Crutches and Clues

Chapter 1

They both knew it was going to end badly when the Akuma shoved her roughly down the side of the steep, rocky drop-off.

She tumbled down, unable to find a solid grip anywhere along the side of the hill to hold onto – it was pouring outside, and the ground was slippery. Her ankle roughly bumped a jagged rock – she heard a crack – and then her descent finally ended, and her body rolled to an undignified stop in a puddle of mud.

Dazed, Ladybug did her best to gather herself, blinking her blurry, red-tinged vision away. She sat up, looked up in time to catch sight of Chat looking down worriedly at her, saw the Akuma behind him poised to attack.

"Look out!" she called, pointing. Chat followed her gaze, eyes narrowing, and he hopped carefully down to join Ladybug at the bottom of the hill's abrupt drop-off.

"You okay?" he asked, raising his staff in preparation. She nodded, realized belatedly that he couldn't see the gesture, and replied with a quick affirmative, moving to stand.

She promptly winced, a sharp pain zapping from her ankle to her entire lower leg, and flopped uselessly back onto the ground.


"Do not defile this park!" called the nature-based Akuma above them. Flowers and branches curled around his arms, with tough-looking stone enveloping him and his tainted amethyst necklace, and around him, rocks and pebbles began to raise off the ground. "It's people like you who hurt this world's natural beauty!"

Ladybug grit her teeth, standing slowly and leaning mostly on her only good foot.

"Okay, I guess I'm not okay," she said. "I think I broke something on my fall." She waved Chat's concerned eyes away. "Focus, Chat! We need to end this before the Akuma can take advantage of us!"

"Right." Chat Noir's eyes locked back on the Akuma above them, and just in time: the Akuma made a flurry of hand gestures, and the rocks that had floated ominously around him hurled themselves towards the superheroes. Chat twirled his staff in his hands, deflecting the sharp stones as he called out to Ladybug over his shoulder. "Now or never, My Lady!" With a crack of finality, the last pebbles fell harmlessly beside Chat Noir.

She nodded, agreeing. "Lucky Charm!"

In a storm of ladybugs and red-tinged light, a diamond-studded yo-yo plopped into Ladybug's outstretched hand. She looked down at it, frowning just a bit, the gears turning in her head. She looked around quickly: the cliffside, the stone substance on the man's body, the chain of the necklace…!

"Got it!" She leaned onto Chat's shoulder. "Help me back up there!"

Chat smirked. "Your wish is my command!" He scooped her up into his arms, careful with her injured leg, and hopped quickly back up to safety. "Need a distraction?"

"Please," she breathed as he placed her gently back on the ground. Chat didn't need to be told twice: he took off at a charge, yelling loudly to draw the Akuma's attention. He hopped above it, whacking its left armored side with his staff, and using the momentum to propel himself to the other side. He successfully drew its attention. With a snarl, the Akuma released a hailstorm of leaves and stones at him.

While Chat kept the Akuma busy, Ladybug limped closer to it, beginning to spin her yo-yo in circles until it moves so quickly it emitted an audible pitch. Then she yelled, "Now!"

She could always count on Chat to be on the exact same page as her.

He quickly ducked under the rubble being thrown his way, and using his staff to deflect a swipe, he hopped on the Akuma's back, trapping one of its arms above it. It left an exposed part open to attack. Ladybug swung with the diamond-studded yo-yo.

"No use!" cried the Akuma, using his other armored arm to block the attack.

But the yo-yo easily cracked through the armor, passing through it and wrapping around the necklace's chain. Ladybug yanked hard, and the chain snapped; Chat snatched the piece of amethyst and tossed it towards her.

It landed at her feet, and she retracted her yo-yo, took aim, and smashed the amethyst. A black butterfly fluttered out.

She grinned, a familiar warmth flowing through her as she purified the butterfly and returned everything to how it ought to be. She and Chat shared a fist bump, mission accomplished, before both their Miraculous Stones beeped shrilly, remind them that they had to leave.

She turned, but Chat stopped her.

"Wait, Ladybug," he said, voice laced with worry, "Aren't you hurt?"

"Yes," she replied simply. "But I'll be fine." Her earrings beeped again, warning of the time ticking away before their transformations faded.

"Are you sure?" Chat asked. Ladybug nodded.

"Yeah." She smiled, waved, and hobbled off, biting her lip to keep from wincing from the pain that coursed through her ankle with every step she took.

Chat looked on nervously until she faded out of sight before turning and dashing away.

Even if she was hurt, he believed in her when she said she'd be okay.

Adrien spent the next day boredly in class, tapping his notes with his pencil. He was more than a little bit distracted; Ladybug had gotten hurt, and he hadn't been able to stop it. He'd been mentally berating himself since yesterday for it, playing the scene over and over in his head: the sound of the rain, the scream, she let out when she fell, the sickening snap his ears picked up, the terror that engulfed him when she didn't get back up after falling down.

He gulped down the guilt washing over him and tried to tune back in to Mme. Mendeleiev's lecture. They were covering something about atom shapes in chemistry – he wasn't entirely sure, because he hadn't finished the reading assignment last night, and he'd been wrapped up in his horrible memories of yesterday while she'd been reviewing the material in class – and it was with great relief to him that Mme. Mendeleiev wrapped up quickly, dismissing them after reminding them that they would be assigned project partners next class.

Adrien quickly gathered his belongings. Nino began talking about some new movie that had come out, excited that they were planning on going to go see it on Friday, and Adrien was grateful to return his attention to less startling things.

"It's really gonna be awesome," Nino said.

"It sure sounds like it," Adrien agreed.

"Yeah," Nino replied. His eyes drifted behind them. "Though if Marinette's not feeling up to it, maybe we should put it off until next week."

Adrien turned around. Alya was walking alone, her constant companion and best friend nowhere in sight. When the teachers had asked where Marinette was, Alya had explained that her friend had hurt herself on her way home in the thunderstorm yesterday. Adrien had immediately felt concern for the girl; he considered her a friend, and she was terribly sweet, but she was also prone to clumsiness. Alya assured him and Nino that she was fine, just a little beat up, but she was getting a cast, which was why she wouldn't be in classes today.

Adrien felt his guilt creep up on him again.

That was two girls he couldn't help yesterday.

"Yeah," Adrien answered Nino. "Let's wait and see how she's doing."

Alya must have heard them from over by her locker, because she wheeled around and called over to them.

"We should go visit her, if you want to check on her!"

Nino's eyes lit up, and he turned to look expectantly at Adrien. Adrien, in turn, nodded, a small smile gracing his lips. "Yo, let's do it!"

"Great!" Alya said. "I was planning on going to go see her after this, anyways." She giggled. "She told me she's on a ton of nice painkillers, so she's probably gonna be a little loopy."

"Haha! Hope she doesn't let anything slip she doesn't want us to know."

Nino laughed along with Alya; Adrien wondered if he was missing something, but it didn't really matter.

"We should pick up a get-well-soon gift for her," Nino said. "What do you think she'd like?"

"A feel-better kiss from her crush," Alya replied. "But I don'bet she'll settle for flowers."

Adrien blinked, absorbing this information. "She has a crush?" he asked, a warm feeling spreading through him. Imagining sweet,ditzy Marinette pining over someone was amusing, and also endearing. "Who is it?"

Alya snorted. "I'm sworn to secrecy," she responded.

Adrien shrugged. "Okay." It really wasn't any of his business, anyway; if Marinette wanted him to know, she would tell him on her own. "I know a florist we can call," he said, pulling out his cell phone. "I'm sure she'll be able to help us get something nice for her."

Nino and Alya responded enthusiastically, and around thirty minutes later, Adrien's limousine pulled him and his friends up in front of Marinette's home, a pretty arrangement of red and white flowers and lacy ribbons sitting in the back with them. Adrien did the honor of carrying it into the bakery; after a warm welcome by the Dupain-Cheng parents, they headed upstairs to Marinette's room.

Alya knocked and called out to Marinette that she, Nino and Adrien were there before opening the door. They walked in, and Adrien was just as surprised as Nino when they found Marinette not lying in bed, as they expected, but ripping something quickly off her wall instead, a pile of posters and papers already bundled in her hands.

"A-ah!" She seemed surprised, her eyes wide, and she practically chucked the items in her hands under her desk, throwing the largest poster face-down on top of the rest of the papers. "H-Hi, everyone!"

Alya was cackling beside him. Adrien smiled before realizing she probably couldn't see it through the bunch of flowers in front of his face. He looked around, and decided to put the flowers down on the side of her desk. He snuck a glance at the posters she'd tossed underneath it, but he couldn't see anything besides the blank backside of the large poster.

"You should be lying down, you silly girl!" Alya scolded, helping Marinette over to the bed again. "Okay, so spill, what did the doctor say?"

Marinette glanced nervously over at Adrien, and he took that as an invitation to come join the others gathered around her bed. "Uhm," she said. "It… It could have been worse. Doctor said. That it could have been.. Uhm… Yeah." Adrien could see the toll the heavy painkillers were taking on the girl now that he was closer; her eyes were a little glazed over, like she was partially in a dream-state, and her sentences were more choppy than usual. She seemed to realize that; she was turning red, and when her eyes met his for a brief moment, she ducked her head, embarrassed.

"You're lucky, then," Nino said. Marinette smiled brilliantly at that, as if it was some inside secret to her.

"You have no idea," she replied. "But I'll have to have crutches for the next two weeks, at least."

"That bites," Alya said. "But hey, at least you'll be coming back to school soon!"

Marinette nodded, smiling. "Yup!"

"I brought your notes and homework, by the way," Alya said, rummaging around in her backpack. She pulled out some papers and put them beside Marinette's bed. "Don't worry about doing it today, though," she said in a warning tone as Marinette started to reach for her homework. "Get some rest first."

Marinette nodded, lying back in her bed. "It's just a fracture…" she mumbled.

"It's still an injury," Adrien said. Her blue eyes swiveled to look at him, going a little wide as he continued to speak. "You should be careful with it, Marinette."

His heart did a little flip-flop when she sent an appreciative smile his way.

"Thank you, Adrien!" she said. "I will. I definitely will. I'll be so careful with you – I mean me – I mean –My foot! My foot. Careful with it."

So cute, he thought, charmed by her well-meant stuttering. I'm glad I have such a sweet friend.

It wasn't until a day later that Marinette returned to school.

There hadn't been any Akuma attacks, which Adrien was eternally grateful for. It meant Ladybug would be able to heal whatever she'd broken during their last battle. She needed time to recover.

"Welcome back, Marinette!" Nino called when he saw Marinette enter the classroom.

She was on crutches.

"Hi," she said, smiling at them. Adrien stood when she started managing her way up the steps, putting a helpful hand under her arms to help her up to her seat. She stiffened, and he guessed it was because he had done it without giving her any warning of it. He pulled her chair out for her, and she sat quickly, leaning her crutches on the side of her desk.

"Th-Thank you," she breathed. Adrien smiled sympathetically at her.

"No problem," he said. "How's the foot?" he asked, gesturing to her injury.

"M-My ankle?" she asked. "Uh, fine."

"Okay." When she didn't say anything else, he awkwardly waved and settled back into his own seat. Nino elbowed him, wagging his eyebrows, and Adrien had noearthly idea what that was supposed to mean, so he just elbowed his friend back, eliciting a laugh from him. "What?" he asked.

"Nothing," Nino said, shaking his head. "That was nice of you, is all." Nino tilted his head towards the opposite side of the room. "Though I bet Chloe disagrees."

Adrien turned his head and, indeed, Chloe was staring daggers at Marinette; the blonde girl was definitely upset about something. Adrien shrugged helplessly.

"She doesn't like Marinette," he said. "I doubt she'd agree with anything involving her."

Nino hummed his assent. "I'm glad you're more agreeable than she is."

Adrien shrugged. "She's not disagreeable," he said in his oldest friend's defense. "She's just…" He glanced back at her.

"Spoiled?" Nino offered.

"Touchy," Adrien said. "Not a bad person, just touchy."

Nino looked very much like he wanted to argue, but just then, Mme. Bustier entered the room, effectively ending their conversation. Adrien spared Marinette a reassuring smile before turning his attention to their French lecture.

If Marinette had broken her foot from just stumbling in the storm, Adrien wondered how badly Ladybug had hurt herself while fighting the Akuma.

I just updated this story on tumblr, but I realized it's not on this site! I had to fix that. :)