Adrien wakes up five minutes before his alarm goes off. The house is so quiet, so still that reaching in the dark for his phone feels like he’s disrupting something bigger than himself, like he’ll be scolded to get back into position any second. He sits up to turn his alarm off and slide into the shower, but his hand hovers over his lock screen instead.
It’s been a month, to the day, since Maman left. She smiles back up at him from the beach at Nice last summer, her arms around his waist. It wasn’t a family vacation so much as an on-location shoot, but Maman was so good at sheltering him, then, from the pressure. He remembers her coaxing him into the ocean before pulling them both underwater, the tastes of salt, sweat, and runny sunscreen mixing in his mouth, how he hadn’t even noticed the cameras going off behind them--
The alarm blares through the room. Adrien’s shoulders jump and he works feverishly to turn it off, sighing when the noise stops. If he was a stronger person, maybe, he’d have changed his phone backgrounds by now, but he has no idea what to replace them with. He doesn’t know if it’s more pathetic that he can’t move on, or that he doesn’t have anything else to move on to.
He tries to push those thoughts out.
There’s no one else at breakfast, no sounds but his fork hitting his plate and the footsteps of his English tutor waiting awkwardly in the study. He sleepwalks through the day with a smile plastered on his face; the tutors are nice enough, but he’s learned the hard way not to break in front of them. There’s nothing that doesn’t get back to Papa, and, lately, nothing Adrien can do except disappoint him. Papa doesn’t even look at him, sometimes, when they’re together.
He doesn’t see Papa before dinner, which isn’t at all surprising. It still makes Adrien nervous. Papa had been dismissive, weeks ago, when Adrien told him how scared he was that Papa’d leave, too, but it doesn’t stop the fear from bubbling under his skin. There’s only one place set at their dining table. Nathalie’s sitting next to Adrien’s usual spot, perfectly calm as she looks at him.
“Where’s Papa?” Adrien asks immediately. Nathalie takes a long sip from her wine glass.
“He flew to New York this afternoon,” she says, as if it’s old news. “He accepted an invitation to be the artist-in-residence at Parsons late last week.”
Adrien’s heart is in his throat when he asks, “For how long?”
“Just the spring semester,” Nathalie says, and adds, when Adrien makes it clear he has no idea what that means, “Four months.”
“Four months?” Adrien’s only starting to get used to being alone, walking around their skeleton of a house. There’s tears pricking at his eyes just thinking about keeping this up until May. He’s not ready for this. Papa knew he wasn’t ready.
She nods. “He felt it would be good for both of you.”
“How?” his voice comes out watery, and he closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to see Nathalie passively looking at him. Adrien resigns himself to another night staring at his ceiling, waiting to fall asleep, and, suddenly, something snaps.
He doesn’t deserve this.
“Well, Gabriel has had a rough--” Nathalie stops, looking flustered for the first time in Adrien’s life, as he pushes his plate away and stands up.
“I’m not hungry,” he says, and turns on his heel to leave.
When Adrien was eight, one of his tutors had him read a chapter book about a child who ran away from his family. He’d hated the book, then -- he couldn’t understand why anyone would do that to their parents, or why they’d even want to. He’d solemnly sweared to Maman he’d never do such a thing.
Adrien gets it, now. His father flew across an ocean just to get away from him. He deserves to feel the way Adrien does now, and Adrien deserves to disappear into the streets of Paris, maybe, even, finding a better place to live.
It doesn’t take long to stuff a few essentials into his bag, and he takes one look back at his bedroom before cracking open his bathroom window. Adrien extends a leg out, testing the waters, and suddenly feels a warm light shine on him from below. The Gorilla looks up at him and smirks. Adrien swallows tightly.
“I just wanted to go to New York with Papa,” he says, mournfully, when the Gorilla brings him to Nathalie for some late-night scolding. It’s the first lie he’s told her, and Adrien feels a little of his anger burn into satisfaction when she buys it.
He’ll try again.
“Can I transform if there's no monster to fight?”
Plagg shoots him an unimpressed look. “as long as you keep the cheese coming, you can do whatever you want,” he says.
Adrien’s been restless since he got back from school, but now he feels ready to jump out of his own skin. “Really?”
“Yeah, really,” Plagg answers, tiredly. “”God of destruction, remember? We’re not big on rules.”
Adrien adjusts his ring, rolling it around his finger; it’s getting to be a bad habit. “Well, uh, you didn’t mention it before.”
“Because someone transformed before i could.” Adrien pouts, only because it’s guaranteed to make Plagg grimace at him. “Maybe if you weren’t so busy making eyes--”
Adrien’s going to get an earful for cutting Plagg off when he lets go of the transformation, but it’s worth it. He’s been docile enough since starting school to earn his privacy at night, and he’d quickly learned, years ago, that the Gorilla hanging around the yard after dark was a one-time thing. When he opens the bathroom window and jumps out, no one’s there to stop him.
For all that he’s fantasized about running away, he doesn’t have a plan this time. He’d honestly expected Plagg to have rules, to at least object to becoming Chat Noir just to sneak around. There’s so much Adrien’s free to do now that he stands haplessly for a moment, frozen with indecision.
The night air is crisp when he breathes in, so he chases the feeling. He walks along the rooftops of a different block for a while, testing his strength now that there’s no immediate threat. He leans against the top of a chimney and watches the Eiffel Tower sparkle. It’s nice, being alone on his own terms, knowing that he’s unreachable so long as he doesn’t use his powers.
At least, it’s nice until his stomach starts growling. Adrien has a couple euro coins in his pocket--enough for something small, probably. Maybe. It dawns on him that he has no idea how far he can stretch four euros.
Suddenly, the rooftop doesn’t feel as liberating.
He jumps back onto the street and ends up in front of the Dupain-Cheng bakery, which seems risky, but it’s also, Adrien decides, far from the worst place he could be at nine on a weeknight. It doesn’t look open, though, even with the lights on. Adrien gets ready to wander up the street until he hears the door open, and he recognizes Marinette’s mother behind the glass, smiling warmly at him. “We close at five, usually,” she says, “but if you don’t mind leftovers, you’re welcome inside.”
Mrs. Cheng’s definition of ‘leftovers’ is a handful of extra chocolate croissants they didn’t sell that afternoon. Adrien sheepishly gives her all of his change, and she doesn’t ask for more. He hopes it’s at least close to their actual price. She brings him a glass of water that he tries, in vain, to turn down, and ultimately he ends up at one of their cafe tables, reading their catering menu while Mrs. Cheng wipes down the counters.
He’s biting into the second croissant when he hears someone clear their throat. Marinette’s there when he looks up, but her mother’s gone. “Is something going wrong downtown?” she asks, seriously, and he’s quick to shake his head. “Then why are you--wait, don’t answer that question, I’m sure you’ve got some terrible joke up your sleeve.”
Adrien raises his free hand to his heart. “I’m insulted,” he says. “My jokes are pawsitively amazing.”
She slouches in defeat, rolling her eyes at the ceiling. “Okay, fine. I walked into that.”
He smiles up at her as he sets the croissant on the table. “We’d make a pretty good double act, huh?”
“Don’t get any ideas,” Marinette says, her lips quirking as she tries not to smile. Ladybug’s said that exact phrase to him so many times that Adrien should question it, but he doesn’t. He can’t afford to. For whatever budding friendship he has with Marinette as a classmate, she’s the only person he’s met that wasn’t impressed with--barely even interested in--Chat Noir.
If that’s what Ladybug, behind the mask, really thinks of him....well. He couldn’t take it.
“I’ll try not to,” he answers, hoping it comes out smoother than he feels. Don’t get any ideas. “Thank you, by the way, for everything.” he gestures blandly at the bakery. “You didn’t have to do this for me.”
“Maman can’t stand letting people go hungry, even when she’s supposed to be off the clock,” Marinette replies, shrugging. “She offers up the whole kitchen when I have friends over. “
“It’s really not,” she says, like her mother being a good hostess is somehow deeply humiliating. Adrien’s embarrassed by his father sometimes, but never because he’s expressing basic human decency. “Plus, she does want me to take your picture while you’re here, so her intentions aren’t entirely noble.”
He shrugs. “No problem. Who wouldn’t want a picture of me?”
“Whatever.” Marinette produces her phone from her pocket and immediately points it at him. “So, a candid’s probably best. Just keep eating and pretend I’m not here.”
It’s by far the easiest direction he’s gotten in his life. Marinette hums in satisfaction as he finishes off the second croissant, and just like that, the shoot’s over. Mrs. Cheng must have come back downstairs while he was focusing on not looking in Marinette’s direction, because the next thing he knows, she’s setting a little bag of cookies next to his water. “It’s a schoolnight, you should head home,” she says, “but here’s something for the trip.” Adrien isn’t even going home, he shouldn’t accept it, but Mrs. Cheng’s smile says she’s not taking no for an answer.
She offers up the whole kitchen--
Adrien’s eyes light up as he looks at Marinette. “Goodnight, princess,” he says, bowing for good measure. She laughs, but it’s not mean-spirited, and when he opens the front door to leave, she’s still waving at him.
He feels settled for the first time in days. There’s no way he’s ruining that by going home, so he finds a flat rooftop with some lounge chairs and falls asleep under the stars. The contentment doesn’t even wash off when the sunrise wakes him up.
“Let me get this straight,” Plagg says, after Adrien releases the transformation in a Metro bathroom, “We’re on the run, and you want to go back to school?”
“You want camembert, don’t you?” Plagg pouts, as if he hadn’t just turned down the last of Mrs. Cheng’s cookies. “The emergency stash is in my locker.” Adrien also wants to get his English test back and tell Nino about all the constellations he saw last night, but Plagg would mock him endlessly if he said so aloud. Instead, he’s tugging on the collar of Adrien’s shirt until he starts walking in the direction of the exit.
He’s not really surprised when he comes face to face with the Gorilla’s familiar car at the end of the day, but he’s not too disappointed, either-- Adrien managed to disappear, as far as his handlers knew, for almost an entire day. Before Plagg, that seemed impossible; now his only limitation is his self-control.
“Rule number one of running away,” Nino says over the phone, laughing, “Don’t go somewhere you’re supposed to be. I can’t believe you couldn’t stay away from school, you big nerd.”
Plagg starts giggling, and Adrien doesn’t feel remotely bad about pushing him off the bed. “Guess I can’t think on my feet.”
“For shame, dude. You’ve gotta prepare for this stuff!” Nino sighs. “Next time, let me help.”
Adrien smiles to himself. “Next time. Sure.”
The akuma’s gone, purified. He's sitting next to the victim (no one he knows, this time, but she looks his age) as they blink back into consciousness, being as camp as he possibly can to lessen their anxiety. He tells the girl what happened, that everything's fine, and she thanks them quietly before disappearing into the nearest Metro station.
Ladybug’s earrings beep, but she doesn't move, not yet. “I know we're running out of time, but--”
He waves her off. “Go ahead, you know I don't want to leave.”
She fixes him with an unimpressed look he’s way too familiar with. “This is serious, Chat,” she says. “I met this girl that said one of her classmates hasn’t come to school for days. No one’s heard from him, and his dad’s out of the country for work, so no one can reach him either. I know it’s probably not our business, but I--she was terrified. I’d feel awful if we didn’t at least try.”
Adrien feels hollow, suddenly, the only thing anchoring him to the ground his own dread. He hasn’t been to school since Monday. Nino knows about it--he’d teased Adrien about it at first, that it doesn’t count as running away if your dad isn’t in the country, but Adrien replied that hiding from Nathalie and the Gorilla was harder anyway. He’s right, it definitely counts, but it’s not like he can tell Nino why. “Okay. What does he look like?” he says, feeling like there’s a string pulling the words out of his mouth.
“He’s--oh!” Ladybug points to a Morris column down the street, and sure enough, Adrien’s staring back at himself in his father’s latest design. “That’s him. You haven’t seen him around, have you?”
God, he’s so thoughtless. He was so focused on getting time to breathe he hadn’t even considered that someone besides Nino might care if he went missing. Calling Ladybug for help is textbook Chloe; he should have seen it coming. Adrien had hoped he could at least stay gone for the week, if not longer, but Ladybug looks so terrified for a boy she thinks is missing, that she’s seen exactly once. He can’t do it. The defiance he’s been high on for days just feels like selfishness now.
“Hmm, he looks really familiar,” he says, stroking his chin. “I think I saw him in a coffee shop on the way to meeting you, maybe? I don’t remember the name, but it’s got yellow awnings.” And it’s far enough away that he can transform and still, hopefully, beat Ladybug there.
“I know that place,” she says, her face instantly lighting up. “Do you think he’s still there?”
“No idea, but it’s worth a try, right?” His ring beeps, right on cue. “Gotta go, let me know if you see him!”
Somehow, he manages to outrun her, settling himself faux-casually at a patio table just as she’s rounding the corner. He unlocks his phone and taps it aimlessly just to make himself look occupied.
“Adrien, right?” Ladybug says, leaning over the patio fence. He can feel himself blushing, which is ridiculous, she only said his name, but he’s powerless to stop it. “Sorry, am I interrupting something?”
“No! No, not at all, what’s up?” he says, in his best media voice.
She tells him the same story she told Chat Noir, but, oddly enough, without the usual calmness or authority in her voice. Another pang of guilt twists his stomach. He can’t stand that he made someone feel like this.
“I honestly didn’t want to worry anyone,” he says, when Ladybug’s done. “I’ll go home right now, I swear, but if you don’t mind me asking, who asked you to look for me?” Ladybug freezes. “It’s okay if you can’t tell, I was just--”
“Her name was Marinette,” she answers, and startles when her earrings beep again. Adrien glances at his phone - she can’t have more than thirty seconds, and she’s nervous, so she has to know. “I can’t stay, but promise me you’ll call her?”
He’d never make her stay, but it doesn’t keep him from wanting to see her, from knowing he’s so close. “I will,” he says, softly, leaning back. “Thanks for telling me.”
“Y-you’re welcome, goodnight!” She disappears around the same corner she emerged from, but not before pressing the lightest of kisses to his cheek. It feels like hours pass before he gets up to go home, and he spends the whole walk drawing his fingers down his face, trying to prove to himself it really happened.
It doesn’t hit Adrien until he walks through the front door that Marinette had asked Ladybug to find him. He’s not sure, really, what to make of that.
Ten minutes after he pieces it together, Adrien jumps out his bedroom window, a few necessities stuffed into his bag. He looks both ways for his father before crossing the street, hoists the bag strap a little further up his shoulder, and runs.
His phone beeps and vibrates as he winds through alleys to get downtown, which confirms the worst--Father’s figured it out, too. Come home, the latest reads. You have no idea what you’re fighting for. What makes you think you understand what you’ve been fighting against? Adrien doesn’t read the rest, swiping the notifications off his screen.
“You need to transform,” Plagg whispers, more serious than Adrien’s ever heard him be.
“There’s no point.” Adrien stares up at the traffic lights, willing them to change. “No one else knows who Chat Noir is, but they’ll still broadcast where I am online. All Father has to do to catch me is check Twitter.”
The light changes. Plagg tugs on his sleeve until Adrien looks down at him as he walks. “You’re just as much of a target the way you are now,” he huffs. “But way more people want to help Chat Noir take down a supervillain than they want to help a famous kid hide from his dad.”
Plagg’s right, as much as it hurts. “I need Ladybug,” Adrien says. “I can’t--if she’s not transformed--wait.” He looks up at the street name, and gets an idea. “We need to turn around.”
Alya, as expected, lets him in through her bedroom window immediately. “I cannot believe Chat Noir is making a house call for me!” She gives Adrien her desk chair and sits on her bed, hands shaking over her laptop keyboard in pure glee. “So, what’s the occasion? Got some tips for me? Ladybug gossip? You need a hypercompetent vlogger to help you save the world?”
Adrien scratches the back of his neck. “The last one, actually. Sort of,” he says, and winces when Alya squeals.
“Would it be weird if I said I’ve been waiting for this?” She asks. It should be, but he knows her well enough to expect it. He shakes his head. “Okay, good, because I have. What do you need me to do? I can record evil speeches, spread fake rumors, create a distraction--”
“Do you know who Ladybug is?”
“What?” Alya narrows her eyes, leaning in. “Don’t you?” Adrien doesn’t answer, and Alya’s eyebrows shoot up her forehead. “You’re kidding me, right? How do you find each other when something goes wrong?”
Adrien shrugs. “It just always...happened. Until now, I guess,” he says. “Look, I read the Ladyblog, I know you haven’t posted any identity rumors lately, but I thought you might be able to help me find her, at least. It’s important.”
Alya pushes herself off her bed and walks over to her desk. “We’re coming back to this you-don’t-know-Ladybug’s-secret-identity thing, and the Chat-Noir-reads-my-blog thing,” she says as she picks up her phone, “But I know someone who knows Ladybug. At least, she got me an interview with her once. I’ll call her, see if she can get Ladybug to show up, but I can’t promise anything.” Alya steps out of the room with her phone, and Adrien can faintly hear her talking to someone else for a few minutes. He spins himself in the desk chair lazily until she comes back in, a smile on her face.
“She’s coming in five minutes,” Alya says, fist bumping. “Am I the best or what?”
“Ladybug’s the best,” he answers, impulsively, “But maybe you can be second.”
“I’m cool with that.” Alya returns to her bed, sitting up to stare at Adrien. “Hey, question. If you don’t know Ladybug’s identity, does she not know yours either?”
“Yeah,” he says, too tired to keep the disappointment out of his voice. “She made it obvious, early on, that we shouldn’t know about each other, for safety and stuff. She was right, though.”
Alya blows out a long breath. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but this is like learning Santa Claus wasn’t real.”
Ladybug shows up as quickly as promised, coming in through the same window. She rushes to his side, cups his cheek with a gloved hand. “You look terrible, Chat,” she says, not unkindly. “What happened to you?”
Adrien glances at Alya. She’s still sitting on her bed, beaming with her hands clasped together. He desperately wants to be alone for this, but they’re guests, so he bites the bullet. “Hawkmoth knows who I am.”
“Holy shit,” Alya stage-whispers. Ladybug lets go of him, gasping quietly. “How?”
“He saw me--I mean, me”--he mimes pulling off the mask--”wearing the ring. I didn’t think much of it at first, but then he started asking me all these questions, and I--”
“Wait,” Ladybug says. “Did you see him unmasked?” He nods. “That’s great! Alya can help us track him down--”
“It’s not that easy.” She looks hopeful, determined, like always, and Adrien’s caught between his natural instinct to trust her wit and how terrified he’s become. “He uses a Miraculous like us--that’s how he controls his victims. We need to disarm him, but I don’t think he can be purified, not like the others.” He sighs, runs a hand through his hair. “He’s powerful as a civilian, too. No one’s going to believe us if we turn him in. They won’t want to believe it.”
Ladybug rests her hands on his shoulders, stubbornly firm. “We’ve gotten past everything Hawkmoth’s thrown at us so far,” she says. “Even if we can’t save him, we can get past this, too.”
“I should have figured it out earlier,” he says. “I could have saved us so much time.” Ladybug shakes her head so vigorously he can hear it in the silence of the room.
“You found him, Chat,” she says, something like wonder in her voice. She’s smiling now. “We can end this because of you.”
For a moment, Adrien forgets about Father, forgets about how he has to choose between saving the world and keeping the last vestiges of his family life afloat. They’re going to get through this, him and Ladybug, just as they always have. Then, Alya coughs.
“Not to interrupt the most romantic thing I’ve seen with my own two eyes,” she says, “but Twitter says there’s a giant metal man downtown looking for Chat Noir.”
Ladybug turns around to face her, keeping one hand on Adrien’s shoulder. “We should go to Hawkmoth, we can lead the monster there and ambush them together.” She looks back at Adrien. “Do you know where he is now?”
Adrien doubts Father’s moved since he left. “Yeah, pretty sure.”
They go immediately - there’s no other option, with the damage the akumatized victim’s already done to the city. Ladybug tries to dissuade Alya from tagging along, but she won’t relent, trailing as Adrien carefully leads them back home. She’s recording the mission, she says, for evidence. They reach the corner of the mansion’s fence and Adrien’s nerves come back in full force, hands trembling as he clasps them around his staff.
It doesn’t go unnoticed. “You sure you’re ready?” Ladybug whispers.
He ignores the question. “We have to do this,” he says. “I want to. I just didn’t think it’d happen like this.”
Ladybug reaches out to wrap a hand around his wrist, squeezing lightly. “Me neither,” she says, and even she seems a little uncertain. “But I’ve got your back.”
“Even if he blows my cover?”
“I already know you. You’re Chat Noir.” There’s a hint of a smirk on her lips, and Adrien can’t believe she’s picking now to tell a joke. He can’t believe it’s making him laugh, either. “I won’t let him get to you, no matter what.”
“Hey, Evil Colossus is a few blocks from here,” Alya whispers. “You two go in now and I’ll spread the word.”
“Got it,” Ladybug says, straightening up. “We’ll see you on the other side.”
They come in through the front door, no frills necessary, and for the first time in a decade, Father is waiting for him.
The realtor has Adrien stop by every time there’s a showing to meet the potential buyers. It’s a personal touch, she says. He’s always nice to them--rich people small talk is second nature--but he’s not sure he adds much value to their visit beyond that. Celia does a great job talking up the high ceilings, the state-of-the-art kitchen, even the secret door and the lair behind it, and Adrien walks next to her, nodding and smiling and messing with the cuffs of his shirt.
The house is still fully furnished, and still draconian. “Everything comes with the property?” The husband asks. He’s eyeing a long, skinny vase that hasn’t held flowers since Adrien was nine.
“Yes, it’s move-in ready,” Celia says, brightly. “The owner’s chosen to keep one piece you won’t see today.”
The portrait Father commissioned of Maman is sitting in the back of Adrien’s closet, facing the wall so no one claims it. He moved it there as soon as the house went on the market, and doesn’t plan on taking it out until it leaves with him. If the couple know or even care what, exactly, is missing, they don’t mention it.
Adrien accepts an offer after three months of showings and handshakes. Celia advises him to negotiate for a higher price tag, but it seems excessive when he’s already making a profit. The only thing he really needs, after all this time, is to move out and start over.
He doesn’t waste any time leaving, once the sale’s final. There’s furniture waiting for him in an apartment across town, closer to the university, so he doesn’t have much to pack. Marinette comes by anyway, surprising him at the front door with sack lunches and an empty suitcase. “Moving’s harder than it looks,” she says, grinning. “I thought you might want Ladybug’s help.”
“I’d love it,” he says, leaning in to kiss her cheek, “but you don’t have to.” She responds to that by dragging the suitcase past the threshold and heading straight for the stairs, and he follows.
Marinette spends some time filling the suitcase with his books, sorting them more carefully than he’d ever think to, and then sits sheepishly on the floor. Most of the work’s done now; the moving truck’s arriving in an hour. Adrien just needs to pack a few of his coats, and that won’t take long. He reaches for one of the lunches Marinette brought and pulls it into his lap. “Don’t eat the cookies first,” she tells him immediately, but she’s biting back a smile, like she knows it’s futile.
They’re the first thing he grabs out of the bag. “Why, did you make them?”
She whistles. “Maybe.” He’s learned that’s a yes.
“Okay.” He drops them, pulls out the sandwich instead. “I’ll save the best for last, then.”
“Stop, you’re so cheesy,” she says, blushing like a wildfire, and then adds, sharp as ever, “Don’t turn that into a camembert joke.”
He grins. “I don’t have to now, you’re already thinking it.” She shakes her head and doesn’t respond, choosing to open the other lunch bag instead. Adrien winces. “Sorry, you’re helping me, I shouldn’t be teasing you.”
“It’s all right,” she says, dismissively. “I wouldn’t be here if I hated your jokes that much.”
Marinette leans back on her elbows, her eyes sweeping across the walls of the room. Adrien’s already packed the basketball hoop and the few posters he wanted to keep, so it looks undeniably different. They sit eating in comfortable silence for a while before Marinette checks her watch and shows it to him. They’ve got some time. “I was talking earlier with Nino about how jealous we used to be of all this,” she says, softly. “We had no idea how lonely it was.”
He shrugs. “It could have been worse, right?”
“I know, but…” Marinette sits up, hugs her knees to her chest as she looks at him. Her gaze hasn’t gotten any less breathtaking in the past four years. “We should have noticed it didn’t make you happy.” She sighs. “It sounds stupid now, but I came over thinking I could make your last day here okay, so at least you’d have that.”
She looks uncertain, and Adrien can’t have that. He reaches out to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear, kissing the corner of her mouth. “You did,” he says. “The cookies were perfect, by the way.” There’s a tell-tale sound of a truck parking outside as he pulls back, and she smiles up at him, resting her hand at the nape of his neck.
“They’re early,” she says. “You ready to go?”
He breathes slowly, takes one last look across the room. “Yeah, I am.”