"Miau".

Alya opened her eyes.

A mismatched pair of eyes stared back at her, from just in front of her nose.

She blinked. Alya usually came awake pretty well, unlike her best friend. But... this was new. Last she knew, she did not have a cat.

She peered around the cat. This was definitely her bedroom, where she'd fallen asleep way too late last night after hanging out with Nino at the all-ages youth dance-off. Her wall clock said it was seven in the morning. She could hear Ella and Etta's raucous attempts at breakfast in the next room and her sister attempting to keep them in line. Nothing seemed any different. Except for the cat. She pulled an arm out of the blankets and scooped the cat against her, sitting up. Surprisingly the cat didn't struggle away. But neither did it relax. It looked at her again, and batted her on the cheek with a soft sheathed paw.

"Miau".

The cat was... well, odd. It was patched red and black, with one bright blue eye and one electric green eye. There was a black circle around its left forepaw... no, wait. That was an actual metal band. The cat flicked its ears at her, and that's when she noticed. The cat had earrings.

Ladybug-spotted earrings.

Either this was a very complicated prank, or...

Whichever. She said to the cat "I need coffee for this", and pulled herself out of bed. The cat leapt from her arms as she moved, and sauntered along with her. Sticking her head out of her room, she yelled "Hey, did we get a cat?"

Her sister called back "Not exactly. It was at the window and the twins let it in. Catch it and I'll put it out again."

"No hurry. I'll do it. I just need a coffee first."

The usual coffee pot was ready on the counter, and Alya poured herself a mug, then added extra sugar. The cat brushed against her feet.

"Sorry, mogwai. Cats can't have coffee." The cat seemed to purr at the name. Which added an extra suspicion to the ones her tired brain was piling up in a big neon-lit heap. "Come on, let's go talk this over", she said with a yawn.

"Talk over what?" Nora asked.

"Not you, the cat", Alya replied. "I need to look up if there was an akuma last night after I went to bed."

"There was", Nora replied. "I saw it on my feed this morning. Someone was releasing stray animals".

"Right", Alya nodded. "I'll be out to help you with the twins as soon as I'm dressed."

"Don't take long", Nora said. "I've got to go for my run shortly."

Back in her room, Alya carefully closed the door. "Right", she said. "I'm going to get dressed. If you are who I think you are..."

The cat leapt up onto her bed, turned around on the spot to press a space out in the blankets, then lay down with its back to her and closed its eyes.

Alya had never gotten dressed so rapidly, and she had two little sisters who liked to take your clothes and run away with them before you could put them on. "OK", she said. "Where do you want to start? Food, sleep, water? A... litterbox?"

She could swear that the blue eye rolled at her. The green eye however just winked slowly.

"Thanks for trusting me, I guess?" she said. "Let me load the news, I'd better find out what I missed. The scoop of the century is sitting on my bed!"

"Miau". It sounded a little wearied.

"OK, OK, I'll calm down. But you've got to admit this is AMAZING!"

"Miau".

"Right. Um. So... how about one blink for yes, two for no?"

The cat winked at her. Then it winked with the other eye.

"Ohhhh...kay. So. Are both of you in there?"

Again, a wink with each eye, not quite in time.

"I'm going to take that as a yes. And also that blinking won't work because I can't tell if it's one or two when you're both doing it at different times." The cat just yawned in response.

Alya pulled up a browser window. "So... stray animals started appearing on the street, but nobody knows exactly when because they weren't paying attention. Then a crowd of people who were hanging around outside Clara Nightingale's hotel got hit and turned into random animals, and it was caught on camera." The akumatised person looked surprisingly normal at first glance in the night light, until Alya realised that the "raincoat" they were wearing was actually part of their own body. "There's been no reported sign of Ladybug or Chat Noir, and shortly after the hotel incident the akuma went to ground."

"Miau."

Alya rubbed her temples. "Tell me if I'm wrong, but let me guess. You guys turned up, but the akuma saw you before you saw them."

The cat began to wash its paw furiously, not meeting her eyes with either eye.

"Admission of guilt right there", she grinned. "And here you are... with your Miraculouses. Hawkmoth must be furious."

There was a banging on her door. "Alya! You said you'd take us with you to Marinette's house!"

"You know she won't be awake before 10, you little tricksters! Just let me get dressed and I'll come play with you", Alya called back. She turned to the cat. "I'm sorry, but it's my sisters". She shrugged. "You know them already, I think. I'm going to have to look after them. Tell you what. Marinette's my friend, but she likes to sleep in. So if you come with me when we go out, we can do whatever it is you need before going to her house. She won't wake up until I get there anyway."

There was another banging on the door, and the cat's ears flattened. Alya smiled. "Stay in here. I'll close the door, sneak you some food in and you can sleep til we leave. Deal?"

The cat leapt up, rubbed its face against her and put a paw on her leg. In all seriousness she put a finger against the paw, and they "shook".