UMS Françoise DuPont
EPISODE 9: Survivors
Episode recap: Prisoners of war are rescued by the crew of the UMS Françoise Dupont
The pairs of flyers on the gold squad were only scheduled to do five jumps before they needed to return to the carrier and recharge their engines. On the fourth jump, Ladybug's display finally lit up in a different pattern.
"Cat!" she called excitedly. "Cat! I found something!" She sent him the coordinates and began to ease forward. Whatever she had found was still too far away to classify accurately, but it was relatively small, definitely not a fleet of Akuma ships.
Her partner matched her pace, flying just 'beneath' her so that the two flyers would be harder to identify on a scanner. They both directed every resource available to figuring out what they could about the craft they were headed toward.
It appeared to be drifting, its engines powerless.
"It's definitely Akuma," Black Cat declared as soon as he was able. "Engines are dark. Heat signature is fading. If they still have power, they probably don't know what to do with it."
"I'm not detecting any sign of ambush," said Ladybug. "What do you say to seeing if anybody is listening?"
She then attempted to hail the disabled vessel but there was no response, not even when she repeated her call a second and third time.
She felt nervous in the black vacuum of space as they completed their approach, now maybe ten meters away from the ship. "Do you think anyone is still on board?" she asked Black Cat. It was easier to imagine the passengers recaptured and gone than dead and still aboard.
He didn't answer her directly but called out his own greeting to the vessel, first in the standard kwamiian language that Ladybug had used, and then in noir. Marinette now knew enough noir to recognize a few words and could attest that he had said far more in his native tongue than in the borrowed words of their technological superiors.
He stopped and waited for something, a response of any kind. The wait was agonizing.
Then the ship began to show signs of life. A light flashed by a portal which then opened and ejected another transmitter. It immediately began to broadcast and, while Ladybug recognized the message was in noir, she couldn't understand much more than that. Black Cat, however, hung on every word. As soon as the message began to repeat, he called out to them briefly.
"Ladybug," he said to her eventually, "There's three in total. They don't know how to pilot the ship. The eldest is very injured and the children are very scared. They need us to rescue them now."
"Now?" she repeated. "Like now-now?" They were only supposed to find the ship; others were standing by for the rescue. Tikki was probably pacing in the hangar, waiting for direction that she would only get when Ladybug and Black Cat returned to the DuPont. Plus, Marinette wasn't sure if their flyers could even dock with the small alien ship.
Cat didn't reply, he was too busy talking to the ship again, easing closer and latching onto a docking ring.
"Cat, what if it's dangerous?" she warned him.
"Then you fly back to the DuPont and tell them what is going on," he answered matter-of-factly. "Latching successful. Activating seals."
She could almost hear the clank and thunk through the comm system.
"I'm going in," he announced, his voice changing further as he switched from the comm system plugged into his helmet to something more portable and of lower quality.
Ladybug circled the ship, looking for a second docking ring in case her partner needed her help. She found it before Agreste spoke again. She hovered over it, not willing to latch on until she knew that it was safe or dangerous enough to do so. Lacking anything else to do, she initiated another long-range scan.
"They're alive," the comm crackled in her ear; the auditory processing of the portable comm rendered Cat's voice unrecognizable. "Two children, one adult. She's pregnant. She's really pregnant, and injured. She won't live long enough for us to bring Tikki back to her. I need you in here."
Marinette couldn't detect any significant inflection in his words, but she felt like at least one of those sentences deserved an exclamation point. Cursing their luck and hoping for leniency, Marinette quickly docked her flyer and climbed over her chair and past the 'nag saddle' to float down into the Akuma vessel.
The air, she noticed as she moved, was cold and thick with smoke. The only illumination came spilling from her flyer and the dim emergency lighting. There was a sharp, intermittent alarm that died away to reveal a little girl crying as Agreste tried to calm her.
He broke off his attentions as she approached. "Bug!" he said, definitely speaking with exclamation points. "We need to get these people back to the DuPont as soon as possible!"
She could see he was right. He was terribly right. They probably wouldn't freeze to death in the next hour, but the smoke was a serious threat. And the little girl was rapidly crying through their remaining breathable air.
Marinette barely caught sight of the wounded adult when she was grabbed from behind and a murderous howl was screamed in her ear.
Agreste immediately pushed away from the closest wall, coming to her aid and pulling an angry child off her back. The child - a boy? - continued to shout threats and swing his arms and legs at her as if to punch or kick. Agreste wrapped the boy in his arms until he was nearly immobile, whispering calm words until the first bout of rage died down to only vicious glares and laboured breathing.
"What was that about?" Ladybug wondered, still feeling vulnerable.
"He's never met someone who is not a Noir who didn't want to hurt him," Cat tried to explain.
She wanted to protest that she was very obviously not an Akuma, but a recognizable alarm cut her off. Agreste knew it too, his ears flattening. It was the same alarm that signaled Akuma flyers in the simulator.
"Is that what I think it is?" he asked between pants. The air was getting to him.
Marinette merely nodded. "We need to get out of here." At this distance, the enemy's scanners couldn't clearly determine that two UMS flyers were docked onto this dying ship, but the ship itself would be easy to spot, and would draw the enemy toward them at greater speed.
It was not hard to figure out how to divide up the refuges: Black Cat would take the children and Ladybug would take the adult. They floated through the passageways to their separate destinations.
Ladybug helped the poor woman in the guest chair, fastening her in as quickly and safely as possible. The woman's clothing hung on her poorly, obviously meant for someone else, but the wounds by her right shoulder had rendered that arm useless and the blood was seeping through the fabric and beading into the air of the cockpit. Marinette briefly acknowledged the risk of bringing these people to the UMS Françoise Dupont, the illness that had spread when they met the infected engineer at the space station. Marinette didn't know anything about these refugees; they could be sick or dangerous; but she would deal with the consequences after they were safe from the Akuma.
She initiated the process of sealing her flyer and disengaging from the docking ring as soon as she could reach the control panel, and was still tightening her safety harness and adjusting her helmet when the little flyer began to float free of the escape craft.
"Ladybug, this is Black Cat, setting course for home," a modified voice spoke in her ears.
"Black Cat, this is Ladybug, doing same," she replied. There were two destinations programmed into her console: their fifth and final jump, and the carrier. Her choice was easy and she let the flyer's autopilot orient itself for the jump home while she kept her eyes on the portion of the display that was the long range scans. If she knew what they were up against, it could be advantageous to the red squad. There were at least six separate craft coming toward them, one larger than the others. Whether the larger vessel was actually two smaller craft flying in close formation or simply a bigger ship, Marinette now didn't care to find out. She had seen enough.
With her lightspace engine ready, she called out to her partner. He answered and together they winked out of regular space.
In lightspace she could see her partner's ship ahead of her, traveling in a steady line back to the carrier. He was safe, she was safe, they were all safe for now.
Ladybug breathed a sigh and prepped a recording. She wanted to begin broadcasting it to the DuPont as soon as they dropped into regular space, telling them about the health of the rescued prisoners, the location and status of the disabled ship, and the Akuma that she had spotted. After saving the recording and queuing it up, she sighed again and tried craning her head around her seatback to see her guest.
The woman had remained as silent as possible until now, her noisy pants slowly quieting as the improved air of Ladybug's flyer circulated into her lungs. She would pause every so often to grimace in pain but, barring the jolt from piercing the boundary between regular and lightspace, she hadn't cried out.
"Hi," Marinette said in greeting, then repeated it in noir.
After Nino and Ambassador Bourgeois, Marinette was probably the earthling on the carrier who knew the most of the alien language, but it was not a balanced or complete understanding. She could say things for work such as, "I'm preparing my lightspace engine," and, "My scans are clear." And she knew basic phrases like, "My name is Marinette," and, "How are you? I am fine." But she didn't know how to say, "How serious are your injuries?" or "Apply pressure to the wound in your shoulder to staunch the bleeding." She didn't even know the noir words for pregnancy or baby.
The woman just stared at her, her pale green eyes unreadable, her bobbed ears pressed low to her scalp in either pain or distrust.
Marinette repeated the noir greeting and added to it, "My name is Ladybug." There was a lot of time to pass before they reached the DuPont, she might as well exhaust her noir vocabulary by then.
At the woman's unchanging look, Marinette began to wonder if the woman understood her, if Marinette's accent was recognizable, even if the woman spoke noir or if she had been raised to hear and obey akuma.
"My name is Ladybug," Marinette repeated slowly. "Do you understand me?"
The woman blinked. "Urtrixxnil," she relied.
Now it was Marinette's turn to stare stupidly. "Urtrixxnil?" she tried. She didn't know any akuma at all.
"My name is Urtrixxnil." The accent was nothing like Agreste and the other noir on the carrier, but Marinette was beyond pleased with herself that she understood.
"Urtrixxnil," she declared, deciding that the name was on par with Elathan and Kitireth, "you are a free noir."
The poor woman started keening, Marinette could only assume in relief at finally being safe. Whatever her story was, it must have been harrowing.
The lieutenant did not attempt more conversation while the noir was in such an emotional state. But before calmness could reign in the cockpit, the noir crumpled in pain.
"What's wrong?" Marinette called out in kwamiian before switching to noir to say a more simplistic, "How are you?" The flyer was too small for Marinette to go back and tend to her guest.
After a minute, the pain died down, the woman caught her breath, and was able to explain through clenched teeth. Unfortunately, Marinette was unable to understand.
Please don't be in labor, Marinette hoped for a number of reasons. The least of which was the amount of trouble she would be in if someone gave birth in her flyer. The time it would take to scrub the cockpit of any potential biological contagion would keep Ladybug grounded for months. Then again, Marinette had already spotted drops of Urtrixxnil's blood floating about; the flyer was already contaminated.
But giving birth while strapped into the nag saddle, racing through lightspace, injured, and with no medical support couldn't be good for mother or child. It would be so much better if nature would just pause until they were aboard the carrier.
And speaking of landing on the carrier, the regular hangar was out. The red squad would be rushing around and launching their flyers. Mechanics would be everywhere. There was no way that Tikki would be able to tend to her new patients in that hectic atmosphere. And there was no guarantee that the young noir who attacked Marinette on the Akuma vessel would be able to remain calm in that setting.
She edited her queued broadcast to stress Urtrixxnil's pregnancy and to say that they would be landing in the ambassador's hangar. That would give Tikki enough time to travel from one to the other.
Urtrixxnil's monologue continued for a few minutes until her voice faded and her throat grew dry. Marinette decided to keep quiet and let the poor woman rest as much as possible but a new spasm of pain soon seized her. Marinette checked the flyer's display: twelve minutes between the two episodes seemed very much like contractions.
Marinette waited until the pain had passed again, then turned on the internal recording and asked her same stupid question. Again the noir answered but whether it was in essence the same or whether she was talking of something else, Marinette couldn't say. But it didn't matter, the answer was now be preserved for Nino or somebody else to translate while the woman was finally receiving needed medical attention. As before, Urtrixxnil's speech slowed then stopped, fatigue evident in her voice.
This pattern repeated for the rest of the flight home: a contraction would stop the woman cold, Marinette would wait until it ended then ask her how she was, and the woman would answer. Each time, Urtrixxnil ran out of words and energy earlier than the time before, dropping into a light doze only to be squeezed out of it by the pain of her contractions. Beads of blood were floating in the cockpit, growing bigger and more numerous over time. Marinette was now too preoccupied with worry over the woman bleeding in her flyer to worry about what Mad Dog would say to her.
At last they were nearing the end of their journey in light space. Urtrixxnil had been resting silently for the last four minutes and she was probably about to start another contraction.
"We leave lightspace soon. Be ready," Marinette warned.
The woman behind her gave no sign of hearing her words.
"Hey, Urtrixxnil," Marinette said, louder. "Wake up."
Again there was no response, but Marinette couldn't dwell on it. She had to focus her attention on ejecting from lightspace in the smoothest possible way. As soon as the shell was broken in regular space, her flyer began the recorded broadcast even as her sensors were recalibrating. Though she hung nearly unmoving in space, she was drifting toward the bulky carrier. While she sat impatient to be recognized, she tried to talk to her passenger again, but Urtrixxnil was unresponsive.
At last her speaker crackled to life. "Ladybug, Black Cat, this is UMS Françoise Dupont. You are cleared for Hangar Bay 5. Begin your approach from the side."
That was not the diplomatic hangar that Marinette had requested. She wondered if Agreste had prepared a similar message for the other hangar. She tried to message him but he didn't answer. She hoped the children were okay; they had not seemed injured to Marinette when Cat had bundled them into his flyer.
She moved out of the way to avoid the red squad that came from the main hangar and lined up to jump as a group into lightspace to possibly engage the Akuma who remained at the derelict ship. Marinette didn't know if the Akuma would bother leaving anything behind after she and Black Cat had rescued the survivors. It would be better for everyone if the Akuma were long gone by the time Queen Bee's team reached the site.
When she was close to the designated hangar, she slowed. The doors weren't open yet; something was up.
"Ladybug," crackled a familiar voice, "stand by."
"Stone Heart?" she thought she recognized the voice. "What are you doing here?"
"Captain thought someone you know would be best," came the answer. "You've got a lot of baggage and the last time you two did something this foolish, the entire ship was under quarantine for two months."
Hairs on the nape of her neck prickled. "Is Cat okay?" She still hadn't heard from him.
"Black Cat is fine," Stone Heart assured her. "Worry about yourself and your passenger. Before you are cleared to land, I need you to answer some questions. Tell me about your passenger."
"Noir, adult, female, pregnant," Ladybug rattled off at a fast pace. "Unresponsive; she hasn't moved or spoken in like ten minutes. Injured in the shoulder; there's blood in the cockpit. She doesn't speak kwamiian, just noir with a bit of akuma… when she's conscious, that is. She's been having what seem like contractions, but I don't know anything about noir pregnancy, so maybe not." All this was already included in the communication she had sent, so she wasn't sure why Stone Heart needed to hear it again.
"Alright, you are cleared," Stony told her after a few more random questions. "I need you to put your flyer on remote-pilot and turn the control over to me. I'll guide you in. We're all a little worried about Akuma biological weapons so there will be weapons trained on you. Just remain calm and keep your actions slow and nonthreatening, and we'll get your passenger the care that she needs."
Urtrixxnil had died. Years of active abuse and passive neglect by the Akuma, her body's steady drain of energy and other resources to support her pregnancy, and the final injuries she sustained in her escape required care far sooner than Tikki could provide. She lost consciousness while still in lightspace and she never woke up, but she died a free noir.
Tikki was able to save the baby, although that life was so tenuous and fragile that celebration was postponed until people could say it with greater confidence. There was the threat of illness and contagion, and until all the survivors were examined and treated, another shadow marred their relief.
Marinette knew none of this at first. She was separated from Urtrixxnil as soon as she got out of her flyer. She was put under quarantine and examined by Dr. Hannah who subjected her to a battery of tests that mostly involved drawing blood. At the end of it, there was nothing to do but wait for the results, then wait a few more days - maybe a week - and run through the tests again.
Her next action was to write a report about what had happened while rescuing the noir before the details got muddled and she began to forget things. Then she was allowed to speak with her parents to tell them that she was alright and would see them as soon as she was able.
Lacking anything else to do, she took a nap.
Mad Dog was there to see her when she woke, standing on the other side of the window that separated her quarantine cell from the rest of the medical bay. He looked tired and unhappy, and she wondered how much rest he had gotten and how much trouble she was in. She gave him a groggy salute and waited for him to speak.
"Ladybug, did Lt Colonel D'Argencourt send you on a reconnaissance mission," he asked, "or a rescue mission?"
Marinette felt her stomach sink a little. She was in a non-trivial amount of trouble. "Reconnaissance, sir."
"And were you or your partner cleared to board the damaged craft?" he asked testily.
"No, sir," she admitted
"And were you clear to bring injured people back to the carrier?"
"No, sir." Then she added, "But if we hadn't, sir, three people wouldn't be alive right now." She counted the noir children and Urtrixxnil's son. "Plus, if we hadn't stayed as long as we did and detected the incoming Akuma, the red squad would have flown into an ambush."
Mad Dog nodded angrily. "Yes, that's one way to look at it," he said. "Another is that the Akuma would have had no idea that the red squad was coming if you hadn't stayed long enough to tip them off. Our headcount is not as positive as you think. We gained three sick children and in exchange we lost Mantis and Recluse." He paused to let that sink in and Marinette felt sick.
"Plus," he continued when she looked like she could stomach more bad news, "we've got four pilots and four flyers that are at least temporarily grounded. Scarab and Mecha both took some bad hits before they could jump out of there. Their lightspace engines were able to get them home, but they've got decompression sickness and you know what that's like. Their flyers are pretty beat up too, but no where near as ruined as yours and Black Cat's."
"How is my partner?" she asked in a meek voice.
The captain looked older and heavier suddenly. "One of the kids he brought back is pretty violent," he said.
"I know which one you're talking about," said Marinette, thinking of the one that had tried to attack her. Cat had defended the boy at the time as having an understandable reaction to an alien. Now, Marinette could easily see that behavior in a more sinister light.
"Yeah, well, Black Cat was stuck in the cockpit with him all the way through lightspace, and then they had to wait until we could clear the hangar of you and the noir who died. If the Akuma did manage to infect that kid with some Noir version of Vulpin Madness, Black Cat probably has it too. I mean, you're probably safe. The odds of a virus affecting both earthlings and noir are pretty minimal, but until the doctors can be sure, they'll keep you here. If that little guy was in any way contagious, on the other hand, your partner isn't going anywhere for a long, long time."
Marinette remained in quarantine for 10 days before she was released. It was clear that she was not infected or contagious. It felt good to be out of quarantine, to be able to actually touch people, to be able to speak with them without a barrier in the way.
Trixx, the noir infant named in honor of his mother, was released after two weeks. He had shown no signs of being infected but, being a noir, the doctors were more cautious about him. Even though Trixx officially left the quarantine unit, he still spent a large portion of his time there so that Tikki's attention was not divided between those that needed her.
The children that came in Agreste's flyer were called Nooroo and Doosu after a pair of siblings in Noir mythology. The children had been too sick to answer any questions about themselves since their arrival although Tikki suspected, having been born into slavery, they didn't know their real names.
The pair were ill, so obviously ill. Nooroo showed nothing but rage, screaming and lashing out physically at anyone who approached him, but too small and weak to pose a serious threat. Doosu was quieter, sobbing and clutching herself tightly as if she would unravel otherwise. They were moved immediately to a joint quarantine cell; everyone expected them to cope better if they remained together, but they had to be separated when Nooroo attacked his sister. There had never been a report of a Noir version of Volpin Madness before, but the children definitely acted mad. And Agreste, who had spent the entire journey in lightspace trying to restrain Nooroo from damaging the flyer or harming Doosu, began to feel unwell himself after an hour in his quarantine cell.
Agreste was as honest as he could be with his symptoms at first - withholding information could only endanger his recovery - but he was obviously becoming paranoid as time passed, eventually refusing to speak with anyone and lashing out at those who entered the cell to care for him. While Nooroo and Doosu were only weak and malnourished children, Agreste was a fully grown male and quite strong. While Nooroo might give someone a painful bruise or bite, that was his limit; Doosu had a tendency to self-harm and was not typically a threat to anyone else. Agreste, in contrast, broke the arm of a doctor who had entered his quarantine cell on the third day while under light sedation.
Tikki, hoping to preempt a more aggressive command from Damocles, increased the dosage of Agreste's sedative. However, he nearly choked a med tech before the drugs took effect, and after that, her hands were tied. Those who grew too violent under the influence of Earthling Madness had been placed in medically induced comas until Tikki could devise an effective treatment, and the colonel expected no less now.
A few days later, Tikki had to do the same to Doosu, whose propensity for self-harm was too dangerous to leave her unattended.
The medical staff focused their attention on Nooroo, taking tests and running simulations, looking for answers. It was a war of attrition, trying to find the cure or at least a sustainable way to neutralize the symptoms. These were all things Tikki had done before with different species, and she hated the feeling of impotence when she found herself at another dead end. While these failures contained valuable lessons, she would much rather make measurable progress. And it felt especially nerve-wracking when it was other Noir who were so sick.
Slowly the symptoms were brought under control and the child began to respond with more than rage. The underlying infection was still at work, but there was enough progress to bring the other two out of their imposed hibernation.
Tikki was not present when Doosu began to wake, but she came as soon as possible to the medical bay with Trixx in her arms. It was slightly anticlimactic, because the girl was only awake for a few minutes before falling back asleep. Agreste took another day to awaken and, like Doosu, he did not stay awake for long.
Marinette had been visiting her sleeping partner since she was released from quarantine, stopping by every other day to see him and tell him stories about what he was missing. Now that he had opened his eyes, Marinette came every day. Sometimes he was completely unconscious; other times he would shift in response to her voice or even open his eyes. Occasionally he would say her name or even talk with her, but he forgot their conversation by the time she returned.
One day he opened his mouth in the middle of her rant about another flyer and she immediately fell silent. "Marinette," he said slowly and quietly, "you already told me about this yesterday."
Marinette tried not to gasp. "You remember me telling you about Comet?" she asked. Comet was the latest addition to the squad and fresh out of D'Argencourt's class so Agreste had not met him before the incident.
He nodded weakly. "You talked about him right before you said…" he trailed off, trying to remember the rest of the monologue but his mind was blank. He shut his eyes, trying to recall any new detail but it just made him realize how tired he was.
Marinette stood at the window, looking into his quarantine room, waiting for him to continue, but he drifted off to sleep instead.
Eventually she sighed. This was progress, she told herself. Remembering was progress. Agreste was still too exhausted from fighting the infection to do much else, but she would be positive and take this as encouragement.
Tikki soon appeared at her side. "Are you ready?" the doctor asked.
Marinette nodded and pressed a button by the window, turning off its transparency and giving the sleeping noir some privacy. "Let's go," she said.
The two women walked away from the bay with Trixx resting comfortably in Tikki's arms. Marinette shared her news that Agreste had remembered some of what she had said to him yesterday. "That's good news, right?"
"Yes. He's not recovering as fast as Doosu but he's getting there," Tikki agreed. Then she saw the look of hope and worry pass over Marinette's face. "He is improving. I know it feels slow, but trust me, he'll be out of quarantine soon."
"But what if he's not completely cured?" Marinette wondered, forgetting to stay positive. "What if he can't come back to being a flyer? What if he gets reassigned to another ship, another group of noir?" There were too many negative possibilities to consider.
Tikki shrugged her ears and shifted her hold on Trixx. "I cannot predict the future," she admitted, "but Agreste is young and strong. It would be wasteful for the UM to dispense with his service. Besides, are we not celebrating some of that today, Agreste's service and yours? No one is going to discharge a hero on the day of his recognition ceremony."
"It's not just for Agreste and me," she pointed out, thinking somberly of others who were injured in the mission, and those who never came back.
Tikki looked unpersuaded. "I know that I am going to honor you and Agreste."
Agreste's improvement became easier to observe. He stayed awake longer. He could remember more of what was said to him, and could respond in conversation. He could sit up. He could stand and walk around in his cell. He could exercise with a jump rope.
Marinette visited him at least once per day, eager to see his progress. It was never quite the same spending time with him when he was confined to the quarantine cell, on the other side of a window, as it was normally, but it was so much better than watching him lie there comatose.
The cure, frustratingly, appeared to be time and their own immune system which had eventually worked out how to neutralize Noir Madness. Tikki's work, however, was not wasted or discounted. She had slowed the virus to the speed that could be overcome by the victims' natural defenses. And now that her patients had all but conquered the virus, she had access to the antivirals to generate the cure on a larger scale.
When Nooroo and Doosu were released, there was a party in the medical bay. Marinette brought cake, and a personal serving for Agreste so that he could enjoy it in his cell while the rest of them dug into their slices. The two children were moved to the Noir quarters, which was quickly becoming full. Plagg's private room had been enlarged when Tikki joined the carrier, and space was shuffled again when the adjacent room was reassigned to Trixx, and one more time when two larger rooms were reserved for Nooroo and Doosu. Agreste's original room had been commandeered for the children's playroom. His nest had been moved into Gore's private room in anticipation of his return.
With the children released from quarantine, it was only a matter of time before Agreste would have a similar cause to celebrate. The levels of the virus in his blood kept going down, and Tikki could predict when he would be released.
"I have some confessions to make," said Marinette with a grimace. "You're not going to like them."
Agreste was curious. "You don't know that," he said, trying to be hopeful.
"I don't like them," Marinette countered. Before he could say anything else, she continued at a rapid clip. "There's a new squad - blue - led by a new captain that we picked up at the station. His name is Jagged and he's very laid back. His second in command is Trouble and she picks up the slack. I've been reassigned to Blue Squad and given a new partner - that guy Comet that I keep talking about. You're still on gold under Mad Dog, but I'm not sure who's your new partner. I mean, I've seen her around, in passing, but we've never spoken with each other. Stone Heart has taken a different position and Mad Dog has a new second named Sharp, and she sounds worse than Queen Bee."
She paused so that he could react.
"What's the problem?" he asked, trying to absorb everything she had been withholding from him.
Marinette blinked, a little hurt. "The problem is that this is my third squad in about a year! I'm not moving around because a new squad leader thinks I'm great and wants to steal me from my old squad; I'm moving because my old captain is sick of putting up with me. I'm not lucky, Agreste; not good luck, anyway."
"Luck-" he said quietly before he stopped himself. It had been months since she heard him utter her secret name, and just as long since she had done the same. Anything they said through their flyers' comm system was recorded in case things went sour. Likewise, anything spoken to or from a quarantine cell could be observed by the medical staff in case it triggered a reaction in the patient. The lack of privacy was not usually so insurmountable, but it had built up.
"Look," he tried again, "you know how I feel about you and luck. I'll get out of here and we can figure it out together."
Marinette tried to smile but it came out as a wince. There was very little opportunity for togetherness in their future. They were no longer partners; they were no longer on the same squad.
Agreste could read from her expression that she was upset but when he asked her what was wrong, she refused to say, soon making her excuses and leaving. Stuck in the quarantine cell, Agreste could only watch her go.
Marinette basically missed Agreste's release party. The blue squad had changed their shift at the last minute and suddenly she was on duty during the gathering. She tried to make it up to him by hanging out in the medical bay with him before her shift started, keeping him company while they waited for the last set of test results to come back clean. She brought a tray of cupcakes that were more frosting than anything else and listened to Agreste warn the doctors and technicians that he wanted first, second, and third pick before anybody else could select a treat.
Then she had to go. Jagged might be lenient to her being a few minutes late, but Trouble would not. And Jagged had too much respect for and dependence on Trouble to override any punishment Ladybug might receive for being tardy.
The shift was not hard despite her wishing she was elsewhere, but at the end of it, Marinette couldn't believe that it was worth her time to be there as opposed to elsewhere. She went back to her quarters afterwards. She intentionally had not made plans to meet up with Agreste in the next day because she knew he needed to rest more than he needed to talk with her. When Agreste wanted to see her, he'd send her a ping or possibly stop by the hangar. She wasn't the only person who was looking forward to seeing him up and about again.
Tom and Sabine Dupain-Cheng were making breakfast when she walked in. Despite their shifts being out of sync, she had no compunction against eating breakfast for dinner, and quickly changed out of her uniform to help out.
As she set their small table, there was a knock on the door. Her mother answered it, exclaiming, "Agreste!" in greeting.
He sheepishly apologized for interrupting but he couldn't sleep and wanted to thank them for all the frosting they had provided for his party even though they had not been able to attend. The earthlings smiled at his appreciation and Tom asked if he wanted to share their meal. Agreste agreed without a second thought and joined them at the table.
It was strange for Marinette to see him in that setting. With her frequent visits to the medical bay, the physical changes to Agreste's person had been gradual. But here in her own home, after an absence of months, the weight loss was obvious. That, coupled with his very blatant fatigue, made him look far weaker than she expected.
"Are you growing your hair out?" Tom asked him. "It's nearly as long as Marinette's."
Agreste laughed a little and pushed some food around his plate. "I'll have to cut it short again before I report for active duty, but Tikki says that is a month away at least."
"Well, I think it looks very handsome," Sabine complimented him.
Agreste twitched his ears in a smile and continued eating. However, after a few bites to taste everything, his energy started flagging. His fatigue was soon noticeable and the Dupain-Chengs asked if he was feeling okay.
"I'm fine," he said. "It's just that I've been moved to Gore's room and he doesn't sleep soundly."
Marinette felt bad for her bestie. Rest was an important part of his recovery.
"If you're tired now, maybe you should try to go to sleep," suggested Sabine.
"Are you sure?" he asked politely. "I mean, you invited me to eat with you."
"You've been sick and are still recovering," Tom pointed out. "There's no need to stand on ceremony at a time like this. Rest up."
"Oh, okay." Agreste stood up and began to gather his plate and cup but Marinette stopped him.
"It's okay, Agreste," she told him with a gentle smile. "We've got this. You just go and get some sleep."
Agreste nodded and mumbled his, "good night," and turned around… And walked into Marinette's room, closing the door behind him.
Marinette stared at her bedroom door with wide eyes, trying not to gape. He… he had just gone into her room like he lived there, right in front of her parents. Sure, he was drunk on sleep deprivation, but how was she supposed to explain this? Tom and Sabine had no idea that Agreste had practically moved in before he got stuck in quarantine
It was the sound of her mother snickering that forced Marinette to look at her parents.
The both of them were laughing, shoulders shaking; the humor made more acute by the fact that they didn't want to be loud.
"That poor boy," Sabine finally gasped, wiping away tears of mirth.
"He's too tired to know up from down," Tom agreed.
Her parents were amused, and it baffled her. "You're okay with Agreste staying here?" she asked.
"As long as you don't mind, i don't mind, Sweetie" said Tom. "He's in no condition to go anywhere right now."
Sabine made a noise of agreement. "Perhaps we should send a message to the other Noir so they know where he is, in case they think he's gone missing."
Marinette hadn't expected her parents to be so at ease with the situation. "Let me check on him, make sure he gets the hammock set up safely," she said, excusing herself from the table.
In her room, Agreste had managed to get his shirt off but had stopped there, too tired to figure out the next step.
"Minou, have a seat," she told him, guiding him to the chair.
Rather than taking it, however, he wrapped his arms around her in a heavy hug. "Lucky, I missed you."
She let him hang on her for a bit with her face buried in the hair of his collar, until his weight began to press on her. He might have lost mass during the last few months, but he was still bigger than her. "Come on, Minou," she said, patting his back and giving him one more squeeze, "sit down so I can hang the guest hammock and you can get some sleep."
He dropped slowly into the chair and slouched as he watched her get ready. When she was done arranging the blankets for him to nest in, he said, "Lucky, move out with me."
Marinette stopped and looked at him. A lot of thoughts flew through her mind at a rapid pace, but the only one that mattered was the one she gave voice to:
"I would love to. You don't even have to ask."
That is where I plan to end this. There's probably more to it, but it's a nice resting point and I want to focus on other projects. Thank you for humoring my writing experiment. I hope everyone who read it enjoyed it. If you really enjoyed it, please drop a comment in the box.