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Elegy for a Chat

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Chat Noir

It had been a long day and appeared to have every intention of being an even longer evening.

Chat Noir softly landed on a familiar rooftop in a partial crouch, his green eyes scanning the horizon.  He didn’t immediately pick up anything but took an extra heartbeat just to be sure he’d not been followed.  For the first time, he found himself fervently hoping Ladybug hadn’t decided to follow him after their traditional fist pump – something that he would have giddily welcomed on any other evening.

Tonight, not so much.

The akumatized villain they had just defeated had presented him with a doppelgänger Ladybug straight out of his worst nightmare; his cheeks still flamed at the thought the real Ladybug now knew just how keenly he felt her gentle but constant rejections of him.

This is insane, he thought as he stood up and walked over to the wrought iron railing that rimmed one of his favorite perches in the city.  He retracted his baton and replaced it at the small of his back, looked out across the river and the distant form of Notre Dame.  The floodlights were highlighting the cathedral’s best angles, and if he squinted, he could almost convince himself that he could see the flicker of the candles inside the sanctuary.  He didn’t need to look at the baton’s built in phone to know that it was well past midnight and that if he didn’t return home soon, he was going to be in sad shape for school in the morning.

Chat placed his claws against the railing and leaned into the gentle breeze that ruffled his out of control mane, eyes thinning slightly as they stared into space.  He wasn’t sure what had brought him here instead of home; his Miraculous had discharged enough that he’d barely made it over a building and into a side alley before he was forced to transform back to Adrien.  But after fishing a piece of Camembert out of his pocket for Plagg, he’d impulsively decided to transform again and spend a little more time out in the moonless night as Chat, alone with his feelings – and away from the dreams.  For once, Plagg had dropped his usual churlishness at being pressed into service so soon after eating.  Chat suspected he was still feeling guilty about lying to him.

What I need tonight is a friend I can talk to, he mused. Too bad I can’t sidle up to anyone from school.  A wry smile formed beneath the mask as he imagined how that might actually play out.

“Hi,” he said mockingly, holding up one gloved hand in greeting to no one in particular.  “I’m Chat Noir and I’m madly in love with Ladybug.”  He turned on his heel, tail swishing, and started pacing the space.  “And tonight, she – and the world – discovered in the most embarrassingly way possible just seriously I’ve fallen for her and what it would mean to me if she ever walked away.”  Chat paused dramatically, cocking his head enquiringly.  “Any advice?”

The empty night had no answers, and he chuckled silently once more.  “About what I expected,” he sighed as he returned to the railing, pressing a hand to his head.  “I’m pathetic,” he sighed again.  All of the self-assurance he normally felt while wearing the mask of Chat Noir had fled.

A few more minutes of contemplation along the railing led him back to where he had begun.  Alone out here or alone at home?  he asked himself.  In the end, he guessed it hadn’t really mattered one way or the other after all.  Both options were equally distasteful, but one came with decent Wi-Fi that he could use to drown his sorrow.

As he turned to go, a feline ear rotated and caught a whisper on the wind; Chat turned toward the source.  To his surprised delight, lights were on over the balcony of perhaps the one person he could conceivably drop in on.  Chat thought about for a fraction of a second, made a decision, and leapt away from his rooftop and into the night.

Marinette

Despite having quietly returned to her room without drawing notice, Marinette had not been able to fall asleep.  Her mind kept replaying the events of the evening and at length she’d pushed her way through the skylight and onto the rooftop balcony of her family’s bakery.  The night remained pleasantly cool, with a gathering breeze from the river gently swaying the party lights she had strung over the comfortable space.

She tried hard to block out the image of her partner’s mortification at the reveal of his ultimate fear that Ladybug wanted nothing to do with him.  Chat’s normally over-the-top persona had in that one moment shriveled into something quite vulnerable, his raw emotion laid bare to her in the worst possible way.  It had only been for the briefest of moments, and he’d hastily recomposed himself into his normal roguish attitude while they completed their work against Sandboy.

But she had seen it.  And now she had no idea what to do about it.

Guiltily she realized that her nightmare – a zombie-like Adrien chasing her while simultaneously telling Marinette he was deeply in love with another classmate – had not been as public as Chat’s humiliation.  And even if Chat had seen it, she’d still been Marinette, and as Chat likely had no clue who Adrian was to her, the impact would have been far less significant.

A faint metallic thump from above caught her attention, followed by a familiar but more tentative than normal: “Hello.”

Marinette turned toward the sound, spying Chat Noir easily balancing atop one of the triangular chimney flues above the bakery.  How he was able to do that had long been a mystery to her.  “Chat Noir!  Is everything ok?”  She glanced around the skyline of Paris, wondering if she had somehow missed a pending emergency, biting the bottom of her lip as she did so.  Of all nights…

“Yes,” he said quietly, but with an edge that spoke volumes.  Searching his masked face, she could tell that he was still troubled – despite his protestations to the contrary earlier.  Carefully she adopted her normal air of compassion, fighting back any visible concern that would betray a sense that she knew what had happened to him.  As far as Chat knew, Marinette had been nowhere near that street corner. 

“I saw your light on and wanted to make sure nothing was amiss here,” he continued as he gently leapt down to his now customary place on her railing.  Chat had been an irregular visitor to Marinette starting with the evening he’d planned a special rooftop dinner for Ladybug.  To her lasting embarrassment, she’d stood him up, as her alter ego had been single-mindedly pursuing some time with Adrien instead.  She never knew when to expect Chat, but had made it clear to him early on that he was welcome at any time.

“It was a long day,” she said truthfully, leaning against the railing by Chat.  “I’m having some trouble falling asleep and thought some fresh night air might help.”  She looked over toward him.  His wide green cat eyes were downcast, following unseen patterns in the tile of the roof.  Her heart broke just a little bit more.  Despite all of the bravado, she instinctively knew that Chat tended to feel very alone in the world. “You?”

The feline ears twitched.  “The same,” he said simply.

Marinette smiled.  “Now that is hard to believe,” she laughed.  “I thought cats slept, like, twenty hours a day?  I’m surprised you have any time to squeeze in those super heroics!”  She playfully punched at his eye-high bicep, eyes widening when he unexpectedly recoiled from her and even more uncharacteristically, watched him loose his balance entirely and tumble to the roof proper. 

“Sorry,” he apologized hastily from a very cat-like four-point crouch.  He smoothly stood in a swift motion and made a show of nonchalantly dusting himself off.  “I’m really not feeling myself tonight; I’m sorry to have bothered you.”  He hopped back to the top of the railing and started to coil into a leap away from her.

“Kitt-- I mean, Chat!  Stop!” she said, more forcefully than she intended, and nearly using her Ladybug endearment for him.

The blonde head snapped around at the command, startled green eyes framed by the mask.  Slowly, they became wide green eyes, appraising her as if he’d suddenly realized something. 

“I could use the company for a bit,” she said, thinking fast.  “Those nightmares we experienced today cut a little bit too close to home.”  She held out a hand to him, encouraging him to stay.

Chat looked at her for a long moment, deciding.  He leapt down from the railing, and stood next to her, the movement of his costume’s fabric barely a whisper.  Concern laced his expression as he tentatively approached her, careful to stay outside an outright intrusion of her personal space. 

“I’m sorry, I had no idea.”  He placed a gloved hand on her shoulder, carefully keeping his claws away from the fabric of her top.  “Tell me about it,” he offered.  “A friend once said that talking about these things helps.”  He paused, tilting a feline ear toward her.  “I’m all ears,” he said with gentle humor, attempting in his own way to take the edge off the moment.

Zombie Adrien leapt into her mind’s eye.  Marinette blushed and hoped that the limited light would not make it obvious, before remembering Chat Noir had perfect night vision.  If he’d seen anything, he was playing the perfect gentleman. “It was intensely personal,” she admitted.  “I’m not sure it would make sense explaining it.”

Chat waited, his eyes focused on her, concern still showing yet tinged with a certain awareness.  He nodded slowly.  “I can relate to that,” he said.  “My nightmare was deeply personal; unfortunately, mine is probably plastered all over the Ladyblog by now.”  

His gaze shifted to the skyline just over her shoulder, a thought visibly crossing his face.  “On my way to meet Ladybug,” he started, “I made an unexpected side trip tonight.  This poor kid had become... trapped in his bedroom; he was deathly afraid of being alone and defenseless, and it was playing out for him in real-time.”

Marinette quietly waited, wondering.  Chat hadn’t mentioned that to Ladybug – normally he gushed about his heroic exploits in his nightly attempts to curry favor, bravado she had always assumed was just part of the Noir persona.  But the pained look on Chat’s face made her wonder if he was talking about what had happened to his alter ego.

Chat’s tail twitched as he looked back toward Marinette.  “The only advice I can give is something Ladybug once said: we are all stronger than we realize, especially when we are surrounded by good hearted people.”  He sighed audibly.  “Sound advice that I have kept close to my heart.”

Her heart thumped.  I did say that, didn’t I?  And he heard it, too...

He smiled a bit ruefully.  “It was unfair of me to drop in,” he continued.  “I’d wanted a friendly ear to sooth my feline soul, and it never once dawned on me you’d have been singed as well.”  He searched her eyes.  “For that, I am truly sorry, mi—uh, Marinette.”

“Oh Chat!” she chirped, genuinely upset at his distress.  Were his eyes glistening? 

He smiled a bit more normally as he dropped his arm back to his side.  “Well,” he said.  “It’s not a secret how I feel about Ladybug; the whole world knows about it at this point.”  He turned away from her and wandered toward the opposite edge of the space, tail idly twisting as he spoke.   

Between the ears and the tail, Marinette had never quite figured out how he managed such lifelike feline movements and had simply chalked them up to the magic behind the Miraculous.  Tonight, the tail telegraphed his despair in a way that tore at her heart.  Had her single-mindedness with Adrien blinded her?  Before tonight, she’d never even thought about how she might be hurting Chat with her standoffishness.  But now, seeing him like this…

“I -- I don’t know what to say---” she started.

As Chat turned to hear what she was saying, his eyes widened in surprise as a gloved hand flew to the side of his exposed neck.  “Oof!” was all he managed to get out before his eyes rolled upward and he crumpled to the rooftop in an ungainly heap of black material.

“Chat!”

Marinette crossed the distance to her partner in less time than she thought possible and dropped to her knees; as she did so, a high-pitched whistle sailed just above one of her pigtails.   Someone is watching this balcony, she realized.  I can’t change to Ladybug to get Chat out of here!

She pressed herself below the level of the railing and checked for a pulse; it was thumping as if he were running a marathon.  Carefully she twisted his head slightly and could see a tiny dart-like object protruding from a small, angry red welt just above the right side of his collar.  Thinking quickly, she tore a section off the hem of her top and wrapped it around the base of the dart, yanking it swiftly from Chat’s skin.  A small bubble of blood trickled out, but Chat’s quick-healing ability had the wound scabbed almost immediately.

Marinette glanced up and out in the direction the projectile had to have come from and was rewarded with another high-pitched whistle passing barely a meter from her face.

Plan B it is.

Gripping the wrapped dart in one hand, Marinette half dragged the inert form of Chat Noir toward the skylight at the rear of the balcony, wishing for the greater strength she had when transformed but making do as best as she could. 

“No more kitty treats for you!” she groaned.

Chat was heavy, but she could feel he was all muscle beneath the costume – she’d never really taken note of that before.  Now that she was thinking about it, the costume somehow accentuated his nearly classical proportions – how had she missed that?  Despite the dire situation, she felt herself blushing deeply, not entirely certain why. 

Nothing for it now, she thought wearily as she plodded her way to safety. 

Thankfully she had left the door open, so without ceremony, she upended Chat through the aperture and onto her waiting bed below.  She quickly followed and pulled the skylight closed behind her.

She shook Chat’s inert form, attempting to rouse him.  “Tikki!” she hissed.  “Where are you?”

Tikki appeared from the darkness.  “Marinette!  What’s wrong with Chat Noir?”

“I don’t know,” she said as she leaned toward the unresponsive figure.  He wasn’t breathing entirely normally – it was almost a panting, painful to hear.  She pressed a finger to his throat and rechecked the pulse, finding it was still much faster than she felt was normal, even for him.  She started to pry open one of his eyes but paused when she heard the telltale chirp from Chat’s Miraculous.  “We appear to have another problem entirely,” she muttered, as she sat back in shock.

Tikki’s eyes widened.  “Did he use his superpower?”

“No,” Marinette said.  “And that is what worries me.”

Chapter Text

Chat Noir

The bedside alarm was chirping, although for the life of him, Adrien couldn’t remember having used a tone quite so similar to the warning his Miraculous gave when Chat Noir’s transformation was about to run out.  Lethargically, he felt himself groping for his phone in a futile attempt to turn the thing off.  Oddly, the sound moved as his hand did – the doppler effect was pretty impressive.  Painfully he cracked open an eye to assist in the search and realized his night vision – Chat Noir’s night vision, actually – was fully operational and there would be no alarm clock to silence.

He sat up and immediately smashed his head on the ceiling.  Heart racing with panic, he found himself in an unfamiliar bedroom – although the scent of its owner was definitely in his feline database.

Holy – I’m still at Marinette’s.  In her bed…!

He raised his paw and sure enough his Miraculous was down to the two-minute warning. 

How is that even possible? I never called up my Cataclysm! 

His heart skipped a beat.

Did it happen while I was out? OhMyGodOhMyGod...!

Frantically he searched the space but nothing appeared to have been disintegrated (that was positive), but Marinette also seemed to have vanished (that might be problematic).  He should find out if she was safe, but the rush of blood was loud in his ears, and his need to get away from her before he transformed was nearly primal – not to mention finding Adrien in her bed would be the ultimate disaster. 

I did pass out, didn’t I?  Did I say anything?  Can I call Cataclysm unconsciously?  Maybe that’s why the ring is going nuts. 

A paw instinctively went to the side of his neck and felt the welt of damage where something had nicked him.  Memory flooded back; he’d been turning to talk to Marinette and had heard the missile a fraction of a second before it hit him.  That in itself was unusual, given his enhanced feline reflexes.

He couldn’t have been out that long, but clearly, he’d been moved; hadn’t he been on the roof?  He slid forward, each movement a searing pain that brought waves of stars and a bit of darkness to the edge of his vision.  Chat felt as though the entire panoply of villains they had fought over the past year had somehow pummeled him while he’d been out.

The ring chirped again – he had less than a minute now, the decision made for him.  Chat pressed open the skylight and pulled himself through it, an agonizing experience that left him panting on the cool roof tiles.  He found himself on his back, staring at the stars and desperately wanting the pain to go away.  Laboriously, he got to his knees and used the wrought iron railing to help stand up.  The world swam in his vision for a moment, and he took a deep breath to try and steady himself.  Reaching for his baton, he triggered travel mode and started to vault up and over the railing.

In the next instant, he was instead tumbling over and down, his left foot uncharacteristically catching the top of the railing; he flung his arms out in an attempt to counter the tumble, losing the baton in the process.  He watched helplessly as it sailed away from him while he simultaneously dove toward the sidewalk himself.  Everything seemed to be going in slow motion, giving him enough time to realize he’d probably should have found a closet or something instead of becoming a cat pancake.

Talk about a cat-tastrophe.

Well, at least he’d never have to face Ladybug again.  That was something.

The ground rose up to meet him and he closed his eyes one final time.

Marinette

“Tikki, what do we do?”

The kwami fluttered next to Marinette, eyes full of concern.  “Chat Noir may not have intentionally used his super power, but whatever he has been exposed to has drained him as if he had.”  She twittered nervously.  “I don’t have enough knowledge myself, but Master Fu will know what to do.”

Marinette looked horrified.  “But I can’t leave Chat alone here!”

“Nor should you,” Tikki said.  “Yet you absolutely can’t find out his secret identity.”  She motioned to the closet door in the corner.  “Duck into your closet and let him transform—” Tikki never finished the sentence.

Chat’s Miraculous chirped another warning – two minutes left, if she was correct, and she watched as he bolted upright in her bed, nailing his head on the ceiling in the process.  She started forward to say something, anticipating that he was realizing that he was about to transform and frantically looking for a way out.  Faster than she thought possible, there was a flutter of activity from her bed, followed by the grating sound of the skylight opening.  To her horror she watched the tail of Chat Noir disappear to her roof, followed by a discomforting thud that would wake the dead.

“He’s trying to leave before he transforms!” she whispered to Tikki.  “We’ve got to stop him!  Tikki – spots on!”

Enveloped in a red flash, Marinette transformed into Ladybug and then quickly made her way to the skylight herself, fully aware that it would be difficult to explain Ladybug’s sudden appearance.  Leaping onto the roof she expected to find Chat laid out on the tile; instead, she gaped open-mouthed as she watched him tumble over her railing, his baton going one way, he the other, but both downward and out of control.

Instinctively she launched herself out over the street, narrowly capturing the insensate form of Chat Noir as she looped her yo-yo over the chimney of the building directly across the street from the bakery.  The yo-yo retracted and pulled her to the rooftop, where she landed none-to-steadily with her baggage.  She gently dropped the black-cladded hero to the tile and knelt just to his side.  He was still breathing but was clearly out again.

You foolish, foolish kitty! She cried to herself, hugging him to her body.  “Don’t ever do that to me again,” she said aloud.  Then, more to herself as a revelation: “I can’t lose you.”

Chat’s ring chirped a final warning and his body began to take on the transformation glow.  Shocked, she pressed her eyes firmly shut and turned away from the blinding flash.

Chapter Text

Chat Noir

When he came back to his (admittedly enhanced) senses, Chat found his face buried in a very familiar red and black dotted costume.  It wasn’t unpleasant, but given the night’s events, somewhat unexpected.  “Ladybug?” he said, his voice muffled against the fabric of her embrace.  “Am I dead?”

“I certainly hope not.”

He straightened up a bit and started to return the hug, and only then realized he was still Chat Noir, claws and all.  “That’s odd,” he said, turning his hand over and looking at the Miraculous.

Sure enough, the ring was not showing the normal green-glowing icon of a paw; but he was still in costume, and the ring itself remained black, indicating Plagg was still resident. 

This has never happened before

He blinked, and it was still his enhance Chat Noir vision.  He could feel the breeze lifting his feline ears and hear the gentle sounds of the river a few blocks away.  He sniffed, and it was still the feline version of his senses, not those of Adrien. 

I can’t still be Chat Noir.  The ring…?! 

He sniffed the air again, sensing something familiar.  Oddly, Ladybug seemed to have some of the same notes that Marinette had.  If she’d rescued him from his fall from grace, he reasoned that Ladybug must have brushed up against something that had some Marinette residuals on it.

“Chat?  How are you feeling?”  Ladybug’s face was still turned away.

“I’m not pawsitive,” he admitted, nonplussed and finding himself short of decent puns. “You can turn around.”

“No!” she exclaimed. “Not until you can transform again.”

“I never changed,” he said, and this time he did reach out to her face, turning her toward him.  She looked down and sucked in a quick breath as she spied the claw-tipped paw. 

“Milady,” he said warmly. “I think you saved me yet again.”

Her eyes widened and she took his ring hand into her own, examining the Miraculous.  “This can’t happen,” she said.  “You should have reverted.”  She looked up, worried eyes framed by her mask.  “You haveto transform back!  Your kwami—"

“Maybe it needs a catboot,” he purred.  “Turn around again and I’ll try to manually transform.”

Ladybug rolled her eyes but turned away again.

“Plagg, claws in.”

Chat waited.  The transformation was normally instantaneous, but no flash enveloped him.  He stared at his gloved hands, willing them to change back to his alter ego. 

He tried again, this hearing the rising panic in his voice.  “Plagg - claws in!”

Still nothing.  He looked at his hands again, realizing with a certainty he’d never before contemplated that there was no way to get outof his costume short of the Miraculous transformation.  Gently, he reached up and tugged on one of his feline ears, feeling them pull but not give way.  It wasn’t a dream: he was still very much Cat Noir.

“Plagg!  Claws in!”

What is happening to me?he thought, with barely restrained panic.  He was acutely aware that any of the self-assurance that normally came with being Chat Noir had vanished into the ether, though what was left of his logical brain was pointing out it had more to do with whatever had been shot (literally) into his system.

PLAGG!  CLAWS--

A gentle hand on his arm paused him.  “Stand down, kitty,” Ladybug said, smiling kindly.  “We’ll get to the bottom of this, you have my word.”

Green eyes ringed with worry met her clear blue.  “Of course, Milady,” he said perfunctorily. 

She turned his head to look at the wound on his neck.  “Want to walk me through why you were flinging yourself from that balcony over there? And how you wound up with that little beauty?”

Ladybug

Chat pulled away from Ladybug and pulled his knees below his chin.  She could see the embarrassment tinging the skin around the exposed areas of his face as he wrestled with just how much to tell her.  Inwardly she cringed, realizing as Ladybug she was going through the exact same motions Marinette had when Chat had arrived on her doorstep no more than an hour ago.

Rough night for the Chat, she thought, not without tenderness.

She reached for his gloved hand.  “Chat, it’s just you and me.  You can tell me anything.”  She paused, then added, more quietly, “I’ll always lend an ear, whenever you need one... though technically you have more to spare than I do...” 

He smiled lopsidedly. “Milady, I am not sure you want to know allof it.”  He sighed, and then quickly sketched in how he had come to be on Marinette’s balcony. To his credit, he left nothing out, ending with: “I was mere moments away from telling Marinette just how much I love you, which now that I think about it, would have created a pretty uncomfortable moment.”

Chat stared up into the dark night, touching the welt at his neck.  “I heard this a fraction of a second before it hit me.  I don’t understand why I didn’t react faster, and I went down pretty hard.  Next thing I knew, I was waking up in her bed with a massive headache and a chirping Miraculous.”  Green eyes flicked to her, ears flattened.  “Don’t you even say it.”

Ladybug smirked.  “I didn’t have to, catsanova.”

He tried to smack her and missed, adding, “I have only ever had eyes for you, Milady.”  He frowned.  “Of course, you saw that writ large tonight – last night? -- anyway.”

Ladybug tactfully steered away from his nightmare, asking instead: “You didn’t call up Cataclysm? I assumed you reverted after we parted this evening, so it’s conceivable you would have been able to call it up again.”

“Not while I was sensate,” he replied, then grinned sheepishly.  “I have no idea if Marinette ravished me while I was defenseless.”

Ladybug had the good sense to turn away slightly, hiding the blush.  “The only possible explanation is that the Miraculous attempted to counter the effects of whatever hit you, draining itself in the process much like it would had you actually used your super power.”  She looked up.  “I hate to think what might have happened if you’d already used Cataclysm.”

Chat’s eyes bugged wider. “Now there is a scary thought. Someone has come up with a weapon that can affect us like that?”  He paused. “Not even Hawkmoth has thrown that at us.”

“It only partially explains why you can’t transform back, though.  If you were totally drained, you should have transformed completely.  It’s almost as if you’re stuck in default mode.”

Chat looked at his costume again.  “I can’t stay like this,” he said.  He started to fiddle with his ring.  “Maybe if I just take this off ---”

“No!” Ladybug said forcefully, placing a hand over his ring.  “We don’t know what would happen once you take it off – it’s safer to keep it as is until we know more about what happened.”

Chat ran a paw through his wild mane, an affectation Ladybug found strangely familiar.  “My, uh, alter ego will be missed in a few hours, Ladybug.” He shrugged.  “I’m open to suggestions, especially any that require me to leave Paris immediately.”

“Well, I can’t take you to Master Fu while you are Chat Noir.”  Ladybug eyed her partner.  “But he can go to you – I know he visited your alter ego at home.  Do you feel well enough to get there?”

“Same problem,” he sighed. “I’ve enough left in the tank to get there, but Chat Noir can’t be where, uh, my alter ego is expected to be.” He paused.  “Although... I might be able to make it work,” he added thoughtfully.  “I’ll buzz you on the bug phone when I get there.  But you have to promise not to use the GPS function – otherwise you’ll know where I live.”

“Fair enough,” she said. “Now get going, kitty.”

Chat Noir stood up and did his customary bow-and-a-kiss, albeit with less grace than usual.  “As you wish, Milady,” he replied, slightly unsteadily.  He bounded toward the edge and hurled himself over; Ladybug followed and watched as he executed a typically over the top barrel roll to land gently on the street below. He retrieved his baton, which he extended into the night, disappearing in a matter of moments.  She popped open her tracker for a brief moment to ensure he was still moving before disengaging the function and starting her own trek toward the Guardian of the Miraculous.

Chapter Text

Chat Noir

The first early hints of the coming dawn had begun to streak the skyline of Paris when Chat Noir landed on a roof across from the Agreste mansion.  Contrary to the show he’d put on for Ladybug, he was feeling anything butnormal; each movement he made was painful, and it had taken him three times longer than normal to get home.  Every fiber of his being was exhausted and the idea of even a little catnap – nightmares notwithstanding – seemed like catnip-laced nirvana.

He caught himself slumping against his staff.  Just not on this rooftop.

Chat doublechecked the area was clear and made the final swoop toward the rear of the mansion and his open bathroom window.  With what little energy he had left, he managed to slide through the panel and make a classic feline landing on all fours before allowing himself to collapse on the cool marble face first.  Those precious few minutes with Ladybug had recharged his spirit; too bad it hadn’t recharged his batteries.  He was starting to think he might understand what Plagg felt like after he called up Cataclysm.

An ear perked up at the thought.  I wonder…

Calling on his last reserves, he pulled himself up and stealthy stalked toward the sliding door to the main space of his room – Adrien's room, he corrected – cocking a feline ear at the door.  It appeared to be clear. 

He stood back and reached for the handle, pausing only when he inadvertently caught his reflection in the bathroom mirror.  Chat had seen video of his exploits multiple times to be sure, but had never really seenhimself in full Noir (short of that near disaster of a music video shoot a few months earlier).  Turning fully to face the length of the mirror, he took in the ears, the eyes, the mask, the suit; it was him, of course, but a version of his personality that he never allowed out while living life as more-or-less subservient Adrien. The mass of hair seemed to say it all: unkempt and wild, everything he couldn’t be as his alter ego.

Maybe being stuck as Chat Noir isn’t such a bad thing.  He turned slightly, then added: Plagg’s right, I might have to rethink the bell...

He slid the door open and slipped out into his room.  His phone was still in the dock, fully charged.  Notably it was showing the current time – he had less than an hour before Nathalie would “awaken” him for school. 

Chat kept the lights out, making use of his night vision to rearrange the homework on his desk – mussing it up enough to give the appearance of effort interrupted.  He then slid his trash can toward the bed, and proceeded (as only a good kitty could do) to go through a box and a half of Kleenex.  As the first rays of light started to shine through the window, he pulled the bedclothes askew, making it feel as though he had tossed and turned uncomfortably all evening.

A feline ear twisted and heard the first steps on the lower stairs heading in his direction. 

Quickly he grabbed his phone from the dock, and quietly took a single leap toward the fridge where Plagg kept his stash of Camembert cheese.  He didn’t need the extra feline senses to know that it was well stocked; he pulled several slices out and then made a second giant leap back into the bathroom, closing the door behind him before sliding down into a sitting position against it, exhausted.  A quick search in the music store led to an audio file that he queued up; he then waited, contemplating the odiferous cheese.  With a grimace, he popped the slices into his mouth one at a time, chewing minimally and realizing suddenly his sense of taste had likewise been augmented by the Miraculous.

Figures, he grimaced, as the acrid flavor of the cheese became almost too much to bare.  He felt an involuntary retch bubbling up and managed to stifle it as the footsteps approached his bedroom door.

Nathalie knocked perfunctorily and entered.  “Adrien?” she called.  “Time to get up.”  She walked into the bedroom, flipping on the lights and quickly seeing the bed, the Kleenex and the light under the door to the bathroom.   “Adrien?  Are you all right?”

A loud flush issued from the bathroom, followed by some unearthly moaning.  “I -- I don’t think I’m feeling well,” Adrien’s muffled voice said. “Dinner doesn’t seem to have settled well, or I picked up whatever stomach bug has been going around school. I also seem to have a terrible migraine on top of it all.”

“Do you want to stay home today?”

“It might be best,” came the muffled reply.

“I’ll inform your father,” she said, “and send for the doctor---”

“No!” came the forceful response.  “I mean, I think a little rest and proximity to the bathroom is all I need.”

“Okay,” was Nathalie’s skeptical reply.  “If you change your mind, I’ll be downstairs.”  Whatever response was lost in another loud flush of the toilet.   

Chat waited with one feline ear pressed to the door until he was sure Nathalie had retreated to his father’s den, then dropped his phone to the tile and rested the back of his head on the door, eyes closed.  He’d intended to use the “sick student” audio file but the cheese hadn’t gone down as well as he’d hoped.  The moaning had been unintentional and very real.

And yet, he thought he felt just a smidge better.

Or not.  He fought back another wave of nausea, and barely managed to make it to the toilet before what passed for breakfast made an inglorious reappearance.  Afterward, he held his head to the side of the cool porcelain and tried to force some calm to his roiling stomach.

Eyes still closed, he reached to the small of his back and retrieved his baton.  He flipped it open and was relieved to see it ring straight through to his partner’s expectant face.  “Operation Rescue Kitty is a go,” he whispered.  “I think I bought a day, not much more, Milady.”

“No worries,” came the quick reply.  “The package is already enroute to you and should be there soon.”

“Thank you,” Chat said. “I’d ask you to come along, but...”

“Exactly.”  She laughed as he slid the baton closed.

Marinette

Describing what had happened to Chat Noir had not been easy, especially given her personal need to skirt around the shoals of Chat’s feelings toward her.  Master Fu seemed to understand this and did not press her on many points unless it was necessary for a fuller understanding of the situation. At length, he had consulted the images he had taken of the Miraculous Grimoire but had come up empty handed.  Nothing in the book even remotely referenced the dart that Marinette had pulled from Chat Noir.

“There is no precedent for this,” Fu said, his hand thoughtfully stroking his beard. “What you are describing seems outside of anything an akumatized victim could come up with as a weapon – something so specifically targeted to a Miraculous holder.”

Marinette nodded; she had thought the same thing.  “So, you agree that this was an intentional attack against Chat Noir, and possibly Ladybug, had she been there as well?”

Fu inclined his head toward the dart, safely stored in a plastic container on the counter behind them. “This has to be very dark magic,” he said.  “To essentially drain just enough energy from the Miraculous to make it nearly impossible to use, but leave just enough to keep the wearer transformed... it’s a brilliant tactic and a deadly weapon.”  He continued to stroke his beard.  “Essentially, he is caught between both identities.  The real question is how much of each is present.”

Marinette nodded again. “What if Chat takes off the ring? Would his kwami be released?”

The Master stood up from his mat and went the side table where a small tea set was perched.  “I suspect he won’t be able to remove it, actually,” he replied as he poured a small steaming cup, and offered a second to Marinette.  “But if he could, the result would be the same: Chat Noir will remain Chat Noir until we find a way to safely recharge the Miraculous.”

They parted ways soon after they finished their tea, Master Fu off to pay a personal visit to Chat and Ladybug to get home in order to have Marinette be on time for school.  She was nearly there when her yo-yo phone buzzed. She swung down to a nearby rooftop and flipped the device open.

On her small screen, she squinted at the image of Chat.  He looked like he had gone another nine rounds with a supervillain and was doing a poor job of hiding that fact.  “Operation Rescue Kitty is a go,” he whispered, reminding her that Chat was not in friendly territory.  “I think I bought a day, not much more, Milady.”

“No worries,” she lied, as she was increasingly worried about her partner.  “The package is already enroute to you and should be there soon.”

“Thank you,” he said, and then smiled wanly.  “I’d ask you to come along, but…”

“Exactly!” she forced a laugh and a smile as he disconnected.

She continued to hold her yo-yo, staring at the now blank phone display for a long, thoughtful moment. Long enough that her concern for Chat’s wellbeing had her seriously considering flipping on her Find-A-Chat system. Master Fu hadn’t given her anything to be optimistic about; in fact, she was starting to fear the real possibility that her partner might never return to normal.

Her gloved finger hovered over the GPS activation button.

Would it hurt for her to know who Chat really was, under the mask?  She already knew the identities of three other Miraculous holders, and so far, that hadn’t led to the end of the world as they knew it.  She was Ladybug, for crying out loud; if she couldn’t protect Chat and/or his alter ego, who could?

Yet the two of them held the most powerful of the Miraculous jewels.  Keeping their identities secret, even from each other, was a prudent precaution that would protect not only themselves, but anyone they cared for. Ladybug caught a glance at one of the many billboards sporting Adrien’s smiling face pitching that horrid perfume and nodded to herself. 

Anyone we care about.

No, she had to protect the secrets they both held.  And she had to admit, despite all of his foibles, she really did care for Chat.

Just not in the same was as he clearly cared for her, she mentally added.

Ladybug snapped the yo-yo shut and started to swing down to her balcony and the promise of a few minutes rest before breakfast.

Chapter Text

Chat Noir

Not knowing when Master Fu would appear, Chat was at loose ends.  He didn’t trust that Nathalie wouldn’t make a sudden appearance, so he found himself straining his feline hearing to the limit and hanging close to the bathroom in case he had to make a mad dash to safety.  It wasn’t until the ding of a new text message startled him badly enough that he’d dropped into his standard attack stance, baton at the ready, that he realized he’d perhaps ratcheted his paranoia level up a bit too high. He took a deep breath and retreated to the bathroom, where his phone was propped up on the vanity.

He tapped the screen with a claw, and it came alive with a message from his best friend, Nino.

Dude?  R U OK?

He smiled, tried to unlock his phone to respond, and was immediately frustrated in his attempt. Chat rolled his eyes when he realized the phone’s facial recognition software couldn’t see enough points of comparison on his masked visage; the eyes alone were probably throwing it off. He cancelled the operation and tried to plug in his manual PIN number, a tricky feat given his claws.  How women with long nails made it work was beyond him…

Sick day,he laboriously typed.  Stomach bug; back tomorrow.

It sounded more optimistic than he was feeling, but there was no need to have Nino running over to check on him.  On the plus side, it would cement the story that Adrien was home.

Damn dude U R missing the action!

That was confusing.  What action? he typed, dreading the answer.

Ladybug is here!

Chat pulled out his baton and triggered the tracking mechanism.  Sure enough, Ladybug was at their school.  He dialed her and she picked up, though she was looking off screen.  “I’m fine,” she said breathlessly.  “Stay put and wait for Master Fu.  I’ve got this.”  And then she hung up.

“Seriously?” he frowned to the empty screen. 

“You should listen to her, Chat Noir,” a familiar voice said from just behind him.

Chat jumped up and turned in a single motion, claws out, baton spinning, before he recognized Master Fu. “Master?” he said quizzically. “How did I not hear you approach?” he asked, as he replaced the baton and relaxed.

“Not every superpower is strength or speed,” Fu said cryptically.  “The important part is that I have arrived unseen.  Now, let me see that wound of yours…”

Ladybug

She was seriously getting tired of battling students with an axe to grind. 

This time around, their exchange student from Madrid had been rebuffed by (of course) Chloe, and had been akumatized into a wild-eyed matador who, with a single touch of his red cape or the banderillero it was draped over, turned his victims into vengeful bulls.  By the time she’d transformed into Ladybug, more than half of the school had been altered, though it looked as if Chloe (of course) had so far escaped his ministrations. She hadn’t had time to search for Adrien, either, and hoped he had safely gotten away from the melee.

Marinette had been late to school; she’d intended a quick catnap before breakfast but had fallen into a deep slumber that her father had needed to shake her out of.  By that point it was close to first bell, so she’d streaked out the door and had just made the courtyard when the Matador made his appearance.

Ladybug held her hands over her hears, trying to block out the cacophony the courtyard of animals was making.  She felt more than heard her yo-yo phone buzz and perfunctorily answered it.

“I’m fine,” she snapped without even looking at the screen.  “Stay put and wait for Master Fu.  I’ve got this.”  She hoped the sheer force of her command would keep Chat safe and out of the line of fire.

Not bothering to wait for a response, she clapped the phone closed and looked again at the situation. Without her partner, she was going to have to be a bit more careful in timing her Lucky Charm.  It was the obvious play to contain this matador fellow to the school, and the courtyard seemed ready made for just such an action.

She put the Lucky Charm thought on hold and hooked her yo-yo to a crossbeam.  Swiftly she arched toward the main entrance of the building, landing just behind the massive doors.  Grabbing one side, she flipped her yo-yo around the door on the far side and yanked the portal closed.  Fortunately for her, the doors swung in meaning her akumatized classmates would be less likely to push their way out into the street and the city proper. 

Now for the Matador.

She turned and found that he was still chasing what few non-transformed students were left in the courtyard.  A quick count made her think that most were safely hiding elsewhere; there was no way to know where Chloe – or Adrien, for that matter -- had gone, but given the guy’s ranting, it seemed like a safe bet he’d not found her yet.  Ladybug needed to get a better look at him.  But from what angle? 

Ladybug realized this was the part of the program where she’d normally bounce some ideas off Chat. She found herself musing that he’d long ago stopped rushing headlong into direct confrontation, comfortably preferring instead to follow her lead or add helpful insights into her plan.  She had to admit, she missed having him at her side.

No way I’m ever telling him that! she thought.  He’ll be insufferably smug forever.

Chat’s call had interrupted her focus, and it was a bit unsettling finding herself thinking more about him than the here-and-now.  But there wasn’t time to contemplate what it meant.  Ladybug crept closer to the edge of the space, searching for inspiration and coming up completely empty.

Distracted, she barely rotated up and away from a sharp-ended banderillero that the Matador had hurled in her direction; it managed to graze her shin and shear a tiny tear in the fabric of her leg. “Ow!” she exclaimed, surprised that the weapon had affected her.  Ladybug took off for the corner of the space, hurtling several angry bulls that seemed to be keying in on the dominant red of her costume.

How much better could this day possibly get?she wondered as she hopped over a final steer and landed behind one of the massive support beams that held up the wrought iron roof of the courtyard.  It wasn’t much cover but did offer her a few seconds to catch her breath and contemplate her next move.  The stinging sensation from her shin had subsided to dull ache.

Carefully, she crept around the support beam and hooked her yo-yo to a cross beam above her, retreating upward a fraction of a moment before an angry set of horns rammed into the space she had been occupying.  Unhooking the yo-yo, she let the arc of her descent land her on the upper walkway of the space, allowing her a better vantage point.  Still, she was coming up empty in the plan department.

Time to trust in Ladybug Luck, I guess.  I hope it’s something I can handle solo!

She stood up and started to invoke her spell, only to be tackled by a blur of black fabric.

Chapter Text

Chat Noir

Each second Master Fu spent swabbing his neck felt to Chat as if it were a physical slap.  He knew it was unreasonable, but every fiber was twitching toward leaping out the window and joining Ladybug.  It was bad enough that it had manifested itself physically – both his foot andhis tail were tapping against the tile irritably.

“...see what this might be, based on what Ladybug told me earlier,” Master Fu was saying. 

“Right,” Chat said, not really listening.  His eyes strayed to the window. 

Fu placed a hand on Chat’s face and turned his head back toward him.  “Adrien, listen to me.  I don’t know why you are still transformed, and I am not certain how much of your powers you actually have access to.”  He paused. “I also don’t know how much damage you, your kwami or the Miraculous have taken.  And if there is damage, how much of it is irreversible.”  He paused again.  “This is serious.”

Chat’s green eyes widened a little.  “Okay,” he said.  “Look, can we discuss this later?  Ladybug --”

“Explicitly told you to lay low,” Fu reminded him.

“Not one of my better tendencies,” Chat replied with chagrin.  “Especially when she is in danger.”  Chat sniffed the air, an action that caught Fu’s attention.  “Like she is now!” Chat exclaimed.  “I’ve got to go!”

Fu placed his hand on Chat’s arm, temporarily pausing his leap toward the window.  “I’ll be back at sundown,” he said simply.  “Be sure you are here.”

Chat nodded quickly and bounded through the window, extending his staff for a massive vault that carried him over one building and nearly another.  He tried to ignore the queasy feeling in his stomach, writing it off to the Camembert and not his nearly palpable fear he would be too late to help Ladybug.  The shrinking part of his logical brain warned him that he’d never been that wound up about her before; nor, it reminded him, had he been able to scent her from so far away.

That was new, he thought.

One more vault and he had no more time to consider anything else: the school loomed into view, and his feline ears caught the sounds of commotion from the courtyard.  And off to one side, the very particular ziiing!of Ladybug’s yo-yo retracting.  In a swift motion he redirected himself toward one of the skylights on the roof and landed; holding the underside of the opening, he poked his head through and found Ladybug just below him.

She’s still safe, he thought, watching some guy in an outrageous flamenco outfit start up the stairs to her, brandishing a cape and hurling some very sharp objects at her. Relatively speaking... but what triggered my anxiety?

Chat scanned the space again, and then a third time, trying to ignore the creeping sensation that he was missing something.  He’d been so certain back in his room that he’d needed to get to Ladybug’s side, not identifying the immediate danger to her was increasing his anxiety.  Oddly, it wasn’t Flamenco Guy, although it certainly qualified as a fashion emergency.

Even I know you don’t mix those two color palettes, and I’m just a model.  A good looking one, to be sure…

Ladybug seemed to be intent on something and hadn’t seen him yet.  He started to tee up a cat pun to announce his arrival when his ears picked up the same sort of whistling noise he’d heard a moment before being hit in the neck. He quickly swiveled in several directions until he could pinpoint the source: in what felt like super slow motion, he could seethe dart this time, coming in at an angle from the opposite side of the roof.  It was moving fast and directly targeting Ladybug.

There was no time.  He leaned back and then launched himself at Ladybug, tackling her just as she appeared to be standing up to use her Lucky Charm.  The arm she had started to fling the yo-yo up with instead curled around his shoulders, and they twisted through the air, the yo-yo trailing behind them, unused. 

“Gotcha!” he heard himself say as they twisted again.

It was only then he felt the sting in his back.

Ladybug

She instinctively curled into the embrace and allowed Chat to control their tumble on the far landing of the courtyard.  He released her after another revolution, and they rolled out together into side-by-side standing positions.

“Purrfect timing as always,” the cocky SOB said, one masked eyebrow raised as he stepped toward her. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Ladybug answered angrily. “Why are you here?  I explicitlytold you to stay--”

“My feline senses told me you’d be targeted,” he interrupted, and twisted around to show her his back.  “I’m pawsitive this was intended for you.”

Despite the chaos reigning down around them, Ladybug’s jaw dropped.  There, directly between Chat’s shoulder blades, was another dart-like object. And as she watched, it was attempting to bury itself ever deeper into the fabric of Chat’s costume.  She stepped over to him quickly and pulled the needle-like object out.  Holding it to the light, she could see a tiny reservoir of liquid at one end, partially filled. 

“Master Fu will want to look at this.  Good thing your suit is protecting you,” she said as she stepped back.

“Yeah,” he said, a bit unsteadily.  “About that… I’m not feline so well...”

He tried to reach out for her before collapsing at her feet.

She dropped to her knees beside his prone form; it was as before: pulse racing, panting, completely out.  He’d been hit again.  And this time it had gone throughhis suit – another something that should never happen.

And this time, there was no bedroom to hide him in.

Frantically she looked around and saw with some cynicism that the Matador had taken that particular moment to spot her and was now busily making his way toward her.  He paused on the steps from the lower level, presumably getting the standard “take their Miraculouses” speech from Hawkmoth, before continuing toward them.

She turned again, trying to find some place she could safely put Chat.

There!

Ladybug scooped up Chat and dashed to the science classroom directly behind them and kicked open the door; on the near wall were the lockers students used to store their personal items while working through their lab assignments.

“I know you won’t like this,” she said, well aware of Chat’s distaste for small spaces.  She popped open the nearest locker and shoved Chat inside with little ceremony.  “I’ll be back before you wake up,” she promised, and tried not to think about the alternative as she locked the door and returned to the outer landing.

Out of options, she called up her Lucky Charm, and was rewarded with a giant boombox, complete with a pre-loaded CD of (she checked the label) “arena crowd cheers.”  Against her better judgment, she left Chat where he was and swung around the Matador to the school’s main office; as she suspected, the PA system was sitting on the reception desk and it took just a few moments for her to start up the CD and broadcast it throughout the facility. 

By the time she’d returned to the courtyard, the Matador was already bowing to the ooohs and aaahs on the tape, assuming he was having the performance of a lifetime.  Ladybug hadn’t seen the enchantment occur but made an intuitive guess that the akuma was hidden in the classic beret he was wearing.

She looped the yo-yo through an exposed beam in the courtyard, swung over the matador and nabbed the beret with her free hand, landing nearly back where she started. The Matador howled and started back up the stairs toward her; she had only moments to break the spell.

It was made of an oddly solid material; simply tearing it apart wasn’t an option, nor trying to crush it under her foot.  With the Matador literally breathing down her neck, she managed to finally crack it open with her spinning yo-yo attack.  As she did so, Ladybug flashed on an image of Chat’s ring hand and realized the massive disadvantage they were now at without his Cataclysm ability.

Ladybug was rewarded with the appearance of the akuma, which she quickly captured and disposed of.  A few moments later, her Miraculous Ladybug spell had restored the school to normal.  But she didn’t wait to see the final transformations and instead shot back into the science classroom to retrieve her partner.  She popped open the door and Cat Noir rolled out on top of her, still insensate.

She frowned. Miraculous Ladybug alwaysrestored everything.  Chat should have reverted; the fact that he didn’t led more credence to Master Fu’s theory that this was unknown magic they were dealing with.

A shiver ran down her spine as Ladybug realized she was scared.  Worried and scared.

Desperately, she tossed Chat over her shoulder and swooped out of the building.  For the first time in a long time, she had absolutely no idea what she should do.

And it completely terrified her.

Chapter Text

Chat Noir

This time, the pain brought with it waves of nausea.

He could feel the wind ruffling his hair, and thought he smelled Ladybug’s distinctive scent.  But the nausea he’d fought back earlier was now so intense that he opted to keep his eyes closed in order to focus on keeping his innards from coming out. 

“Ladybug?” he croaked.  “Did I die again?”

“Not now, kitty,” she said as the continued to swing.  “I’ve got to find a place to stash you for a few minutes while I transform.”

“Marinette’s,” he said simply, before choking back something vile.  He promised whatever gods were looking out for Chat Noir he’d never eat Camembert again.  Or maybe they were punishing him for not eating it in the first place?  If he survived, he’d have to have a long conversation with Plagg…

Ladybug didn’t answer, but he felt them shift direction and at length landed gently.  The smell of the bakery was more intense than usual for Chat; each individual spice seemed to be assaulting him and he halfheartedly swiped at his nose to clear the air.  Sound, sight, taste and now smell: all of his enhanced senses appeared to be in overdrive and threatened to give him a very real migraine.  He thought back to what Master Fu had tried to tell him and wondered if his inability to transform back to Adrien was actually masking the fact that he was transforming into something else entirely.

He decided not to think about it too much.  At least, not yet.  

Gently, Ladybug placed him face first into the chaise lounge he’d spotted on a prior visit, adjusting the umbrella to shade him slightly from the mid-morning sun.  The warm rays felt oddly wonderful on the exposed parts of his body, and without thinking he started to purr.   

She leaned into one of feline ears and whispered softer than a human could hear: “Stay put this time, kitty.  I mean it.”

Chat turned his head and tried to smile.  “Anything for you, Milady,” he said tightly.

“I’ll be back in less than an hour.”  He heard her move away, and then step back.  “Master Fu?”

At that, Chat’s eyes did open.  “He took a sample from my wound, and said he’d run a few tests on it.”  He closed them again.  “He said a lot of other stuff, too, but I tuned most of it out.  I’m to meet him back at my alter-ego's place at sunset.”

He heard an exasperated sigh from his partner.  “Not helpful, Chat.”

“Nobody’s purrfect,” he murmured.

She chuckled, and he heard her toss her yo-yo into the sky and take off, trailing the chirp of her earrings.

He closed his eyes again for what he hoped would be a quick catnap, willing his body to behave somewhat normally. But sleep was clearly out of the question – the noise from Paris seemed to have been turned up to max on his personal headphones; normally he could filter and tune out the cacophony, but today he was simply incapable of blocking any of it.  In fact, he was pretty sure he’d just heard Ladybug’s transformation somewhere close by.

She must have cut it close.

“Chat?” came a quiet query.  “What are you doing here?”

He cracked an eye open and there was Marinette, head poking out of the skylight, concerned expression on her face.  At least, he thought it was Marinette.  His vision was a bit hazy and her scent wasn’t quite right – it was that same strange mixture of Ladybug and Marinette he had detected earlier with Ladybug, now that he thought about it. But both women had been in the space just a few minutes apart.  No wonder he was having trouble separating out their unique notes.

Except, normally he would be able to do just that. 

Something is really, really wrong with me. 

“Sorry to drop in on you,” he said aloud.  “Ladybug needed a spot to stash me for a bit and this was the first place I thought of that specialized in cat treats.”  He flipped to his side, ignoring the wave of vertigo that came with the simple movement.  “Wait, aren’t you supposed to be in school?”

A shadow passed across her face as she came the rest of the way out and joined him on the roof.  “Two words: akumatized villain.”

Chat smiled and played along.  “I didn’t know you went to that school,” he said.  “Not my finest hour,” he continued, trying to push himself up.  “Oof,” he said, quickly closing his eyes and swallowing back another wave of nausea.  “Maybe I’ll stay like this for a bit longer.”

Marinette moved toward the chaise and he slid his legs over to make room for her to sit.  After a moment, she did, concern lacing every line on her face.  “You look awful, Chat.”

“I’ve been better,” he admitted.  “Every muscle is complaining, I can smell half the city from here, and the noise is almost deafening,” he added, ears twisting in agony.  “I seem to have lost the ability to manage my enhanced senses.  It’s almost information overload.”

“You can hear… how far away?”

“A few miles, I think, now.”  He cracked open an eye.  “I think I also was able to smell Ladybug from my – I mean, from quite a distance, too.”  He sniffed again.  “She’s still pretty close, actually,” he said, confusion crossing his face.  “Or not,” he smiled tiredly.  “Like I said, I’m not sure I’m totally in control anymore.”

He nearly missed Marinette’s change in expression.  “What?”

Marinette smiled weakly.  “I’d offer to take you to a doctor or something, but I imagine there isn’t a veterinarian in Paris that could handle your case.”

Chat grimaced.  “No respect, even from my feline fan club,” he murmured.  “Ladybug will be back in a bit.  She’ll have a plan,” he said, hope infusing his words.  “She always does.”

There was that expression again.  He frowned.

Marinette abruptly stood up.  “You know what?  I think I do have something down in the bakery that a kitty like you might like.  Let me run downstairs--” she started.

Chat’s eyes flew wide open, and his pupils shrunk, ears twisting in response to a particular whistle he was coming to fear.  Without regard for the waves of nausea or the deep muscle pain, he flipped out of the chaise and pressed himself flat atop Marinette.  Tiny projectiles flew a few inches above his back, narrowly missing him.

In one smooth motion, he rolled the two of them toward the edge of the deck, away from the skylight.  Coming to Marinette’s was a rookie mistake: clearly whoever was after him anticipated that move and had quickly located him. 

“Hold tight,” he commanded, and was rewarded with Marinette hugging him a bit harder. 

From there, he was on automatic, leaping away from the balcony and alternatively pole vaulting over and running across various rooftops of the city.  He knew he wasn’t thinking completely clearly, only following a single set of directives: get Marinette somewhere safe.  Contact Ladybug.

Hide.

He couldn’t take her to Master Fu’s, even if he knew where he lived.  Maybe Ayla’s place? 

No, the more he thought about it, the less he liked putting any more of his friends in danger.  It had all started with his impromptu visit to Marinette last night, and he had no desire to repeat the mistake.  He shifted directions again, hoping his quasi-random movements would prevent whoever was tracking him from keeping up while at the same time not having any real destination in mind. 

He vaulted another building, and took a quick self-assessment.  The adrenaline rush that had propelled him into action was crashing, meaning he probably only had a few more massive movements before he’d crumple himself.  Chat hadn’t heard anything or seen anything for a bit and decided to trust that he might have moved them beyond the immediate danger.  But where was he?

Chat stopped on the next rooftop, and scanned the horizon, not recognizing anything.  How could he be lost?  That had never happened before.  He squeezed his eyes closed against the encroaching darkness, took a deep breath, and opened them again.

As he did so, he heard a slight gasp from Marinette.  “Marinette?  Are you still with me?”

“Y--yes,” she stammered.  “I didn’t realize you knew Adrien.”

“Adrien?” he replied, quizzically.  He followed her gaze and saw the familiar roofline of the Agreste mansion.

Whoops!

Marinette

It wasn’t all that rare to have Chat Noir carrying her through the sky; but lately, she seemed to be the one grabbing him in midair.  But she understood his actions in wanting to protect his friend and didn’t protest as he leapt off of her balcony and away from danger.

Troubling her more was the fact that they had clearly been followed from the school.  Chat seemed to think the same thing, as his movements through the city appeared entirely random in an effort to shake whoever had tracked them down.  But she could sense in his movements that whatever reserve of strength he had tapped into was running low; he stumbled once, nearly missed a vault, and thudded to a stop on a rooftop in a terrible landing he’d normally make ten times out of ten.

As Chat paused, visibly struggling to determine his next move, she, too, scanned the horizon.  Looming large to their left was the iconic Agreste mansion and she couldn’t help the surprised gasp that escaped her lips.

Why are we here?

“Marinette?” Chat asked.  “Are you still with me?”

“Y—yes,” she stammered.  “I didn’t realize you knew Adrien.”

“Adrien?”  Chat’s head snapped in the direction of her gaze, and several emotions flashed across his face in rapid succession before he managed to compose himself.  He turned back toward her.  “Uh, Adrien who?” he asked, not very convincingly.

“Adrien Agreste?  The model?”

Chat shook his mane, again just a little to forced.  “Nope.  Doesn’t ring a bell.”  He looked down across her shoulder and suddenly smiled.  “Ah!  Perfect!”

He gently tightened his grip on Marinette and launched them off the roof and away from the Agreste mansion, landing atop the roof of a small theater.  He tried and found the roof access stairwell unlocked and hustled Marinette down into the space, pulling the door shut behind them.  The stairwell was lit dimly, so Chat took Marinette by the hand and safely led her down several flights before stopping at a landing and leaning his back against the concrete.

“Sorry, Princess,” he said, breathing hard.  “I’ve got to take a second here….” Chat closed his eyes and slowly slid down into a sitting position.

Marinette sat beside him.  “You’re not doing well at all,” she said.  “Let me go for some help.”

He held her arm, preventing her from leaving.  “I’ll contact Ladybug,” he said with effort.  “I’ve gotten you out of immediate danger, but you can’t go home.  Do you have anyone you can get to quickly?”

Marinette pulled on her lip.  “Well,” she thought, “Alya would be safer, but I am closer to Adrien.”  She paused, as Chat had made some sort of choking sound.  “Are you sure you are okay?”

“I’ll recover,” he said.  Then, after a long pause, he continued: “Go to Adrien’s, then,” he said thoughtfully.  “Tell Adrien I sent you.  That might ease your entry.”

Marinette’s eyes bugged out.  “You do know him, then!”

Chat closed his eyes again, nodding.  “Yes,” he said.  “Much like you know Ladybug, I think.”

She froze.  Was he saying what she thought he was saying?  “Uh—”

“Remember the Evilstrator?” he asked.  “I’d assumed my cat-about-town act had wrapped my paws around your heart, but…” he laughed weekly.  “Ladybug sent me to protect you.”  He paused.  “She didn’t have to say it, but I was pretty sure the two of you had talked a few times before.”

Marinette nodded slowly.  “We’ve bumped into each other more than once,” she said, which was technically true.

“Go,” he said, as he pulled his baton out, preparatory to using the phone.  “Stay safe.”

She stood up and dashed down the stairs, intentionally trying to put some distance between them so she could transform back into Ladybug.

Cat Noir

He listened as her footsteps retreated away from him and waited until he heard her exit the building before slumping even further against the wall.  Just holding his baton was draining, so he gathered what wits were left and activated his phone.

Ladybug picked up immediately.  “Chat!  Where are you?”

“No time to explain,” he said.  “I’m headed to the Agreste mansion – remember where it is?”

She paused, eyes widening.  “Yes, I do.”

“Adrien owes me a favor,” he said.  “I’m going to have him hide Marinette for a bit since I seem to have inadvertently made her a target in all of this, just as much as we are.  Can you meet me there in fifteen?  The window by the bathroom will be open.”

“On my way now.”  She clicked off.

The baton fell out of his hand, and he struggled to retrieve it.  He’d just made a mistake – Chat Noir had no reason to know about the bathroom window – and hoped Ladybug hadn’t picked up on it.  Lethargically, he hauled himself back into a prone position, pulled himself up and started back to the roof.  Somehow, he managed to vault himself back over to the mansion, noted as he soared over the side wall Marinette was just then arriving at the main gate.  He swung around to his room and in through the bathroom window.  He didn’t even try to land, just rolled into a crash that carried him across the tile, coming to rest with his nose a few inches from the closed door of his bathroom.

Glorious, Adrien.  The mighty Chat Noir laid out like a bear rug.

Chat pulled himself up and leaned an ear against the door once more.  Fortunately, the other room was clear.  But as he expected, the intercom chirped from Nathalie.  “Adrien?  Someone is here to see you.  Are you well enough to take a visitor?”

He reached to the panel by the vanity, a claw edge used to activate the intercom.  “Sure,” he croaked.

“I’ll bring her up.”

He released the intercom and then used the edge of the vanity to pull himself back up again.  Quickly, he scanned his vanity and determined what sort of movie magic he might use to pull off this stunt.

Wait, not movie magic…!

Chapter Text

Marinette

She had only been to the mansion as Marinette on a handful of occasions, perhaps the same number of times she’d appeared there as Ladybug if she actually counted them up.  As expected, Gabriel Agreste was nowhere to be seen.  His assistant had led her up the stairs to Adrien’s room with little to no conversation, showed her into Adrien’s room, and then closed the door behind her.

The room was shrouded in darkness, the heavy curtains pulled closed against the midday sun.  She crept into the space, calling quietly, “Adrien?”

“Over here,” was the equally quiet reply.

She rounded the corner and found Adrien in his bed, blanket drawn to his chin.  In the semi-darkness, his hair seemed to be more unkempt than normal and was spilling out from beneath what she thought was a knit beanie.  He also appeared to be wearing some sort of thick white ointment, lathered liberally all over his face, complete with (she had to look twice to be sure) cucumbers over his eyes.

“Are you okay?” she asked, eyes wide.

“Glamorous life of a model,” he said, the laughter present in his voice.  “Actually, I have something of a migraine and believe it or not this is the fastest way to combat it.”  He paused.  “Just don’t divulge my beauty secrets to anyone…”

Marinette laughed.  This bit of insight into her crush was not something she had ever expected to be privileged to see.  Somehow it endeared her even further to Adrien.

“So now you know why I’m not at school today,” he said.  “What brings you to my doorstep, Prin—Marinette?”

She bit her lip.  “Actually, Chat Noir sent me.  Something awful is out there, and he thinks I’m a target.”

Adrien started to sit up, groaned, and thought better of it.  “Chat sent you?”

“Yes.”  She paused.  Then: “You’ve never mentioned that you knew him.”

He chuckled.  “It’s not something that comes up in conversation,” he said.  “He’s not, like, a best friend or anything.  But he’s dropped by a few times and helped me out of a few… situations.”  He paused, was on the verge of adding something, and seemed to think better of it. 

“This is the safest place in the city, and you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”

“R-r-really?” she stammered.  Adrien was inviting her to stay!  In his house!  In his room!?

“Yes.  But you’re going to have to move up to my library for a bit so I can get to the bathroom,” he said.  “I, uh, well…” he paused.  “I need to rinse off this round and reapply a new one.  But suffice it to say I don’t want you to see any, uh, exposed skin, shall we say…”

“Oh!” Marinette blushed deeply at the unbidden images that leapt into her mind.  “That is another model secret that I will keep for sure,” she said, as she started up the spiral staircase to the vast library above his room.

“No peeking!” he said.

Marinette turned toward the bookshelves and closed her eyes.  “I promise,” she said.

She heard him slowly get out of the bed and make his way over to the bathroom, pausing briefly before going through the door and sliding it closed behind him.  Marinette wasn’t certain, but for a moment, she thought she’d heard something close to Chat’s bell as Adrien had moved through the space.  Water started to run in the sink. 

The door slid open again.  “Marinette?”

“Still here, and still not looking, Adrien.” 

Wait, she thought, that voice was –

Chat landed softly next to her on the landing.  “I’m glad you made it,” he said, green eyes glowing in the near darkness.

“Chat!  What are you doing here?”

“I’m afraid I shocked Adrien,” he said.  “He nearly leapt out of his skin when he found me in the bathroom.  He really needs to lock that window.”  In the semi-darkness, she could still see his eyes crinkle in laughter.  “I called in a favor.  It was easier for me to have Ladybug meet me here, so Adrien has agreed to an impromptu roomful of visitors.”

“He’s okay with it?”

“Yeah.  In fact, he’s decided to take a long sauna to try and sweat out that migraine of his so LB and I can have a private conversation.”  He paused.  “You don’t mind waiting out here for him while I meet with Ladybug, do you?  Adrien feels bad about leaving you alone for a bit, so he’s having his personal chef prepare some munchies you while you hang out.”

Her heart leapt at the idea that Adrien was even concerned about her waiting for him.  “I’ll be fine.  Thanks, Chat,” she said.

He held her for a moment, then dropped over the edge and disappeared back into the bathroom.

Marinette opened her purse and Tikki flew out.  “Am I dreaming?” she asked the kwami.

“No,” Tikki said.  “This is really happening.”

Chat Noir

He flipped the sauna to “steam mode” and switched on the satellite radio embedded in the wall, tuning it to an all-talk station.  He finished placing the mannequin from his closet into the space, retreated out into the bathroom proper and closed the frosted glass door.  The shadow wouldn’t pass muster if Ladybug really examined it, but it would have to do.

The beanie and dead cucumbers were sitting on the vanity, along with the half-used tub of cold cream and a massive quantity of paper towels.  He had to admit his subterfuge had been inspired but shuddered a bit at the realization that he had just shared an extremely private part of his personal life with Marinette, whether she understood it or not.

Glamorous life of a model indeed.

Chat closed his eyes for a moment, regrouping, and braced himself for another round of Camembert he’d snared on his way in as “Adrien.”  He wasn’t entirely sure how much he had kept down, but thought some part of the last round had actually gone a little way toward replenishing his strength.  Not as it would have done for Plagg, but enough to keep him standing up and moving forward.

He opened his eyes, grabbed a piece from the vanity where he’d dropped them, and tried to not taste it at all.  The resulting retching appeared to be automatic now, and he tried to muffle it by pressing his face into one of his thick towels.

How do you stand this stuff, Plagg? he asked.

Fighting back the nausea, he reached for a second slice and repeated the process with the same results.  He’d managed to choke down a third when he heard Ladybug tap at the window and drop down into the space.

Chat looked up at her, and pressed a gloved finger to his mouth, then inclined his head toward the walk-in closet.  She nodded and followed him inside, trying not to ogle at a space that was five times as large as Marinette’s bedroom.  He slid the door closed behind them, not quite blocking out the low chatter from the sauna.

“Marinette is safe, and is out in the other room,” he said, cocking an ear in that direction.  A puzzled expression crossed his face as he added: “She’s actually being pretty quiet right now.  I think she’s more frightened that she let on.”  He sniffed a bit, confused.  “I can’t smell her, either…”

“Adrien will keep her calm,” Ladybug suggested quickly.

“I don’t know about that,” Chat said.  He might have had cucumbers on his eyes, but he had heard Marinette’s heart rate jump at the thought of seeing his exposed skin. “I never realized how deep her feelings for him were – having her stay here might be a bit problematic.”  He looked meaningfully at Ladybug.  “She looks at him like I look at you, Milady.”

Ladybug shifted a bit uneasily.  “I’m sure he will be the perfect gentleman,” she snapped.

Chat’s eyes widened, almost as if she had slapped his alter ego physically.  “Milady, I never intended to imply--” he stopped, eyes widening further.  “Wait, you know Adrien, don’t you?” he asked, somehow already knowing the answer and starting to make some intuitive conclusions.

“That is not important right now,” Ladybug replied hotly.  “What is important is what our next steps are. You said Master Fu would be reconnecting with you later today?  That gives us some time to do some sleuthing.”  She looked him over a bit.  “Or at least one of us.  I’m not convinced you’re up for anything heavy duty.”

“You want to revisit the scene of the crime?” Chat said thoughtfully.  “I think I can cat-trangulate at least one of the locations where the dart was shot,” he said.  “I had a pretty good view of the last one that had your name on it.”

Ladybug noted without comment the bad pun, thinking it was a hopeful sign.  “Marinette may have seen something on her balcony,” she added.

Chat nodded in agreement.  “’I’ll pop out and ask her,” he said and started for the closet door.

“One second,” Ladybug said, placing a hand on his shoulder and turning him slightly.  “Look, Chat,” she started, “before we get too much further, you need to know something.”

He turned back toward her, masked eyebrows betraying surprise.  “Milady?”

She tentatively reached up to his face, brushing a stray blonde lock away from his mask.  “I don’t say it as often as I should, but you are an incredibly important part of my life.”  Ladybug stared deeply into his eyes, and he wondered if she was reading the desperate hopefulness that was there.

She pulled his face toward her and gently placed a kiss on his lips.  Chat went rigid, a thousand emotions exploding in his consciousness.  Ladybug released him and stepped back a bit.  “I know what I said earlier, and while my true love remains elsewhere, I’ve recently discovered there’s room my heart for you, too.”

Chat stared at her.  “Ladybug… Milady, I can’t deny that even hearing that makes my tail kink.  But don’t lead me to a place you don’t want to go.  Is there even a remote chance where I’m not the runner up in this contest?” he asked, barely willing to hear her response.

She smiled slyly at him.  “Let’s just say you’ve been upgraded to Business Class from Coach.”

Chapter Text

Chat Noir

Chat remained rooted to his spot, stunned and wondering if he was just suffering some form of delusion as a result of whatever was affecting him.  Yet his feline ears (and human ones) seemed to have just heard a tiny crack open in the doorway to Ladybug’s heart.  He was having a hard time breathing and was certain the entire block could hear the beating of his heart.

For once, he was speechless.

Ladybug seemed to understand his silence.  After a moment, she said: “Are you feeling up to an outing, kitty?”

“If we take it easy, yes,” he admitted.

“All right,” she said.  “Meet me at the school after you’ve had your Chat-chat with Marinette,” she said.

“As you wish, milady,” Chat said and bowed.  He slid open the door and they re-entered the bathroom.

Ladybug motioned to the sauna.  “He stays in there much longer and you’re going to have to rescue him,” she joked quietly.

“I’m not going in there!” he laughed.  “You know what steam does to my sense of smell!”

She smiled and leapt through the open window, Chat staring after her retreating form.  It was going to take some time for him to process what had just happened. 

On his way past the sauna, he did turn off the system – no need to melt the mannequin any more than was necessary – but left the radio playing in the background.

The brighter light from the bathroom spilled into the bedroom as he cracked open the door and slipped through.  His eyes automatically adjusted to the gloomy darkness.  “Marinette?” he asked quietly.

There was no answer.  He scanned the room, and didn’t see or hear her, and fought back a minor panic.  “Marinette?” he said louder.  “Where are you?”

He froze.  Footsteps were approaching from the staircase.  Chat Noir couldn’t be found in Adrien’s space.

Chat somersaulted back into the bathroom and quickly re-created Adrien-has-a-migrane, wincing slightly at the sliminess of the dead cucumbers.  He’d barely settled back into the bed and pulled the beanie down over his feline ears when the door from the hallway quietly opened and closed.

“Adrien?” Marinette’s voice appeared from the side of his bed.  “Feeling any better?”

“The sauna helped a bit,” he replied, realizing he’d left the radio on.  “Chat Noir was looking for you,” he added as an afterthought. 

“Oh!” she said, surprised.  “I’d gone downstairs for a glass of water,” she added quickly, though the way she said it didn’t ring entirely true to his ears. 

“He seemed to think you might have seen something on your balcony when he was hit,” Chat continued.  “Apparently he and Ladybug are chasing down some leads at the moment, but he’ll be back later.”

He felt Marinette shift her weight slightly.  “I’m not sure what I saw, actually, other than him going down pretty hard.”  She paused.  “Other than the direction, I suppose…” she trailed off.

Chat’s ears tried to perk up, a painful experience under the beanie.  “You saw where it came from?”

“Maybe I did,” she said, thoughtfully.

“That could be helpful,” Chat said.  “If you think back to---"

“You’re right, I’ve got to tell Ladybug!” she said excitedly.  He heard her head back toward the doorway.  “Will you be all right for a bit?  They were going to start at the school, so I’ll head over there and let them know and then come right back.”  Footsteps retreated and exited his room.

“Marinette – wait!” Chat said, sitting up and inadvertently letting the cucumbers slide off his mask.  But his feline ears told him she was already flying down the marble staircase, headed for the door.

Only then did he realize he’d never mentioned where Chat was meeting Ladybug.

Ladybug

Marinette hurried down the marble staircase and out the massive doors of the mansion, intent on getting over to the school where she was sure Chat was already wondering where she had gotten to.  It had been a calculated risk telling Chat to speak with Marinette, one that had not anticipated Adrien stepping in for her partner.  Still, it had been more productive than she realized – she had, indeed, seen the direction from which the dart had come.  Now they had two leads to follow.

She rounded the gate and crossed the avenue in front of the mansion, ducking into the first alley she found to transform into Ladybug.  Moments later she was soaring over the rooftops and toward her school.  The late afternoon sunshine was reflecting in the tall windows of the buildings she passed, an amazing sight if she’d had the time to appreciate it.

Ladybug saw Chat’s familiar form perched on the rooftop of the school, beside the skylight he’d jumped through earlier.  He was scanning the horizon, presumably looking for her.  She swung down and around to his side, landing in a partial crouch.  “Sorry I’m late, Chat Noir.”

“I’m just getting here myself,” he replied, and only then did she notice he was trying to conceal how out of breath he was.  “I don’t seem to go as fast as I used to.”

“Did you get anything from Marinette?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said to her surprise.  “I think we might have a good angle to investigate from the balcony once we get over there.”

But I didn’t talk to Chat!  How does he know that?

Flustered, Ladybug blurted: “She told you that?”

“Yes,” he said again, though this time a bit more quietly.  “Much like Adrien didn’t tell Marinette where Ladybug was meeting Chat Noir.” 

Oh… wait…

He turned toward her, wide green eyes searching her face, blonde hair flying at right angles to everything.  “How did she know, I wondered?  Because she couldn’t have, unless we had discussed it earlier.” 

Chat’s eyes softened as he gently placed a hand to her arm.  “Then I realized I’d been seeing a pattern for some time, connections where shouldn’t have been any.  Given the pressure we’re under with this maniac running around, both of us made a number of slips today; it just happens you made one last one that suddenly snapped all of the pieces together for me... Marinette.”

This can’t be happening.  Not now.

And then the penny dropped.  “Adrien wasn’t in the sauna, was he?”

Chat shook his head slowly.  “Sadly, a mannequin was sacrificed for the cause.  Nathalie won’t be happy.”  He took her hand in a gloved paw.  “We don’t have time to process this right now,” he said.  “But I trust you with my life, and all the secrets that come with it.”

She looked at him, emotions swirling.  “I… I feel the same way,” she said, squeezing his hand and hearing it for the truth it was.

Adrien is Chat Noir? No wonder I’ve been so conflicted…

“We’ll come back to this, Milady,” he said, as he moved in and placed a tender kiss on her cheek.  “For I have no intention now of letting you go, no matter your guise.”  Then he moved away, adding with a wink: “The real question, of course, is whether I’ve made it to First Class yet.” He smiled wider.  “Or, as I suspect, I was already there and just didn’t realize it.”

She stared at him, slack jawed.  “You’re incorrigible,” she managed to say, smothering the smile that suddenly wanted to burst from her face.

“No, I’m cat-triffic.  And I’m all yours,” he replied as he somersaulted backwards through the skylight.

Ladybug let the smile bloom in full, allowing the impact of what he had said to wash over her.

I’m never going to let either one of you go either, kitty, she promised herself as she followed him down and into the courtyard, landing next to him.  The school was empty, the principal having sent everyone home after the akuma attack earlier.  They had the space to themselves.

Chat Noir was sniffing the air intently and staring at a section of the roof.  For the first time, she recognized just how much of Chat was in Adrien’s face -- or should that be the other way around, she wondered?  No, she realized, the Adrien she had seen daily had really been nothing more than a mask, something Chat had been hiding behind all this time.  Elements had always been there, of course: the kindness, the do-anything-for-anyone attitude, the empathy, the intelligence.  Being Chat had just allowed more of his actual personality into the open, infecting it with just a tinge of roguishness that Adrien would never have been able to display.

“That wasn’t really cold cream, was it?” she asked suddenly.

“It was,” he replied without missing a beat.  “And before you ask, no, I don’t do that every night.  I do have to remove the makeup we use at photo shoots, though, so that’s why I had some on hand – just for the record,” he added, a tinge of red creeping up his cheeks.

She followed his gaze and tried to see what he was looking at.  “Well, you had me fooled,” she said.  “Pretty clever under the circumstances.”

“Not just another purrfect face, milady,” he smiled.  “If I am right, it came from there,” he pointed.

His claw tip indicated a tiny clerestory window along the forward edge of the building, barely two feet high by maybe six wide.  Ladybug frowned.  “Are you sure?”

“The trajectory fits,” he said.  “Remember who’s getting an ‘A’ in geometry,” he added with some classic Chat snark.

She punched him.  “Incorrigible and insufferable.” 

He traced a path through the air from the window to where he’d tackled her on the upper landing.  “It’s the only logical place, unless they were inside the space.  I didn’t see anything then, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t someone – or something – hiding up there.”

“Let’s take a closer look.”  Ladybug grabbed Chat around the waist.

“Me-ow,” he said playfully.  “I could get used to this.”

“Insufferable,” she muttered again as she tossed the yo-yo up and back through the skylight, reeling them up to the roof once more.  Together they jogged to the outside of the clerestory window, where they found the glass had been carefully removed and placed to once side of the frame.

“I think they call that a ‘clue,’” Chat said, kneeling down to examine the frame.  “I don’t see any prints on the glass, and it’s a clean cut along the edges.  It’s like something you see in the movies,” he added.  “Like when the bank robbers have that laser cutter—” He looked up.  “Ladybug?”

She was looking at the sky, thoughtfully.  “If you extended the trajectory further, would it intersect with that building over there?”  She pointed to a rather modern high-rise a few blocks away from the school.

Chat adjusted his position.  “Maybe,” he said.  “It might intersect with the top floor, or the one just below that.”  He turned back to Ladybug.  “But that’s at least a half mile away – it would’ve been a one in a thousand shot from there!  With no chance of knowing just when either one of us would be in the line of sight!”

“Under normal circumstances, I’d agree,” she said.  “But it might mean that more than one person – or thing – is involved.   Or an enhanced super villain ability we’ve never seen before.”

Chat nodded.  “A spotter here, the shooter there.”  He looked up at the high-rise again.  “That’s not the tallest building in Paris,” he said, “but I have a feeling it might also have a line of sight to your bakery.”  He grimaced, gripping his midsection. 

Ladybug started toward him, but he waved her off.  “It’s the cheese,” he explained.  “I’ve been downing Camembert sliders all day to try and keep up some strength, but it’s a bit hard on the stomach.”  He started to retch again, and had barely turned away from her before vomiting his last snack.

She approached him then, carefully placed a hand on his back.  “I hear you should eat more greenery to prevent hairballs,” she said, knowing he’d be embarrassed and trying to lighten the mood. 

“Not funny, milady,” he croaked as he wiped his face on his sleeve.  “Ow!” he said suddenly, then, more seriously, “that’s new.”

“What?” she asked.

He turned, and blood was trickling down his lip.  “I seem to have bit myself,” he said, smiling – which quickly faded when he saw her look.  “What?”

“You… you have… whiskers…”

Chapter Text

Chat Noir

Chat pressed his gloved hand against his face and sure enough, a set of whiskers had erupted around his masked nose, three to a side, just below his eyes.  What was stranger was that he could feel each one individually, though he wasn’t entirely sure he understood the new sensations -- yet. What he did understand was that it meant he was in more trouble than he thought.  “Ladybug, I don’t think this is good.”

“Open your mouth,” she said, placing her hand on his chin.

Obediently he did so, and she gasped.  “What?”

“No wonder you nicked your lip,” she said.  “Your canines have grown into full fangs.”

He pulled out his baton and used the camera function to see his face.  “Whoa,” he said.  “My dentist is definitely not going to like this.”  He paused.  “Or father. There goes the modelling work.”

Ladybug tilted her head. “It’s been, what, about ten hours since you were hit the first time?  And three since the second hit?”

“Maybe,” he replied, looking at the sun hanging low in the sky.  “I’ve not actually been keeping track of the time, but that felines right.”

She rolled her eyes. “I don’t have enough information, but I think perhaps your taking a second dose of whatever was in that dart went beyond simply removing your ability to transform.  It’s just a guess, but I’d be willing to bet what little of the second dose you did receive has started to physically combine you with your kwami.  Hence, you’re taking on more and more feline characteristics.”

Chat’s eyes crinkled into a smile.  “You should really say ‘ergo,’ Sherlock,” he laughed.

“Glad you know your place, Dr. Watson,” she quipped.

“Hey!” he exclaimed. “I thought we went through that already… I’m so much more than a sidekick!”  He tried to stifle another set of retching and had to turn away from her again. “Sorry…” he said between convulsions. “This seems a bit worse than earlier…”

Ladybug held the back of his head as he gasped a bit.  At length he turned back around and leaned his face against the cool metalwork of the roof.  “What time is it?” he asked.  “I’m supposed to meet Master Fu back at my place at sunset.”

“We’ve got about an hour, give or take,” she replied.  “Are you strong enough to hit that building, or do want me to take you home?”

Chat bristled slightly. “I’m fine,” he said, pushing himself up. “But since I’m being chivalrous, I’ll let you get us over there…”

“Right,” she laughed as she wrapped an arm around his waist once more.  This time he leaned into her fully, and she took off toward the high-rise.  Effortlessly she sailed through the sky, and the two landed easily on the wide rooftop of the building in question. It was modern enough to include stairway access on opposite sides of the roof, an elevator aperture, and a helipad ringed with warning beacons flashing slowly.

“This has to have been designed by an American,” Chat said.

“What makes you say that?”

“It doesn’t have any flair at all.  It’s, like, generic building 101.”

She smiled and didn’t disagree.  “Can you see the bakery from here?”

Chat started to walk the perimeter of the rooftop, easily zeroing in on the correct angle that should have pointed toward her family’s bakery.  “Yes,” he said at length.  “And from about here, you can see both the school and your balcony with a minimum shift in stance.  Maybe forty degrees, tops.”

Ladybug spun in a slow circle.  Almost all of the main areas of the city she and Chat Noir moved through were visible from this building.  Not the entire city, of course, but the majority of the places the two of them were more likely to be sighted.  It also included the homes of just about all of their schoolmates. 

“I’d have to use the map software on my computer, but I feel like this might be in the middle of the largest cluster of where the two of us have been called to action.”  She pointed toward the school.  “With that being one of the largest concentrations of events.”

“So someone has clearly charted out our pattern,” Chat mused, “and then set up shop in a location that would statistically give them a better than average chance at taking us down.” He looked at her.  “That’s not Hawkmoth’s style.”

“Not unless he’s moved to a new level.  But no, this doesn’t feel like him.  He might be behind it, ultimately, but this isn’t standard SOP for him.”

“I –” Chat grimaced and bent over, his face wreathed in pain.  “Wow,” he said tightly.  “I think we need to get back to Master Fu…”

Ladybug

Chat dropped to his knees in front of her, almost keening with pain.  It had been a mistake to let him come with her, not that she could have stopped him.  She bent down next him and placed a hand on his back, and was surprised to feel how tense his entire body had become.

Wait… is that… fur?

She looked more closely, and sure enough, tendrils of black fur had started to sprout across Chat’s suit. They were very fine, but given enough time, would definitely cover him in a luxurious dark coat.  She turned his face up, and determined that his exposed skin was not changing – only the parts covered by his costume.

Interesting.  Does that support my theory? she wondered. 

“C’mon Chat, let’s get you home.”  She gripped him around the waist once more and lifted them into the sky, soaring back across the skyline and toward the Agreste mansion.  The bathroom window was still open (How was it no one ever noticed that? she wondered) and she deftly slid through, landing carefully on the bathroom tile.

Chat curled up into a tiny ball on the tile. “I think I’m going to stay right here, Milady,” he said with conviction. “Besides, Chat Noir can’t be in Adrien’s bed.”  He cocked one eye up at her.  “And I am not putting on that hideous cold cream one more time today.”

Ladybug looked at him sternly.  “Adrien is supposed to be in there, and Marinette is supposed to be with him.” Her eyes flicked to the counter and the half-lidded container.

“Seriously?” he nearly mewled it out. 

A few minutes later, a grumbling Chat Noir was ensconced once more in Adrien’s bed, wearing a layer of cold cream and sporting the beanie to hide his ears.  Ladybug’s only concession was to keep the wilted cucumbers close at hand and add them at the last minute if an unexpected visitor appeared. After he was settled in, she ducked into the bathroom and exited the house only to re-enter once more via the front door as Marinette.

“Adrien, I’m back,” she called out as she re-entered the bedroom in civilian form.

“Over here, Marinette,” he said grumpily. 

She skittered to his side. “You’ve got to keep up appearances, Chat,” she whispered.

“You’re not the one wearing this hideous stuff,” he grumbled.

“Move over, kitty,” she said as she sat down on the side of his bed. 

He slid over to make space, but then quickly ensnared her with one arm and pulled her dangerously close to his face.  “Hey!” she squeaked.

“It’s good for your complexion,” Chat laughed, before playfully bopping her on the nose with his finger.  He sobered quickly, releasing her: “We have time before Master Fu gets here,” he said. “I need to tell you something.”

Marinette settled in next to him. “Go on.”

Chat – or was it Adrien? – took a deep breath.  “If I don’t get through this, I need you to know one thing.”

She tried and failed not to laugh.  He placed a finger on her lips.  “I’m trying to be serious here, Milady.”

“I know,” she chuckled. “I’m sorry… it’s the cold cream…”

He glared at her but pressed forward.  “Marinette, I was a fool not to see the Ladybug in you, or you in Ladybug.  I am so terribly sorry at all of the lost time.” He hugged her close, this time careful to keep her well away from the cream.  “You are my entire world.  My beginning, my middle, my end.” 

Chat turned her head so he could stare into her eyes.  “If I don’t get through this,” he repeated, “know that these last few hours that we’ve had together have been the most joyous of my life.”  He paused.  “I’d have preferred to have not been shot at before finding out who the love of my life was, but I guess that’s a small price to pay for happiness.”

He hugged her again. “I hope you feel the same,” he continued.  “But I can understand if you don’t.  As Chat Noir, I was so hung up on getting Ladybug to acknowledge me I never realized what Adrien was doing to you.” 

He smiled again.  “I talk as if we are two different people, but really, we’re not.  I can’t be Chat Noir without Adrien; one cannot exist without the other.”  He smoothed out one of her ribbons with a tender motion from a clawed finger.  “Does that make any sense at all?”

“Yes,” she said.  “I have the same duality that is really a unity,” she added.  “I thought it was Adrien I wanted to be with as badly as life itself; what I’ve realized is the ‘two’ of you, like the ‘two’ of me, are really just different takes on the same soul.”  She reached up to his hand, still on the ribbon.  “It’s not entirely true that you can’t be both.  Everything that we are, deep down, is there.  ‘They’ are still you.”

“That’s deep, Milady.”

“It is,” she replied. “It came to me some time ago that the two of us didn’t accidently come together.  True, we were chosen to be the protectors of this city, but I think there might be a more cosmic angle to it than that.”  She took his hand down and kissed the palm.

“Does that mean we can officially be a couple? Finally?

Marinette smiled a bit wider.  “It depends – which couple is a couple?”

“Perhaps someone should fill me in,” Master Fu said as he stepped around the corner.

Chapter Text

Chat Noir

"Uh,” Chat said, eyes wide.  He turned to Marinette, who was similarly aghast.  They’d not discussed how they were going to handle this particular situation. “I’m not sure where to begin.”

“Let’s cut to the chase, then,” Master Fu said.  “Clearly you’ve both broken the one protocol I emphasizedshould never be broken.”

“Yes,” Chat confirmed, downcast.  “It wasn’t intentional, Master.  But both of us made one too many mistakes in front of the other today.”  He looked up.  “This is completely on me.  I should never have leaned on Marinette the way I did; this would never have happened if I’d just let it go.”

To his surprise, Master Fu smiled slightly.  “My children, I never expected you to keep secrets from each other forever.  I’d just hoped it would take a bit longer for the two of you to figure it out on your own.”  He put his satchel on the end of the bed and continued.  “But the two of you are too smart for your own good; I could see that from the beginning, and knew it was just a matter of time.”

“So, you’re not mad?” Chat tried to look as contrite as possible.

“I’m furious, but we have larger issues to deal with at the moment.”

Chat let out the breath he was holding, instinctively understanding he’d crossed a line with the Master that would take a long time to repair.  “Of course, Master Fu,” he said simply.

The Keeper of the Miraculous leaned a hip on the edge of the bed.  “Marinette was correct in her assessment of the situation.  You are currently under what I believe is known as the transformaton entropique -– the so-called ‘Entropic Transformation’ -- magic so old, it predates even that of the Miraculous Jewels.”

“Entropic?” Chat looked between Marinette and Master Fu.  “The transformation part I get,” he said, indicating the whiskers with one hand, “but I think I’m missing the context on the first part.”

Marinette smirked. “Someone wasn’t paying attention in science class,” she chided.  “But I’ve only heard that term in relation to the Laws of Thermodynamics.  To be honest, I never thought much about the intersection of science and magic.”

Master Fu nodded. “The two are not all that separate,” he said.  “In this case, we’re concerned about the Second Law.  What do you remember about that?”

Chat spoke up: “Closed systems never change, essentially,” he said, winking at Marinette.

“Very good, Adrien,” Master Fu said.  “Intuitively, you already understand, then, that the bond between you and your kwami is a ‘closed state’ -- until you use Cataclysm.”

“That changes the overall equation,” Chat nodded in agreement, “discharging the ring and forcing me to revert.”

Fu produced a medieval looking book from his satchel.  It was a massive, leather bound item rimmed with gold flakes and a script that Chat didn’t recognize.  Fu set it on the bed and flipped to a page he had bookmarked, turning it to face the duo. “This is a text from the eighth century B.C.,” he explained, pointing to the rather extraordinary illustration.

It depicted a quasi-human form leaning away from a cloaked figure; it wasn’t lost on Chat that the non-cloaked being looked a lot like someone who was using the Miraculous Cat jewel, although he happened to think hisears were a bit better designed.

“According to this text, there was a period of time when humanity didn’t trust the Miraculous Holders. A small scholarly sect in Mesopotamia created an alchemical brew that, if used against a transformed Miraculous, would both deplete their energy and forever trap them in their transformation, powerless to prevent the removal of their jewel.”

Whoa, Chat thought, his ears going straight up in shock.

“They also created an army of ephemeral beings they called ‘marcheurs Miraculeux’ -- commonly referred to as the Miraculous Walkers -- that could be called upon to descend upon an identified Miraculous holder and render them harmless.”  He pointed to the cloaked figure.  “That, I think, is what is currently hunting you.  Although I am not yet certain what triggered it.”

Master Fu looked from one to the other, his eyes communicating the gravity of the situation to the teenagers.  “Fortunately, our order was able to prevent this from being used more than a few times; in those cases when it was used, we ultimately recovered the Miraculouses in question.”

“And repaired them?” This was from Marinette.

Fu turned toward her, frowning.  “I can only interpret what I’ve been able to find as a lukewarm ‘maybe.’”  He pulled a second book of his satchel, a bit more modern than the first, and keyed it to another bookmarked page.  “This story is from Africa in the late sixteen-hundreds. A predecessor in my position had an entry in his diary denoting the steps he’d taken to ‘re-energize a depleted jewel,’ and while he lays out the ingredients used, I’ve not been able to create the right compounding as yet, nor does he actually describe how the process of recharging is to be done.  Rub it on the jewel?  Drink it? Run around on a pogo stick?  I have no earthly idea, and no one to ask.”

Master Fu rubbed his eyes and suddenly looked very tired.  “I also don’t know if any of what I’ve discovered applies to you, Adrien. You’ve been double-dosed; that could mean anything from needing twice the antidote to the real possibility that nothing will slow – or stop – it’s effects.”

Chat’s eyes widened and ears flattened.  “Wait, are you saying what I think you are saying?  Am I actually turning into a cat?  For real?” 

He pondered that for a moment.  Chat had been, well, a cat for almost a year now; he knew he’d been taking on more and more feline aspects as he’d grown more comfortable with the role, but had never considered them more than character affectations that would play well to Ladybug and the wider public.  The chance that he might actually have always had more feline in him as part of the Miraculous deal – and that it could completely subsume who he thought he was – was not a comfortable thought.  Despite his earlier conversation with Marinette, what had been happening to him had felt more abstract; the possibility it could be irreversible hadn’t been contemplatable. 

With a cold, hard certainty, it was now crystal clear.

Master Fu nodded. “It’s the only explanation, given your symptoms and what I’ve discovered.  And at the rate you’re going, I suspect you have, at most, another day before any trace of you – the human part, that is – is lost and irretrievable.”

He looked up at the two superheroes, somber, and withdrew a small corked bottle from his bag.  It glowed a brilliant yellow color, although as he watched, Chat thought he saw it shift to green and then back to yellow. “I think this will slow things down for a bit,” he said, handing the vial to Chat.  “If we are really lucky, it might undo a little of the effects of the Entropic Transformation, but not entirely.”

Chat rolled the vial in his hands.  It was warm to the touch and seemed to be responding to his movements in a very unsettling way.  “This won’t recharge the ring, will it?”

Fu shook his head and shrugged at the same time.  “No. Maybe.”

That’s reassuring. 

Noir looked to Marinette. “What do you think, milady?”

She was chewing her lip the way she always did when she wasn’t one-hundred percent sure how to respond. Her blue eyes were deeply troubled, and worry lines seemed to have become permanent around them. 

At length, she said: “If this at the very least slows down the progression of the spell, it’s worth it. I need you out there with me tracking down whoever is using this against us.”  She reached over and flicked a lock of his hair back so she could see his eyes clearly.  “I need you, Chat.”

Chat looked at the vial again.  Drink it and hope for the best?  He turned back to Marinette, wanting to say a thousand things to her and unable to utter even one.  But the look of support he saw in her eyes muted the worst of the fears that were threatening to overtake him. 

“Anything for you, milady,” he said, though none of his usual playfulness enthused the words.

No, he thought. I am terrified. Terrified at losing all of this.

He uncorked the vial and tossed it back in one gulp before he lost his nerve, shuddering as it seared its way into his gullet.  Within seconds a warmth blossomed out from his stomach, far worse than anything the Camembert had done to him.  Stars bloomed in his vision, knocking out his night vision, and the blood started to rush through his ears, drowning out anything Master Fu or Marinette might have been saying to him.  Chat’s heart felt like it was throwing itself against his ribcage in an attempt to free itself from imprisonment.  Then it suddenly stopped – and he felt that, too, oddly.

“Oh,” he said, sliding down the headboard of his bed.  “That’s some awful stuff...”

Chapter Text

Marinette

She watched helplessly as Chat downed the iridescent vial, feeling powerless to do anything. Hearing Master Fu put voice behind her fears – and, likely Chat’s as well – had not helped assuage any guilt at her inability to make the situation any better. 

Chat started to say something and then his eyes rolled backwards, his body sliding sideways down his headboard.  Marinette was closer and immediately checked for a pulse, and finding none, snapped around to Master Fu.  “His heart! It’s stopped beating!”

Fu’s eyes widened. “Is he breathing?”

She leaned in.  “No!”

Without waiting, she hopped off the bed and pulled Chat to the edge, wiped away as much cold cream as she could and opened up his airway.  Fortunately, they’d gone over the new CPR procedure at a school assembly earlier that term, and she quickly stepped through the checklist.  

Airway open... check.

Position victim properly... check.

Find sternum... check.

She set herself up at the side of the bed, connected her hands and started plunging them into Chat’s sternum.  Something cracked under her hands as she rhythmically started compressing, and she ignored it, trying to keep her pace consistent.

“C’mon, Chat!” she hissed between her teeth.

Ten... eleven... twelve...

She heard Master Fu digging through his satchel, mumbling something as he did so.  Time slowed down for her, pain beginning to manifest in her shoulders at the awkward position.

Thirty... thirty-one... thirty-two...  Breath! You’ve got to BREATH...!

Chat Noir

Though time seemed to have no meaning, he thought he could hear someone counting.  But the more he strained to hear it, the quieter it seemed to get.  It worried him, but not enough to think too much about it.

Ten… eleven… twelve…

He opened his eyes and found himself in a wide, empty field of waist-high grass.  The sun was bright, and the air seemed infused with some sort of floral perfume.  Thickly sweet, almost like smelling liquid honey, it was just about too much to absorb, yet his lungs couldn’t seem to get enough of it.  He felt an overwhelming sense of calm, peace descending on him as though it were a warm, gentle blanket.

Turning, he saw the field inclined in one direction and sloped gently away in the opposite.  The horizon was far enough away that it was impossible to see any details; just one endless, massive field on a late summer’s afternoon.  That left him with four options, essentially: along the middle axis, upward or down. Metaphysics notwithstanding, he couldn’t immediately see a difference in going in any direction, although the more he stared, he thought perhaps light was stronger in one than the other.

That’s trite, he thought.  Follow the light, indeed?

Only then did he realize he was Chat Noir – he held out his hands, saw the claw-tipped gloves; pressed a hand to his collar and felt the bell; ran a hand through his hair and determined the feline ears were intact and in place.  Even his baton was snugly set in the small of his back, though when he flipped it into phone mode it was unable to make a connection to anything. That made him smile: apparently, there was poor cell reception in the afterlife.

The camera function did work, and he reversed it to confirm that the whiskers were no longer there; running a finger along the edge of his arm confirmed the fur that had appeared earlier was gone.  A thought occurred to him, he braced himself, and then rotated his ring hand.

The paw print was glowing, albeit with just the center print left.

Thirty… thirty one… thirty two…

That presented a conundrum. Assuming he was dead (and he had no reason not to think that), was he just visualizing he’d regained the ability to transform?  Should he worry about how the ring had discharged?  And if he was dead, what did that mean for Plagg?  And for that matter, why did he even conjure up a working baton? 

What sort of afterlife was this, anyway?

Then again, if he wasdead, did it matter if he transformed?  What did he have to lose?  He closed his eyes, took a deep breath (odd that he still needed to breath, given that he was dead), and paused for one last second.

“Plagg! Claws in!”

Whatever kind of purgatory he was in appeared to conform to the same rules as where he had come from; the Miraculous effect surrounded him, and in short order he was once more Adrien, with an exhausted Plagg fluttering away from his ring to rest on the ground beside his sneaker.

He bent down and retrieved the kwami, who he was overjoyed to see still breathing.  “Sorry, Plagg,” Adrien said.  “This is all my fault!”

“Please tell me you have cheese,” the Kwami of Destruction said weakly.

Adrien felt his pockets, wondering if he indeed still had anything on hand.  He was surprised to find a slice, which he helped Plagg eat. Of course, if this was his afterlife, he supposed he could whip up just about anything he pleased.  In response, two more pieces of cheese appeared in his palm, which he tossed to Plagg. 

Forty.... forty-one... forty-two...

With no particular destination in mind, Adrien started across the field along what he thought might be the exact midpoint between the hill and the valley.  He wasn’t yet willing to make a decision.  “Where do you think we are, Plagg?” he asked as they picked their way across the field.  The horizon didn’t seem to get any closer as they walked, and when he turned backward, the distance didn’t seem to be changing there, either.  He might as well have been on a stationary treadmill.  Yet he kept on moving in what his senses told him was “forward.”

“Here and there,” the kwami said cryptically.  “But you are in danger of staying ‘here’ and not returning to ‘there.’”

“So I am dead, then.”

“Not yet,” Plagg replied. “Stay here much longer, though, and you will be.  But you can’t stay, not yet, and you know that.”

Sixty-two... sixty-three... sixty-four...

“Yeah,” Adrien said, stopping his forward progress.  “It’s not time, is it?”

“Not by a long shot.” Plagg looked as though Adrien had finally made a right decision.  “Besides, the cheese out ‘there’ is better than whatever it was you just fed me.”

“My afterlife, my cheese,” Adrien laughed, then suddenly asked: “You know who Ladybug really is, don’t you?” 

He had no idea why he asked it, given what was happening to him, but it oddly also seemed like the just right time to find out.

This is a weird place. 

The kwami had the good sense to look nonplussed.  “A gentleman never kisses and tells,” he said.  “Now, can we get this show on the road?”

“Sure.”  Adrien paused, looking at the field once more and wondering if he’d be back here again soon.

He hoped not.

“Plagg - claws out!”

The green glow faded, and he was back in form as Chat Noir, and feeling more like himself than he had in a long time.  He flipped up his ring, saw it was fully charged, and smiled.  He knew exactly how to get out.

Cataclysm!” he cried, and was rewarded with the sensation of immense power rushing to his hand. Without a second thought, he leaned down and swiped his fingertips along the edges of the waist high grass, and felt himself begin to gently tumble through space…

Marinette

Her arms were cramping, and she wasn’t sure how long she’d been at it.  Two minutes?  Three? She’d lost count somewhere around one hundred and was pretty certain that she was close to the upper limit for how long Adrien/Chat Noir could go without air.

Just a little bit longer, she told herself.  Keep going.  Keep going. He’ll be back.

And just like that, a glow formed around Chat Noir; she felt hands pulling her back and away from the bed. Together, she and Master Fu watched in amazement as the Miraculous effect enveloped him from head to toe; when the green light faded, they found Chat Noir still lying there, but breathing on his own.

Marinette pressed a finger to his carotid.  “Pulse is normal,” she said.  Then her eyes went to his face.  “Whiskers are gone!” she exclaimed, and quickly ran her hand over the fabric of the costume.  “So’s the fur.  Did it actually work?”

Master Fu picked up Chat’s ring hand.  “Better than I expected,” he said, as he rotated it toward Marinette. She could clearly see the entire paw print illuminated – the ring had been completely recharged and showed no sign of starting to count down.

“Chat?” Marinette asked anxiously, shaking her partner gently.  “Chat?”

“Ooooh,” he moaned, eyes flickering.  “My chest feels like an elephant is sitting on top of it,” he said tightly.  “Were you using it as a trampoline?”  Chat started to cough and thought better of it.

Marinette turned toward Master Fu.  “Ladybug can fix this, right?”

“It should repair his broken sternum, yes.”  His eyes darted to the door.  “Quickly, my dear.”

"Tikki – spots on!”

Marinette sped through her transformation, skipped over her Lucky Charm and immediately invoked her Miraculous Ladybug.  The room was filled with her brilliant little helpers as they swarmed over Chat Noir; when the light faded, Ladybug went to his side and helped to prop him back up.

“Milady,” he said tiredly. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you.”

She threw herself into his embrace, barely able to hold back her tears.

“Ow!” he said, not unkindly. “Careful, milady.  I’m still a bit sore around the middle.”

“Ladybug, someone is coming.”  Master Fu was focused on the door. 

“Can he transform?” she asked.

“Only one way to find out,” Chat Noir said.  “Master Fu, can you get out through the bathroom?”

“Don’t worry about me, child,” Fu said.  “Hurry!”

“Plagg, claws in!”

Marinette followed suit. “Tikki - spots off!”

Two flashes, one green, one red, enveloped the room.  When it faded, Marinette found herself looking at Adrien, who in turn was staring at her like he was seeing her for the first time.  Plagg was hovering close by, but quickly ducked below the bed as a knock came at the door.

“Yes?” Adrien said as Marinette hurriedly let Tikki into her handbag.  He frowned as Marinette frantically pointed to his button down top before realizing what she was trying to tell him.

“Are you ok?  What’s going on?”

Adrien’s eyes widened at the voice of his father.  “Uh, everything’s fine,” he said.

The door opened and the tall form of the fashion designer appeared at the corner of his bed. Gabriel Agreste’s keen eyes acknowledged the presence of Marinette, who was demurely leaning against the couch in the forward area of the space, clutching her bookbag.  “Mademoiselle Dupain-Cheng,” came the distinctive voice, “good to see you again.”

“Monsieur Agreste,” she replied easily.  “Nathalie let me in earlier.  Since Adrien was not in class today, I volunteered to share my notes for him.”  She held up her bookbag, noting as she did so that Master Fu had managed to escape unnoticed.  “We’ve got a nasty midterm next week, so even one day out of synch could be problematic.”

“That was very kind of you.” Gabriel turned back toward Adrien, and that was when Marinette realized Adrien had somehow managed to don his pajama top while Gabriel had been talking to her.  Hopefully Gabriel didn’t see the telltale outline of his sneakers beneath the sheet Adrien had pulled up to his chest.  “Are you feeling well enough for dinner?”

Adrien’s eyes widened at the prospect that he might eat with his father.  “Yes!  Much--”

“Good, I’ll have Chef send it up.”  Gabriel nodded to Marinette.  “You are, of course, welcome to stay for dinner as well.  Have a pleasant evening,” he finished as he exited the room.

Marinette looked back and saw how crestfallen Adrien was and went to his side once more.  “I’ll stay,” she said, “unless you don’t want to share.”

He grabbed her into a warm embrace.  “Are you kidding? I’ve waited a long, long time to do just that,” he said happily.