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what am i trying to say?

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Adrien sees the online quiz someone sent to the group chat. He’s curled up in bed with the lights off, in a spot he hasn’t moved from in hours. There’s extra blanket from the couch wrapped around his shoulders in addition to his comforter covering him, to prevent any chance of non-friendly air finding him.

It’s a cocoon he feels safe in, not an unwelcome feeling. As of yet, he’s not getting the itchy, crawly feeling of claustrophobia telling him to jump out of his room and not come back until sunrise.

Plagg’s asleep, anyway. Adrien could wake him up, but that would be rude, without legitimate reason. Plagg always gets a weird uncomfortable attitude after a transformation that was clearly a coping mechanism. There’s always a vibe like Plagg feels like he should give constructive advice or talk to Adrien about what’s going on, and Adrien doesn’t want the kwami to feel obligated or annoyed into listening to Adrien’s excessive teenage angst.

So Adrien is lurking in the group chat again. Nino, Alya, and Marinette are all awake and having a lively discussion about whatever this “love language” quiz means. He’s pretty sure that they know he’s seeing all of their messages in real time, and that they all know he’s simply choosing not to engage with them. If he was feeling more himself, he might respond.

His mood is too heavy for him to be a good conversation participant. He would probably make a great Chat Noir right now, with all his brooding. He’s on a strict no-sugar and no-carb and no-breakfast diet for the next three weeks in preparation for a magazine cover shoot (not to mention that his father is now requiring that he comes home for lunch, having discovered Adrien’s acquired habit of going to Nino’s or Marinette’s during lunch to frantically forage as much as he can to get through akuma attacks without passing out), which means he’s cranky and exhausted. He knows he needs to chill out on the extra snacks and pastries and dairy and meat and whatever else. He eats too much, and Natalie tonelessly reading a note from his father saying that Adrien had better not come to his next fitting “bloated” or whatever the fuck isn’t helping his mood in the slightest.

The fast-paced conversation in the chat is hurting his eyes trying to keep up with it. He clicks on the link to the quiz--he has to scroll up quite a ways, because the conversation has moved on to other, more interesting things.

He feels sort of dumb going through the quiz. It’s not like his friends sent it to make him feel bad, but his mood is really heavy and the thirty questions about how he wants others to treat him is just reminding him that he’s worlds away from feeling loved .

In the end, the results don’t really surprise him. He’s tied for “physical touch” and “words of affirmation.”

Adrien knows he needs to have physical contact with people around him. Even back when he and Chloe were tiny, he would go out of his way during sleepovers to fall asleep before the movie was over, so that he could curl up against her for as long as possible before they had to go to bed. He hasn’t changed much; Adrien still fights to deserve hugs from his father and he goes out of his way to fistbump Nino or even just press their arms together while they’re sitting on Nino’s couch.

The same goes for positive words sent his way. Adrien practically throws himself at the mercy of anyone who spares him a compliment, because genuine ones (ones not about his looks) are his practical lifeblood. Ladybug has called him out for actually purring following a more heartfelt congratulations before.

Anyway, thinking about all this is only making him feel lonelier. Adrien is about to call it a night when Nino messages him outside of the chat. ‘Everything good?’ is the simple question.

Adrien doesn't know what to say. He always freezes up and forgets how to respond like a normal human being when he’s like this.

‘Yeah sorry,’ he types, way too slowly. He winces, knowing that Nino is going to catalogue the “unnecessary” apology for fodder for a future concerned conversation, and then deletes the ‘sorry’ before sending the message.

Nino doesn’t respond for a while, letting Adrien know that Nino knows that Adrien is full of shit. ‘Did you take the quiz lol. I got quality time.’

It’s a pretty harmless question, but Adrien weighs the outcomes of telling his best friend that he needs physical touch in order to survive. That’s a weird energy to put into a friendship, he thinks. And he doesn’t want Nino to feel obligated to give Adrien fakey-fake compliments just because they make Adrien feel like he doesn’t actually want to Cataclysm himself.

Once that thought crosses his mind, Adrien decides he needs to just go to sleep before he spirals and does something stupid. ‘Didn’t see it oops,’ he tells Nino. He pauses for a length of time that is hopefully believable, then sends, ‘Ooh I might take it tomorrow idk. Goodnight.’

He doesn’t see if Nino responds, because he’s put down his phone already and burrowed deeper into his blanket cocoon. Maybe his mood will be gone in the morning.

 

Even though Adrien didn’t tell anyone what he got on that quiz, he can’t help but feel like his friends already know, somehow.

The following Monday, Nino immediately throws an arm around Adrien, saying, “Dude! You have to see this video, I’m losing my mind.”

Adrien, after a long, lonely, cold weekend in which his father had actually locked him in his room for a day, sinks into Nino’s side and does everything in his willpower to not let his head fall onto Nino’s shoulder. That’s not what bros do. “Wait, I saw this yesterday!” Adrien says, but he refuses to move away, keeping his eyes glued to the screen. It’s some sort of fighting competition for really bad robots. “We should do something like this, in our class.”

“Max would totally win, though,” Nino says, shaking his head. “We’d have to handicap him somehow, to make it fair.”

“He could be the judge,” Adrien says, and Nino squeezes his shoulders before letting go. Adrien looks up, hoping he didn’t say something wrong somehow, but it’s just that Alya and Marinette have arrived and Nino’s waving a hand to greet them, which Adrien echoes.

“Adrien!” Alya says, after she’s given Nino a sufficiently PDA-ey greeting. She slaps Adrien’s arm, to punctuate her greeting. “We missed you this weekend!”

Adrien grimaces. “Yeah, I’m really sorry. I couldn’t leave my room on Saturday.”

Perhaps that’s the wrong thing to say. Whatever Alya was originally going to say next doesn’t come as she stares at him, and Marinette looks gently horrified. Nino’s bristling to Adrien’s right, uncomfortable, and Adrien leaps to correct himself, if only to dispel the new awkwardness. “I mean--I just had to practice. A lot. Because I suck at piano? And I have a recital coming up. I didn’t--”

“Did he lock you in again?” Nino asks, quiet. He’s probably putting himself on high alert for other signs that Adrien’s struggling, now, which means Adrien is being a really bad friend.

Adrien pushes a hand through his hair, overwhelmed, and he decides to just change the subject entirely. He hates the way that his friends are looking at him. “No? Anyway, do you guys want to--”

“You don’t suck at piano,” Marinette tells him, cutting him off in an uncharacteristic steely tone. “You’re really good, we’ve all heard you.”

“Yeah,” Alya agrees. “I’ll fight your dad with my bare hands.”

“Get in line,” Nino says to her.

Adrien, despite himself, laughs, a high-pitched and nervous sound.

Marinette pats his arm, lightly enough that Adrien is disappointed when she pulls her hand away. “Hey, you should come with us, we’re going to my house for lunch today.”

Adrien’s heart sinks. He’d hoped this wouldn’t come up. “Sorry, I can’t. I have to go home for lunch from now on.”

“What?” Nino asks, newly angry. “Why?”

Adrien shrugs, trying not to look utterly miserable. He doesn’t have to say anything about a change in diet for Nino to know exactly what’s going on, but Alya and Marinette look equally upset without knowing about that unfortunate aspect of the situation anyway.

He’s well aware that he’s made his friends worried, sad, or angry, even though they’d all been in a good mood before he showed up. Adrien feels sick, and only partly because the kitchen had been locked up when he tried to steal some food early this morning.

The chime of the clock lets them know that they need to get to class, and Adrien is relieved that the conversation is over, for now. Maybe they’ll all forget and he won’t have to deal with this line of discussion again.

 

When he’s Chat Noir for the next two weeks, he practically keeps himself glued to Ladybug’s side. He’s come to depend on her as the one friend he has who won’t get weirded out if he throws compliments at her like confetti or grabs her hand or sweeps her off her feet to run somewhere or pushes their thighs to touch if they’re sitting side-by-side. If she minded, she’d have spoken up months ago.

But, maybe he’s feeling a little lonelier, and a little more tired, and a little more needy lately, because she seems to take notice of a recent uptick of affection from him. She notices everything, after all. Her civilian persona probably keeps a freaking bullet journal, or something.

“Everything alright?” she asks. It’s a quiet night, with not much going on besides the dull hum of traffic beneath them. They’ve done little to no actual crime-fighting (they stopped a mugging, but the mugger had just caught sight of them and booked it, which meant no fighting got to happen), but Adrien feels like he’s run a marathon. He knows he should eat something to keep from losing consciousness entirely, but he’s pretty sure he can make it another hour or so before they call it a night. He always gets sort of anxious about eating anything when he’s on a diet like this.

(He always gets sort of anxious about eating anything, but being on a diet makes it a hundred times worse.)

“Yeah,” Adrien says, his tone of voice saying everything to the contrary, and he leans over to rest his head on Ladybug’s shoulder. She puts an arm around his shoulders to keep him there, which is very kind of her.

He’s being kind of pathetic right now. Adrien looks past his own whining for just a second to try and catalogue how Ladybug’s doing, but there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with her beyond her normal late-night sleepiness. “How about you?” he asks.

“Same old,” she says, but she quickly pivots away from herself again, so there might actually be something bothering her. He feels bad for not noticing, but he doesn’t get to voice this because she asks, “Do you need to talk about something?”

Adrien sighs, and looks down at his feet, dangling over the side of a rooftop. The truth is, he doesn’t have a great reason for being so down-in-the-dumps lately. “I’m just kind of hungry, to be honest.”

She snorts, and moves to get up, dropping her arm from around him. “Is that it? We could just go run and get something from a bakery, if anywhere is open.”

Adrien’s stomach twists, and he misses the feeling of her arm on his shoulders. He doesn’t know how to explain to her that he’s fighting to find a balance between eating healthy and eating as much as he wants. His father wants him to drop at least four kilograms, but if he says that, she might freak out, telling him to get out of that situation or to call the child protective agency, ASE. That’s how Nino usually reacts (Adrien’s moderately sure that Nino has the ASE number saved in his phone, in case of emergency, since the first time Adrien showed up to school with bruises).

Is it too incriminating, to tell her about this? She might be able to connect the dots from this to the next time Adrien gets too dizzy standing up in class.

“I should head home,” he says. He’s just lucky that he’d been able to hide all the food in his mini fridge before someone had come and cleaned it out, and then put it back once they were gone--that’s where he keeps Plagg’s cheese, so at least Plagg won’t be upset at him.

“Wait, Chat,” Ladybug says, and grabs his arm. He must have made some sort of facial expression to make her newly worried. “I’m sorry I brushed you off like that.”

“It’s okay,” he says. He flashes her a weak smile. “I really just need a good night’s sleep. I promise I’ll be back to normal next time, my lady.”

He has no idea if he’ll be able to keep that promise. She narrows her eyes at him.

“I’ll see you Thursday night,” Adrien says. He gets up and leaves, and she doesn’t do anything to stop him.

He de-transforms in his dark room, and cracks open his small fridge to get Plagg some cheese. The smell makes his stomach simultaneously grumble and roll over itself, but Adrien tries not to think about that too much.

“Kid, let’s share it,” Plagg says, and tries to give Adrien back a piece, but Adrien smiles and waves him off.

“I’m not eating dairy right now,” Adrien reminds him.

“You didn’t even finish your dinner.” Plagg tries again to push the cheese into his hand.

Adrien moves away, going to find some pajamas to wear. Plagg hovers, clearly concerned, but doesn’t say anything else.

 

The shoot comes and goes. Adrien is more hesitant accepting snacks from his friends, a change that probably doesn’t go unnoticed, but if his father isn’t impressed with his diet, things will get even worse. As it is, he loses five kilograms, and knows he shouldn’t beam as much as he does when his father praises him for that. It doesn’t matter if he’s healthy, anyway, because his father’s good mood means he’s allowed to have a sleepover with a friends. Adrien’s over the moon with this news (and Nino is just as excited when he hears).

Adrien is in his father’s good graces, with the raw photos from the shoot and comments from the photographer assuring his father that Adrien’s staying small enough to keep modeling, which means that Adrien’s even allowed to go to Nino’s . That means less surveillance, less anxiety, and more food to make up for the past few weeks.

He finds, however, that his hangups about food haven’t disappeared. He only has a few bites of dinner before he feels full, and he’s lucky that they’ve been allowed to eat in Nino’s room, in front of the TV, because he sets his mostly-full plate aside in a way that would be very rude if he was at the dinner table.

“The shoot’s over, right?” Nino reminds him. “You’re allowed to eat.”

Adrien thinks his face is very red. It’s reassuring, that Nino knows exactly what’s going on, but Adrien’s also embarrassed. There’s no way to explain himself without saying something along the lines of but my father was so proud of me when he saw how small I am or this is the first time in months my dad has praised me so if this is all I have to do then it’s worth it.

No, those would definitely make Nino worried. And this is supposed to be a chill evening, not one where Nino feels obligated to make Adrien feel better.

But it would feel good, to tell someone about how even after the shoot, the kitchen doors have remained locked whenever he’s home. Or how Nathalie always watches him eat every meal, and keeps a chart with the calories he’s consumed that day. Or how he’s considering keeping his own chart again, because he slips up and has extra snacks sometimes. He knows that none of it is especially healthy, but maybe Nino would know what to do.

Adrien cautiously picks the plate back up, but he’s mentally calculating how many calories he’s going to need to report to Nathalie tomorrow. He needs to tell someone, and Nino’s still watching him instead of the TV show that’s on the screen.

“You’re okay,” Nino eventually says, when Adrien still can’t figure out how to phrase anything. “I’m here when you need me, alright?”

Adrien finishes his plate, and Nino gives him a big thumbs-up when he sees.


He knows exactly what his eating habits mean. Back when he was twelve, completely insecure about every aspect of his appearance and missing his mother more than anything, he’d been hospitalized for habits like this. But his father would flip his lid if Adrien asked for a counselor or a therapist, so Adrien needs to pull himself out of this.

After all, he’s only becoming a worse and worse superhero as he loses weight. Ladybug, Nino, Alya, Marinette, even Chloe-- everyone is worried, and he’s starting to consider that his father might be in the wrong on this one, with the evidence stacking against him.

When Adrien sits down to dinner by himself one Friday, with Nathalie looming over him, he interrupts her and asks, “Do you think you could stop tracking what I eat?”

Nathalie kind of sputters to a stop, and then ventures, “Well, you’re in the public eye, and your appearance is the most--”

“I know,” he says. He looks down at the dismal salad in front of him, and hates that he already knows exactly how many calories are in it. “But, um, I really don’t like it. And I need to eat...more than this,” he forces out.

“Your father calculated this diet to keep you in shape, for your activity level,” Nathalie says, unimpressed.

That’s because his father doesn’t know about the hours of jumping, running, flipping, fighting that Adrien does, and there’s no way to tell him about it without seriously compromising his identity. Adrien sort of twitches, not knowing how to refute that, until he blurts, “I blacked out at fencing on Thursday.”

It’s not a lie. He’d had to sit out the rest of the practice, and it had taken a lot of wheedling and cajoling and convincing to make sure his instructor didn’t tell his father. (And it’s the best he can do, because he can’t exactly tell her about when he’d passed out and almost fallen off the Eiffel Tower during an akuma attack.)

“Why didn’t we hear about this?” Nathalie asks. To her credit, she’s not as impassive as she was before.

“I didn’t want anyone to worry about it,” Adrien says. He realizes he’s hunched over, and corrects his posture as best he can. “So, do you think you could talk to my dad about it?”

“I’ll tell him about the fencing incident,” she concedes, and uses her clipboard clamp to secure her pen to the board, before leaving the room. It’s better than nothing.

Adrien, more anxious than relieved, waits a few minutes before leaving the room without finishing his dinner. He finds the kitchen door unlocked, for once, and Plagg slips out of his pocket and nuzzles Adrien’s face, saying, “Way to stick up for yourself! Now steal whatever else you can carry, and we’ll have a party!”

Adrien thinks about telling Plagg just how much sugar fruit has, but Plagg is pushing him towards the kitchen and he’s right--there isn’t much time until someone sees him. He dashes inside, finds strawberries and chocolate chips and a long loaf of bread, and bolts for his room.

 

He’s halfway through the baguette when there’s a harsh knock on his door. Adrien has barely shoved his makeshift picnic underneath his bed when it swings open, and his dad sweeps in.

Thankfully , Adrien doesn’t have a mouthful of food, and he can answer when his dad demands, “How long have you been skipping meals?”

Well, Adrien would have been physically able to answer that question, but he’s so confused about the premise that he just stammers, “What?”

It’s his dad who hasn’t been allowing him to snack, or have breakfast, or have any of his favorite foods. He really can’t blame Adrien for taking the next logical step in this diet’s direction.

Gabriel says, standing over where Adrien is sitting on the carpet, “A nutritionist plans your diet, and there’s no way you’d get to this level of bad health if you were following the menu correctly. It’s perfectly calibrated for a fourteen-year-old who only fences twice a week.”

Adrien meets his father’s eye and fights not to lose his entire shit. “I’m sixteen. And if that nutritionist knew anything , they wouldn’t be putting a strict diet on someone who was hospitalized for anorexia four years ago.”

He’s said the a-word now. His father recoils (Adrien wouldn’t be surprised if his father had completely forgotten about the hospitalization until now), and eventually says, “That doesn’t explain how you would get the point of collapse.”

“It doesn’t?” Adrien asks. “You think that eating a thousand calories a day is enough for someone--?”

“You should have said something sooner,” Gabriel snaps. “You need to trust me.”

“You should know that your only son is sixteen fucking years old--”

Adrien !” Gabriel snarls, and Adrien claps a hand over his mouth, eyes wide.

“Sorry, that wasn’t what I meant, I’m sorry,” he says through his hand, but Gabriel grabs his free arm and hauls him to his feet for them to be eye-to-eye.

“Do not talk to me that way,” Gabriel hisses. “If you’d said something before it got this bad, this could have all been avoided without theatrics. It’s like you want to hurt yourself.”

Adrien wants to say, sarcastic, yeah, that’s it, definitely! , because he remembers being in the hospital as a time when he didn’t see his father for three months, and nurses poked and prodded and asked invasive questions, and he couldn’t go to group therapy or have visitors because that could have become very bad press. Nobody had been allowed to know he was there, and so he sat, lonely, with some coloring books and a stuffed bear that a pitying doctor had given to him. A super great time, for everyone involved. Adrien was definitely aiming for that.

“You’re lucky I’m not pulling you out of school, with your horrendous behavior and language,” Gabriel spits, towering over Adrien, still with an iron grip on his forearm that’s really starting to hurt. “You have a responsibility to be healthy and sane. You’re not leaving the house until Monday morning.”

“You promised I could go to Alya’s tomorrow--”

“I don’t care,” Gabriel tells him. He turns and heads back to the door.

Adrien scrambles to run after him, and grabs at Gabriel’s wrist to stop him, reaching for contact that isn’t a bruising grip around his arm. “Dad, wait, please just listen--”

Gabriel only turns partway, slapping Adrien’s hand away before he can make contact, hard enough that it stings (any amount of force would have stung, because Adrien hates that he can’t get positive touch from his father whenever he needs it, but he hadn’t expected real malice behind the blow). “I will not be changing my mind, Adrien.”

Adrien watches his dad leave. He hears this bedroom door lock from the outside, and he doesn’t realize he’s crying until Plagg swoops over to him with a tissue to wipe at his face.

He sits back down on the floor, numb, looking at his forearm. The spot where he’d been hit is bright red, and the spot where his dad had held him up is already starting to darken. Not a bruise yet, but it will definitely become one soon.

Plagg is trying to talk to him, he realizes distantly. Adrien looks up, and tries to focus, and hears Plagg saying “--I can go get help, would that help you? I could Cataclysm him right now--”

“Plagg, don’t,” Adrien says. He wipes his face. He needs to tell Alya that he won’t be able to make it to her house tomorrow, but his bed, and by extension his phone lying on it, seems so far away. “I just need a minute.”

Plagg stops talking, but he’s still hovering, making worried noises.

Adrien sniffs, and finally pushes himself to his feet to cross to his bed and collapse onto it. He picks up his phone, and doesn’t know how to tell his friends that he has to miss yet another gathering. At some point, they’ll just stop inviting him, right? And then he won’t have to worry about cancelling on their plans anymore.

Plagg hugs the side of Adrien’s face, much more subdued than normal. “Call your turtle friend,” he mumbles. “He said you could call him whenever.”

It’s a Friday night, and Nino almost certainly has better things to be doing. Still, Adrien unlocks his phone and sends a cautious ‘Hey, are you free?’

Nino takes a few minutes to respond, but when he does, he says, ‘YEAH do u wanna hang out?’

‘Can you talk rn?’ Adrien asks, and then forces himself to send the message before he can regret it.

Nino calls almost immediately, and Adrien picks up right away. “Hey, Adrien!” Nino says, cheery. “What’s up?”

Adrien clears his throat, an attempt to make himself sound less choked-up. “Uh, nothing much,” he says, but when Plagg makes a threatening gesture, Adrien amends, “I can’t hang out this weekend.”

“What? Why? We were going to hang out at Alya’s tomorrow.”

“I know,” Adrien says. He takes a steadying breath, but it wavers just a little too much.

“What’s wrong?” Nino demands. “Is it your dad?”

With that, Adrien breaks down again. He’s barely coherent, trying to get any information out that could possibly explain his situation. “I tried to--to tell him about my, my food thing and he doesn’t even know how old I am and--I was so rude to him and he got really really mad at me so. He locked the door and I don’t know what to do.”

Nino says, “Oh my God.”

Adrien shudders, and yanks a pillow down to hug to his chest (and to muffle his crying in, just in case somebody on the staff is wandering past his room).

“Did he hurt you?” Nino asks. When Adrien freezes up and forgets to answer, Nino asks again, “Did he?”

Plagg, again, is making threatening gestures, and Adrien stammers through a, “Well, not really that bad, it’s just my arm.”

“What about your arm?”

“I don’t know,” Adrien says. He looks at the arm in question, and yeah, he’s going to need to wear long sleeves on Monday. “It’s not really that serious. I was so rude to him.”

“That’s what you said earlier,” Nino says, but grudgingly lets the injury talk end. “What did you mean when you said your ‘food thing?’”

Adrien clears his throat again. “Uh, well. I got. Put on this diet for the shoot, and it’s crazy restrictive, and it’s kind of messing me up, because I was in the hospital before for stuff like this. I passed out at fencing the other day because I didn’t eat enough.”

“Adrien,” Nino says, quiet and sad.

“I told Nathalie about it and she told my dad and it turns out he’s been planning a diet for a fourteen -year-old, because he forgot how old I am,” he says, and laughs, almost hysterical.

Nino isn’t laughing. “That’s so shitty,” he says. “Adrien, it’s not okay for him to do that, that’s not healthy for you.”

“No, I was really rude to him, I was out of line,” Adrien says, and covers his face. He knows that he’s not telling the truth, but he doesn’t know why he has such a strong reflex to defend his father. “I’m sorry. I really shouldn’t be bothering you with this.”

“Adrien, I’m your friend,” Nino insists. “If you can get out of your room, come over and you can live here forever.”

Adrien laughs again. It’s a very pathetic sound. “Thanks. Thanks for listening.”

“Yeah, anytime,” Nino says. His voice is warm and kind, and almost as good as hanging out with him in person. “Do you need to stay on the phone for a while? Are you safe?”

Plagg has been diligently pulling the food out from under Adrien’s bed and setting it around Adrien in a semicircle, calling for round two of the picnic, and Adrien can hear someone in the background of Nino’s end of the call, calling Nino to come help them with something.

“I’m okay,” Adrien says.

“I might call later,” Nino warns. “I’ll talk to you then, okay?”

“Okay,” Adrien says. “Bye. Thank you.”

Nino hangs up. Plagg solemnly puts some strawberries in Adrien’s hand, and then floats up and pats Adrien’s cheek.

“Are we sure your dad’s not Hawkmoth?” Plagg snipes.

Adrien sighs and shakes his head. He considers the berries in his hand. “If I asked you to transform me right now, would you do it?”

“Probably not,” Plagg says honestly. “You look pretty awful.”

Adrien eats a strawberry, and his stomach turns at the thought of how much sugar he’s putting in his body, and he watches his phone as Nino purposefully starts spamming the group chat so that Adrien will have something to read to distract himself.

 

The next day, Adrien’s father calls a doctor to the house to check on Adrien. Thankfully, Adrien gets enough advance warning to put on a sweater and cover the circles under his eyes with makeup, but then the doctor has barged into his room and it’s too late to do any other disguise work.

His father lurks in the corner of the room, a disapproving eye trained on Adrien, but Adrien tries his best to forget that Gabriel’s there at all.

Adrien is weighed, and not permitted to see the number on the scale readout--but his father is, and he sighs, making Adrien tense up. His pulse and blood pressure need to be taken, and the doctor, Dr. Dupont, rolls Adrien’s sleeve up, immediately seeing the blue and green bruising on his arm. He asks, in a tone that isn’t casual in the slightest, “Oh, what happened there?”

Adrien accidentally glances at his father, whose glare deepens, and Adrien’s mind is completely blank of any sort of excuse that would have caused an injury like that. Finally, he manages, “I think that’s from when Ladybug had to save me last week,” he says, and laughs sheepishly.

Dr. Dupont sort of laughs, too, but it doesn’t reach his eyes, and continues putting the cuff around Adrien’s arm.

The numbers he sees at the end of the blood pressure test clearly don’t make him any less worried, because Dr. Dupont’s eyebrows furrow at the results. “Alright,” he says, in a much cheerier voice than his expression would indicate, “only one more part of the exam.” He turns to look at Adrien’s father. “Would you mind stepping out for a few minutes? It’s standard procedure.”

Gabriel doesn’t look pleased. “I’m sure whatever needs to happen can happen with me in the room.”

“It’s Adrien’s decision.” Dr. Dupont turns back, and calmly regards Adrien. “Would you like him to step out?”

Adrien, wide-eyed, looks at his father, who is still glowering at him, and then cuts his gaze back to Dr. Dupont. “I guess for a few minutes?”

“You heard the man,” Dr. Dupont says. Gabriel, glaring daggers, leaves the room and shuts the door behind him.

It’s clear that getting Gabriel out of the room was only so that Dr. Dupont could ask, “Is there anything you’d like to tell me, now that he’s not here?”

Adrien yanks his sleeve back down to cover the marks on his arm.

“You can tell me the truth. I’m not allowed to tell anyone,” Dr. Dupont says, unruffled. He turns his clipboard to indicate some numbers to Adrien. “But I can go first. Your blood pressure is higher than normal, while your pulse is a little ways below average. This isn’t necessarily cause for further treatment, but I noticed that your chart mentions a previous hospital stay regarding anorexia. Is that accurate?”

Adrien forces himself to nod. He wonders, dimly, if he would fool the doctor if he told him they have the wrong chart.

“Do you feel like you’re starting to fall back on bad habits?” Dr. Dupont asks.

Adrien shrugs, and looks at the floor. “I mean, I was on this diet for a while, and it didn’t really...help.”

“What did the diet entail?”

Adrien winces. “Um, I don’t know. I’m sure Nathalie would be happy to let you know all the rules.”

“So you didn’t put yourself on it…?”

“No, my father did. I think my BMI was too high.”

That’s not the right thing to say. Dr. Dupont writes something on the clipboard that he doesn’t look very happy with. “Well, I don’t want to beat around the bush, alright? You’re under what we would consider a healthy weight for your age and height, which isn’t going to be what’s best for you in the long run. BMI doesn’t necessarily mean ‘healthy,’ and I’m worried that basing a diet on BMI alone is pretty dangerous, especially when you’re a teenage boy who, frankly, could eat as much as he wanted and be fine.”

“Yeah.” Adrien scratches his neck, a little too roughly, just for something to distract him from his rising distress. “Yeah, I know all that, in theory. Um, I just can’t really do anything to eat better here.”

“What do you mean?”

Adrien glances at the closed bedroom door, making sure that his father isn’t trying to creep back in. “I don’t know. The kitchen is always locked, I guess.”

Dr. Dupont nods, and finishes writing whatever he’s been writing down this whole time. “I’m going to have a talk with your father after this, just to let him know what’s going on. Is there anything you’d specifically like for me to mention to him?”

Adrien shakes his head, and looks back at the floor. Nothing constructive comes to mind.

The doctor packs up his things, and then gently says, gesturing to Adrien’s arm, “If you take a picture of that before it fades, you’ll have a record of it,” he says. Adrien knows exactly what he’s implying. “It’s just something to keep in mind.”

Adrien nods.

“You can get through this; you’ve done it before,” Dr. Dupont says. “There’s still time to change your habits and get back to being healthy without lasting damage.”

Adrien nods again.

“Only you can choose to get better, though,” the doctor says. “Nobody can force that on you.”

“Okay,” Adrien says.

It’s going to be a lot of work, but he’s been reminded of how he never wants to spend time in the hospital again. The constant questions make him tired and also kind of itchy.

“Good luck,” the doctor says. Adrien shakes Dr. Dupont’s hand, and then Dr. Dupont leaves the room and quietly shuts the door behind him. On his way, he collects the scale he'd used, and Adrien knows he shouldn't feel upset at the loss of it.

 

Adrien is kind of out of it. He sits on his couch, staring at the blank TV, for upwards of an hour and a half, before he comes back to himself and finds that Plagg is continuously trying his best to push his phone on him, telling him to call a friend and tell them about what’s going on.

“Plagg, I shouldn’t have even told Nino . He doesn't need to worry about stuff like this.” Adrien pushes the phone back at Plagg, who glares at him.

“Didn’t it make you feel better to tell him?” Plagg demands.

“I guess,” Adrien concedes, then says, “but that doesn’t mean I should just bother him whenever I want.”

The conversation ends there, because Adrien’s father opens the bedroom door, and Plagg zips out of sight, burrowing between the couch cushions. Adrien turns his gaze forward again, every muscle in his body tense, and waits for his father to lecture him.

Gabriel sits down on the other end of the couch, completely silent. Finally, he says, “I regret the way that my temper made me act yesterday. I hadn’t seen how bad things had gotten.”

Adrien blinks, but still doesn’t look over. Or move at all.

“I just wish that you had spoken up sooner,” Gabriel says. “I hadn’t realized that you were still so sensitive about food.”

Adrien still doesn’t say anything.

“We will no longer be monitoring your food intake,” Gabriel says, “and the doctor recommended that I allow you free access to the kitchens again. However, I will step in if things get out of hand.”

Adrien straightens, cautiously optimistic, and finally looks over at his father. “Thank you.”

Gabriel opens his arms, and Adrien throws himself into them before the offer can be rescinded.

 

Adrien’s mood has improved substantially by the time Gabriel leaves the room, but Plagg is less than pleased when he emerges from the couch cushions. “It’s not your fault all this happened,” Plagg grumbles, as he nests into Adrien’s hair. “You know it’s your old man’s fault, right?”
Adrien sighs, and wipes his eyes. His father hadn’t noticed that Adrien had cried on his expensive suit jacket, which is probably for the best. “I guess. He’s right, though, I should have said something.”

“It’s his fault he’s a dickfish and that doesn’t make you want to talk to him,” Plagg snipes, and Adrien swats at him vaguely.

“Plagg!” he admonishes, and Plagg just cackles.

 

There’s an akuma attack later that evening. Ladybug brings Carapace and Rena Rouge along with her, and Adrien briefly wonders how Nino and Alya had gotten away from Marinette without Marinette being deserted at Alya’s by herself.

Hawkmoth’s heart doesn’t appear to be in it, this time. The four of them easily dispatch the villain, a run-of-the-mill jilted ex-boyfriend, and then they reconvene on a rooftop.

Alya and Nino don’t de-transform right away. Nino asks Ladybug, cautiously, “We have a friend we’d like to check up on, would that be okay?”

Ladybug raises an eyebrow, and says, “Well, I could take you there out of costume, maybe? I think you shouldn’t reveal your secret identities to this person. Who is it?”

“Adrien Agreste,” Alya says. “You know him, Ladybug. Chat Noir, have you met him?”

Adrien’s ears droop. He summons up some false bravado and rolls his eyes and says, “Oh, I’ve met him a couple times. Not a lot of...substance, there.”

“What are you talking about?” Nino snaps.

Adrien shrugs, and looks at his nails. “I mean, he’s just kind of a pretty face, right? Count me out, if you’re going to go visit.”

Nino doesn’t take this lightly, his face descending into a glare. “You don’t even know him. Why do you hate him so much?”

Ladybug looks at him like she has no idea what’s gotten into her partner, but covers for him anyway and tells Nino, “He’s just jealous because I like Adrien a lot more than him. Here, let’s go see him, but you’ll have to de-transform before we go into his room.”

“You’re wasting your time,” Adrien says, mentally planning the best way to get inside his room as quickly as possible, without anyone seeing.

“He’s my best friend, and he’s not a waste of time,” Nino snarls. “Fuck off.”

Adrien tries not to be affected by the genuine anger he sees on Nino’s face.

“Whatever,” he says nonchalantly, even though his voice is wobbly. “I’ll see you three later.”

He runs and leaps off the building, zipping out of sight, but as soon as he’s out of eyeshot, he breaks into a sprint and tears through the city, taking as many shortcuts as he can think of. They can’t beat him home. (He’s still sort of reeling from Nino defending him against Chat Noir, and Ladybug’s admission that she likes him. She likes Adrien!)

He changes back into himself once he’s safely in some bushes in the courtyard, having evaded several security cameras, and he runs up the stairs and knocks on the front door, coming face-to-face with Nathalie.

“Why aren’t you in your room?” she asks.

“I went for a walk,” Adrien squeaks. “Can I come in?”

She moves aside, disapproval radiating off of her, but Adrien is already bolting past her and running up the stairs, slipping past a confused Gorilla and slamming his bedroom door behind him a little too loudly.

He can’t see any sign of Ladybug approaching his window yet, with or without guests, so he runs to the bathroom and locks the door before doubling over himself, wheezing. The heavy sweater he’d put on that morning to hide his bruises is sweaty and disgusting against his skin.

“Stand up straight,” Plagg says, concerned. “You need to recover faster so you can get me some camembert before they get here.”

Adrien stands up straight, but stumbles back into the door of the shower as he loses his balance, the room tilting side to side around him as nausea rises in his stomach. Dimly, he realizes he missed breakfast and lunch, and his effort to “recover” isn’t really off to a good start.

“Breathe,” Plagg says. “They’ll be here any minute!”

Adrien opens the shower door and turns the water on cold, sticking his head under the water and letting it calm him down. He hears a knock, probably on his window, and he shuts the water off, finding a towel to dry his hair. Maybe it’ll be less incriminating if it looks like he’s been in the shower for a while. Either way, he’s almost breathing normally (though his lungs and throat are still burning) and he leaves the bathroom to find Ladybug at his window.

He opens the window, and says, “Hi!”

She smiles at him. “I have some visitors for you, if that’s alright.”

He creases his eyebrows, playing up a sort of airheaded persona that’s an attempt to distance himself from his Chat Noir personality as much as possible (it’s also handy for most of his model work, and for when Chloe takes him to events, and for whatever else. Lowering expectations always works). “Oh? Who?”

Ladybug yo-yos away, and returns seconds later with Alya and Nino. Nino is held to her side with one arm, and Alya is on her back. Not for the first time, Adrien has to attempt not to be flustered by how strong Ladybug is.

“Adrien!” Nino says, and jumps into the room to give him a huge hug, which Adrien gratefully sinks into, a welcome change of pace from holding himself upright. Alya isn’t far behind, taking over for Nino when the first hug ends. “Are you okay? You weren’t answering our messages.”

Adrien glances over his shoulder, at his phone, where it’s been lying untouched on his bed for the last several hours. “I’m sorry. Things are kind of crazy around here right now. How did you get Ladybug to bring you here?”

Alya and Nino exchange panicked looks, but Ladybug steps in and says, “They just happened to be nearby after today’s akuma attack. Lucky for them, I also wanted to see how you’re doing.”

“I’m doing better,” Adrien says. He sees Nino’s dubious look, and says, “No, seriously. It’s okay. My dad isn’t mad at me, anymore, so I’ll probably be able to have lunch with you guys and Marinette next week!”

“Why was he mad at you?” Alya asks. She probably already knows, because Nino would have told her everything.

Adrien stumbles over his words, trying to think of an excuse that won’t make Nino or Alya call him out for lying. “Well, I snapped at him and was really disrespectful yesterday, because I wasn’t feeling well, but I went to the doctor and my dad talked things out, so, it’s fine.”

“Wait, wasn’t he mad at you because you asked to get taken off that crazy diet?” Nino asks, unimpressed.

Adrien gives him a pleading look, and then glances to Ladybug, who looks horrified. “ No ,” he mumbles, embarrassed. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter! We got it figured out and he’s not mad at me.”

“Are you still sick?” Alya asks.

Adrien scratches his neck. “Yes, but I’ll get better.”

“Okay,” Alya says, uncertain.

All three of his friends stare at him, worried, but then Nino goes in for another hug, and Adrien is too anxious to refuse that. “We’re here for you,” Nino says. “Marinette too, but she couldn’t come at this exact moment. She’s just as worried, though.”
“Great,” Adrien says, and pushes his face into Nino’s shoulder. He loves that he upsets the people around him like it’s his second job.

“You’re a really good friend,” Alya says, reading his mind. “And you don’t need to worry about upsetting any of us, if you need to talk about something.”

Someone else rubs a hand up and down his back, either Alya or Ladybug, like somehow, everyone knows that calm words and touches are the best way to make Adrien feel safe. They all stand there for a few moments until Ladybug’s earrings beep.

“I’m sorry, we have to go,” she says. She really does sound sorry.

Adrien emerges from Nino’s shirt, and crosses to Ladybug, giving her a brief but tight hug, which she thankfully reciprocates. “Thank you for bringing them,” he says. “Maybe next time you could bring Chat Noir, too, and we’ll have a party or something.”

She snorts. “Alright. I’ll ask him.”

“He’s sort of a party-pooper, but maybe your dashing looks will win him over,” Alya says, and cackles when Adrien’s face gets red.

Nobody mentions anything about Adrien’s self-hatred party he’d thrown as Chat Noir earlier. Instead, he just says goodbye to his friends and they tell him they love him and then they’re gone. Ladybug swings away, Nino and Alya clinging to her, and he’s alone again.

Behind him, Plagg pries open the fridge with a grunt, and flits inside, gathering up an armful of cheese, which he promptly unloads onto the couch. “Alright, eat up. Kitties need cheese to make them strong.”

Adrien cautiously takes a wedge of cheese. “Thanks, Plagg.”

“Hey, it’s your cheese. Give yourself some credit.”

Adrien takes a bite, and sits down on the couch, while Plagg gorges himself next to him.

“They really care about you,” Plagg says, through a mouthful.

“Yeah,” Adrien says, overwhelmed, trying to understand what he’s feeling. “I don’t get why.”

“Or you should just let them care about you,” Plagg says, after an uncomfortable quiet. “It’s not your decision.”

“Huh,” Adrien says. He accepts another piece of cheese.

It hits him, later, when he’s being FaceTimed into where Marinette, Alya, and Nino are hanging out, that the feeling he’s overwhelmed with is the feeling of being loved. He doesn’t have a reason, really, for getting misty-eyed and emotional whenever his friends remember he has feelings, but the warm feeling is so foreign and wonderful to him that he doesn’t try and push down his delight when someone simply uses his name in conversation.

Pathetic? Maybe. But the anxious feeling that’s been following him around like a dark cloud for the last month or two isn’t bothering him right now. That’s something to be thankful for.

Chapter Text

He’s almost certain that Marinette has told her parents about the diet, his father, everything.

It’s not a ridiculous assumption to make. After all, Adrien had told Nino everything, and Alya had probably learned some stuff from Nino, and Alya is Marinette’s best friend, and Marinette worries about her friends. Adrien’s can’t even get himself to be that upset about his secrets getting spread around, because as long as it doesn’t end up in print, his father won’t know.

But there’s no way the Dupain-Chengs don’t know. Sabine had greeted him with too much familiarity for an acquaintance of her daughter (though it’s been a while since Adrien’s been over, so maybe she’s always like this?), and Tom has been continuously putting more food in front of them the whole time they’ve been here, assuring Adrien that he can eat as much as he wants.

Adrien is sitting too close to Nino to be inconspicuous, but he needs some sort of moral support, and he’s gleaning it from the sensation of his elbow occasionally brushing Nino’s. Besides doctors and nurses, the only adult who’s ever known about Adrien’s bullshit has been his father, and he doesn’t know what to expect from this. So far, the unflinching kindness is throwing him very far off-balance. It’s what he expected.

He manages to finally tear his gaze away from watching Tom and Sabine and refocus on his friends’ conversation.

“No, that excuse doesn’t work anymore, I need a real hobby,” Alya is saying.

“Try some parkour, maybe,” Nino muses. “I’m learning right now. I can show you my beginner vids on YouTube.”

“Sorry?” Adrien asks, his voice shrill with surprise. “How many subscribers do you have?”

Nino pauses. “That’s not important right now.”

Marinette laughs out loud at him. In the midst of this laughing, she knocks over her glass of lemonade, but, in a very impressive maneuver, rights the glass before it can spill any.

“Woah, Mari, what the fuck?” Alya asks, abandoning the previous conversation in favor of being delighted at Marinette’s quick reflexes.

Adrien feels the color drain from his face. He goes stock-still and his eyes go to find Tom and Sabine, because there’s no way they hadn’t heard that. His mind is racing, trying to figure out if there’s any way he can take the fall for this, if he can keep Marinette’s parents from being mad at Alya (if he can get in front of Alya in time), but his brain is sputtering on fumes like a sad old automobile.

Marinette, who’s sitting across from Adrien, must see something in his expression, because Adrien feels a whoosh of air as Marinette’s leg kicks out under the table in Alya’s direction, and Alya says, “Sorry!” in the direction of Marinette’s parents (who, curiously, haven’t even looked in their direction yet).

Sabine glances over, surprised, at Alya, but then she says to Alya, “Oh, sweetheart, you know I couldn’t give less of a shit,” and goes back to the delivery paperwork she’s sorting through. Tom gives a similarly flippant response, but Adrien barely hears it.

Adrien’s breath is rattling in his lungs. He has no idea how to process what he’s just seen.

Nino, next to him, nudges his arm. “Everything alright?” he asks under his breath.

Adrien looks down at his plate. He’s hardly touched his sandwich, let alone the lemon tart that Marinette’s parents had offered as a dessert, and the conversation around him has quieted down as he panics, and Adrien is hyperaware that he’s being the worst guest in the entire world.

“I’ll be right back,” he says to Nino, and politely excuses himself to the bathroom.

Once the door is closed behind him, he slumps against it, trying desperately to catch his breath. He’s overreacting. He’s being completely irrational--of course it’s fine it’s fine it’s fine--maybe Sabine and Tom won’t notice or maybe they’ll think he’s just not hungry.

He’s lying to himself, they’re going to think he hates them or he’s too snobby for their food or that he’s just a stuck up brat who doesn’t know how normal human beings interact with each other. Of course Sabine wasn’t going to yell at Alya for saying ‘fuck.’ Only Adrien’s dad is weird about that.

Plagg has snuck out of Adrien’s jacket, somehow, and is valiantly trying to talk him out of his spiral. “Kid! It’s okay, they love you! Why are you freaking out?”

Adrien’s chest hurts. He can’t tell if it’s because his brain is telling him he’ll never be loved by any friends or family if he can’t stop flipping his shit at any minor incident, or if his lungs are merely protesting at lack of air.

“Breathe, or I’ll--uh,” Plagg darts around ineffectively, trying to come up with a threat. “Your distress really isn’t helping me intimidate you, here.”

Adrien laughs, shaky. “Sorry.”

“If you apologize to me again, I’ll use your phone to call you a therapist myself.”

Adrien’s halfway to another apology before he snaps his mouth shut, because he’s caught his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He looks sweaty, and scared, and, if he’s being honest with himself, completely ridiculous. The makeup he’d put on that morning isn’t really covering the circles under his eyes, and he’s wearing a looser-fitting-than-normal outfit to try and obscure his entire figure, but it isn’t working. Adrien tugs at his sweater, and tries to fix his hair, but this weak attempt just makes him more dissatisfied and frantic.

Plagg grabs his face and jerks it to the side, breaking Adrien’s line of vision with the mirror. “Stop,” Plagg says, all hints of joking gone. “Your friends are out there and they care about you.”

Adrien squeezes his eyes shut against panicked tears. “Marinette’s parents aren’t going to invite me back over.”

“So? Who needs ‘em!”

Adrien thinks about how they’d hugged Marinette when she’d arrived, and how they’d already had lunch ready for her but hadn’t told her how much she could eat, and how they hadn’t shouted at Alya for swearing, and how they’re never anything but crazy nice to him when he’s over.

His voice is wobbly. “I really want to come over here again.”

Plagg’s ears droop upon seeing Adrien newly upset. “Oh.”

He and Plagg stay there for a few more minutes, as Adrien tries his best to breathe normally and Plagg sits on his shoulder and chatters inanely in an attempt to distract him.

Adrien’s not sure how long it’s been when someone knocks on the door behind Adrien, making him jump about a foot in the air. “Is everything alright?” a voice asks. It sounds like it’s Tom.

“Uh, yeah! Sorry, one second!” Adrien says. He runs the faucet for a few moments, and even pushes his sleeves up to get his hands wet before drying them and turning off the water again. It’s a feeble attempt to look like nothing strange is going on. Plagg zips into his sweater, and Adrien swings the door open, smiling nervously up at Tom, who is very big.

“Your friends are getting ready to head back,” Tom says. He smiles. His whole face is kind. He very slowly reaches out and puts a hand on Adrien’s shoulder, like he doesn’t want to scare Adrien away. (That’s fair. Adrien’s very skittish right now.) “I just wanted to make sure that you’re okay, and that you know you’re welcome here anytime.”

The hand on Adrien’s shoulder is making Adrien want to stay here forever, but Adrien just blinks and tries to play it cool and says, “Thanks, Mr. Dupain-Cheng. It was really cool of you to have us over.”

“Are you feeling okay? We could send something with you, like tea or soup?” Tom asks.

“Oh, that’s very nice, but I’m really okay,” Adrien says. He smiles his photoshoot smile, which is the one he’s practiced the most, so it comes easiest to him. “Thank you for lunch.”

“Sure,” Tom says, still looking unconvinced of Adrien’s well-being.

Strange. That smile has always worked on everyone at Adrien’s house.

“I’ll--see you,” Adrien finally says, and slips past. He sees his friends in the dining area at the end of the hall, and they’re gathering their things to go back to school. The table has been cleared, thankfully including Adrien’s plate, so he won’t have to look at any of that food again (though that means that someone has seen how little he’s eaten, which is never good).

“Did you fall in?” Alya calls to him.

Adrien nods solemnly, trying to be as nonchalant as possible, and Marinette snorts.

By this point, he’s reached the dining room, and he picks up his backpack from next to his chair.

“Are we ready?” Nino asks, already gravitating towards the door.

“Wait!” Marinette says, suddenly remembering something. “Let me run to my room really quick!” She dumps her backpack onto a chair and bolts up the stairs, sliding a little in her no-traction flats on the tile floor.

Alya and Nino have already sunk into their own conversation again, so Adrien takes this opportunity to wave awkwardly to Marinette’s mom and say, “Thanks for having me, Mrs. Dupain-Cheng.”

Sabine’s face splits into the same wide smile Marinette has, and she says, “You’re welcome here anytime, Adrien. And you can just call me Sabine.”

Adrien is Never Going to Do That. “Okay,” he says, trying to appear unfazed, as if this is a normal conversation that he’s had with someone’s mom before.

Sabine, just like her husband, has a look on her face like Adrien isn’t being quite believable. Nevertheless, she lets it go and picks up a paper bag on the counter and hands it out to him. “Here, these are some snacks to tide you over if you get hungry in class.”
Adrien’s hesitancy must show on his face, because she doesn’t push. She just sets the bag down on the dining table and says, “I won’t be mad if you don’t take it, but I just figured that even if you aren’t hungry right now, you might be later.”

Adrien tries to swallow around the lump in his throat. “Thanks,” he manages, and takes the bag of food.

“Of course,” Sabine says.

Marinette breaks the moment, as she chooses this moment to tear back down the stairs and snatch her backpack up from the chair, saying, “Okay I’m good let’s go!”

“Finally,” Alya says, and laughs, heading out towards the main bakery area. She waves goodbye to Sabine, who beams and waves back as the four of them leave.

On the walk back, Marinette falls behind with Adrien, and says, “I’m glad you could come to lunch today.”

Adrien smiles, briefly turning to acknowledge her before looking down at the sidewalk again. “Me too. Your parents are so nice.”

“More like embarrassing ,” Marinette says, but her voice is affectionate. Adrien’s chest hurts again, for some reason. “But they think the same about you. They love when you come over.”

Adrien’s face heats up. He doesn’t know quite what to say to that.

“Thanks,” is what he settles on.

Marinette grins at him, pleased, but then she looks down and points and asks, “Hey, what happened there?”

As soon as it had gotten warm, Adrien’s blood turns ice cold as he looks down to see that she’s indicating his arm. He’d rolled up his sleeves to wash his hands and had neglected to pull them back down, which means that his fading bruises are visible to the entire world (and that meant both Tom and Sabine might have seen).

He, impressively, plays it much cooler than he had when the doctor asked, and examines the marks with a rather blank face. “That’s from when Ladybug saved me a couple weeks ago,” he says, and smiles a little bit, a little dreamy as he explains, “She’s so strong.”

“Ladybug did that?” Marinette asks, skeptical. “That’s a long time for a bruise to last.”

“Yeah, it’s super weird,” Adrien says. “But it’s okay, it was worth it to see her.”

Marinette wrinkles her nose at him, but she doesn’t pull off the disgusted look. Rather, she looks oddly endeared. “Hm, I think she’s a bit overhyped. There’s no accounting for taste, I suppose.”

Adrien snorts, an undignified sound that makes Marinette snicker. “Ladybug is the coolest ,” he says. “That’s not even a ‘taste’ thing.”

Rolling her eyes a little, with an ease that Marinette doesn’t often have when talking to Adrien, she says, “I mean, she’s okay. But I won’t tell her you have a crush on her.”

Adrien stammers out, “What? I don’t--of course I don’t have a crush on Ladybug that’s completely insane,” but he figures he’s overdoing it and clamps his mouth shut as Marinette laughs at him.

At least the moment about his injury has passed, he figures. And seeing Marinette laugh so openly isn’t a bad thing either.

 

Adrien doesn’t touch the small bakery bag until he’s back safe in his room at home and he’s feeling a smidgeon of an appetite. Plagg encourages this, pointing out that an akuma attack could happen at any point and so Adrien should eat up.

Sabine has packed the bag well, and nothing got crushed or ruined (though Adrien had carried the bag around much too carefully for that to happen anyway). Inside, he finds two croissants buttery enough to leave marks on their cardboard box, a small package of five macarons that have very cute Chat Noir and Ladybug designs, and some thin, light almond cookies that smell amazing.

“Did she put any cheese in there?” Plagg demands, swooping around to try and get a better look.

“Nothing perishable,” Adrien tells him, but tears a croissant in half to offer some to Plagg.

Plagg turns up his nose at the bread, and instead goes to try his hand at getting the mini fridge open by himself to get a snack.

Adrien manages to get through a croissant and three-fourths of the cookies before he stops, but he doesn’t feel nauseous and he’s still able to laugh at Plagg making a disaster of a wedge of cheese. He’s encouraged enough by his success that he puts the rest of the snacks in his fridge for later instead of throwing them out.

When he’s moving the macarons to the fridge, he spots a folded piece of paper in the bottom of the bag. It’s a note, written in adult-y handwriting, and it confirms Adrien’s suspicions that Marinette’s parents know what’s going on. The note reads, “If you ever need to talk or a safe place to be, our door is open!” and then a phone number is written, presumably either Tom or Sabine’s.

Adrien sits back on his heels, staring at the note for a long time. He’s not sure whether to feel guilty or reassured about someone else’s parents feeling the need to take care of him.

In the end, he covers the note with Scotch tape so that it can’t get ruined by something getting spilled on it and it’ll be harder to rip, and he tucks it into his phone case for safekeeping. He’s sure he’s never going to get to a point where he can just call Marinette’s parents and ask for attention , but it’s enough just knowing the option is there if he needs it.

 

And Adrien starts doing better, making him almost sure he’ll never need that option. The school gets a psychologist (an attempt to appear woke in the midst of a lot of French kids being dangerously stressed about school), which means Adrien can slip into that office sometimes and talk to someone without worrying about his father knowing.

Nathalie has quit watching him eat dinners, so Adrien cautiously starts eating more, and going to the kitchen for second helpings sometimes. He’s starting to approach a state where Nino isn’t shooting him worried glances all the time, and Ladybug doesn’t have to drop everything and catch him when he gets dizzy and falls off of something in the middle of battle.

But then Adrien fucks up twice in a row, and his feeble attempts at recovery crash down around his ears.
First, he’s late to a fitting. He’d gotten caught up in FaceTiming Alya, who was explaining some homework to him, so Adrien hadn’t gotten his things together in time for his father to practically kick down his door and tell him to get in the car or else .

Second, he’s gained a substantial amount of weight in the months since the initial fitting, and the piece just barely doesn’t fit. Adrien tries to take deep breaths while the seamstress frets around him, trying to figure out if she could make adjustments in time for the show, but his father is standing in the room too and Adrien knows his few weeks of peace are over.

When he’s sitting in the car on the ride home, in icy silence that’s making his stomach hurt, Adrien tries to think rationally. In the last few months, he’s put on a lot of muscle because of a growth spurt, and the piece hadn’t fit in his shoulders, not the waist, because Adrien’s just outgrowing a lot of things lately! It isn’t because he’s eating too much or because he’s not healthy.

This rationalization almost works, until they get home and his father feels free to shout as much as he wants behind closed doors.

“I told you not to let your eating get out of hand.” Gabriel slams Adrien’s door closed, then whirls around to tower over him. “That show is one of the biggest of the season.”
“I know,” Adrien insists, and hunches further into his coat. “She said it’s because of my shoulders, though, and that’s not something I can really control--”

“Don’t speak out of turn,” Gabriel says, and Adrien is so nervous, his father’s insisting on this weird formality almost makes him laugh. However, the humor is completely wiped away by the next sentence. “I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that she could have been making up excuses. It would only be polite, to cover up for the embarrassment.”

Adrien doesn’t even know what to say to that. He feels like he’s drowning, a little bit. There’s no way Gabriel doesn’t know that Adrien practically lives to make him proud, and that Adrien has, in the past, put himself in the hospital trying to do just that. Hearing that he’s nothing more than an embarrassment is worse than his father just hitting him and calling it a night.

Devastated, Adrien just says in a very small voice, “I’m sorry.”

Gabriel stops halfway to his next sentence, and something in his face actually--shifts. “Do you want me to know what's going on with you, or not? I heard from the school that you've been missing classes to talk to a psychologist."

Adrien can’t breathe, suddenly. The psychologist had promised she wasn’t going to tell his father. That’s the only reason he felt safe doing it.

“Do you have any idea of how that could look, if anyone found out?” Gabriel asks.

Unable to answer or even look up, Adrien just sort of wheezes for air.

“Look at me when I’m asking you a question!” Gabriel snaps, and when Adrien can’t find any explanation or excuse or anything, Gabriel continues with, "You could have just asked and we could have dealt with this privately."

"It's not like you would listen," Adrien insists. "Ever since Mom, you don't listen to me and that's not my fault!"

Adrien’s blindsided by the sharp, stinging impact of a slap across the face. 

"How dare you,” his father says. 

Adrien says, “Wait--” but Gabriel is already gone.

The room is too quiet. Adrien stands there until Plagg pokes his face insistently and says, “Kid, we’ve gotta get out of here.”

“What?” Adrien asks, a few seconds too slow. His face is still burning. He should get an ice pack or something, to calm down the swelling a little bit.

Plagg doesn’t look very pleased. “I’m sick of watching him hurt you for no reason! Pack a bag and we’ll get the hell out of here!”

Adrien scrunches up his nose. “Why? It was my fault anyway. That was uncalled for.”

That’s not the right thing to say. Plagg stares at him until Adrien feels sufficiently stupid, and then says slowly, “Explain to me how it’s your fault.”

“I don’t know.” Adrien waves vaguely, trying to rationalize what’s going on. He can’t exactly say that if he can’t model, he’s entirely useless to his father. “I’ve been eating way too much sugar--”

“Pack a bag,” Plagg interrupts, not messing around in the slightest. “He shouldn’t hit you.”

Adrien doesn’t tell Plagg that it’s probably normal for parents to hit their kids sometimes, even if it isn’t legal. He can’t imagine any other way of normal discipline, especially when the kid is disappointing and irresponsible like him.

Plagg swoops down and picks up Adrien’s school bag, struggling under the weight but still dead serious. “Put some clothes and a toothbrush in there or I’ll Cataclysm your dad.”

“What?” Adrien asks, alarmed.

“Do it!” Plagg says. “I’m supposed to protect you and as far as I can tell, the only threat to you here is your old man!”

It’s sweet that Plagg cares. And Adrien is very nervous about talking to his dad tomorrow morning.

“Where would I even go?” Adrien asks, relenting just a little bit.

Plagg drops the school bag and zips over to the nightstand, where Adrien’s phone is resting, and pulls out the small, taped-up note hidden in the phone case.

 

It takes a lot more convincing on Plagg’s part, but eventually, Adrien finds himself de-transforming in the alley next to the Dupain-Cheng bakery and cautiously walking around to the front door, Plagg whispering encouragement in a slightly threatening manner, hiding in the hood of Adrien’s sweatshirt as he goes.

Adrien feels sort of shaky. That’s the only normal thing about this entire situation.

He honestly doesn’t expect anyone to answer the door. It’s getting late, and the bakery is closed, and the lights are already off inside. But he sees a light on in the kitchen behind the main bakery area, and he finally gets up the nerve to knock on the door.

For a moment, nobody comes to answer. Adrien avoids eye contact with passerby, who thankfully appear to be tourists who don’t recognize him on sight. He doesn’t know how long he has until someone notices he’s gone, but if previous incidents with his father are any indication, Adrien’s absence won’t be noticed until Gabriel comes to his room tomorrow morning to yell at him again.

“This is a stupid idea,” Adrien whispers, panicked. “I could just sleep on a roof somewhere and it would be fine.”

“You missed lunch and dinner,” Plagg says, and bites him on the ear, hard enough for Adrien to jump. “Could you just ask for help for two seconds?”

Adrien sees someone moving around in the kitchen, and based on their stature, it’s probably Tom.

“I didn’t think this through,” Adrien says. “I’m going to get in so much trouble for leaving without permission.”

“Not on my watch,” Plagg says. “Knock again.”

Adrien says, “Uh. Please don’t bite me again, but I don’t think this is a good idea--”

Plagg bites him again. Adrien knocks.

Tom appears in the back corner of the bakery, and crosses the bakery floor to open the door for him. “Hi,” Tom says. “Are you here to see Marinette?”

Adrien’s mind goes blank. He has no idea what to say, or if he’s allowed to say it--he doesn’t know how long he can stand out on the street without someone recognizing him and tweeting his location to everyone in Paris.

Tom watches him struggle, keeping an expression of polite confusion. Thankfully, he seems to pick up on the huge, rolling waves of anxiety that Adrien is putting off, because Tom stands aside and waves for Adrien to come in.

Adrien pushes his hood down, and feels Plagg burrow into the loose fabric to remain out of sight. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you, it’s sort of late,” he finally says.

“You’re no bother at all,” Tom says. He’s watching Adrien expectantly, waiting for some kind of explanation, but he seems willing to fill the dead air with conversation. “We’re having a late dinner, actually. Do you want to join us?”

Adrien thinks about how the suit jacket hadn’t fit earlier, how his father had hit him, and how the kitchen at his house was most definitely going to get locked again.

But he also thought about how the doctor had told him he could eat whatever he wanted, and how Marinette’s parents love feeding people, and how he's actually being welcomed in here.

“I--uh, sure,” Adrien says, overwhelmed.

Tom shepherds him upstairs, where Adrien comes face-to-face with Marinette and Sabine, who are setting the table together. “Adrien’s joining us for dinner,” Tom says.

“Wonderful,” Sabine says. She smiles at Adrien, a simple action that makes him want to apologize for intruding on what’s clearly a very calm family evening.

“Thank you for having me,” Adrien manages. He glances to Marinette, who seems torn between being absolutely flustered and being worried about him. She sets a glass down directly onto a plate with a loud clank, and then almost drops the glass entirely in her haste to fix her mistake.

Sabine glances between Adrien and Marinette none too subtly, and then says, “Dear, let’s go get the food ready,” and she and Tom leave the room.

Marinette squeaks, “Hey, Adrien.”

“Hi,” he says back, equally shy. “Sorry, I'm realizing I should have called ahead.”

Marinette shakes her head, recovering from her initial surprise of Adrien showing up out of the blue. “No, you’re fine! My parents are obsessed with you.” She laughs, but then she blinks and stops abruptly, asking, “What happened to your face?”

Adrien’s hand goes to cover the cheek that’s still faintly red and still stinging. He thinks his father had been wearing a ring or something, but Plagg hadn’t allowed him to go look in the mirror and check it out (probably for the best). The lighting in the bakery and entryway had been poor, so Tom probably hadn’t noticed (but Adrien can’t tell if Sabine had or not). “Oh--nothing.”

Marinette approaches, narrowing her eyes and even taking Adrien’s wrist to pull his hand away from the injury so that she can inspect it better. “Did someone hit you?”

“No, this was--a fencing thing.” Adrien’s fucking awful at lying, as it turns out.

She gives him another concerned look, says, “I’m gonna get you some ice,” and flees the room.

Adrien sits down at the table and sets his backpack on the floor next to him, feeling out of place and stupid. He can hear Marinette talking to her parents in low voices in the other room, probably about him and how he’s so entitled he just decided to crash their dinner, and he wants to get up and run away and hide on the roof of some old overlapping apartment buildings where no one will even distinguish his noise from the mice that run around inside the walls.
He doesn’t have anything to do with his hands. He straightens the silverware in front of him and fixes the strings of his sweatshirt so that they’re even and picks at his cuticles. His phone is back in his bedroom, so that he can’t be tracked, and he misses having that security blanket.

It’s Sabine who comes back in first, carrying an ice pack wrapped in a kitchen towel. “Here,” she says, and gestures to Adrien’s face. “It’ll help with the swelling. Are you okay?”

Adrien accepts the ice pack and eases it onto his face. The cool sensation helps almost immediately to calm down the stinging, but he tries not to audibly sigh in relief. “Um, yeah. I’m okay. This was just...an accident.”

She doesn’t look convinced, as she sits in the chair next to his and turns to face him. “You can be honest with me,” she says. “I’ll be honest with you, too.”

Adrien stares at her.

Slowly, she says, “Tom and I are worried that you’re being mistreated at home. It’s not our place, obviously, but we think you’re a great kid and that you deserve better than that.”

Adrien leans away from her, his mind running a hundred miles an hour to come up with explanations for whatever’s worrying her. He knows that his home life is a little out of the ordinary, but it’s not that bad. It’s nothing that Adrien hasn’t brought on himself. But nothing comes to mind for him to say. In truth, he’s too exhausted to defend his father right now.

“You’re welcome to stay the night,” Sabine says, when no protest comes from Adrien. She has such a kind face, and there’s no hint of dishonesty there (she doesn’t seem like she’d call Adrien’s father and tell him where Adrien’s hiding). “I wish we could do more for you.”

“Thanks,” Adrien finally says. It feels inadequate, but his throat is closing up and he’s worried that if he says much more, he’ll start crying on her and then she’ll definitely kick him out.

Tom says, too loudly, from the other room, “Marinette, can you run downstairs and get the big serving spoon?” and Marinette says, “okay,” and darts past Adrien and her mother to book it down the stairs. This appears to have been a ploy, because Tom joins Adrien and Sabine at the table without any sign of food or need for a serving spoon.

Adrien looks between them, sort of nervous for whatever questioning they’re going to start, and says, “I really don’t mean to impose, are you sure this is okay?”

Both of them say “yes” in the same firm tone, and then smile at each other before looking back at Adrien. Sabine says, “What happened tonight, that made you want to leave?”

Adrien shrugs, and glances around the room (anywhere but at them). “I guess--I don’t know. My dad’s really mad at me, I think I really disappointed him. He’s probably going to take me out of school again.”

Neither of them push him for more information, but he gives it up anyway (after all, he’s never going to be able to visit the school psychologist again, so he might as well take this last chance to talk to an adult). He haltingly tells them about the fitting, and the argument (trying to make it all sound as low-stakes as possible and trying to emphasize that it’s really just him being a dumb teenager that created the whole problem in the first place), and about what’s been going on the past few months. Even with all of the edits, and with Adrien dumbing it down so that he can get through it without starting to cry, they look upset. At him? He doesn’t know.

He finishes, clenching his fists together in his lap to try and distract himself from the fact that his vision is getting kind of watery. They don’t say anything for a few terrifying moments, letting silence fall.

Marinette’s been gone for a very long time, Adrien realizes, which confirms his suspicion that Tom had sent her out of the room on purpose.

“That’s a lot to deal with,” Tom eventually says. “No wonder you’ve been having a hard time.”
Wait, what? Adrien glances at him, unsure that he’s heard correctly. Adrien has been doing everything in his power to make it sound like he’s the one at fault for all of his problems, and Tom is still sympathizing with him?

Sabine looks less calm. “You shouldn’t have to deal with all this.”

Adrien asks, before he can stop himself, “I shouldn’t?”

“No,” she says firmly, “it’s inhumane.”

“Sabine,” Tom starts, but she cuts him off.

“You’re a kid ,” Sabine emphasizes, gesturing to all of Adrien. “You should be allowed to see your friends and eat whatever you want and not worry about all of this.”

“You sound like Nino,” Adrien says. He sets the ice pack down so that he can swipe at his eyes.

Sabine softens, and reaches out to turn his head and examine his injury with a very gentle touch that Adrien fights not to lean into. She must be dissatisfied with what she finds, because she doesn’t exactly smile as Tom says, “You have good friends.”

“Yeah,” Adrien says, embarrassed.

“I want you to know that neither of us have ever hurt Marinette,” Sabine tells him.

Adrien has no idea what to say to that, so he stammers, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to ruin your evening.”

“You didn’t,” Tom insists. “Let’s eat. I’ll go get Marinette, she, uh, must have gotten...lost.”

 

Dinner, despite everything, is nice. Adrien cheers up a little, and gets through a bowl and a half of soup, and then when he starts suppressing yawns, he’s directed to a guest room where he can stay the night.

Marinette comes in about an hour later, softly knocking on the door and letting herself in. She finds Adrien sitting on the bed with his back against the wall, not doing much sleeping, still holding the now-completely-melted ice-pack to his face.

“Just wanted to see if you were okay,” she says, a bit awkward.

“I’m okay,” Adrien assures her.

“Can I tell Nino you’re here?” she asks. She approaches the bed and sits next to him to show him her phone, the screen of which is currently displaying the group chat. “I didn’t know if you wanted people to know where you are or not.”

Adrien scrolls up through the messages from the last hour, most of which are from Nino, and his heart sinks. Nino’s been frantically asking if anyone knows where Adrien is, because Nathalie had called Nino’s parents looking for him.

And Adrien hadn’t even thought that his father would notice until the morning.

“Yeah, sure. Actually, can I call him?” Adrien asks, and gestures to the phone. At Marinette’s confused look, he says sheepishly, “I--uh, forgot my phone at home.”

“Oh.” Marinette hands him her cell phone, and sits quietly in moral support while he calls Nino.

“Marinette, I think Adrien ran away,” is Nino’s greeting. “Nathalie said he’s straight-up gone. Do you know if something happened?”

“I was straight-up not having a good time,” Adrien says.

Nino says a relieved, “Fuck you,” and Adrien laughs a very exhausted laugh.

“Did you run away?” Nino asks. “Dude, I’ve been losing my mind over here!”

“Sorry.” Adrien glances at Marinette out of the corner of his eye, and says, “I couldn’t bring my phone, because my dad can, uh. Track it?”

“Right.” Nino lets out a long, relieved breath. “I mean, it makes sense, but you could’ve at least told me! Or anyone!”

“Next time for sure,” Adrien says. It’s a joke, because if he goes back home, his father will literally never let him leave the premises again. Next to him, Marinette takes his hand in solidarity, and Adrien holds on for dear life. “Could you tell your parents to tell Nathalie that I’m safe?”

“I could,” Nino says. “But you can’t stay away forever. Are you going to call the police?”

“What? Why would I--”

“You wouldn’t leave without him doing something awful, dude. Are you hurt?”

Adrien is very aware of the fact that Marinette can hear everything Nino is saying, so that means she knows he’s lying when he says, “Nah.”

“Good. I’m just saying, though, you have picture evidence of last time and you have a history of doctor’s visits to back you up and you could totally win in court. I watched a documentary about it.”

Adrien, in his newfound panic, thinks his organs are literally shutting down. He can’t comprehend the amount of work and stress and danger in actually telling authorities about his father--what his father does isn’t even that bad (at least most of the time)! If the police don’t think he has enough evidence (and he doesn’t ), Gabriel’s going to know that Adrien had tried to get ASE involved.

“Why would I do that?” Adrien asks.

“Oh my God,” Nino says, which is becoming a catchphrase of sorts, when talking to Adrien. “We can talk about this later, when you’re not crying. Put Marinette on the phone, dude, please.”

Adrien hands Marinette’s phone back and wipes his face, sad to let go of Marinette’s hand. He doesn’t know whether to be concerned or not about the fact that tears must have been silently streaming down his face for a while now. He can still hear Nino’s concerned voice, now tinny, as Marinette talks to him.

“Is he actually hurt?” Nino asks.

Marinette looks at Adrien, and considers his face, and then respects Adrien’s lie and says, “I don’t think so.”

“Do your parents know what’s going on?”

“Yeah, I think they talked for a while.” Marinette switches which hand her phone is in, and it’s suddenly much harder to hear Nino’s voice now that the phone is farther away. However, Marinette puts her newly-free left arm around Adrien’s shoulders and holds on to him. It’s just as comforting as when Ladybug did it a while ago (perhaps even more comforting, because Adrien isn’t wearing a wacky spandex suit), and Adrien decides to fully commit and rests his head on Marinette’s shoulder. She doesn’t shrug him off, which is a good sign.

“They want to,” Marinette says, in response to something Nino said. “It’s up to Adrien, though.”

Nino says something else.

“You don’t need to come over,” she assures Nino. “My parents already want to adopt Adrien, I don’t think he wants more people fussing over him.”

More murmuring from Nino.

“Right.”

Adrien finally picks out Nino, almost incoherent though the bad quality of the phone call, asking, “Is he coming to school tomorrow?”

“Yes,” Adrien says loudly, hoping Nino can hear him, but Marinette says a diplomatic, “We’ll see how he’s feeling in the morning.”

It’s true that going to school is risky. When he leaves in the afternoon, he’ll have to go out the front and that’ll give the Gorilla or Nathalie ample opportunity to spot and grab him. Even walking to school could be an issue, because it’s not a short walk from Marinette’s house.

But Adrien can’t stay at Marinette’s house forever, as much as he wants to.

Once she’s hung up with Nino, Adrien says cautiously, “I think I should call my dad.”

Marinette pauses, then tries to let him down easy, “Maybe in the morning? You look like you’re about to fall asleep.”

That’s fair. Adrien’s eyes are drooping shut, as he’s long since decided not to get flustered by how close he and Marinette are right now.

 

Adrien calls his father the next morning, because everyone keeps pushing at him to say something to his father before he goes back home. He hopes that using Marinette’s phone will make it more difficult for his father to track where he is (though that won’t work if his father has already gotten the police involved), and he plans to keep the call short to give him time to leave the bakery before someone shows up to pick him up and take him back home.

These are all precautions that Marinette planned. Adrien doesn't know how to feel about it. To be honest, he's just feeling better after a good night's sleep.

Marinette invites Nino over before school, and the three of them sit in a circle while Adrien dials and puts the phone on speaker. Alya hadn’t been able to make it, but she’d sent the group chat about two pages of texts and memes about how much she loves Adrien, so Adrien knows she supports him in spirit.

He, Nino, and Marinette are sitting criss-cross on the floor of the guest room, close enough that their knees are all brushing each other, the phone set on the floor in the center of their circle. It’s like a shitty séance, because Nino and Marinette are insisting on holding Adrien’s hands. They know it’ll calm him down somewhat, and it’s working.

“Just don’t say anything,” Adrien asks them, and Marinette and Nino both nod. He trusts them. He presses the green call button.

“Hello?” his father asks, answering after the first ring.

“Hi, Dad,” Adrien says, his voice kind of squeaking. He clears his throat. “It’s Adrien?”

“Are you in danger?” Gabriel asks. His voice is urgent, but not angry. It’s a tone that Adrien hasn’t heard from him in a long time.

“I’m okay,” Adrien says. He sort of wishes he could say the opposite--maybe he’s been kidnapped, or he’s been akumatized, or he’s gotten in a bike accident and he’s in the hospital--just so his dad won’t switch to utter resentment.

As it is, Gabriel drops the concerned tone and says, “What were you thinking.”

Adrien grips Marinette’s hand harder (he would tighten his grip on Nino’s hand, but Nino is already holding on tight enough that Adrien’s fingers are losing circulation).  “You hit me,” is what Adrien says. He’d stayed up way too late trying to plan a script of what to say, and all of it has left his mind right now. He can’t even get up the energy to be properly angry.

Gabriel sighs into the phone. “I know. I’m sorry.”

Nino’s shaking his head at Adrien, mouthing no he’s not , and lets go of Adrien’s hand to smack Adrien’s leg when Adrien goes to forgive his dad with a quick “It’s fine!”

Instead, Adrien says, “That’s illegal. And the whole diet thing--that's illegal.”

“You're my son," Gabriel says. "I'm just trying to look out for you. You're the only family I have left."

Adrien thought that this phone call would have him in tears, or trembling, or begging his dad not to be mad at him. But Adrien just feels sort of cold and numb. He’s fought akumatized people scarier than his father, he’s realized. Gabriel has no right to have that sort of effect on him.

(I.e. Adrien will just cry about this later.)

“I have proof,” Adrien says, “of other times. Pictures and a video.”

The security camera footage from the last three years is all online, in compressed files, and Adrien knows the passwords. He’d gotten it a few weeks ago, when his father had been out of town, and it’s on a flash drive with other proof in his backpack.

When his father doesn’t say anything else, Adrien says, “And the doctor has in his file that you’ve kept food from me, and remember when I was hospitalized for three months and there aren’t any logged visits from you?”

“What are you saying?” Gabriel asks. "Why are you negotiating right now?"

“I’ll come home,” Adrien says. He swallows, because his throat is suddenly dry. Marinette and Nino both look at him, betrayed, but they don’t say anything and Adrien continues, “But I have Nadja Chamack’s contact information. If I need it.”

There’s a long beat of quiet. Nino is blinking very rapidly against tears, which isn’t helping Adrien focus.

“I understand,” Gabriel says.

Adrien says, only partially as a joke, “I’ll want that in writing.”

“I understand,” Gabriel says again.

“I’m going back to school,” Adrien says. “I’ll get myself home afterwards.”

“See you at four this afternoon,” Gabriel says.

Adrien pushes his luck. “You’re supposed to love me, you know. I’m your son.”

The line goes dead.

Adrien stares down at the phone, and Marinette and Nino erupt into chatter on either side of him. Nino’s asking, “You’re going back? Adrien, you don’t have to go back!” over and over, and Marinette’s asking if Adrien’s okay, if he needs something, hey they need to get ready to leave for school.

Adrien slides Marinette’s phone back to her, and Nino leans over and crushes him in a bear hug. Adrien holds on for dear life, and lets Nino rub a hand up and down his back.

“Did you get some breakfast?” Marinette asks, watching Nino continue to try to coax some sort of emotion out of a blank-faced Adrien.

The idea of watching Marinette’s parents as they hug and kiss and dote over Marinette and hand her and Adrien packed lunches for school and set full plates of hot, buttery, sweet foods in front of them for breakfast is almost too much for him to bear. It isn’t fair , that Adrien doesn’t get to be a part of something like that.

The three of them get up and Nino and Marinette shepherd Adrien down the stairs to the dining area, and then the two of them desert Adrien to go to the kitchen. Tom looks up from where he’s eating his breakfast and asks, “How did it go?”

Adrien gives a feeble thumbs-up, but he’s honestly feeling a bit nauseous. He sits down next to Tom, and takes off his backpack and digs through it until he finds what he’s looking for.

He sets the thumb drive down next to Tom’s plate.

“Can you keep this safe here?” Adrien asks. “And if something happens, could you show it to the police?”
Tom looks from Adrien to the thumb drive, but he nods and puts it in his breast pocket. “I don’t like what that implies. You’re going back, then?”

Adrien nods, and stares down at the empty plate in front of him. “I guess I have to?”

“Maybe for now,” Tom concedes. “Our guest room is always here for you, though.”

“Thanks,” Adrien says. Tom pats him on the back with his broad hand, and Adrien relaxes a little bit. It’d be nice to come back, if his father doesn’t literally murder him this evening.

 

There’s two akuma attacks that day. After the first, Adrien only has about fifteen minutes to frantically snarf down the lunch Sabine packed for him before the second one shows up, only a few blocks from the school. By the time Adrien stumbles home after the second one is taken care of, it’s four thirty. As if his father needed another reason to be furious with him.

But his father doesn’t seem angry. He seems more detached than anything, asking a polite question as to whether Adrien was affected by the akumas (Adrien blames his lateness on the traffic the whole debacle caused) but not launching into a lecture like he normally would. His eyes are red. Adrien tries not to think about it, because this morally grey situation is really making him antsy.

“I do love you, you know,” Gabriel says, as Adrien gets up to leave the dinner table. Adrien had taken the fact that they were eating dinner together as a real step in the right direction, but Adrien is remembering how Nino told him to absolutely not forgive his dad until he actually wanted to.

Adrien looks at him, but Gabriel is stone-faced. “I love you too,” he says. A month ago, his father’s single sentence would have been enough for Adrien to do anything --stop eating? Done. Leave school? Sure!--anything for his dad to look him in the eye and say I love you. Now, Adrien's just kind of sad.

Gabriel doesn’t say anything else. Adrien leaves the room.

On the way back to his bedroom, Plagg sneaks out of Adrien’s jacket and Cataclysms the lock on the kitchen door, almost too fast for Adrien to even see before the lock is ash on the floor.

“I’m proud of you, kit,” Plagg says, and Adrien feels something light begin to shine in his chest.