Brigitte was on her way. While Felix had been in the States studying criminology, Brigitte had attended veterinarian school, and was working her way towards starting her own practice.
She would know what to do. She had to.
After what seemed like an eternity, headlights dripped into the alleyway and a car door thumped shut.
“Felix?” Brigitte called in a loud whisper.
“Where?” The flashlight on her cellphone blinded him, but he knew she could see him when she gasped and started running. “That’s not a cat, Felix.”
He had some sarcastic comments up his sleeve, but he was not in the mood for joking. “He’s hurt,” Felix explained, his voice breaking. “His head, and... here.” He gestured vaguely to Adrien’s ribs. “I think he needs stitches.”
Brigitte lowered herself to sit beside Felix and eyed him levelly. “Felix, you know I’m not a real doctor. I treat animals, not people.”
Plagg swept out from Adrien’s sweater pocket and hovered before Brigitte’s face, looking deeply into her eyes. “She’ll do,” he concluded.
“What is this?” Brigitte squeaked.
“I am not a ‘this’,” Plagg insisted, slumping back down. “I am a powerful demi-god.”
The dark-haired girl seemed to hear none of this, and immediately clamped the tiny cat-spirit in her hands and pressed him to her face. “Ooh, I love it! Is this Adrien’s pet?”
Plagg looked absolutely mortified as he was smeared over the doting girl’s cheek.
“Brigitte,” Felix snapped, his voice coming out more harsh than he had intended. “What should I do?”
“Oh! Oh.” She released Plagg. “Um, I’ll have to look at him more closely, with better light. I’m guessing you have a good reason for calling me instead of an ambulance?” She picked up one of Adrien’s hands and took his pulse.
Felix nodded. “Brigitte, Adrien, he’s....”
“Chat Noir,” Plagg said through a huge yawn. “Thanks to me and my awesome fashion sense.”
Brigitte clapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh my. Oh my gosh. Oh, wow. I did not expect—well, that would explain—I mean, wow! Okay, okay, I’m calming down; deep breaths.”
“Yeah, yeah,” the tiny black cat said through a yawn. “Stop gawking and get me some Camembert. I’m starving.”
In the space of half a minute, Brigitte had collected herself, and Felix let out a sigh of relief. Truly, she was amazing. If he had her, he could handle this. He looked to Brigitte for direction, and she pushed her hair back, wearing that face that told him she was in her serious zone. “Let’s get him in the car first,” she decided. “And we’ll go from there.”
The car ride was a blur. Felix was scared, and so, so helpless. He sat in Brigitte’s back seat with Adrien’s head in his lap. The younger Agreste had come around partially and was talking, but Felix couldn’t understand anything he said—only “Ladybug” here and there. His mumbling eventually trailed off into tears, and Felix stroked his cheeks, trying to comfort him. Unfocused green eyes gazed pleadingly into overlooking gray ones. When had Adrien learned such a lonely look?
Finally, Felix made out a few words:
“Ladybug, my brother came back.”
Oh.... Oh. Felix realized what was going on; he was being mistaken for Ladybug, and eavesdropping on a conversation about himself. Unable to resist the urge to hear more, he leaned close over his brother’s face.
“I’m afraid,” Adrien admitted. “What if I’m not good enough?”
“You’re Adrien. Of course you’re good enough, you stupid glow worm,” Felix said softly.
If Adrien heard him, he showed no sign of it. He only said: “I miss him.” He clasped his older brother’s arm to his chest, huddling around it as if it were a lifeline. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, almost inaudibly.
“You’d better be,” Felix replied, to conceal his emotion. Try as he might, he couldn’t avoid smoothing down his brother’s hair with his free hand.
The boy reacted to his touch and whimpered. “Hurts,” he mumbled.
Felix held back the tears that threatened his eyes. “Shh,” he soothed. “I’ve got you. You’re going to be okay.” As a street light flashed through the window, Felix caught sight of the telltale bruise on his brother’s cheek.
He should have connected the dots: Chat Noir had been bruised in the akuma fight the previous day, and then this evening, Adrien had been sporting a bruise in the exact same spot.
No, even before that, Felix had gone wrong. He shouldn’t have gotten involved in the akuma battle today; if he hadn’t, Adrien wouldn’t have been injured protecting him. And before that, he should have been there for Adrien in the past four years, so that he wouldn’t even think of doing something as ridiculous as this.
When the car slowed to a stop and Brigitte pulled the key out of the ignition, Felix looked up.
“Your clinic...?” He asked in confusion. They had pulled into the tiny parking-lot behind the animal hospital where Brigitte worked.
She shrugged, twisting around to look at the brothers. “Boss gave me a key. Your ‘cat’ there needs stitches and pain killers, and we’ve got all that inside.”
“Isn’t this... illegal?”
“Oh yeah, definitely. So what? Go ahead and arrest me if you want.”
And so, like always, Felix was dragged along with Brigitte’s crazy logic, his fear mitigated by her confidence. Between the two of them, they were able to get Adrien inside the clinic, where they pushed together four waiting-room chairs to serve as a makeshift bed. As soon as he was settled, Plagg dove under the covers, exhausted.
Felix watched anxiously as Brigitte examined the younger Agreste’s various injuries. When she unbuttoned his shirt, Felix paled. Dark purple and red blotches covered the boy’s torso where he had connected with the gavel and the tree. Brigitte’s face tightened in concern, and her lips grew thinner as she prodded the protruding ribs.
“Nothing’s broken,” she concluded. “But there might be a few fractures. It’s got to be hurting him to breathe.”
Felix nodded, his vision tunneling. He would do anything to bear those bruises instead of Adrien.
Roused by Brigitte’s inspections, Adrien blinked and turned his head towards Felix. “Where...?”
The elder brother crouched so that he was at eye-level. “You’re safe,” he explained. “Someone is helping you.”
Adrien’s breath hitched and tears appeared at the corners of his eyes. “Everything hurts,” he admitted, like a child.
“I know,” Felix replied. He was embarrassed to hold his brother’s hand in front of Brigitte, but he did it anyways. “She’s seeing what she can do to make it better.”
The boy’s clouded eyes glinted with mischief. “Do I need a CAT-scan?” he asked.
“He probably does,” Brigitte whispered, and then realization dawned on her face. “Oh! Oh, I get it. Because CAT and chat, and hah, oh. Good one.”
Adrien tried to giggle, but it quickly turned into rasping moans, and then all at once he propelled himself over the side of the chairs and retched violently.
Felix heard the splash as he hauled Adrien from the chairs’ edge, barely preventing him from toppling to the floor. When he settled his brother back under the blankets, the latter was out cold.
“Oh, Felix,” Brigitte said softly. He followed her gaze to the floor and saw the devastating truth: it was evident from the color and consistency of the vomit that Adrien hadn’t eaten in days. Felix knew in that moment that stitches and bandages couldn’t fix this. No, the problem was much deeper than the surface, and it would take time to heal.
Felix heard a cell phone buzz in Adrien’s pocket. Plucking it out, he checked the caller ID. “’Nino’?” After brief deliberation, he answered it.
The voice of a young man spoke frantically on the other end.
“Hey. We know you’ve got Adrien in there and he’s in bad shape. We’re at the back door. Can you let us in?”
“What? Who is this?”
“We’re his friends from school. Nino and Alya.”
Felix recognized the girl’s name from the Ladyblog. “No. No reporters.”
The girl must have snatched the phone from Nino, because she was the one to respond: “We’re not here to be reporters. We’re here to be friends. We know Adrien’s secret.”
She sounded sincere, and even if she wasn’t, Felix figured it wouldn’t hurt to let her in. Keep your friends close, and enemies closer, was the saying.
Felix had never made a better decision in his life.