Hawkmoth was really becoming a pain in the butt now. For the past month and a half, he had been sending out akumas every other night, disrupting Ladybug and Chat Noir's sleep.
Maybe it wasn't the strongest akuma every time- in fact, most of the time, they seemed like bottom-of-the-barrel akumas, low on both powers and creativity- but that didn't change the fact that it dragged the superheroes out of bed and woke them up enough that they lost at least an hour every time. The akumas during the day didn't drop off, either, and between that and all of his civilian responsibilities and activities, Adrien was starting to feel more than a little bit spread thin.
It was exhausting, and he had to wonder how long he would be able to keep it up before he simply collapsed from exhaustion in the middle of- well, anywhere. At school, at a photoshoot, during fencing, in the middle of an akuma attack.
If he could make it to summer, Adrien was pretty certain that he could get caught back up again. But the problem was going to be getting to summer, which was still several months away. His friends were already starting to notice that something was wrong, and if they were noticing, then Adrien was willing to bet that it wouldn't be long before-
"Adrien, your last several photoshoots have been completely subpar. Your father is quite displeased with your work."
-his father's staff noticed, too.
Nathalie looked completely disapproving as she set a folder down on the table next to Adrien. A couple photos peeked out from the top. Peeking out from under the folder was the edge of another piece of paper, probably an updated schedule of what Adrien was expected to accomplish for the week.
"I understand that most of the photoshoots have been early, Adrien, but that's because we're trying to schedule around your other activities," Nathalie chided him, tugging out the piece of paper, and- yep, it looked like Adrien was right. Another photoshoot had been added, it looked like, and an additional fitting. Not that the fitting was really necessary, since the photoshoot was going to be with stuff he had worn before, but that hardly made a difference to the Gabriel staff. "Either we continue doing photoshoots before school, or we'll have to start pulling you out in the middle of the day to get them done while there's still decent light."
"No, then I'll fall behind!" Adrien protested, his mind already spinning with dread at the thought of how much more difficult keeping up with everything would be if he got pulled during school. He would have to stay up even later than he already was to catch up on the class that he was missing on top of what he missed during akuma attacks, and then- well, he could say good-bye to sleep, probably. "I can't miss class!"
He was only just making things work now. The mere idea of missing more class- and several hours for each photoshoot, probably, and in the middle of the day when he had his toughest classes- had panic welling up in Adrien's throat. The walls might as well be closing in on him, and his heartrate was already picking up.
Nathalie set the schedule down, fixing Adrien with a stern look. "Then we expect that you actually look awake and engaged during photoshoots. I don't see why that's a difficult thing to accomplish, it shouldn't be that hard-"
It shouldn't be that hard. Oh, really? Frustration welled up, sudden and overwhelming and shoving his growing panic to the side. Just like that, something inside of Adrien snapped, and he slapped his fork down on the table hard enough to make the entire setting rattle.
"Why is it a difficult thing to not look like I'm falling asleep? Maybe it's because I am falling asleep! And why would I not be?"
"Really-" Nathalie started, eyes rolling heavenward in clear exasperation, but Adrien didn't let her finish. His frustration had properly taken over now, words spilling out completely without his permission.
"I have a million and one activities that I need to be giving 100% in, all the time. I have to get up crazy early for photoshoots so that we can get them done before school, and we've been doing way more of those than usual because of all of the shoots that we have to redo because Father thought that it would be a good idea to humor Lila and let her participate even though she couldn't model at all. For some reason, you've decided that waking me up early or pulling me out of school makes more sense than pulling me out of fencing or skipping Mandarin or piano lessons for a week, or even just using some other model instead." It was all quite infuriating, really. It was hardly as though there weren't other teen models that had practically the same measurements as Adrien, and it wasn't as if his father couldn't make the executive decision to swap out models for a couple shoots. "And pulling me out of school is even more of a bad idea right now than it's ever been before! Do you want to know why?"
"Adrien-" Nathalie tried to cut in again, sighing, but- well, Adrien was tired and fed up and frustrated and just really, really tired and he wasn't going to let her get a word in edgewise.
"We've fallen even more behind schedule in classes than we did last year because of the akuma attacks," Adrien told her, jutting his chin out stubbornly. "And the teachers don't want the school year to extend into summer vacation again like it did last year, so they're trying to catch us up by cramming more and more into lessons during the day and giving us more homework and having us take online courses to help catch up even more. And that means hours more homework every evening and then I can't get to bed on time, even if I don't have extra lessons that day. And then when akumas show up at night- well, it's not like I can just sleep through a supervillain rampaging through the streets, can I? It wakes me up! Every! Single! Time!"
Nathalie paused, leaning back in her seat. "Oh. I see-"
"So if father is displeased by my work, well- tell him to make the nighttime akuma attacks stop, and maybe I'll actually be able to get enough sleep to do a decent job during photoshoots!"
With that, Adrien pushed himself up from the table- he didn't have an appetite anymore, and he had eaten most of his dinner anyway- and headed up to his room before Nathalie could respond. Once he was on his own, Adrien let out a long breath and slumped into the chair at his desk, massaging his temples as though that could make the headache that was starting up go away. Plagg floated out of his jacket, eyeing Adrien cautiously.
"Are you okay, kid?"
"Yeah, yeah, just- just tired," Adrien admitted, turning to his computer. He might as well at least pretend to get some schoolwork done before Nathalie came up to chide him for being disrespectful. "And then Nathalie deciding that now is a great time to add more to my plate- well, I'm a bit tired of it. So I blew up. Not that it'll do me any good."
"You don't think so?"
Adrien snorted. "What, do you think that Nathalie and Father will suddenly grow a heart and back off on my schedule? That's unlikely. They're going to get mad at me for being 'emotional' and blowing things out of proportion, I just know it. Emotional and also being unreasonable at the end there. Like, out of everything in the city that my father can actually control, making the night attacks stop isn't exactly one of them. And bringing that up as though he can actually make that happen as some sort of solution... well, he's going to see that as being emotional and ridiculous and immature. It's not like he can treat Hawkmoth and his akumas just like he does any other problem and just throw money at it to make nighttime akumatizations stop."
"Huh." Plagg considered that, then shrugged. "Well, at least Nathalie has a better idea of what you have on your plate now, with all of the school stuff. Maybe that'll make a difference in her planning, even if she does scold you for getting emotional about it."
"Yeah, maybe." Adrien glanced towards the door, honestly surprised that Nathalie hadn't followed him up yet, then turned back to his computer. "If only I could get so lucky."
Downstairs, Nathalie slowly pushed herself to her feet, each movement slow and deliberate as her brain muddled through the shock.
She had thought that they had been careful. They had figured that having Adrien out of the house would lessen his chances of stumbling on their secret. Making Mr. Agreste largely unreachable and his schedule unpredictable- and pretending that he had gone out of the country when he really hadn't- was supposed to ensure that no one found out about their secret identities unless they told someone. And yet, despite how careful they had been, despite all of their precautions...
There was no other way to interpret Adrien's words, of that she was sure.
Nathalie knocked on Mr. Agreste's office door, then let herself in. Across the room, Mr. Agreste glanced up.
"Nathalie- what's wrong?"
"Sir, there's a problem," Nathalie told him, now starting to tremble. If Adrien knew- well, they hadn't explained everything to him. Adrien didn't know what was at stake, or how important it was for Hawkmoth to win. There was no way for them to know who else he had told, or if he had figured out what Hawkmoth's goal was. If he got mad at them and decided that revenge was more important than saving his mom... well, the police could be on them in under an hour. He hadn't yet, probably because he didn't want to lose his father, but- well, Adrien sounded close to cracking from the stress he was under. That put them in a much more dangerous position. "Your son- he- he's figured out your secret identity."
Adrien was officially baffled.
Overnight, Hawkmoth had practically done an about-face. There were no more akuma attacks after 8pm or before 9 in the morning, and they seemed to have dropped back to normal, pre-Heroes Day levels of akumatizations. The concentrated efforts to simply run the superheroes into the ground and defeat them that way just... stopped.
Not that Adrien didn't appreciate it! Because he totally, totally did. He had managed to get caught up on pretty much everything and do his first better-than-decent photoshoot in weeks. The timing was perfect, too, because he and Ladybug had both been pretty close to collapse. If they had continued at the same rate for even a week longer, Hawkmoth probably would have been able to get their Miraculous with no problem at all.
He and Mayura had no way of knowing that, of course. Ladybug and Chat Noir had always done their best to hide their exhaustion during akuma battles so that he wouldn't know when to press his advantage. So maybe Hawkmoth had expected them to cave sooner and had decided that their campaign of exhaustion wasn't going to work. Maybe the supervillain himself was getting really tired of staying up at night to try to find anyone who could possibly be akumatized. Maybe Hawkmoth was getting in just as much trouble at work as Adrien was getting in at school because of his absences and exhaustion.
Whatever it was, Adrien wasn't going to complain. He appreciated the break, and he was finally feeling properly human again. Ladybug clearly felt the same, if her more relaxed attitude during attacks was any indication.
Would it be better to have no akuma attacks and to have Hawkmoth (and Mayura) behind bars, or at least have a lead ? Of course- that was the ideal, after all, as long as he and Ladybug still hung out on a regular (and frequent) basis. But at least this was so much better than what it had been before.
He wasn't going to complain, but he was going to be a bit suspicious. Was Hawkmoth planning something? Ladybug certainly seemed to think so, and Chat Noir was inclined to agree. Both of them agreed to take the reprieve to relax a bit, but also not let themselves relax so much that they weren't catching up and getting ahead a bit with their civilian responsibilities. They didn't know when the other boot would drop, after all.
So when Nathalie approached Adrien after dinner with her tablet and a schedule balanced on top after several weeks of slow akuma attacks and also a relaxed civilian schedule, he was reading ahead for his Literature class, able to properly enjoy the story for the first time in a while. He glanced up as she approached, tucking a bookmark in to mark his spot before setting the book aside.
"Catching up on classes still?" Nathalie inquired, setting her tablet down. Adrien shook his head.
"Working ahead, actually," he told her, glancing at the schedule- or rather, schedules- that were balanced on top of her tablet. There seemed to be two versions, and Adrien had to wonder if she wanted to gauge how much he would be able to do- and do to a good quality- before settling on one or another. Or maybe she wanted his input, which- well, that would be new, and much appreciated. "So I can feel a little less stressed if things get busy again."
"Very good." Nathalie nodded in approval, then picked up the schedules. "So I wanted to talk to you about your schedule for the upcoming week. As requested, your father has stopped akumatizing people at night-"
Adrien's mind screeched to a dead halt, even as Nathalie kept talking, explaining the two versions of the schedule. He- he couldn't have heard that right, except- well, there was nothing else that she could have said, but why on earth would she just-just throw that out like it was the most normal thing in the world? "I- I'm sorry, what?"
Nathalie paused, her brow furrowing briefly, and then something that looked rather like worry spread across her face. "Uh..."
Adrien shot to his feet, even as he started feeling woozy from- from what, exactly, he couldn't put his finger on and there were more important things to think about anyway. "Did- you said that Father stopped akumatizing people at night! Father- he's Hawkmoth! Oh my god, I can't- I can't believe this-" The walls were closing in on him. He'd been fighting his father this whole time. His father had been the one behind the mask when Hawkmoth came out and tried to hurt them. Which meant- oh god. Which meant that Nathalie was Mayura.
He wasn't safe in this house.
"Ah, I mean, uh..." Nathalie stammered all of a sudden, clearly about to backpedal, but her expression- well, it gave away that yes, he had totally heard correctly the first time. "That is..."
Adrien turned and bolted.
Nathalie felt like she was about to faint as she approached Gabriel's office on unsteady legs. Out of all the mistakes that she had ever made during her career- during her entire life, really- none were anywhere near as serious as the one that she had just made. Part of her wondered if it might be smarter to simply turn around and flee the city- or maybe even the country- instead of facing up to her mistakes.
But she had to warn Gabriel. It- it was the responsible thing to do. They had held off on sharing more information with Adrien before just because they had figured that he wasn't going to run off and tell anyone- if he hadn't before, then surely he had figured out why his father was Hawkmoth and had at least partially approved- and because he was busy and Gabriel hadn't wanted to distract Adrien while he was catching up on schoolwork and redoing much-needed modelling shoots last-minute. Now, though?
Adrien hadn't reacted to the news well, though maybe that was to be expected considering the way that Nathalie had shared it, and she hadn't been able to pull herself together in time to convince Adrien that what his father was doing was actually good. That meant that their entire plan was in danger, and it would take both her and Gabriel to get any decent damage control done.
If it wasn't already too late, that was. She- well, she had been so in shock over the realization that Adrien hadn't known that several minutes at least had passed by before she had been able to move.
Gabriel glanced up as she entered, and immediately straightened with a frown. "Nathalie? Are you feeling unwell? You look like you're about to collapse."
Nathalie nodded, then shook her head, forcing herself over to Gabriel. He was going to be furious, she just knew it, but there was no getting around it. "Sir, it appears that, ah." She paused, struggling with what she should say. "It appears that there has been a, ah, misunderstanding."
Gabriel frowned at once. "A misunderstanding about what? I thought you were just going to talk to Adrien about his schedule, surely whatever misunderstanding you had can't have been... that..." He trailed off, following her gaze towards his painting of Emilie, and then his face turned white. "No. Not that. There can't- no. Nathalie, tell me that there wasn't a misunderstanding about the Hawkmoth situation! That- it's impossible!"
"I'm sorry, sir," Nathalie managed, her voice dropping to a whisper. An angry Gabriel was like a thundercloud, ready to lash out at anyone and anything at any moment. "I didn't think that there was any other way to interpret what Adrien said before, but he- he must have been being sarcastic or something, I don't know-"
"We have to fix this," Gabriel announced, pushing himself to his feet and reaching for his brooch, rubbing it almost absentmindedly as he headed across the room. "We've come so far, there's no way that we can let our whole plan fail over a misunderstanding!"
Nathalie nodded at once, pushing herself to her feet. She followed Gabriel towards the door, eager to help rectify her mistake. Before they could get far, though, the ground shook violently under their feet, hard enough to fling them off of their feet. Gabriel and Nathalie both flailed, trying to grab for anything and everything that might help them get their balance back.
And then a bright light flashed across the room, and then- well, then there was nothing.
It didn't take Ladybug and Chat Noir long to recover the Butterfly and Peacock from the rubble of the Agreste Mansion, along with the rest of the Miraculous-related things that Mr. Agreste had accumulated. Nooroo was quite a bit of help in finding things, though- well, the fact that the mansion was a tiny bit destroyed from a combination of Cataclysm and the Dragon's lightning made navigating their way around a tiny bit difficult, at least until Ladybug cast her Cure and put everything back together again.
"The lightning probably would have been sufficient," Nooroo commented dryly as Ladybug tucked yet another scroll away in the pocket dimension of her yo-yo, followed by the tablet that she recognized as Master Fu's. "It would have knocked them out, and you would have been able to accomplish everything just the same."
"And deny Chat Noir the opportunity to be dramatic?" Ladybug asked in amusement. "Never."
"And they might have dodged the lightning if they hadn't already been knocked off-balance by Cataclysm!" Longg chirped from their spot on Ladybug's shoulder, where they were chomping down on a biscuit to recharge. "It was quite the nice combination. And it got the police's attention, didn't it?"
They all glanced out the window, where red and blue lights still flashed outside of the gates. The two superheroes had carried the knocked-out former supervillains out to the waiting ambulances and police cars earlier, just to get them out of the way, and Mr. Agreste and Nathalie had been hauled away at once. The superheroes had given enough of a statement that the duo would be able to be held overnight, but they would probably have to go in to the station in the morning and talk to the police a bit more in order for them to file charges. Now, only a lone car remained, keeping the gawkers away while the superheroes finished up.
"It felt pretty satisfying," Chat Noir admitted. He had recharged once the mansion's walls went back up and he could run to his room to grab some cheese out of his mini-fridge. He shifted closer to Ladybug. "Though I didn't exactly intend to get my room, too. It just got a little out of control."
"Which is understandable. And it got fixed anyway." Ladybug did one last glance around the room, then snapped her yo-yo shut. "I think that's everything. And it's not like we're not going to be able to come back."
Chat Noir let out a shaky breath. "Right. Well, uh..." He floundered for a moment, glancing away and then back. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow, then?"
Ladybug blinked at him, openly puzzled. "What are you talking about, Chat Noir? You're coming home with me, obviously. I'm not letting my kitty go home to an empty house."
Ten minutes later, Marinette found herself trying to calm down an incredibly excited Adrien so that he wouldn't wake up her parents with his bouncing around her room. He was over the moon about learning Ladybug's identity, and even more so because she was Marinette instead of- well, literally anyone else.
Marinette was pretty sure that she was permanently red now thanks to all of Adrien's gushing after they landed in her room and she detransformed. It- well, it was a lot. And yes, it was really flattering that he had such a high opinion of her, but- but he was just so incredibly passionate about it and it was Adrien's sweetness and Chat Noir's enthusiasm and heart-on-his-sleeve-ness and it was just- it was a little overwhelming. Add in the fact that he had clearly picked up on her crush at some point, and- well, despite his father's and Nathalie's arrests, Adrien was clearly walking on air.
Eventually, though, Marinette managed to steer Adrien into bed. He passed out almost as soon as his head hit the pillow- too much excitement and ping-ponging emotions had clearly exhausted him- and Marinette was left lying next to him, petting Adrien's hair as he burrowed into her side and trying to process everything that had happened in the last couple of hours.
Maybe most of the time, misunderstandings- well, big misunderstandings, at least- weren't exactly a positive thing. But this time?
Well, this time, it probably couldn't have gone any better.
a/n: ...well, SOMEONE isn't going to be getting her Christmas bonus this year. Both for 'giving away her boss's biggest secret' reasons and 'in jail and therefore unemployed' reasons.
(More the latter than the former, but hey, details.)
As with most of my stories, this is a one-shot and therefore complete. And as always, comments make my day!