Chloe wasn’t sure how long she sat against the wall in that empty hallway. She had heard the screams, the yelling, and, at one awful point, the devastated sobbing. She had felt the power melt away from her as Style Queen faded from existence….
She hadn’t felt anything. Her heart was numb, and along with it, her mind and body. It was a familiar defense mechanism, to detach. She had done it when her mother left, and now she did it as the weight of Hawkmoth’s lies manifested around her.
Eventually, the pain of the harsh floor digging into her tailbone began to register. Then came the bruises from when Brigitte Fernandez tossed her onto the floor. Chloe could have shifted into a more comfortable position, but she relished the pain. It distracted her, and, frankly, she deserved it.
There were sirens, and then there were footsteps--hurried, sprinting. She wondered if Adrien was okay--if Felix was--
No, no, no.
She didn’t want to know. She didn’t want to know. Didn’t--didn’t-- ah!
The voice cut through her panic, and her head snapped up of its own accord.
Chloe hadn’t realized that she’d curled in on herself, buried her head in her arms, pulled at her hair, stopped breathing. But now she gulped in a breath and the world spun. Tears dropped uncontrollably over her cheeks, and she choked as she tried to speak.
Nathaniel hovered over her, cheeks red and eyes bright, and not a grudge to be seen.
Chloe knew she had to pull herself together. She didn’t deserve to be upset right now. Nathaniel had come to tell her that the police were here for her. Everything was over, Hawkmoth had been defeated, Chloe had been wrong--so, terribly wrong--and she should be ashamed.
Ladybug would be ashamed. Chat, Adrien, her friends, her father--everyone--Nathaniel should be so ashamed of her.
But he just stood there, watching her levelly, one hand steadying him against the wall. Her eyes trailed down to his bandaged leg.
“I hurt you,” she gasped. “I hurt everyone. How can I....? How…?”
She was breaking down: something she had lost the right to do. But, dammit, she couldn’t stop it, and now Nathaniel, with his unyielding compassion would comfort her just like everyone had her whole, spoiled life. He was just another pawn in her constant game of manipulation. She was doing it again, reverting to her old ways.
But Nathaniel didn’t comfort her. He didn’t say anything. He dropped his eyes to his feet--a characteristic show of timidity--and then dropped himself down beside her.
When his back hit the wall, a stream of dust poured out of a crack in the ceiling. Perhaps it was the strain of the recent battle; perhaps the building was just that old. But it was clearly not going to hold up much longer.
“We should probably get out of here,” Nathaniel mused.
Chloe tilted her head back, the space between her and her almost-friend so cold.
“You go,” she said hollowly.
He shifted, moving his injured leg into a more comfortable position.
“I would,” he replied. “But I don’t think I can walk by myself right now.”
Chloe looked at him, agape. Was that a hint of slyness she detected in his voice?
If the way he avoided eye contact, and the subtle tug at the corners of his mouth was any indication, then yes.
She didn’t know the redhead had it in him.
Then, he extended a hand out to her.
That was the only word Brigitte could think of to describe the next few hours. City officials and emergency personnel swarmed the building on the Rue de Fictional, and reporters thronged at the edges of a yellow-taped boundary.
Adrien was loaded into one ambulance, his father into another. Felix had gone with Adrien, and now Brigitte helped Marinette and her father into the car to follow. Nino and Alya said they would follow on foot.
Before shifting the car into gear, Brigitte stole a glance at the old building. It was trembling, bricks falling away here and there. It wouldn’t last long.
She felt a stab of worry which was immediately squelched when she spotted two figures supporting each other out of the building, away from the chaos and prying eyes. Brigitte sighed; those two would be okay.
The drive to the hospital was an unreal reprieve before the loud busyness of the emergency room. Marinette could hardly walk by the time they arrived, her usually pink lips a pale gray. She grabbed Brigitte’s sleeve before the nurses took her away.
“Please,” she whispered weakly. “Take them.”
Brigitte could only nod as Plagg and Tikki were pressed into her palms. Tikki was quiet and wide-eyed, holding onto her cat-like counterpart tightly, even as he seemed to flicker before their eyes. Brigitte’s mind went to the other tiny creature currently nestled in her pocket.
Well. She was a veterinarian after all. Go ahead and give her all the kwamis.
“I’ll take care of them,” she told Marinette, trying to muster a smile as the younger girl was led to a gurney.
Minutes later, Brigitte had tracked Felix down to the waiting room outside of one of the operating rooms. He paced like he was running away from his own skin, and his eyes were aglow with panic and exhaustion.
“How is he?” Brigitte asked carefully.
Felix’s head snapped up at her voice, as if he hadn’t seen her before that moment. He only shook his head. “I--I don’t know.”
What about you? Are you okay? Brigitte knew better than to ask. Felix hated that question on a good day. And right now--well, Brigitte knew the answer anyways.
She should have known not to tell him to sit down either. Should have known not to tell him he needed food and rest.
But mistakes were made, and before she knew it, her fiance had worked up into a full blown panic attack. His fists clenched and unclenched, and he couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away from the glowing sign above the OR, and his breath was just far too shallow--
Brigitte held his shoulders, tried to draw his attention and ground him.
“Felix, look. It’s alright. It’s over; everything’s going to be alright.”
He shook his head, chest jumping with whimpers.
“He’s going to be alright, Fe. They’re taking care of him, shh….”
But she could barely get the words out when she struggled to believe them herself, when tears finally broke free and she just couldn’t be strong anymore. The weight of everything that had just happened, and the very tangible weight of the three miserable kwamis in her pocket was bending her, pushing her down, peeling back at her calm, and she couldn’t take it anymore.
Felix’s weight, as his knees buckled, was the absolute last straw. He sagged against her and she sunk to the ground. She let out a broken sob and could barely muster the voice to call for help. Brigitte surrendered to the pain and sorrow as she sat on the cold floor, rocking Felix in her arms. She had always tried so hard to be strong, but right now she just couldn’t. Maybe later, not now. Now, she could only pray that this would be the end of it. That things would only get better from here.
Later, she realized how merciful it had been that Felix remained unconscious for the next few hours. He was oblivious to those hours of unknowing before Adrien had been wheeled out of surgery; he was none the wiser when a doctor came by to relate that Gabriel Agreste had been admitted to the psych ward; by the time Felix woke up, the dust had settled, and Brigitte’s prayers had been answered.
It was going to get better.
All they could do now was wait.
Two weeks later….
Adrien’s voice was nothing but a broken breath, like two brittle seashells being rubbed together over the whisper of ocean waves. Felix instinctively leaned forward, not daring to miss whatever his barely-waking brother was struggling so hard to say.
“Fe, when I died… I thought I would see Maman.”
Felix tried not to change his expression, tried not to show the sadness and fear in his eyes. He wasn’t sure if Adrien could see him clearly yet, but he kept himself in check nonetheless. When Adrien shed a tear at the thought of his Maman, Felix reached out and soothed his forehead.
“Shh… buddy, it’s okay. You didn’t die. That’s why you didn’t see her. You’ll get to see her, many, many years from now. Got it?”
Adrien nodded and drifted back to sleep, eyes racing under his eyelids in some distressing dream.
The truth was, Adrien had been clinically “dead” a few times, immediately after the incident. First, when Felix had tried in vain to revive him, and then twice on the ambulance. When Felix had asked why his brother kept crashing, the paramedics had told him it was due to internal damage.
And when he finally understood, Felix’s heart broke. Adrien was trying to breathe, his body was really giving its all to stay alive, but the boy’s throat just couldn’t handle it for very long.
He had flatlined just before they had arrived at the hospital, and then Felix hadn’t seen him for the next five hours.
And then there was that long day where they waited for Adrien to wake up. For a week after that, the boy drifted in and out, barely showing signs of coherence before succumbing once again to a deep sleep. Later, there was relief when the doctor said his brain activity was normal. There was still a constant oxygen mask on his face, but his vitals seemed to even out during the second week.
By then, Adrien’s ankle was healing nicely, but Felix could hardly bear to look at it.
“That wasn’t you; that was Hawkmoth,” Brigitte had assured him.
And he knew she was right. Lone Wolf--that monster created by Gabriel Agreste--had been the one to crush Adrien’s ankle in its jaws. If Felix had been aware of himself, he would never have allowed that. He knew that. But that didn’t change the fact that Felix could still feel the sensation of his teeth against bone, of blood filling his mouth.
Some nights he sat up, reliving everything, eyes blank and haunted.
Brigitte came to him, early in the morning, the day after they had received the news that Adrien would make a full recovery. One moment, Felix was lost in the horrors of his memory, and the next, she was beside him, a cool wave of the present moment.
Her smile was strained.
She’s still trying to love me, he thought. She’s trying so hard, even after everything I did.
She brushed lank, unwashed hair away from his eyes and ran a thumb over the gathering stubble above his lips. Her eyes were exhausted, watery, and her brow was burdened with unspoken sadness.
Should I tell her it’s okay to let go?
A tear slipped down Felix’s cheek unwittingly.
No, the desperate part of his brain answered. I can’t. If she lets go of me, I’ll fall and never get up.
Brigitte pressed something into Felix’s hand, snapping him out of his spiraling thoughts. It was soft and warm, and he would have recoiled if he hadn’t immediately known what it was.
The brunette sniffed. “I’ve been holding onto him since… that day. He’s just been sleeping. Tikki said that he needs your help to, um. To get better.”
Felix shifted the tiny thing in his palm, stroking a thumb over the downy fur. If possible, Zakuu seemed more deeply asleep than when he had first manifested; his silver shine was dull, and he was fuzzy around the edges. It reminded Felix of….
Well. It reminded him of Plagg.
“What’s wrong with him?” Felix asked, but already a shard of dread was twisting in his gut. He didn’t have to see Brigitte’s upset fidgeting to know the answer.
It was a topic she had been avoiding while Adrien was in critical condition. Now that he was stable and on an upward track, here she was to address it.
Felix had thought he would be ready. He really had.
He was so, so not ready.
She must have seen his distress, because she grasped his free hand and held it tight, grounding him.
“Felix, listen to me. You’ve been so strong. No one expected you to control your anger. Who could have? Anyone-- anyone would have reacted like that. And, you stopped yourself. Before it was too late, you stopped.”
“Before it was too late” meant “before he killed Gabriel Agreste”.
Felix looked down at the creature in his palm, hand trembling. “Is that why…?”
Brigitte nodded, tears welling. “Tikki said that since he had just manifested, he needed, um, to be in harmony with your emotions.”
Felix ducked his head in resignation. He had known for a while. “He needed ‘inner peace’ and ‘forgiveness’, and I gave him rage. It broke him.”
But Brigitte squeezed his hand. “No. It didn’t break him.” She cast a meaningful glance up at Adrien. “It just bent him a little. He’s hurt, but he’ll get better. If you hold him and tell him it’s okay, he’ll figure out how to stand up straight again.”
Felix took in a breath that broke into a sob. “Brigitte,” he breathed. “I’m still so angry. And I don’t think that I can change that.”
At that, he found his cheeks squished soundly between his fiance’s palms. “Felix. Forgiveness is not about not being angry. And peace isn’t about not being afraid. You’ve got a huge heart, Felix. You’re angry because you love Adrien. You’re afraid because you don’t want to lose him. That’s what you need to focus on: love. And then, that anger, and that fear? They won’t matter that much anymore.
“Zakuu… and Adrien…. They need you to do that. And I know you can. It’s time to pop that shame bubble. Okay? You love Adrien, we know that. For Heaven’s sake, the whole universe knows that by now. It’s time you realized it too.”
Now, Felix watched Adrien sleep as he remembered Brigitte’s words. Plagg was curled against the bandages on the boy’s neck, looking healthy and solid. Zakuu, on the other hand, was flickering worse than ever in Fellix’s lap.
In theory, Felix had understood what Brigitte meant, about the love and the anger and the forgiveness. But in moments like these, when Adrien woke only to reveal that he’d expected to die… well, that anger reared its head and was a lot easier to focus on than the pain of Adrien’s words.
Gabriel Agreste was in the psychiatric ward, and would spend his days there until his sentencing. And after--if Anna’s suspicions were correct, and they usually were--he would likely end up being ruled a mental case and live out his sentence in the ward.
Felix hadn’t seen him. The older man’s wounds from Felix’s beating had been superficial, but his sanity had suffered. The eldest Agreste had a breakdown soon after that terrible day, and apparently spent his days staring vacantly out the window.
Felix couldn’t even bring himself to pity the man. He just… tried to forget. Zakuu needed that from him.
Adrien needed it from him.
And he tried. Oh, he tried.
But it was a weary, uphill battle that Felix had fought in endless circles. And Felix knew it was indeed endless.
Because it wasn’t Gabriel Agreste he couldn’t stop hating; couldn’t forgive. No.
It was himself.
The woman sat in a quiet cafe, looking out at the heavenly city. With her dark brown hair grown out in its natural color and sunglasses covering her vibrant green eyes, she blended in well enough. Tourists took her for a local, and locals took her for a tourist.
She made her order fluently in her mother’s tongue, and then pulled out a tablet to browse the Parisian news.
Whatever she saw gave her pause.
Instead of lingering in that cafe to read more, as she usually did, the woman instead made a cryptic phone call.
“... to Paris. Tonight, if possible,” she said in Mandarin Chinese.
At least, that’s what the owner roughly translated when he overheard her from the kitchen. The only thing he knew for sure was that by the time the order was finished and brought out to her table, the mysterious woman was gone without a trace.