Fortunately, even though Sabrina was a fraction too late to stop her friend from toppling head-over-heels and colliding with the rock, her reaction afterwards couldn't be faulted.
First of all, she put an unconscious Chloe in the recovery position and loosened her tight yellow jacket, so as to avoid the risk of choking. It looked like attentively sitting through those first aid lessons which most of the class saw as a free period had really paid dividends.
Then, using her cellphone (Chloe's mobile was locked, and the blonde would never have trusted Sabrina with her four-digit code) she first rang the emergency number, then her Dad's personal line. Having witnessed firsthand her bestie's graphic fall, she needed comfort from someone close to her that she trusted.
Then, it was just a case of holding Chloe's hand to tearfully wait for the ambulance service to arrive. As well as make sure the patient was regularly breathing and not in too much discomfort, of course.
Sure enough, the emergency vehicle arrived very rapidly, and it wasn't long before trained medics were lifting Chloe's comatose body onto a trolley and fitting breathing apparatus. Whether they made a special effort to get there quicker upon hearing the mayor's daughter was the victim who knows, but they deserved plentiful credit anyway.
All through this pandemonium, Sabrina's ears were ringing with questions about the exact chain of events which led to this tragedy, and she thought she answered them ably enough. But her mind was so preoccupied with repeated images of Chloe's head connecting with the stone accompanied by a sickening thud, it was difficult to tell.
Instead, she began dwelling on stupid, pointless things… like the blonde having her clothes cut off inside the ambulance: she'll not like that when she wakes up, that's her favorite outfit. Or whether the redhead's mother would be upset at her late for dinner that evening: I hope she puts the beef casserole in the microwave for me.
Such trivialities obviously were as nothing compared to the health and well-being of her bestie, but at least they provided ample distraction for the distressed girl as her father pulled up in his squad car nearby. Soon, all she knew was warm cuddles, loving strokes of the cheek and firm reassurances that 'everything would be alright'.
Looking at the giant bump on Chloe's head however, and her still as-yet unresponsive form, it was difficult to believe that solemn vow with any degree of certainty.
Word swiftly spread around the schoolroom the next morning, and the general reaction was one of shock and sadness. Even though it could be said with some degree of accuracy that Chloe wasn't the most popular student, there wasn't a soul there that was mean enough to wish something like this to befall the stuck-up blonde.
A large 'Get Well Soon' card was quickly passed around the various desks to be signed by everyone, and it wasn't too long before every square inch was covered with the scrawlings of her peers wishing her a hasty recovery.
Even Lila, often the bane of the school with her constant lies and manipulations seemed genuinely upset whilst putting her name down. Her only real contact with Chloe was involving her in another convoluted scheme for Hawkmoth to steal the Bee Miraculous… how tragic if the blonde died, and that was the only meaningful contribution the Italian had made to her life.
In another less surprising announcement, a noticeably ashen Miss Bustier also announced that Sabrina was also taking some time off to deal with her 'issues' of witnessing the traumatic incident. This would mark the first time ever that a double-seat in her class would be empty: a poignant reminder of the absent pair of usually maligned girls who sat there.
The determined teacher tried to carry on with business as normal, but a grey cloud hung over proceedings from the second her pupils opened their books. Chloe's constant catty remarks and accompanying sniggers from Sabrina drove everyone crazy just yesterday… how they wanted to hear those obnoxious snobs tease everyone once again.
It's funny how you can simultaneously hate something but then miss it when it's gone, isn't it?
"Tikki, I can't help but feel this is somehow partly my fault…" Marinette whispered to her spotted kwami in her backpack, when she saw that everyone else was too down-in-the-dumps to pay attention. "If I'd just let Chloe down gently earlier instead of letting her follow me around all that time, and then lose my temper to put her in a bad mood, maybe none of this would've ever…"
"You're doing it again, Marinette. Putting the weight of the world on your shoulders." Tikki shook her tiny head at her conscientious Chosen. "It was Chloe's choice and Chloe's choice alone for her to chase you around the city, and from what I heard you said exactly the right things yesterday. Accidents can happen to anyone, and while what happened is terrible, don't think for a second you bore any responsibility for it."
"T-Thanks Tikki, you always offer the best advice and say it like it is." Marinette tickled her beloved kwami under the chin in gratitude, but even as Tikki giggled from the attention, the bluenette was already putting a plan together in her head.
If Chloe's in a coma at the hospital, I can't see what harm it would do for Ladybug to put in a personal appearance at her bedside tonight. Hearing my voice might even help her wake up, and if I could do that, it might alleviate some of the guilt gnawing in my brain. I just have to get Tikki in a good enough mood, then she'll have to agree to my proposal…
Meanwhile, as Marinette mulled over the arrangements for that evening, just a few seats away was Adrien discussing something very similar with a certain cheese-loving feline.
"...So it's agreed then. I'll go to the hospital tonight to check in on Chloe, and we'll watch that three-hour documentary 'The Best Of Brie' at a later date. Okay?"
"We never get to spend any time together anymore! I feel cheated on! Ignored! Cast aside! Rejected! What a way to spend my twilight years." Plagg said in the bag, with his back turned and his little paws folded petulantly. "Anyway, what makes you think your blonde chum isn't lying about this situation, like she has about many others? It could be just another foolish ploy to win your sympathy by getting you to go out with her."
"Plagg, I hardly think Chloe, as good an actress as this is, could fool an entire ward full of medical experts. I also know Sabrina well enough to tell you she'd never lie about something this serious." Adrien frowned at his stubborn kwami, quite sure he didn't grasp the gravity of the matter. "In any case, I won't just ignore my oldest friend in her hour of need! Now, are you going to accompany me there, or force me to take drastic action? I can cancel the regular Camembert order at any time, you know…"
"Me-ow-arrgh! Okay okay, I'll do it." Plagg might seem tough, but all it took was a plausible threat of being deprived of anything dairy-related for him to fold like a deckchair. "You better make up for this later, though. I was kind of thinking… A cheesy disco party! With a roll of cheese for the best dancer, naturally. I can't wait to 'strut my stuff', as they say!"
"Even if I did agree to this hare-brained scheme, aren't you forgetting something Plagg? You couldn't enter because you're supposed to remain a closely-guarded secret… wait, why am I even discussing this?" Adrien could've facepalmed into his desk at the banality of this pointless exchange. "Chloe might be on death's door, and all you can think about is cheese, cheese, cheese. Well, it's really 'cheesing' me off. Have you no shame?"
"Is that some kind of dip? I think I tried some once. Didn't care for the flavor… it was like Stilton without the sharp aftertaste." Plagg seemed unconcerned with Adrien's mood, until he caught a glimpse of moisture in his eyes. "... Oh very well, we can go. I can see you're going to be a pain to be with until you have peace of mind. Tell you what I'll do: I'll even bring some cheesy niblets for the patient that I've been saving for a rainy day. So much better than a bowl of mouldy old fruit! I only opened them last weekend, so they should be half-fresh at the very least. Isn't that so nice of me?"
"Oh Plagg, you're all heart. What would I do without you?" Adrien was possibly the least snarky person in existence, but the cat kwami's perpetual jibes were really grating on his nerves.
"I know, right? Tell that to Fu, he never appreciated me the way you do. Now, pass the crackers please. I think I have some Cheddar left over from my last elevenses." If Plagg picked up on his Chosen's disgruntled tone, he chose not to acknowledge it, preferring instead to tuck into the remains of yesterday's meal.
Now, that was a kitty with his priorities in order.
It was a little difficult for Ladybug to navigate around the vast press pack gathered the hospital, even with her ability to swing silently through the night skies. The last thing she wanted was to attract attention away from the poor girl resting inside with a major concussion, so she planned to make the visit as brief and low-key as possible.
In a news report she'd seen just before setting off from the bakery, she'd discovered that 'Miss Bourgeois' had a private suite on the third floor of the building, closely guarded by the mayor's own private security people. As a registered VIP, he'd made sure that his precious was being kept far away from the common 'riff-raff' and had even hired the best doctors in Paris to make sure she recovered soon from her injuries.
He was interviewed of course, looking distraught in front of the microphone with tears running down his puffed-up cheeks. All meetings were cancelled, every engagement was postponed and all flags would be flown at half-mast(!) until the 'much-loved humble' blonde finally woke to see another day.
If Marinette wasn't sure it was Andre on television, she could've sworn he was discussing someone else.
Audrey Bourgeois seemed notably less engaged with the journalist, complaining about 'having to halt a vital trip to Rome Fashion Week' and trying to spend as little time in front of the camera as possible. Marinette was sure the acclaimed fashionista was still too stunned to show how depressed she was over Chloe's accident, and the floodgates would open later when left alone in the privacy of the room where her daughter slept on.
At least, that's what the bluenette hoped. No mother could be that unemotional… could they?
Marinette shook the negative thought out of her head. The most important thing now was to concentrate on Chloe's health, and right now a special visitation from her No.1 hero (apart from herself) could just be what the doctor ordered (pun not intended).
Finding the large room was a piece of cake. It was off the south wing, well-lit with modern facilities and wonderful views of the Seine river lapping just underneath.
As an added bit of luck, there appeared to be an open window nearby, which was just the right size for an insect-themed superhero to flip through. You might be able to hire the most elite group of guards in Paris, but even they can occasionally forget to close a window left ajar by a nurse for fresh air.
Ladybug landed on her feet with style, and wasted no time in tiptoeing over to where an almost unrecognisable Chloe lay dozing, connected to all manner of complicated machinery.
In a kind of perverse way though, perhaps it was better for the blonde to be out for the count for now. If she could see herself in a mirror, she would surely have a heart attack to go along with her head injury.
Hair untied and half-shaved off… big, ugly scar on the left side of her temple… wearing a cheap white standard-issue gown which would probably rank high on her list of fashion atrocities…
Despite her inner hesitancy, Ladybug persevered until she was right alongside the napping girl. Having not prepared a speech in advance or having a clue what to say to her longtime bully, she tried to conjure a few words of comfort on the spot which would hopefully help Chloe out of the dark void she was currently in and back intact to the land of the living.
"I-I always thought, no matter what our differences, there was more to you than meets the eye, Chloe. And you proved it, when you took on the role of Queen Bee to make it your own, despite my initial misgivings. To be honest, I thought you'd be the last person who'd fit the life of a superhero, so thank you for showing me that even the most unrepentant of individuals can achieve redemption. Please wake up soon, I so want to work with you again and witness the fantastic progress you've made continue…"
"Ladybug? Is that you?!" Somehow the spotted heroine had failed to pick up on a half-asleep Adrien Agreste slumped in a chair nearby with a modelling magazine covering his face… until it was too late, that is.
"A-Adrien? What are you doing here?" Ladybug unexpectedly became Marinette for a second, stammering like a nervous wreck and asking quite the stupid question.
"Erm… Chloe was kind of the first friend I ever made, so I'm here to see how she's doing." Adrien seemed taken aback at Ladybug's query, before having one of his own. "What's your excuse?"
"W-Well… I'm visiting one of my favorite fans! Y-Yes, that's it!" Even when telling the truth, when you say it in a certain way it can sound unconvincing. Ladybug hoped this wasn't one of those occasions. "Er, where are Mr and Mrs Bourgeois? I thought they'd be here as well."
"Oh, Chloe's dad popped out for a minute to get something to eat. Poor man hasn't had a bite all day after Chlo-Chlo was brought in, the nurses had to literally drag him to the nearest vending machine. Audrey, on the other hand…" It was at this point that Adrien's mood darkened, and it looked like he was about to hit something. "Look, can we just not talk about this now? Let's change the subject to something else… like, for example, how well do you actually know Chloe?"
"Huh? What's that got to do with anything?" Adrien's demeanour had turned from anger to suspicion on a dime, and she didn't like the way he was staring sceptically at her.
"I don't know. It's just the way you were talking to her just now, it sounded like you knew her very well, almost like… you see her every day?" Adrien slowly rose from his chair to almost stalk Ladybug into the corner. "Is there something you're not telling me? Why go to all this trouble to see her? After all, I doubt she'd do the same herself…"
"Adrien Agreste! What's gotten into you?! I've told you why I'm here! Why can't you accept that?" Ladybug was partially attempting to throw him 'off the scent' as regards her secret identity, but she was starting to worry about his mental state a bit. This sudden outburst was most unlike him.
"O-Oh no! I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!" Adrien's flippant mood swings continued as his eyes filled with tears, and before Ladybug knew what was happening she found herself on the opposite end of a bone-crushing hug. "I-It's just everything is putting me on edge at the moment. Arguing with my Dad to let me come here, the awful things the papers had to say about Chloe, s-seeing her in this state and being unable to help her… and Audrey… it's enough to make me want to…"
"It's okay, It's okay… everything will be okay." Of course Ladybug had no crystal ball to tell if this was the case, but the Marinette part of her brain always thought everything was 'okay', as long as Adrien was by her side. "She'll get better, and everything will be just like it was before. If there's one thing I've learned about Chloe, it's that she's a fighter. A pompous, egotistical, jerky one at times, but definitely someone who'll refuse to give up. Can you see her dying somewhere as 'common' as a hospital bed? I don't think so! She'll want to be surrounded by money, servants, trinkets and other luxuries, after completing her run as Queen Bee and travelling the world in style. Plus, poor Hawkmoth would go out of business if his number one akuma causer suddenly went out of commision! I bet he's as concerned as we are regarding Chloe's fate… in fact, if we wait here, we might catch him sneaking in to visit her in the wee small hours…"
That finally bought a chuckle from the morose model, which to a relieved Marinette was worth far more than any of the riches she'd just described. They continued holding onto each other for a while longer, failing to notice that Adrien's little giggle there had quite the unexpected effect on the status of Chloe's health.
At least, it appeared that way.
"W-What? H-Huh? What's going on? Where am I?" The impromptu sound of Chloe's voice quickly perished the moment between superhero and civilian, causing both to jump in alarm.
"Chloe, you're awake! I thought you'd be sleeping forever! I'm so happy! But, you sound... different." Adrien was overjoyed at his friend's apparently swift recovery, whilst observing her vocals sounded less… 'posh' than before.
"Chloe… it's me, Ladybug. How are you feeling? Would you like a glass of water? Should I go and fetch a doctor?" The spotted superhero blurted out a barrage of questions, attempting to gauge just how well the formerly unconscious blonde felt.
Chloe pondered each of these queries carefully for a few seconds, before treating both of her interrogators to the widest, sunniest grin you can possibly imagine. A megawatt smile that would've looked far more at home on happy-go-lucky Rose than sourpuss Chloe. "I am awfully sorry, you two. I am sure it's my fault because you both seem like such very nice people, but I haven't the faintest idea who either of you are. Would you mind introducing yourselves, please? The girl can start us off, if you like. Ooo, I just love your pyjamas!"
AUTHOR'S NOTE: A super-quick update. Why? Because I love writing this story, and I love you guys of course. ^^
PLEASE keep reading and commenting, it gives me great motivation to update as fast as possible and provide longer chapters if I know people are enjoying my work. :D