Chapter One

Adrien grunted in pain as he fell to the ground. He tasted copper in his mouth.

*Stupid...* He cursed himself for being seen.

He cursed himself for not transforming before he decided to spy on what were obviously some very dangerous criminals.

As the sneering man who towered above him forced his mouth open and shoved a poison capsule inside, he thought of Ladybug, how he'd never look into those sparkling bluebell eyes again...

The men in black quickly fled the alley, and Adrien screamed as his entire body burned as though his bones were melting.

* * * * *

Marinette was not having a good day.

She'd overslept and woken up late, barely making it to school in time for roll call.

Adrien had been absent from school for two days, and nobody seemed to be able to get in touch with him.

Most of her lunch break had been spent dealing with an obnoxious Akumatized sommelier who was determined to pour all the wine in Paris into the Seine for some unfathomable reason.

And Chat Noir was absolutely nowhere to be seen.

A pressurized blast of wine caught her in the face, filling her nostrils with the fragrance of fermented grapes. She coughed and spluttered as she rolled out of the way. "Hey! I can't drink that much wine! I'm underage!" She used her Lucky Charm, which produced a large, ladybug-spotted wine cork. She flipped toward the villain and stuffed it into the end of his wine cannon, which exploded spectacularly, releasing the Akuma, which she quickly purified.

Once everything was back to normal and all the wine in Paris was safe, Ladybug swung away, landing on the roof of Collège Françoise Dupont. "So much for lunch," she sighed. "Where the heck was Chat Noir?" Her Miraculous beeped. Grimacing, she started to detransform...


She froze. She turned around to see a young blonde boy, perhaps eight or nine, dressed as Chat Noir, right down to the lashing leather cat tail and slit-pupiled green eyes.

"Ah..." She coughed. "Shouldn't you be at another school? One for younger children? Although I do like your Chat Noir costume, it's very authentic."

"Ladybug, it's...it's me," the boy said. "It's really me." He ducked his head, his cheeks burning red. "The real Chat Noir. I...I need your help."

Ladybug blinked. "Wh-what?" She laughed. "Umm...s-sorry, but...Chat Noir's like, way older than—"

"You sprayed me with sea breeze deodorizer when we were fighting Animan," the boy said. "When Lady Wifi thought Chloé Bourgeois was Ladybug, we watched her tie herself up with a toy yo-yo. Kung Food tried to kill us with a giant pizza sword on the roof of Le Grand Paris. You used the shiny foil inside a chocolate ice cream wrapper to blind Volpina on top of the Eiffel Tower."

Ladybug stared at him, her jaw dropping. Her Miraculous beeped again.

"I need your help," Chat Noir repeated. "I...I can't even go home like this. I'm..."

Ladybug's Miraculous beeped one last time. The final dot flickered and faded, and then she was Marinette.

Chat Noir's eyes widened. "Marinette...?"

Ladybug gasped, instinctively feeling her face, looking down at herself. "Merde," she moaned.

And then Chat Noir smiled. "I always wondered who the girl behind the mask was," he said. "Now I know, even if you didn't mean to tell me."

Marinette sighed and sat down. "Okay, okay, so you know who I am now," she said.

"Your secret is safe with me, My Lady," Chat Noir said, sketching a bow.

Marinette rolled her eyes. "And now I believe you," she said. She looked Chat Noir up and down, then started giggling. "What the heck happened to you, Chaton? Did...did you shrink in the wash?"

Chat Noir snorted, folding his arms and giving her a sullen glare. "Marinette, this is serious!"

"It...it is kinda funny," giggled the little pinkish-red Kwami sitting next to Marinette. Chat Noir's eyes flicked to her, and he sighed.

"Please," he said. "This is embarrassing enough without the two of you laughing at me."

"S-sorry," Marinette snickered, forcing herself to stop laughing. "What...what did happen?"

Chat Noir walked over and sat down beside her. "I saw something I wasn't supposed to," he said. "The other day, I heard some shouting. I went to check it out. I...I went as the real me, not as Chat Noir. I got there just in time to watch this man dressed all in black shoot a city councillor in the back of the head with a Deringer."

Marinette gasped.

"He had a partner," Chat Noir continued. "His partner conked me upside the head, then they shoved this capsule in my mouth and forced me to swallow it. Then they left." He sighed. "I thought for sure I was a dead man. Then some time later, I woke up and I was like this." He gestured to his minuscule body.

"Oh God...Chat Noir..." Marinette pulled him into a hug. "That's horrible..."

"Anyway, once I realized what had happened, I knew I...I knew I couldn't go home," Chat Noir said miserably. "I can't go to school, I can't see any of my friends..." He looked up at Marinette, a painful flicker in his eyes. "All I could think of to do was turn into Chat Noir and sneak around the city. I had enough pocket money to live off of for about a week, so I've at least been able to eat, but I've been sleeping on roofs and fighting off pigeons."

"You've been transformed for two whole days?" Tikki asked.

Chat Noir grimaced. "Yeah, and..." He sighed. "I think I'm gonna need to stay transformed for a while. I, umm..." He rubbed the back of his head. "I don't want to go back to being, y'know, me while I'm like this. It's...it's just too embarrassing." He slumped forward, his eyelids heavy. "I'm so tired, though..."

Without warning, he pitched forward onto the roof.

"Chat Noir!" Marinette rolled him over; she sighed in relief as she saw his chest rise and fall with steady, even breaths. "He's just asleep," she said. She looked at Tikki. "What...what do we do about this?"

Tikki frowned. "We need to get him to the Great Guardian," she said. "He'll know what to do."

Marinette watched Chat Noir sleep, then sighed. "You're right. I guess I'll be missing my afternoon classes..." She pulled out her phone. "My parents won't be too mad at me if I say I found a sick boy who passed out right in front of me and I'm taking him to the hospital."

"Well, it's not a total lie," Tikki said as she hovered over Chat Noir, brushing a lock of hair out of his face.

* * * * *

Master Fu's face twitched as his hands hovered over Chat Noir. He opened his eyes, slumped forward, and sighed.

"Can you help him, Master?" Tikki asked.

"This poison is like nothing I have encountered before," Master Fu said. "I am not entirely certain I can draw it out of him, or even if drawing the poison out of him will heal him."

"Couldn't I heal him with my—" Marinette began.

"Not at your current level," Master Fu said, turning to her. "Ladybug, you are a wonderful hero, and at your young age and with almost no real training, you have saved Paris time and again. But there are finer, more nuanced uses to your power that take years to develop and refine."

"Oh," Marinette said, crestfallen. "But...you said poison, right?"

"Unquestionably," Master Fu said darkly. "Chat Noir's body has been defiled by something truly foul. In terms modern medicine might use, his cells have been chemically altered. In terms that actually matter, his body has been tricked into constantly killing itself and healing itself in every breath and beat of his heart." He stroked his chin. "If I had to guess, I would say the poison used was designed to force his body to burn itself up, to use all of his years of natural healing and growth in one go until it simply gives out."

Marinette gasped. "Is...is he going to die?"

"I do not believe so," Master Fu said. "The poison's effects seem to have reached some level of stability. Still, until we can find an antidote, or some other way to remove this poison from his body..." He frowned, studying Chat Noir worriedly. "I'm afraid he's going to be stuck like this."

"You mean he'll...he'll have to grow up all over again?"

"No, I mean he'll be stuck like this. His body will never grow."

Marinette paled. "Oh God. That's..." She reached out and took one of Chat's hands, squeezing it. "So...so what do we do?"

"I'm going to need to research this, see if I can find anything remotely similar that has happened before," Master Fu said. "In the meantime..." He frowned. "Perhaps it would be best if you care for him. I don't expect your parents would object, they seem like decent and reasonable people."

"Of course," Marinette agreed. "We have enough room for a guest, if they're willing to take him in." She frowned worriedly. "But what...what about his own family? His friends? I mean, I have no idea who he is when he isn't, y'know, Chat Noir, but somebody must be worried sick about him..."

Master Fu sighed. "That is a matter for you and Chat Noir to consider among yourselves," he said. "Miraculous users throughout history are no stranger to having their identities revealed due to a grave injury that is impossible to conceal, but this, well..." He shrugged. "This one has me stumped, and I have lived for over a hundred and eighty years." He smiled gamely. "You could always let him transform back, find out who he really is, then stick a pair of glasses on him so nobody will recognize him and say he's your cousin or something."

Marinette stared at him. "That's the best you can come up with?" she cried, throwing her hands up.

"Well, it works in comic books," Master Fu said with a grin.

Marinette's head slumped forward. "Greeeat."

Chat Noir groaned and opened his eyes. He sat up, blinking, and looked around. "Ugh," he muttered. "Marinette? Where are—?"

"Hello, Chat Noir," Master Fu said. "I wish we had met under different circumstances."

Chat Noir peered at him. "I...I know you," he said slowly. "I've seen you somewhere before..."

"This is the guardian of the Miraculous," Marinette said. "He's the one who gave us our Miraculous in the first place." She took a deep breath. "Chat Noir, we have some bad news..."

* * * * *

When Marinette returned to the bakery, her parents swarmed her. "Marinette! Are you alright? Your call had us so worried!"

"I'm fine, Mama," Marinette said. "But I do have something important to tell you..."

Chat Noir walked into the room, standing beside Marinette and rubbing the back of his head nervously. "Uhh...hi," he said. "I know this is gonna sound crazy, but...I'm Chat Noir."

Sabine blinked at him. Tom tilted his head.

"He got cursed by Hawk Moth," Marinette lied smoothly. "Ladybug asked me to take care of him until she can figure out how to uncurse him." She gave her parents a sheepish smile, brushing a stray lock of hair out of her face. "So, umm...can we keep him?"


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