Her small hands trembled in excitement and she could feel her breathing quicken. Her eyes were wide as she searched the room, finding only children just as excited as herself. Some of them supported themselves on the wall, others had the strength to walk freely, and others still needed their wheelchairs to come to this event. She was a member of the last group.
"Is everybody ready?" the nurse at the door asked. She could feel herself swell in excitement. Were they here? She reached down for the wheels of her chair, rolling forward.
"Josephine," her mother warned lightly, tearing the girl's attention away from the front. The aging woman looked at her daughter with nothing save for care in her eyes. Nothing, that was, except worry. "Remember to take it easy today, okay?"
"Yes, Mamma," the girl said. The two shared a smile before Josephine pushed herself forward, eager to meet their guests. They would come through the door any second now. Any moment, the two would walk through the door and—
And there they were.
Josephine gasped out loud as she took in her superheroes. Ladybug stood tall and proud, no sickness able to bring her down ever. She wore red and black like a badge of pride, smiling widely at all of the kids who had the energy to run up and hug her. Josephine wished so desperately to be among that number.
Behind Ladybug was Chat Noir, the silly kitty who was strong enough to take hit after hit and still smile. With his bo staff, he kept the danger away from anyone and everyone, and he still joked and made those funny puns that she really loved. Josephine watched as a few of the children tottered over to Chat Noir. Her heart was just about sent into overdrive when he dropped down on his haunches, looking each child in the face with that big smile.
Smile at me, she wished silently. She forced strength into her arms and rolled closer. Ladybug was already being swarmed by so many, but that was okay. She wanted to talk to Chat Noir. She wanted him to smile at her and make the sickness go away for even a minute or two.
He was a superhero. He could make it go away for even a few minutes.
Josephine could get no closer with her wheelchair. She would have run over Clovis's foot, and his feet hurt enough as it was. Lucy was behind her, so she could not back up either. The little girl of five turned longingly towards her hero.
Chat Noir was smiling at all of the kids around him. There were two—Marcus and Travis—who were getting hugs. Josephine felt tears well up in her eyes. She wanted to go to Chat Noir. She wanted to get smiles and hugs. And she could not do it in this chair.
She wanted a hug from Chat Noir.
Josephine looked at her shiny wheelchair. Mamma and Pappa had worked very hard to get it for her so she could go anywhere she wanted and it could be as fun as she wanted. Ever since she fell the first time, they had been extra careful about taking her everywhere she wanted to be, but they had also gotten it in pink so it would not be so hard to be stuck in the seat for her whole life. But right now, she wished so desperately that she could walk again. That her legs and arms were strong enough to carry her where she wanted to be right now.
Chat Noir laughed at something Travis told him. Travis was always good at telling jokes. Josephine wanted to know what it was. She wanted to get closer.
She reached trembling fingers for the brake on her wheelchair, hoping against hope that no one would see her trying to do this. Chat Noir was maybe two feet away. She could make it to him. She could do it. She would do it.
Her feet slid easily away from the stirrups they had known for most of her life. She had only been able to touch them last year. She had grown so much. Now she would grow even more. She wiggled her butt until she was at the very edge of the seat. Her heart beat loudly as she kept pushing her limits.
The carpet on the ground tickled her sensitive toes. It was quite pleasant, actually. She slid her foot across the texture, excitement bubbling in her chest. Is this what those other children felt every time they came in here? Little pinpricks on their feet that tickled and were oh so soft? Every time? It was amazing!
Josephine looked up from her foot, thrilled. Chat Noir was two feet away from her. She could do it. She could reach him. She would! She could walk to him!
She used a huge amount of strength to push herself away from the wheelchair.
She felt the ground squish beneath her toes.
She felt her center of gravity shift until she was standing tall. Upright. Ready to walk. She brought her hands forward, ready to shift her balance like she saw momma do.
But something went wrong.
Her center of gravity would not stop shifting. Her heart would not stop pounding. She pushed her hands in front of her.
She was falling.
She closed her eyes just as her shoulder hit the floor. She let out a startled cry of pain and then felt someone pick her up.
"Josephine," her Mamma breathed as she held her daughter to her chest. "Mi bebe… are you all right? Why didn't you stay in your wheelchair?"
Because I wanted a Chat Noir hug… she thought. Instead, she voiced a different answer. "I'm sorry, Mamma…"
"Madame Chastain, Josephine took quite the fall. I would feel better if we looked her over."
"But…" Josephine felt hot tears pool beneath her lids. She would stay in the chair, she would not exert herself again, she would promise anything! But please don't take her away from this room. Please don't take me away from—
"Is she going to be okay?"
Josephine's prayers seemed answered when she saw a black mask furrowing around concerned green eyes. She gasped and could feel the excitement again. Chat Noir was asking if she would be okay! But…
"We're going to get her checked over in another room to make sure," Dr Lebeau said. "She hasn't stood before now, so the fall is probably a shock to her system."
Green eyes widened, but they were not smiling. She frowned, glancing over to her superhero. That was a sad frown he was wearing. Tears prickled at her eyes.
"Come on, Josephine," the doctor said. Her mind went blank at watching Chat Noir. He looked so sad. It made her sad. Tears flowed freely from her eyes. "Let's get you checked out."
Dr Lebeau turned and took her from the room. She could not protest or plead. All she had wanted was a Chat Noir hug. A Chat Noir smile.
Instead, she never thought she would get that sad Chat Noir face out of her mind.
"Please!" Josephine cried. Dr Lebeau shook his head at her, enforcing his decision. His soft smile and calm features did nothing to soothe her. Tears flowed from her eyes and she bunched her blankets up in her fists as tightly as her strength could allow.
"That fall left your bones bruised and knocked the wind out of you. What your body needs is rest. I understand how much you've been looking forward to this, but your health takes priority," he explained again. Josephine could have cried. Ladybug and Chat Noir were in the same hospital and she could not see them anymore!
"Sweetie, it's best to listen to what the doctor says. You need rest," her Mamma said. Josephine's eyes widened. Not her, too! "Please, sweetie."
Josephine opened her mouth. To beg. To plead. To whine. To demand. Yet nothing came out. Instead, she turned onto her side, facing her back to her Mamma and the doctor. She stayed like that for what seemed like forever. It took them that long to leave. It took her that long to find her voice. It took her that long to cry.
Her hospital room was empty for now. Just her and the humming machinery she had been hooked up to once more. She had soft pillows and a big blanket to cover her if she got too cold. She had a hospital gown to wear and her wheelchair had been brought into the room because it was technically Mamma and Pappa's and not the hospital's. The brake had been taken off. Josephine reached for her wheelchair, moving it one centimeter back and forth, back and forth. It was all the strength she could muster while tears flowed freely from her eyes.
"It's so hard to be unable to do all the things you want to… Denied personal freedom due to something so outside your control."
Yes. It was. So not fair…
"I can help you reclaim that freedom, give you the ability to do what it is you wish. All I ask is for your help in return."
The freedom to do anything?
"Could I walk?"
"You could do so much more."
Empowerment flooded through her fingertips, giving her a taste of the strength she had only dreamed about. A power hungry smile flit across her face.
The ground was cold. The ground was steady. The ground was strong.
Libére placed one sure foot in front of the other, power coursing through her veins. Her bare feet left cracks behind in the tile, but she could not care. She could walk.
"You could do so much more."
She tilted her head, stopping for a moment. So much more? How much was so much? She pushed harshly against the ground.
This. This was absolute freedom.
The walls shook around her, medical supplies dropped from their shelves and carts. She was drunk on ecstasy, a smile spreading easily across her face. Wind whistled in her ears. She had only ever had that happen on car rides before.
This is what they were all keeping from her. This was what they had all withheld from her while they kept her in that cold hospital room with all of those beeping machines and no wind. This was what she had been missing.
But not anymore.
She stood on her two feet, empowered. Happy. Thrilled. Her fist tightened on a staff that had once been a sentimental prison.
She grinned. It was time to see how other people enjoyed being trapped like she had been. Unable to move a bit of their bodies without getting locked away 'for their own good'. It was time to see how they liked it!
Ah. What a perfect victim.
"Mon bébé, what—"
She cast her staff forward, striking the woman across the side. She did not get up. Her limbs were too weak.
Excitement pooled in her stomach. Libére released it instantly in the form of a loud laugh. This. This! It was absolute freedom! Bringing others down made her stronger!
A flash of irritation ticked at the name this time. It was no longer cute. No longer funny.
"My name," she growled as she lifted her staff. "Is Libére!"
She brought the staff downwards, intending to hit the doctor and introduce him to her former prison.
But a yoyo got in the way.
Libére turned to see Ladybug and Chat Noir at the end of the hallway. The sight of the two made her skin crawl, made her so angry. They were frowning at her. Why were they frowning at her!? Why could they not smile at her!?
"Their miraculouses!" HawkMoth seethed in her ear.
The supervillian pushed forward with her staff, trying to get them both at the same time. They dodged her at the last second and she had to choose which one to go after.
Her anger at Chat Noir was more prominent. He was the one she went after.
She chased that cat up and down the hallways, exchanging blows and growling in anger as he scampered off yet again. She swung and swung and swung and he dodged and dodged and dodged. She pushed him down the hall and he only kept defending himself.
He never tried to land a hit on her. He kept looking at her with those same eyes. The same ones from when she had fallen. They were sad.
She threw her entire weight behind another attack, the supervillain effects making the hit several times stronger. She pushed and pushed as hard as she could, forcing him backwards.
Those eyes burned her.
She pushed some more. He was flung through the building wall and landed outside. She followed him with her strong legs and strong body and strong arms. She lifted him up with her strong arms and threw him even further into the street.
"His miraculous! Get his miraculous!"
"Yes, HawkMoth," she replied easily. She walked over to Chat Noir as if it were the simplest thing in the world. As if it were as normal to her as breathing. The superhero was not getting up from the beating she had lashed on him. Good, it was a fraction of the hurt she felt. She stopped at his hand, frowning distastefully.
"Why," she asked, as if the word was a vessel for all of her anger. All of the words she had never said. "…didn't you smile for me?"
He gave her that look again. That sad look. It filled her with anger.
"STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT!" she screamed, bringing her staff straight up. Libére brought her hand down as quickly as she could, waiting for that satisfying feeling of having Chat Noir live in her prison. In her—
Where was her staff?
She looked at her hand, where a cheap balloon sword now lay. It was red with black polka dots. Where did it come from? Would it hurt Chat Noir as bad? What—
"Argh!" she cried out, a sharp pain from within her head causing her to kneel over. The pain got worse and worse and worse and—
It was gone.
"Where am I?" Josephine asked, looking around from her place on the ground. It looked like the Eiffel Tower, but there was no way. She always saw the Eiffel Tower from the hospital. It always looked a lot smaller than this. She looked up and up and up and—
Her chest gave a heavy ache and she coughed into her hand. Shudders wracked her entire body, sending her into fits. An instinct caused her to curl in over her stomach, protecting it from something she had no control over. Her hand jerked away from her mouth and blood was spat up on the sidewalk.
Josephine's eyes widened.
She was scared.
Doctor Lebeau had said this would happen.
If she got too excited. She could bleed from the inside out.
Two warm hands picked her up and she clutched to the person. She felt too much pain from her stomach. It hurt. It hurt it hurt it hurt. Tears poured from her eyes and blood came from her mouth, but she would not let go of the person. She clutched on and buried her head into their shoulder.
"I want Mamma… I want Chat Noir…" she sobbed softly into the person's neck. "I don't wanna be scared… I wanna smile like Chat Noir… He's not scared of anything…"
She sniveled and sobbed, holding the person tightly as another wave of pain shot through her. It wrecked her system and forced her to let go when she no longer had the strength to hold on. The warm hands kept her pressed against the strong body, especially as it shifted.
"…ldn't have moved her at all. We could just make it worse. I already called an ambulance."
"Ladybug, we can't just— We could take her to the—"
"Not like this. We'll only make it worse."
"But I already—"
"What if she falls? What if the movement causes permanent internal damage? She's fragile!"
Josephine was getting cold. She huddled as close as she could to the person. They were warm. The voices stopped. It was too quiet as she sobbed.
"Josephine?" a female voice asked. It was almost hazy. "We need you to stay awake for the ambulance."
It was not Mamma. It was not Chat Noir. Josephine tucked herself further away into the person's neck. She was tired. She was scared. She was sad.
"Josie? Can you look at me?"
No one ever called her "Josie" before. But she knew that voice. She knew him from the TV, saving Paris; knew him from the jokes he always told to Ladybug; knew him from his laughter at Travis's joke that she never got to hear.
She opened her eyes to find Chat Noir, but he was nowhere in sight.
His chest rumbled when he talked. She held onto him a little tighter. Chat Noir was giving her a hug! She was happy if she did not have to see his sad face anymore.
But… She still really wanted to see him smile.
Well, what if she asked?
"Chat Noir, please can you smile?" she asked. "Chat Noir isn't Chat Noir without a smile."
The silence was scaring her out. She should not have asked. She should not have asked him for a smile. What if he was mad at her? What if she did something bad? What—
Coughing spasms wracked her body once more, and her strength all but dissipated. She was so tired. So very tired. She could not hang onto her superhero anymore.
He pulled away from her and she wanted to panic. To cry. To—
"I'll keep this up as long as you don't close your eyes, okay?" he said, a grin on his face. She could not believe it. Chat was smiling for her. Because she asked for it.
She was getting her Chat Noir smile.
She was getting her Chat Noir hug.
And she felt the happiest she had ever been.
"Okay," she promised with a chirp.
Ladybug watched as her partner continued to smile at the little girl who had fallen back in the hospital. He kept talking to her to keep her going, but Ladybug could see the fact that the girl was fading. She tried to keep the girl as still as possible, waiting on an ambulance that seemed to be taking forever. She and Chat were attempting to keep the girl calm so she would not cough out any more blood, but it appeared as though only Chat smiling would help.
"You are paw-sitively awesome, you know that," he said. Ladybug would have groaned had it not been for the look in her partner's eyes. This entire scene was killing him. As she was fading—where was that ambulance!?—he was dying a little bit on the inside.
The little girl gave a fairy-like laugh. It was weaker now than it was one minute ago. Chat had been checking with puns on a consistent interval. If she laughed, then she was still alive.
Ladybug could only watch. Watch as her breathing shuddered. Watch as her eyes remained open in a glassy manner. Watch as her partner tried to rouse her just as the ambulance arrived.
When the paramedics took the young girl, Ladybug knew her chances of coming back from such a sleep were close to none. And while she could do nothing for the dead—what the hell had Hawkmoth been thinking, using a terminally ill child?!—she would do all she could for the living.
"Chat," she whispered, kneeling by her partner. He was frozen where he was, a broken smile still on his face. "You don't have to anymore. The paramedics have her."
Her partner let out a gasp, tears finally springing forth to his eyes.
"It's not fair…"
"It's not fair…"
Oh heavens, how she knew.
Not only was it unfair that a little girl had to die in his arms, but also that her only wish was to see him smile while it happened.
Ladybug gripped her partner tighter.