Exhaustion flooded Adrien's body as Weredad removed his Miraculous. The forceful de-transformation sapped his remaining strength.
"You! " Weredad's grip tightened causing Adrien to cry out in pain. "So my daughter wasn't rejected by one of her loves but both of them!"
Papillon's mark appeared around the villain's face, "Weredad! Use the Agreste boy as bait! Ladybug is sure to come looking for her partner!"
Werdad growled in rage, "I don't think so! Marinette will never know who you were! You won't break my daughter's heart a second time!" He pulled back his arm, Adrien's feeble struggles ineffective. "In fact, you'll never break another heart again! "
Papillon sent pain racing through Weredad's body interrupting the villain's throw, but it was too late.
Adrien fell. Too exhausted to scream even as his heart hammered painfully in his chest. The wind howling accusations at him.
He had given it his all. His strength, his speed, his experience. Everything. But it hadn't been enough. He couldn't save one person. His friend. Marinette. He hadn't even been able to save himself.
I'm sorry, My Lady.
The weight of his failure, of his imminent death, finally took what little breath he had left. He was lost amid the rose prison's falling vines. Adrien felt nothing when his body hit the pavement.
Being brought back to life was very similar to being freed from mind control . . . or petrification.
My other failures.
Disorientation and confusion followed by understanding. The ladybugs left him lying in the street where he looked up at the sky without really seeing anything.
"Hey, are you okay?"
Strangers gathered around him. When he didn't respond their voices became more frantic. Two people helped him to his feet and half dragged him onto the sidewalk. Down the street was the Dupain-Cheng bakery. Adrien's vision blurred. Someone next to him was calling emergency services while others asked him his name.
A car pulled up to them and two figures rushed out. Nathalie and his bodyguard. He recognized them even through the tears.
"Adrien, your father is very worried about you," Nathalie's voice didn't quite manage her usual monotone.
While she convinced the people gathered that, yes they do work for his father, the Gorilla carried him to the car.
Adrien didn't reply to any of Nathalie's questions on the short drive back, barely hearing her. Instead he looked out the window and imagined Ladybug swinging across the rooftops after saving the Dupain-Chengs.
Good job, My Lady.
His left hand moved up to trace the pale skin where his Miraculous used to be.
"Adrien!" Gabriel rushed forward and embraced him. He didn't return the hug. A small part of him was surprised his father showed up in person and didn't comment on his unseemly tear stains or public displays of emotion. He felt heat creep back into his chest.
" . . . Where is your ring, son?"
Adrien laughed at the nonsensical question. The sound was hysterical and jarring. He saw it on their faces as Gabriel backed away, before the tears started up again. "It's gone! It's all gone!"
His laughter morphed into a piercing wail as his legs gave out. Papillon took him. His friend. Even if Ladybug got the ring back Chat Noir was compromised. Adrien's desperate sobs echoed through the hollow manor.
It was all gone.
It was barely a week before Gabriel insisted he got back to a 'normal schedule' as soon as possible. As far as Adrien knew his father was unaware of his . . . death experience. Nathalie suggested he speak to someone, whether or not that would be allowed was unclear. Adrien had turned his phone off; not wanting to see the texts from Chloe and Nino asking questions he didn't know how to respond.
He'd insisted on Chinese for that day, when the issue of his lessons was brought up. Adrien's momentary clarity had been all Gabriel needed to excuse himself, stating that he had neglected his duties too long. As though his son's breakdown was nothing more than a momentary lapse. A minor inconvenience. A distraction.
There was a knock on his door, he'd been expecting it all morning. Standing up from the couch Adrien turned to find Master Fu standing in the entryway, expression serious.
Falling into routine he greeted the Great Guardian in Mandarin, "Morning, Master Fu." He bowed, mostly to avoid looking the elder in the eye.
"Adrien, Plagg informed me of what happened on the tower." Master Fu walked forward, his tone gentle but somber.
Adrien's eyes snapped up and widened in surprise and relief, "He's okay? And the ring? What-"
"Ladybug retrieved the Miraculous of the Black Cat and came to me for guidance," he gestured for Adrien to sit and did the same. "This is a most unfortunate development. Papillon now knows your identity and could exploit this knowledge just as he did with Queen Bee."
Adrien felt his chest constrict, his face burned with shame. Master Fu had entrusted him with one of the two most powerful Miraculous in the world and he'd lost it. He knew what was coming next, he could feel it.
Master Fu was looking at him but he didn't meet the Guardian's eye. "Adrien. I have not come to my decision lightly. The Black Cat is needed and . . . the Miraculous is no longer safe in your hands."
Shock and betrayal raced through him even though he'd expected nothing less. He couldn't be given the ring every time there was an akuma. That would leave the villain free to rampage across the city for however long it took Ladybug to find him. Papillon could target his father, his friends. He'd be putting them in danger and for what? So he could play at being a hero?
Master Fu would find a new Chat Noir. Someone better, someone worthy of being called Ladybug's partner.
Someone who wont mess up.
It was the smart thing to do.
"I . . . I understand. D-do what you think is best."
You always do.
"Adrien, you performed your duties admirably. If you ever need anything . . ." Master Fu reached for his shoulder.
He stood up suddenly and moved away from the stranger offering empty words of comfort. "Thank you, for giving me this opportunity, for letting me meet Plagg. Tell him goodbye for me. I'm sorry I didn't live up to the potential you saw in me."
Master Fu moved toward him in shock, "That is not-"
Adrien stepped back, "I hope your new charge is a better student than I was. I . . . I think I'll need a new Mandarin teacher." He bowed again. "Goodbye, Master Fu."
The Guardian stood in silence for a moment before finally returning the bow, "Goodbye, Chat Noir."
Once Fu was gone he allowed the tears to fall as he slid onto the cold floor. The last spark of hope at seeing Plagg or fighting by his Lady's side snuffed out.
Adrien was alone.