Adrien didn’t notice anything was wrong until he was halfway through his morning shower. Hair lathered with shampoo, he stepped away from the water and cocked his head. Something was odd, out of place. Something he hadn’t noticed and really should have. “Plagg?”
No reply from his little friend. Not entirely unusual as Plagg called Adrien’s bathroom a ‘kwami-free zone’, for reasons Adrien didn’t want to think too much about. It was nice to have privacy, Adrien supposed, and with the bundle of bad luck following him around these days, the infrequent times he’d been allowed to be alone had dwindled down to practically non-existent.
Still, something was off about this morning, something missing, and Adrien couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
A nagging itch between his shoulder blades worried at Adrien all through his bathroom routine until he couldn’t ignore it anymore. Towel around his shoulders and shirtless, Adrien poked his head out of the bathroom. “Plagg? Are you still asleep?”
Nothing. No answer. No little bundle of black on his bed sleepily rubbing his eyes and complaining about a lack of cheese and a never-ending hunger. No toilet rolls torn to shreds in a corner. No clump of black fur left on the edge of Adrien’s sofa.
Walking to his bed, Adrien wondered if Plagg had decided to make himself a cocoon again. “I don’t want to play hide and seek, Plagg.” He stretched out his hand to poke at the bump in the covers and froze.
His ring. It was gone.
Adrien’s eyes widened in alarm. Had it slipped off while he’d been asleep? He pounced on the bed and yanked back the covers. Nothing. No ring. “This better not be another one of your pranks,” he told the air. “I’m not in the mood.”
Dropping to his hands and knees, he checked under the bed. He checked under his computer. He stripped the bed of sheets and shook them out. By the time he upended his mattress, the mild alarm had descended to a blind panic.
His ring had gone missing before, falling off at inopportune times and getting him stuck places, like the inside of a freezer, but this was the first time Plagg had vanished with it. Normally, the kwami scolded him in one breath and demanded cheese in the next while Adrien looked for the ring, but this time there was nothing. No scolding. No cheese.
Adrien was still tearing apart his room when Nathalie came to fetch him.
“What are you doing?” she shrilled, starting at him in horror from the doorway.
Adrien jerked his head over to her. “Uhhh…” He knew he must look a sight; pale and harried, half-dressed and currently holding a cushion from the sofa but being caught like this didn’t diminish the panic bubbling in his chest. “I… er…”
She swept her eyes over the room and then fixed her eyes on Adrien. “This is too much. Explain.”
Dropping his eyes in embarrassment, he checked the area beneath the cushion, then slowly replaced it. “I… lost something.” Adrien forced himself to take a deep calming breath. “Has anyone been in my room?”
“No,” Nathalie replied. “Get dressed. Your father wants to see you.”
He lifted up the next cushion and glanced beneath. Empty. Nothing. No ring. No Plagg. Nothing. “I can’t. I need to find him.”
“Him?” A shrewdness in her voice alerted Adrien to his slip.
“It,” Adrien amended and dropped to his knees to check the edges of the sofa. “My… project… it’s due today and if I don’t find it—”
Nathalie’s expression remained unimpressed. “You have more organisational skills than this.”
“I know, but—”
“You shouldn’t keep him waiting. You can find whatever it is you’re looking for after you see him.”
No choice. Not really. He just had to hope Plagg was playing another prank on him. A hurried trip to the bathroom to finish preparing for the day did little to quench the nerves shuddering through him. If he lost Plagg…
What was he going to do? How could he help Ladybug without Plagg? She needed him! Plagg needed him!
Gabriel sat at the dining room table, reading from his tablet. A half-finished cup of coffee sat before him and a bagel with a bite out of it. Adrien watched as Gabriel slowly stirred the cup of coffee with his spoon.
“Good morning, Father,” Adrien said. “You wanted to see me?”
Gabriel glanced up, then put his tablet aside. “Good morning, Adrien. I trust you slept well?”
He shifted, impatient. He needed to get back to his room and search for Plagg. “Yes.”
“Are you certain? You seem rather emotional this morning.”
Adrien forced himself to stop fidgeting. “I’m fine. I just… misplaced something.”
“Oh?” Taking the spoon out of the cup, Gabriel took a sip of his drink. “That’s a coincidence.”
Adrien’s senses sharpened. “What?”
Voice carefully sculpted, Gabriel said, “I seem to have misplaced a very special book and it’s important I find it.”
Saliva pooled in Adrien’s mouth and he fought against the urge to swallow it. The book. The book he’d taken from Gabriel’s secret safe yesterday. The safe he wasn’t supposed to know about. A book filled with Miraculous holders including Chat Noir. The book which he’d been trying to read in the library, with… Lila… but had been missing when he’d checked his bag later.
Gabriel knew about the Miraculous. He knew. He’d asked about Adrien’s ring. He’d been strangely interested in it on the rooftop after Ladybug had saved him from Jackady, then again in Adrien’s bedroom afterward. He had a book which held sacred details about the items and the kwami and the different forms.
Had his father taken Plagg? Why? Why would he do that?
Adrien wished he could remember what else had been in that safe, but Plagg had been so… not forceful, but then, the kwami never was. Evasive. Determined to make sure Adrien took it. It hadn’t been a coincidence that Plagg had tossed that book from the safe. Plagg had known something. And now the book was lost.
As well as his ring. The ring, conspicuous by its absence, vanished the day after the book.
It seemed too coincidental. His brain conjured up another possible solution. What if Plagg had been here for another reason? The kwami had been focussed on the book. And now he had it, maybe Plagg… didn’t need to stay anymore. Didn’t need him.
That thought stabbed him in the chest and gouged out his heart to leave it bleeding. All his insecurities thrust upon him at once. He hadn’t been chosen. He hadn’t deserved the Miraculous. He’d been a means to an end.
No. Plagg… wouldn’t do that. Would he?
“Adrien? Have you seen my book?”
He lifted his eyes from the floor to regard his father. “A book?” he said, struggling to keep his voice mild. “No, sorry, I haven’t seen any lying around, but I have a floor of books in my room. What was it called? I’ll have a look to see if one of the cleaners stored it on accident.”
His mind raced while he struggled not to shrivel under his father’s gaze. Maybe the book was still in the library at school. Maybe he dropped it. Maybe he was reading too much into the situation. Maybe a lot of things, but he needed to get away from his father and take a moment to think. And breathe. And panic.
There was a soft clink as Gabriel placed his cup back on the table. “Do not concern yourself. I am sure it will turn up.”
Adrien nodded. “I need to find my project,” he said, knowing Nathalie would inform his father of the state of his room. “Was there anything else, Father?”
Gabriel picked up his tablet to return to reading. “Enjoy your day.”
Returning to his room, Adrien made sure to lock the door behind him and then slumped at its base.
He’d never noticed before just how big and empty his room really was, but now, in the silence and void Plagg had left, it was all he could see.
The alarm had been through two snoozes and had been blaring for a solid five minutes before Tikki turned it off completely. Hovering over the bed, she prodded at her sleeping charge. “Marinette.”
The lump in the middle of the bed curled up tighter. “Five more minutes.”
With an exasperated noise, Tikki poked the lump again. “You’ve had that already. And more.”
Marinette groaned. “Tiiiikki, you’re worse than the alarm clock.”
Tikki phased through the blanket. Stretching out her paws, she rested them on the end of Marinette’s nose. “You promised Master Fu you’d see if you could find Chat Noir before school. He needs to be aware and Master Fu wants to talk to both of you.”
Marinette sighed and opened her eyes. “It’s just so weird.” Raising her head up enough so she could cup her hands under her chin, she said, “A mythical book, a great guardian, a turtle kwami… it’s all strange.”
Marinette stretched out her hand and scratched the top of Tikki’s head. “He could’ve helped us figure everything out from the beginning. Why did you wait until now to tell me about him?”
Tikki shrugged and evaded. “He wasn’t needed.”
“Yes, he was. There’s so much we don’t know. And he helped you when you were sick! I should’ve known how to do that.” She shook her head and amended, “I should know!”
“And he’ll teach you. That’s why we need to find Chat Noir and return to Master Fu. So you can learn. Together.”
Marinette sighed. “Yeah.” She scrubbed a hand over her face and sat up, throwing the blankets away from her. “Okay. I’m up.” She stretched her hands over her head. “Tikki, do you think Ladybug should ask Adrien why he had the book?”
“I think Master Fu should tell you what the book is first and why it’s so important. And we need Chat Noir before he will.”
Marinette puffed out a breath and blew her bangs away from her forehead. “Good point.” Twisting her fingers, she continued, “But… I mean, the book is important, right? He had to get it from somewhere. We should probably find out—”
Tikki hummed. “You’d have to admit you’re the one who took the book.”
Marinette flushed. “Oh god.” She clutched at her head and moaned. “I can’t do that!”
“We can’t explain why you can’t give the book back, either. It must stay with Master Fu—”
“After all my talk about hating liars and I’d have to lie to him! If I went as Ladybug, he’d hate me. He’d never talk to me again! And as Marinette? I’d never have a chance with him.” She flopped back on her bed. “And not telling the truth is a form of lying and—”
Tikki said, “You lie to your parents all the time.”
“I don’t lie, I evade and divert attention. Or take whatever punishment they give without complaint.” Marinette said, removing her hand from her face. “It’s a fine line I have to live with because you told me I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone.”
“Isn’t lying by omission still—”
“You’re not helping.”
Marinette sighed. “Someone gave me the miraculous and has always known who I was. Do you know how shocked I was to walk in there and have him call me by name?” She frowned, then sat up. “Does this mean he knows who Chat Noir is too?”
With a shrewd look at Tikki, Marinette asked, “Do you know?”
“You’ll be late,” Tikki evaded. “It might take a while for Chat Noir to answer, especially if he’s not transformed.”
Kneeling, Marinette cupped her hands beneath her kwami. “Tikki.”
“No,” she said, floating down so she sat on Marinette’s palm. “I don’t. You are my responsibility, just as Chat Noir is Plagg’s. We do not find each other again until the time is right.”
Marinette pursed her lips. “And when’s that?”
“When you’re both ready for it.”
Marinette blinked. Then blinked again. “So… I’m allowed to tell Chat Noir who I am?”
Tikki inclined her head. “If you wish to.”
“You told me I had to keep this a secret! Even from him!”
“At the time, it was necessary,” Tikki explained. “And there is a very good reason for that, one which both Chat Noir and you have been deemed trustworthy enough to know. Which is why I told you about the guardian. I believe it is time for you to learn our secrets.”
Marinette wasn’t sure how she felt about this. It seemed like they were a step closer to finding out who each other was. Would Chat Noir like the person behind the mask? Would she like him?
Marinette shook her head. Of course she would like him. She already liked him. She trusted him implicitly. They were partners. Even if he was a horrible flirt, it didn’t mean he wasn’t also a kind and generous person. Whoever he was beneath the mask, it wouldn’t matter. She’d still be his friend and he’d still be hers.
There must’ve been a compelling reason to keep their identities a secret, even from each other. “You were testing me? You were testing us?”
“Of course.” Tikki giggled and bobbed up and down in the air. “Marinette, there is no point being flabbergasted. We shall explain everything at Master Fu’s. But right now, we need to find Chat Noir. He needs to know he’s been summoned. Answers will come, I promise. Patience.”
Chronically late for school, Marinette had always been a pro at getting ready quickly. Even being early, today was no exception to Marinette’s frenzied rush to get ready. Hair brushed and teeth cleaned, she fixed her jacket so that it sat correctly before bouncing to the trap door.
“Where’s the fire?” Sabine asked, looking up from the kitchen sink as Marinette thundered down the stairs.
“Nowhere,” Marinette said and grabbed a bagel from the table. She plucked her backpack from beside the front door. “I just have to see someone before school today.”
“This early?” Sabine asked with a glance at the clock. “It must be important if you’re going—”
“Gotta go!” Marinette said, opening the door so she could avoid lying to her mother. “See you at lunch!” Stuffing the bagel in her mouth, she hurried down the stairs to the bakery so she could say goodbye to her father.
Tom was busy taking bread out of the oven. Trays of bread waiting to be pried from their tins lined the benches, while even more bread cooked. Glancing up, he smiled as Marinette trotted across the room. “You’re up early.”
“It really can’t be that much of a surprise,” Marinette said.
“Normally you bluster past five minutes before the bell, but you’re a full hour early. Where’s my daughter and what did you do with her?”
With a giggle, Marinette stood on her tiptoes so she could kiss his cheek. “I have to do something before school, bye Papa.”
He called after her as she rushed toward the door. “There’s a box of macarons on the counter for Alya!”
Running out into the street, she hurried across the road and into the school. It was too early, the majority of students were still at home. After making sure no one was paying attention to her, Marinette rushed up the stairs toward the library and dropped down behind the concrete bannister so she was out of view. She knew the library would be closed so there was little chance of people seeing her. “Tikki, spots on!”
Pulling her yo-yo from her waist, Ladybug hoisted out of the middle of the building so she could sit on the roof. Dangling her legs over the edge, she activated the phone in her yo-yo.
It rang long enough it diverted to his message bank, so she hung up. Not unexpected. If he wasn’t transformed -and there was no reason to be this early in the morning- so his kwami should tell him there was a call coming and she needed to give him time. Idly kicking her feet, she waited five minutes before trying again.
It rang out to messages again.
The third time she decided to leave a message, smiling to herself at his “Hi bugaboo. It’s paw-ful of me to miss your call, but I’m off doing something dastardly, dashing and debonair. Leave a meow-sage!”
“Hey, it’s me. There’s something important we need to discuss. Like really, really important. Too important to wait for our usual patrol or chance an akuma. I discovered something yesterday and I really need to share it with you.” She sighed, glancing down at the quad below and watching as one of the students arrived. “I’ll be at Collège Françoise Dupont, sitting on the roof for another… forty minutes. If you can’t make it, I’ll be at the Eiffel Tower from one until about one forty-five. It’s really important, Chat. Please come.”
It was a nice day to sit in the sun and watch people move along on their lives but Ladybug felt anxious. So many thoughts churned in her head, a mismatch of adolescent thought, each one flowing like a river through her head, only to be discarded as another thought took its place.
The book. Lila. Adrien. A great guardian. Secrets of the kwami. Adrien. Had she finished all her homework? Alya. Adrien. Chat Noir.
With a heavy sigh, she shuffled and lifted a knee so she could rest her cheek against it as she stared out over Paris. Was she ready to know who Chat Noir was? What if they knew each other? What if they didn’t?
She wondered why Chat Noir’s kwami, Plagg, had never insisted on him keeping his identity secret. Chat Noir had always been so enthusiastic for her to know. To share who he was and she was always the one to turn him down and remind him it was necessary.
Lifting her yo-yo, she tried to call Chat Noir again. Surely it’d been enough time for him to wake up, or free up some time so he could transform.
Still no answer and that confused her. He was normally so quick to pick up, finding any excuse to spend time with her.
Ladybug’s eyes were drawn to the entrance of the school below as Adrien bolted through. He leapt down the small stairs which lead into the quad, then bolted toward the stairs at the back. Heart fluttering, Ladybug watched him surge up the stairs, taking them two at a time. His arm worked against the railing to pull him up the stairs faster. Ladybug froze, her yo-yo cupped in her hand as Adrien rattled on the door of the library below her. He cupped his hands, then pressed his face to the glass to peer inside.
“Damn it!” he said and threw himself away from the door. Palming his head with both hands, he rubbed them up over face, then through his hair to the back of his neck. With a frustrated noise, he turned away and plonked both hands down on the concrete banister. He doubled over, so his torso was parallel with the floor and hung his head.
Ladybug surreptitiously withdrew her legs and lay flat on the roof so she could continue to watch. He’d only see her if he looked straight up and even then he mightn’t notice her. Any other day, and she might go down to speak to him, or throw him a smile and a wave, but the book she’d stolen from him was at the forefront of her mind.
Although… technically Lila had been the one who’d taken it, and she’d liberated it, Ladybug didn’t think Adrien would understand that difference. Especially since she couldn’t give it back.
“Gotta find her,” Adrien muttered and thrust his hand through his hair again and fumbled through his bag for his cell. She wasn’t close enough to see what was on his screen, but she wondered who this ‘her’ was.
The library door creaked open. “Monsieur Agreste?”
Adrien spun. “Mademoiselle Joly! Is it possible I could enter? I know it’s early.”
“Can I help you with anything?”
“I might’ve accidently left a book here yesterday. It wasn’t a library book, but something from my father’s personal library. And now I seem to have misplaced it. Did you find a book which didn’t belong?”
Ladybug stifled a gasp. He was looking for the book. She’d been hoping against all odds that it had been an accidental find in the library, but it was his father’s book. Which meant she’d stolen from not only Adrien, but her fashion idol as well.
“I’m sorry, dear, I didn’t see anything out of ordinary. What was the book? I can keep an eye out for it.”
“Would you mind if I had a quick look around?”
Ladybug couldn’t see Mademoiselle Joly, but by Adrien’s sudden shift in stance, it seemed she allowed him into the library. Adrien disappeared and the door swung shut behind him.
Sitting back from the edge, Ladybug glanced around and focussed on the rooftops of neighbouring buildings. No Chat Noir and she’d waited the time she said she was going to, plus extra more. She really didn’t know what she should do, but the school would start filling with students soon and she’d have less of a chance to sneak in.
A quick count to ten, she dropped down from the roof and onto the upper balcony and ducked behind a pillar to de-transform.
“We’ll try again at lunch,” Marinette told Tikki as she opened her purse so the kwami could hide inside.
“It’s odd that he didn’t come.”
“There’s no akuma,” Marinette said. “I didn’t do the alert button, just the ‘I want to talk’. If he doesn’t come at lunch, I’ll issue an alert.”
Tikki nodded and accepted the cookie Marinette took from her school bag, then curled up at the bottom of Marinette’s purse. “That would be best. It’s imperative that we talk to him soon.”
“Yeah, I know. And we will.” With a sigh, Marinette turned away from the library and trotted down the stairs. She sat at the bottom to wait for Alya and dragged out her sketchbook so she could doodle while she waited.
She was doodling cat ears when a pair of jeans appeared beside her, then Adrien slumped down on the stairs next to her. “Hey Marinette. Good morning.”
Hearing her name spill from his lips sent a delighted tingle rippling down her spine. She couldn’t control her reactive hunch of her shoulders and small eep, but she certainly could control the deep breath and bright smile which came after. “G-good morning,” she spluttered and concentrated harder on steadying her voice. “You’re here early.”
“I could say the same for you,” he said, smiling. “I’m used to you rushing in last minute.”
“Trying something new,” she said. “I doubt it will last.”
“Well, at least you’re trying, right?” Dropping his eyes, he glanced at her sketch pad. “Cats?”
She flicked her eyes down and flushed. “Oh. Um… yeah. Well. I was just… I mean… doodling. Not thinking… you know.” Internally, she scolded herself and tried not to cringe.
He nodded. “Pretty cute.” He pointed. “I like the ears on that one.”
“Cats are cute,” she said and admired her handiwork. “I like their toes. They’re like little beans.” She babbled, unable to help herself. “I love it when you rub their toes when they purr and they spread their paw as wide as it can go and make a little ‘mrrp’ sound.”
He looked pleased. “You have a cat?”
Chat Noir flashed in her mind and she wondered if he’d spread his hand if she patted his palm. Shaking her head, she banished that thought. Ducking her head, she said, “Sort of. A stray more than anything, I guess you could call him. He hangs around sometimes.”
He smiled, then lost it and turned away to stare straight forward. With hunched shoulders, he rested his elbows on his knees and stared out at the courtyard.
Marinette chewed on her bottom lip, then decided she should be a good friend. “Is something wrong?”
He sighed. “Yeah… I just…” He puffed out a long breath and stared at his palms. “It’s nothing.”
Marinette tilted her head at him, wondering if she should mention the book. Perhaps give him some clue it wasn’t lost. But what could she say?
A thought flittered across Adrien’s face and his spine straightened in response. One of his feet slipped from the stair it rested on. “Lila,” he blurted, hopeful. “I need to see her.”
Her stomach filled with bees, not butterflies. And they stung. “Oh.” She’d been wrong. It could get worse. Her tongue felt too thick for her mouth and air grated against her vocal chords as she managed to say, “You… you… Lila?” Lila was the ‘her’?
“I’m sorry,” he said, turning his head to give her a smile. “I need to go. See you in class.”
Her body felt like it no longer had any bones in it as she melted against the stairs to watch him walk away from her.