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Don't Do This to Me

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Adrien Agreste stepped out of the airport and breathed in French air for the first time in three weeks. It smelled like home, and as his driver opened the limo door for him, he felt overwhelmingly tired.

It had been a long flight. Even in first class, he couldn't seem to get any sleep on the plane. There was too much turbulence. Eight hours of turbulence. Something about winter weather and the Atlantic. He managed to read an entire book, though, since his bodyguard was the only person sitting next to him and was not a conversationalist. It was a pretty good book.

His father had been pleased with the reception of his latest fashion line in New York, and he had been even more pleased to introduce his model son to American fashion icons. As a reward for being on his best behavior, Adrien was given an envelope with tickets to several Broadway shows before his father flew back to France a week early. Adrien would have preferred to see the shows with his father, but he had long since resigned himself to being neglected. At least he got to see the shows. They were amazing.

When the limo stopped abruptly, Adrien had to force his eyes to open. He thought he was home, but when he looked through the tinted glass window, he saw people running from the streets and abandoning their vehicles.

An akuma would be the first thing to greet him after three weeks of stress and an eight hour flight. He pushed open the door and joined the fleeing crowd until he found a secluded area to transform. It took a while, since there were so many people, and he didn't really have the energy to hurry.

“Plagg?” He said, leaned back against a dumpster.

“Do I have to?” his kwami whined. “I haven't had any Camembert in like a whole day!”

Adrien sighed. “I know, but you ate most of my in-flight meal, so that has to count.”

“Count for what? That wasn't quality.”

“Plagg, just transform me, would you?”

Chat Noir emerged from an alleyway to finally see what was holding up the traffic. It was Ladybug. He leapt across the tops of vehicles until he reached her. “What’s up, LB?” He asked.

She gave him an odd look, and he wondered if it was because he hadn't greeted her the way he normally would. He felt much more energized now that he was transformed, but he knew he wasn’t bringing his A-game. “Stopping traffic with your beauty, I see,” he said with a smile.

She rolled her eyes at him and tried to hide a grin. “Where have you been?” she asked.

“This cat’s got a busy civilian life, my lady,” he replied. “Bit of a surprise, I know. Why are you clearing the street?”

“This akuma is...um… Oh!” Ladybug ducked, grabbing Chat’s arm and dragging him behind a car as an oversized tire flew in their direction. They cringed as they heard it smash into some cars and set off dozens of car alarms. “There was a car accident - no major injuries or anything, but one of the drivers has been akuma-tized,” she explained.

Chat’s sensitive ears twitched, bothered by the car alarms. He peeked over the car and could see a red giant of a man made of car parts like a walking scrapyard. “I’ll show you a crash,” the man bellowed, and all of the cars around them revved to life.

“Can you distract him?” Ladybug asked.

He nodded and launched himself toward the villain. “You've got some serious road rage!” He shouted, trying to be heard over the engines and car alarms. In his peripheral vision, Chat could see Ladybug swing out of harm’s way, and he smiled.

“I will WRECK YOU!” The villain threatened, and all of the vehicles on the road started driving toward the feline superhero, who scrambled for safety, losing his footing and almost getting hit by a car before Ladybug’s yo-yo yanked him out of harm’s way.

Chat saluted her and freed himself from the yo-yo string before hurling himself at the akuma again. He got hit by a tire that sent him flying, and all the cars chased after him. He rolled with his landing and hopped back to his feet. He used cataclysm on the delivery van that was about to run him down, but several more cars followed, and he propelled himself away using his baton. He either wasn't fast enough or made a mistake in his judgement because a car rammed his baton, and he found himself falling toward the road.

If it weren't for the car engines alarms, he would have heard Ladybug call for her lucky charm. He would have hit the ground if a truck hadn't slammed into his falling body first. Adrenaline coursed through him as he slammed into a wall in the very same alley where he had transformed.

His ring flew off his finger and rolled under the dumpster. Adrien blinked stars from his eyes.

“It's under here,” Plagg shouted, diving beneath the dumpster in search of the Miraculous.

The alley was too narrow for most of the cars to go down, but a little electric car managed it just fine and sped toward the stunned superhero’s civilian form.

Adrien stumbled toward the dumpster and tried to roll it out of the way to reach his ring. It barely budged, but it was enough for Plagg to emerge victorious, holding the ring out to its Chosen. Adrien slipped it back on as the electric car plowed into the heavy dumpster, which, in turn, plowed into Adrien.

He’d managed to keep his ring on this time, but the spots in his vision weren't nearly as easy to blink away.

“Kid? Kid! Talk to me!” Plagg headbutted Adrien and patted his cheeks.

“Plagg?” Adrien breathed.

“Say the thing, kid.”

“Claws out,” he mumbled.

Chat Noir emerged from the alley a second time, but this time he came out on the roof instead of the street. Maintaining his footing was tricky because he was seeing double, but it was better than getting hit by another car.

He relaxed when he saw his partner's Miraculous Cure bathe the city in pink light, and he dropped gently off the roof. She didn't really need him, and as he felt the curative magic move through his own injured body, he thought he could probably just call it a day. It felt warm and tingly, the way he always felt when he saw her.

Adrien Agreste walked out of the same alley and promptly got hit by a car.

Some robbers were using the akuma to cover up their crime and to steal a car while it was abandoned in the street. They were pulling into the alley to wait for the right time to make their getaway, since sitting in traffic with a stolen vehicle full of stolen jewelry while the cops were present seemed like a terrible idea.

Adrien blinked up at the sky and could hear Plagg’s voice telling him to “move, kid, you need to MOVE before these guys get out and realize who you are.” With a small boost from his kwami, Adrien managed to scramble behind the dumpster and transform again. Third time in one day and in the same alley.

He leaned against the brick of the building next to him and waited for his head to clear. It didn't. He heard a car door slam and footsteps approach him.

“Nah, man, I wanted to rob a jewelry store not run over a dude. Are you okay?” A pair of legs came into Chat Noir’s view and then backed up. “Holy crap, guys, it’s Chat Noir!”

“Leave him, man!”

“I just hit freaking Chat Noir with a car, dude, I wanna make sure he's okay.”

“Both of you are idiots. If we take him, we can offer Hawkmoth a deal: lots of cash in exchange for the cat miraculous.”

“What the heck, dude!? We got the diamonds, we don't need more cash than that. What kind of monsters would we be to work with Hawkmoth like that?”

“Just leave him, man! We got enough problems and don't need no superhero to add to them.”

Chat snarled instinctively as hands reached toward him. The hands backed off, the feet ran away, and a few minutes later, a car door closed. The car that hit him sped off into the city. He was alone.

And then he heard her voice. “Chat Noir?”

Chapter Text

Ladybug had just transformed again and started searching for her partner when she heard suspicious sounds in an alleyway and paused on the rooftop to listen in. She didn't like what she heard, and she was about to step in before the thieves spooked and left. She jumped off the roof and approached her partner carefully.

He was leaning up against a wall, his head hanging forward and his knees bent like he had tried to get up but failed. His hands rested on the ground by his sides. Blood matted some of his hair and dripped into a growing little puddle beneath him. He seemed to be staring, eyes half lidded, at the puddle.

She let out a small gasp and started to reach toward him before she remembered that he had growled at the last person to reach for him. She let him hear her voice first, hoping that would help.

“Chat Noir?”

He made a soft sound in the back of his throat and curled his hands.

Bending down so their faces were level, Ladybug tried again. “Chat Noir? Please look at me.” Cautiously, she reached forward and touched his face, gently lifting his chin.

“Are you real?” he whispered when his unfocused green eyes met hers.

“I'm real, kitten. I'm here.”

“Good,” he breathed, closing his eyes. “I missed you.”

“Chat? Chat, please open your eyes. Talk to me?”

Chat muttered something almost completely unintelligible about being tired and asked her not to worry. She responded by lifting him up by the arms and pulling him onto her back. It wasn't easy - not because he was too heavy, but because he was so much taller than her. After his last growth spurt, she only came up to his chest.

When she realized he wasn't able to hold on, she had to move him around so he was in front of her, his arms draped limply over hers as she gripped tightly around his back. It would have to do. She swung her yo-yo with her free hand and latched onto a nearby chimney.

She and Alya had a small flat nearby, but it felt like it took ages to reach. The only thing that kept her from panicking was a small whimper from Chat when she landed too hard on a roof. He was still conscious.

“Hold on, kitty, we’re almost there.”

Ladybug breathed a sigh of relief when she landed on her own apartment’s balcony and glanced around to make sure she wasn't spotted.

“We made it, Chat,” she said, opening the doors and dragging her partner inside. She laid him out on her bed and detransformed.

“Oh!” Tikki squeaked in surprise when she saw Chat Noir on the bed. She looked at Marinette. “Your identity?” She asked softly.

“This is way more important, Tikki. I'm calling Master Fu.”

---

Master Fu arrived fifteen minutes after Marinette’s frantic phone call. She ushered him inside almost as soon as he knocked and guided him toward her bedroom.

The scene in her room didn't surprise him, given what he had been told on the phone. “Ah! He is still transformed - that is good,” Master Fu said, entirely for Marinette’s benefit. It was good that Chat Noir was still transformed: it meant that his kwami was working his protective magic. It was also potentially bad, since if his kwami was maintaining the transformation for his health, he was still in some danger.

“H-he made a s-sound earlier - before we got here - b-but he hasn't made a sound since. Sh-should I have taken him to the hospital?”

Master Fu smiled at Marinette. “No, Ladybug,” he reassured her, “you did well. What would a hospital have done with a transformed Chat Noir?”

She sniffled, but nodded. And then the front door opened, and she cringed.

“Guess whose last class got cancelled today!” Alya’s voice called. A few minutes later, she knocked on Marinette’s bedroom door. “UM. Hey, Marinette, are you okay?”

“Ye-yes!” Marinette squeaked against her closed door, and then in a firmer voice, she added, “I'm fine!”

“Okay, good! But uh… Do you mind explaining why there’s blood in the living room?” Alya jiggled the door handle, but Marinette held it firm, twisting the lock as she did so.

“I-uh-oh-is there?”

“Yeah! It goes from the balcony to your room, actually. Girl, you had better open this door, or I will bust it down. Don't test me.”

Marinette looked desperately at Master Fu for advice, a suggestion, anything, but Master Fu busied himself with Chat.

“Alright, I'm gonna give you till the count of three, and then we aren't getting that security deposit back,” Alya threatened. “One… two…”

Marinette yanked open the door. “Please don't,” she said, face to face with her friend.

Alya grabbed her shoulders. “Are you okay!?”

“Y-yes, I'm fine, but…”

Alya was already looking past her at the superhero on the bed. “No. Way.”

Chapter Text

Marinette squeaked and shoved Alya back into the hall as she slammed the door. She leaned back against it, and her eyes darted between Chat Noir and Master Fu. She had potentially just ruined everything.

“Marinette!” Alya yelled. “Fine! Whatever!”

Master Fu glanced her way and offered her a smile. “Why don't you go deal with your friend? I can handle Chat Noir for now.”

Taking a deep breath to steady herself, Marinette opened the door and stepped out, making sure to twist the lock and close it securely before she looked around the living area and kitchen. Alya had been right - there was a trail of blood from the balcony to her bedroom, and if she were Alya, she would have been worried, too. Marinette checked the balcony, where there was a small puddle of blood. Poor Chat, she thought. She hoped he would be okay; she had never seen him this hurt before.

Slowly, Marinette returned to the hall and stood in front of Alya’s room. She wasn't sure what she was going to tell her. The truth would probably have been more complicated than a lie - I’ve been your favorite superhero since we were kids, and I never told you even though we're best friends, but it's okay because Chat Noir doesn't know who I am either, and he's my other best friend. And now he's here because he's hurt and I panicked.

“Alya?” She said in a small voice as she knocked. “Um… Please let me in?”

Alya opened her door and peeked at Marinette, who tried to look as sorry as possible. Sighing, she opened the door wider and ushered her friend inside. “Tell. Me. Everything.” She commanded.

Marinette rubbed her arm and smiled awkwardly. Her face felt strange, like her nose and mouth were no longer aligned, and her smile would float off into space because it was so fake. “Well, um, Ch-Chat Noir got injured today,” she began.

“Yeah, girl, I saw that. Why is he in your bed? Why is there a blood trail from our balcony? Did he let himself in and decide to crash in your room? Like what…”

“What? Oh, uh, L-Ladybug brought him,” she said. It was the closest she could come to the truth.

“Ladybug!? Why would she bring Chat Noir here!? Why didn't she take him to a hospital like anybody else!?”

“W-well,” Marinette swallowed hard, trying to think of a good reply without sounding so nervous. “She said she found him nearby and couldn't take him to a hospital because of his secret identity and all, and she had me call, uh, her friend, who is seeing to him now.”

“Wow. Oh wow. Okay.” Alya was pacing. “Why here, though? Why our place?”

“Uh, she told me that it's because she and Chat know both of us, and they think we’re trustworthy? Th-that we won't give away his secret.” She hoped Alya would understand what she was not so subtly trying to say.

“Wow,” Alya repeated, “of course. They're on like a first name basis with both of us, aren't they? I do interviews with them all the time, and you've helped them out and have been saved by them lots of times.” She bounced up and down. “Oh wow, it's so cool to be trusted by superheroes like that. Don't you think that's cool, Mari?”

Marinette smiled feebly. “Yeah, I guess. But Chat Noir was unconscious when Ladybug brought him in, so I'm a little worried.”

“That old guy was Ladybug’s friend? He's helping Chat, right? That's so cool. I'm sure if Ladybug trusts him to help, everything will be fine.” Alya always had faith in Ladybug, and Marinette wished she could be just as confident in herself.

But she couldn't. She had no idea what happened to Chat. Getting hit by a car shouldn't have done this to him, and that's all she overheard from her perch above the alleyway. She's glad she decided to go looking for him after the battle for once. He'd seemed kind of off, and she’d had a weird feeling that something was wrong since he never came back to fist bump her.

She will never forget the feeling of finding him like that. She had always been so confident that he would be fine, and he always had been. He'd been thrown, kicked, hit, stomped on, almost squashed… and his suit and the miraculous cure protected him from all of it. He was so cheerful and supportive, always offering jokes and flattery, even after getting knocked around so hard.

He disappeared for three weeks - okay, he DID warn her that he was going somewhere but didn't say where - came back, and this. He said he missed her. Stupid cat. She missed him, too. Of course. They'd spent so much time together over the years that it felt weird for him not to be with her for just a couple of weeks. Why did she always take him for granted?

“Girl, why are you crying?” Alya asked, wrapping her arms around her. “Chat Noir will be alright. You've just gotta believe in him. He's a superhero: he’s pretty tough.”

Sniffling, Marinette leaned her head on Alya’s shoulder. “You know, under that mask he's just a normal guy, right? It's whoever that is that I'm worried about.”

Alya chuckled. “Mari, you worry too much. He's here with us, so we get to check up on him and make sure that he's okay, so you don't need to worry. We’ll take good care of him.” She paused a moment. “Do you think we’ll get to find out his real identity?”

Marinette squeaked. “Alya, we can’t! It's secret for a reason - I bet even Ladybug doesn't know!”

“Why wouldn't Ladybug know? First off, I'm convinced they're practically dating. And second: What if something - you know, like this - happened, and he wasn't transformed and somebody else found him? How would she rescue him or know where to look or even know that something happened?”

“And you think I worry too much?” Marinette sniffled. “I'm going to go check on him. You stay here, and I'll be right back with news, okay?” She slipped out of Alya’s room and back into her own.

“How is your friend?” Master Fu asked. He was sitting in the plush armchair in the corner of the room near her sewing table. Her room was crowded with stuff, and she realized with mild embarrassment that she hadn't cleaned in a while because she had been working on a project.

“Alya is… okay. With this,” she gestured to the superhero on her twin bed.

“Ah,” Master Fu stood. “Well, I am finished here for today. I'm not sure how long his transformation will hold, so please give me a call if anything changes. He will need rest and time. Probably lots of both. Make sure he stays hydrated. And feed him, if you can. He might be your house guest for a while. Go easy on him.”

“O-oh, okay,” Marinette stammered. She thought back to what Alya said about Chat’s identity, and she felt her chest tighten. If he was going to be their house guest, how would his identity remain secret? She walked Master Fu to the door silently. She knew how he felt about her desperation to keep her own civilian identity a secret from her partner, so she didn't bring it up. Master Fu believed that if they trusted one another, it might be wise to share their secret.

“Thank you for all of your help,” she said, bowing slightly in deference. “I'll call you if anything changes.” Closing the door, she made up her mind about how to handle Chat’s secret. She knew he couldn't stay transformed forever, and expecting him to transform every time she or Alya interacted with him would be impossible. So, she would just have to make him a mask.

She smiled at her own resolve and went to tell Alya what Master Fu had said.

Chapter Text

Nestled into her armchair, Marinette listened to the sound of Chat Noir breathing as she fashioned a mask for him from some black scrap fabric. Alya had cleared a space for herself on the floor and was trying to read a textbook. Neither of them were able to concentrate, and they frequently looked toward the sleeping superhero. Master Fu had expertly wrapped Chat’s head injury. His chest rose and fell heavily, as if breathing was a struggle.

Both girls jumped when the doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” Alya volunteered.

She returned to the room within minutes, Master Fu in tow. “We didn't expect to see you back so soon… What was your name again?”

“Fu. And I had to gather some supplies to be able to better address our young friend’s needs.”

“Master Fu!” Marinette jumped out of her chair. “I'm so glad you're back! It sounds like he's having a hard time breathing - like, it's louder when he breathes out, I think, and he's so pale.”

“His injuries are very serious,” Master Fu replied, setting down a bag. “I brought some things to help, but we will need some privacy.”

“Oh! Yes, of course!” Marinette gathered up her project and dragged Alya from the room.

The two girls settled onto the sofa in the living room and waited. At first, they were too anxious to say much about anything, and Marinette couldn't even do much more than stare at the mask in her hands.

Other than Alya, Chat was her best friend. In many ways, she was closer to him than she was Alya, even though he didn't know her true identity. He was loyal, kind, patient, supportive, funny (even if she tried not to admit it)... And she had never once questioned whether or not the trouble he got into in battle - half of which she caused, throwing him around like some sort of rag doll or boomerang - would actually put him in danger. The more she thought about it, the more she felt undeserving of such a good partner.

Something eventually brought Alya out of her own quiet reverie because she suddenly said, “You're making a mask?”

Startled, Marinette blinked and realized that her fingers had resumed their work without her knowledge, and the mask was almost finished. “Y-yeah. He can't stay transformed forever, and he would probably like to keep his secret identity secret, you know?”

“Oh, yeah, that makes sense. It's nice of you.” Alya was very subdued. Marinette realized that Alya had probably never considered anything this serious happening to Paris’s feline superhero, either. “Do you think Ladybug will come back for him? Maybe they have a safe house somewhere where he could recover?”

“Um…” She had never even considered a safe house before, but even if she had, she didn't know how to get one or where. She remembered Chat bringing it up at least once. She probably laughed at him for implying they were super spies or something. She probably told him he had watched too many movies. Maybe he had one anyway. She had just considered her own home, her own room to be her safe space, and now this apartment. “Maybe?”

“I mean, it's cool if we get to look after him. Ladybug is a busy superhero, after all, but I feel bad for him.”

“You're not going to put any of this on the Ladyblog, are you?” Marinette asked, suddenly worried.

“Oh. God. No.” Alya stared at her with wide eyes. “Who wants to advertise that they have an injured superhero in their home? It's like waving a white flag or inviting all the local creeps in for cocktails. No.”

“Sorry, I just remembered how into finding out their identities you were when we were kids.”

Alya laughed. “Well, for one thing, we were kids. We aren't kids anymore, Mari. We’re in college. And for another, I'm still totally curious about who they are, because they're awesome, but I'd never tell anyone if I found out. Maybe I'd tell you or Nino. But definitely not the entire city.”

Marinette laughed nervously. “Of course.”

They fell into uneasy silence again, both of them wondering what was taking Master Fu so long.

Finally, Marinette’s bedroom door opened, and Master Fu shuffled out. He didn't seem any more or less concerned than usual, and Marinette was frustrated by his composure. She couldn't read his face.

“How is he?” The girls spoke almost in unison.

He smiled kindly at them. “His injuries were quite serious, but he will live. Make sure he stays hydrated and well fed, and be gentle with him, like I said. It's going to take time for him to heal. I have left instructions in your room, Marinette. Also, I am leaving you with some cheese. I think you'll figure out why soon enough. Feel free to call if you need anything or if anything changes. I will see myself out.”

Alya hopped up to walk the older man to the door, and Marinette rushed into her bedroom to check on her partner. Master Fu had covered him with her quilt this time, and he looked weirdly peaceful. The sight of him lying so still was a bit disconcerting, but his breathing seemed improved, and Tikki smiled at her from where she sat by his shoulder.

Marinette held up the mask she had finished to show Tikki, but Tikki suddenly hid herself in the quilt..

“Are you really going to put that thing on him?” Alya asked as she walked into the room.

“Well… yeah.” She had already made up her mind about it. She had been okay with him possibly finding out her identity earlier, when she was trying to save his life, but he didn't. And she didn't feel right about finding out his identity accidentally if she had the opportunity to protect it. “We are helping him, not taking advantage of his condition.”

“You're too pure, girl,” Alya laughed. “He's less pale now. I wonder when he’ll wake up.”

Marinette gently placed the new mask over his Chat Noir mask. “Oh, I think this will work nicely.” The mask covered a little less of his nose but more of the rest of his face, and she had made the eye holes big enough, which was what she was most worried about. With his eyes closed, it was hard to tell where his eyelids were because the magic mask covered them. But she had looked at his face roughly every other day for four years now, so her estimate was good.

She could feel his soft breath on her arm as she gently cradled his head to fasten the mask. After she tied the mask, she ran her fingers along the bandage on Chat’s head. She always hated it when he got hurt, but this was so different from all the other times. She felt like crying. It wasn't until Alya cleared her throat that Marinette realized it might be a bit strange for a civilian to be so cavalier while handling an injured superhero.

Marinette carefully let his head rest back on her pillow and looked sheepishly at her roommate. “Well, the mask fits,” she announced.

Alya nodded but raised her eyebrow.

Chapter Text

Whatever Alya had thought about Marinette putting a fake mask on Chat Noir, she kept it to herself. Grateful, Marinette didn't mention it, either. She was too worried about Chat to be worried about Alya’s suspicions.

After they did their best to clean up the blood trail Chat left across the apartment, Alya went to bed, and Marinette tried to sleep on the couch. Her attempts were unsuccessful, and she eventually made a little nest on the floor next to her bed. There, she could hear him breathing, and it helped her relax. Tikki even nestled up between Marinette’s arms and her oversized cat pillow.

“I'm sure it will be okay, Marinette,” Tikki whispered. “Plagg is trying his best to help.”

“Plagg?” Marinette frowned. “Chat’s kwami?”

“Yes, exactly. He's a troublemaker, but he's got a heart of gold. He’s keeping Chat Noir transformed as long as he can to help him heal faster.”

“That's what Master Fu said,” Marinette replied sleepily. “I'm glad. I don't know what I'd do without Chat,” she admitted. “It's hard to see him like this.”

“Of course. Nobody likes to see their friends get hurt, and he's more than a friend. He's your partner.”

“Sometimes I feel like he deserves a better partner than me, Tikki.”

“Marinette, you're amazing, and he appreciates you. You're just tired. Please try to get some sleep?”

“I’ll try… no promises, though.” Marinette snuggled into her pillow and watched the silhouette of Chat’s chest rise and fall. There was just enough light filtering in through the curtains for her to see his silhouette and a small patch of blond hair.

Her heart hurt. Usually, if they were together at this hour, they were sparring on rooftops or talking about life - not details, but feelings and ideas, which somehow felt more personal than details ever could. She wanted him to roll over and look at her with his reflective green eyes. She wanted him to smile the way he did just for her when they were alone. She wanted so much from him, and it hurt.

Drifting off to sleep, Marinette pictured Chat Noir as he was a month ago. Cheerful and energetic, pressing her knuckles to his lips the way he so often did.

My lady,” he said, his voice low. His eyes said so much more, but she couldn't read them. Suddenly, his eyes lost their sparkle, and he looked exhausted, like he had that morning.

She tried to speak, but no words came. He looked away from her. “I'm tired,” he whispered. “Let me sleep.” Stumbling, he fell off the roof into an alley, and she heard screeching tires.

“Chat Noir!” She yelled. Cried. She jumped into the alley and cradled him in her arms. “Chat! Please!”

“Stop making such a fuss,” he told her, sitting up and looking at her as if nothing had happened. Something was strange about his voice. “You're going to wake him up,” his new voice continued, “be quiet!”

Marinette felt something pressing against her wet cheek and heard Tikki’s voice. “It's a nightmare, Plagg, she's dreaming. Marinette, please wake up.”

“Tikki?” Forcing herself awake, Marinette sat up and looked around. She could hear Chat Noir breathing again, ragged but regular. Blinking to adjust her eyes, she realized there was a dark shape floating in front of her and held out her hands. She felt the weight of a kwami rest on them.

“Marinette, this is Plagg,” Tikki said quietly, floating close to her ear. “Chat’s kwami.”

“Nice to meet you,” she whispered, rubbing the little kwami’s head with her thumbs. She could feel fur and cat ears. “Are you okay? Do you need anything? Is Chat going to be okay?”

“Cheese” was all Plagg said in response.

“Oh. Do we have -”

“Master Fu left a bag of supplies,” Tikki announced. “I meant to tell you earlier. It's on the chair.”

Marinette stood and carefully made her way to the chair. Switching on the light behind it, she discovered there was a bag on the chair. She felt silly for not seeing it before she turned off the lights to go to sleep. She looked inside and saw a wide collection of things, but most importantly, a wheel of Camembert. She pulled it out and opened it, and Chat’s kwami - Plagg - devoured it messily from his place in her hand.

“You're really cute,” she told him.

“Don't tell him that,” Tikki chided, giggling. “He's already incorrigible.”

“Thanks,” Plagg said with a tiny belch. “I can never hear that enough. I'm exhausted. Is there any more cheese?”

She looked in the bag and pulled out another wheel. “I think there's one more after this one and then whatever we have in the kitchen. Which is… a mystery.”

“Gimme,” Plagg made grabby motions at the second wheel with his paws.

While he ate, Marinette glanced at her partner. Detransformed, his hair seemed less wild. Still blond, but a slightly different shade. She could see his closed eyelids through the holes in the mask she made him, and that was a little weird.

“I think it's funny you made him a mask,” Plagg said.

“She's trying to protect his identity,” Tikki replied. “I think it's sweet.”

Plagg snorted. “Are you kidding? He would love it if Ladybug knew who he was. It's been so long he's starting to get a complex about it. Humans are so weird.”

Marinette frowned. “It's safer this way,” she muttered, although she wasn't sure she believed that anymore.

“Whatever you say, but I have to listen to him, so I think it's dumb. Especially now.”

She sighed. “Thank you for protecting him. I know it was probably hard to stay transformed for so long… so, thank you.”

Plagg beamed for a moment before suddenly drooping. “It was hard,” he agreed. “I need more cheese, or I might faint.”

Marinette raised her eyebrows and pulled out the third wheel of cheese. “This is the last one Master Fu brought,” she said, unwrapping it, “I hope it's enough.”

“Marinette,” Tikki giggled as Plagg began happily devouring his third wheel of cheese. “He's okay. He’s just being dramatic.”

“Hey,” he grumbled, his mouth full, “don't give away my secrets. You're no fun.”

“Oh, I see,” Marinette said, smiling, “you really are a bit of a troublemaker.”

“I'm no such thing!” He huffed. “I just like cheese.”

“Okay, well you've eaten all the cheese now, so I'm going to turn off the light and go back to sleep. It's nice to finally meet you, though.” Marinette offered Plagg another smile before turning off the light and crawling back into her nest on the floor. She had a lot of questions for Chat Noir’s kwami and wasn't sure where to start. She was too tired to process any answers he might have for her, anyway.

Morning came too soon. Marinette was plagued by nightmares and spent most of the night awake just listening to Chat’s breathing. Plagg was on the pillow by his chosen’s head, much like Tikki was by hers, so she knew that she didn't really need to worry… but she was Marinette, and worrying was one of her skills.

Opening the door to check on Chat, Alya accidentally startled Marinette, who sat bolt upright. “Oh, hey girl, I thought you were on the couch, sorry,” Alya whispered. “How’s he doing?”

“H-he’s detransformed,” Marinette whispered back, scrambling out of the blankets twisted around her legs.

Alya’s eyebrows rose, and for once, she didn't know what to say. Marinette pulled her into the living room and folded her arms against the morning chill.

“He, um… detransformed some time last night,” she explained. “I met his - uh - kwami, who is what allows him to transform into Chat Noir.”

“Kwami?”

“Like a, um… basically he’s kind of a… god.” Cringing, she realized she should probably have rehearsed what she was going to tell Alya, but it was too late now. “He -oh- this is, this is Plagg. Plagg, this is Alya.”

Plagg had apparently followed them from the room and had floated up near Marinette’s shoulder. “Hi. You're that blogger, right?”

Alya stared at him with her mouth open. Marinette remembered what it was like to first meet Tikki, and she bit back a smile. At least Alya wasn't screaming.

Chapter Text

Adrien blinked his eyes open and focused on the thin pink curtains hanging on the window next to the bed. It was strange: he didn't recognize them. His eyes followed them up to the ceiling, which he also didn't recognize, and then over to the rest of the room.

It was a cramped space, with an oversized armchair in the corner across from the bed, on the other side of a dresser, a dress form next to the chair, and a sewing table. As Adrien propped himself up on his elbows, he discovered a small computer desk wedged between the foot of the bed and the wall, and imagined that the desk chair would need to be moved before the closet door would open. The bedroom door barely had enough room to swing inward without hitting the sewing table.

He wondered for a brief moment if he had been kidnapped by a crazed fashion designer, but sudden awareness of pain in his arms and ribs reminded him of the day before.

Cars. He remembered lots of cars, loud car noises, the scent of rubber and exhaust fumes. He dropped back onto the bed, his head spinning. The sound of his own groaning surprised him.

“Chat Noir?”

Her voice came from the floor, and for a split second, he thought Ladybug was speaking to him. Turning his head slowly, he found himself face to face with Marinette. Her eyes were so blue, staring into his own with concerned surprise. He blinked slowly, trying to focus on the sound coming from her mouth.

She was asking something about water, and Adrien realized that his mouth was so dry his throat hurt. Suddenly, her arm snaked under his shoulders, and she pulled him up, cradling his head against her chest and holding a water bottle to his dry lips. The liquid flooded his mouth, and he started to choke before he found his ability to swallow again.

When she pulled the bottle away, he frowned, feeling as though he might be thirsty forever. But he also felt as though he'd never have enough oxygen, either, so he opened his mouth to take a deep breath. His lungs expanded against his ribs, and excruciating pain halted his breathing altogether. It hurt. When he was finally able to release the breath he had been holding, it came out as a low involuntary whine. Emptying his lungs felt almost as bad as filling them, and as he tried to take another breath, he coughed, which hurt worse and elicited another whine.

He could hear Marinette talking, the sound of her voice strangely calming, but he couldn't understand her. He felt like he couldn't breathe, and the more he tried, the more it hurt. He wasn't sure when he had started crying, but he could hear his own choked sobs as if they were coming from somewhere else. His pain was becoming distant, too, as darkness pressed in around him.

A familiar cat-like figure seemed to materialize in front of his face, and Adrien attempted to use him as a focal point.

“Kid, you gotta breathe,” Plagg told him, his little voice oddly serious. “You're okay, it just hurts. Breathe through it.”

Adrien gasped for air. It's just pain, it's just pain, it’s just pain, he mentally chanted as his gasps became more and more desperate. He was starting to panic, and the more he tried to breathe through it, the more panic he felt. His head was spinning, and Plagg was starting to spin with it.

“Look at me,” Plagg ordered, and Adrien tried to comply, but it was difficult.

Her voice close to his ear cut through the pain. “Chat, you need to transform now,” she said firmly. “Can you do that?”

He gasped, trying to find the right words and enough air to say them. The only sound that came out of his mouth when he tried to form words was a sob.

“Please transform,” she urged.

“C-claws out,” he managed finally. The transformation washed over him, and his lungs felt immediate relief. The darkness that had been threatening to overtake him was pushed back, and he breathed deeply before looking up at her.

“You're okay, you're okay,” she whispered, and he felt like she might have been saying it for a while.

“Marinette,” he said, his voice thick from crying. He had partially expected to see his lady, since he had imagined her having his lady’s voice.

She smiled, and he watched as her smile didn't quite reach her eyes. Her cheeks glistened. “Can you breathe now?”
She asked. He nodded.

“Are you still in a lot of pain?”

“A-a little,” he replied, “but not like… not like that.”

“That was pretty scary.”

“Y-yeah.” He was still a little amazed that oxygen was going in and out of his lungs with no trouble now. It still hurt - everything still hurt - but it was easier, and it didn't hurt nearly as much.

She shifted under him, and his eyes widened. Now that he was properly breathing again, she probably wanted to get up. He moved reluctantly, pushing himself up onto his elbows. The comforter on him was pink, and he realized with a bit of a shock that he must be in Marinette’s bedroom. Which explained why Marinette was here. It hadn't even occurred to him to wonder about that. “S-sorry.” His voice was still shaky.

“Sorry?” She crawled further onto the bed and pushed a pillow into the corner so she could lean on it.

“Is this your room?” He sat up and turned carefully to look at her.

“Yep. I share an apartment with Alya. Ladybug brought you here so we could look after you.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Does Alya know I’m here?” He wasn't sure how he felt about that. He loved Alya as a friend in his civilian life, but she was a fan and a reporter in his superhero life, and while he trusted her more than most of the fans or reporters he encountered as a famous model, he still had to be wary.

“She does, and she met your kwami,” Marinette said with a smile. “Plagg is funny… Your identity is safe,” she added after seeing the horrified look on Chat’s face. “Alya promised she has no interest in telling anyone who you are or where you are. I even made you an extra mask. You're safe here.”

He relaxed a bit. “Ladybug brought me here?” His ears drooped. He was grateful that his lady found him and brought him to safety, but he was a little disappointed that she left him with their acquaintances instead of taking him to stay with her.

“Yeah. She had, um, Master Fu come help you out.”

He had met Master Fu a couple of years ago and had gotten to know him pretty well since. Ladybug must have been very worried to call the Guardian to help out. Maybe she had her reasons for leaving him with Marinette and Alya. And that was actually lucky because he was already friends with both girls in both forms of himself, so it would be much less awkward than being anywhere else. He really was safe here.

“You look exhausted,” Marinette said. She tugged gently on his arm, and he allowed himself to be pulled down into her lap. “What happened to you?”

He rested his head on her thigh and blinked up at her. “I'm not really sure,” he admitted. “I remember cars. Car alarms… engine sounds, the smell of rubber and exhaust… but that's about it.”

“There was an akuma battle with cars yesterday,” she said, running her thumb along his cheek. That was probably the only part of him safe to touch.

His eyelids felt heavy, but he forced them open. “Yesterday?” he breathed.

“Mmhm,” she hummed. “It's okay to sleep, kitty. You need it. I'm not going anywhere.”

Chapter Text

Tugging on the hat Marinette knit for her, Alya braced herself against the cold wind racing down the street. The door to the grocery store chimed as it closed behind her, and she tightened her grip on the canvas grocery bag.

She had spent most of her morning class researching what to do for their injured friend, and she had made a shopping list accordingly. As soon as class let out, she practically ran to the store. She figured that Marinette had probably gone back to sleep after she left, but she texted her that she was at the store anyway, just in case. Marinette responded with, “he woke up but is asleep again.”

Alya almost jumped for joy before remembering she was alone and in public. She purchased everything on her list and headed out into the cold. The temperature seemed to have dropped since yesterday, and gray clouds rolled in, as if the world realized that one of its sources of warmth was injured.

Alya smiled to herself, thinking that if she were able to write about this, she would probably write one of the best articles of her young life. Maybe this could go in her memoirs one day instead.

She had always admired Chat Noir’s sunny disposition. That boy obviously had the power of destruction on his side, but aside from his outfit and his powers, there was very little dark about him. At least, as far as Alya could tell. She thought she was a pretty good judge, since the only people who knew more about Paris’s superhero duo were the superheroes themselves. She was their biggest fan, their most dedicated blogger, and the reporter who followed them around and interviewed them the most.

He was all puns and energy and smiles. The darkest he seemed to get in public, at least, was when he was a little jealous of Ladybug’s affections. Alya understood that; if Nino was super famous and fawned over all the time, she'd get jealous too. But she wouldn't be nearly as nice about it as Chat.

She climbed the four flights of stairs to their apartment and unlocked the door. The lights in the kitchen and living area were still off, and she slid her bag of groceries onto the counter before turning them on.

“Marinette?” She called softly, pushing open the door to Marinette’s room.

Marinette looked up from where she was sitting on the bed. Chat Noir’s head was in her lap, and she looked like she had been crying.

“Hey, girl,” Alya whispered, stepping over the blankets on the floor. “What happened?”

One of Marinette’s hands was in Chat’s hair while the other fluttered into the air. Alya glanced at the superhero, who was transformed again, and wondered where the bandage around Chat’s head had gone. Or his extra mask.

“He woke up a couple of hours ago,” Marinette explained, “and I gave him some water. But then he was in so much pain…” She sniffled. “I’ve never seen him -anyone, I mean- like that before. It was awful.”

“Is that why he's transformed back?”

“Y-yes. He couldn't seem to breathe, and… I asked him to do it. To transform.” Marinette looked miserable, and Alya stroked the top of her head while she talked. “He told me he didn't remember what happened to him.”

“Well, probably not with that head wound, girl. Poor cat probably has a concussion. But, hey! He talked to you, so that's something,” she offered her distraught friend a smile. “Do we need to call Master Fu?”

Marinette shook her head. “I already contacted him, and he just told me to follow the, um, instructions, that he left over there.” She gestured toward the armchair, where Alya found a bag full of medical supplies and a surprisingly minimal list. It made her proud of her research and purchases.

“Hey, I got some of this stuff - okay, actually, I got a bit more than what's here. Come out to the kitchen.” Alya was excited, and she wanted to be able to speak at a normal volume.

Looking down at Chat, Marinette frowned. “I’m afraid to leave him.”

“Girl. He's transformed. He’ll be okay.”

“You didn't see him earlier, Alya,” she said, her voice slightly accusatory.

Alya shrugged. “You're right, but I thought you might want to come out and see what I got… and maybe stretch your legs?”

Now that she thought about it, she could probably borrow a couple of baby monitors from her parents, so they could hear if Chat was awake or needed anything from another room. Not that their apartment wasn't small enough to hear him cry out… but better safe than sorry, and it might put Marinette more at ease. Which was something Alya wanted to discuss with her. But later.

First things first.

She helped Marinette slide out from underneath Chat Noir, easing his head onto a pillow in place of her thigh. They thought for a moment he was going to wake up, but he had just taken a deeper breath and released it as he relaxed into his new position.

They tried to tiptoe out of the room, but Marinette, clumsy as ever, tripped over the blankets she left on the floor, and Alya barely managed to save her from face planting into the sewing table.

“My leg fell asleep,” she complained as Alya tried to contain a snicker.

Neither one of them was particularly good at being quiet, but it didn't seem to bother their new house pet. Alya closed the bedroom door, despite Marinette’s protests, because she was planning on using the blender, and even if he could sleep through their whispers and hushed giggles, he might not be able to sleep through a kitchen blender.

“So,” Alya began, pulling purchases out of the bag for Marinette to put away.

“So?” She closed the refrigerator door on the orange juice.

“I feel like you have something you need to tell me.”

Marinette chewed her lip and studied the countertop. “His eyes are green,” she said, hushed, as if admitting something scandalous.

Raising a skeptical brow, Alya patted her shoulder. “Girl, I don't know how to tell you this, but everybody already knows. He’s got big green cat eyes. It’s his thing.”

“No, I mean… his real eyes. They're green.”

Alya felt her other eyebrow rise up. She wasn't sure what to say to that. It was a cool thing to know, but she would have been more excited about it if not for her best friend’s facial expression. “Are you going to cry again?” She asked.

Marinette nodded.

“Come here.” Alya held her arms out, and as Marinette buried her face in her shoulder, she wrapped around her. Rocking slightly, she stroked her friend’s head. “He’ll be okay. You know he will. He's tough.”

“I know,” she mumbled into Alya’s sweater.

“Girl… I get that it's upsetting to see him hurt. I'm sure it was super scary when he woke up earlier. And I know you care about people. It’s just, um, you seem… well… like you know him personally?” Alya was fairly certain that her best friend was hiding something from her. That she'd been hiding something from her for years. She knew how sensitive Marinette could be, so she never brought it up, but now seemed like an opportune time.

Marinette pulled away. “I-I’ve met him a few times, you know? H-helped him with stuff. I know him as well as you, probably, since you’ve, you know, done interviews and helped him with missions too.”

Alya sighed, rubbing her forehead. “Okay, okay.” Apparently, Marinette still wasn't ready to tell her the truth yet. Whatever the truth was. In any case, Alya was done with the awkwardness. She stepped away and pulled out a blender. “Here, peel this,” she instructed, handing Marinette a sweet potato.

The concoction they created was not attractive. Beetroot, kale, carrot, sweet potato, molasses, and orange juice - all blended until smooth.

“He is not going to like this,” Marinette said, giggling.

“He doesn't get to be picky, especially since we’re helping. Besides, it doesn't taste that bad.” She tasted some on a spoon and made a face. “It's healthy. It’ll help him build up his strength and like blood cells or something. I researched it, I swear!”

“I believe you! I just don't think he's going to like it.”

“He doesn't have to.” She poured the mixture into a cup. “He just has to drink it. Come on, let's see if he’ll do it.”

Following her, Marinette asked, “are we sure it's not going to be too much? Like maybe we should just try the orange juice by itself. Or water. He had a hard enough time with the water earlier.”

“He wasn't suited up earlier, either, was he? Whatever he doesn't drink, we’ll put in the fridge. No loss.” She opened the door to Marinette’s room. Chat Noir was exactly where they left him, still transformed and sleeping soundly.

Grabbing a water bottle (“just in case”), Marinette climbed up onto the bed and pulled Chat into her lap by his shoulders. “Hey kitty,” she said softly, “you need to wake up for a minute.”

Alya pursed her lips. The ease with which her friend manhandled an injured superhero… If Marinette didn't actually have a close relationship with that cat, Alya would be shocked. She was a little shocked as it was.

He blinked open hazy eyes, murmuring, “My lady?”

“Marinette,” she corrected, pulling him up a little higher in her lap. “And Alya.”

“Hey, Chat,” Alya said as his eyes focused on her. “We brought you something to drink.” She held the cup to his lips, and he narrowed his catlike eyes at her.

“It smells funny,” he grumbled, turning his face away.

“It's okay,” Marinette said. “We made it to help you feel better. If you don't like it, we’ll try something else.”

“You haven't eaten since yesterday, cat,” Alya told him, “and this is like a health food smoothie.”

He flicked his eyes toward her before giving in and turning his face back. Alya pressed the cup as gently as she could against his mouth and tipped it. He swallowed and coughed, reaching up with a clawed hand as Alya pulled the cup away because she was worried he was going to choke. His hand rested gently but shakily on hers, and he guided the cup back to his mouth and away as he needed.

He drank about half before pushing Alya’s hand away with finality. He took a moment to breathe and then quietly said, “thank you.”

“No problem,” Alya responded. “You just let us know if you need anything, alright?”

He gave a small nod and a yawn, shifting toward Marinette and burying his face in her shirt. She rubbed his back gently and then looked up at Alya with an alarmed expression. Alya rested her hand on his back at Marinette’s insistence, and she could feel vibration.

“What the -” She didn't get to finish her question before they both heard it.

A purr.

Chat Noir was purring.

Chapter Text

Nino checked his phone again. His own sent messages glowed at him, and he sighed. It was very unlike Adrien to just ignore his texts, especially if they had plans. If he’d gotten caught up in work or gotten in trouble with his dad, he would have let Nino know.

The lack of response was eating at him, and to make matters worse, Alya was also being uncharacteristically slow at responding to texts. She didn't seem to think it was a big deal that Adrien wasn't responding.

It wasn't just that Nino was disappointed; he was worried. He and Adrien had plans to meet up hours ago, and the last message he had received was that Adrien had arrived in Paris. Yesterday. He reread it (again) for any clues he might have missed.

Hey, buddy! :D Just landed in Paris (finally). I’m beat, but I'm definitely looking forward to hanging out tomorrow. I’ll text you later! :)

Adrien’s texts were usually grammatically correct, and he used lots of emojis because he was afraid his friends would misinterpret his messages. They had been friends long enough for Nino to be a pretty good judge of Adrien’s moods via text. If Adrien left out punctuation, he was half asleep or extremely upset. If he sent short messages without emojis, he was busy or irritated (or both).

Looking at that last text message, Nino couldn't see anything that would lead to Adrien purposely ignoring him. Not that Adrien usually did that… if he didn't want to talk, he’d usually say so. Something simple like “I just need some space” or “I'm not in the mood to chat right now.” He didn't like making people anxious by not responding to them. Nino imagined it was because Adrien spent so much of his life being ignored.

Alya offered Nino a handful of explanations to try to explain Adrien’s silence. Maybe he lost his phone. Maybe he was so tired he's still sleeping. Maybe he forgot his charger, so his phone was dead.

She was probably right - after all, she was usually right - but Nino had a bad feeling about it.

His bad feeling only got worse when his favorite radio station gave a brief rundown of local news:

Traffic has been unusually light today, following the Roadrage Akuma incident yesterday - imagine that - and, oh, it looks like local celebrity Adrien Agreste may be missing. Gabriel Agreste, CEO of Gabriel Fashions, is giving a press conference later today. In other news, it looks like…

Nino yanked off his headphones and sat in relative silence while he processed what he just heard. Adrien. Missing.

Well, that definitely explained his lack of texts. But now he had so many other questions. Why was his best friend missing? What happened? How? When?

He wouldn't call it panicking, but he did run over to Alya’s place as fast as he could. He only lived a few streets away, but by the time he reached their door, he was panting like he’d run a marathon. Blaming the stairs, he put his hands on his knees and wheezed for a while before finally knocking on the door.

When it opened, it only opened a crack. Alya peeked through the small opening. “Nino?” She sounded surprised.

“Dude,” he huffed, his lungs still burning.

Unhooking the chain lock, Alya opened the door the rest of the way. “What are you doing?”

“I'm - uh - catching my - breath.” He made a mental note to start hitting the gym.

“Did you run here?”

“Yeah, dude. You haven't been great at answering my texts today, and it's an emergency. Code red.”

“Code red?” Alya frowned, mentally going through the list of fake codes she made up years ago. “Wait. Why do we need Ladybug?”

“Adrien.”

“Okay… you know, him not texting you back isn't grounds to call in a superhero.”

“No, no,” Nino pushed past her into the apartment, even though he got the distinct impression she didn't really want him there. Wondering if she and Marinette were up to something, he filled a glass full of water and chugged it.

Alya folded her arms and raised her eyebrows, silently waiting for him to finish.

He swallowed the last drop of water and looked at her seriously. “Adrien’s missing. His dad is giving a press conference later.”

“Oh.” Stunned, Alya was at a loss for words. “Oh wow.”

“Yeah. Like I said: emergency.”

“Well, if there's going to be a press conference, Ladybug probably won't need us to tell her about it, but I will add his name to the missing persons page of the Ladyblog."

Nino nodded. The Ladyblog was a reliable way to share information with Paris’s masked superheroes (as well as the city at large), and the missing persons page was added years ago in hope that if the heroes had time, they might find people the police couldn't.

More often than not, the few missing people who were found based on Ladyblog information were found by avid Ladyblog users and not by Ladybug or Chat Noir. Anything they could do would be helpful, though, so Nino was okay with that plan.

“I knew something had to be wrong,” he said. It wasn't exactly an “I told you so,” but he could tell by the way Alya glanced at him over her glasses that she knew exactly what he meant.

“Okay, his name is added to the list. I'm going to check to see when the press conference is… and I'm sorry. For not believing it was a big deal.”

“It's okay, babe. It's not like you text him as much as I do.” Nino dropped onto the sofa like he was a rock. He felt like a rock. His heart had settled into his stomach after hearing his best friend was missing. He'd have to roll back home after all of that running, too. “Oh,” he added, “should we tell Marinette?"

Marinette had a crush on Adrien since they were about fifteen, although Nino wasn't sure if that was still true. She and Adrien got along very well, but neither of them ever made a move to be more than just friends. She’d be really upset about this, for sure.

“Uh,” Alya made a face and looked toward Marinette’s closed bedroom door. “She's not feeling too great right now,” she said, her voice strained. “I want to break it to her gently. The press conference is in an hour. Maybe then.”

“Okay, whatever you say,” Nino replied. If Alya wanted to hide something weird about Marinette, that was her business. But he reserved the right to give her a funny look about it.

The rock in his stomach seemed to expand as he sat waiting for the press conference. He was surprised Alya didn't want to be there personally - she liked to experience news first-hand - but he didn't say anything. He didn't think he could take it, standing in a crowd while Adrien’s dad (who hated him) talked about his missing best friend. He could barely handle sitting in an empty room.

He felt so useless. Why couldn't he have wanted to study criminology or something more helpful than music in this situation?

There was nothing he could do but wait, and that knowledge settled into him until he felt like his metaphorical rock of a heart had become a boulder. He might never be able to move from this sofa again.

His hands drummed out a beat on his knees in his anxiety. He kept time with his breathing, which he was desperately trying to keep steady. Keep cool, dude.

“Hey,” Alya said, her hands on his shoulders. “It’ll be okay.”

Nino leaned his head back onto the cushions and looked up at her. “I'm freaking out, babe,” he confessed.

“I know.” She pressed her thumbs into his shoulder blades and massaged in small circles. “Worrying about Adrien is as much your hobby as worrying about Marinette is mine.”

“Well, yeah. Dude needs somebody to worry about him. But like… I never thought I'd have to worry like THIS. This is some highkey worrying, you know? I don't know what to do.”

“I don't know if there's anything you can do, Nino. We haven't even heard Gabriel’s press conference yet, so we probably shouldn't jump to conclusions.”

“Oh, man. I've already jumped to lots of conclusions. I've already got so many theories, my theories have theories. I can't deal, Alya. This sucks.”

“Wanna tell me your theories?”

“No,” he said definitively. He folded his arms over his stomach, which was not the appropriate size for boulder-carrying. He didn't think he could voice any of his fears for Adrien because he was too scared. What if one of them was true? What if one of them came true because he thought about it too hard?

Alya walked around the sofa and sat down next to him. “That's okay.”

As he looked at her, he realized how ridiculous he was being. Maybe it would feel better to just let it all out. Most of his theories were ridiculous, anyway.

“Well…” he began, tentatively. “What if… what if he is hurt or being tortured or something?” It felt like he had broken some sort of dam, and the rest of his half-baked theories poured out of him with extra theories he didn't even know he had.

“What if he's been forced into slavery? What if he's being held prisoner by a crazy fan? What if his dad is just claiming he’s missing so he can hold him captive for the rest of his life and we won't ever see him again except in magazine articles that he's forced to model for because his dad is super weird like that? What if he got kidnapped by hill people?”

“Hill people?” Alya cracked a smile and then frowned. “Actually, that thing about his dad could totally be true.”

“I know, right? I wouldn't put it past him.” Nino sighed. “What if… what if he’s actually missing missing, and he's never found?” He couldn't bring himself to voice his ultimate fear, that his friend might be dead.

Alya put an arm around his shoulder. “Don't lose hope before the search even starts, okay? We don't know what happened yet.”

“He'd be so mad if he thought we gave up on him right away,” Nino groaned, rubbing his face with his hands.

“Yeah, he would. And I would, too.”

Nodding, Nino tried to smile, but he could feel how it contrasted with his frown.

“The good news,” Alya said, “is that we don't have to put his picture up all over town.”

Nino snorted. “I think the billboards have that covered.”

Chapter Text

Marinette woke up to her phone’s text message noise. She flailed her arm a little, trying to find the phone on the bed.

Sunlight was still coming in through the window, but it was waning quickly. It must have been late afternoon, since the winter sun set early.

She had fallen asleep with Chat Noir purring in her lap, and she had somehow shifted to where his head rested on her stomach and her legs were under the blanket alongside his back. She must have gotten cold. She hoped she didn't accidentally knee him in the back while she was asleep.

She ran her fingers along the edges of Chat’s mask. He was still transformed, and she was glad of it; she wasn't sure she could handle seeing him in that much pain again. The purring had stopped at some point, and his breathing was deeper and more even than it had been since she brought him here.

Her phone chimed again, and this time she found it beneath a pillow. Several texts from Alya warned her that Nino was in the living room and asked her to text when she could. Marinette typed out a reply asking if anything was wrong. It wasn't unusual for Nino to be here, but she and Alya had agreed to keep everyone out of their place until Chat Noir had recovered and left.

She shifted, unsure how to move with him on her stomach instead of her lap. “Sorry, kitty,” she whispered as she began to sit up, and he slid onto her legs.

He rolled onto his back and cracked open his eyes. “Sorry,” he mumbled, his voice cracking. “I’ll- I’ll move.” He closed his eyes, seeming as if he had fallen back asleep, but a few seconds later, he moved his elbows back and propped himself up enough for her to get free.

“You don't need to be sorry,” Marinette told him as she eased herself off the bed and slid a pillow under his shoulders. “I just have to go to the bathroom. I’ll be right back. Do you need anything?”

He leaned back onto the pillow and opened his eyes again. “You’re being so kind to me.”

His tired but extremely grateful expression twisted something in Marinette’s chest. “Of course,” she said. “I’ll just be gone a minute, okay?”

“Thank you.” Another purr began to rumble in his chest, and the corner of his mouth turned up in a half-grin.

Marinette slipped her phone into her pocket as she snuck out of her room. Closing the door softly behind her, she peeked out of the hall. Nino and Alya were sitting on the sofa with the television on. The volume was down low, which she thought was odd, but she truly did have to go to the bathroom, so she would have to investigate later.

While in the bathroom, she also smoothed out her hair and brushed her teeth. She still looked like she hadn't slept for a week and had cried for days, but after splashing her face with water a few times, she looked a bit better. She felt much more like a human than she had all day, at least.

When she left the bathroom, Alya made eye contact with her from the sofa and performed a complex series of eyebrow maneuvers that Marinette interpreted as “text me, girl.” She nodded and held up her phone in response. Nino was focused on his own phone and didn't notice either of the girls doing anything weird.

Marinette opened and shut her door quietly and found Chat Noir exactly where she left him a few minutes ago. He blinked slowly at her, and she gave him a little smile.

“How about some water, kitty?” she asked, her voice hushed in case his ears were sensitive. And in case the walls were thinner than she thought, and Nino could somehow hear her.

Chat nodded a little, pushing himself up on his elbows again. She held a water bottle to his lips, and he drank greedily. To help support him, she slid her arm around his shoulders. When he finished drinking, he leaned his head against her shoulder and breathed.

She kept her arm around his shoulders and sat on the bed next to him, pulling a pillow over to lean against. “Want some of that health drink you had earlier? Or some orange juice?”

“M-maybe later,” he replied weakly. “Thanks.”

“How do you feel?”

“Tired. I don't feel much pain when I'm in the suit, so it's hard to say, really.”

Of course, she thought. She was familiar with how the suits worked, but he didn't know that, and she hadn't been thinking about the suit when she asked.

Chat took a deep breath and held it for a second before speaking again. “Do… do you need me to leave?” His voice was so gentle, but Marinette could detect a little fear behind his words.

“No! No. Not at all. We want you to stay as long as it takes you to get better. And that's what Ladybug wants, too.” She resisted the urge to pet him like she would if she were Ladybug. Here he was, recovering from very serious injuries, and he was worried about being an inconvenience. Her partner was so thoughtful, and she was lucky to know him. She felt bad that he was so vulnerable. “Honestly, Chat, you are welcome here. I promise.”

He sighed softly, curling toward her and nuzzling his forehead into her neck like a real cat would. “Thank you, Marinette,” he whispered, his voice cracking again.

She set the empty water bottle down and wrapped her other arm around him.“You don't need to thank me. I'm just happy you’re recovering. You really scared me this morning because you were in so much pain. I'm sorry this happened to you.”

She felt dampness along her collar, and his claws gently brushed her stomach as he wrapped one of his hands tightly in her shirt. His shoulders trembled, and his breath rasped. He was crying, almost silently. Her heart broke, and she wondered - not for the first time - what kind of life her kitten had.

“You’re not alone,” she whispered, rocking gently. “Shhh, it's okay. I'm here. I've got you.”

Her phone chimed in her pocket, and she ignored it until it chimed again. Chat was calmer, sniffling quietly, so she pulled her phone out and looked at the texts.

Big news. Not great. I don't want to text it to you, so you should come out here.

Okay, girl, check your phone please.

Marinette typed a message with one hand.

Sorry. Kitty’s awake. Can't come out. What's up?

She could almost feel Alya’s eyeroll when she received the response.

He's a grown cat, not a kitten, im sure he’d be fine if you left him for five minutes to an hour. This is important.

Marinette sighed. “Hey, Chat?”

“Mhmm?” He sounded like he was mostly asleep. He had relaxed into her, his full weight pushing them both a little deeper into the pillow. The hand he’d wrapped into her shirt relaxed, too, his claws still lightly tickling her stomach.

She couldn't leave him, even if she wanted to. She would have had to figure out how to get out from under him, as well as how to remove his claws from her shirt. She rubbed his back gently while responding to Alya’s text.

I really can't move right now. Is it serious?

Seconds later, there was a tap at the bedroom door.

“Come in,” Marinette called as softly as she could while still being heard.

Alya opened the door and glanced over her shoulder to make sure Nino wasn't watching. Then she slipped in and closed the door behind her. “Girl,” she began in a harsh whisper before she processed the scene in front of her.

Marinette grinned as she watched Alya’s expression shift from mildly annoyed to amused surprise. Alya’s eyebrows rose halfway up her forehead before she finally said, “okay, I get it now.”

Marinette started to nod but realized it was difficult to do with Chat Noir’s fluffy head nestled against her neck, so she tilted her head and rested her cheek against his hair instead. And then she gave Alya an apologetic smile.

“Okay, well,” Alya began as she stepped over blankets on the floor. “I still need to talk to you. Please don't freak out.” She started typing on her phone.

Marinette frowned. “Why would I?”

When her phone chimed, she raised an eyebrow at Alya, who put a finger to her lips and asked her to please stay calm and quiet.

Marinette opened the text with trepidation. She couldn't think of anything that she would freak out about more than their current Chat Noir predicament. Until she read the text.

Adrien Agreste is missing. His dad is having a press conference in like five minutes. We’re about to watch it on tv.

That was something to freak out about.

She felt panic rising in her chest but fought it off by breathing slowly and deeply. Chat Noir smelled so familiar - like late nights laying on rooftops listening to the sound of the city. The memory grounded her. Chat had always been a comforting presence, even at his worst. The faint scent of dried blood in his hair brought her back to reality.

She was Ladybug. She could be calm in the face of criminals and supervillains, so she could be calm now.

Adrien. Missing. Okay. Press conference. Okay.

She looked up at Alya, whose concerned eyes were watching her closely, and sighed. “Help me, and I’ll come out,” she said.

Together, they moved Chat off of Marinette and onto the bed. He whined, murmuring something, and they looked at each other and shrugged. Neither of them understood it.

“Chat,” Marinette whispered near his ear. “I'm just going to the other room.” She took one of his fake ears between her fingers and rubbed it gently. “I’ll be right back.”

“Mmrm” was the response.

Chapter Text

Nino fidgeted on the sofa while he waited for Alya and Marinette. He glanced toward the small hallway that connected their rooms and sighed. He wasn't sure what was going on with Mari today, but he didn't hear anything. None of the usual squeaking girl talk that he would expect to hear muffled through a closed door anyway.

Maybe she already knew about Adrien being missing? But if she did, why wouldn't she have told him? Why wouldn't she have told Alya, at least?

He shook his head, readjusted his hat and his glasses, and then reached for the remote. He unmuted the television in time to hear the newscaster discussing the upcoming press conference.

“Fashion mogul Gabriel Agreste is about to begin a rare in-person press conference about his missing son, and we are going live with Veronica on-site in five.”

Shifting, Nino glanced back at the hall again and breathed a sigh of relief as Alya and Marinette emerged. He couldn't handle watching this alone.

Mari circled around the sofa and wrapped Nino in a tight hug. “Hey, you,” she said softly. She released him and sat down beside him after he patted her back.

Alya flopped down on his other side. “Is it starting?”

“Yeah.” Nino swallowed the lump in his throat and realized with dismay that it was audible.

Both girls linked arms with him simultaneously.

“Whatever happens,” Alya said, “we’re here for each other - and for Adrien. Okay?”

Nino and Marinette nodded in agreement, and the three fell into anxious silence.

Gabriel Agreste, his face as impassive as ever, stood at the podium in a dark blue suit with a lapel pin in the butterfly shape of the Gabriel logo and a purple tie. He adjusted his glasses and cleared his throat - the only sign of any discomfort - before speaking.

“Yesterday morning,” he began, “my son returned to Paris from New York, where he had been promoting the Gabriel brand. His car was stopped by an akuma rampaging through traffic, and he left it to seek shelter. He has not been seen since.”

His eyes swept across the silent crowd in front of him before landing on the police chief to his right. A look of snide distaste flashed across Gabriel’s features before his eyes returned to the front.

“I am assured that every effort is being made to find my son, but so far, I am supremely disappointed in the services of Paris’s law enforcement. I have received no ransom note, and in the event that someone was foolish enough to kidnap Adrien in order to get to me or my company, I have this to say: you will not profit at my family’s expense.”

Gabriel paused again, and the crowd of mostly reporters and journalists shuffled and coughed. Nino frowned as he felt both girls squeeze his arms. He had never liked Adrien’s dad, and this was one of the reasons why.

“I have already procured the services of a supposedly renowned detective agency and am offering a financial reward for any information that proves useful in locating my son. Now, I assume you have questions.”

Nathalie stepped forward to select which journalists were allowed to speak.

The first reporter asked, “Does this disappearance have anything to do with your wife’s disappearance years ago?”

Frowning, Gabriel replied, “I don't know why it would.”

Another reporter was selected. “M. Agreste, if you haven't received a ransom note, why do you think this might be a kidnapping?”

“Why do you think?” Gabriel retorted sharply. He had a point: as the wealthy and disagreeable CEO of an international clothing design company, he was a prime target for the kind of criminals that would demand ransom or blackmail. And Adrien, as his only son and the face of his company, was logically the easiest way to get to him.

Nathalie selected Veronica, the field reporter for the station Nino, Alya, and Marinette were watching. She raised her voice and asked if M. Agreste had been in contact with either of the local superheroes.

“I have a message for Ladybug and Chat Noir: if my son’s disappearance was facilitated by the akuma attack, I am holding you personally responsible. Find my son.”

This caused another flurry of activity from the reporters, as some of them started talking without permission.

“Are you blaming Chat Noir and Ladybug for your son’s disappearance?”
“Are you challenging them to find your son before anyone else does?”
“If they find Adrien, will you give Chat Noir and Ladybug the reward money you are offering?”
“Do you have a problem with the superheroes of Paris?”

Gabriel sighed, twisting his lips into an annoyed sneer. He waited for Nathalie to silence the crowd before he spoke again. “Adrien disappeared during an akuma attack. I'm not saying it's their fault, but I want my son back. If those vigilantes cannot reign in these villains plaguing our city, Paris would be better off if they gave Hawkmoth whatever it is that he wants.”

He left the podium abruptly, refusing to answer anymore questions or look at any more cameras. The news station began its commentary feature, but Nino shut it off.

“That guy really pisses me off,” he grumbled. “Adrien deserves better, you know?”

Alya rubbed Nino’s arm as he glared at the dark television screen. “I know, babe. We all know.”

They all sat silently, lost in their own thoughts, until Alya couldn't take it any more. “Why the heck is he blaming Ladybug and Chat Noir for this!? If anything, should be blaming Hawkmoth for causing the akuma in the first place! And besides, we don't know what happened to Adrien yet, so he shouldn't be putting blame anywhere! If he was kidnapped, it would have happened with or without the akuma. The heck.”

Nino smiled at Alya’s expression of righteous fury. That was one of his favorites. “They should pay you for all of your endorsements, babe. Really.”

“They should pay me for more than that,” Alya huffed. “But I do it for free anyway because I love them.”

Marinette made a sad guttural noise into Nino’s shoulder. It was the first sound she'd made since the press conference started. “I-um-I’ve got to… could you… let me know, if anything changes about Adrien?” She stood, scrubbing at her face and trying not to cry. “I have to…”

“No worries, Mari,” Alya said. “We totally get if you'd like to be alone.”

“Yeah, this is pretty heavy,” Nino added. He still felt like there was a boulder inside of him. Watching the press conference seemed to just make the boulder bigger.

Adrien was missing, and now it was official. And Nino was having a hard time thinking about anything other than how rude and selfish Gabriel Agreste was, and how he still somehow seemed more concerned with his own company and image than his missing son.

Part of Nino wondered if Adrien had just finally gotten fed up and had run away. He wouldn't have blamed him if he did, but he felt like Adrien would have let him know first. He would have done anything to help Adrien, including hide him from his father, and Adrien should have known that.

No, Adrien wouldn't have run away without telling Nino. Something had happened to him. Probably something bad.

Nino ran to the bathroom to throw up.

Chapter Text

Adrien woke up feeling like a truck had parked on his chest. He breathed slowly, steadily, afraid to move his chest too much. The last thing he remembered after being in the alley was pain - almost as if it were a place and time rather than a sensation.

As he surveyed the room, little things started to come back to him. Marinette. Her voice telling him he would be okay. Or was it Ladybug’s voice? Why couldn't he remember? He shook his head, which was still clouded from pain and sleep.

The thought occurred to him that he was probably lucky to wake up at all.

Suddenly, Plagg’s face filled his vision. “ADR- CHAT NOIR! You're awake!”

“Sort of,” Adrien replied, his voice rasping. He remembered Marinette saying something about a water bottle by the bed. He dropped his hand off the edge of the bed and found it easily.

“Kid, you owe me so much Camembert. Do you know how much energy it takes to worry about you? Too much.” Plagg bumped his forehead gently against Adrien’s. “Don't do that to me again, got it?”

“Or what?” Adrien asked, pushing his kwami gently away from his face so he could drink. The water felt cool down his throat, and when it reached his stomach, he realized he was also hungry.

“What do you mean ‘or what,’” Plagg narrowed his eyes. “Just don't do it again.”

Smiling, Adrien rubbed Plagg’s head with his thumb. “Okay. I'll try.”

“Good.”

Adrien felt along the edges of the mask on his face. “Am I wearing a mask?”

“Yep! Marinette made it to protect your identity.”

“Oh wow. That's really thoughtful.” Adrien felt a familiar warmth in his chest that he had long since associated with Marinette. “Where is she?”

“She had to go to class. Something about finals and failing at life. I wasn't listening.”

A little disappointed, Adrien pushed himself up - gently, slowly - into a sitting position. His mind felt fuzzy, and his body ached, but he could survive like this. He eased his legs over the side of the bed and sat still as the ache in his bones seemed to multiply at the movement.

Plagg raised his little eyebrows. “Are you sure you wanna get up?”

“Well… yeah. I’ve gotta pee, Plagg.” He carefully righted himself before making his way to the bathroom. He had been to Marinette and Alya’s place several times before, but even if he hadn't, the bathroom was easy to find; it was the only door in the little hall between the girls’ rooms.

Plagg floated in through the door after Adrien finished relieving himself.

“Do you not believe in privacy?” Adrien asked. He was washing his hands, which stung. His palms were a little raw, as if they had been scraped by concrete.

“No,” Plagg replied. They had the privacy conversation often, and it usually ended with “no.” Plagg was ancient and had little interest in human conventions. “By the way,” he said, settling down on the sink, “I focused more on your major injuries than the superficial ones - you're welcome.”

“I owe you lots and lots of Camembert, I know. Thank you.”

Adrien studied his face in the mirror. The mask Marinette made was cute: it covered his eyebrows and cheekbones, and it sported a subtle cat ear on each side. He pulled the mask off in order to get to the bandages wrapped around his head.

His reflection surprised him, the face in the mirror pale and waxy. Dark circles underscored his eyes, which were bloodshot and hazy. His lips were cracked, the bottom one bleeding slightly. He might have bitten it.

“Father is going to be so mad about this,” he muttered.

“Adrien, you got hit by a car.” Plagg’s voice somehow managed to mix sympathy with annoyance.

“If I died looking like this, he’d still be mad.” Adrien sighed, reaching up to remove the bandage on his head. It was brown with dried blood and probably sweat, which he tried not to think about. The wound on his head was mostly healed, although it was still sensitive to touch. He winced, pulling his fingers away.

“How long have I been here?” He pulled up his torn, bloodied shirt and marveled at the bruising beneath it. It was purple and brown and covered a large portion of his front and wrapped around to his back. He had a large crooked scar, still pink in its newness, and several scabbed over gashes.

“Three days.”

“You really did a good job healing me, Plagg.” He was honestly impressed with the kwami’s work, but he wasn't sure how he felt about how close he had come to death. It was obviously a close call, judging by what he could see, but he didn't feel anything about it. Maybe he needed more time to process.

“Yeah, I did. So take it easy for a bit, will you? I don't want my hard work to go to waste.”

Adrien smiled. “Alright, alright.” His stomach growled loud enough for both of them to hear it, and Plagg snickered. “I guess I haven't eaten in three days?”

“They fed you some weird smoothie a couple of times. You didn't like it much.”

“I kind of remember that,” Adrien said, slipping the mask back over his face. As he opened the bathroom door, he heard someone enter the apartment. He stepped out quickly, hoping to see Marinette. The more he remembered about the past two days (honestly, it wasn't much), the more he needed to thank her for her kindness and hospitality.

Reaching the living room, he paused, overwhelmed with dizziness. Dark spots peppered his vision until he could see nothing. He reached out to steady himself but found nothing to hold onto, so he froze, bracing his feet against the floor to keep from falling. He felt himself sway.

A hand at his elbow brought him back. As the blood stopped rushing through his head, he could hear a voice.

“ - scaring me. Chat Noir? Chat!” Alya’s voice was steady but concerned.

Adrien’s vision cleared as he blinked at her, and he smiled sheepishly. “Sorry,” he whispered, suddenly feeling out of breath.

“It's okay, it's not your fault,” Alya assured him. “I'm happy you're able to get up and walk and stuff, but how about you sit down over here, huh? Come on…” she guided him toward the sofa and pushed him lightly.

He sat down with an “oof” and took several deep breaths before he felt okay again. He couldn't believe how tired he was after such a short amount of time.

Alya told him to relax while she made him something to eat. “Can't believe I just pushed around a superhero,” she said, beginning to monologue while she cooked.

“Eh, he's easy to push around sometimes,” Plagg told her.

She laughed. “Ladybug sure tosses him around a lot, doesn't she?”

Adrien leaned his head back and smiled at the ceiling. It was strange, Alya and Plagg talking to each other. It was even stranger to be in his friends’ apartment as Chat Noir without being transformed as Chat Noir.

“Do you mind being tossed around like a rag doll?” Alya asked.

He sighed, dizziness coming and going with the rise and fall of his chest. “I'm happy to do whatever my lady needs,” he answered.

Alya laughed heartily. “Yeah, I’m sure you are. I've seen how you look at her.”

Adrien hummed in response, no longer sure if he was awake or asleep or somewhere in between. He remembered her face the last time he saw it - her spotted mask furrowed in worry and confusion, her blue eyes watery.

He heard Alya ask him a question but didn't hear quite what the question was. Then he felt a weight like a blanket drape over him.

Chapter Text

“Chat Noir.” Alya’s voice, gentle but insistent, sounded as if it was coming from far away.

“Chat Noir,” her voice repeated. He figured she must have been doing something with her blog.

“Chat Noir,” she said again, this time putting a hand on Adrien’s arm. With a start, Adrien realized she was talking to him instead of about him. He was Chat Noir. He wasn't transformed and could hear Plagg snickering about something across the room, but the mask slightly tickling his cheeks and forehead meant that he was still Chat Noir.

Everything felt so surreal since coming back to Paris that part of him wondered if he was still in New York just dreaming about Paris. He cracked open an eye, half expecting to see hotel wallpaper, but he saw Alya.

“I let you sleep for almost an hour, you know,” she informed him with a grin. “It gave me time to finish cooking. But now you have to eat, and you need to be awake for that.”

He blinked at her, and she gestured for him to get up. After he struggled for a few seconds, she took pity on him.

“Okay, cat, you stay here, and I’ll bring the food to you. How about that?”

“Sounds better,” he admitted.

She brought a plate to the coffee table, and Adrien slipped from the sofa to the floor. He didn't feel strong enough to trust a plate to stay still in his hands or his lap, but sitting on the floor was still much better than getting up.

Putting a glass of orange juice on the table beside his plate, Alya settled down next to him. “So, this is liver, those are beets, and orange juice is supposed to help you absorb iron.”

Adrien smiled. “You put a lot of work into this. Thank you.”

“Of course. You're not just some random stray cat, you know. You're the protector of Paris - and after all the times you've saved me personally, believe me when I say that this is the least I could do.”

Suddenly feeling emotional, Adrien focused on the plate in front of him. It wasn't beautiful, and on a good day it might not have even been appetizing, but the thought behind it and his suddenly intense hunger (and embarrassing stomach growls) made it look like the most beautiful meal he'd ever seen.

His hand shook slightly as he held the fork, but as soon as he started eating, he had no trouble devouring all of it. Alya had to remind him to pause and breathe more than once.

A little embarrassed but pleasantly full, Adrien slouched back against the couch and sighed. “You're a good cook, Alya.”

“My mom’s been head chef at Le Grand Paris for years,” Alya said, grinning. “She's taught me a thing or two.”

“Clearly,” he replied.

“You feel any better after eating?”

He held out his hand and wiggled his fingers. “Yeah, less shaky.”

“Good! I mean, it has been a couple days since you've had anything to eat, so that makes sense.” Suddenly, she grabbed his hand. “Is this what your miraculous looks like when you're not transformed?” Her eyes widened as she examined his ring. “How cool is that!? I always wondered!”

Plagg floated over and sat on the coffee table. “Pretty cool, huh?”

“Amazing!”

Adrien knew Alya well enough to know she would never try to take his miraculous, but it made him a little nervous that it was getting so much attention. “Please don't tell anyone what it looks like,” he said quietly.

She released his hand almost as suddenly as she had grabbed it. “I wouldn't dare! Everybody seems to want to get their hands on this, and there's no way I'd make that easier for them. You can trust me.”

“Believe me, I do,” he assured her quickly. “I just -”

“No, no, I understand. I mean, what if I hadn't thought of that?” Alya shook her head as she collected Adrien’s plate and glass and took them to the sink. “One careless post and your life would be even more difficult. I get it.”

Adrien relaxed his shoulders. “Exactly. Thank you.”

“By the way, Marinette apparently got your measurements when you were asleep,” Alya said, her smile growing as Adrien blushed and Plagg started cackling. “So she's going to buy you some new clothes on her way home from class today.”

Looking down at himself, Adrien sighed. “Yeah, I guess I do need some new clothes.”

“Honestly, you look like an extra in a zombie movie.”

Plagg cackled. “Yeah, like a B horror movie: Return of Cat Boy!”

“Thanks, guys. That makes me feel better.”

“Hey, do you have any family or anything you need to contact? I mean, you’ve been here a few days, and I feel like Ladybug would have taken care of that for you, like given your family an excuse or something for why you just up and vanished, but Mari thinks for some reason that you and Ladybug probably don’t even know each other's’ identities, so I thought I’d ask.”

Adrien blinked at her. It had not even occurred to him to contact Nathalie or his father. He had disappeared on his way home from the airport, so he was sure there was some kind of uproar about it. The gorilla would have told them he disappeared from the car.

Swallowing hard, Adrien shook his head. Given how long he'd already been gone, it would probably be a better idea to just… wait. Yeah. He would just wait until he had recovered enough to go home (and more importantly, think of an excuse).

Alya raised an eyebrow. “I don't think I've ever seen you look that horrified about an akuma.”

Plagg snorted. “His family is way scarier than any akuma, and way more boring. Let’s hope they don't find the kid here or there will be trouble.”

“Plagg!” Adrien forced a smile. “Plagg exaggerates,” he explained.

“Oh?” Plagg flew close to his ward’s face. “What did you say earlier about your dad?”

“That he'd be mad I messed up my pretty face?” Adrien stuck his tongue out at Plagg. “That's not the same.”

“Yeah, well. I don't think you're wrong.”

“Ookaay,” Alya drawled, both eyebrows raised at her catlike houseguests. “You're welcome to stay here as long as you need to, you know.”

“Thanks, Alya. Really, I appreciate it.”

“You didn't say anything about Ladybug knowing your identity, though. I want to be able to tell Marinette she's wrong.”

“You know I can't discuss my identity. But nice try.”

Plagg rolled his eyes. “Lover boy here would like nothing more than for his lady to know his identity, but she won't have it.”

“She doesn't know!? You two are SUCH a couple, and she doesn't even know who you are!?” Alya dragged her hands down the side of her face dramatically. “I can't believe this.”

“Plagg, you're embarrassing me,” Adrien hissed. “No cheese for a week.”

“No cheese!? I saved your LIFE!”

“And now you're trying to ruin it!” Adrien snatched Plagg out of the air, grabbed a pillow from the sofa, and unceremoniously squashed Plagg underneath it.

Alya laughed. “At least you're starting to feel better.”

Plagg’s muffled voice cried, “yeah, I'm helping!”

“You have a very weird definition of helping,” Adrien grumbled.

“Seriously, though. LadyNoir isn't a thing?”

It was at this point that someone banged on the front door. Adrien breathed a sigh of relief.

“Marinette forgot her key again.” Alya explained as she opened the door. “Great timing, girl. Let me help you with those bags.”

Marinette giggled behind the bags in her arms. “Thanks. I had to kick the door because I couldn't even knock holding all of this.”

“You could have put something down, you know.”

“You say that, but I know that if I tried to put one thing down, I would have dropped everything, and it would have been terrible.”

They put the bags on the table. Adrien sat silently, watching Marinette until Plagg phased through the pillow and flew toward her.

“Hi. What did you bring me?”

She smiled and held up a wheel of cheese. “Will that do?”

“Hey kid, it's settled. We live here now.”

Adrien groaned. “Plagg, it's rude to just move into somebody’s house without asking.”

“Chat Noir!” Marinette gasped as if she had just noticed him. “You're awake and… out of the room. How are you feeling?”

“I fed him,” Alya told her. “He ate real food and everything.”

“What? That's amazing. Chat, we've been so worried about you.” Digging through a bag, Marinette pulled out a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt. “I'm glad you're awake, so you can try these on. If you're feeling up to it, I mean. If you're not, that's totally okay! I'm pretty sure they'll fit, and I could wash them and have them ready for you whenever.”

“I think I could handle that,” Adrien said. “I might need some help off the floor, though.”

“I gotcha, catboy.” Alya helped him slowly get up and steady himself. “Don't want a repeat of earlier.”

“I'm pretending I don't know what you're talking about.”

“You are like a cat. I mean the whole you spacing out and almost falling over thing.”

“Oh yeah. That.”

Alya helped him make the short walk to Marinette’s room, and Marinette left the clothes on the bed. They also left him with strict instructions to call for them if he needed help. He would probably need it.

Chapter Text

More than anything, Adrien wanted a shower. As he gently peeled off his shirt, wincing when it stuck to his skin where blood had dried, his desire for a shower increased.

“I am such a mess,” he muttered, glancing at himself in the full-length mirror attached to the back of the bedroom door.

“In more ways than one,” Plagg agreed - a bit too enthusiastically, in Adrien’s opinion. Plagg helped tug the shirt over his head and dropped it on the floor. “We should keep these clothes,” he suggested. “Just in case.”

“Thanks. In case of what?”

“I dunno. Just in case.”

“Cryptic as usual,” Adrien grumbled. He unbuttoned his pants and had to lean against the bed to be able to get them off. Plagg helped by pulling at the cuffs.

Adrien leaned back, breathing hard. How was he so exhausted after so little movement? “Plagg?”

“You're not going to try the new clothes on?”

“I'm not going to try the new clothes on.”

“The sizes are right for you anyway. That Marinette has a good eye,” Plagg said, snickering.

“What's so funny?”

“Just that she must have been looking to figure out your size,” Plagg answered, snickering more. “I'll go let the girls know the clothes fit.”

“We didn't -”

Plagg phased through the wall, and Adrien sighed. He couldn't believe how dizzy and ill he felt after doing so little. How long would he continue to feel like this? He relaxed backward onto the bed. He could feel the stretch through his sore muscles, but he didn't have the energy to move his legs onto the bed.

---

“So they fit?” Marinette asked. She’d bought more than just a t-shirt and sweatpants. She had a whole bag of clothes for him.

“Welllll,” Plagg drawled, “he didn't actually try them on because of reasons, but you got his size right.” He snickered.

“What’s so funny?”

“Oh, nothing. Better go get what you gave him to try on if you're gonna wash everything.”

Alya raised an eyebrow at the kwami as Marinette walked back to her room. “Alright, little cat,” Alya said, leaning on the counter next to him, “what's your angle?”

“Angle? Me?” Plagg feigned innocence.

“Yeah, you. What are you up to?”

Marinette squeaked loudly, freezing in the doorway. Alya pointed an accusatory finger at Plagg before hurrying to the doorway to see what spooked Marinette.

Chat Noir, wearing nothing but a homemade cat mask and black boxers, was sprawled almost artistically on her bed. He was every bit as lean and muscular as his tight-fitting catsuit implied. Most of his torso was bruised purple, greening around the edges. A large, pink scar etched a crooked path from a bruised hip to a bruised rib. There was more bruising down his left leg, especially near his knee. An almost matching bruise ran up his forearm to his elbow. Dozens of other cuts and scrapes decorated his well-sculpted body.

His eyes fluttered open and then widened in surprise as he saw the girls in the doorway. He struggled to push himself up, but failed, cringing as his abs contracted beneath his wounds. “S-sorry,” he muttered, his cheeks flushing in embarrassment.

Marinette’s entire face was already pink, and she gaped openly. Alya recognized that look. Marinette was going to be essentially catatonic for at least another minute.

“What are you apologizing for?” Alya asked.

“Um…” Chat looked down self-consciously. “For the view?”

Alya laughed. “Hon, we should be thanking you. Pity you're a giant bruise, though.”

He chuckled, his pink cheeks turning scarlet. Marinette finally snapped out of her shock and smacked Alya on the arm.

Plagg, cackling madly, flew in behind them. “They came to get the clothes you didn't try on,” he said before Adrien could admonish him.

Alya side-eyed Plagg as she picked up the sweatpants and tshirt. She started to reach for Chat’s blood-stained clothes, but Plagg stopped her.

“We are keeping those,” Adrien explained. “In case of…” He paused, thinking. “I can't stay here forever, and I need to be able to explain, um, this.” He gestured at himself.

“Well, I think that speaks for itself, but no worries. The clothes are probably beyond saving anyway.” Alya patted Marinette on the shoulder and snagged Plagg as she walked out of the room.

“Whaaaaat,” Plagg whined as she carted him into the kitchen.

“You,” Alya hissed, “are up to something. What is it?”

Plagg snorted. “The same thing I’m always up to: amusing myself. What do you think I’m up to?” He narrowed his eyes at her. “What do you want me to be up to?”

Laughing, Alya grabbed the bag of clothes Marinette bought for Chat. “Hey, Mari? I’m gonna go to the laundry room and wash these.”

“Oh!” Marinette scurried out into the kitchen. “I can do it!”

“Girl, we are in this together. You went out and bought it, so I’m gonna wash it. You stay here. Play with the cheese cat.”

“Cheese cat!?” Plagg scoffed.

Marinette smiled. “Thanks, Alya. I appreciate it.”

“My pleasure, girl. I’ll be back!”

Chapter Text

As soon as Alya left the apartment, Tikki flew out of Marinette’s purse. She side-eyed Plagg, who gave her a megawatt Chat-like grin. Her little mouth twisted into a smirk that was trying (and failing) to convey disapproval.

“Marinette,” she said, her high, thin voice filled with kindness and concern, “Chat Noir has been here three days, and he hasn't received a visit from Ladybug.”

Plagg’s grin somehow widened, and his face took on a creepily Cheshire-like quality. “That's right. The kid asked for her in his sleep and everything. I wonder where she has been?”

Marinette felt her cheeks heat up. “Today's the first day he's really been coherent,” she pointed out, feeling weirdly defensive. “And besides, shouldn't I wait until he's… um… clothed ?”

Tikki shrugged. “You two have known each other a long time.”

“And you're both pretty touchy-feely,” Plagg added.

Marinette’s eyebrows raised halfway up her forehead. “Not like that!” She whisper-yelled, feeling scandalized. “We’re partners! And best friends! We’re just comfortable with each other! With- with clothes ON!”

Plagg cackled, holding his stomach and rolling in the air.

“Alya is going to be gone at least an hour,” Tikki prompted, much more serious than her counterpart. “Now would probably be a good time. It doesn't have to be for long, Marinette, but he should know that Ladybug cares.”

Breathing deeply, Marinette nodded. “You're right. He deserves to know that. Okay.” She took another breath. Why was she nervous? She was never nervous around Chat (nervous for him sometimes, but not because of him). Breathing out, she said, calmly, “Spots on.”

Minutes later, Ladybug tapped gently on the window next to where Chat was once again asleep. She had gone outside and snuck over the building, dropping down to the window with her yo-yo attached to the roof. She tapped again before sliding the window open and sitting on the ledge.

He looked so broken like this, covered in bruises and scabs and dried, flaking blood. She felt guilty for ogling him earlier. The pain must be excruciating. He was lucky to be alive. She remembered what he looked like, hunched and helpless in that alleyway, and she shuddered. What would she ever do without him?

To be fair to herself, she had never seen her partner undressed before - had never fully considered how much the two of them had matured and developed over the years. They weren't children anymore.

“Chat Noir,” she said softly, brushing the back of her knuckles along the underside of his fake Chat mask.

He stirred, mummering her name as a question before turning his head to look at her. “Ladybug?” He repeated again, this time with more wonder in his voice. He seemed surprised to see her, and it caused guilt to creep into her stomach.

“I came to check up on you.” She offered him a small, sympathetic smile.

He stared at her, and she recognized in his human eyes the look of awe that he so often gave her while transformed. It seemed more real, more vulnerable this way. She wondered briefly if all of his flirting was genuine.

“How are you feeling?” she asked, finally breaking eye contact and looking at his wounds instead.

Cat complain,” he punned, “especially now that you're here.”

She pursed her lips at him. “I'm serious. You really scared me, Chat. I thought you were going to…” her breath hitched, and she paused, almost too afraid to say it out loud. “I thought…”

He took her hand in his and brought it to his lips. “My lady,” he said, using his most soothing tone. “It's okay. I'm fine.”

Pulling her hand back, she poked the most purple part of his largest bruise. He hissed, flinching away from her.

“You're fine, are you? Chat, you almost died. You. Almost. Died. You don't have to act like you're fine.”

He snorted. “Just like you to be angry at me for getting hurt,” he grumbled, although he looked amused. “Bug, I’m in pain, but I'll live. It's okay, really. Thank you for saving me.”

Suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude for her idiot partner, she slipped down off the window sill and stretched out onto the bed beside to him. Grabbing his hand, she brought it to her lips and held it there as she tried not to cry.

It had been a long three days.

He stared at her again, his mouth slightly open. She watched his eyes - that unbelievable summer green that held so much kindness and sincerity and loneliness. She had never asked him what color his eyes actually were. There was so much she had never asked him.

The vulnerability of their situation weighed heavily on both of them, but it was an oddly comforting weight. Like a quilt of dedication and friendship.

“I love you,” Chat whispered. He looked surprised and ashamed as soon as the words left his mouth.

She pressed his hand harder to her mouth, feeling herself start to shake. A part of her had known. Of course he loved her. He showed her his love in all the ways he could without compromising their friendship, their mission, or her trust.

He had never cared who she was beneath the mask. His favorite moments with her were on rooftops late at night when they sparred or talked or just sat in silence. He'd told her as much before. She had never questioned whether or not he cared - she just never knew how much .

She choked back a sob.

“I'm sorry,” he said, his eyes now full of guilt and concern. “I'm so sorry. Please don't cry, my lady.” He cupped her cheek with his other hand.

She shook her head, ducking it behind his hand, pressing her forehead to the spot she had kissed. “I almost l-lost y-you,” she choked out, sobbing openly now. She couldn't help it.

“I'm okay, though,” he repeated. “You saved me. I'm here.”

“Stop comforting me,” she scolded, still crying. “I came here to comfort you!” She half-laughed, peeking up at his distressed expression. “I'm terrible at this.”

“You're purr fect,” he assured her. “I am adequately comforted. I just wish you weren't so upset. I'm going to be fine.”

“No, I'm terrible at this.” She kissed his hand again. “I have to get going. I'll come back, though. Okay?”

“Promise?”

“Promise.” She sat up, still holding his hand, and gently touched his face with her free hand. “Take it easy, please. I need you. Paris needs you.”

“Of course, my lady. I'm being well cared for.”

“Good.” She smiled. “I'm glad I brought you here.” She gently laid his hand on the bed and climbed over the window sill. She cast another look at him as she hoisted herself to the roof with her yo-yo.

She cried on the roof for the next ten minutes before swinging down to the balcony and letting herself into the living room. She detransformed and rubbed at her face as she got cookies for Tikki, who looked at her with all the sympathy she could muster.

Plagg watched her warily. He was oddly quiet.

Sitting on the sofa, Marinette turned on the television. She needed a distraction. She couldn't go back into her room to see Chat after what just happened between them. Or rather, between him and Ladybug.

The television was still set to the local news channel, which was, naturally, talking about Gabriel Agreste’s missing heir.

She burst into tears again.

She didn't notice Plagg grumbling under his breath and flying into her bedroom. She barely even noticed when Chat Noir came limping slowly out. He rested his hands on the back of the sofa and stared wide-eyed at the TV.

“Holy crap,” he muttered. “Holy freaking crap.”

She startled, turning to look at him. “I'm so sorry. Did the television wake you?” She knew the answer, but like so many of her lies as Ladybug, it was easier to frame them as innocent, non-suspicious questions.

“No,” he admitted. “I got restless. Thought I'd walk around a bit.”

“You'll probably feel that way a lot until you're better,” she said. “Can I get you anything?”

“No, but thanks.” He frowned at the television. “Gabriel is offering a reward ?”

“Y-yeah. My friend Adrien, he-he's missing. We’re all really worried. He's like… the nicest person ever. I hope he's okay.”

Chat looked at her and smiled softly. “I'm sure he's just fine, purr incess. Probably even closer than you think.”

“I really hope so.” Marinette wiped her wet cheeks with her sleeve and chewed her bottom lip as the newscaster continued to dramatically recap what was probably the only story being reported for the rest of the week.

Mr. Agreste publically laid his son’s disappearance at the feet of Paris’s superhero duo, saying that if an akuma attack facilitated the disappearance of his son, he will hold them personally responsible. As yet, no word has been heard from Ladybug or Chat Noir. What will they have to say about this, if anything? Have they joined in the search for the missing model?”

Chat Noir made a strange, strangled noise, and Marinette turned to look at him. He seemed paler than he was before, which was quite a feat, since he was already paler than usual because of his near death experience. He swayed slightly, and Marinette jumped up, reaching across the back of the sofa to steady him.

“Chat, are you okay?”

He shook his head. “No,” he said, and it sounded almost like the word had forced itself out of him.

She moved around the sofa and put an arm - gently - around his back. “What do you need?”

“Uh… b-bathroom,” he answered, putting an arm across her shoulders and leaning against her. They lurched toward the bathroom, where he dropped to the floor and heaved the contents of his stomach into the toilet.

Marinette held back her own tears as he cried in pain. She was afraid to touch him to comfort him because she didn't want to make it worse. He couldn't even rub his eyes without disturbing the mask on his face. He didn't complain, though - just covered his eyes and the mask with his hands as he used his elbows to prop himself against the toilet.

Guilt-ridden, Marinette stood, closing the bathroom door and locking it. “You can take your mask off,” she said. “I won't look.”

“What?” His voice was thick and hoarse.

“If it's bothering you, you can take off the mask.” She opened the box of a new (bright green) toothbrush she bought when she bought him clothes that morning. She set the toothbrush on the counter and sat back down behind him. “I'm going to be right here if you need me, but I promise I won't look at your face.”

He wretched again, this time yanking the mask off and tossing it behind him as he emptied his stomach into the toilet bowl. She picked it up off the floor and held it in her lap, cringing as his vomiting gave way to broken sobs.

Her heart ached for him. When he quieted down a bit, she said, softly, “I bought you a toothbrush.”

“Thanks.” He sat back and looked up toward the ceiling. “I think I'm done.”

“That's good. We can just sit here if you like.”

“Yeah.”

She reached forward and laid the mask on his leg. “For whenever you're ready,” she said. “We can sit here as long as you need to.”

Chapter Text

In the basement of the apartment building, Alya took her time doing Chat’s laundry. She was doing Chat Noir’s laundry. She sat on the washing machine while it ran and tried to be productive instead of internally screaming about the superhero in her apartment. She used the time to work on a new blog post and text Nino.

He had been trying to find every way possible to help search for his best friend. Adrien’s father, by way of his assistant, had already frozen Nino out of any direct information. He was lucky to not have a restraining order, so he had finally stopped calling the Agreste house.

His search wasn't going well. Alya wasn't surprised, but she was worried about him. She wished she could invite him over, but with their extra house guest, it was a terrible idea. The machine stopped vibrating beneath her, so she hopped off, popped open the lid, and pulled out the wet clothes. She stuffed them unceremoniously in a dryer and began another round of waiting.

Her new blog post was excessively difficult to write. She had half a piece written about how Ladybug and Chat Noir are in no way responsible for crime that occurs when they are fighting akumas (it quickly turned into a rant about Gabriel Agreste, and she had to delete most of it).

In frustration, she actually folded the clothes before putting them back in the bag and carrying them upstairs. The television was on in the apartment, but nobody was in the living room or kitchen. She dropped the bag on the floor near the sofa and looked around.

Marinette and Chat Noir were just coming slowly out of the bathroom. He had an arm around her shoulders, and Alya could practically see how much of his weight he was leaning against her. Somehow, he was paler than he was before she left. His eyes were more bloodshot and unfocused. And red, as if he had been crying.

Marinette waved at Alya with her free hand and raised her eyebrows, glancing st Chat with wide eyes. Alya understood that Marinette was worried.

“Hey, guys,” Alya greeted, feeling a little awkward. Chat was still only wearing boxers. At least Marinette seemed to have gotten over that.

Chat blinked slowly at her, uncomprehending. And then suddenly, his eyes rolled back. He slumped sideways onto Marinette, who squeaked and stumbled under the extra weight.

Alya lunged forward, grabbing his other arm and pulling it over her shoulders. She bent her knees to be closer to Marinette’s height.

“Mmkay, back to bed,” she grumbled as she and Marinette shifted, trying to balance his weight between them.

“Great timing, Alya,” Marinette said, her voice slightly strained.

“Hey, I have a gift,” Alya replied. Sometimes she did feel like she had a penchant for being in the right place at the right time, which was one of the reasons her Ladyblog had been so successful.

She felt Chat’s arms tense. “You back with us, sunshine?”

“Sorry,” he murmured, rolling his head back up and opening his eyes. “Dunno what just happened.”

“You fainted.”

“You're probably dehydrated since you just threw up a lot,” Marinette told him.

“Makes… sense…” he said, somehow out of breath. His knees started to buckle again, but the girls were prepared this time and helped him regain his balance.

“What are you doing throwing up, Chat? Did I let you eat too fast earlier?” Alya frowned. They helped him to Marinette’s bed.

“There’s… so much blood,” he said quietly, looking at the bedsheets as if this was the first time he truly saw them. “Marinette, I- I'm so sorry.”

She scoffed. “Chat Noir, getting blood out of my sheets isn't that hard. You don't need to apologize for being injured.”

“Yeah, we managed to get the blood out of the carpet and everything, too. No worries.”

“I bled on the carpet too?” He sounded stunned. The girls eased him onto the bed, where he sat, staring at the bloodstains and swaying slightly, his breaths coming hard.

“You've both been so kind,” he whispered, looking up at them with wide, sad eyes. “Thank you.”

Marinette opened a water bottle and held it in front of him. “Chat? You need to drink this, please.”

His hand shook as he took the bottle, but he drank quite a bit of it before Marinette took it back. She gave him some time to breathe before handing the bottle back.

After, Marinette pushed his shoulders back toward the pillows, and Alya took his legs and moved them onto the bed.

“You overdid it today, kid,” Plagg announced, plopping onto the pillow next to Chat’s head. “I hope you've learned something.”

Chat laughed weakly. “Do I ever learn anything, Plagg?”

“Good point.”

Marinette rearranged some blankets on the floor. “I’m going to be right here if you need anything, Chat. Okay?”

“Thank you.”

“I'll be in my room, but you guys can shout if you need me,” Alya said. She retreated quickly, holing up in her room and opening her laptop. She intended to finish the blog post, but there was too much on her mind.

Something about the way Marinette looked at Chat Noir seemed even odder today, and she couldn't put her finger on why. Something about him, without his transformation, seemed hauntingly familiar.

Alya’s mind spun in circles trying to solve all the mysteries in her life right now. She ended up confused with a headache and finally decided to go to bed.

Chapter Text

Adrien woke up sore but feeling better than he had in what felt like ages. His stomach rumbled, and he shifted carefully in a slow attempt to get out of bed without causing himself pain. He slid his feet over the side of the bed and used the momentum to raise himself up. Plagg watched him anxiously, but Adrien managed to sit fully upright without any assistance.

He hesitated before trying to stand. Marinette was sprawled on a blanket on the floor (what little floorspace there was in the cramped room), her face half smushed and drooling on a large cat pillow. Her eyebrows twitched, as though she were having an unpleasant dream.

Adrien smiled at his weirdly endearing friend. She always seemed to be there for him, as Adrien or Chat Noir, and now he officially owed her his life. It saddened him a little that she could never know who he really was. Her kindness and her strength meant so much to him.

He eased off the bed and padded carefully around Marinette toward the bathroom. In the mirror, his unmasked face appeared to have a little more color, which he thought was a good thing. All of his scrapes and bruises were still brutally ugly, and he shuddered to think of what his father would say.

Plagg hovered near Adrien’s head. “What next?” he asked.

“What?”

“You can’t stay here as Chat-drien forever, you know. What are you going to do next?”

Adrien sighed, pulling the mask Marinette made him back over his face. “Well, I think I’ll start by putting on some clothes. What do you think?”

Plagg snorted. “That’s a good place to start, I guess. The loud one left clean clothes in a bag by the sofa.”

“You know her name is Alya,” Adrien chided, exiting the bathroom. He made the short walk to the sofa without any trouble but put his hand on the back of it to steady himself.

Morning light streamed in through the windows in the balcony doors, and the apartment was quiet as both the girls still slept. Adrien swallowed, the weight of Plagg’s earlier question suddenly sinking in. What next?

So he puts on clean clothes and maybe he’s able to shower and clean himself up and maybe he continues to recover, but what next? Plagg was right: Adrien couldn’t stay here as Chat Noir forever. He was going to get tired of the fake mask. An accident would be bound to happen. Someone would discover his true identity. And his father would ruin the girls’ lives if he found out they’d been hiding him.

“Plagg,” Adrien whispered, “we can’t stay here.”

“Didn’t I just say that?”

“Yeah, but you’re right.”

“Nice of you to notice.”

“What are we going to do?” Adrien stared blankly at the bag of clothes while he wrestled with his conscience. He wanted to stay. His friends were far kinder and warmer than Nathalie or his father, and he felt safe here. Staying would put his friends in danger (from Hawkmoth and his father). And, deep down, Adrien knew that his father cared about him, so it wouldn’t be fair to just vanish. His father never really recovered from his mother’s disappearance.

After a few seconds, Plagg started to get worried and hovered in front of Adrien’s face. He waved his paws.

Blinking at the sudden Kwami in his face, Adrien said (his voice eerily void of emotion, in Plagg’s opinion), “I know what we’re going to do.”

Adrien snuck back into Marinette’s room and picked up his torn clothing, which he put on in the bathroom. He sighed at his reflection as he pulled off the mask she had made him. His fingers ran along the cat ears, and he smiled.

Plagg sat on Adrien’s shoulder. “Are you sure, kid?” he asked. He had been the one to suggest leaving, but his little face twisted in worry.

“Can’t stay here forever,” Adrien replied. “Gotta face things some day, you know?”

“Yeah, but you can wait until you’re feeling better. Or until you have a real plan?”

“I… I don’t know if I’ll be able to leave if I think about it too hard. They’ve taken good care of me, but I can’t put them in danger. Let’s go.” Adrien held up his hand with his miraculous. “Claws Out.”

Plagg got sucked into the ring, and Chat Noir looked back at Adrien from the mirror.

He left the mask Marinette made him on her pillow with a sticky note with a shakily drawn kitty face and a thank you.

Chapter Text

Marinette woke up to Tikki’s voice, high-pitched and insistent.

“Marinette, wake up! Chat Noir has gone!” Tikki pulled at Marinette’s hair in another of many attempts to wake her up.

“What do you mean Chat Noir has gone?” Marinette asked, sleepily rubbing her eyes. “Gone where?”

“Gone!” Tikki flitted about in genuine distress.

Suddenly wide awake, Marinette bolted upright, her wide eyes frantically searching the small room for any sign of Chat Noir. He couldn’t be gone. He was injured! Where would he go? How would he go? How could he go without saying anything?

Her eyes landed on the bloodstains on her bed, and she took a deep breath to steady herself. Freaking out wasn’t going to help her find her idiot partner.

“Look!” Tikki flew by, drawing Marinette’s attention away from the stains and toward the pillow, where the mask she had made him lay discarded. “He left a note!” Tikki lifted the sticky note and brought it to Marinette.

Marinette felt her eyes brim with tears. Chat Noir always had neat handwriting - the few times she saw it - but this goodbye note, cute as it was, showed that his hands were obviously shaking.

She stood, clutching the note like some kind of lifeline, and opened the door to her room. “Alya! Alya, are you awake!?” She called.

There was a crash, and a groan, and Alya answered, “I am now. Girl, this place had better be on fire, or I’m gonna- ” She yanked open the door before finishing the threat and immediately softened when she saw Marinette’s face.

Marinette sniffled and wordlessly held the note out to Alya, whose face immediately went through multiple expressions and eventually settled on “determined,” which was one of Marinette’s personal favorites.

“Okay,” Alya began, striding to the fridge and placing the sticky note on it with a Ladybug magnet. “Here’s what we are going to do: first, we are going to tell Ladybug. If he’s transformed, she might be able to find him or at least call him, right?”

Marinette swallowed hard and nodded. She definitely should have thought of that.

“Second,” Alya continued, walking over to the bag of clothes they got him and dumping them out onto the sofa, “if he’s not transformed, he couldn’t have gotten far. We look for any tall, lean blond wearing his clothes. Go get dressed. We’ll find him.”

Marinette nodded and scurried back to her room. “Tikki,” she hissed, leaning against the closed door, “why didn’t I think of tracking him as Ladybug!? I’m so dumb!”

“You’re not dumb, Marinette, you’re just worried,” Tikki answered.

“Let’s do it now. Tikki, spots on!” In a flash of light, Marinette became Ladybug.

She pulled her yo-yo off her hip and flipped it open, activating her Chat Noir tracker. There he was, three blocks away, and he was not moving very quickly. She breathed a sigh of relief.

The door to her room suddenly burst open, and Alya announced, “Marinette! He’s wearing his OWN clothes! Like, the torn up and bloody clothes! We shouldn’t have a hard time finding him at all!” She paused. “Ladybug?”

Ladybug turned and met Alya’s eyes. Alya looked around the room for Marinette, who was nowhere to be seen, before her confused gaze landed back on her hero. “You...you got here fast,” Alya said, her voice oddly quiet now. “Where is…”

Ladybug could see her friend’s mind struggling to put two and two together. The magic was strong, but she didn’t know how strong, and after this week, she wasn’t sure if she cared. “Marinette?” She prompted.

“...yeah.”

Ladybug pressed her lips together and looked conflicted for a moment before she wiggled her fingers in an awkward hello. “Tikki… spots off.” Ladybug dematerialized and became Marinette.

Alya’s jaw dropped, and they stood there in silence for what felt like forever, before Tikki interrupted.

“I’m not sure this was a good idea,” she said. Alya’s bulging eyes oscillated from Marinette to Tikki and back again. “But,” Tikki continued, “we need to find Chat Noir, and fast!”

Marinette blinked. “You’re right, Tikki. Alya, this is Tikki. Tikki, this is Alya.”

“Hello,” Alya said, her voice coming out as a croak.

Tikki smiled. “Hello, Alya. It’s nice to officially meet you. We can all have a nice talk later, okay?”

“Uh-huh,” Alya croaked.

Marinette nodded. This could have gone much worse. “I found him on the tracker. Tikki, spots on!”

She transformed into Ladybug again, and her friend’s face resembled a mixture of awe and disbelief.

“Here he is,” she said, showing the tracker to Alya. “I’m going to call him first, but just in case we spook him, could you get down to street level and be a lookout for me?”

Alya cleared her throat. “Yes, of course.”

“Thank you!”

Chapter Text

Chat Noir was well aware that this was probably a terrible idea. He was too dizzy and short of breath to move quickly or easily, and he was filled with a deep sense of dread about returning home.

It had to be done, though. He couldn’t stay there forever, burdening his friends with the possibility of discovery and retribution from either Hawkmoth or his father.

The sudden vibrating of his baton against his back startled him, and he paused. Only one person ever called his baton, and that person was Ladybug. He had the strong feeling that Marinette or Alya had somehow told her he left. He toyed with the idea of not answering because he didn’t want her to know how out of breath he was from a short journey that would have been, on a normal day, considered a gentle stroll across the rooftops.

He leaned back against the brick of a chimney, shielding himself from the chill breeze. His breath came in short puffs of white, and he forced a model smile onto his face as he answered the video call.

“My Lady,” he said, trying to sound flirty but sounding winded instead. His smile felt strained and wrong, and his attempts to act like he was breathing normally were betrayed by the winter air.

As soon as Ladybug’s masked face appeared on the screen, he knew that he had messed up. Her furrowed brow and concerned eyes told him that.

“Chat. Noir.” She punctuated each word in his name as if they were sentences in themselves. “Where are you going?”

“Would you believe me if I said home?”

“Maybe,” she replied. “Are you going home?”

“Yes.”

“Why now? Why not wait until you’re feeling better?”

He felt his smile falter and renewed his efforts to make it seem genuine. “My Lady,” he said smoothly, “I’m feline just fine now, thanks to my recent caretakers. It’s purrfectly fine for me to go home.” He tried not to cringe at himself. He might have laid it on a bit thick.

She arched an eyebrow. “Did you discuss it with them?” She asked. He knew she knew the answer to that. This was some kind of test.

“I left a note! Didn’t want them to get worried, and you know how I am with goodbyes. Speaking of which - gotta go, LB! We can chat later.” He winked and hung up the call.

He felt like he needed to catch his breath after that conversation. He looked at his baton and, out of morbid curiosity, activated the Ladybug tracker. The blinking red dot showed that she  was at Marinette and Alya’s place, exactly as he suspected. He blinked as her dot moved suddenly and quickly across the map.

Oh. Oh no.

He hadn’t expected Ladybug to come after him. The dot approached quickly, and his sensitive ears picked up on her voice quietly calling, “here kitty, kitty,” across the rooftops.

Cautiously, he leaned around the chimney. She was three rooftops away, and didn’t notice him yet. He leaned back. He was too slow to outrun her, and his mind was too foggy to try to outfox her, not that he ever could. He looked around frantically, running out of time and barely hanging on to his decision to go home. His eyes fell upon the alley below him. That was it!

Chat Noir snuck from his hiding place behind the chimney and dropped into the alley below. He rolled with the landing, which was uncomfortable. Plagg dropped the transformation as Chat came to a stop.

“Cool it with the acrobatics!” Plagg hissed. “You aren’t in the shape for them, and I’m not in the mood.”

Adrien stood, shaking slightly from effort and the sudden cold. “Sorry, Plagg. Desperate times and all that.”

“Desperate nothing.” Plagg bared his tiny teeth in disapproval. His ears swiveled on his head as he heard Ladybug’s voice calling for Chat Noir above them. Plagg opened his mouth as if to call out to her, but Adrien snatched him out of the air and stuffed him roughly into his pocket before any sound came out.

Adrien did not want to be caught in this alley by Ladybug. She was clever, and he wasn’t invested enough in the glamour magic to be sure that she wouldn’t put two and two together and equal Chat Noir.

He walked as quickly as he could out of the alley and onto the mostly deserted sidewalk. A quick glance around told him that Alya was down the street looking for him. Marinette was probably nearby.

He had not planned this well. ...or at all.

Hoping Alya hadn’t noticed him, he turned away quickly. The world spun, and he knew he was in trouble. He stood perfectly still until everything stopped spinning, but it was too late.

He heard the zip of Ladybug’s yo-yo, and then her voice - quiet but alarmed - as she whispered his name.

“Adrien!?” Suddenly, her arms were around him. “Everyone has been so worried about you!”

Over her shoulder, he saw Alya jogging toward them. “Ladybug!” She called. Her voice died in her throat as she realized who Ladybug was hugging. “...Adrien?”

“We’ve got you,” Ladybug whispered. “You’re safe now. Everything’s going to be okay.”

He smiled a little at his situation. Wrapped up in his lady’s arms, her whispering platitudes in his ear. He buried his face in her shoulder and let his eyes close.

He wanted to believe her. He wanted to believe her so badly.

He felt his knees buckle, and then nothing.

Chapter Text

Alya chased after Ladybug, who was moving slowly and carefully with an unconscious Adrien Agreste in her arms. They reached the hospital just minutes apart, practically bursting into the emergency room lobby through the automatic doors.

The ER was busy, but the flurry of activity increased as soon as the staff realized who just came in. Alya moved to block Adrien from the view of other patients, some of whom were filming on their phones.

Ladybug was ushered through the wide double doors and into a private observation room. Alya followed, mostly unnoticed. Ladybug gently laid Adrien on the bed, and a nurse started taking his vital signs and  inserting an IV into his left arm. The doctors called Ladybug into the hallway to discuss what happened, and Alya and the nurse were left alone with him.

Alya’s mind was racing. Marinette was Ladybug. They found Adrien. How did they find Adrien? He was just… walking on the sidewalk. What happened to him? Why is he unconscious? Why are his clothes covered in blood and dirt?

His clothes.

They look so familiar.

What was it she had said earlier? That they could find Chat Noir by his clothes. How did they find Adrien - who had been missing for days - just wandering the street when they were searching for Chat Noir?

A headache was forming rapidly, but Alya would not be deterred. She squinted at his bloody shirt. A sharp pain behind her eyes caused her to look away, but she caught the glint of hospital lighting on his ring, and it was as if the headache dissipated along with a cloud that she didn’t know was there. They did find Chat Noir. They found Adrien.

Standing, Alya smiled awkwardly at the nurse. “I need to go make a phone call. Will I be allowed back in?”

“I don’t see why not.”

Alya took hold of Adrien’s right hand and held it. “I’ll be right back, Adrien,” she said, entirely for effect, “I’m going to go call your best friend, so he can come worry about you in person.” She placed her other hand over both of their hands and carefully slid off his ring. Then she patted his hand reassuringly and walked out, shoving her hands into her coat pockets.

The hospital staff would have to remove his clothing and jewelry anyway, and this way, she could be sure that Hawkmoth wouldn’t get his hands on the miraculous.

She slipped past Ladybug and the small gaggle of ER doctors and nurses surrounding her, and exited the hospital with Adrien’s ring clenched in her right fist. Nobody noticed. She could have been Hawkmoth himself, and nobody would have noticed.

Dropping heavily onto a bench in a little nook along the hospital wall, Alya pulled out her cellphone and called Nino. It was still early, but he answered on the first ring.

“Hey babe.”

“Hey,” Alya sighed, the weight of her morning suddenly much more real than it was earlier.

“What’s up?”

“Nino…” She faltered, turning the possible miraculous in her fingers. She didn’t realize this would be hard to say. It was good news, after all. “Ladybug found Adrien.”

“Wait. What. You’re kidding.” Nino paused, and when she didn’t answer, he continued, “You’re not kidding. Holy crap, dude! Ladybug came through! I mean, Ladybug always comes through but like… DUDE. She found him! She really found him?”

“Yeah,” Alya said, smiling. “She does always come through. And she found him, all right. We’re at the hospital. Come join us.”

“We? Are you there with Adrien? How did - yeah, dude. Which hospital? I’m on my way.”

“I saw her find him. I’ll send you my location. I might have to get you in.”

She hung up with Nino, texted her location, and held the ring out in her palm. Doubt crept into her mind as she stared at it. What if it was just a ring? Sure, he’d worn it since he was a kid, but maybe it was just his favorite. Maybe it wasn’t miraculous after all. Maybe Chat Noir was somewhere else and not in that hospital bed. Maybe Adrien was just Adrien, and the pieces of the puzzle she was trying to work out were not going to fit.

Nino arrived a short while later, looking like he was about to cry in relief. He hugged her, thanked her for calling him (as if she wouldn’t), and held her hand. She zipped the ring - and all the thoughts that went with it - into her coat pocket. 

Chapter Text

Alya sat patiently as Nino cried tears of relief at Adrien’s bedside. She sat silently as Marinette - civilian Marinette (not Ladybug!Marinette, who Alya was still mindblown about) - slipped into the room and tenderly held Adrien’s hand.

She could not sit silently as the cold front that was Gabriel Agreste blew in from the iceberg he must have lived in and immediately ordered all of them out of his son’s room. She probably should have been quieter about it. But Adrien was technically an adult, his friends were the ones who found him, and there was no discernible reason for Gabriel to be such an extraordinary ass about things.

She probably should not have said that to his face.

Regardless of what she should or should not have done, Alya, Nino, and Marinette were all huddled together outside the hospital waiting for a taxi, and none of them had any idea what to say about what just happened. Alya had a lot to say, actually, but as Gabriel - and hospital security - had already informed her, she had said enough.

They collapsed together into the backseat of the cab and were halfway home before Nino broke the silence by laughing.

“I can’t believe you said that to his FACE,” he snorted.

Marinette started giggling uncontrollably, and soon Alya joined in.

Their driver glanced nervously at the rear view mirror and was more than happy to finally drop them off outside of Alya and Marinette’s apartment building.

The laughter died down as they shuffled out of the car, but it started up again as soon as they looked at one another. They couldn’t seem to stop laughing until they reached the door. Marinette fumbled for her keys.

Wiping his eyes with his thumb, Nino said, “Honestly, I’m sad Adrien was unconscious for that rant you went on, babe, because I think it would have killed him and also brought him back to life.”

“I’m sorry I got us kicked out,” Alya replied. She felt genuinely ashamed. Gabriel was a piece of work, but none of them doubted that he cared for Adrien, and as unnecessarily rude as he was, she felt a little like a jerk for going off on him while his son lay unconscious in a hospital bed. Mostly, she felt bad for the hospital staff that had to witness it.

“He didn’t have to be so mean,” Marinette said as she twisted the key in the lock and pushing open the door. “We weren’t doing anything wrong by being there.”

“Yeah, dude. I’d get it if we were loud or disrespectful or something, but the only person being like that was him when he came in. Like… nobody’s sorry you told him what was what. I’m kind of sorry I didn’t film it, though.” Nino took Alya’s cost from her and hung it beside his on a hook near the door.

“That makes me feel a little better.”

“That guy just has that effect on people, you know?” Nino put an arm around her shoulders. “Don’t even worry about it.”

Marinette set a bottle of wine on the counter. “I’m just happy that Adrien has been found and is getting medical attention.” She handed a corkscrew to Nino, who opened the bottle as Marinette retrieved three glasses.

“It’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” she continued. “This week has been rough.”

“Yeah, it has,” Nino agreed. He poured a generous amount of wine into each glass. “I’m glad it’s over.”

“Yeah,” Marinette nodded. “Cheers to that.”

The three clinked their glasses together. They fell into a comfortable silence as they drank, seated on the floor around the coffee table, each of them staring off into the middle distance while they processed what happened. Or what might have happened.

Nino and Marinette had no idea what happened to Adrien, but Alya thought she might. She glanced toward her coat near the door, where Adrien’s ring was zipped safely in the pocket. She could have been wrong, but she didn’t think so. Especially because Marinette was Ladybug, and it would be just Too Perfect if Adrien was Chat Noir.

She remembered Marinette suggesting that Ladybug and Chat Noir didn’t know each other’s identities. Marinette was Ladybug and made Chat Noir a fake Chat Noir mask to hide his identity from herself. Marinette cried about seeing his real eye color.

Marinette was ridiculous, and Alya loved her, but Alya also wanted to scream about it. She poured more wine into her glass and then poured more for Nino and Marinette. They both made small grunts of acknowledgement.

By his third glass, Nino was crying about Adrien being alive. Marinette joined in, and Alya began to feel like she was in a bad daytime drama.

“He almost never complains,” Nino hiccuped. “You know how miserable his life is? Like… I would just. Die. If I had his life. Like, yeah yeah yeah,” Nino waved a hand in the air, “dude is rich and gorgeous, but at WHAT COST, you know? He’s such a good guy. Good dude.”

“The best!” Marinette wailed. “He’s so sweet and kind and gentle and beauuutiful, and we love him, and he deserves BETTER.”

Alya adjusted her glasses and looked at her wine accusingly. She was not drunk enough for this. All she wanted to do was examine that ring she had hiding in her jacket, and it was so hard to think about anything else.

“What even HAPPENED?” Nino asked. “How did it happen? How could my dude - all mild mannered and stuff - get himself into this much trouble? He just got BACK from the States, for Pete’s sake. We were gonna hang out. What even.”

Marinette nodded enthusiastically. “You’re right. It’s not like him - what could he have been doing? WAS he kidnapped? Is Hawkmoth having people KIDNAPPeD during akuma attacks!? Oh no - what if he’s low on evil butterfly money and he tried to have Adrien kidnapped so he can ransom him to buy butterflies!? We’re going to have to keep a lookout for evil butterfly stores now!”

Alya sighed, finally feeling her own buzz. They weren’t wrong - Adrien was kind and pleasant and a hard worker, and if Alya was right, he was also Chat Noir, and how he ever had time to be mild-mannered Adrien Agreste AND a cheeky crime-fighting superhero, Alya had no idea. She’d definitely have to ask.

She’d lost count of how many glasses they’d each had, but Nino, who was always a precious and sleepy drunk, was starting to nod off now. She smiled, watching his eyelids droop. “Nino, you’re falling asleep,” she said, a little surprised by the slur in her voice.

He smiled sleepily back at her, and her heart did a little somersault. Curse his adorable face.

Marinette sat quietly, her face scrunched up like she was trying to remember something.

“Baaabe, I think I’m drunk,” Nino said, giggling at himself. “I’m jus...just so relieved, you know? So relief-ed. He’s not dead in a gutter - he’s safe, allllllll safe in a hosp-hos-hosiptal.” He flopped toward Alya but missed and landed on the floor looking up at her. “I was so scared,” he whispered, his eyes filling with tears.

“Okay,” Alya said, pushing herself up. As she stood, she swayed. “You are drunk, and you’ve become a big baby about it. Come on,” she held her hands down toward him, “time for bed.”  

Nino reached up and took her hands - only missing once - so she could pull him up. She got him up after a couple of tries, and then staggered backwards as he pitched forward onto her.

“Oh yeah,” she grumbled into his shoulder, “we should have done this much sooner.” While she rearranged him so that his arm was over her shoulder, and she was supporting him, he mostly just giggled uselessly. They staggered to Alya’s room, where she dumped him unceremoniously onto her bed.

“Night,” Nino murmured, curling up on his side. Alya didn’t have the heart to point out that it was only late afternoon. The early winter darkness (and the early drinking) would not have helped her prove her point.

Alya turned - a little too fast, as she had to wait for her brain to catch up - and headed back to the living room for Marinette.

Marinette’s face was no longer scrunched in concentration but was open in increasing horror.

“Marinette, what’s wrong?”

Her wide eyes looked at Alya and only got wider. “I forgot him,” she said.

“What?”

“I forgot. How could I forget him? He’s my best friend. You’re my best friend, but he’s also my best friend, but I forGOT him, Alya. I just… forgot. Am I so stupidly obsessed with Adrien that just looking at him makes me forget my PARTNER!? What is wrong with me? I mean, I’m friends with Adrien and I’m so happy we found him - like so happy, like almost Nino happy, but no one but Nino could ever be that happy because he’s Nino - and I can’t bear to think what could have happened if we didn’t find him - but I found him and then just… forgot... about the cat.” She pulled at her pigtails in distress. “Alya, what did I do?”

Alya gaped at her. Marinette was… she was right. And if Alya hadn’t been so convinced that Adrien was Chat Noir… wait, what if he wasn’t Chat Noir? If Adrien was not Chat Noir, then Alya was wrong, and Chat Noir was somewhere in Paris, possibly alone, very much injured and in need of help.

“That big, beautiful, stupid, punny, cat. How can anyone forget him? How can LADYBUG forget him, Alya!? SHE CAN’T. SHE. CAN’T.” Marinette stood quickly and wobbled on her feet. “I’ve gotta go find him!”

“Marinette, wait!”

“I’ve gotta find him, and I’ve gotta tell him that… that I will never forget him and that he’s beautiful and that I love him, and I’ve got to bring him back here so we can be sure he’s okay. Or maybe I should take him to the hospital? I could do that. He can’t stop me if he’s not transformed, Alya! ...how do I find him if he’s not transformed?” Marinette gripped Alya’s arms. “I’ve made such a mistake. You were right!”

“Right about what?” Alya asked, overwhelmed by Marinette’s spiral. “Breathe, girl. I’ve got something to tell you.”

She shook Alya’s arms. “No TIME, Alya! Tikki? Tikki. Where’s Tikki?”

“Here I am!” Tikki’s high voice came from the coat rack, and she flew over quickly. “Marinette, I think you’ve had a bit too much to drink.” She frowned in concern.

“I know, Tikki, I know. But we’ve got to… what have we got to…” Marinette looked back at Alya. “Oh! Find Chat Noir! Tikki, spots on!”

“I really don’t think-” Tikki disappeared into Marinette’s earrings, and Alya stumbled backwards as Marinette transformed into Ladybug.  

“This is what I’ve got to tell you,” Alya began, “I think we’ve FOUND Chat… Noir….”

Ladybug put a hand on Alya’s mouth. “Shh.. sh. Shh. We’ll find him, don’t you worry. We’ll find him, and we’ll.. we’ll… kiss him.” She nodded decisively and spun around toward the balcony. She spun too fast and ended up facing Alya again. She blinked in confusion.

“Ladybug,” Alya said, “you’re… you’re drunk!” She laughed. “I didn’t even know that was a thing that could HAPPEN. Oh my gosh.” She laughed harder, almost doubling over. “Drunk you wants to KISS Chat Noir!”

Ladybug swayed, shaking her head violently. “I never said that. I never did. Okay.. I kissed him once,” she held up one finger, “ONCE when we were kids but I wouldn’t because I love. Love Adrien. Who’s not Chat.”

“You KISSED HIM!?” Alya gaped.

“SHHH! He doesn’t KNOW! He CAN’T know!”

“You’re telling me that you don’t love Chat Noir, who you want to kiss, and you’ve actually kissed him before, but he doesn’t know.”

“He loves me,” Ladybug whispered. She picked up one of the wine glasses and drained it of its remaining wine. “He was laying there injured and hisstupid pretty green eyes were ssossoft and gentle and ssso HIM and he told me that he loved me and all I did was CRY. I cried. ‘Cause he almost died and I can’t,” she hung her head and sat heavily on the couch.

“Can’t what?”

“I can’t do this without him,” she answered. Her earring beeped. “I don’t even know hiss real name, and it doesn’t matter ‘cause he’s him.” She blinked at Alya.

“You’re in love with him,” Alya said.

“I can’t be,” she whispered. Her earring beeped again. “Oh gosh, Tikki, spos off already.” In a flash of light, Ladybug became Marinette again, drunk and slouched comically on the sofa. She waved a hand listlessly at Tikki, who gave Alya a sympathetic look and flew back to the coat rack.

Alya flopped down next to Marinette and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Girl, what are our lives?”