Ladybug had been acting very strangely lately.
Chat Noir turned back to see her staring at him again, eyes darting away when she noticed him watching. This had been happening all night and it was really distracting him from patrol. Normally he would be all about Ladybug paying attention to him but there was something in her gaze that made him uncomfortable. She seemed sad when she looked at him. Or worried?
“Are you okay, my Lady?” He asked, when they took a break. He was trying to get to the bottom of her evasive behavior. It had been going on for a few days now, and was starting to get a little concerning.
“Are you okay?” She asked, voice filled with implication that he didn’t understand.
“I’m fine.” He said, honestly. It had been a little bit of a stressful day but nothing worse than normal. He had to cancel plans with Nino because a photoshoot went longer than expected and he had a lot of homework, but nothing that was worth complaining about. “You are the one who has seemed really off lately.”
Ladybug sighed and walked over to him, putting a hand on his shoulder. He met her eyes and was surprised to see them damp, as if she was about to cry. “Chaton, you know you don’t have to put on a strong face around me, right? I will always be here for you, no matter what.” The intensity of her gaze took him by surprise.
He blushed, unsure how to respond to such a declaration. “Thanks, Buginette. That really means a lot.” And he meant it. Hearing her say that made his heart beat faster and his chest fill with warmth. He loved her so much and hearing her reciprocate at least some of his feeling made him so happy.
She hugged him tightly. “You don’t need to talk to me about it.” She said, laying her head on his shoulder. “But I will be here if you need any help.”
This was the confusing part. “Uh, okay?” He said, hesitantly.
She pulled away and patted him gently on the cheek, a small, sad smile on her lips. “Let’s get back to patrol.”
He was more than ready for that.
As he started moving, however, he noticed something in the pocket of his suit. It was a small, folded piece of paper. Ladybug must have slipped it in during her hug.
He would have to look at it later, as Ladybug was already significantly ahead of him. He took off after his partner, still very confused.
It wasn’t until he was back in his room, ready to detransform, that he remembered the piece of paper in his pocket. He took it out as he dropped his transformation, unfolding it. It was a piece of notebook paper, with a twenty euro note folded up in it.
Brows furrowed in confusion he read the note. It was a list of addresses. With notes next to them, saying things like, “curfew might make it difficult” and “bakery gives out free bread after 7pm”.
“What is it?” Plagg asked, curiously.
“I really don’t know.” Adrien said, heading over to his computer to look up the addresses.
They were youth homeless shelters, mostly. There were a couple of bakeries and restaurants at the bottom, marked with notes of when they gave out free food. There was one address that seemed to be to a social worker’s office.
Well, this wasn’t helping his confusion at all.
“Why did she give me this?” He asked, looking at the money and the note.
“Maybe she thinks you’re homeless?” Plagg said, disinterestedly.
“Ha ha. Don’t be silly.” He looked back at the papers, an idea striking him suddenly. “Oh, she probably wants me to donate this money to one of these shelters!”
“Yeah, probably.” Plagg yawned and went to sleep.
Still, it was a kind of strange way to go about donating money. But he was sure she had her reasons. The crying was a little strange but she was a very compassionate person.
Twenty euros didn't seem like enough for a real donation though. He would ask his dad to donate more.
“I just don't know what to do to help him.” Adrien heard Marinette's worried voice from behind him and turned around in his seat.
“Help who?” He asked.
Marinette, like usual, squeaked and didn’t answer. He really wished she wouldn’t do that. He just wanted to be friends with her and he really wasn’t sure why she acted so weirdly around him.
“This guy Marinette knows.” Alya clarified. “She thinks he is in a rough place and is going through some nasty stuff.”
“Oh no. What kind of stuff?”
“I’m w-worried.” Marinette paused and started again. “He has an abusive dad and he’s homeless right now.”
“Oh wow. That’s not good.” He knew from his research last night into those homeless shelters that youth homelessness was a huge problem in the city and that they were often in very vulnerable positions. “How do you know this guy?”
Marinette’s eyes widened in panic. “Uh, h-he’s just a guy I know. F-from the bakery! He comes into the bakery. And we talk. Yeah.” She nodded finally.
“Okay.” Adrien said, slowly. He glanced over at Alya who shrugged and gave him a look that seemed to say “Yeah, she’s totally lying but whatever.” He was sure she would get it out of her eventually, if he knew Alya at all.
“But anyways.” Marinette said with a vague wave of her hand. “I’m just really worried about him. He means a lot to me. But I don’t really don’t know what to do. I tried slipping him some money and a list of resources but, like, I don’t really know how to bring it up, really.” She sighed. “Like, we don’t really have a relationship where we talk about personal stuff. I’m worried that I overstepped his boundaries already.”
“Wow, that’s really a tough situation.” Adrien frowned, thinking. “I feel like, being there as a resource is probably good. And if he doesn’t say anything, slipping him money probably wouldn’t hurt?”
She sighed. “Yeah, probably. I just wish I could give him more.”
Adrien smiled. This was something he could help with. Digging into his pocket he pulled out his wallet. He only had a twenty in cash today but he handed it to Marinette. “From me.”
“Oh!” Her eyes widened again and she pushed the bill back towards him. “I couldn’t.”
“It’s for your friend.” He pushed it back. “It sounds like he needs it.”
It was only as she took it with a frown that he realized that it was the same twenty euro note that he had received from Ladybug. He figured that this friend was a worthy use of the money. Especially given that he had managed to convince his dad to donate a large sum to one of the shelters on the list.
“Thank you so much.” She sighed. “I just worry about him so much.”
As the teacher called the class to order, Adrien couldn’t help but admire Marinette for her kindness and thoughtfulness.
Chat Noir yawned as he landed on the rooftop next to Ladybug.
“Sorry I'm late, my Lady.” He said with a flourish. “I was held up at work.”
“It’s no problem.” She said, smiling widely. He loved the way she smiled at him. “I brought you something.” She held up a paper bag with a pattern of oil stains that promised deliciousness inside.
“Nice!” He snatched it from her and opened it to reveal several pastries. “Aww yeah. This is exactly what I need right now.” He reached in and grabbed the first pastry and stuffed it in his mouth without even looking at it. Closing his eyes, he savored the buttery flavor. It had been a long day. There was a runway show, which was always exhausting. He hadn’t even had time to shower before rushing off to patrol, much less eat anything.
Ladybug laid a hand on his shoulder. “I can bring you food more often if you want.”
“Uh, yes.” He said, his mouth full of delicious croissant. He swallowed and realized his rudeness. “I mean, you don’t have to.”
“I want to.” She smiled and leaned her head on his shoulder. Instinctually, he wrapped his arms around her. He wasn’t the sort to ever turn down a Ladybug hug, after all. She sighed against him and he felt warmth fill his body. Suddenly she stiffened.
“Why do you smell awful?” She said, pulling away.
“Rude.” He said, pretending to be offended for a moment before explaining. “I just came from work. I didn’t have time to shower. Sorry.”
She sniffed, brows furrowed. “You smell like hairspray and cigarettes.” Her frowned deepened. “Chat, what’s your job, again?”
“Sorry. A lot of people smoke backstage.” He shrugged. The tendency for models to smoke was gross and was forbidden for Gabriel models but they had partnered with a few other companies for the show that did not have the same restrictions.
“Backstage?” She said under her breath. “Chat. Where do you work?” She sounded distressed.
“Uh, just a place.” He was nervous. He couldn’t exactly tell her that he was a famous model. That would kind of go against the whole secret identity thing that they had both agreed on.
“What’s on your face?” She asked, suddenly, touching his cheek. “Is that glitter? And lipstick?”
He sighed. Of course this was one of those high fashion shows with a ostentatious theme. He was definitely wearing more makeup than he normally did for work. The glitter was going to be in his hair for a week. At least the mask hid the ridiculous smokey eye they gave him. “Gotta look sexy.” He said with a dismissive laugh, hoping that she would just drop it.
To his surprise, she did. She dropped her hand away from his face and smiled softly. Her eyes looked sad for some reason he couldn’t fathom.
“Are you okay?” He asked.
“I’m always here for you. You know that, right?” Her tone was serious. “If you are ever. . . in danger, I’m here.”
He smiled. She must still be upset about the akuma attack from a few days ago. She was late to the fight and he ended up getting hurt pretty bad. He knew she was feeling guilty but he figured that, due to her power reversing everything, she would be over it by now. But he understood the feeling of carrying unnecessary guilt around. “I know.” He said, trying to reassure her. “I always trust you with my back. I can take anything when I know you are here for me.”
Her frowned deepened. “But you shouldn’t have to!” She sounded genuinely upset and he felt a surge of love for her. She was so compassionate. “You save all these people all the time.” She gestured to the city around them. “A-and you. . . you. . . .” She threw her hands down in futility.
“Hey.” He wrapped an arm around her. “Hey, it’s okay. I’m fine.”
She returned the hug. “You’re my best friend.” She murmured against his chest.
He smiled and dropped a gentle kiss on the crown of her head. “And you are mine.” He may be in love with her, but he was her friend first.
“I just want you to be safe.”
“I’m safe. Don’t worry.” He pulled away and smiled gently at her. “Let’s get on with patrol, okay? Paris needs us.” Patrol should hopefully take her mind off of any guilt and get her back to her normal self.
She responded with a soft smile. “Yeah, let’s get going.” She gestured to the bag of pastries in his hand. “You can finish those later.”
When he got home he finished up the pastries and noticed that there was something else in the bag. It was a small plastic bag with another 20 euro note. Weird. More money to give to Marinette’s homeless friend, he supposed.
“I-I just, I just don’t know what to do?” Marinette was saying to Alya as Adrien took his seat the next morning.
“Wow, I don’t know what to tell you.” Alya said, rubbing her back gently. “That really sounds like a sucky situation.”
“What’s wrong?” Adrien asked.
“M-my friend.” She responded hesitantly. “The one I was talking about before.” She fidgeted with her pencil. “I think his situation is worse than I thought.”
“Oh no.” He said. He didn’t know this guy but any friend of Marinette was definitely a good person and he was sad to hear about his hardship.
“He’s a stripper.” Alya said, rubbing circles on her best friend’s back.
“Oh, shit.” That’s. . . not a good profession for a homeless teen.
“I think so at least. He let is slip last night, but he wouldn’t tell me any more when I asked.” She sighed. “I’m just so worried. He is really attractive so, like, maybe someone made him think it was his best option. But like, it is so dangerous! Stripping at some sketchy, underaged illegal club is just, like, what do I do? I care about him.”
“Is there, like, someone you can call or tell or something?” He suggested.
“I don’t know?” She shook her head. “Our relationship is pretty weird so I don’t know.”
“Well, this is like, actual a real issue of, like, his safety.” Alya said. “Like, that’s like, underaged sexual exploitation.”
“I know!” She sighed. “I can’t believe he is going through this and he didn’t tell me.”
“You should try talking to him.” Adrien suggested. “Like, directly. Just tell him that you care about him and are worried for his safety.” He suddenly remembered the money Ladybug had given him. “I feel like your support is probably more help, but this shouldn’t hurt.” He handed her the twenty euro note.
Her eyes widened. “Thanks so much. I hope it helps.”
“I’m sure that he will be okay with you as a friend.” He smiled honestly. Marinette really was a good person.
Marinette made an unintelligible sound and cover her face with her hands. “. . . Thanks.” She murmured.
“Chat, I think we should talk.” Ladybug said, motioning Chat towards her.
“About what?” He asked, unsure where this conversation was going.
“We’ve been dancing around some things and I think we need to face them, together.” Her face was strangely serious, which made him nervous. What could she possibly be talking about.
“I’m so glad you decided that we should admit our feelings for each other.” He joked, with a flirty grin.
“Chat.” She said warningly. “I’m serious.”
“I know, I know.” He laughed. “What do you want to talk about, my Lady?”
She hesitated. “I know about your job. And I want to help you. Because it just isn’t safe to be an underaged stripper.”
Chat choked as he processed what she said. “A s-stripper?” He said, incredulously. “You, you think I’m a stripper?”
“You’re not?” She asked, shocked by his reaction.
“I’m not!” He insisted. “Why did you think I was?”
She hesitated, blushing. “T-the other day. You talked about backstage and like, you smelled like cigarettes and were covered in glitter! What was I supposed to think?”
That. . . was a good point. But still! “Maybe don’t assume that I’m a stripper?”
She looked away. “I was worried! Because I know teens in your situation can get into dangerous situation to survive, you know?”
Now that just added more confusion. “My. . . situation?”
“You know.” She waved her hand vaguely. “Like, on the street?”
“What?” He frowned. “You mean, like, homeless?”
“Oh my god, was. . . was I wrong about that too?” She hid her face in her hands and slid down the wall until she was crouching on the rooftop.
“Uh, yeah.” He rubbed the back of his neck, almost feeling guilty for not being a homeless stripper.
She moaned. “Just let me die.”
“Was that why you have been acting all weird and giving me money?” He asked, everything clicking into place.
She nodded, looking miserable.
His heart swelled with love. Because she cared. He didn’t know anyone else who would care that much if they thought he was in trouble. “That’s . . . incredibly sweet.” He said, smiling.
“Oh, screw you.” She said, glaring up at him.
“No, really.” He sat down next to her and took her hand. “The fact that you were so worried about me is really touching.” He stroked her hand gently. “I don’t know anyone in my life that would care about me like that. So thank you, Ladybug.” Bringing her hand up to his mouth, he kissed it gently, before letting it go.
She blushed and pulled her hand towards her. “I’m sure you have plenty of people who care about you.”
His thoughts turned to his friends and he smiled. And he thought of Marinette and her friend who was in the same situation that Ladybug had thought he was in. “Maybe.” He said softly. Maybe he wasn’t as alone as the thought he was.
Suddenly Ladybug looked up at him quizzically. “Wait.” She said, slowly. “If you aren’t a stripper, why were you covered in glitter?”
“High fashion is weird.” He responded dryly.