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Float Like A Butterfly...

Chapter Text

"I'm sure there'll be another Chat Noir to give me cheese... But he won't be you."

Adrien smiled softly at Plagg's words, the fingers around his Miraculous lowering, as his kwami soothed the sharp, spiked pain in his chest. He could be patient just a little while longer. Even if he was itching to do something. To help. Adrien didn't like being benched... But Plagg said they needed him. So he'd wait-

Both boy and kwami started as a green figure landed on the rooftop with them. The short man was covered in turtle inspired armor. Adrien saw a stern gaze look out from under the stranger's conical hat.

"Master- !" Plagg exclaimed, green bubbles coming out of his mouth. "You transformed!"

"Master?" Adrien glanced between his kwami and... "Who are you?"

"I am the Guardian of the Miraculous, Chat Noir."

Adrien's eyes widened at the sound of his hero name.

Steeling himself for what had to be done Master Fu leveled a disappointed look at the boy. "And you, Adrien, have made a serious breach of trust."

"Wh-what?" The unease in Adrien's gut rose at the scolding tone of the Guardian.

"Master," Plagg tried. "He was just-"

"About to give up one of the two most powerful Miraculous. The one I entrusted into his care." Master Fu didn't raise his voice, he spoke evenly, factually, grimly. Trying to get the boy to admit his mistake.

Instinctively, Adrien covered the ring with his hand.

"Maybe I was wrong to trust you with Destruction." Master Fu sighed.

Plagg zipped toward the Guardian. "Master, you can't mean that!"

A cold, sharp jolt arced across Adrien's spine as his eyes widened. Then narrowed, Chat Noir rising with his anger. "Trust? You kept me in the dark! Ladybug-"

"It was not her secret to keep." Brow furrowing, Master Fu looked back at Adrien. "Ladybug vouched for you. And here you are, proving that she was mistaken, that you're not ready. Surely you can understand that?"

"I didn't even know you existed!" Adrien dug his fingernails into his palms, trying to ignore the patronizing attitude of the Guardian. "Why did you choose me if you were just going to keep me at arms length? Why does Ladybug get to choose our teammates? Why did it take all of Paris!" Here Adrien extended his arms to take in the drowned city. "Flooding for you to show your face!"

Plagg tried to interject but he was spoken over.

"It is precisely because Paris is flooded that I am here!" Master Fu took a step toward Adrien and the boy stepped back. "I chose you because I thought you would stand by Ladybug no matter what."

Adrien tensed but forced himself to stand his ground.

"I should have interfered sooner." The Guardian pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. "I thought you would grow out of this infatuation you have with Ladybug."

Genuine confusion came over Adrien despite his anger and hurt. "Wh- What are you talking about?"

"Just because Ladybug does not love you back is no reason to behave in this manner!"

"What are you talking about!?" Adrien shouted. Does he really think so little of me? "What does that have to do with anything!?"

"Ladybug proved herself to me!" Master Fu shouted back, ignoring Adrien's inquiry. "You haven't!"

It was like the Guardian had struck him, Adrien flinching from the blow. Looking away from the Guardian's gaze, his eyes found Plagg's. For the first time since he met the kwami, Plagg was silent. Ears and tail drooping. Like he felt every cruel jab the Guardian's words dealt the boy.

Master Fu softened his features as he took in the boy's trembling, tense stance. Like a cat ready to pounce... Or run. "Do you understand?" he asked gently. "Ladybug trusts me and you should too. Without trust a team will fail. But if you can't, then I'll find someone who can."

Forcing his eyes back towards the Guardian, Adrien's mind made a sudden, unexpected turn. You sound like Father. Adrien stilled and examined the 'Master' again.

The Guardian wasn't as tall as Gabriel or as... looming as Gabriel. His voice wasn't as cold. But the manner in which this stranger spoke of trust was familiar. Like Adrien had heard it before.

Empty promises, his mind whispered. He goes on and on about trust while offering none in return. Cold dread turned to searing heat in Adrien's chest. Using Ladybug, someone you love, to guilt you into following orders. Fists trembled at his side with the effort of restraining his growing rage. Threatens to replace you for daring to ask questions! Adrien's heartbeat pounded in his ears, insisting, demanding.

"Do you understand?" Master Fu repeated.

"... I understand," Adrien said as he brought his hand up to tear the cursed ring off.

"NO!" Plagg latched himself onto the ring.

Master Fu's eyes blew wide open with shock. "What do you think you're doing!"

Adrien gazed at Plagg with a pained expression. But it quickly hardened into a glare as Adrien lifted his eyes to the Guardian. "What does it look like? I'm quitting."

Panic bloomed in Master Fu's chest as he mentally sought a way to push Adrien in the right direction. Seizing onto the first thought that came to him.

"I'm sorry, Plagg." Adrien didn't look at his friend.

"If you do this you'll prove I was right not to trust you!"

"... Please, Adrien..."

"You'll prove that you're not ready!"

"Goodbye. I'll mi-" Adrien swallowed the lump in his throat. "I'll miss you."

"That you're unworthy of wielding a Miraculous!"

Using the Guardian's desperate words as fuel, Adrien pushed down his upbringing. The side of himself that told him to be respectful of his elders. And let Chat Noir out for the last time. "OK, boomer."

With that, Adrien yanked the Miraculous off and practically threw it at the Guardian. Scrambling to make sure the ring didn't fall into the waters below, Master Fu was distracted just long enough for Adrien to disappear.

Staring at the empty space in disbelief, Master Fu's brow furrowed. He could look for the boy... but Adrien had already made his choice. And there were more pressing matters than a former Chosen's tantrum.

Master Fu hurried to Ladybug's aid.

Adrien didn't move from his hiding place in a corner of the roof. Even as he heard the stranger leave. The rage he felt replaced with heartbreak. Tears pooled in his eyes as his mind caught up.

The person Adrien trusted most in the world trusted that- that- man, more than she trusted him. That is, Ladybug didn't really trust him. Adrien pulled his knees to his chest.

Being Chat Noir was his favorite thing in the world... But just like everything else he wasn't 'good enough'. Not for his Father, not for Ladybug, not even for Plagg! Adrien buried his face into his arms.

Pain bloomed throughout his body, shoulders shaking, as he allowed himself to mourn the loss of Chat Noir. Only one other person would mourn with him. In that moment Adrien doubted anyone else would be sorry to see Chat go... And even he would get a new holder soon enough.

Ladybug would get a partner she could count on, the so-called Guardian would get someone who doesn't question orders and even Father wouldn't have to deal with his disappearances.

Really, the only one who lost anything... was him. And what did that matter if Paris was safer without him? He stayed there, curled into a ball, crying silently into his arms.

Until the Miraculous Cure lifted him off the roof not fifteen minutes later.

Chapter Text

"You know, dude. You don't have to let her do that."

"Huh?"

"Chloe," Nino clarified, watching said girl go with a scowl before his eyes flicked back to Adrien. "You don't have to let her drape herself all over you like that."

Confusion clouded Adrien's face. "What? No, it's Chloe. She's fine."

"Bro, you can set boundaries for your friends! They're the dudes that're supposed to be the most chill with that!" Nino didn't mean to push but he knew how Adrien was about his friendships. "I know you're not the best when it comes to personal space-"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"-but, like, you should really start getting with the groove."

Adrien didn't like the worried frown Nino gave him and hurried to reassure his best friend. "Seriously bro, I'm fine! It's fine." He gave Nino a bright smile as proof.

Nino didn't look convinced. "You'd tell me if it wasn't. Right?"

"Of course, dude! You're my best friend." Stifling a twinge of superhero related guilt with practiced ease, Adrien held his fist up.

The concern in Nino's eyes faded a little. "Okay, bro." Holding up his own fist, Nino returned the gesture. "Just... Remember that if you feel someone's being uncool you can just leave or something, yeah?"

"Promise," Adrien replied with a smile.

"I mean it, man." This time Nino returned a small smile despite himself. His voice losing its gravitas. "Anyone gives you rancid vibes just get the hell away from them."

Truthfully, Adrien hadn't remembered. Oh, he didn't forget. But it stayed in the back of his mind. Untouched despite the many times people he knew gave him 'rancid vibes'. Never once did Nino's words resurface...

Until the Guardian drove him away.

 


 

Adrien didn't want to be in class today.

Even if it was Mme. Bustier's birthday. He didn't feel like smiling so Nino wouldn't ask him if he was okay. Like he did every day.

And Adrien lied because... He didn't know why he kept lying to Nino. There was no point anymore, was there? No point in keeping everything bottled up. In holding back tears so his friends wouldn't ask questions he couldn't answer. Shouldn't answer.

His hand was shaking.

I shouldn't think like that. Adrien subtly grabbed his uncooperative limb, holding it still. Trying to shake his brain loose from its spiral. It was a special day. He shouldn't ruin it by-

"-Chloe Bourgeois!"

Adrien bolted upright in his seat. The sound of Marinette's anger shocking him back to the present. What- Chloe did what? But just as soon as Adrien's brain caught up Mme. Bustier and Marinette were out of the classroom.

Everyone was glaring at Chloe. She was ignoring them in that far too deliberate way she had. With her head to the side and her chin up, Chloe was the spitting image of, I don't care what you think. An almost perfectly crafted lie.

Then their akumatized teacher showed up and it was chaos.

Adrenaline surged through Adrien, keeping him grounded as he ran with his classmates. Despite his obtrusive thoughts.

Of course, Zombizou was after Chloe! Why wouldn't she be!? Grabbing a discarded mop when his surviving friends barricaded themselves in the locker room, Adrien turned and-

There she was. Shoulders set in determination, face serious, bluebell eyes red around the edges. Ladybug's mere presence was enough to calm everyone.

Adrien's grip on his makeshift weapon tightened, knuckles white. He turned away from her and took a breath. Trying to keep his turmoil off his face.

You should be helping her, said an admonishing, guilty voice.

She didn't want my help, an angry, bitter voice replied.

"Ladybug vouched for you."

Adrien wondered if that was true.

They were on the school's roof now. Adrien didn't remember how they got up there. Apparently the kissing zombies were becoming an epidemic. And Zombizou was still very focused on a particular individual.

"Chloe! Ha, always Chloe!" Alix advanced on her angrily. Backing the taller girl up to the roof's edge, with kissing zombies below. "You only think about yourself!"

"I don't know why we don't just give them what they want!" Alya added.

"Yeah! Good idea!" Nino backed her up.

... I should say something here, right? Adrien knew he should defend Chloe. Or at least try to de-escalate the argument. Because, by God, did Adrien know Chloe wasn't going to do it.

"Is it my fault that I'm better than all of you?"

Adrien should say something. But Ladybug beat him to it. In two short sentences she quelled his classmates righteous anger. She was right, of course. Chloe didn't deserve to get hit. And she was the perfect bait.

Ladybug's always right...

Thankfully, the zombies' attempts to climb after them kept Adrien focused on protecting those around him. Instead of wallowing in self-pity. Using the mop he still had, Adrien shoved the zombies back while the rest of his classmates went down Ladybug's yo-yo zipline.

But more kept coming.

"C'mon, Agreste!" Kim yelled, giving Chloe a push down their escape line.

Adrien ran and the zombies swarmed.

"Look out!" Max stretched out his arms and used his body as a shield, distracting the zombies.

"Max!"

Strong arms lifted Adrien up and put him on the zipline. Placing his mop handle so he could grab it and not the razor sharp wire. Kim sent Adrien off just as he was swarmed.

... No one had ever sacrificed themselves for Adrien before. He didn't like it.

Rose slipped from the roof of the bus and cried out as a zombie grabbed her leg. Ladybug quickly retracting her yo-yo and saving her.

He saw the look on Ladybug's face. Gazing out at all of the infected people that surrounded them. Adrien could feel the weight on her shoulders through that gaze. The weight of a city. Ladybug felt responsible for every citizen of Paris. They were counting on her. She let out a low growl of determination and went into the bus.

Inside, Ladybug stared at the driver's seat for a moment. "Anyone know how to drive?"

And when no one else spoke up Adrien replied. "I... can." It was the first words he'd spoken to her since...

"But we are a team aren't we? I'm tired of all these secrets."

"O-Oh! Thank you, Adrien."

Adrien didn't think he deserved any thanks but he nodded and got them on their jarring, halting way. Heading for the Eiffel Tower.

Ladybug's proximity was distracting. Not in the usual way, where he couldn't take his eyes off her and his heart sped up excitedly. His heart was speeding but it wasn't from excitement and his jaw hurt from how hard he was clenching it.

Adrien felt... like when Ladybug didn't come to his surprise. Or when Chloe got the entire school punished for something she did. He wasn't sure how those two things were related but the feeling now was much the same. Only worse.

Focus, a familiar voice said. They're counting on you.

So, Adrien shoved his feelings down to where they usually went in public.

Then someone screamed.

Ladybug kept Alix, Juleka and Rose from kissing anyone else while Adrien sped towards the Eiffel Tower. Coming to a fast stop in its shadow. Grabbing Chloe's wrist in one hand and his mop in the other, Adrien bolted for the elevators. Alya and Nino on their tail. Barricading the doors just as Ladybug made it inside.

But they didn't count on zombies in the elevator.

"Alya!" Nino rushed forward to restrain the infected people, pulling them off his girlfriend.

"...There's nothing we can do for her," Adrien found himself saying. "C'mon!"

"He's right," Alya sat up to look a kneeling Ladybug in the eye. There was nothing but trust in her gaze, a gentle smile on her lips. "Just go and save us all."

Without taking her eyes off Alya, Ladybug slowly walked into the elevator. "Nino?"

Tipping his cap, Nino smiled as the doors closed with him still outside.

"Nino!" Ladybug threw herself at the doors as they started their ascent. Her fist struck the glass in frustration.

"...You'll fix it all in the end anyway," Adrien said. He meant it to be reassuring. It came out accusatory.

She doesn't need me.

Shut up!

"Only the best remain." Chloe felt the need to comment.

She doesn't need Chat Noir.

Not if he's wallowing in self-pity, she doesn't!

A growl left Ladybug's lips. "He's your best friend." Her eyes were on him as she ignored Chloe.

She didn't need you then and she doesn't need you now!

... It doesn't matter.

"You'll fix it," he repeated. Staring her in the eye.

And for some unfathomable reason, Ladybug seemed to accept that.

They arrived at the top... only to be surrounded by zombies.

"Ladybug!" Adrien cried out as he shoved Chloe toward her.

The swarm made to chase after them. So, ignoring the kisses already dotting his skin, Adrien used his body and the mop handle he still carried like a barrier. Stretching out his arms the way Max had.

There were so many of them. Pushing him. Grabbing him. Kissing him. Adrien spread his feet and pushed against the floor as leverage.

"Adrien!"

Looking up he felt Ladybug's palm on his cheek. Despite himself he found it comforting... Her eyes were so afraid. "Go!" he pleaded.

"No!"

"You're the only one who can fix this for us. No arguing now!"

So she didn't.

He watched her hurry away as foreign hands grabbed at his body. Cotton was a poor substitute for the protection of his magical, impervious suit. Strangers' lips slathered the skin on his arms, his neck, his face. The last thing Adrien felt was his flesh crawling in disgust as his strength gave out...

 


 

Ladybugs swirled around Adrien as the far too familiar sensation of his free will coming back washed over him.

Just in time to see how close Chloe's lips were to his own. Adrien jerked his head back. Chloe followed his movement. NO! His hands shoved her away before he knew he was doing it.

Adrien stared at her on the ground. The alien sensation of unwanted lips on his skin ghosted over his flesh. Without a word Chloe picked herself up and dusted herself off. Adrien turned on his heel and strode away from her.

Ladybug was also staring. At Mme. Bustier coming out of the akumatization. She held her fist at eye level, a melancholy expression on her face. "B- Bien joue," she whispered.

Eyes stinging suddenly, Adrien looked away. Shutting them tight.

"Ladybug? What on Earth-" Mme. Bustier let out a gasp. "The akuma overtook me. Oh, no! I let my negative emotions get the upper hand. How terrible! I'm terrible..."

A jolt went through Adrien at her words.

The teacher's distress apparently pulled Ladybug back from her own distant sorrow. Shoving away things she couldn't do anything about Ladybug focused on what she could do. "...That's not true. It wasn't your fault. Papillon is the one to blame."

It's not the same, he told himself.

Isn't it?

"But I hurt a lot of people."

"No," Chloe's voice rang out. "I did." All three stared at her in surprise. "I forgot your birthday, once again." She didn't sound like herself. "And when I saw everyone prepare a gift for you, I totally lost it." She sounded... remorseful. "Because I too would've liked to offer you something." Sincere. "I'm sorry, Mme. Bustier."

Snakes slid themselves into knots in Adrien's stomach. He could remember the last time Chloe had apologized for anything. They were eleven.

"Thank you, Chloe. Those words are the best possible gift you could ever give me." And Mme. Bustier wrapped her in a hug.

Chloe's eyes found Adrien's and he felt... unpleasant things.

"Um, I should be going!" For some reason Ladybug was addressing Adrien specifically.

"Right... Thank you."

"No problem." Ladybug smiled despite the strain around her reddened eyes. She waited a moment, expectant. But when nothing was forthcoming she swung away. An odd mixture of relief and guilt on her face.

Adrien didn't speak to Chloe as they took the elevator down. He didn't speak to her as Mme. Bustier, still shaken from her ordeal, went home. Didn't speak to her as the Gorilla pulled up and she got in without asking. It wasn't until they were on their way to Le Grande Paris and the privacy screen was rolled up that Adrien spoke.

"...I don't want you kissing me." He didn't look at her.

"What? Adrikins what're you-"

"I don't like it." His tongue felt heavy and there was a tightness in his chest. "I don't like that nickname."

"...You never complained about it before." Chloe didn't say it dismissively, like she would for anyone else. Because Adrien wasn't anyone else.

Adrien did look at her then. "It was fine when we were kids and then, when we got older, I told myself it didn't bother me. But it does." He felt queasy. Adrien wished he had Chat Noir. Chat Noir never had this much trouble expressing himself.

"Well... okay then." Chloe threw her ponytail behind her. "Just Adrien, then."

And Adrien was so relieved when a knot untangled itself in his stomach that he almost let it slide. Almost. "I don't want you trying to kiss me."

"I'm just greeting you." There was no inflection in her words, like she expected what was coming. "Everyone does it."

"Don't. Lie. To me." And it's the first sign Adrien gave of the anger behind his words. Superseding even the guilt in his gut. Not breaking eye contact no matter how much he wanted to.

Chloe broke it first, looking down. "Maybe... when I realized that you were the only boy I could stand I... Started thinking of you as mine. You were my friend!" Her eyes flicked to Adrien and away again. "And I, maybe, thought I was the only girl who was good enough for you."

"That's not your decision," Adrien snapped. The words are out of his mouth before he can stop them. And he didn't really want to stop them.

"Well, someone had to make a decision!"

Adrien's eyes burned into her.

Chloe winced. Even her infamous tactlessness had its limits. "Adrien..."

He turned away from her.

"What do you want me to say!" Her voice rose. "That I was selfish!? That I wanted you all to myself!? That I was a terrible friend!?"

"No," Adrien replied evenly, still looking away. "I don't want you to say that."

Chloe took a shuddering breath. "I'm sorry... Adrien."

Oh. The sharp spike in Adrien's chest grew smaller. He looked at her. There were actual tears, tiny ones, in the corners of her eyes.

Before he could say anything the car stopped. And Chloe was out the door.

 


 

Adrien stared at nothing. Arms wrapped around his knees on the bed. Allowing the tears that had built up all day to fall.

He didn't want to think about Chloe. Didn't want to go over every time she'd lean in and he'd lean away. Hated the way his skin burned at the memory of unwanted contact. Like it was still touching him.

Wrestling himself away from that train of thought only brought up Ladybug. Adrien didn't want to think about her either. Thinking about Ladybug made the writhing in his stomach worse.

Ladybug was as amazing as always. He could see her setting whatever she felt aside for the sake of the mission. Serious and focused like a great hero should be. No wonder the Guardian likes her more than me.

If he still had Plagg then Chat Noir could've helped instead of running around with a mop of all things! Could've actually been useful.

Chat Noir didn't stop you from being useless before.

A bark of laughter escaped Adrien's lips.

Not one person. Not one person mentioned Chat Noir's absence.

They kinda had more important things to worry about, the rational part of his brain pointed out.

Howling laughter came out of him, shaking his frame. I know. And the knowledge only made him feel worse. Friends, people he saw every day, had their minds taken from them. And here he was, what, whining about not being appreciated?

Fresh tears streamed down Adrien's face as he covered his mouth. Laughter turning into wailing sobs. What is wrong with me!?

Smothering the sound of his sobs with his pillow, Adrien screamed himself hoarse. Fingers futilely clawing at the fabric. Realizing, in between breaths, that he cried out for Plagg most of all. Heat built rapidly in his face as his chest constricted. Adrien let himself mourn Plagg's absence all over again. Everything was too hot, too much. He didn't remember how many times he'd cried over the sarcastic, arrogant little jerk but it didn't feel like enough.

Eventually, the raging storm in Adrien calmed. At least for now. He wiped at the dry tear stains, swallowing thickly. Taking slow, deliberate breaths. Blinking his reddened eyes, Adrien's sight landed on Plagg's mini-fridge.

A painful twinge pulled at his heart but Adrien was far too drained for it to last more than a moment. He stared at it. Having avoided touching the only piece of Plagg that still resided in his room.

Standing on shaky legs, he made his way over to Plagg's things. Kneeling, Adrien opened it, seeing nothing but Camembert. His nose too stuffy from crying for its intense odor to have any effect.

Adrien smiled even as his eyes watered. Closing Plagg's fridge he called for a cart to take the Camembert away. Without Plagg he really didn't need so much cheese.

It was time to let go. Even if it took him years. Adrien had experience with letting people go, after all.

Chapter Text

"Don't you think Adrien's been acting weird?" Marinette asked.

Alya glanced from Kitty Section readying their instruments to her best friend. She wanted to reassure Marinette that her concerns were just her imagination running away with her again. But Alya noticed it too.

"You mean with Chloe?"

Marinette's nose wrinkled at the mention of Adrien's first friend. But her worry quickly came back. She never realized how little time they spent together until they started spending more. It wasn't what she would call a positive development. They seemed to argue a lot more now.

Alya looked at Marinette and knew they were thinking the same thing. Going over what she overheard in her head.

"I'm no good at being nice, Adrien."

"You don't have to be nice. You just have to not be cruel."

That was after Chloe had acted like her usual self with Sabrina. Alya didn't know if she agreed with Adrien or not but she never told anyone. It was a private conversation. And Chloe sounded oddly... vulnerable.

"They've been acting weird," Marinette conceded. "But there's something else that's... off about him." Her eyes widened. "What if it's something I did? Or something his fans said online? Or something worse!?"

Marinette blinked as she realized she was leaning into Alya's space. Stepping back Marinette slowed her words down to a less panicky level. "Could you check with Nino, please. Just, of course, you know, casually."

As if she summoned him with talk of his best friend Nino showed up. Frowning at his phone.

Giving Marinette a worried look Alya complied. "Nino, any word from Adrien?"

Nino bit his lip. "He can't make it."

"What!?" Marinette winced as her yelp attracted unwanted attention from the rest of the ship. "Did he say why?"

"Something about messing up on the piano?" Nino glanced back at his phone, expression shifting into a glare. "It's just like Adrien's old man to be a killjoy the five seconds he spends with my bro!"

"Hey," Forcing some optimism into her voice Alya placed a reassuring hand on her boyfriend's shoulder. "I'm sure Adrien will sort it out. It's not the first time his dad has kept him from hanging out with us.

Nino wasn't convinced but he nodded anyway and let Alya kiss his cheek. He'd also noticed that Adrien was acting weird. But no matter how Nino asked, Adrien always evaded the question. It was wearing on his patience.

"Captain Anarka speakin' to ya! So, how's it comin' along me young pirates!"

Marinette started as Juleka's maman appeared out of nowhere. She was loud and jovial and apparently didn't like cleaning? Maybe it worked for the Couffaines but Marinette's mind needed a bit more order to function properly.

Still, it was her home, er, ship so Marinette could appreciate Anarka's unconventional hospitality. A smile formed slowly as Captain Couffaine's exuberance pulled her and her friends out of less pleasant thoughts.

 


 

Adrien played the piano mechanically. Feeling his skin burn under his Father's stern gaze. When he wished for more time together Adrien didn't mean being judged in person.

Despite the focus Gabriel's mere presence demanded, Adrien's mind wandered. Juleka had extended an open invitation to the entire class for the music festival. That was the first time one of his... not-exactly-close friends had actually invited him over.

And he was stuck here.

Adrien winced as a discordant note echoed from where his finger slipped on the wrong key. Eyes glancing fearfully at his father.

"I've heard enough." Gabriel raised his hand to forestall any more noise from Adrien. "Are you sure you're practicing, Adrien?"

Standing, Gabriel showed his back to his son. Not looking at Adrien when speaking to him. Voice full of accusation and annoyance.

In other words, Gabriel acted the same as always.

"... I'm just doing the same exercises over and over again..." An idea came to him. "I think I could make better progress if I could just play with other musicians." Adrien forced his tone to be hopeful, trying to reason with his father. "After all, music is meant to be shared with other people don't you think?"

"We Agrestes are soloists." Gabriel crushed Adrien's argument dismissively, deigning a glance at his son. "Not mere group members. I suggest you rehearse your piece some more. You'll play it for me again later today."

His heartbeat spiked. "But- Father! You promised that I could attend my friends' concert!"

"Not after that performance you've just given."

But you promised! Adrien's jaw clenched to keep the words down. There was no point in arguing with someone who didn't listen.

"Which is probably due to their influence."

His hands trembled. You don't know them! You don't know anything!

"You need to refocus, Adrien."

With that Gabriel and Nathalie, who Adrien had forgotten was even there, left without a backward glance.

"You need to refocus, Adrien."

Adrien sat there as a growing pressure built in his chest. Clawing, demanding, yelling.  Jerking to his feet Adrien paced, trying to get his body and mind to quiet down.

"You need to refocus, Adrien."

Rubbing at his eyes Adrien sent a brief text to Nino. Forcing his breath to even out. He didn't feel like talking at the moment.

"You need to refocus, Adrien!"

That done Adrien snatched up his basketball and threw it at the net. His piano disappearing into the floor. Grabbing the ball as it bounced he threw it into the net again. His piano rising from its hiding place.

"YOU NEED TO REFOCUS, ADRIEN!"

Again he threw the ball.

Down it went.

Again into the net.

Up it came.

Again.

Down.

Again.

Up.

Again.

Down.

Again.

Up.

Again.

Down.

Again.

Up.

Again.

Down.

Again.

Up.

Again.

Down.

Again.

Up-

"YOU NEED TO REFOCUS, ADRIEN!"

Adrien shoved the ball forcefully away from him. Not caring what it hit. Grabbing the remote he turned on his TV and raised the volume as high as it would go.

 


 

Marinette stared openmouthed at the massive shockwave that came from Luka's electric guitar. By comparison she was only mildly surprised when police helicopters appeared overhead.

Sabrina's dad pulled up with a megaphone. "Mme. Anarka, are you completely out of your mind!?"

M. Raincomprix was on a first name basis with Juleka's maman? That probably wasn't good.

"It's the National Music Festival today, Officer Roger! My crew's allowed to play whatever they want!" Anarka projected over the speakers.

Definitely not good. Marinette tried to de-escalate the situation. "Uh, maybe we could turn the volume down a bit, Captain? Then there'd be no more problem, right?"

"No! Out of the question!" Anarka dismissed immediately. "I didn't name my galleon Liberty for nuthin' y'know! It's a matter of principle!"

From there things quickly spiraled. Anarka's stubborn refusal to listen to anything Roger had to say prompting him to pettily give more and more tickets. Each addition enraging her so much her voice stuck in her throat.

Anarka stalked away from the others on deck once Officer Roger and the other police left. Face red and fists clenched.

Marinette looked at her friends, all of them worried. Especially Juleka and Luka.

Luka. "Are you okay?" Marinette asked.

"Um, yeah." Luka gave a wan smile. "It isn't the first time ma's gotten mad at the cops."

That didn't reassure Marinette the way he probably meant it to. "So, this, happens often?"

"I wouldn't say often." Luka's gaze landed on Juleka, currently being comforted by Rose. Appreciation lit up his eyes. "It's harder on Juleka. I help where I can but I can't stay with her all the time. Rose has been amazing the past year. She stays with Juleka if me and ma are working."

"You have a job?" Marinette blinked in surprise.

"I have to. Maman can't pay for-" Luka stopped. Apparently realizing that he might've said too much. "Anyway I help her out... Doesn't leave much room for hanging out, though."

His gaze travelled across the deck. Taking in all of her friends. For the first time Marinette realized no one from Luka's school was there.

"That's... You're a good brother, Luka." Marinette felt she understood the older boy a bit better. Even if the Couffaine's as a whole were even more unclear.

He shrugged in a 'anyone would do it for family' kinda way. "I-"

Dark, purple-ish fluid flowed from the helm, covering the entire Liberty.

Marinette went cold. "Oh, no!"

Sure enough, Anarka was akumatized.

Captain Hardrock wanted to destroy the music festival until only their song remained. Amid the fear and uncertainty of being in the power of an akuma without her transformation, Marinette felt pride that her friends rejected Captain Hardrock without hesitation.

Marinette's mind raced as she struggled to find a way out of the chains that bound her with Luka. No one else was coming. She was the only hero Paris had to protect it! She had to find a way out! She had to-

Tikki peered at Marinette from her purse. Smiling in relief, Marinette gave her a subtle nod. Stealthily, Tikki phased through the lock, chains falling with a clatter.

"Wow! How'd you do that?" Luka gave her a wondering look.

"Uh, I, uh- With this!" She held up the guitar pick he'd given her.

"Your amazing," he praised, helping her up. "A real magician, Marinette."

"Uh, you think so? Oh, it was nothing. Uh, amazing? Really?"

" 'Scuse me but some of us are still chained up here, y'know," Alya interrupted.

"Right!" Marinette placed herself between her friends line of sight and the locks. Obscuring Tikki from view. Soon everyone was freed.

"How're we getting off this crazy ride, dudes?" Nino asked.

Luka looked around the inside of the Liberty, which wasn't as transformed as the outside. "I have an idea."

 


 

"Few! That was close!" Tikki looked out from Marinette's purse at the others who made it off the Liberty in makeshift rafts.

They were on the opposite side of the Seine. Luka, Juleka, Rose and Ivan. Marinette gazed after the Liberty. Alya, Nino and Mylene still onboard. Liberty's chains catching them before they could take off.

Anxious, persistent defeat loomed in the back of Marinette's mind. Threatening to drown her. She pushed it back with difficulty. "Tikki, I have to save my friends!"

"But last time you struggled without someone to help you," Tikki pointed out. Concern for Marinette's wellbeing overriding any other considerations. "You should go to Master Fu for help."

Conflicting emotions flickered across Marinette's face. "... You're right," she agreed, resigned.

Quickly, Marinette found a hiding spot and transformed. With a backward glance at the destruction wrought by Captain Hardrock, Ladybug reluctantly swung towards the Guardian.

 


 

"Marinette Dupain-Cheng, pick an ally you can trust to fight alongside you in this mission. Choose wisely. Such powers are meant to serve the greater good. Once the mission is over you will retrieve the Miraculous and return it to me."

Ladybug was only half listening. Engrossed by the only Miraculous that lit up in her mind.

No. Please not his. Please.

But no matter which Miraculous she looked at her gaze was drawn back to his ring. Hand trembling, stomach turning itself inside out, (Ladybug didn't want anyone else) her fingers closed around Chat Noir's ring. Once it was in her hand she pressed it to her chest. It was the only thing she had of him.

Master Fu's eyes widened at her choice. "Are you sure, Marinette?"

Ladybug just nodded.

Staring at her for a moment, he finally spoke. "The Miraculous of the Black Cat is the most dangerous out of all in existence. Whoever you choose must put others above himself."

The words entered but did not impact her. Like a stone being thrown into waters too turbulent to make any more ripples. "Of course... Master Fu."

 


 

"Luka Couffaine, this is the Miraculous of the Black Cat. Which grants the power of Destruction. Once our mission is complete you will return it to me."

Eyes wide in disbelief, Luka carefully took the offered Miraculous. Wonder quickly morphed into confusion, however. "Wait. Black Cat? But what about-"

A ball of green energy shooting out of the ring interrupted him. When he lowered his hand at the fading light a small, cat-like being floated in front of him. Its ears drooping and eyes sad.

Luka took an involuntary step back as a requiem filled his head at the sight of it. Fingers twitching for his guitar.

"You're not-" Green bubbles erupted from its- his mouth, gaze turning toward Ladybug. "Why isn't it-" Again green bubbles came out before he could finish.

Ladybug gave the small, sad, cat-like being a pained look. "We need your help, Plagg. Paris needs your help... Please."

An unspoken understanding passed between Ladybug and Plagg. A conversation Luka was not privy to.

With a nod Plagg sized Luka up. "Well," he said with a mocking grin. "You're not much to look at. Name's Plagg."

 


 

With every misstep Ladybug reminded herself that Panthera was not Chat Noir.

That she couldn't expect him to function on the same level as someone who had his Miraculous for over a year. Couldn't expect someone she only just met to know her movements as well as someone who'd fought by her side since the very first akuma. Someone who'd never held a staff to wield it as expertly as someone who'd spent hours trying to figure out every possible use.

Ladybug reminded herself of this every time Panthera was caught in Liberty's chains or lost his staff to Captain Hardrock's swordplay or held back when he should push forward.

Her earrings beeped insistently, reminding her that time was almost up. Finally, Ladybug managed to trap Captain Hardrock to the helm with her Lucky Charm. Cataclysm destroying only the compass instead of the entire ship like she planned. Luckily, it turned out that's all they needed and she purified the akuma.

As the Miraculous Cure set everything right Ladybug turned to Panthera and- Luka was grinning at her. Relief adding to his joy. He held up a fist. Hesitantly, Ladybug raised her own, rewarding him with a smile.

"Bien joue."

 


 

I hate you!

Adrien glared at the screen, having turned down the volume once the news reported something of actual interest: the akuma attack... And Ladybug's new partner.

I hate you!

Panthera, as he called himself, had a rather uninspired suit design. The only significant difference from Chat Noir's look was his green hair.

I hate you!

Heartbeat pounding in his ears, Adrien dissected everything about this 'Panthera' as he could from the shaky broadcast. The newbie held his staff like a club, having trouble with the extending functions.

I hate you!

Captain Hardrock thrust with her sword. Pushing Panthera back. Splitting his staff in two he held them in an X, blocking an overhead blow. But immediately Captain Hardrock switched to an underhand strike, separating the two halves of the staff and sending one flying into the Seine.

I hate you!

Ladybug's yo-yo pulled Panthera out of the supervillain's sword range. But not before losing his remaining staff.

Captain Hardrock charged. Ladybug dodging both her and the flying chains. Panthera jumped away from her sword... and right into the boat's chains.

The remote creaked in Adrien's tightening grip; teeth clenched.

I hate you!

Quickly breaking Panthera's restraints, Ladybug helped him to his feet. Together they charged. Or rather, it should have been together. Panthera had to retrieve his staff which threw off their timing.

Ladybug leapt from chain to chain in midair, as graceful as a gymnast. Panthera a fraction behind her. Captain Hardrock took advantage of the minut delay by breaking past Ladybug's assault, jumping onto the mast net.

I hate you!

Sweat beaded on Adrien's forehead despite the coolness of his room.

Ladybug summoned her Lucky Charm -her own chain- and searched for how to use it while Panthera protected her from the Liberty's attacks. Finally getting into his role.

They conferred for a moment before the chains forced them to split up. Ladybug disappearing below deck while Panthera took on Captain Hardrock. He was marginally better than before, returning her strikes blow for blow. But Captain Hardrock still managed to pin him to the mast with her chains.

I hate you!

Panthera was saying something to the supervillain... Attempting to reason with her. It didn't work, of course, but it gave Ladybug the distraction she needed to rescue him. As they fought Ladybug maneuvered the supervillain towards the helm. In one swift movement she tied Captain Hardrock to her own wheel.

I hate-

Adrien jumped to his feet, eyes wide as the first vestiges of fear mixed with his already pounding heart; the ship sailed through the air for one moment before crashing to the ground. Sagging back down he saw Panthera call on Cataclysm. And Ladybug's cure put everything back to normal.

Nadja went on to heap praise on this 'new Chat Noir' and ask questions Adrien hoped no one ever found out. I hate you! Scowling he turned it off.

I hate you! Adrien's frown deepened. Ladybug... was usually better at communicating her plans. I hate you! It was a confusing thought. I hate you! As it meant Panthera wasn't the only one to blame for such abysmal teamwork. I hate you!

A sharp crack brought Adrien's attention to the remote still in his clenched fist. Uncurling his fingers Adrien stared at the break running along the bottom. I hate you! If you weren't looking for it you wouldn't even notice. I hate you!

The sound of Adrien's door opening was the only warning he got of Nathalie's entrance. (Why didn't he have a lock? Every other room in the manor had a lock, even the kitchen had a lock! So, why didn't he?) Not for the first time Adrien noted how she didn't knock before entering.

His father's assistant glanced between him and the piano but said nothing about it to Adrien. That didn't mean she'd say nothing about it to Gabriel.

"Adrien. Your father had something come up at work and won't be able to hear your recital today." Nathalie's impassive expression never changed. "...He still expects you to practice. I'll try to fit you in tomorrow."

"..."

"Adrien-"

"I get it." Adrien snapped, unclenching his jaw. "Father has more important things to deal with."

Nodding once, Nathalie left as quickly as she arrived.

Adrien's chest rose and fell as his breath came rapidly. I hate you! Mind snapping back to the akuma fight -fingernails digging into his palms- or more specifically, Ladybug's new partner.

Panthera wasn't any better than Chat Noir. I hate you! Adrien's hands were shaking. I hate you! He wasn't a better fighter. I hate you! The remote slipped from his grip as he clenched and unclenched his fingers like claws. I hate you! He couldn't follow Ladybug's signals like Chat Noir could. I hate you! Adrien's vision blurred, eyes burning. I hate you! It was hard to tell across a screen. I hate you! His throat was too tight. I hate you! But the only significant difference was how silent Panthera was compared to-

I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate-

Was that the only reason?

I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I-

Wildfire raged in Adrien's chest. Burning his throat, his stomach, his head.

I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!

Did they really choose this wannabe Chat Noir because he WOULDN'T ASK QUESTIONS!?

I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!

Building pressure pushed at Adrien's chest and jaw and throat and eyes and fists.

I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!

Choose him because he would be quiet and obedient and SYCOPHANTIC!?

I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!

Bile rose into his mouth and stung his throat.

I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!

Adrien's whole body shook. Everything blurred, nothing was clear. Except the great, persistent, growing pain that threatened to shake him apart. He could feel himself cracking, breaking, shattering-

His phone rang.

Adrien scrambled for it. Like it was a rope tossed into the deep, dark well he found himself drowning in.

I hate you!

Without bothering to glance at the caller Adrien answered.

"Sup, bro!"

Blinking rapidly, Adrien saw Nino, Alya and Marinette crowding into the screen. Behind them were their other friends making some last minute preparations for the music festival. Suddenly his raging storm was much more endurable.

Nino leaned into the camera. "Dude, is your camera off? It's all dark."

"Uh, yeah, just a sec." Realizing that he must look like a mess Adrien hit mute and hurried into his bathroom. The red eyed, tear stained face that he washed away made him grateful his friends hadn't seen him.

I hate you!

With a deep breath Adrien turned the mic and camera back on, forcing a smile. "Hey."

"There he is!" Nino grinned.

Alya turned the phone to focus on her. "So, we know you were looking forward to being here. Which is why this girl," Alya wrapped an arm around Marinette and hugged her close. "Had the brilliant idea to do this video chat!"

Smile softening into something more genuine Adrien gazed at Marinette's pink face. "You were thinking of me?"

"W-well, I just thought that it was a shame you couldn't tea- be here! So, I just, yeah..." Marinette trailed off, eyes everywhere but the screen.

His heart slowed from breakneck speed to merely sprinting. "Thank you."

Marinette squeaked and muttered what could have been a 'you're welcome' before pushing the phone back to Nino. Wiggling out of Alya's grasp as she dashed off.

His best friend grinned at them as Alya chased after Marinette offscreen. But once his eyes came back to Adrien, Nino's brow furrowed slightly. "Seriously, bro, how you holding up?"

I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!

Something must've shown on Adrien's face as Nino asked: "That bad?"

Trying to downplay it Adrien shrugged. "It's not like it's the first time he's changed his mind."

That was apparently the wrong thing to say, as Nino scowled at the specter of Gabriel Agreste. "Dude. No offence, but I wanna sock your old man in the jaw."

Laughter bubbled up and spilled out of Adrien. Blocking his breath and forming a stitch in his side. Vision blurring. Hand covering his mouth as he tried to control himself. Tried to stop it from devolving into hysterical sobbing.

"Adrien!?" Nino's eyes were wide with alarm.

Biting the inside of his cheek Adrien gasped for breath. "S-sorry." He fought of the giggles that threatened to choke him. "It's just... he's a head taller than you."

Nino drew himself up indignantly and Adrien was relieved to see his misdirection work.

"That bony hermit never gets off his rear-end! My little brother could kick him into next week, dude!"

A bark of laughter escaped Adrien's control. Thankfully not igniting the false manic glee. "Thanks for that."

Despite his confusion Nino still smiled at Adrien. "What are bros for?"

Gazing gratefully at Nino, Adrien felt himself balance on a melancholy plateau. "I really will be okay. This," by which he meant their call, "helps."

Nino fidgeted, adjusting his cap. "I just... wish I could do more, y'know?" The unspoken for you was clear as day.

A pleasant warmth bloomed in Adrien's chest, softening further the ache that remained. "I know, bro. That's why I love you."

"I love you, too." Nino searched for something more to say as he searched Adrien's face for what remained unsaid, but nothing came to him. "Well... Kitty Section is starting soon. Might as well greet the band before they become famous and forget they know us."

"No, we wouldn't want that would we..." Adrien could almost ignore the pressure in his chest.

After a round of waving and sympathizing with him for not being able to make it, they began. Kitty Section was amazing. Rose's voice was never like that! Juleka smiled widely, carefree. Ivan was the most intense Adrien had ever seen. They looked... alive.

Gabriel would certainly classify it as 'classless noise' but to Adrien? Kitty Section had something that he couldn't replicate inside the four walls of his cage.

I hate you.

At least, not without Plagg.

While he stayed in frame Luka never took his eyes off Marinette. A hopeful smile evident even across the screen. As night came on and the band went from rehearsing to performing, Luka seemed to play for one person only.

Adrien had never met Luka, despite hearing about him from the bandmembers in his class. And he didn't really count saying hello over video chat like his father. The older boy was nice, polite and good at guitar. Besides their dyed hair Adrien couldn't honestly say Luka bore any resemblance to his sister.

"-out of chaos comes creation!" He heard Anarka spout in the background, talking to someone he couldn't see. Adrien didn't know why but the phrase stuck in his head. It was like a promise.

Out of Chaos comes Creation.

Wrapping it tightly about himself, Adrien brandished it like an amulet against the voice that wouldn't stop whispering at the edges of his mind.

I hate you.

Apparently, that wasn't why Adrien's thoughts had latched onto the phrase.

Trying to drown it out with Kitty Section's illegally loud music didn't work. It was always the same volume.

I hate you.

Distracting Adrien from enjoying his friends' concert. Like a thorn in his side.

He knew what it was. It was everything he was trying to ignore. Everything he felt at seeing himself replaced so easily. At the excitement in Alya's voice when she shot out theories about Panthera. At the Guardian, at Ladybug, at himself. All summed up into three little words Adrien had never said to anyone.

I hate you.

Despite Adrien's attempts to even his breathing and calm his heartbeat, the voice continued to plague his thoughts for the rest of the night.

I hate you.

A reminder that, even in his own mind, Adrien could never be free.

Chapter Text

"Did you see the new theory on the Ladyblog?"

"The one about Panthera?"

"Yeah! Think it's true?"

"Dunno man. Why would Ladybug switch partners all of a sudden?"

"Well, duh! 'Cause-"

The voices faded as Adrien's fencing teammates passed him on their way to the lockers. Knuckles white as he strangled the strap of his gym bag. Heart beating in his throat.

I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.

Inhaling deeply through his nose, Adrien let his breath out slowly; grip relaxing.

He wasn't subscribed to the Ladyblog anymore. At first he just ignored it but after Panthera's appearance Alya had something concrete to speculate on. Her enthusiasm practically radiated through the screen, forming a pit in Adrien's stomach. It was too much.

Trying to shove such thoughts out of his head he hurried after his teammates.

 


 

Adrien landed on his back for the third time in a row. Despite having the wind knocked out of him, he barely registered it. His movements were sloppy, his mind unfocused and instead of the competitive drive that usually fueled his training Adrien felt... nothing. Not for fencing, at least.

"Way too predictable." Kagami tested her saber before stepping back to her side of the fencing strip.

Slowly, Adrien stood up again, setting his stance. He lunged, she evaded. Again she won and they started over. Never once did he score a hit throughout the entire practice.

As everyone else filed out of the locker room Adrien sat, shoulders slumped as he stared at nothing through his fencing mask.

"What's going on, Adrien?" Kagami stood in front of him, already changed. "I usually enjoy defeating you but it's no fun if you make it that easy."

I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.

"Do you ever get the feeling that you're stuck, Kagami?" Father. "That... no matter what you do," Nathalie, "it's the same old story over and over again?" The Guardian. "That things will never, ever change?"

Surprise flickered in Kagami's eyes as Adrien removed his fencing mask. He stared at the floor, not expecting an answer, but still she took a seat beside him. Closing her eyes, Kagami took a moment to order her thoughts.

"Adrien. The biggest mistake a fencer can make isn't choosing the wrong technique, it's choosing the wrong target." Gently, she lifted his face to look him in the eye. "Change targets," she smiled softly.

Something sparked in Adrien's eyes and a small smile answered Kagami's. All this time Adrien had wasted energy on people who always wanted more. Trying his best to please them and still they found him lacking. Now, here was Kagami, who'd rejected the concept of second chances, giving him another. In spite of his abysmal performance in her greatest passion she didn't leave him.

Before he knew it Adrien's arms wrapped around her in a grateful embrace. Kagami stiffed at the sudden contact, arms tense and outstretched. Although Adrien's expression was obscured by his hair Kagami thought she knew what it was.

Slowly, awkwardly, she let her hands fall, relaxing her shoulders. Pink dusting her cheeks as Kagami returned his embrace. It was... nice.

 


 

Adrien grinned as he took the stairs in front of school two at a time. After going home yesterday, he thought about what Kagami said. Glancing around the courtyard Adrien spotted Alya and Nino sitting next to each other, Marinette walking up beside them.

If he was going to change targets then who better to ask for help than his friends?

"Hey, guys."

"Dude!" Nino launched himself at Adrien and hugged him tight, causing them to stumble.

A grin spread across Adrien's face. "What? We just saw each other yesterday."

Releasing his hold to fix his cap, Nino muttered. "Well, it feels longer."

"You know I'd be the first one to call my boyfriend dramatic but he's got a point." Alya shrugged with her arms as Marinette nodded.

Smile slipping just a little Adrien pushed the guilt away. "I wanted your help with something."

"Anything bro, you name it!" Nino placed his hands on Adrien's shoulders, getting his full attention.

"You know I see Kagami a lot, right?"

Nino's brow furrowed as he thought. "The scary girl that beats you up all the time?"

Adrien chuckled. "She's not scary. Kagami just has trouble talking to people. So I thought, maybe we could invite her somewhere to meet everyone!"

"Uhhhh..." Nino's eyes flicked to something behind Adrien.

But when Adrien turned around it was just Alya cleaning her glasses.

"I mean, sure dude. If you think that's a good idea?"

"Really!?" Adrien beamed. "What do you think we should do?"

"The Ice Queen?" Marinette whispered.

"Huh?" Adrien turned around at the sound of her voice.

"Ice rink! Yeah, that's what I said, we should all go to the ice rink!" Marinette glanced nervously between Nino and Alya. Giving Adrien finger guns. "No better place to break the ice than the ice rink! Right!?"

"The ice rink." Adrien tapped his chin in thought. "Sounds fun! You think everyone else will be up for it?"

"Yeah, sure Adrien!" Alya smiled, glancing pointedly at Nino.

"That's great! I can't wait to go to the ice rink together!" Waving, Adrien practically sprinted to tell his classmates.

The voice silent for the first time in weeks.

 


 

"What just happened?" Alya glanced between Nino and Marinette.

"I think my bro just got our help on a friend date?"

Marinette groaned. "I can't believe I called her that to Adrien's face, er, back! What if he heard me?"

"Maybe Kagami isn't as uncool as you think she is, dudette. I mean, Adrien thinks she's totally legit." Nino removed his cap to scratch the top of his head.

"Yeah but he's also friends with Chloe," Alya pointed out. "... Actually, she's been less unbearable lately."

Nino gestured in a 'There see!' fashion. 

Sighing, Alya leaned her head back on the bench. "You totally ignored my signals, by the way."

"Dude, Adrien wants to hang out!" Nino exclaimed. "You know I can't say no to that!"

Pulling her boyfriend back onto the bench with her, Alya wrapped an arm around Nino's shoulders. "Yeah, I know."

And she did. Nino spent more time than anyone with Adrien. Whenever Adrien couldn't make it, which recently was all the time, Nino talked to her about it.

Turning to look at Marinette, who was glancing at her purse, Alya asked. "You gonna be okay, girl?"

Marinette jumped but quickly recovered. "Oh! Uh, yeah. Adrien's only inviting her as friends, right? And everyone else is going to be there, too. So, it's not like they'll be alone together. Everything's fine!"

 


 

Everything was not fine. Marinette looked out at the Seine while Luka's melody filled the air. She didn't understand why she came here; the memory of Panthera was still fresh. Which made her think of Chat N- Which made her even more miserable.

"Do you feel kinda like this?" Luka continued the melancholy tune he played for her.

Yes, Marinette did feel that way. Adrien was so happy at the idea of introducing Kagami to their friends. Of spending more time with her. Even if it was only as friends, Adrien never invited anyone anywhere besides Nino.

Walking up beside her Luka switched into something more upbeat. "Personally, I think a girl like you deserves to feel more like this."

Sitting down, Marinette enjoyed the simple melody.

"And whoever made you feel this way is nothing but a-" Luka riffed on his guitar.

Giggling, Marinette covered her mouth. "Thanks Luka... Say, are you free tomorrow?"

 


 

"First one to skate around the rink wins!"

"You're on!"

Alix and Kim took off at top speed.

"Your friends have a healthy competitive spirit, Adrien." Kagami's eyes followed the two racers as they sped up. Almost crashing into the skating instructor as they circled around him.

"Could do with a little less competitive spirit, if you know what I mean?" Nino interjected.

"If they require structure perhaps I could invite them to join the fencing team," Kagami suggested. "I find fencing serves as a great outlet for excess energy."

"Wouldn't hurt to give it another shot," Alya thought aloud. "D'Argencourt has tried to get those two interested without much luck, though."

"I am certain Adrien and I can be more persuasive."

Blinking, Adrien pointed at himself. "Me?"

"Would you not like to have more friends on the team?"

Surprise morphing into excitement Adrien nodded enthusiastically. Hurrying over with Kagami to where Kim was telling a smug Alix how he'll beat her next time.

"I have to admit," Alya leaned recklessly onto Nino's shoulder. "Sunshine is really earning back his nickname."

Nodding, Nino adjusted their course so they wouldn't bump into Ivan and Mylene. "I haven't seen my bro this thrilled in... Heck, I don't even know."

"She really makes him that happy, huh?"

Alya turned to see Marinette behind them, gazing dejectedly after Adrien. Luka resolutely by her side. Alya skated closer to comfort her best friend and-

"Hey, there! Name's Philippe! Would any of you be interested in professional skating lessons?"

Alya almost crashed into the skating instructor as he materialized between her and Marinette. "Uh, not right now. Marinette?" Catching a glimpse of Marinette disappearing into the exit Alya hurried after her. Leaving Nino and Luka to fend off the pestering instructor.

Adrien stared after them.

"It's great that your friend Kim will be joining us isn't it. Adrien?"

"Huh? Oh, right!" Adrien was brought back to himself by Kagami. "But he only agreed 'cause Alix said he'd flunk out during tryouts."

"Regardless, he agreed. And I am curious about these 'challenges' as he calls them." Kagami took on a faraway look as she imagined what someone as impulsive as Kim might consider a challenge.

Adrien smirked. "I don't know whether to be proud or worried."

Returning his smug expression with one of her own, Kagami was glad she accepted Adrien's invitation to hang out with his classmates.

Then the screaming started.

Ice covered everything in seconds, from the windows to the ceiling. To Adrien's friends.

"Now all of Paris will be Frozer's own personal ice rink!" The villain crowed. His eyes scanned the people who remained unfrozen. "But first!"

Adrien felt someone shove him to the ground, the ice sapping his body heat even through his clothes. He looked up and saw Kagami inside a giant icicle. Arms outstretched to push him out of the way of the magic spikes that Frozer launched in all directions. Freezing everyone else before he skated away.

"NO!" Adrien's fist slammed into Kagami's icy prison. And kept striking. "No, no no no no no no!"

I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!

"Adrien? That you?" Luka coughed as the rapidly dropping temperature sapped the moisture from the air. "Whoa! Easy!" He lifted his hands in surrender as Adrien whirled around with fists raised.

"Luka..." Adrien came back to himself slowly. "How're you not frozen?"

Slowly grabbing Adrien's right hand Luka lifted it to eye level. "Same way you did, I guess." The knuckles were bloody. Not a lot but enough. "Hiding behind someone who was already frozen."

Adrien snatched his hand back. "I wasn't hiding!" he snapped.

"I know, sorry." Luka held his hands up placatingly. "I just meant..."

"I... I know." Adrien kept his eyes downcast. "I'm sorry."

"...We should look for help." Luka glanced at the windows opaque with ice. "There must be someone left who can get them out."

But Adrien was gazing at Kagami's frozen face. Even through the refraction he could see the determination in her eyes. "You go. I'll stay here and... do what I can."

Luka glanced at Adrien's split knuckles, wanting to at least bandage it. He got the feeling, though, that Adrien wouldn't let him. "Take care of that," he said, pointing. And dashed off.

I hate you.

Adrien tore one of his overshirt's sleeves off and fastened it into a makeshift bandage. He didn't know what good it would do. Only a dull pressure came from his hand. Not even noticing he was injured until Luka grabbed it.

I hate you.

Carefully, deliberately, Adrien sat on the ice. Cold shooting into his flesh like a thousand needles. Ignoring the numbness Adrien untied his skates and pulled them off his shoes.

I hate you.

Slowly, Adrien slid himself closer to Kagami. Heat being sapped from his body. Raising the skate overhead Adrien brought the blade down on the ice with an echoing CRACK!

I hate you!

CRACK!

I hate you!

CRACK!

I hate you!

CRACK!

I HATE YOU!

C R A C K!

 


 

Ladybug shot back towards the ice rink as fast as her yo-yo would go. The Black Cat Miraculous clutched tightly in hand.

Everything was frozen. In no time at all Paris, and every person in it, was covered in ice. And her prime candidate for Miraculous holders were all at ground zero.

Someone had to be there. They had to be!

"LADYBUG!"

There, right in front of her destination, was a familiar head of cyan hair.

Ladybug tensed as the memory of their battle with Captain Hardrock came rushing back. Shaking such unfair thoughts from her mind she swung down to him.

"Luka, were are the others?" Ladybug had made up her mind as she raced back. Alya was the only one who-

"They're all frozen!" Luka informed her, brow furrowed in concern.

A chill went up Ladybug's spine that had nothing to do with the cold. "Fr-frozen?"

"Please, Ladybug," Luka pleaded. "You have to help us get them out."

Alya was frozen? No, but Marinette needed her help! Zombizou had gone terribly and Ladybug needed a Black Cat anyway or everything would be off. That's why Chat Noir- A chill gripped her chest and Ladybug clenched her teeth. That's why Chat Noir was chosen in the first place. They weren't meant to work alone.

"It's not regular ice." Ladybug's voice sounded far away even to her own ears. "The only way to free everyone is to defeat the akuma victim!"

"Then we're in good hands. You have a perfect track record, after all."

Ladybug stared at the untainted trust in his eyes... "I can't do it by myself!" She shook her head to clear it. "I need someone else!" Someone like Alya.

"Oh..." Luka frowned as he went over Ladybug's words.

She needed a temporary holder to give a Miraculous. And everyone else was frozen. Except Adrien, but Luka didn't want to decide for Ladybug. So he stood there in silent frustration at being useless. Not voicing the obvious solution. Possibly, it didn't even occur to him.

And it came to Ladybug only slightly faster.

Suddenly jerking into action Ladybug grabbed Luka's hand and placed the octagonal box in his palm. "You remember what to do, right?

Eyes widening, Luka gave a single nod as he opened it.

 


 

Ice Ladybug and Ice Panthera skated side-by-side across the frozen city. Every surface covered in a layer of ice.

"We need to set up a trap for whoever turned the city into a giant ice rink," Ladybug said as they leapt from one rooftop to another.

"It was Philippe, the skating instructor," Panthera informed her. "Where should we set the trap?"

Thinking for a moment, Ladybug pointed toward the Eiffel Tower. With a nod Panthera followed Ladybug's lead. As he shadowed her their hands grazed and she snatched it back instinctively. Panthera said nothing but it stuck like a thorn in Ladybug's mind.

Landing on the frozen surface of the Seine Ladybug scanned their surroundings. "What can I use for a trap?" she asked herself.

She needed to focus. Just push everything aside and beat the akuma villain. Like always. Like-

"Look out!"

Panthera tackled her out of the way as Frozer's skate blade slammed into his left arm. He screamed as his arm was covered in ice.

"Panthera!" Ladybug launched her yo-yo at Frozer's face, forcing the supervillain to back away momentarily.

"Ladybug and Panthera! Your frozen statues will sparkle like trophies upon my kingdom of ice!"

Grabbing Panthera's uninjured hand Ladybug sped away from the villain. Frozer hot on their heels. With a rapid series of kicks he sent icicles sailing after the heroes, forcing them apart.

"I'm positive the akuma's in his skates!" Ladybug called out as Frozer jumped over a bridge and launched more icicles from midair. "He's too fast!"

Turning sharply around a barge stuck in the middle of the river to obscure Frozer's line of sight Ladybug pulled Panthera behind it. Frozer speeding past before realizing his quarry was gone.

 


 

"What's the plan Ladybug?"

They hid behind a van after putting a few streets between them and Frozer.

Plan, plan, Ladybug needed a plan! "Lucky Charm!" A bag of salt fell into her hands, some of the white grains falling out.

"Salt makes ice melt!" Ladybug exclaimed, an idea instantly forming in her mind's eye.

Panthera smiled tightly, clutching his frozen arm. "I knew you could figure it out."

"But first..." Ladybug grabbed a handful of salt and rubbed it on Panthera's arm.

"W-wait! Don't we need that?"

"Won't do us any good if you get frostbite halfway through your part of the plan." Any other protests Panthera had were silenced by the sigh of relief that escaped him as the ice melted. Taking his belt Ladybug fashioned it into a makeshift sling for his arm. "There."

"Thank you, Ladybug." Panthera's smile was a little less forced.

Ignoring the messy mix of emotions in her gut Ladybug smiled back. "Right. Here's what you need to do."

 


 

Ladybug posed on a bridge, just above the supervillain. "Waiting for you, Frozer!"

Grinning, Frozer jumped up after her. "Don't play with fire, Ladybug!"

Frozer was faster than her. So Ladybug goaded him into doing every trick she did, slowing him down just enough. Sliding under a bench limbo style, using an outcrop of ice as a ramp, jumping through a car's open doors.

"Ladybug," Panthera called from the communicator in her ear. "It's ready!"

Turning back towards the Seine, Ladybug called over her shoulder. "This next one is tricky!"

"Don't make me laugh!"

Ladybug slid along the ladder of the firetruck Panthera pushed into place. Twisting in midair to wrap her yo-yo on one of the rungs as she leapt off. Just in time for Frozer to fall into her trap.

Pulling on her yo-yo, Ladybug sent Frozer into the air. The unexpected change of momentum catching him off guard.

"Cataclysm!"

And giving Panthera the opening he needed.

Next came the easy part.

"Miraculous Ladybug!"

 


 

Adrien's fingers were cold even through his gloves. His legs were worse. The skate he used to break the tiniest piece of ice from Kagami's prison lay discarded next to him.

Mocking, accusing.

I hate you.

He gave everything he had into breaking Kagami out and it wasn't enough. It was never enough!

Pressing his forehead against the fractured ice that encased Kagami, Adrien squeezed his eyes shut. "I'm sorry."

Warmth flowed around him as a bright light shone through his eyelids. The numbness vanishing as though it was never there. Stumbling at the sudden shift Adrien felt someone's arms hold him upright.

Kagami stared at him as the ladybugs flew back to wherever they came from. "Adrien? What-"

"Kagami!" Without thinking Adrien pulled her into a hug. "You're okay!"

That was the second time in as many days Adrien had hugged her. Kagami felt a rising heat bloom across her cheeks. Scanning the rink, she saw the rest of Adrien's classmates in similar displays of relief. Which alleviated her self-consciousness.

Trembling. Adrien was trembling, shoulders shaking as he held back tears. Adjusting her grip, Kagami held him closer. "It is alright, Adrien. It is over."

Adrien shook his head. "I couldn't..." he said under his breath. "I couldn't do anything!"

Memories flickered through Kagami's mind. The shame she felt after 'losing' to Adrien when they first met. Her Mother's unyielding stance on anything she deemed trivial. Moving to France and leaving her home behind. All brought out the same sense of hopelessness she heard in Adrien's voice.

She didn't let go until he stopped shaking.

 


 

"Put that there. And that there. Careful with that! This new indoor gym is a gift to my Chloe- Er, the people of Paris! Everything must be perfect!"

Mayor Andre directed the construction workers while Philippe sat dejectedly out of the way.

Marinette stared in much the same mood at Adrien and Kagami. Most of her friends had already left. Leaving just the three of them plus Luka.

"I think you were right, Kagami." Adrien smiled bittersweetly. "It's time I changed targets."

"I look forward to seeing it," Kagami replied. Leaning up, she kissed Adrien's cheek before entering her car.

Adrien stared after her, a hand pressed against the ghost of her kiss.

A twisting sensation in her stomach worsened Marinette's mood.

"Do you wanna take the subway together, Marinette?" Luka asked.

Marinette continued staring after Adrien as his car pulled up.

"Hmm?" Luka followed Marinette's line of sight to Adrien. He smiled knowingly. "You should probably go over and talk to him. Thanks for inviting me out today."

Blinking, Marinette realized what he was saying."Thanks for coming with me, Luka." She gave him a kiss on the cheek as apology. Then dashed after Adrien's car. "Adrien!"

 


 

I hate you.

Adrien rubbed the stretched skin where his Miraculous used to be. The band on his finger was barely paler than the rest of his hand. Soon it would vanish completely, the only proof he ever wielded a Miraculous.

I hate you.

Pain sparked across his other hand and Adrien winced at the phantom memory. Odd that his injury hurt more now than when he still had it. But even if he didn't remember the ache his body did.

I hate you.

What did stand out in Adrien's mind was the jolt that ran through his cold limbs as he brought the blade of his skate down onto the ice. The intensity of his desperation so strong he was choking on it.

I hate you!

Not that it amounted to anything.

"It is alright, Adrien. It is over."

Except... it was okay. Ladybug fixed it. And it was good that she did. He didn't... Adrien didn't need to fix it.

A jolt ran through his spine. Shocking the tears he'd held back in front of his friends out. Adrien completely and utterly failed. That hurt. So much he could barely stand it. But... it wasn't the end of the world.

Adrien failed and that... was okay.

Pulling his knees to his chest and wrapping his arms around them, Adrien let his tears burn tracks down his face. Ambivalent emotions rolled like cresting waves. It wasn't a new idea exactly. But Adrien never thought of applying it to himself.

It was exhilarating. It was terrifying. Maybe... Maybe it was true. Maybe he could move on from people who demanded perfection. Maybe he didn't need to stay frozen in place.

Maybe it was okay for Adrien Agreste to not be perfect.

Chapter Text

"So, how're you holding up?"

"Please, Adrien, it's my mother! I'm positively ecstatic!"

"Exactly. It's your mother."

Chloe looked down for a second before her eyes snapped back up, any doubts she had hidden in an instant. "She's finally coming back! I'll finally be able to show her what she's been missing." Chloe tossed her ponytail back to emphasize the unspoken Me. "Now, I've gotta go. Sabrina insisted we do an 'emotional support routine' or whatever beforehand. Ciao!"

Sighing, Adrien stared at his phone for a moment before putting it down. He knew Chloe was grateful for Sabrina's help but it was still a struggle getting her to admit it.

Or getting her to admit how much Audrey had hurt her.

It was one thing to travel halfway around the world for your career and leave your daughter behind. It was something else entirely to completely ignore her. In all the years since Audrey left Chloe hadn't received a single birthday gift, phone call or text message. Adrien would know. Chloe would've bragged about it endlessly if her mother had taken so much as two seconds to acknowledged her existence-

Adrien's foot jerked, striking the vanity table and making the connected mirror tremble. Heart suddenly pounding against his chest as tension built up in his forehead. Distressed expression reflecting back at him.

Breathe, Adrien. Breathe.

Slowly, he inhaled.

Then exhaled.

Again.

Good.

He was okay.

Adrien was okay.

Guilt pricked like a thorn for thinking of his own problems when Chloe needed him. Adrien crushed it with his anger and annoyance but it was still there. Like a splinter that wouldn't come out.

I hate you.

Swiping out of the video chat Adrien tapped on Nino's number. It rang... and rang... and rang...

He's annoyed with me. I did something wrong again and Nino doesn't want to-

Adrien smacked both sides of his face. No, dummy! Nino's just busy or something. Stop that!

It wasn't every day a teenage DJ provided the music for Paris Fashion Week, after all. Nino had to make sure all his equipment was working properly.

The door to his dressing room burst open.

"Adrien, your friend Mlle. Dupain-Cheng will be bringing the last article of the new Gabriel line," Nathalie announced. "Your father expects everything to be perfect for Audrey Bourgeois."

"Doesn't he always?" Adrien deadpanned.

Nathalie stared at his watery eyes before typing something into her tablet. "Your performance on catwalks only has a 99% success rate. He expects you'll do better."

Father thinks you're a failure just like everyone else. He-

Shut up! Adrien felt something heavy settle in his chest.

One of the makeup artists came rushing in and Nathalie gestured her towards Adrien. "Touch up his eyes," she instructed and then left.

Jaw clenching, Adrien sat perfectly still as the makeup artist did her job. He was never entirely sure what the staff thought about him. 'Professional' was a word that was tossed around a lot. That used to fill him with a little pride... Before all of this.

The last person to suggest that a thirteen year old mourning his mother wasn't 'professional' so much as he was 'depressed' had never come back to work... Oh. Adrien had forgotten about that.

Finishing quickly, the makeup artist left too. Leaving Adrien with his thoughts. He didn't want to be with his thoughts at the moment. They were distracting and Nathalie had not been subtle.

I hate-

His phone vibrated as it received someone's text.

Ni-Non: hey dude!

Ni-Non: it's crazy over here man

Ni-Non: break a leg! ;)

Adrien smiled as his unpleasant mood faded to the back of his mind... And if he saw similarities between his family and Chloe's, well, that's why he could empathize with her.

Adrien: That's theater but I guess there's not much difference.

Adrien: Thanks. ^_^

 


 

There was a knock at his door. Adrien stopped fidgeting in the awkward suit to go answer it.

"Hello, Marinette." Adrien smiled in greeting.

"Oh, uh, hello!" Marinette gave a small wave as she stepped up the short stairs and-

Adrien braced himself with one foot while his hands went to her shoulders. Steadying Marinette as she quickly removed her weight from him.

"Oh! Uh, sorry." Marinette looked away in embarrassment at having tripped into him.

"... No worries!" Adrien smiled as he shook his head. Marinette seemed... subdued. Reaching down to pick up the hat that had fallen. "Oh, no." The artificial feather Marinette made for his allergies had come loose. "I hope it's not too hard to fix it."

Marinette looked down. "Uh, y'know, it doesn't really matter. This hat is a complete failure anyway."

"What? No, it's not!" Adrien rose to his feet quickly in shock. "Why would you say that?"

"Because... the queen of fashion, Audrey Bourgeois, saw it and hated it!" Marinette's hands covered her face, voice breaking. "I'm sorry, Adrien. I really messed up. I'm a total no talent!" Her arms wrapped around herself in a hug. "Please, don't put it on," she pleaded.

Adrien's heart went out to Marinette as she laid her insecurities bare. "Marinette, everything's going to be fine." He searched for the proper spot to reattach the feather,  fiddling with it as Adrien reassured her. "Your hat looks great. I think it's awesome and so does... my father." Adrien cleared his throat as he managed to fix her hat. "Otherwise he wouldn't have picked it for me. Look!"

Putting Marinette's hat on Adrien walked across the dressing room like he was already performing. Striking a few poses to ease Marinette's anxiety. "See?"

It seemed to work as Marinette gave a small smile. "You got that catwalk down," she complimented.

Adrien rubbed the back of his neck. "Really? Thank you."

"Ah-hem," Nathalie cleared her throat. "We have to go." Without waiting for Marinette she turned on her heel and started walking towards the viewing area.

Adrien rolled his eyes but smiled at Marinette's back as she hurried to catch up. Turning back to look at himself in the mirror Adrien scanned his outfit. The suit may have been generic and a few seams too close to last year's entry but Marinette's hat was fire.

"Okay!" Adrien was gonna go out there and make sure they recognized Marinette's talent!

 


 

Holding Marinette's hat to his chest Adrien stuck his head out in a decidedly 'unprofessional' manner. Spotting Marinette's family and a bunch of his friends in the first row. Adrien's blond head caught Nino's eye from across the catwalk and he gave him a thumbs up.

Adrien waved as he ducked back behind the corner before the photographers could take any pictures of the Agreste heir acting like a kid.

You got this, Adrien. Nino's DJ-ing, your classmates came -even though most of them don't care about fashion- with any luck Alix and Kim will tease you about it for the next month.

That would give Adrien the opportunity to dish out a bunch of jokes he never got the chance to use!

The music started; that was his cue.

You got this!

Adrien posed on the runway. Camera flashes already starting. Strutting down the catwalk Adrien smirked at Marinette. See? Stopping at the platform's end he posed in various angles for the photographers. Nino seemed to be enjoying himself too and that made Adrien's smile come much more naturally.

A small eruption boomed behind him and Adrien turned to see Hawkmoth's latest fashion disaster. Gasping, as his heart started hammering in his chest.

"A fashion show without the Queen of Style!? Glitter-ally unacceptable!" The akuma villain announced. "Where's that ungrateful Gabriel Agreste. I demand that he kneels before me!"

Ugh, what has he done now?

"My father isn't here," Adrien snapped in annoyance. Hearing people running for the exits.

"Well, then. If fashion disaster daddy isn't here I'll just have to settle for Agreste Junior! You're fired!"

Adrien's eyes widened as he stepped back. Golden glitter exploding everywhere as his body became numb and his senses dark-

-Glowing ladybugs swirled around him as Adrien had the disorienting feeling of laying  down when he could've sworn he'd been standing. Glancing around, Adrien realized he was now at the Eiffel Tower.

"Adrik- Adrien!" Chloe tackled him as he stood, throwing her arms around him. "I was so scared!"

Adrien blinked in surprise as Chloe set her head on his shoulder. Not letting him go... Adrien smiled as he hugged her back. Enjoying this genuine display of affection.

"Pound it!"

Head snapping towards the sound Adrien saw another Black Cat, this one a girl with long, reddish hair, fist bump Ladybug. They grinned at each other in post battle relief.

I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!

A chill to rival Frozer's ice covered Adrien from head to toe. It was one thing to see Ladybug working with a different Black Cat on the news. Quite another to have his replacement. Three. Frickin. Meters. In front of him!

Chloe didn't notice... Or rather Adrien didn't notice when she'd let go to help her mother. Who tried to fire her own daughter as thanks.

Adrien jerked his eyes away from the superhero duo-

I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!

-Away from the Miraculous holders and forced himself to listen to whatever the Bourgeois were saying. Ears ringing as Ladybug and the Black Cat talked about something behind him...

"Oh, mom. If only you knew what a great team we made!" Chloe trailed after her mother as they walked down the tower's stairs; attempting to capture her attention. "We fired a bunch of incompetents. It was awesome. We should really spend more time together! What if I went back to New York with you?"

"Don't be ridiculous, Casserole- Eh, Chloe!" Audrey dismissed. "First I have to get back to Gabriel Agreste's fashion show. And they better..."

Adrien's eyes narrowed as he looked down from the railing, his grip on it tightening. Heat from a growing indignation melting the ice he felt. What did she just call Chloe?

"Adrien Agreste, right? I can give you a lift back if you want."

His tensed body jerked in surprise as Adrien realized Ladybug was standing right behind him. Throat and chest constricting as his thoughts whirled. Spots darkened his vision as he felt lightheaded. Adrien's knuckles becoming white, the metal railing digging into his skin. A single thought rose above the ringing in his ears.

I don't wanna talk to her.

Giving his best model smile, Adrien schooled his features. "Ah, thanks but-" he pointed down, "-I should really check on them."

"O-oh! Of course!"

Ladybug's face was out of focus but Adrien could still feel the melancholy in her voice.

Powering past his queasy stomach Adrien made his way to the stairs. The sound of Ladybug's yo-yo whirring reached his ears; signaling her departure. Adrien took a shuddering gasp as he leaned against a metal pillar for support. Body suddenly limp.

Breath accelerating Adrien tried to calm himself. Why was he up here? Had- Had Audrey's blast mind controlled him? Again!? He couldn't breathe.

Adrien sank to his knees as he felt his skin crawl at the idea of that- that- asshole reaching into his mind and taking away his free will. He hated it! He HATED it!

Gasping as his rage broke him out of the panic, Adrien steadied his breathing... He wanted- no, needed to know what happened... Which meant getting up and moving forward... Forcing himself to his feet Adrien wiped the sweat from his brow and followed the others down.

 


 

"Remind me to tell your father to fire the person in charge of the Eiffel Tower elevators..." Audrie panted. "This is... unacceptable... utterly unacceptable!"

"Of course, mom. Oh!" Chloe glanced down to see what she'd stumbled on.

Adrien looked up as he fanned himself with Marinette's hat.

And dropped it.

He stared open mouthed at the small, black, octagonal box in Chloe's hands. Heartbeat leaping into his throat.

What the hell is THAT doing here!?

"Ooh! What's this?" Chloe turned the box around in her hands but didn't open it.

Adrien suddenly forgot his exhaustion and rushed to her side. The lie coming easily to his lips. "Oh, I recognize that! They sell them at antique shops."

"Ew, it's old! Get it away from me!" Chloe practically hurled it at Adrien.

Catching it easily. A thrill ran up Adrien's arms and down his spine as the box made contact with his skin. The hairs at the back of his neck standing on end.

Chloe dusted her hands and kept walking. Glancing nervously at her mother. Hoping Audrey hadn't seen her with something so outdated.

I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! The voice in his head said.

Shut up, Adrien told it as he stared at the unknown Miraculous in his hand. Heartbeat hammering in his chest. But it wasn't from fear. No, it was... anticipation.

The corners of Adrien's lips curled upwards.