grounded for? Two days, a week?”

Tom and Sabine exchanged sad looks. "You need to understand how serious this is, young woman.  I’m afraid your grounded until you tell us who that young man was.” Sabine stated firmly.

“It was Chat Noir!  I know he was untransformed, but it wasn’t his fault!  He gets his powers from a tiny cat god.  But Plagg, the cat god, his Kwami, got upset, and left…”

“Stop! Marinette. Enough.” Tom rarely raised his voice, she froze at his words.  Marinette wanted to sink into the floor.  “Just go to bed. We can talk more in the morning.”

“Fine!” Marinette turned around with a growl.  She raced upstairs and slammed her trapdoor shut. Stomping over to her sink and she ripped out her hair ties, and began yanking a brush through her hair.

When she caught sight of her reflection, she paled. Her brush fell to the floor.

Her lips were puffy and swollen.  The skin around her mouth was bright pink.  But worst, was at the base of her neck, off to one side.  A dark red and purple bruise contrasted against her pale skin.

“Tikki. I really screwed up.”

Chapter Text

Alya was annoyed. Annoyed and bored.  She arrived at school early to give Nathaniel a copy of her art history notes.  It had to be art.  The one subject they didn’t get to use their digital tablets.  Alya needed her notes. Her paper notes.  And her notes were not here.

Marinette had her notes.  And that was okay, she didn’t mind sharing with her bestie. But she kinda promised Nathaniel could use them too.  He spent the last week compiling a huge archive of fanart for the Ladyblog.  That boy was dedicated.  When Alya first suggested the idea, she had no idea the amount of work Nathaniel would put in.  He poured his heart and soul into it.  And, as a result, he didn’t bother taking notes all week.

Adrien walked into class and gave her a quick hello.  Alya looked for Nino behind him, but no. She watch Adrien sink into his seat and rest his head on his arms.  Poor guy, he looks beat.  She knew he would politely chat with her if she wanted.  But, it just seemed kinder to let him rest.

Alya drummed her fingers on her desk.  “Come on, Marinette,” she muttered under her breath.

A few minutes later, Nino and Marinette walked in. Finally.

“Hi, Alya,” Marinette greeted brightly.

“Did you bring my art history notes back?” She probably should have opened with a hello.  But class was starting soon, and there wasn’t much time to run to the copier.

“Sorry, did you need them?” Marinette asked while siding into her seat.

Alya groaned “Yeah,… I texted you this morning!”

“Oh,” Marinette replied dejectedly, “I’m kinda without a phone for awhile.”

Alya sighed. “Break another one? You’re too clumsy, girl.”

“Nope, just grounded.”  Marinette leaned back against her seat, staring up at the ceiling.

Out of the corner of her eye, Alya saw Adrien slouch further into is arms.

“Why? For skipping school again?” Alya teased.

“I wish. No, something worse.” Marinette let out a long breath, “I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Oh, okay.” That hurt a bit.  Maybe they were not as close as they used to be, but Alya was still her friend. Ever since Marinette was expelled and reinstated, she seemed more distant.  Alya tried her best during that situation, she really did.  Its not like Lila did those things on purpose.  And, the whole reason Marinette was back at school, was because Lila had set things right.  Marinette had changed after that.  Lila kept trying to mend their friendship, but Marinette kept shutting her down.  Alya still didn’t understand Marinette’s hatred toward Lila.  But then, they never talked about Lila anymore.  They never talked much about anything anymore.

“Well but I’m here if you need me.”  Alya assured, then looked for a way to change the subject.  “Awesome scarf, by the way. Is it silk?”

Marinette reach up toward her throat, fingers lightly touching the fabric. “Yeah, and vintage. My uncle sent it to me from China.”

“Cool.”

“Yeah.” 

It was quiet again. Why was it so hard for Marinette to talk to her anymore?

“I’m sorry about the notes,” Marinette said sadly.  “If there was more time, I’d run home and get them.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Alya smiled. “I haven’t had a pastry in a while. Let’s grab them at lunch!”

Marinette smiled brightly, then her face fell.

“I don’t think I can have you over for lunch, being grounded and all.  I’ll leave the notes in the bakery, you can grab them from my parents.”

 

———

 

Alya and Marinette didn’t share the last class before lunch.   After she loaded her backpack, Alya headed toward the school entrance.  A small group of her classmates had gathered at the outside of the doors.

"Hey Alya!” Lila waved excitedly.  “Want to eat lunch at the park with us?  I was going to tell everyone about my latest trip to England.  You’ll never believe who I met!”

“I’ll catch up with you later, I got to stop by Marinette’s first.” Alya told her friend.

“Grab me an Eclair!” Shouted Nino.

"I’ll take a scone!” Added Kim.

“I’m there to pick up my notes, not to take orders.” Alya called back.

“Oh, I love Marinette’s parents! They’re the nicest people.” Lila smiled, taking her arm.  “I’ll come with you.  Meet you guys at the park!”

Arm in arm Lila and Alya walked over to the bakery.  Once inside, Tom was busy helping costumers.  He seemed worn out today. Poor man. Alya shuttered at the thought of getting up at 4AM every day.

Alya and Lila took their place in line.  After a few minutes, Alya felt a light tap on her arm.  She looked over to see Sabine, with a tired smile.  She had Alya’s art history notes in hand.

“Sweet!” Alya grinned, taking the notes. “Thank you so much!”

“Thank you for letting Marinette borrow them” Sabine replied politely.  Alya, expected her to leave, or at least exchange more small talk.  But Sabine just stood there, nervously twisted her wedding ring.

“Alya, may I talk to you for a moment?” She finally spoke.

“Sure” Alya answered cheerfully.

Sabine’s eyes fell to Lila.  Something in her expression told Alya  that this needed to be a private conversation.

“Oh, don’t mind me.” Lila said, dropping her arm and turning her back to them.  She walked over to the display case. “Everything looks so good! Its going to take me forever to decide.”

“Thank you, that’s very sweet of you Lila.” said Sabine.

Alya looked at her, curiously. She seemed to be struggling to find words.  Sabine looked serious though. Alya patiently waited. 

“Has Marinette been seeing anyone at school?” Sabine blurted out.

Alya blinked. “Like a boyfriend?”

Sabine nodded.

"Well, I know Luka is interested, but Marinette just never seems to be feeling it.”

“And does Luka have blond hair?”

Weird question. “Naturally? I have no idea. It’s currently blue. Teal. Turquoise. Something. What’s this about?”

Sabine lowered her voice,“We are just worried about Marinette, about some of the choices she has been making.” She paused for a moment.  “With boys.”

“With boys?” Alya repeated, surprised. “I don’t think you need to worry. You know how Marinette gets when she’s around a boy she likes.  Anyway, I think she might be taking a bit of a break right now. She doesn’t even gush about Adrien anymore.”

Sabine looked around nervously. “Please, this needs to stay between us, but Marinette had a boy in her room last night. Very late. Naturally, her father and I are extremely concerned.”

Alya felt her mouth drop open.

“Can you think of who it might be?” Sabine prodded.

“No. Ma’am.” None of this made any sense. “What did he look like?”

“We don’t know. We only saw his back when he was leaving.” Sabine sighed, obviously worried.

What the hell, Marinette?

“Please, Alya, if you find out anything, let us know. We are very worried. This isn’t like her.” Sabine said, sadly.

“I will.” Alya promised.

Alya was in daze as she ordered and paid for her muffin.   Mr. Dupain gave Lila a box of macarons to share with the class, on the house.  Alya thanked him numbly, her thoughts elsewhere. What was that girl up to?  How did she go from dreaming about holding hands with Adrien, to having boys in her room?  Lila and Alya exited the building silently.  After a moment, Lila spoke.

“Are you okay, Alya” Lila asked, her face full of concern.

“Yeah,” replied Alya. “Just a lot on my mind”

She paused for a moment.  “Did you hear any of that just now?”  Alya asked her friend.

“Me? No. My tinnitus has been super bad lately. I didn’t want to say anything because of how much trouble it caused last time.  But, its really hard for me to hear right now.” Lila admitted.

Alya put her arm around Lila’s shoulder.  “Don’t feel like you have to keep things from me, Girl. Friends help each other out”

“Thank you, Alya. Your the best!” Lila smiled.

 

Chapter Text

 

Adrien was exhausted.  If he slept last night, he didn’t remember.  His brain was a mess. But Adrien knew one thing for certain.  He was a coward. And now, he learned, Marinette was grounded.

Adrien sat on the top stair of the staircase at Françoise Dupont High School. It was toward the end of lunchtime, but Adrien never went home.  A quick text to Nathalie explained that he was going to study through lunch, to make up for missing a class.  Last week’s photoshoot and all. But Adrien really just wanted time alone with his thoughts.

Lila was still hurting Marinette.  The very truce he had made to bring Marinette back to school, was causing his friend to cry her heart out to virtual strangers.  And why wouldn’t it? In Marinette’s mind, he was in bed with the devil.

Adrien rubbed his temples. He hated those photoshoots with Lila.  He hated her voice, the sing-song way she complimented and flirted with people. He hated her laugh. Hated her smell. But he hated her touch the most. And boy, that girl loved to touch him.  A touch that revolted him to his core. Adrien thought he was good at hiding it.  With practiced professionalism, he swallowed his disgust and smiled toward the cameras. Always desperate to get the shoot finished as soon as humanly possible, so he could run home and take a scalding shower.

But Marinette saw through him. Sweet Marinette. His friend who loves him. No, his mind corrected, his friend who loved him.  What was that supposed to mean anyway?  At the time, he couldn’t really ask her to elaborate.  She couldn’t have meant in love.  She never flirted, asked him on dates, or wrote him poetry, brought him flowers, or kissed his hand.  Adrien paused for a moment.  How do girls even show they are in love anyway? He knew Kagami was interested in him because she told him.  She was direct like that.  Adrien sighed.  Maybe if he wasn’t homeschooled, maybe if he wasn’t so socially awkward, maybe if…. maybe if he wasn’t such a,.. such a,.. coward.

And God! He was a coward!  How could he just leave her like that? He left her to deal with her mother on her own.  The great Chat Noir fleeing into the night!

Adrien slumped. He knew why he didn’t stay.  For as heartbroken as Marinette was, her finding out his true identity now,… that would be an unimaginable cruelness.

Adrien sighed, he shouldn’t have kissed her.  He knew that. He even knew that at the time.

…why did he kiss her?

She started it! Adrien thought defensively. Great, how old am I? Five.

Adrien groaned and covered his face with his hands.  He kissed her because he wanted to. He kissed her because her lips were soft.  Because she felt good. Because she tasted nice. She called him Kitty, just like his lady.

But she wasn’t his lady.

He felt a bit guilty, but not as much as he expected.  He wasn’t in love with Marinette.  But the all-consuming flame he once carried for his lady, wasn’t the same either.  He was still in love with her, of course. That would never change.  Though, she seemed more distant now. Fu's departure had rattled her immensely.  Adrien sighed. It made sense though, he wouldn’t want the responsibility of all those miraculouses.

Adrien looked down to see Plagg asleep in his shirt pocket.  He still didn’t know what on earth Plagg was thinking.  He seemed uncharacteristically bothered by what happened to the suit last night.  As Chat Noir, he had been covered in monster saliva and Plagg never complained.  Hell, he’d even swam through the sewer. Was he really bothered that much by Marinette rubbing against him?

He felt himself flush. This was not the place to be replaying last night’s make out session. 

It was nice, though, Adrien mused. Even just holding her under the blanket was nice.  Or her kiss to his forehead.  Adrien smiled at the memory, his mom used to do that.

Adrien looked down. His classmates had started gathering to the side of the stairs.  From the sounds of it, they just had lunch in the park across the street.  Lila had bought the boys macarons.  Normally, Adrien would have felt bad that he had missed out on the fun.  It was just as well.  Adrien didn’t really feel like talking right now.

The group was busy chattering below him. Adrien wasn’t paying much attention to the conversation.  His focus was across the courtyard, on the entry doors.  Waiting for Marinette to come through.

He knew he should talk to her, think of something clever to say. All lunch he had been racking his brain, what could he say to her.  Were there any words that might make her life better right now?  Was it too late to say he was sorry for the advise about Lila? Would Marinette feel better if he promised never to do another photoshoot with her?

He sighed, feeling pathetic. Adrien glanced at his watch. 5 minutes until class, and he couldn’t think of a single thing to say.

More and more students were filing through the entry doors. Until, finally, he saw her.  Adrien felt a slight blush rise on his cheeks, and his heart started beating faster.  He was nervous, okay, 30 more seconds do to think of something to say.

Marinette was walking slowing, eyes cast down. She probably wouldn’t see him if he waved.

“Hey, Marinette! Hold up a minute!” Alya called.

Adrien watched her run toward her friend.  Alya began talking to Marinette, but it was too far away for Adrien to hear.  It didn’t look like a good conversation. Marinette had her arms crossed defensively, and Alya stood firmly with her hands on her hips.

Maybe she never got her notes back.

“I’m so sorry Marinette couldn’t join us at the park today.” Lila spoke, suddenly the conversation below him became interesting.   “I’ve been trying so hard to be her friend again. I feel so bad for what happened between us”

“Give her time. She’ll come around.” Max said confidently.

“I even stood up for her, you know.” Lila continued.  “Several days ago, some older boys were claiming they saw her profile on a Sugar Daddy website.”

Adrien growled  What the hell was Lila saying now?

“What’s a sugar daddy site?” Asked Ivan.

“Its a dating site where older men, ‘Daddys’ look for younger women to date.  Its usually rich men who exchange expensive gifts for sexual favors.” Informed Kim.

“Isn’t that prostitution?” Asked Max.

“Only if its for money.” 

“How the hell do you know this?” demanded Ivan

“Common knowledge,” Kim beamed proudly.

"Anyway,” Lila interrupted.  “I told them ‘No way!’  Marinette is my friend, and she would never do anything like that.  It must be another bluebell-eyed, half asian.”  Lila started to choke up. “I’m trying to be good friend to her.  Why can’t she see that?”

Max walked over to her and padded her shoulder gently.

“You’re so kind, Max, but we should go. I don’t want to make us late for class.” Lila said sweetly.

Once the group had left, Adrien stood up from his vantage point on the stairs.  He felt physically ill.  His hands were sweating and his heart was pounding.  He told Lila to leave Marinette alone! He threatened her. He warned her. He endured humiliating and degrading photoshoots with her.  And she still,.. 

Bile was rising in his throat as he desperately looked for the nearest bathroom.  He ran fast as he could, barely making it to the sink before the dry heaves took him. He hadn’t eaten today, guess that was a blessing.

Once his stomach settled, Adrien washed out his mouth and looked up into the mirror.  His face was flushed, his eyes were red, tears streaming down his cheek.

He stared hard at his own reflection.

“Coward” he spat.

 

_____

 

Adrien was late to class. When he finally arrived, Marinette had her head down, staring at her tablet. So much for having something to say. She wouldn’t even noticed if he waved.

During class Adrien noticed a certain coolness between Alya and Marinette.  They were still polite to each other, but the conversation seemed forced.  Those two used to chatter effortlessly, he hated to see their friendship wither.

Once school finally ended, the students exited the class as a group.  Adrien packed up his bag, slowly.  He wanted Lila to leave first, so he could keep an eye on her.  With her seat in the back, Lila usually was the last one to leave the classroom.  Once she left, Adrien followed from a distance, far enough away not to be dragged into any small talk.

The girls from his class were busy talking in a group in the courtyard.  He watched as Lila ran down the stairs and joined up them.

“Hey Marinette!” Lila called cheerfully, waving.

“Lila.” Marinette greeted dryly.

“I was wondering, since you are such a good designer, I was hoping I could commission you for a new purse.  Well, not a purse, more like a clutch. There’s a big event at my mom’s embassy next week, and I would love to show off a Marinette Designed original.”  Lila gushed in her sweetest voice.

Alya nudged her and muttered. “Play nice, she’s trying to make a fresh start with you”

“Thank you for thinking of me, Lila, but I really am too busy right now.” Marinette stated flatly.

“Oh, and I could total pay you for your time and materials.” Lila grinned sweetly. “My uncle, the one that’s a famous pianist, gave me €100 for my birthday.  He told me to spend it on anything I want.  And what I want the most.” She paused for dramatic effect “Is something made by my dear friend Marinette.”

Rose squealed as she clapped her hands together and smiled. “That’s so sweet, Lila.”

Adrien didn’t like this.  She was up to something. By now, even the boys started gathering around them.  Everyone knew of the feud between Marinette and Lila.  He wasn’t sure if his classmates were gathering in anticipation of a fight, or to see the birth of a friendship. Either way, he knew their presence was putting pressure on Marinette.

“Marinette, say something,” urged Alya.

“Well, I guess I could make a few sketches.” Marinette offered.

His classmates started cheering. Literally cheering.  Adrien started sweating. This was wrong, all wrong.

“You’re the best Marinette! I pinned a bunch of ideas on my Pinterest board, for inspiration.  Here, take a look.”  Lila handed Marinette her phone.

Adrien watched as Marinette politely swiped through the images. Alya, Rose and Juleka curiously peaking over her shoulder.

“And for the material, I was thinking silk.” Then, fast as a viper, Lila snatched the scarf from Marinette’s neck. “Like this. Oh my god, Marinette! Did you hurt your neck?”

The phone hit the ground as Marinette ripped the scarf back from Lila’s hands.  Adrien had never seen his classmate so angry before.  Marinette looked absolutely feral.   Her eyes were glaring, her face was red and her mouth could only be described as a snarl.  She pulled back her fist, as if to strike. “You!”

Suddenly, everyone as shouting at once.

“Whoa! Marinette!”

“Calm down girl!”

“Is that a hickey!”

“What the hell!”

“Not cool."

Adrien’s heart was racing. The mark on her neck. That was,... that was,... oh god! That was from him. And now, Marinette was trapped, in a circle of friends, being humiliated by Lila. He had to do something! But what? Think! 

Then, Adrien saw the most amazing thing happen. He watched as Marinette shut her eyes, inhale deeply, then reached down to pick up Lila’s phone. 

“Sorry. I’m so clumsy.” Marinate smiled dryly, handing Lila’s phone back. “Lila, I’m afraid I really can’t take on any commissions at this time.”

Without saying another word. Marinette turned and walked out the entry doors. Holding her scarf in her hand.

The group watched, stunned, as she left.  When Marinette was no longer view, the chattering began.

"Holy hell!”

“You saw it too!?”

“Marinette has a boyfriend!”

“This is so unlike her!”

“Could she really have a sugar Daddy?”

“I don’t care what anyway says,” Lila defended firmly.  “I’m sure it isn’t a hickey. Maybe Marinette has a rare rash? I think I saw something like it when I was in the kingdom of Achoo.”

Adrien ran into the locker room. He wanted to cry, he wanted to scream, he wanted to break something. He wanted to cataclysm her smiling, lying face! Lila had set Marinette up.  Again! Instead of playing the victim like last time, she was playing the role of the dear concerned friend.

But it didn’t make sense! How had Lila known that Marinette’s scarf was concealing a hickey? He had been watching Lila all day, she never got close to Marinette.  Was it a guess? Sure, a scarf was an odd choice for a fashion accessory this time of year. Did she simply take a calculated risk? If her neck was blemish free, what was the point if that whole act.  No, she had to have known something. But how?

Alya and Nino walked to the locker room.

“...she has been off lately. Not buying the whole “sugar daddy” thing, though,”  Nino crossed his arms. “I wish I knew who started those rumors.”

Adrien wanted to pull his hair out. You were there when the rumor started! There were no older boys to start them! It was Lila!

“…even her parents are super worried her sudden reckless behavior.”  Sighed Alya. 

Wait. What? How would Alya know her parents are worried?

A single image jumped into memory. Lila holding the macaron box with the familiar TS logo. “Alya! Did you go to the bakery today?” Adrien shouted from across the room.

“Yo, Dude! Didn’t see you there.” Nino called back.

Adrien marched over to his friends. “Did you go to the bakery with Lila, and talk to Tom or Sabine?”

“Yeah,.. why are you interested?” Answered Alya, taken back.

“What did they say?” Demanded Adrien, a little more forceful than he meant too.

“Excuse me?”

“What did they tell you?” Adrien asked again, calmer this time.

“That they are worried about Marinette.” Alya explained.

“Why?” Adrien prodded.

“Your freaking me out with the questions here. Why are you so interested?” Alya stared at him, confused.

Adrien took a deep breath, forced his muscles to relax, and continued.  “Please Alya. I’m her friend. It’s important.”

“Dudes. This is looking pretty intense, so I’m just gonna go chill in front of the school.  Meet you all there.” Nino backed away from them, wide-eyed.

Alya sighed.  “Listen, I know it would mean a lot to Marinette that you are so concerned right now. And, its not much of a secret, now, with that huge hickey in her neck.”  Alya paused before leaning in closer. “This needs to stay between us, okay? Sabine told me she caught Marinette sneaking a boy out of her room last night. A blond boy.”

Adrien paled. 

“Don’t worry. No one thinks it’s you. It would take a SWAT team to bust you out of that fortress house of yours. At first, I thought it might be Luka, because they have a bit of chemistry there, but her parents said he had blond hair.” Alya thought for a moment. “Is Felix in town? 

“No.” Adrien answered dryly.  He took in a deep breath and stared up at the ceiling. “So, Marinette’s parents don’t know who it was?”

“They only saw his back.” Alya replied.

“And they told you this,” He exhaled, “in front of Lila.”

“No, well, I mean, she was in the room, but it’s not like Lila could have heard anything anyways, her tinnitus is super bad right now.”

Adrien pushed past her, without saying goodbye. He ran across the courtyard, his hands in tight fists, fingernails digging into his palms.  Lila had heard Sabine. She knew Marinette had a boy in her room last night.  When she sported a neck scarf the next day, it wasn’t a difficult leap to believe that Marinette had a reason for hiding her neck.

Adrien exited out the entry doors and stood on the steps, panting.  Why didn’t he say something? He was right there when Lila started in on her lies again. And all he did watch watch. He knew she was up to something when she approached Marinette. He could have interrupted. He could have grabbed Marinette’s hand and dragged her out of there.

But he didn’t. 

And now, he had let Lila hurt his friend. Again.

Adrien was done. He was so done. He was done doing nothing. Done watching his friend get hurt.  If Lila was an Akuma, he would have pummeled her senseless with his baton. But as Adrien, he didn’t know how to fight her.  She was always too cleaver, always a step ahead.

Adrien knew he couldn’t fix what happened today.  Lila’s plan had been executed perfectly. Flawlessly.  But there was something he could do. And at this point, he didn’t care about the fallout. He was done being a coward.

Adrien inhaled a deep shaky breath, and headed toward the Tom & Sabine Boulangerie Patisserie.

 

——

 

The bell brightly twinkled as Adrien opened the bakery door.  

“Welcome! We’ll be with you in a moment.” Sabine’s voice called out.  It was late afternoon and the bakery was closing soon.  Most of the pastries had been sold, and Sabine was  wiping down the counter. She smiled when she saw Adrien.

“Adrien! Wonderful too see you again. What can I get for you?” Sabine asked politely.

“Nothing today.” Adrien replied much faster than he meant too.  Sabine watched him as he stood dumbly in the in middle of the bakery.  

What’s wrong with you, Agreste? Make words! Adrien thought.  Great. Now that he was here, he had no idea what he was going to say. Stupid. Stupid.

Sabine finally spoke. “If your here to see Marinette. I’m afraid she’s grounded.”

Adrien tried to swallow, his throat tight, heart pounding in his ears. “Actually, I’m here to talk to you.”

Sabine blinked. “How can I help?”

"I want you to unground Marinette.” Adrien blurted out.

Sabine stared at him a moment before she sighed. “I appreciate the concern, but Marinette was grounded for a reason.  And until she,..”

“She’s protecting me!” Adrien shouted. He was shaking uncontrollably now.  He could feel the beads of sweat forming on his brow. He could do this!  This was something he could fix.  Even if it meant loosing his miraculous, even if it meant being punished by his father. He. Could. Fix. This.

“I beg your pardon?”

“She’s protecting me.” Adrien repeated, softer now.  “I,.. it was me, leaving the apartment last night.” There, he exhaled. It was done.

Sabine silently watched him, a confused look on her face.

“Umm,..” He continued, “you see, my father is always looking for excuses to pull me out of school. And, if it got back to him that I snuck out,.. he’d... he would…” He knew he was stammering.

Adrien took a deep breath and tried to focus his thoughts.  He paused for a moment before speaking again.

“Marinette’s trying to do the right thing, she’s trying to shield me from my father.  But, rumors are starting at school.  And,… I can’t bear to see her hurt. Not when I can help.”

“Are you dating my daughter?”  Sabine asked, still confused.

“No, but, umm, things got a bit out of hand last right.” He held up his hands. “It was mutual, I respect you daughter very much. I would never,..”

Never what? Not sure where he was going there.

Sabine walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. She looked up at him with kind eyes.  “Adrien, you’re a good person.  And it was very brave of you to come here.”  She said without any trace of irony. “I won’t be calling your father.”

“Oh thank God!” The words escaped his lips before he knew it.

“And Adrien? Please know, you are welcome here, any time of day, for any reason.” With those words, the small woman hugged him tenderly.  Adrien was shocked by the sudden contact. Before he could think of returning the embrace, Sabine pulled back.

“And thank you, Adrien, for your honesty” Sabine said sincerely. 

“So um,… Are you going to unground Marinette?” Adrien asked awkwardly.

“I think that’s only fair,” answered Sabine.

Adrien relaxed. He could breathe again. He did it.

“Is there anyway you could not tell her I came by? She’s pretty determined to deny it was me.”

Chapter Text

 

Marinette laid on her rug on the floor. How was this her life?  When she woke up this morning, she thought things couldn’t get any worse. Man, was she wrong.

She was Ladybug for crying out loud. She could battle super villains, but she couldn’t defeat Lila Rossi. Though, she’d take an army of akuma over that girl any day.

“You handled that terrible girl so well today!” chirped Tikki.

Yeah. Marinette supposed she did. God! she wanted to punch that smug little face, she almost did too.  Marinette sighed.  She felt numb.  She was so tired of feeling. She didn’t even mind being grounded at this point.  Marinette didn’t want to see her friends right now.  And, even if she had her phone, Alya would be pestering her with questions.

Marinette groaned. Alya

Somehow, Alya was convinced she was hiding something from her. Girl, I know something’s up. What are you hiding? Alya practically pounced on her in the courtyard.

Oh, not much. I run around in skin-tight magic suit, playing superhero. I’m the guardian to a bunch of powerful gods. Oh! and last night I made out with Chat Noir.

She blushed at the memory, then sighed. What kisses they were! She had never kissed a boy like that.  Ladybug had kissed Chat before, when it was necessary in battle. And once on top of Montparnasse Tower, but she couldn’t remember that one.  Maybe there were more kisses that day she couldn’t remember?

Marinette yawned and stretched.  She hoped Chat made it home okay.  He seemed pretty freaked out last night.  She couldn’t blame him though.  If her transformation dropped when she wasn’t expecting, who knows how she would deal.  She doubted Tikki would ever do that to her, not if she could help it.

Tikki explained Plagg really disliked the mushy stuff, unless it was mushy cheese. Still, dropping the transformation seemed extreme.  It wasn’t like they could really do anything with Chat’s suit on.

Marinette groaned. Why are you thinking about that!? Its not like she could have any future with Chat Noir. Bunnyx had made that pretty clear. Still, she mused, his kisses felt nice.

“Marinette?” Sabine called from downstairs. “Can you come down here for a minute?"

She moaned and pushed herself onto her feet.  Her mom probably wanted her to help close the bakery. Marinette slowly walked downstairs, dragging her feet. 

Sabine held out her phone. “You can have this back now.”

Marinette blinked, “Why?”

“You’re no longer grounded.” Informed Sabine. 

“Um, thank you?” Marinette took her phone back. “I don’t understand. Are you no longer mad?”

“I’m still angry you lied.” Sabine admitted “and with giving you your phone back, I need you to understand something.”

Here it comes.

Sabine gently grabbed her shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes. “Whatever you and your friends are going though. Your father and I are on your side.”

Huh?

Sabine pulled her into a warm embrace, rubbing her back. “If you have a problem, talk to us. We love you and we’re here to help.”

Marinette hugged her mother back, bewildered. “That’s it?”

“That’s it.” Sabine let go and turned to head back down to the bakery.

Marinette watched her mother depart, still stunned. Slowly she climbed back up the stairs to her bedroom and shut the door.

“Tikki, I have the best mom in the universe!”

Chapter Text

The sky was still dark, when Adrien woke up before his alarm. He felt relaxed and energized at the same time.  This was it! The beginning of a new Adrien. He would be the friend Marinette needed him to be.  

Rolling out of bed, Adrien fell to the floor and started his morning routine of pushups, sit-ups and squats. Push-ups first.

Lila was changing her tactics, covering her tracks. Instead of outlandish lies and playing the victim, she was playing the master manipulator. And she already had Marinette on the defensive.

twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven,… Adrien could  feel his shoulder muscles start to warm up.

Lila might have reached to high, though.  A sugar daddy? Marinette? Was she forgetting that some of her classmates had been friends with Marinette since grade school? Adrien smiled when he remember Nino doubting the rumor.  Plus, there must be an easy way to fact check.  How many sugar daddy sites could there be? Maybe he could ask Max, or Alya to look for him. You know, out of concern for their friend.

Adrien flipped over and started his sit-ups.

Marinette needed to know she wasn’t in this alone anymore.  Together, they could watch Lila more closely, share notes, discuss strategies.  And if she needed to vent, he could be there to listen.

Adrien paused at the top of his sit-up and hugged his knees.  If she needed to cry, he could be there too, as Adrien.  He inhaled deeply.  He could be the friend she needed all along.  While getting her ungrounded was a good first step, he needed to do more.  Even if his classmates didn’t believe the sugar daddy story, they still saw the mark on Marinette’s neck.  Naturally, there would be rumors and speculation.

Adrien started his sit-ups again …thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three,..

Thankfully, he knew Marinette would never out Chat Noir. Still… It might be fun. Adrien smiled imagining his classmates reactions. Rose would be all for it. Alya would demand an interview for the Ladyblog.  The guys would give her a round fist bumps.  Hmm,.. maybe its not a bad idea.

Adrien finished his set and lay on his back.  No, he sighed.  If word ever got back to Hawkmoth that Marinette was connected to Chat, it would be dangerous for her and her family.  He couldn’t do that to her, to them.  Adrien sighed as he remembered Sabine’s warm arms holding him.  He wasn’t expecting that. Come to think of it, he wasn’t sure what he was expecting. Sure as hell wasn’t a hug though. 

Maybe he could convince Marinette to tell everyone it was him. Adrien. He blushed at the thought.  Why not? Her parents already thought that. He’d have to think of a way to explain how he got out of his house. But that didn’t seem to hard.    Though, Kagami wouldn’t like it.  She had been waiting patiently for him to get his act together. So, he would have to explain himself carefully.

He groaned. How could he explain it to her? He could barely explain it too himself.  The truth was just far too messy.  Was there an explanation that even made sense? Even now? Much less once you removed Lila, his love for Ladybug, and a trouble-making kwami?

He smiled over at Plagg sleeping on his pillow. While he would never go so far as to thank his tiny friend, maybe this was the push he needed.  The catalyst to push him into action.  Starting today, he was a brand new Adrien!

Adrien stood up and stretched, then he began his squats.  Things will get better, Marinette. You’ll see. We’re a team now. We can do it. You and me against the world!

____

Adrien was tapping his foot nervously as he sat alone in Ms. Bustier’s classroom.  Should he have waited for Marinette in front of the school? Maybe he should have picked her up from her house?  No. Probably best to avoid Tom and Sabine for awhile.  He didn’t want to to come on to strong either.  Marinette was skittish on the best of days, and Adrien didn’t want to overwhelm her.  Maybe he should have texted her?  Did she have her phone back by now?  Had Sabine told her what he did?  Adrien looked over at the clock, then double checked his phone for the time.

  “Relax, Adrien, you just saw her yesterday.” Came a tiny voice from his bag.  “I still don’t see why we had to get here early.  It’s not like Marinette is ever early.”

“I couldn’t relax at home.” He answered. While true, the nervous energy he felt at home paled to what he felt now.

One by one, his classmates walked into the room.  Adrien greeted them cheerfully.  He put in his headphones and pretended to listen to music, even closing his eyes and tapping an imaginary beat.  First step in Operation Stop Lila: Assess the Damage. Adrien was listening to their conversations, straining his ears for any talk of sugar daddies, Lila, or Marinette. To his classmates’ credit, they seemed to be more concerned with their own lives than spreading gossip.

Adrien leaned back against his seat. Still, who knows how long they stayed in the courtyard after Lila pulled off Marinette’s scarf.  Or what they texted each other later that night.

At 5 minutes till, Nino and Alya walked into class. And then,.. Marinette.  Dear Sweet Marinette.  Rather than a scarf, Marinette wore a high collared Mandarin blouse.  The shinny fabric was a teal blue that practically matched her eyes.  She looks really pretty.  Marinette should wear blue more often

“Good morning, Marinette!” Adrien called out excitedly, far louder than he meant too.

“Morning, Adrien,” she said with a polite smile before sitting down and taking out her phone.

Crap. He was so excited to see her, he forgot to work on anything to say. 

“Good morning to you too, Dude.”  Greeted Nino as he sat down.  “Too much coffee this morning?”

“Something like that,” Adrien slouched in his seat. Stupid Stupid.

“Hey, girl. You got your phone back! You ungrounded then?” He heard Alya ask Marinette behind him. Adrien began pretend tapping his fingers in rhythm.  He really wanted to hear this conversation.  Adrien’s leg twitched nervously.

“Yeah, Mom gave it too me last night.” Even with his back to them, Adrien could tell by her voice that she was smiling.

“Sooooo,” Alya scooted in closer. “who is your mystery man?” She teased.

“No one.” Marinette replied flatly.

“Come on!” Alya complained. “It can’t be any worse than what people are saying around the school!”

Adrien cringed. Maybe he gave his classmates too much credit.  Or Lila could have already talked to other classes.

“People are…?” Marinette groaned, then took a deep breath. “Its private.”

“Really Marinette! After all the listening I did with” Alya lowered her voice, “you know who, and all the sudden your holding out on me.”

“I’m not holding out!” Marinette defended. “Its just really complicated.” Her voice sounded strained.

“Really, girl?!

Adrien, couldn’t see them, but he could feel Alya’s glare. Even when it wasn’t on him.

“Ugh. Fine! Be that way.”  Alya reached forward and tapped Adrien’s shoulder.  He jumped, startled. “Adrien, would you mind letting me partner with Nino today? I want to sit next to someone who talks to me.”

Ouch.

“Sure, Alya.” Adrien grabbed his bag and headed toward Alya’s seat.  Maybe this was a blessing in disguise?  He would have all class to talk to Marinette.

“Hey.” Adrien greeted.

“Hey.” She didn’t look up.  Marinette just stared at the desk in front of her.

You can do it Agreste. “I see you got your phone back.”  Adrien gave her his brightest smile, but she didn’t look at him.

“Yeah,…” She stated softly.  Were those tears in her eyes?  Having Alya leave like that must have really bothered her.

“I hate to see you and Alya fight, I’m sure she’ll come around.” Adrien offered, voice full of hope.

“She has ever other time...” Marinette slumped forward, resting her chin on her forearms, “but I think she’s wearing down.” 

“I’d help anyway I could.” Adrien offered. 

“Um,.. Sure.” She said, still gazing ahead.

“You look very pretty today. Blue is a good color on you.” 

He wasn’t sure she heard him, after several awkward moments Marinette uttered a quiet “thank you,” almost automatically.

Adrien wiped his sweaty palms on his pant leg.  Okay, here goes,...

“Marinette? I... um, never got a chance to apologize. For Lila.”

Marinette stiffened, sitting up.

“I didn’t think she’d… I never thought she’d,..."

“Don’t.” Marinette quickly replied.  She took a shaky breathe and gazed up to the ceiling. “Adrien. I can’t do this now.”

“But, If you let me...”

“Please,..” Marinette interrupted. She turned towards him, eyes wet and red, “I can’t,” she whispered before looking away.

“It’s just,... You’re a kind person, Marinette. I hate to see bad things happen to you.”

Marinette inhaled deeply, then seemed to stop breathing entirely.

“So, umm. If you ever need to talk. About anything. I’m,... I’m a good listener.”  Damn! He was losing her.

“Or we could do lunch sometime?” Adrien knew he was reaching here.  “Or play some Mecha Strike Three? Max just told me that he thinks the final version of,..”

“Look,” Marinette stated firmly, wiping her eyes before any tears fell.  “I appreciate what you are trying to do.” 

Really? Because at this point, I have no idea what I’m trying to do.

“You don’t need to feel bad for yesterday, okay?” She sniffled and wiped her nose on her forearm.  “I walked into Lila trap, she got me good. End of story.”

Marinette took a deep breath, and closed her eyes.

“It’s nobody’s fault but Lila’s “

“I,... I just want to help.” Adrien knew he sounded pathetic.

She paused for another moment before she spoke again. “Thank you, Adrien, you are very sweet.” Marinette’s eyes met his for the briefest of moments, “...but I don’t think you can help.”

A wave of icy shock descended on Adrien. It never occurred to him that she might reject his offer of help. She thinks you’re useless, remember? Coward!  Adrien found himself staring up at the lights, desperately willing himself not to cry.

“And,...” Marinette fumbled with her hands, “You probably shouldn’t be seen talking with me right now.”

——-

Fencing practice ran late and it was already dark when Adrien arrived home. He felt empty.  Dejected. After their initial conversation, he didn’t speak to Marinette anymore.  Then again, she barely spoke today,... to anybody.  And people seem to be avoiding her too.  Although people stared and whispered, no one approached Marinette.  

It tore at his very soul and made him feel sick to see his friend so isolated and lonely.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this!  He was supposed to be there for her. Today was going to be the start of a brand new Adrien. 

Adrien cringed at the memory of his earlier enthusiasm. With his head hung low, he walked through the entrance and into the foyer of the mansion. 

Natalie met him at the bottom of the stairs.  When he approached, she held out a folder. “Adrien, here is your revised training schedule, as well as a detailed fluid restriction protocol for Sunday mornings’s photoshoot.” 

Adrien growled, this again? “Is he home?” He asked, not caring if sounded annoyed.

Nathalie nodded. Adrien grabbed the folder and headed into his fathers study.  He swung open the doors without knocking. 

“Father! I can’t go on water restriction! I have a fencing tournament Saturday, the team is counting on me.”  Adrien yelled across the room at his father. Gabriel was standing at his tablet, fingers moving across the screen.  He briefly glanced at Adrien before speaking.

“Since the point of the protocol is reducing fluid in the skin to reveal muscle tone, I see no problem. It may enhance the desired effect.”  Gabriel responded drying, not looking up from his screen.

“I get weak and dizzy. I’ll barely be able to hold my saber.” Adrien complained, glaring at his father.

“I’m sure you’ll manage.”

“Why do I have to go on protocol anyways?” Adrien demanded. “It’s November, we should have months before we start swimwear.”

“The esthetic Vincent is going for is sensual in concept. You won’t be shirtless but several shots will require an unbuttoned shirt. Your abdominals will be heavily featured.”

“When you say ‘sensual’?” Adrien filled with dread. “The shoot isn’t with Lila, is it?”

“Miss Rossi will be there, yes, as she is becoming the female face of our brand.  It that a problem?”

“Yes!” Adrien answered forcefully. Okay, this was it! It was time his father knew.  If Lila wasn’t keeping her end of the bargain, then he was done being her friend. He’d make her regret going after Marinette again. Adrien took a deep breath. 

“Father, Lila lies, manipulates, and hurts people.” He told his father.

“And?” Gabriel asked, disinterested.

“She’s a terrible person!” Adrien yelled. Finally, he was able to say it.

Gabriel finally looked up from his design tablet, and frown at his son. “Adrien, you are idealistic, just like your mother.  But unlike Emilee, you are also naive.” Gabriel turned back to the glowing screen in front of him. “Ms. Rossi has a certain intelligence that will benefit her greatly in life.  Her talents will help her succeed in her goals, whatever they may be.”

“Father, if you only knew what she is...” Adrien pleaded.

“She is a driven, self-motivated and very resourceful.  She will no doubt go far.”

“She hurts my friends!”

“That is not my problem. Nor is it yours. Perhaps you need stronger friends.” Gabriel paused for a moment to draw something on his tablet. “The weak-willed always suffer from the ambitions of the strong.”  

Adrien stared at his father in disbelief.  Marinette was not weak-willed! She was one of strongest girls he knew, next to this lady. And she was suffering, silently, for something that was Adrien’s fault.

“I hope this won’t be a problem on Sunday.” Gabriel added.

Suddenly, Adrien couldn’t breathe. He watched his father tap away at the screen. Pure, red-hot anger courses through his veins. He balled his hands in fists.

“I don’t want her to touch me.” Adrien growled though clenched teeth.

“Speak up if you want me to hear you.” Gabriel chided. 

“I said, I don’t want Lila to touch me!” Adrien felt himself tremble as he glared at his father.

Gabriel looked up to meet his eyes. “You don’t have a choice. Its your job.”

After a few seconds of eye contact, Gabriel looked back to his tablet.  “Now, if you’re finished with this tantrum, I believe you have piano to practice.”

Adrien spent the next few hours pounding his fingers against the piano.  He bitterly thanked Chopin for composing the glorious clusterfuck that is Revolutionary Etude. Adrien played until the pads of his fingers hurt.  The tendons in his hands ached and protested as he pounded the song’s greedy octaves, scales, and crescendos.  His back and forearms were binding up, but Adrien welcomed the pain.  No, not welcomed, he craved it.  He needed it.  He desperately needed to feel something other than overwhelming guilt, disgust and despair that consumed him. 

The tears had stopped an hour ago, but Adrien suspected that was due to dehydration more than anything.  Just getting started on that protocol early, Dad.

Plagg watched him with sympathetic eyes from the top of the piano.  Normally, the little god watched TV or browsed the internet while Adrien practiced.  But now, he wasn’t leaving his side.  They hadn’t talked since Adrien confronted his father, and for that, Adrien was grateful.

Adrien would look up occasionally, half expecting to see a little black butterfly.  But one never came.  It surprised him actually, given the intensity of misery he was feeling at the moment.  No, he sighed. Hawkmoth could probably tell I’d be useless.  He wasn’t even worth akumatizing. Adrien wasn’t sure if he was disappointed or relieved by the thought.

“Adrien?" He looked up to see his kwami offering a glass of water.  “If you feel up for it, its time for patrol.”

——-

Several minutes later, Chat landed on the roof of the night’s meetup location.  The Arc de Triomphe was a good central location, they used it often.  Tonight, Ladybug had arrived first. Chat saw her nervously pacing and twisting her hands.  Once she saw him, Ladybug waved and smiled brightly. When he walked closer her face fell immediately, “Chat, what’s wrong?”

What isn’t.

Ladybug moved to look at him closely. “Hey, Are you okay?” She asked, her voice full of concern.

“Not really” he responded dryly.

“Wanna talk about?”

“We can’t know anything about each other, right?” Chat practically spat.  

Ladybug stepped backwards at the unexpected venom in his voice. “Chat, I’m worried. You’re obviously upset. I just want to help.”  Ladybug walked over and sat on the edge of the roof, overlooking the city.  She patted the empty spot beside her. Chat reluctantly headed over and took a seat.

“Don’t use names or specifics.”  Ladybug explained. Chat remained silent, staring off into the night sky.  “You know,…” Ladybug nudged him,“people say cats are good listeners, but have they ever tried talking to a ladybug?” She teased playfully, trying to lighten the mood.

What could he say? It’s not like many teenagers had to deal with his types of problems. My father says I have to let a beautiful girl touch me, even when it revolts me to my core. I’m only allowed a half liter of water 48 hours before a freezing cold photoshoot.  Oh, and my friend is hurting, it’s my fault, and she doesn’t want my help. 

Chat sighed. Talking about Lila and the photoshoot were right out.  He couldn’t bare the thought his lady knowing about Lila’s touches anyway.  He didn’t want her to be disappointed in him, the way Marinette was.  The thought sickened him.  And how to explain the situation that night at Marinette’s?  What would his lady think of him compromising his identity like that?  But still, Ladybug could tell he was upset, he had to tell her something.

“Give me a moment,”  Chat took a deep breath. He was carefully choosing his words, trying to be as vague as possible. Here goes nothing…

“I’m not the friend I thought I was.” He admitted sadly.  “I’ve made poor choices and my actions have hurt” Chat thought for a moment. “are still hurting someone. There is absolutely nothing I can do to make it right”

“Oh,” Ladybug responded, thoughtfully. Chat watched her purse her lips together.  He could tell she was thinking carefully about what to say next.

“And your friend, does she...?” Ladybug finally spoke.

“She?” Chat interrupted.  “I never said.” 

“I kind assumed.” Ladybug gave him a wink and playfully bumped his shoulder.  Great. She thinks I need love advice.

“It’s not like that! We’re just friends, good friends, kinda, I dunno. It’s complicated.” Chat sighed. “She loved me once. She’s so sweet, and honest, and good.  And she’s clever and resourceful.”

Chat half smiled. “She reminds me a bit if you in fact.” That seemed to make Ladybug uncomfortable.

He cleared his throat. “But, she needed me to be there for her, and I wasn’t. And, now I can’t,... I can’t fix it!” How could he explain?

Chat held up his right hand and gazed at his ring. “I don’t need a super power, I destroy everything I touch anyway.”

“Hey,” Ladybug tried to get him to look at her. “I’m sure it’s not so bad. Have you talked to your friend?” She asked.

“She doesn’t want to talk to me.” Chat muttered.

“How do you know?”

“I do.”

“Come on, Chat.” Ladybug urged sweetly.  “You need to stop torturing yourself, you’re a good person. I’m sure whatever happened, your friend had a part in it too.”

“What?” Chat starred back at her wide-eyed.

“You said you made some poor choices, but your friend probably made some as well. Complex situations are seldom one-sided.” Ladybug explained. “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Chat could just stare at her dumbly, mouth open. 

“You are good, and brave, and kind.” Ladybug continued.  “Whatever you think you did, it can’t be that bad.  Maybe your friend should have behaved differently? You shouldn’t bare all the blame, here. It probably wasn’t even your fault.”

“Are you saying it’s her fault?”

“Um, well, Maybe?”

“No!” Suddenly, He was on his feet.  Ladybug was beside him a moment later. Chat stared at her horrified. How dare she try to blame Marinette, she was the victim in this! What? Marinette should have acted differently? Maybe she shouldn’t have been so weak-willed? Adrien’s father’s words burned in his mind.

“Hey, Kitty, look at me. Please?” Ladybug hands were reaching for him, as if she was approaching a feral animal. “I know you, and you would never...”

Chat swatted her hands away. “You don’t know me!” He shouted, disgusted. Chat backed away from her slowly, staring at her as if he never seen her before.

“...and you don’t know her.” Chat’s voiced cracked.

Ladybug stood motionless, mouth agape, with a face of pure shock.  She watched silently as Chat walked backwards to the edge of the roof.

“I don’t feel up for patrolling tonight.” Chat stepped off the edge, and took off into the night.  

——-

Adrien dropped his transformation and stood motionless in the middle of his cavernous bedroom. A strange calmness flowed through him. He wasn’t mad anymore. Even though, he knew he should be.  The love of his life just implied Marinette deserved what has been happening to her.  He should be angry. Furious. But he was just.... nothing.

“Adrien, Adrien? Are you okay? Adrien? You’re worrying me here.”  Plagg was flying around, panicky. 

Adrien stared at his friend with emotionless eyes.

“I’m fine.” He stated calmly.

“Wait right here,” Plagg instructed, “let me go talk to Tikki, there’s an easy way to fix this, if we just...”

“Nothing needs fixed, Plagg,” Adrien interrupted. “it’s okay.”

“Okay?” The tiny god threw up his hands in disbelief.  “The black cat and ladybug miraculous need to be able to work together! If you can’t...”

“I can work with her.”

“Huh?”

“I’m not mad.”

“You’re not?”

“I’m not anything anymore, just… just tired.”  Adrien saw the confusion in Plagg’s eye, so he continued.

“Yes, after she said those thing about Marinette, I was angry. But now, I feel... nothing.”

Adrien looked around his dark room. The ambient light of the Paris sky was enough to illuminate it features.  The rock wall, the basketball hoop, the foosball table.  There were a lot of memories in that room. From playing the piano with his mother, to watching movies with Plagg, to the amazing, but ill-fated party his friends threw him.  Every surface held a memory, held an emotion. 

Or, they used to. But now, they held nothing.  They were things. Just dead emotionless things.

Adrien walked over to his computer. He tapped the keyboard to wake it up.  His three monitors displayed three identical images of his mother. He gazed into her still unmoving, frozen-in-time-forever, empty eyes. There was no sadness, no warmth, just... nothing.

Adrien sat down in his chair and began clicking through menus.

“Adrien?” Plagg asked, concerned. “it says all data will be lost. This action cannot be undone.”

“Yeah,” responded Adrien blandly.

Reaching into his pocket, Adrien pulled out his phone. He thumbed through the settings until he found what he was looking for.  With one click of his finger, everything was restored to factory default.  He tossed his phone on his desk.

Adrien walked to his closet as Plagg followed silently.  He found a duffle bag that he used for fencing gear, and threw it on the ground.  Adrien looked for anything and everything that wasn’t Gabriel brand.  A few shirts, some jeans, a hoodie.  Unfortunately, all of his socks and underwear bore his father’s designer logo, there was no way around that.

Adrien paused as he grabbed a handful of handkerchiefs from his drawer.  There, under the neatly stacked handkerchiefs, lay two matching lucky charms.  Well, not really matching, not anymore.  Adrien had pieced together the bracelet Marinette had broken that night.  Sadly, the cracked and scuffed charms he couldn’t fix.  And even with a new string, the charm looked tattered. Broken.

Adrien grabbed them both and inspected them in his palm.  He should feel something. Anything. These were important to him.  But Adrien could only stare at them, unfeeling. Tonight, they were just stupid glass and ceramic beads.

Still, it was a piece of Marinette, he thought as he shoved them into his pocket. Adrien took a deep breath.  Even if he couldn’t help her, he could at least not be around to hurt her anymore.

“Plagg?” He asked, zipping up the duffle bag. “Up for breaking into a safe?

“Oh!!” Plagg was suddenly in front of him “Diamonds, jewels, gold bars, stacks of cash!?” He responded excitedly.

“Just my passport and birth certificate,” Adrien stated coldly. “I don’t want his money.”

“Passport? Are we going somewhere?” Plagg asked grinning.

“Anywhere but here.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Marinette shivered under her blanket. Well, not just one blanket, three blankets.  Three blankets, and scarf, her winter coat, earmuffs, two pairs of socks and a hot water bottle.  Her back ached from sitting hour after hour on her rooftop balcony. It had been eight hours since she spoke with Chat.  Eight hours to think, and analyze, and ponder what the hell happened.  And as as the cloudy night sky started to lighten, she was no closer to figuring out what went wrong.

Marinette was good with puzzles.  She was Ladybug for crying out loud.  She could defeat villains with a fork, or nail polish, or a snorkel.  Analyzing situations came naturally for her.  It was her strength.  So, why was she so lost now?

Marinette rubbed her dry tired eyes. It had to have been her Chat was talking about. Right?  Chat was upset because he had left Marinette to face her mom alone. Right?  Chat didn’t go to her school, she knew that.  So he couldn’t have know about Lila’s trap to humiliated her.  Or did he?  Could Chat have been watching?  Maybe he sent Plagg to check up on her?  Tikki admitted the kwamis hung out together sometimes.  But why would Plagg care about her now, when he had been such a brat the other night. No, nothing about it made sense.  

Marinette was only sure of one thing.  Her partner was hurting, and somehow she made it worse.

Dear Sweet Chat. Marinette sighed through chattering teeth. For all his smirks and puns, Marinette knew Chat was sensitive.  He even cries when other people cry. Marinette remembered his tear streaked face two nights ago.  She would have done anything to help him feel better then.  Marinette cringed, but she had only hurt him more.

Arg! That night, what had she done?  She thought they were just two lonely souls sharing soft kisses.  Yeah, it sucks that they were caught, but that was just normal teenage stuff. He didn’t know she was used to battling super villains.  She was stronger than he knew. And she didn’t blame him for what happened.  Chat needed to know that.

Marinette looked over at a candle beside her, the flame dying in a pool of melted wax.  On the floor beside her, sat a full thermos of tea, and 2 empty mugs.  She needed to fix this, to talk to him as Marinette. She shifted her shoulders, trying to ease her cramping muscles.  But she had no way to contact him.  

Ladybug had left several apology messages on Chat’s baton, for all the good it did. All went unanswered.  

And so, Marinette had waited. All night. Desperately hoping that maybe Chat might see her candle and stop by.  Despite his earlier insistence that he wasn’t up for patrolling, he had been running around all night long. But he never came close enough for her to call to him. Ladybug couldn’t help him, but maybe Marinette could assure him.  Help take away his pain.

The sky continued lightening, but there would be no colorful sunrise this morning.  Gradually, the muted colors of night started to saturate again. Marinette eye’s fell to a wisp of red on the floor of her balcony.  She stared at it curiously.  Scraps of fabric were everywhere in her room, but they never made it up to her balcony.  An icy cold realization swept over her.

No! Marinette shot up out of her blankets, her muscles stiff and slow with the sudden exertion. Within seconds, she was kneeling beside the tiny frayed cord.  Tenderly, she picked it up and held it in her cold hands.  Adrien’s gift.  The tiny charm bracelet, whose textures and beads she knew by touch alone.

The sense of loss was excruciating.  

Marinette hadn’t really meant it.  Well, maybe she meant it at the time.  But, she was just so angry and confused.  And, it had been so long since she allowed herself to be angry.  So many months of bottled up emotions found their way to the surface, and she exploded.  Marinette had acted in anger, she sighed, and no amount of regret would change that now.  She cradled the tiny cord in her hands, wishing she could undo that moment she threw her gift away.

Maybe she could still fix this? Her eyes darted around the balcony for the scattered beads.  “Tikki!” she shouted.  In a moment, the tiny kwami phased through the floor and was floating in front of her.

“Yes Marinette?”

“The beads, from my bracelet,  The one I broke that night with Chat.  Do you gather them?”

“Um, no.” Tikki replied as she looked around.  “The crows could have taken them.  They really love shinny things.”

Marinette shoulders slumped as she rested on her heels.  She brought her hands to her chest and bowed her head, holding the precious cord tightly. What had she’d done?

“Marinette, You’re shivering! There’s two hours until school starts and you have been up all night.  You should really try to get some sleep.”

“No, Tikki,” She answered, determined, “there’s something else I need to do.”

____

Marinette arrived to Ms. Bustier’s Classroom 10 minutes early.  She couldn’t remember the last time she was this early.  Usually, it was a struggle for her to get there on time.  But today, she was on a mission.

Marinette looked down to the tiny box sitting on the desk beside of her.  Inside were 4 freshly made passionfruit macaroons. Adrien’s favorite. Even with 2 hours to work, she barely was able to finish in time.  Do people really know how long these take to make?  From shifting the almond flour multiple times, to beating the egg whites, to letting the batter sit once it had been pipped, macaroons were the most time-intensive item in their bakery.  

Marinette stretched her neck.  She didn’t mind though. Sure, sleep would have been nice, but after a night of feeling powerless to help Chat, this was at least something she could do.

She had been cold to Adrien yesterday.  Marinette knew it.  But it took everything she had just to get though the day.  She couldn’t trust herself to talk about Lila or Alya without bursting into tears.  And that wasn’t really an option for her, for Ladybug. Marinette sighed.  Adrien was only trying to help, she knew that. But, couldn’t he see that her friendship with Alya was dying before her very eyes?  And the last thing she wanted to do was to talk about Lila.

Marinette smiled and waved as Alya and Nino entered the classroom.  Alya gave her a half smile and a wave before she sat down next to Nino.  I guess she’s still mad.

“Soooo you still up for helping me take my sisters to the amusement park?” Marinette saw Alya smile brightly at Nino.

“You know it, Babe!” He responded, grinning broadly.

“I have the best boyfriend ever,” Alya scooted over closer to him.  She grabbed his arm and spoke softly into his ear. “After we get them down for the night, let’s play that super penguino level you been wanting to try.”

Are Nino’s ears actually turning red? Ugh, no one actually thinks you are talking about a video game!

Marinette set the macaroon box on the seat beside her. It appeared like Adrien would sit next to her today.  She knew he would forgive her.  Adrien was really sweet like that.  She smiled as a familiar warmth filled her chest.  Here he was a boy that had so much, and yet friendships were so precious to him.

“Agreste, Adrien?” Miss Bustier began her roll call.

“…”

“Nino,” Miss Bustier asked, “did Adrien text you he was sick?”

“No, Ma’am” Nino replied, helpfully.

“Lila,” Miss Bustier called to the back of the room, “does Adrien have a photo shoot that you know of?”

“He might be working with a trainer all day today.” Lila offered sweetly. “We have a super sexy photo shoot Sunday morning.”

Marinate suddenly became nauseous.

“Sorry, Babe,” Nino suddenly whispered to Alya, as Miss Bustier continued her roll call.  “I’m going to have to bail on Sunday.”

“What, why?” Ayla sounded annoyed.

“My bro needs me,” Nino explained.  “Online gaming.”

“Seriously?! I need you.” Ayla was whispering loudly.  "The twins are difficult even with two people.”

“Not like this,” Nino spoke hushed.  “I’ll make it up to you later, okay?  You know what they say, ‘bros before… girlfriends?’”

"That is not what they say!” Ayla slapped her hands on her desk.

“Miss Césaire! If sitting next to Nino is too distracting, please take your old seat.”

“Yes, Miss Bustier.”  Alya stood up sheepishly. She then glared at Nino before sliding next to Marinette.

“Chloe, Sabina,” Miss Bustier called as she finished roll.  “If your ready for your presentation, please start setting up now.”

“Peace offering?” Alya quietly asked her when she saw the macaroon box on her seat.

“Something like that,” Marinette admitted, blushing. “I made them for Adrien.”

"This again?" Alya asked, concerned.

“No, its not like before,” Marinette defended.  “He was kind to me yesterday, I just wanted to say thank you.”

They watched while Sabrina struggled to setup a giant poster board.  ‘The Societal and Cultural Impact of Victor Hugo’ was almost impossible to read through the gaudy mess of glitter.  Chloe wasn’t helping, but she was ordering instructions to Sabrina nonetheless.

“So,…um any upcoming articles for the Ladyblog?” Marinette asked, changing the topic.

“Kinda. I have a detailed analysis of the strength of akumas now verses three years ago.  Hawkmoth isn’t akumatizing people as often, but when he does, they are more powerful and deadly than before.”

Tell me about it, Marinette thought sarcastically.

“…in the article, I discuss the pros and cons.  I mean.  It sucks for our heroes that the villains are worse.  But, we miss less school this way.  And we never deal with akumatized babies anymore.

Awhh… Marinette mused, Baby August was so cute too!  Well, toddler August now.  Did he start preschool yet?

“Alya?”  Marinette asked nervously, playing with her hands. “If Nino can’t make it, I can go with you Sunday. You know, to help with your sisters?”

Alya closed her eyes and exhaled.  “No, Marinette, but thank you for the offer.”

“Oh, Okay.” Marinette slouched, starting down at her hands.

“You are my friend, Marinette.  And I will be here for you.”  Alya touched her shoulder lightly. “As soon as you remember I am your friend too.”

____

After class ended, Marinette and Alya exited the classroom. Nino stopped Alya in the breezeway. He held up his hands defensively. “Listen, Babe, give me a chance to explain.” Marinette continued walking, then stopped and pretended to look at her phone.  She watched her friends out of the corner of her eye.

“Okay?” Alya crossed her arms cross her chest.  “Let’s her it.”

Nino took a deep breath. “Adrien needs me.” He explained, enunciating every word.

When he didn’t say more, Alya looked around confused. “Um.. yeah, you said that.”

“These photoshoots...” it looked like he was searching for words, “they take a lot out of him.”

“What’s so hard about being pretty and smiling?”

“It’s more than just that.” Nino explained. “It’s embarrassing, its always super cold, and sometimes, they give him this stupid water protocol.  The dude can only drink a half liter of water the day before, and nothing the day of.”

“How is that legal?”

“Hell, if I know.” Nino threw up his hands. “But it makes him weak, and dizzy, and it gives him crazy bad headaches.”

“Oh,” Alya said surprised, “Why does he do it, then?”

“It’s like, industry standard, I guess.” Nino offered.  “That shit’s messed up!”

“Okay, I get it.  Adrien has to go through hell to model.”  She paused and looked at Nino.  “What does that have to do with you? You guys just online game, with a video chat through your phone.  I’ve seen it.  You game for hours without even talking to each other.”

“Yes, I know. But I’m there for him.”

Alya looked at him, still confused.  “He’s able to eat and drink normally after a shoot, right?  The headaches, the dizziness, that goes away after the shoot.” 

“Yeah, I guess,” Nino shrugged, “but he still gets really shaky, and sometimes he leaves gaming to go throw up.  He thinks I don’t know, but I do.”

Alya looked thoughtfully at the ground, as if she was trying to process all the new information. “That’s… that’s actually really terrible. I had no idea.”

“I can’t explain it,” Nino said while taking her hand.  “Just being able to see my face,… helps him somehow.” Nino gazed at her, his eyes searching for understanding.

“It’s okay, Nino,” Alya said as she pulled him into a hug.  “I’m not mad.  You’re a good friend to him.”

“Thanks, Babe.” Nino kissed the top of her head.  “I can come over Saturday, we can do your favorite level of Super Penguino.”

Alya smiled as she nuzzled into his shoulder. “Maybe we can do both.”

Marinette watched as her friends headed toward their next class, hand in hand.  She felt awkward and uncomfortable in her own skin.  Marinette remembered all of Adrien’s photos that used to decorate her walls.  She used to spend hours staring at his dreamy eyes, his pouty mouth, his smooth skin.  Was she really staring at an embarrassed, cold, and dehydrated teenage boy?  The thought made her skin crawl.  She felt dirty.

“Hey Nino?” Marinette called as she ran up to her friend. “I couldn’t help overhear your conversation just now.” 

“Oh…” Nino turned to face her, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “I mean, it’s not like it’s a secret or anything.”

“Has it always been like this?” Marinette asked. “The modeling”

“I mean, it varies. He doesn’t always have to do the water thing, and sometimes he’s outside where its warm.”  Nino, took a deep breath and exhaled.  “But, I don’t think Adrien has ever liked modeling. You know him.  The dude is good-looking but he’s also kinda shy. He’s just too much of a people-pleaser to say anything.” Nino paused for a moment before he continued. “Though, it has gotten worse this past year. Much worse.”

“Since he started modeling with Lila?” Marinette asked.  Alya raised an eyebrow at her.

“Yea, I guess the really bad shoots started happening around that time.” Nino shrugged, “maybe its extra pressure modeling with a girl. I dunno. My dude never says.”

——

Marinette spend the rest of the day on auto-pilot.  She could always tell Adrien didn’t like the photoshoots with Lila, but having Nino confirm it made it worse. She just didn’t get it!  Why did he do it, any of it?  Why wouldn’t he just tell his father?  If Gabriel knew, there is no way he’d make his son suffer like that.  No parent would.  Gabriel might be strict, but he’s not a monster.

Her exhaustion was getting the upper hand when she arrived home from school.   Thank goodness it was Friday.  Marinette groaned as she climbed the stairs to the apartment. She still needed to talk to Chat, but waiting up all night again wasn’t an option.  Maybe she could have Ladybug bring him a letter from Marinette?  Hmm,... a letter.  That could work. But their next patrol wasn’t until Thursday.  Maybe she could leave a letter on her balcony?  Chat was often seen running around Paris on his non-patrol nights. 

Or, she thought with a smile. Maybe Tikki could have Plagg suggest Chat stop by for macaroons?  She knew he liked them.  Marinette glance at the tiny box she carried in her hands.  Even if she dropped these by Adrien’s mansion, he would never be allowed to eat them so close to a photoshoot.  Hmm... I wonder if Chat has ever tried passionfruit?

Once Marinette arrived to her room, she headed straight to her desk.  She grabbed a pen and piece of paper. Okay, girl. Think!  What would Marinette say to Chat?

Her weary brain failed her as she stared at the blank page. She had a hundred things to say, and yet she couldn’t think of a single thing to write.  In the end, she kept her words brief. 

 

My Dearest C,

Your identity is safe. I’m not in trouble with my parents. Please don’t feel bad, it wasn’t your fault. I’m worried about you.

Love, Marinette.

 

When Marinette awoke the next morning, she checked her balcony first thing.  The candle had extinguished itself during the night.  The letter and the box of macaroons were in the same spot she left them. Untouched.

 

Chapter Text

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 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 down looked at her hands.

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

"But you didn’t know?!” Marinette protested. “The rumors Lila is 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.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Ladybug had been on sitting on a roof for hours, staring blankly at the building across from her.  Besides the foyer lights, the building was dark.  It made sense. It was after midnight, people should be sleeping.

It was Saturday now. No, Sunday morning to be exact.  Over the course of two days, Ladybug’s surveillance had discovered a sobering truth.  Adrien wasn’t grounded, or under house arrest.  He was gone.

Every morning at seven, a team of large, burly men would gather in the courtyard of the Agreste mansion. Ladybug guessed they were private security, maybe ex-military. Nathalie would hand them folders, talk briefly, then they would disperse.

Ladybug followed, curious to where they went. One man stood outside the high school all day long, sometimes on his phone, sometimes reading a newspaper, but always watching. Another was in front of Nino’s apartment, and another was in front of Le Gran Paris. In separate cars, the other men drove around Pais all day long.

They were looking for Adrien.

It was obvious they were watching his friends, but Ladybug knew Adrien wasn’t with any of them. Chloe had been a weeping basket case since he left.  Kagami was just as bewildered as the rest of them, and Nino…? Ladybug sighed sadly.  Every morning, Nino still waited on the steps of the school.  Even after Adrien was removed from the class list, he arrived early to watch the traffic, waiting for his friend.

Still, it didn’t make sense! Why all the secrecy? Why didn’t the school know?  Why pull Adrien off the roster? Was it to cover up a kidnapping? If Adrien was kidnapped, wouldn’t they want all the help they could get?  Why didn’t Gabriel pay the ransom?  Maybe there was no ransom. A sickening thought occurred to her. Could it have been a crazed fan? Was Adrien locked in a basement, made to play out the fantasies of a deranged lunatic?

She slapped her checks, wanting to clear her mind of that imagery.

If it was a kidnapping, why not tell Adrien’s friends, his teachers, or reach out to the community?  Adrien was well liked by everyone.  All of his friends would eagerly launch a search party. At least that would give them something to do. Something to distract from the unease of not knowing.

Ladybug slumped. Guilt gnawed at her. The last time she saw Adrien, he wanted to help her.  He had helped her. And now that he needed help, there was nothing she could do. How she wished she could use her lucky charm and miraculous cure.  Then Adrien might reappear back in his room.  He’d join them for school tomorrow. Nino would give him the biggest hug ever and cry happy tears. No, not just Nino, everyone would take turns embracing their friend. Telling him over and over how much they missed him.  Adrien would give them all his beautiful honest smile, and tell them how important they are to him.

Ladybug smiled sadly.  She would give him a box of his favorite passionfruit macaroons, and kiss his cheek. She’d thank him for being a good friend. And she would let him know…

Ladybug took a deep breath.

That she would be there for him. She would support him, encourage him anyway she could. She could even help him with Kagami.

She hugged her knees to her chest. She could be the friend he needed all along.

“Strange perch for a patrol.” Ladybug jumped at the familiar voice.

“Chat Noir!” She shouted as she leapt to her feet and ran over to her partner. “Did you get my messages, you never responded.  I’m so so sorry.”

“Don’t be.” He responded blandly, “God knows I’ve given my share of bad advice.”

Ladybug sighed with relief.  He wasn’t mad, thank god.  Something was still off, though.  She stepped forward and pulled him into a hug. “When you didn’t show up for patrol, I was so worried.” Ladybug admitted, squeezing him tighter.

Chat’s arms remained at his side. After an awkward moment, Ladybug released him and stepped backward to look at him.  Something wasn’t right.  He looked the same as ever, but then again, the transformations always took care of that.  No matter what hairstyle Marinette wore that day, Ladybug always had her signature pig tails.

“Umm…” she began, looking around “it’s late. What are you doing here?”

“I came to check out the view. I needed to see what’s so special that my lady’s been here for hours.” He held up his baton screen, her location icon on its map. He looked over to the darkened house. “Not to impressive, if I say so myself.”

“That house,..” Ladybug pointed over at the dark building, “that house belongs to Gabriel Agreste.”

“I remember.” Chat said cooly, “the Collector.  One of our more difficult Akumas.”

“That’s not why I’m here.” Ladybug rubbed her arms. It was out of habit, she wasn’t cold. “His son, Adrien, hasn’t been seen in a awhile.”

“If you miss him, there are plenty of billboards with his purr-ty boy face.” Chat offered bitterly. "Never pegged you as a fan though.”

The hostility surprised her.

“It’s not that,” She continued, ignoring his tone. “His friends are worried.  They haven’t been able to reach him. He was pulled from the school’s roster without any explanation.”

This information seem to surprise Chat. He opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again.

“Look, I’ve met Adrien before.” Ladybug explained. “He’s a good person. A good friend.”

“His friends would be better off without him.”  Chat crossed his arms. “From what I hear, he’s quite the coward.”

Oh shit! That stung. Ladybug replayed her balcony conversation with Chat in her head. Back then, she was bitter, she was angry. Did she say Adrien’s name back then? It probably wouldn’t have been hard to figure out.  Chat was clever. Oh no, she realized, did she turn Chat against Adrien?

“Adrien has a complicated home life, but he’s amazing, kind, and selfless. He always sees the best in people.”

“Sounds like a pussy.” Chat muttered.

“Hey! Stop that right now!”  Ladybug glared. “You don’t know him!”

“If he’s so great,” Chat replied bitterly, with cold smirk on his face. “Why didn’t you give him the snake miraculous? Don’t tell me you never found him.”

Damn. That’s right. Back in the sewers, Chat helped her look for him.

Chat crossed his arms triumphantly, “I fought with Viperion and he sure as hell wasn’t Adrien Agreste.”

How could she explain it? The poor boy tried his best. For months!  It was always her fault, never his. They should have waited for Chat. But she wanted so desperately to fight alongside Adrien, the boy she loved. Ladybug winced at the memory.

“Please stop!” She pleaded, her voice strained and high. “You have no idea what he went through. He didn’t fail me, I failed him. And I’m worried about him now!”

Chat stood in front of her, silent.

“Please, help me, Chat.” Ladybug walked forward and took his hand. He only stared at her coldly. “Together, we can look for him.  You have night vision, a better sense of smell, and with two people, we could cover a lot more ground.

She squeezed his hand tenderly.

“He needs our help. We can find him.” Ladybug’s eyes pleaded with his. “We can bring him home.”

Chat tore his hand out of hers, as he backed away. “Has it occurred to you that maybe pretty boy doesn’t want to be found?”

What?

“What is wrong with you?” Ladybug demanded. “This isn’t like you. A civilian needs our help.”

“Millions of people in the city, Ladybug.” Chat opened his arms wide, gesturing to the skyline. “We can’t help them all.”

Ladybug could only stare at him. How could she explain it? She couldn’t reveal that Adrien was her friend outside of the mask.  She couldn’t explain to Chat what Adrien had done for her.

After a few moments of silence, Chat spoke first. “Don’t worry about him, Ladybug. He doesn’t deserve it.”

Using his baton, Chat launched himself into the night, leaving Ladybug alone on an empty roof.

——

Chat ran around in a big loop away from Ladybug. When he realized she wasn’t following him, he headed back to his usual spot. He dropped his transformation as soon a his feet hit the roof of the pool.  Without Plagg’s power aiding his strength, he felt weak and dizzy.  Adrien struggled to keep his balance.  Plagg flew out in front of him.

“What was that!” He threw his arms up.“When you said you were going to talk to Ladybug, I thought it was to ask for help, not pick a fight.”

“I need her to stop looking for Adrien.” He shrugged and walked over to his bag.  He sat down on a flatten stack of cardboard boxes and rested his head against the mechanical box.

“By attacking and insulting yourself?” Plagg crossed his arms. “She’s more likely to think Chat Noir found Adrien and threw him in the Seine.”

Adrien tried to laugh, but only a hacking cough came out. Once the coughing faded, he looked over to his kwami. “Not a bad idea.” He grinned bitterly.  “Dear Ladybug, after much consideration and after a talking with Marinette Dupain-Cheng, I have decided to throw Adrien Agreste into the Seine. Please stop looking for him.”

Plagg buried his face in his arms, muttering some obscenities in a language Adrien didn’t understand. After a few moments, he floated in front of Adrien’s eyes.

“She wants to help you.” The tiny god said gently. “Help you desperately need.”

“I don’t need help,” Adrien responded, curling up next to his bag. “I can manage.”

“No, you can’t!”

Adrien closed his eyes and turned away from Plagg.

“You didn’t even bother looking for food yesterday. And you didn’t touch the cheese I brought back for you.”

“You stole it.” Adrien meekly accused.

“They were going to throw it away, I saved it”

Adrien was too tired to argue with his kwami. He was pretty sure Plagg was lying anyway.

Plagg settled himself in the crook of Adrien’s neck.

“Adrien, please,” he spoke softly, “You can’t keep going on like this.  You’re cold, you’re sick.”

Adrien pretended not to hear him, focusing on keeping his breaths even and shallow. It was easier not to cough that way.

“Just one night, Adrien,” Plagg begged, “Let me find you somewhere warm for just tonight.”

He felt Plagg nuzzle into his neck. Adrien realized his kwami could have easily detransformed during his roof side talk with Ladybug. He was grateful he hadn’t.  From the sounds of it, she would have brought him straight to his father.

Adrien shifted, pulling a piece of cardboard over himself. If Ladybug was looking for him, she might search the rooftops. He couldn’t let her find him. 

Not now.

Chapter Text

A sharp pain jolted Adrien out of his sleep.  He glared down and the offending finger to see Plagg’s jaws clamped tightly around it.

“What the hell, Plagg?”

“You weren’t waking up when I tried nicely.”

“Take a hint,” Adrien grunted. “Let me sleep.”

“No!” His kwami argued. “It’s already past the warmest part of the day. You need to get up and find food.”

“I’m sick.” Adrien shrugged “I’ll find food when I feel better.”

“You won’t feel better until you eat!” Plagg was darting back and forth in front of Adrien’s face. “Or at least eat some of the food I brought you. I’ve been chasing pigeons away all afternoon.”

Adrien looked over at Plagg’s stash. It had grown since he saw it last.  In addition to cheese, there were bags of nuts, protein bars, a banana, salami, chocolates, juice boxes, and a packaged sandwich.  All stolen from a market down the block, Adrien was sure.

“I’m not hungry right now.” Adrien repositioned himself, trying to get the sunlight out of his eyes. “Don’t bite me again.”

“Don’t go back to sleep, Adrien!” Plagg cried out, concerned. “I’m scared you won’t wake up.”

Adrien looked at his kwami through narrowed eyes.  He wasn’t mad, but his eyes were dry and the bright sunlight hurt them.  Poor Plagg, he was starting to look really scared.

“Hey, Plagg?” Adrien said gently, closing his eyes again. “If something were to happen to me, you could take my ring back to Ladybug, right?”

“I don’t like where this conversation is going.”

“Please,” Adrien’s voice was calm and thoughtful. “Please promise me you’ll take it back to her.”

“No!”

Adrien opened his eyes again, just to squint at the tiny cat god. Plagg was floating in front of his face again, baring his tiny teeth and glaring.

“I will NOT take your ring off your dead body.” Adrien wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Plagg so angry.  “When the police find your corpse, I’m sure they’ll return it to your father. I guess good ol’ Gabriel will have your ring then.  And there’s a man who should NEVER have a miraculous!”

Adrien briefly pictured his father in a leather-clad black cat outfit.  It was ridiculous really. He would have chuckled, but all that came out was a hacking cough.

That damn cough. All of the muscles in his abdomen ached in protest.  His bruised ribs protested as his lungs revolted against the cold air.

“Please, Adrien.” Plagg changed his tone, speaking softly now. “Don’t give up.” He pleaded, “You’re not thinking clearly. You’re sick, you’re feverish,.”

“Ha.” Adrien said dryly, “I’m too cold to have a fever.”

Plagg floated next to his cheek and gently touched him. “Please, Adrien. Don’t do this,” Plagg pleaded “You’re worth saving.”

Adrien sighed. He knew Plagg cared for him, and would miss him if her were gone.  Adrien hated disappointing his good friend.  In the past three three years, Plagg had done so much for him.  He was a constant companion in his father’s cold lonely house.  Because of Plagg, he was able to escape the confines of his father’s constant expectations.  He could be Chat Noir!  As Chat Noir, he could go where he liked, and make terrible puns, and not worry about being the perfect son.  He didn’t want to hurt his friend, but he was just… so… tired.

“Do this for me, Plagg,” Adrien continued, ignoring his earlier protests. “I can’t leave Ladybug on her own.”

Plagg didn’t look at him.

“Please?” He begged.

“Alright” Plagg sighed sadly. “I promise I’ll do it.” He paused for a moment. “On one condition, though. Take me to the Tom & Sabine Boulangerie Patisserie. I want to have their cheese danish.”

“You’re trying to get me to go to Marinette’s,” Adrien complained weakly. “That’s on the other side of the city.

“Nah… I’m just thinking with my stomach.” Plagg rubbed his stomach to demonstrate. “ Those cheese danishes are the best in Paris.”

Adrien huddled in his jacket tighter.  He had a feeling this was Plagg’s last ditch effort to get Adrien to go for help. Wouldn’t make a difference though. He didn’t want Marinette’s help.  Still, Adrien needed to know his ring would make it back to his lady, just in case he didn’t get better.

Adrien groaned. It’s not like he wanted to die, but the idea just didn’t bother him anymore. He was just so tired, and so cold.  His body was sore from the constant coughing and shivering. He didn’t want to leave Plagg. He didn’t want to leave his lady.  But he didn’t want to be in pain anymore either.

“If you want to me to promise to take Ladybug your miraculous,” Plagg insisted, crossing his arms, “that is my condition.”

Adrien sighed.

“Okay, Plagg, we’ll go.” He said as he closed his eyes again. “Tonight, after they’re all asleep.  Wake me up when it’s time to go.”

___

Late Sunday night, Marinette was in a dreamless sleep.  The days and nights of reconnaissance had finally caught up with her. She barely was able to climb the ladder to her loft bed before exhaustion pulled her into sleep.  Her body was slow to register Tikki shaking her shoulder.

“Marinette! Wake up! It’s Adrien.”

“What.. huh? What happened?” Marinette murmured into her pillow, “what time is it?”

“He’s outside!”

Marinette eyes flew open. She threw off her covers, jumped up, and opened her hatch.  She pulled herself up through the opening and ran to the balcony railing.  Peering over the side, she saw a figure in a dirty yellow jacket, leaning against the outside wall of the bakery.

It’s him! Oh my God, He’s here!

“Adrien!” Marinette yelled down to him.

The figured jumped. He then banged his hand on the wall and said something she couldn’t quite hear.

“Adrien!” Marinette called again, “stay right there, I’ll be down in a minute!”

Adrien looked up briefly, then he turned and began sprinting down the street.

No! He can’t leave.

“Tikki, Spots…”

“No!” Tiki cut her off. “He’s scared of Ladybug right now. You need to go to him as Marinette.”

“Huh?” Marinette’s groggy brain was confused. “Why would he be scared of…?”

“No time to explain, just go!”

Marinette jumped down from her loft bed. Then, without grabbing her shoes or jacket, raced down the ladder of her bedroom and down the flights of stairs.

She ran into the street, barefoot and frantic.

“Tikki! Tikki! Where did he go?” Marinette was panicking now.

“I don’t know Marinette. Maybe down by the river?”

“Tikki! I can’t lose him,”  Marinette pleaded. “I need to transform"

“Okay, but you need to be very…”

“Tikki! Spots on!”

Marinette felt the familiar rush of magic overtake her body.  She grabbed her yo-yo and leapt to a nearby roof.  She would be able to see him better there.  A dirty yellow jacket should be easy to spot, even in the darkness.

Ladybug jumped from rooftop to rooftop.  She used her yo-yo to swing down deep to search into alleys.  She made good time checking all the streets nearby, it was clear he was no longer running.  He must have found a hiding spot.  She jumped down to the street to check behind trashcans and in doorways. After she was sure the streets were clear, Ladybug headed to the park.

The park was dimly lit this time of night. Yes, she thought, this would make a good hiding spot. She heard a muffled coughing from behind a bush. If she hadn’t heard the noise, she never would have noticed the shapeless yellow jacket hiding under the branches.

She walked over to Adrien cautiously, trying to make her steps as silent as possible. He was lying on his side, feet curled up to his chest, arm over his face. She could tell from the jerky movement of his back he was trying to keep from coughing.  He had a dirty cap covering his blond hair, his clothes were soiled and torn, and he had a battered duffle bag on his back.  How was this the same bright smiling boy she saw just two weeks ago?  A tightness started in her chest as she fought tears from forming in her eyes.

What happened to you, Adrien?

She knelt down beside him, and gently touched his shoulder.  He jerked at the touch, pulling his arm away from his face.  Ladybug barely recognized him.  His eyes were sunken and bloodshot, his lips were chapped and scabbed, wisps of dirty facial hair dotted his chin and upper lip.  He stared at her, blinking in the meager light. His green eyes locked with her blue ones.

Ladybug swallowed hard, and held out her hand. “Come, Adrien,” She coaxed softly, “let’s get you home.”

A hand came out of nowhere to shove her off balance. Ladybug fell backwards and hit the ground with her bottom. It surprised her, but it didn’t hurt. Adrien quickly shot up to his feet, grabbed his bag, and started staggering away.

“Hey!” Ladybug called out, “What’s wrong with you!?”

Adrien didn’t answer. He just kept on walking, no longer trying to hide the coughs that shook his body.

Ladybug jumped up and ran over in front of him.  She stood in his way and grabbed his arm.  “Adrien, talk to me.”

He pulled his arm back and swatted her hand away. “I’m not going back.” Adrien stated drying between coughs. He adjusted his bag then walked around her.

“Adrien, please! Your friends are worried!”

“I am nobody’s friend! Friends can be there for each other, they help each other.” He turned and gestured toward his chest. “I can’t help anyone! And I’m done with them worrying about me.” Adrien continued walking ahead, turning down toward the street by the river.  His steps were uneven and strained, coughs escaped his chest.

“You need help!” Ladybug called after him. “You’re dirty and sick. You… you smell like garbage!”

“I am garbage!” He spat at her. “And I rather stay garbage than go back...” Adrien growled.

“I don’t understand,” Ladybug asked confused. “Why don’t you want to go back?”

“None of your business,” He responded dryly. “You don’t know me.’’

“Please, if you don’t want to go home, let me take you to a hospital,” she pleaded. “It’s cold, you’re sick. Please, Adrien, you could die out here!”

“He’d find me there!” Adrien responded, “I’d rather die under the stars than live in a cage.” Adrien threw open his hands to the sky, twirling in a delirious dance.

Adrien spun a few moments more,  then sank to his knees in a fit of coughs.

"Please, let’s just get you some where safe,” Ladybug begged. “We can worry about your father later.”

Ladybug knelt beside him, she put an arm across his shoulders, and hooked her other arm under his knees.  She stood up slowly, cradling him to her body.”

Abruptly, his elbow slammed against her sternum as he twisted out of her hold.  Adrien fell to the ground on all fours, then tumbled into a run.

Ladybug threw up her hands, “What are you? A cat?”

“Leave me alone.” He yelled back, his voice hoarse.

Ladybug took after him. She was just about to grab him again, when he launched his bag towards her. It hit her square in the chest, hard.  The bag didn’t hurt her, but it’s momentum threw her off balanced.

He was several seconds ahead of her now, running straight for the railing separating the street from the river.

I’d rather die under the stars than live in a cage. His words echoed in her mind

NO!

Ladybug was too far away to reach him in time. If he hit the water, she could never find him again. If she had Chat’s night vision, maybe she would have a chance, but there was no way she could search the dark waters if Adrien jumped.

Ladybug grabbed her yo-yo and launched it towards his feet. The weapon found its target, and wrapped itself tightly around his ankles. Adrien fell forward, hard, collapsing in a spasm of coughs.

“Oh no, Adrien!” Ladybug ran over to him. “I’m so so sorry!” Adrien was curled up in a fetal position struggling to regain control of his breathing. Awkwardly, Ladybug knelt down and rubbed his back until his breath steadied again.

Once the spasm passed, Adrien rolled over onto his back and glared at her. Then, without warning, Adrien brought his knees to his chest, and kicked her with all his strength. Ladybug was launched backwards. She fell on to her back but quickly rolled on to her feet again.

When she looked up, Adrien was staggering toward the railing again.

No, no, no, no, no,…

Ladybug ran to Adrien. Grabbing him roughly, she pulled him tightly against her. Then, she hurled herself high above the Seine.  She launched her yo-yo toward the furthest building in range.  Once it found its target, Ladybug pulled the cord back harder than she ever dared before.  Even with her enhanced stamina, Ladybug struggled against the G forces caused by the rapid acceleration.  The boy in her grasp never stood a chance. 

She felt Adrien’s body go limp in her arms.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Ladybug opened her hatch and gently lowered Adrien down by his arms. His feet folded under him and he slumped into a pile on top of Marinette’s bed. Ladybug jumped down and started untangling his limbs.

“This is my friend Marinette’s place, she can take care of you.” Ladybug gently cradled Adrien’s head and set it on her pillow.

“I’ll umm… go find her.” Ladybug pointed to her room.

Adrien lay motionless

“Adrien?” Ladybug patted his cheek, trying to rouse him.  “Hey, if you can hear me, please say something.”  Panic started rising within her. Ladybug grabbed his collar and shook him firmly.

“Adrien, wake up!” She demanded.

She stopped to see if there was any reaction, but there wasn’t.  Adrien lay still, too still.

“Tikki spots off!” Her suit dissolved and her tiny kwami floated in front of her.   Marinette placed her hand on Adrien’s neck, checking for a pulse. His skin was cold and clammy. She moved her hand around frantically, not even sure where she was supposed to push.

“He’s alive, Marinette,” Tikki assured, “I can tell.”

“Oh god! Tikki! He’s so cold,” she patted his cheek again, “why won’t he wake up?”

“He’s exhausted, and you forced him to pass out.” Tikki responded. “You weren’t supposed to scare him.”

“He was trying to jump in the river!” Marinette lifted Adrien’s eyelid. His pupil drifted to the corner of his eye. Was that supposed to mean something?

“Marinette, calm down. Adrien needs our help now.”

“He needs a hospital!”

“Do you think that is what he wants?”

“I don’t know Tikki,” both of Marinette’s hands were on his chest now, shaking him back and forth. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Let’s get him warm first.”

Marinette looked at the unconscious boy on her bed. His clothes were damp and filthy. The smell was becoming overwhelming in the small space. His shoes were soaked.

“You need to get him into some dry clothes.”

Marinette grimaced. Tikki couldn’t be suggesting she take off his clothes.  Sure they were dirty and damp. Maybe she should get her father to help. Would that make him an accessory to kidnapping? Obviously, Adrien needed to get warm and dry,… but could she…?

“Marinette, please focus.”

“Okay.” She slapped her cheeks, she could do this. Shoes first.

She crawled down to the foot of her bed and untied his shoes, when she pulled them off, tiny bits of paper flew every where.  The stench was overwhelming.  Marinette covered her nose with her elbow.  Even in the pale light, she could see the patches of dried blood on his feet. Oh, Adrien… Marinette blinked tears out of her eyes. She could cry later, right now, Adrien needed her.

Marinette turned her attention to his jacket. His body swam in it, and the long sleeves covered his hands. The oversized jacket made him look like a child. A boy playing in his father’s clothes.  Marinette sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her forearm. You can do this, girl.

She carefully unzipped the yellow jacket and the hoodie underneath.  She placed her hand on his sternum and felt the steady rise and fall of his chest.  Tikki had told her that he was alive, but this was the first proof she saw.  The relief was fleeting, though. He’s cold, too cold…

Marinette rolled him from side to side, removing his arms from his jackets. She grabbed Adrien’s arms and hoisted him into a sitting position. His limp body leaned against her as she pealed off his damp t-shirt.

She laid him back down as tenderly as she could.  His stocking cap was pulled off with his shirt. His hair didn’t even seem blond anymore. It was plastered to his head in a greasy dirty tangled mess. Marinette stared at his naked chest. Adrien was always lean, but not like this.  In the meager light, his skin looked paper thin, revealing the muscles and ribs underneath.  Marinette heart broke as she watched his ribs moving under his skin as he inhaled and exhaled.

Marinette! Focus!” Tikki instructed, floating in front of her.

Marinette’s eyes drifted downward to Adrien’s pants.  “Tikki,” she looked up at her kwami horrified, “I don’t think I can do this.”

“Yes, you can!” Tikki grabbed the corner of her blanket. “Just keep him covered.”

Marinette bit her lip as she threw the blanket over Adrien’s middle. She closed her eyes and turned her head as she reached under the blanket. Her fingertips inching toward Adrien’s waistband. This is wrong, this is wrong, this is so so wrong! Marinette pulled his waistband away from his stomach. She bit her lip harder and winced as she unbuttoned and unzipped his fly. Please forgive me, Adrien, Marinette silently begged.

She moved her hands over to Adrien’s sides.  She gently hooked her fingers into the both the waistband of his pants and boxers. Okay,.. okay… she thought. trying to calm herself.

“Tikki…?” Marinette whined, losing her nerve.

“You’re doing great, Marinette!”

Marinette closed her eyes tighter as she took a deep breath. One side at a time she gingerly coaxed Adrien’s remaining clothes off his body.  The clamminess of his skin and the dampness of his clothes made it a slow arduous process. When she finally cleared his ankles, she quickly threw the garments on the floor and buried her face in her hands.

Oh god! Adrien’s naked in my bed! I knocked him out and striped him naked! Oh god! Oh god! Marinette didn’t want to imagine how many laws she broke tonight.

“Marinette?”

She peaked though her fingers to see Tikki holding up a pair of cupcake-patterned pajama bottoms.  They were an older pair, and the elastic of the waistband was worn and stretched. But they were clean, and they were warm.

Marinette grabbed the bottoms from her kwami, and shut her eyes again. Using the same process in reverse, she inched the garment up Adrien’s legs side by side. When she got to the top of his legs, Marinette reached under his back to lift his hips. She quickly slid the pajamas into place. Then, she finally opened her eyes.

She looked at Adrien.  He looked better now without his tattered clothes.  He had a peaceful expression on his face as he slept.  Such a welcome contrast to the glares and snarls his face wore earlier.  Marinette shook her head, trying to clear the memory of their fight.

Marinette gathered all her blankets and tucked them around his body. She hoped he’d wake up soon. Marinette gently stroked his cheek with the back of his fingers. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be too curious how he got here. Or, wonder why Ladybug showed up after Marinette saw him on the street.

Marinette crawled down from her loft and gathered up Adrien’s clothes. Dear god! They reeked! They smelled like mildew and body odor and… pool? Where were you Adrien? she wondered sadly.

“Tikki? Can you watch Adrien for a few minutes?” Marinette asked. “I need to go downstairs.”

Tikki nodded and flew back up to the loft bed.

Marinette headed straight downstairs and to the washing machine in their kitchen. She dumped Adrien’s clothes inside with more than enough detergent, and set it to wash on hot. Even then, she wasn’t sure that would take care of the smell.

Okay. Food. Marinette wasn’t sure if Adrien had eaten in a while. It didn’t look like it. What would be easy on his stomach?  She opened up a box of broth, dumped it into a pot and set it to warm up on the stove.

Next, Marinette grabbed a tray and opened the refrigerator. Hmm… What could she give him without arousing suspicion from her parents?  She smiled when she saw her mother’s salmon quiche. Adrien liked that before, didn’t he?  She grabbed that, two hardboiled eggs, some cheese, some leftover stir fry and some grapes.  Marinette knew Adrien also liked her family’s pastries, but all of that was down in the bakery.  She could always grab some later.

Marinette patiently waited for the broth to heat up on the stove. Once it was warm enough to drink, she poured it into a thermos, and then quickly washed and dried the pot.  When she was finished, she picked up the tray and headed back upstairs to her room.

After setting the tray on her desk, Marinette climbed the ladder to her loft bed. Tikki was sitting on Adrien’s chest, watching him closely. Marinette crawled over and put her hand on his forehead.  He didn’t react to the touch.

“Tikki?” Marinette looked over to the tiny god, alarmed. “Why is he still so cold?”

“He’s really weak.” Tikki explained. “He might not be able to warm up on his own.”

Marinette gulped. Adrien need a hospital. He need so much more than just…than just… her. A horrifying image flashed though her mind. She remember Adrien sprinting straight toward the Seine. The memory terrified her. It chilled her to her core. No, she couldn’t take him to the hospital, not now.  Adrien would rather die than be found.

It frustrated her. Marinette didn’t understand, she just didn’t understand! Marinette took deep breath, and sighed. But maybe she didn’t need to. She could still be there for her friend.  And there was something more she could do.

Marinette pulled the covers back and slid in beside Adrien.  She rolled him onto his side, and pulled his back to her.  Marinette’s body revolted at the coldness of his skin. She snaked her arm under his neck and wrapped the other around his waist.  She held him tightly against her and winced at the cold.  Marinette rested her cheek against his back. His skin smelled like mildew, but she ignored it.

“Adrien? You need to warm up, okay?” Marinette knew he couldn’t hear her, but she continued to talk anyway.

“Your friends love you.” She told him. “They’ve missed you so much.”

Marinette gathered his icy cold fingers in her hands. She massaged them gently, trying to get the blood flowing. “I’m so sorry, Adrien. I never knew things  were so bad.”

Marinette felt her teeth start to chatter, but she continued to push her body into his.  “You don’t have to bare this on your own, anymore.”

“Please wake up.”

 

——

 

Adrien was dead. 

It didn’t really surprise him, not really.  He knew the way things were going, death was going to find him one way or the other.  He thought it would have been illness or exposure.  He never imaged it would be Ladybug that killed him.

He hoped Plagg brought his ring back to her.  His kwami got his cheese danishes after all.  Even took his sweet time and refused to come out of the bakery when Marinette discovered him.  If he’d been able to transform, Chat Noir could have easily gotten away from Ladybug.

It was strange that people feared death.  Death was nice. It was warm, and the air didn’t hurt his lungs.  Adrien snuggled deeper into fluffy comfort. Yes, this was very nice.

Adrien felt his shoulders being lifted and his head cradled against something soft.  Something was placed at his mouth. It wasn’t until the wetness touched his lips that he realized how thirsty he was.  The liquid was rich, full bodied and slightly salty. Adrien drank slowly at first, then it felt like he couldn’t get enough. He tipped his head forward trying to drink faster. Annoyingly, the vessel was taken from his lips. Adrien felt himself being lowered back down.

Adrien licked his lips, then rubbed them together. There was something on them. Lip balm, perhaps? It was cherry or something. It had a familiar taste.

Adrien sighed and turned his head into the softness.  He hoped his lady would be okay.  He also hoped she wouldn’t blame herself for his death.  Adrien didn’t blame her.  He knew Ladybug was only trying to do what was right.  Returning a lost boy to his home. She had no idea what he was running from.

Though, with him gone, she’d have to find another black cat. Adrien frowned. Now that thought made him a bit sad.  He felt they were good together.  They were Paris’s superhero team.  They had level of understanding that few ever shared. He didn’t want to leave her alone, but he didn’t want to be replaced either.

Adrien felt something cool wipe is forehead.  It felt nice.  It was warm here, in death.  Almost too warm. The cloth felt refreshing. 

Someone was here with him. Adrien smiled.  Sure it wasn’t the pearly gates or choruses of angels, but it still was nice to know he wasn’t alone.

Fingers gently stroked the hair off his brow. Adrien felt tears form under his closed eyes.  He remembered this! It had been years, but he could never forget her touch. Of course she would be here too. Adrien’s throat tightened in a sob.

“Mom?” he whispered.

“Shhhhh…” her voice called out. “Just rest.” It had been so long since Adrien heard his mother’s voice. It sounded foreign to his ears.

“Mom!” He cried out louder.  Adrien arms reached for her. She was right there, lying beside him. He pulled her to him, burying his face in her neck, sobs ripping out of his throat.

He had found her again! She felt small in his arms. Almost too tiny. No, he thought as he squeezed tears from his eyes, I’ve grown. Adrien was 13 when he saw her last. He had grown since had seen her.  Three years. So much had happened in those three years. His mom never got a chance see him go to school, or to meet his friends. What would she think of Chat Noir?

His mother’s arms wrapped around him, gently rubbing his back.  “Shhh…” she coaxed.

“I’ve missed you so much.” Adrien rested his forehead against her shoulder.  “I’ve learned to play Claire de Lune from memory.” Adrien was trying to think of all the things he had wanted to tell his mother over the past years. “I’ve won fencing tournaments. My Chinese tutor says I’m his most advanced student.”

His mother was stroking his face now. Gently wiping away his tears.

“For years, I hated waking up.” Adrien whispered softly. “Because then, I would remember all over again. That you’re gone.” He inhaled against her, trying to remember her smell. “It was like a part of me being torn away every morning. But now..? now?” Adrien paused for a new round of sobs to pass. “Some mornings I don’t remember at all, and that’s so much worse! Mom, I’m so sorry!”

His mother was crying now. He could feel her soft sniffles and sobs against his body. No… he didn’t want to make her sad.

Adrien took a deep shaky breath, trying to brace himself. “Why did you leave?” He choked out the words, scared of the answer. He was terrified, but he needed to know. “Was it because of me?”

The hand on his face stopped moving.

“I’ve tried so hard to be good.” Adrien gripped his mother harder now.  “But father,… but father…” The tightness in his throat made his voice strained and tight. “He changed after you left. I’m so sorry,.. I couldn’t stay anymore.”

His mother was quiet. Why didn’t she say anything?

“Did I do something wrong?” Adrien asked again, his tiny voice pleading for an answer.

“Tell me.” He begged, “...please?”

Adrien felt his mother kiss his forehead. “..I never wanted to leave you, Adrien.” The voice spoke quietly. “It wasn’t your fault.”

He melted into her as years of tension released from his body.  His mother was holding him against her chest now, rocking him slowly.  She cradled him as well her smaller body could. She stroked his hair and kissed his face as Adrien wept.

When the tears no longer came, Adrien sighed into her arms.  “I’m glad I found you,” he whispered. Sleep was starting to take hold again.

“I’m glad I died.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Adrien shifted his body, trying to find a more comfortable position.  Something wasn’t right.  He tried to snuggle into the fluffy softness of death, but something still felt off.  There was smell of bread, fresh bread. Adrien found that very distracting.  It was a good smell, but why was it here?

He flopped onto his back. Nope. This was worse. Adrien turned to his side again, wincing. It was supposed to be comfortable here. He was dead. He wasn’t suppose to feel stupid bodily discomforts. Adrien groaned. It didn’t make since. Why couldn’t he get comfortable? Why did it smell like bread? And dammit, why the hell did he have to pee?

Adrien eyes flew open.  He blinked and stared straight ahead at the back of two pig tails.

“Ladybu…?” he began before a fit of coughs escaped from his chest.

A towel was immediately brought to his mouth to muffle the sound. “No,” a voice whispered, “It’s Marinette.”

Oh, no. Why her? Adrien wondered how the hell Plagg had pulled this off. Last he remembered, Ladybug was trying to capture him. Did Plagg tell her to bring him here? That must have been an awkward conversation. Wonder how Ladybug felt about finding out it was Chat Noir sick and pathetic on the streets? He squeezed his fingers together, checking to make sure his ring was still there. At least she wasn’t that disappointed.

When his breathing steadied, he looked over to Marinette. Even in the moonlight, she looked worried. Her big eyes full of concern. He shouldn’t be here. He had to find Plagg and leave.  He had to find out what happened to his stuff,… He had to… He had to…

“I have to pee,” Adrien blurted out, realizing all his other problems could wait.

“Oh, yes, of… of course.” She stammered. Even in the darkness, it seemed like she was blushing. “Follow me. My parents should be already in the bakery.”

Marinette slid out from the covers and turned toward the ladder of her loft bed.  Adrien’s eyes fell to the curves of her bottom as she crawled away. It was a nice view. He was overcome with an feeling of déjà vu.

Adrien moved to climb down after her. Oh god! He wasn’t sure if her ever had to pee so bad in his life. Once he reached the floor, he had to pause. The room started spinning around him. Adrien closed his eyes and grabbed onto the ladder for support.

He felt Marinette grab his arm. “Hey, Adrien,” she spoke gently, “take it easy.” She slung his arm over her shoulder, and wrapped the other around his waist. “We can go slow.”

They slowly made their way toward the hatch of her room.  Adrien felt Marinette’s soft skin on his back before he realized his was shirtless. Luckily, she didn’t seem to mind. 

Carefully, they climbed down the stairs, the wood planks groaned loudly with each step. The downstairs apartment was dark, but the memory of Sabine turning on the light was fresh in his mind. He tried to walk to the bathroom as fast as he could.

Once inside the bathroom, Marinette let go of his waist and arm.  She closed the door gently, before resting her forehead against it. “I’m sorry,” she whispered softly. “I’ll give you as much privacy as I can. But I can’t have my parents find you here.”

Privacy was the last thing on Adrien’s mind as he made his was over to the toilet.  Dear god! Sweet, sweet bliss.  He couldn’t control the audible groan of relief as he emptied his bladder.  It wasn’t until he finished that he noticed the cupcake pajama bottoms he was wearing.

“Um,..” he began awkwardly. “What happen to my clothes.”

Marinette didn’t turn around. If anything, it was if she was trying to make herself even smaller. “They were wet and smelly. Ladybug helped me change you.” She admitted shyly. “You were under a blanket, we didn’t see anything.”

“Oh…” Adrien was grateful for that. He wasn’t modest. God know he was used to people seeing his body in all manner of undressed. But, being cold and wet, he knew he couldn’t have been a very impressive sight. He was glad his lady didn’t see.

"You umm... you could take a shower?” Marinette suggested.  “I’ll make sure no one comes in.”

Suddenly, Adrien was painfully aware of his body odor. He grimaced in embarrassment. “Yes, umm, thank you.” he responded politely.

Adrien turned on the faucet and kicked off his bottoms.  Once he stepped into the warm running water, he couldn’t help but sigh with pleasure. It felt amazing!  Adrien washed every part of his body twice. The soap stung the sores of his skin, but he didn’t care.  Adrien lathered and rinsed his hair several times to get the griminess out. He even rubbed in some conditioner to help with the tangles.

He wished he could stay in the shower longer. Long shower were a pleasure of his. His luxurious shower stall was his sanctuary at his father’s. Still, even in this tiny bathroom, he was pretty sure this was the best shower of his life. He didn’t want it to end, but he didn’t want Marinette’s parents to get suspicious either.

“I’m getting out now,” Adrien called to her softly. He didn’t want her parents to hear in case they were in the apartment.

He stepped out of the shower and looked over to his friend. She was still over at the door. Her forehead firmly pushed against it. She hadn’t moved in 20 minutes. The entire time Adrien had been in the shower.  He appreciated that she wanted to protect his modesty, but it seemed a bit overkill.

Adrien grabbed a towel and wiped off his face and chest before wrapping it around his waist. “I’m decent now,” he told her, “you can turn around.”

Marinette turned around, but didn’t look at him. She simply stared at the floor silently.

Well, this just got awkward.

Adrien scratched at his face, trying to think of something to say.  Even clean, his face was itchy.  His nails scratched at the patches of facial hair. It had been a while since Adrien had seen himself in a mirror, but he doubted the whiskers were a good addition.

“Do you have a razor I could use?” He finally broke the silence.

That seemed to snap Marinette out of whatever daze she was in. “Um,.. sure, I have mine.” She walked over to the shower and reached behind the curtain.  Once she found what she was looking for, she walked back over to Adrien. Never looking at him directly.

She handed him the tiny pink razor. “I think my dad has some shaving cream in the medicine cabinet.” Marinette offered, not meeting his eyes.

“Thank you,” Adrien whispered softly as he took the razor.  He wished she would look at him. That would make things less weird.

“I,.. um,.. I should shower too.” With that, Marinette turned around, pulled back the shower curtain, climbed into the shower fully clothed, then closed the curtain behind her.

Adrien’s heart started to beat faster as he heard the telltale sounds of Marinette removing her pajamas.  The shower curtain was opaque, Adrien couldn’t see anything. But it was unsettling knowing his friend was naked, less than a meter away. .  No,.. Adrien slapped his cheeks, unsettling wasn’t the right word. He wasn’t going to think of the right word right now. Nope.

He heard the water turn on. Marinette gave a tiny gasp as it hit her skin.  I guess the water was cold when it came out. Great, now his friend was naked, wet, less than a meter away, and making sexy gasping sounds.

Adrien groaned to himself. He knew he was still sick and weak, he shouldn’t be thinking of Marinette like that. God knows what she thought of him at this point.

Adrien wiped the condensation off the mirror, and looked at his reflection. It was the first time he’d seen himself in awhile. He blinked at the image starting back at him.  His eyes were bloodshot and his lips were cracked and split. He rubbed them together. Hmm,.. they didn’t hurt. There was something on them. Could Marinetee have put lip balm on them while he slept? How out of it was he?

Come to think of it... he didn’t remember passing out. Did he faint in the middle of his fight with Ladybug? Adrien grimaced with embarrassment.  If she learned his identity, he might never hear the end of it.

Adrien stepped backward to see more of himself.  He could tell he’d lost weight. The muscles of his shoulders and chest were highly defined and sinewy. He raised his arms and flexed his abdomen. The muscles rippled under his skin. Ha Father! More ripped than ever and no photoshoot, he thought bitterly.

He heard the water cascade of Marinette in waves. She must be washing her hair now, Adrien mused. He could picture the soapy water slowly traveling from her head down to her shoulders, down to her...

Stop it, please! Adrien begged his imagination.

Okay, just concentrate on shaving. Adrien easily found the shaving cream and lathered his face and neck. He grabbed the tiny pink razor and stared at it. I wonder what parts of Marinette’s body you’ve touched?

Damn it, Brain! Adrien whined silently, as he began scraping the hair off his upper lip.  It’s not like he’d never been around naked women before.  There was no modesty in the modeling world, and even a teenage boy could become indifferent to it.  Why should being in the same room as his naked friend bother him now?

Maybe it’s because you know what her tongue tastes like?

Adrien blushed at the memory.  No, he sighed, that was Chat Noir.  Marinette doesn’t feel the same about Adrien. Chat Noir is brave, remember?

Although, Adrien thought as he rinsed his razor, she’s helping me now. She must still like Adrien a little bit. He smiled at the thought. He leaned closer to the mirror and began shaving under his jaw.

Adrien heard the faucet turn off. Through the reflection of the mirror, he saw a naked arm reach for a towel. A minute later, Marinette emerged with a towel wrapped around her middle. Her shoulders and collarbones bare. Tiny droplets of water still stuck to her skin.  She looked really pretty, wet.

He knew he was staring.  But hey, his brain was still a bit boiled right now.  Marinette’s hair was wet and slicked back away from her face. Adrien had never seen her forehead before. He smiled as he realized he had a thing for seeing a girl’s whole face. Especially the hidden bits.

Marinette fidgeted under his gaze until Adrien finally turned away. He finished rinsing his face and dried it with a hand towel.  Marinette picked up their clothes and they returned to her room. Adrien was only a little dizzy now, and didn’t need Marinette’s help anymore.

Once Marinette closed her bedroom door, she instructed Adrien to sit on her chaise while she changed. A minute later, Marinette emerged from behind her screen wearing a fresh pair of pink pajamas. Is everything this girls owns pink?

Marinette walked back over to Adrien. She had a small white box in her hand.  Adrien watched her, perplexed, as she knelt in front of him, and put her towel across her lap. It wasn’t until she grabbed his ankle that he realized what she was doing.

“Hey, I don’t need…” Adrien began to protest.

“Please, Adrien?” Marinette was looking at him now, the first time in awhile.  Her pretty blue eyes pleading with his.  She still held onto his ankle, her hands soft and warm. God she was beautiful, her face full of concern. Adrien sighed, realizing there was no way he could ever refuse anything this girl asked. He closed his eyes and nodded.

Marinette placed Adrien’s foot on her lap. She opened the box and took out cotton balls, disinfectant and bandages.  With delicate care, she cleaned and dressed Adrien’s torn skin. After she finished one foot, she did the other.

When both feet were finished, she turned her attention to Adrien’s skinned knee. I don’t remember that, thought Adrien curiously. But then again, his memory of the past few days was a bit fuzzy.

“For what its worth,” Marinette spoke softly as she dabbed the broken skin. “Ladybug said she was sorry she used her yo-yo on you.”

Ah! That made sense. He fell hard when she tripped him.  Adrien frowned, he hoped she didn’t see this. He really didn’t want her to feel bad.

Adrien opened his eyes and watched her gently blow air on the wound, trying to dry the disinfectant. “Why are you doing this?” He asked before he realized what he was saying.

“So the bandage doesn’t stick.”

“No,… I mean,” Adrien spoke gently, “All of it. Why help me?”

“You’re my friend, Adrien.” Marinette pealed the paper off the back of the bandage. “Friends help each other.”

After she placed the bandage on Adrien’s knee, she sighed and looked at the floor. “And… I know what you did…” Marinette admitted shyly.

Adrien stared back at her. She knew what he did? When? On the balcony? Oh god, did she know he was Chat Noir? Did Ladybug tell her? Is that how she got Marinette to help him?

When he didn’t respond, Marinette continued. “You told my parents it was you. That night in my room.” She still didn’t look at him.

Oh yeah! Adrien half smiled. Wow, that seemed like such a long time ago. “I wanted to help.”

”It did,” she admitted softly, “Thank you.”

Adrien’s heart swelled. He didn’t mean for her to find out, but that tiny thank you felt really really good to hear.

“Did it…?” Marinette was playing with the hem of her shirt. “Did it get you in trouble with your father?” Her voice was barely a whisper.

“No,… no, he never found out.” Adrien could see the tension release from her shoulders.  Poor thing, was she worried he ran away because of that?

“What happened?” Marinette started putting the first aid supplies back in their box. “You seemed fine one day, and then you were gone the next.”

Adrien took a deep breath and sighed. “Lots of things really.”

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.” Marinette offered as she began picking up the pile of discarded wrappers.  “But I can be a good listener, if you want me to be.” She looked up at him again, a soft expression on her face.

Adrien stared at her. He could tell she wanted to help.  He should tell her something. It wasn’t like she could think any less of him now.

Adrien took a deep breath before he spoke. “I wasn’t liking the person my father was turning me into.” Adrien admitted.  “I, umm…” Damn, why was this so hard to say? “I tried to talk to him about the photoshoots, about Lila.”

He saw Marinette stiffen at the sound of Lila’s name, but she didn’t say anything.

“But Father, he…he didn’t care…” Shit! Why was his throat so tight?

“He told me it was my job.” Adrien shook his head. “If it was a job, I would have quit a long time ago.” He squeezed his eyes shut. Not wanting to see the disgust on Marinette’s face. He was a coward, right? Not able to stand up to his father.

He felt her grab his hand and squeeze it. Adrien opened his eyes to see Marinette’s face full of worry. Without a trace of disgust.

“Adrien, you know that was very wrong of him, don’t you?” She asked gently.  Adrien shrugged, and turned away.

“Hey, look at me.” She coaxed. “That was a terrible, disgusting thing your father said to you.” She paused for a moment. “It was very wrong.”

Adrien didn’t respond. The air got awkward and heavy. After a minute, Marinette stood up and walked over to a large chest against the wall. He heard her rummage for a moment before returning with a triumphant look on her face.

With a big smile, Marinette held up the most garish pair of boxer shorts Adrien had ever seen in his life. The material was shiny and bright, with every single color one could think of.  Metallic disco balls repeated every few inches against the blotchy rainbows behind them. It made Adrien wince to look at.

Marinette giggled at his reaction. "Alya found the material and convinced me Nino really needed these to be made.  They’re disco balls, see? They are going to be a bit big for you, but I can take in the waistband if you need it.” She handed them to Adrien then returned to her giant chest.

He rubbed the material between his forefinger and his thumb.  It was some cheap novelty rayon fabric. But it was soft and silky.  Adrien smiled as he imagined his friend’s reaction. It was a lot of effort for Marinette to go through for a laugh. She was amazing like that.

Adrien stood up, and quickly slipped them on. He removed his towel and lightly bounced up and down.  They hung low on his hips, but didn’t fall. Sweet! Adrien was grateful Marinette wouldn’t have to make any adjustments.

He turned to her and held up his arms, excited to show her that they fit.  Marinette froze at the sight of him, mouth open.  Shit! Adrien grimace, she’s not used to your lack of modesty!  He quickly sat back on the chaise and rubbed the back of his neck. Adrien hoped he didn’t embarrass her too much.

Marinette recovered fast, and within a minute, she was standing in front of him again, smiling brightly.  “Here!” She held out her arms, clutching some black pajama tops and pants. “These should be a much better fit.”

Adrien took the garments from her and swallowed hard. The pajamas were a shiny black fabric, with an electric green piping around the color and cuffs.  Adrien’s face softened.  He knew who these were meant for.  Adrien brought them to his face an inhaled. They even smell like her. With a closer inspection, Adrien noticed some of the inside seams were reinforced with ladybug print bias tape.  There was no reason to reinforce the seams on pajamas, it was purely decorative.

“Who did you make these for?” He asked softly, Adrien knew the answer, but he wanted her to say it anyway.

“A friend I haven’t seen in a while.” Marinette sighed softly. There was no bitterness to her voice.

"He must be a Ladybug fan.” Adrien pointed to the hidden detail and smirked.

Marinette smiled proudly. “Her number one fan, in fact.” She leaned forward and whispered. “But don’t tell Alya.”

Marinette walked over to her desk as Adrien put on the pajamas.  When she returned, she had another brilliant smile on her face. Her hands were holding a tray of food. Adrien’s face lit up at the sight.

“I wasn’t sure, what you liked, so I grabbed a bit of everything.” She said as she sat the tray down on the chaise.

“I can have all this?” Adrien asked, suddenly starving.

“It’s all for you.” Marinette beamed. “Don’t eat too fast though. I need to go down and talk with my parents.”

Adrien froze at the mention of Tom and Sabine.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell them you’re here.” Marinette assured. “But, I need to let them know I won’t be going to school today.” She paused for another moment, watching Adrien devourer the quiche.  “Would you like me to bring up anything from the bakery?”

“A dozen chocolate croissants?” Adrien responded eagerly, his mouth full of food.

“A dozen might be a bit suspicious.” Marinette smiled at her friend’s full cheeks. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Before you go?” Adrien called out, “umm… is my bag here? I have some important documents in there.” Not to mention a grumpy kwami.

“I think Ladybug left it on the roof.” Marinette winced, “It kinda smelled.”

After Marinette left, Adrien waited an extra minute until she was no longer in earshot.

“Plagg?” He called out.

Instantly, the little kwami phased though the floor and hugged his cheek.

“Adrien!” Plagg cried, “We were so worried!”

Suddenly, the little god flew in front of his face, hands on his hips.  “What the hell was that! Were you seriously going to jump into the river?” Oh man, Plagg was angry again.

“We could have transformed underwater, Ladybug would never have found us.” Adrien winked.

“Were you seriously going to let Ladybug think she killed Adrien Agreste?” Plagg glared back.

Adrien slumped, he didn’t think of that. “I guess it wasn’t a good idea. I was just trying to get away.”

He brought his hands together and Plagg floated over to rest on them.

“How did you get me here?” Adrien asked curiously.  “Does Ladybug know who I am?”

“Nah… Ladybug brought you here on her own. I guess she knew Marinette lived nearby.”

“Hmm…” Adrien mused. “Well, it makes sense. It’s not like Ladybug could bring me to her home, is it?”

Plagg groaned and buried his face in his hands.

“Plagg?”

The kwami only grunted in response.

“You knew Marinette would help me, didn’t you? That’s why you wanted to come back here.”

“Not at all.” Plagg looked up and grinned. “I was only thinking about those cheese danishes.

“Plagg?”

“Hm?”

“Thank you.”

Chapter Text

Marinette hated lying to parents. As a superhero, she knew it came with the territory.  She lied to keep them safe, at least that’s what she told herself. And that is exactly what she’ll be doing now, Marinette thought as she made her way down the flights of stairs to the bakery.

Something wasn’t right about Mr. Agreste. He wasn’t acting the way a parent of a lost child should. And he was oddly dismissive of Adrien’s distress about Lila. Why hired a private security instead of going to the police? Until Marinette learned more, she needed to keep Adrien hidden. And unfortunately, hidden from her parents as well.

Marinette sighed as she reached the bottom of the stairs. Her Mom and Dad would probably help Adrien if given the chance. That made lying so hard.

She also knew, they would be the ones to face legal repercussions for hiding a runaway teen.  Marinette couldn’t risk that. She was doing this for them. So, why did she feel so guilty?

Marinette took a deep breath and pushed open the door to the bakery.  Tom and Sabine looked up with surprise.  The smiles on their faces fell when they got a look at their daughter.

“Everything alright dear?” Sabine walked over and put a hand on her shoulder. Marinette looked up at her mom, she hated this.

“I’ve been up all night with cough,” True, but it wasn’t her cough. “I thought taking a shower would help.”  Also true. If her parents needed to use restroom, they wouldn’t question the wet towels or shower curtain.

“Oh honey, you look good exhausted.” Her mother looked at her with concern in her eyes. Marinette knew her mom was probably right. Between not sleeping and the unease she felt in her belly.

“I am, but I’m feeling better, I think I can make it to school.” She wasn’t really sick enough to miss school, but she hoped her mother would take the bait.

“Absolutely not!” Sabine scolded, “go back to sleep. I’ll call the school when it opens.”

“Thank you, Mom!” Marinette gave her mom a big hug. Sabine wrapped her arms around her and patted her back gently.

“Once the market opens, I’ll make that chicken ginger soup you love so much.”  She kissed the top of Marinette’s head, still holding her daughter.

Marinette melted into her touch, she loved having her mother dote on her. “It’s okay, Mom.” She assured, “I’m feeling better. I’ll probably just sleep all day today.”

“Nonsense.” Sabine playfully chided. “You’re so gown up now. It’s not everyday I get a chance to baby you.” She gave Marinette one last squeeze before she let go. Marinette warmly smiled at her mom.

“Hey Dad, May I take a croissant or two?”

_____

Marinette headed back up the stairs with two fresh chocolate croissants in her hands. She felt guilty. Her mother was going to go through all the effort of making her favorite soup, and she wasn’t even sick.  Still, she smiled to herself, Adrien would probably like it. Did his mother ever made him soup when he was sick?

Marinette’s steps started to fell heavy as she climbed. A heavy emptiness started eating at her insides. It’s been over three years since Adrien saw his mother. Would he even remember what her soup tasted like?

She sat down on the cold steps and leaned her head against the wall. Could she even imagine…? Never having her mother’s soup again? Never feeling her mother’s arms? Or her hands on her cheek? Never having her mother worry or dote on her again? Not remembering what her mother smell like…?

Adrien’s words tore at her memory…

It was like a part of me being torn away…

Some mornings I don’t remember at all, and that’s so much worse!

Mom, I’m so sorry!

“…Tikki?” Marinette could barely choke out the words as she gazed at the ceiling. Her eyes burly with tears.  After a moment, the tiny kwami had phased through the floor.

“Yes, Marinette?” The tiny god looked up at her with big worried eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“My mom,…” Marinette tried to explain. “My mom is going to make Adrien soup.” She squeezed her fists to her forehead, clamping her eyes shut.

“Umm…” Tikki began, obviously confused, “Isn’t that a good thing?”

Marinette hugged her stomach and gently rocked herself. “I just… I just…” She wasn’t making sense, she knew it. “I just tried to imagine never having my mom soup again.” She looked up at Tikki, hoping her friend understood.

“Oh god! Tikki, it hurts so much!” She pressed her nails into her bare arms, hoping the pain would help. “Adrien lives with it everyday!”

Tikki floated next to her face and touched her reassuringly.

“He’s in so much pain,” Marinette whispered, “but he never says anything.” Tikki settled on her shoulder and nuzzled her neck. 

“I wasn’t suppose to hear. I’m not supposed to know.” Marinette shook her head.

I can’t help anyone! And I’m done with them worrying about me.

“He doesn’t want his friends to know. He doesn’t want to be a burden.” She wiped away the tears from her eyes. Marinette hugged her knees and buried her face in her arms. “I don’t know how to help him,” she whispered.

Tikki patted her shoulder. “You saved his life tonight,” she reminded. “He was damp, sick, and freezing on the streets. You’ve already helped him so much.”

When Marinette didn’t respond, Tikki continued. “You’re not alone in this. Other people want to help Adrien too. Also,…” Tikki smiled at her, “you’re Ladybug! You can find crazy solutions to anything. I believe in you.”

Marinette looked up and smiled briefly at her friend. She dropped her gaze, staring at her hands again. “He’s so broken, Tikki. And he still tries so hard to help others.

“For years, I thought I knew him because I had his schedule memorized. I knew all of his 5 names, and his favorite macaroon flavor.  I knew what magazines he was in, and the location of all his photoshoots.  I knew his measurements, his hat size, his shoe size… I thought,.. thought I was in love with him.

“But I didn’t know him at all, Tikki, did I?” Marinette looked at her friend, sadly.

Tikki looked back to her, reassuringly. “You have a chance to know him now?  You can help him. You can let him know how much you care…”

“I love him!” Marinette blurted out. “Oh god! Tikki. It’s not like before, it isn’t… It’s something else. But I just want.. no, I need him to live! I want him to know how amazing he is! I want him to be loved. I don’t care if its in the arms of Kagami, or Chloe, or… or Wayham, or any other crazy fangirl. Please, Tikki,” her eyes pleaded with her friends. “I need him to survive his.”

Her memory once again flashed with images. Adrien’s too cold, too still body lying on her bed. Adrien’s determined face as he sprinted towards the river. His word’s echoed in her ears.

And I rather stay garbage than go back...

I’d rather die under the stars than live in a cage.

I’m glad I died.

She tried to shake the words from her mind.I can’t hide him forever, Tikki. Then what will I do?”

“Let’s get him healthy first, you’ll think of something."

Marinette wiped her eyes and her nose, she didn’t want to look as if she’d been crying.  She stood up and bounced up and down. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts. Don’t let Adrien see you sad. 

She made her way back to her bedroom. Once inside, she triumphantly held up the fresh croissants. “I was able to grab you two, still warm.” She smiled brightly. Yes! Girl, distract him with food.

Adrien was lying on the chaise. His pajama top was pushed up to reveal a slightly distended stomach.  His fingers were rubbing the exposed skin gently.  The empty tray of food lay on the floor.

“I think I’ve must have died.” He slowly turned to her and smirked. “I should have known heaven would be full of pastries and pretty girls.”

Marinette knew it was a joke. A meaningless tease to lighten the mood. She tried to keep her emotions in check. But her stupid eyes refused to listen and started watering.

“Marinette?”

Next her traitorous throat seized up. It was hard to breathe, she could barely swallow. Adrien was sitting up now. His teasing expression fell to one of horrified shock.

Marinette quickly handed him the croissants before burying her face in her hands.

Now her chest gave the ultimate betrayal as a ragged sob shook her body. Damn, Damn! Marinette peaked through her fingers at Adrien.  He was staring back at her, his face full of terror and confusion. She needed to explain herself…

“Don’t say that! You could have died. I was so scared, you were so cold.” Oh god, was she shaking now? “And you wouldn’t wake up. I wanted to call an ambulance but Ladybug said…"

A warm hand tapped her shoulder. She knew it was meant to be assuring, but it was stiff and awkward.

“I’m so sorry, Marinette.” Adrien apologized, his voice high. “I shouldn’t have said that. Shit, this isn’t fair.  She shouldn’t have brought me here.  This is too big of an imposition.”

“You’re not an imposition!” Marinette’s angry red eyes flared back at him.  “She was right to bring you here! To a place you’d be safe. Where people care about you.”

Adrien was obviously stunned by outburst.  And extremely confused. In less than a minute, Marinette had gone from happy, to weepy, and now furious.

Adriens arm fell from her shoulder as he dejectedly stared at his feet.

“Hey…” Marinette spoke softer now, desperately trying not to sound like crazy person.  “I’m glad you’re here.  That you’re alive and safe. Just no more jokes, okay? Especially about dying?”

He nodded.

“I’m not very good with jokes anyway.” He shrugged apologetically. “You know that.”

Marinette couldn’t help but dryly laugh. She heard that line before.  It was in the car after the most embarrassing afternoon of her life. Adrien had pretended to be a statue, and Marinette confessed her love.

“Yeah,…” Marinette winced at the memory, “I remember. But, hey, at least I didn’t try to kiss you this time.”

Adrien’s face dropped into a bizarrely unreadable expression. Great job, Marinette, way to remind him of the most awkward moment ever!

“Come on.” Marinette stretched and changed the subject. “Let’s get some sleep.” She beckoned him toward her loft.

“I umm, I can sleep on chaise.”

“And have my parents see?” Marinette yawned. “You’ve been sleeping outside, who knows where. Even with a bedmate, my loft in infinitely more comfortable.”

She could see his hesitation. Marinette closed her eyes and groaned to herself.  Stupid, stupid. She remember the photos with Lila touching him, his eyes screaming.  He doesn’t know you that well, girl!  He doesn’t remember holding you for hours. Just because he had a fever, doesn’t mean you guys are on touching terms now.

“Look, if you’re at all uncomfortable, I can take the chaise. I sometimes sleep there when I’m sick.”

“No, I mean, you would be uncomfortable.”

"I’m not, but if you are, you can let me know, it’s okay.”

"But, I’m a guy?"

“That shouldn’t matter.”

Adrien opened his mouth the speak, then closed it agin.

“When Alya stays over, she sleeps up there with me.  There’s more than enough room. I wiggle a bit, but I don’t snore.  Although, I do sometimes say weird things my sleep.”

Adrien just stared at her, his cheeks were pink. It was obvious he was still embarrassed by the conversation.

“I’m going to change sheets. You have a few minutes to decide.” Marinette walked over to her trunk and pulled out some fresh linens. “Really, Adrien. It’s okay if you would rather I sleep on the chaise. I’m so tired at this point I could sleep on the floor.”

Marinette left Adrien to consider his options. Then she quickly climbed up onto her loft bed.  She loved her bed, really she did, but she wished it wasn’t so hard to make.  With practiced movements she crawled back and forth, striping the sheets and throwing them on the floor. When she finished putting the new sheets into place, she noticed Adrien’s head at the end of the bed. Watching her.

“I umm…” he scratched the back of his neck nervously, “I don’t want to kick you out of your bed.” Oh man, was he blushing? “It’s okay that we share.”

Marinette smiled as she crawled under the sheets. She held the covers up, and motioned for Adrien to crawl in beside her.  He moved slowly, and cautiously laid down beside her. Leaving a generous space between their shoulders. He took a deep breath.

“Okay,” Adrien asked, very determined. “What are the rules?”

“Rules?”

“I’ve never slept with anyone before. I don’t want to make a mistake.”

Dear god! He’s too pure! Marinette turned and buried her face into her pillow. She didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or die of embarrassment. Luckily, she didn’t need to decide, her sleepy brain chose giggles. Marinette tried to muffle her laughs into her pillow, but she knew Adrien would be able to see her shaking back anyways.

“Oh, man… oh no!” Adrien stammered. “I didn’t mean.”

Marinette turned over to face him.  He looked so adorably lost.  The giggles still riddled her body as she tried to speak. She knew she shouldn’t tease. She really shouldn’t. It was so inappropriate.

“Well, we obviously need to chose a safe word.”

The look of absolute shock only lasted a few moments, then Adrien’s face twisted into an adorable little pout. Marinette clasped her hands over her mouth when the giggles became full on belly laughs. It wasn’t long before long, Adrien broke into a wide smile. Then into a giggles himself.

Oh man! It was wonderful to hear him laugh. Sure, it was probably the tired giddiness of not enough sleep. But it was music to Marinette’s ears. She felt happy tears at the corner of her eyes. As she watched Adrien smile and giggle back at her, she felt some of the tension release from her body.

“You know what I meant.” Adrien countered as soon as he was able to talk. “And I thought you said no more jokes.”

“That’s only for you.” Marinette playfully booped his nose. “My jokes are funny.”

She snuggled into the blankets and smiled at him. Adrien gave her a sleepy smile in return.  She missed that. Adrien’s smile. Marinette flipped over to her back and took a deep breath.

“Okay, etiquette for proper co-sleeping.”

“Hey, don’t tease…”

“No, I’m not. Well, not anymore.” She paused for a moment. “I’ve never had to think of rules before.  Hmm… don’t hog the blanket, stick to your own pillow, try to stay to your side of the bed. But, if an arm or leg comes over to the other side, that’s okay too.

“Alya can get pretty cuddly, so she usually pushes the ‘stay to your own side’ rule. I don’t mind though, she’s wonderfully squishy.”

Adrien propped  himself up on his elbow, and stared at her curiously. “You cuddle with Alya?”

Marinette turned to face him. “It’s more like she cuddles with me.” She mused with a big smile on her face. “I can’t be the big spoon without getting a face full of hair.  Alya’s sisters climb into bed with her when they have nightmares. So, she’s super used to it at this point. She’ll cuddle with anyone.”

Adrien laid back down with a sleepy grin on his face. “So friends can cuddle?”

“Yes, friends can cuddle.” Marinette smiled back. She watched Adrien yawn and rub his eyes. “We should really get some sleep. It will be light soon, and my bedroom starts to get really warm in the day. The disadvantage of living above a bunch of bakery ovens.”

Marinette turned to lay on her back. She wasn’t touching Adrien’s side but she could feel his body heat.  She stared at the night sky though her skylight, a fuzzy contentment in her chest.

“Goodnight, Marinette,” Adrien whispered softly. “…and thank you.”

“Goodnight, Adrien.”

It wasn’t long before Adrien’s breathing was slow and deep.  Marinette rolled over on her side to face him. He looked so different than the unconscious boy she brought back to her room last night.  His face was clean and smooth, and his lips barely had any cracks anymore. His hair was a bit of a mess, but at least it was clean.

When Marinette was positive Adrien was in deep sleep, she brought her hand to his chest. She bit her lip as she slowly lowered it down, careful not to wake him.  She lay her palm flat on his chest. Marinette could feel his heartbeat, slow and calm. She smiled to herself and exhaustion started to take hold.

She wasn’t sure how she was going to help him. But for right now, Adrien was safe and warm. And with someone who loved him.

…and for now, that was enough.