Ladybug hadn't meant to see it. The battle had only just been winding down with that unmistakable flurry of red and the glimmering flutter of insect wings sweeping through the wreckage of battle, restoring it to splendor; she and Chat Noir had barely begun basking in their well-earned victory with a fist-pound before a telltale beeping interrupted them.
"That's my cue to exit, Bugaboo. See you on the chatwalk," he says with an exaggerated wink, eliciting an eyeroll, before extending his staff and jovially springing away into the Parisian night.
He hadn't seemed to notice an unmistakable clatter as he leaped.
"Chat, wait -"
Ladybug's voice dies out weakly when his swift-moving shadow bolts beyond the rooftops, until he's an inky black blur against the lilac landscape.
She lets out a frustrated huff.
Then, her eyes flicker to a conspicuous black square laying face-down on the concrete of the rooftop.
Chat's civilian phone.
Gingerly she picks it up as if it's covered in insecticide, flips it over, and heaves a great sigh of relief at the sight of an uncracked screen. She knew exactly how expensive a replacement would cost, given her own clumsiness. Friend nor foe deserves that kind of financial setback. Luck of his Lady, probably, that it didn't shatter.
The real question was how she'd deliver it to him quickly and anonymously; waiting until the next attack would be too inconvenient and a heavy burden on his civilian life, after all. Perhaps a contact on his phone could be of assistance, so long as they were under a nondescript name? Mom, Dad, Bro...
She clicks on the power and absentmindedly swipes right.
But she hadn't expected it to actually unlock.
"Oh my god, Chat. An unsecured phone?" she mutters under her breath, and her fingers hover for a moment before freezing in place; a sense of creeping horror blankets her, and she whirls her head away from the screen with breakneck speed. This is a huge invasion of privacy, right? Even his background image could compromise his identity. No no no. What was she thinking?
Still. If she's going to return it, she has to navigate to his contacts somehow. So she cracks an eye open just barely to peek at the screen, hoping her lashes would blur out the details just enough to keep her in the dark.
But there's no image at all. It seems he had a document open under the Notes app, thoroughly concealing any personal information, and she exhales again, relieved at her phenomenal luck.
Before seeing the document title.
Before her jaw drops to the ground.
"My Lady, I'm so sorry!" comes a babbling voice echoing from an increasingly shorter distance. Chat Noir takes one gargantuan leap from the chimney several buildings over before landing deftly in front of her, straightening nervously, head whirling to and fro to scan his surroundings. "I think I might have mis-purrlaced my civilian phone in my hasty departure, did you happen to maybe see-"
He freezes, eyes on Ladybug, standing with his phone in-hand.
She's staring right back, her mouth still slightly agape.
"Is... Is that my phone?"
"Chat, I..." She gulps. "I'm sorry, I just picked it up, I swear I didn't see anything about your identity. But-"
"Oh my god, I didn't lock it, did I?" He swallows audibly. "What did you see?"
Ladybug holds the phone screen out to face him, with her laughter barely contained.
He looks at her with a dead-eyed gaze, face drained of color to a pallid grey.
Her expression cracks.
"That's it. You saw. It was fun while it lasted, Bugaboo, but it's time for me to walk right off this roof, once for each of my nine lives-"
"Stop being dramatic," she chides with a giggle. "I rehearse the things I say all the time, you know." Well, to Adrien, at least, and it still comes out wrong, but he doesn't need to know that. "How can you use any of these naturally, though? Purrventative medicine?"
"If we were fighting in a hospital, or against an akuma with a strictly holistic approach to health care!" he says crossly, eyes narrowing.
"Chattered the illusion?"
"If we were dealing with a magician or an illusionist! Speaking of which, the illusion of my pun spontaneity is being shattered as we speak."
Ladybug only laughs harder. Chat hunches into a crouch and buries his hands in his hair with a groan.
"Look, Chat, I'm sorry," she says, kneeling next to him. She tweaks one of his ears affectionately. "I unlocked it without thinking when I shouldn't have, and that's absolutely on me, but I swear I didn't see anything else, okay?"
Chat Noir only groans again.
"What can I do to make it up to you?"
"You don't get it," he says miserably, shoulders drooping. "Now I have to rewrite them all, because without the element of surprise they'll sound contrived and stale-"
"...Consider them furrgotten?"
He lets out another wail.
She starts smoothing back his mussed hair, her expression sympathetic. "Hush. Look. This is my fault. I know that, and I really am sorry."
"You don't even appreciate my puns, My Lady!" he says accusingly, face buried in his hands. "I always have to make enough for the both of us! Do you know how much time that takes? I was up until three the other night."
She scrunches her nose. "Wow. No one asked you to do that, kitty."
"I am pawltruistic enough to volunteer myself. I had a hefty stock for just about every situation imeowginable, and now I'm fresh meowt!"
"Really?" she says numbly. "You're doing this even now?"
He glares at her. "For every situation, Ladybug."
She purses her lips. "I get it. I do." She rubs her forehead, uncertain, as an idea simmers. "Look. I'll make us even."
He looks up hopefully. "Make us even how?"
"Not a date."
"But you'll like it, okay? I promise."
She straightens and holds out his phone. He halfheartedly takes it with a sniff, and she pats his cheek fondly. "Buck up, chaton. It'll be a good surprise."
And that is how Marinette ended up curled up at her desk, scribbling furiously in her notebook, until three in the morning.
It took hours of brainstorming and Google searches and gratuitous use of Thesaurus.com to produce three consecutive pages of content until Tikki had gently coaxed her to bed, and for the first time in her scholastic career, Marinette had shown up to school early to take full advantage of the library before class. Sleep-deprived certainly wasn't her preferred state, but she had to be ready. It was only a matter of time until another akuma would strike; she may not have much at all.
She has to give Chat Noir credit; this is hard work. There are only so many ways you can spin insect-related terminology into battle-ready phrases before they became noticeably redundant. She can't really bring herself to judge his more inventive and unrealistic japes when she's already been squeezed so thoroughly dry.
Frustrated, she chews on the eraser of her pencil, still poring over checked-out texts at her desk as her classmates trickle steadily into the room.
"Whoa, girl! Early to school? Where's the fire? Other than in your pants for-"
She shoots Alya a dark look to silence her, but it's somewhat dulled by her fatigue. "If I wasn't so colossally dead inside right now..."
"Whacha workin' on?" Alya slides into the seat next to Marinette, peering over her shoulder. "Is that a list of...?"
"Puns," says Marinette.
"Wow. I thought you hated those," says Alya.
"I don't hate them, per se," Marinette grumbles, scribbling out one that is admittedly less-than-stellar. "But I kind of promised a friend I'd come up with some. It's complicated."
"And this friend is... A huge Ladybug fan?" Alya asks, cocking an eyebrow. She traces her fingers over the edge of the notebook. The margins are littered with doodles of kittens chasing balls of yarn and buttons of red specked on flower buds.
Marinette scratches out another idea. "Kind of, yeah."
"If you dudes need punning help, you should ask Adrien," says Nino, plopping himself into his seat in front of them. He tugs off his headphones and shoots them a grin. "He's practically written the book on it, he's that much of a pro."
Marinette looks at him in horror. "Is he really?"
"Does that tarnish your image of him?" cooes Alya.
"It sure as hell tarnished mine," quips Nino. "Didn't think my best bro was such a nerd. But he's not here to ask, anyway. Another crazy early photoshoot."
"The life of a teenage heartthrob," sighs Alya.
Marinette waves them both away. "You're distracting me! Class starts soon, I've got to churn as many of these out as I can before Ms. Bustier gets in."
"It's your lucky day, then, because I've got just the thing for you," says Alya, leaning over to grab her laptop out of her messenger bag. She sets it in front of them, flips it open deftly, clicks a few times through a few folders, before tilting the screen towards Marinette with a cheeky smile. "Voila."
Marinette blinks blearily, still sleep-deprived, as her eyes focus on the title of the word document.
"Ladybug Article Titles for the Ages"
"You're welcome," says Alya, clearly pleased.
Marinette pinches the bridge of her nose, brows creasing. "Why does everyone I know have secret punning documents? Is this, like, a thing? And if so, why must I be privy to it?"
Alya laughs. "You're one to talk. That's a hefty list you've got there, little lady."
"But why, Alya?"
"Never know when you're going to need a good pun in journalism, and as a top-notch journalist, I have to have the best at hand."
"I'm not going to pretend I'm not happy about this," admits Marinette, scanning the document and copying down relevant phrases that catch her eye.
"I have a whole separate document for Chat Noir, too," she adds.
Marinette nearly chokes on her spit. "Alya!"
"He gives me a lot of ammo," she says. "I mean, he practically writes the titles every other line he says. I can't wait until he and Ladybug finally hook up. I can just imagine all the delicious titles, can't you?"
"I don't want to," she mutters.
"All those jokes about spraying-"
"Ladybug finally sees Chat Noir's catnips," snickers Nino.
"Hope he uses purrtection-"
The pencil thrown narrowly misses Alya's head.
Springtime, while usually a vivid and colorful dream of bright blooms and sorely-missed sunshine breaking through the gloomy winter overcast and cold, can also be surprisingly volatile in Paris. Namely, it's a catalyst for plenty of unfortunate incidents involving sudden inopportune rainfall and pollen-related allergies rearing their heads.
It's a shame, Marinette thinks. She loves all the floral dresses and pastel skirts and sun hats cropping up on the streets after the long stretch of muted shades and thick layers, loves the gardens and flower beds finally bursting with color and fragrance, loves lounging outside while the skies roll gloriously, endlessly blue.
"Bring back my wonderland of snow! Winter Rose demands it!"
The akuma today was a strikingly tall woman, sporting long, icy white locks pinned back with a glittering rose brooch. Her slender body was cocooned in thick, pale blue furs that, while cinched at the waist, fanned out above her collar to create a stunning look reminiscent of petals; her arms were adorned in long white gloves, littered with thin spikes protruding from them that were evocative of icy stems and thorns.
The look, too, is striking, Ladybug thinks, and great inspiration for an outfit had she the time and materials to sketch it out, but she wasn't particularly fussed to find out how sharp those thorns actually were.
"Roses are still in bloom, you know!" calls out Ladybug distantly, swinging herself around a lamppost to narrowly dodge a blast of frost from Winter Rose's palm.
"I don't want spring blooms," she hisses, pale eyes flashing. "I want the cold! I'm sick of sneezing everywhere I go! I'm sick of having to stay indoors and wear masks and take medication that knocks me out! I want this stupid season gone, and if I have to freeze this entire city to make it happen, I will. Give me your miraculous and begone."
"Well, since you asked so nicely," chirps Ladybug; she leaps off the lamppost to avoid another blast, swinging her yo-yo to hoist herself to the side of a building, out of range hanging many meters above the street.
"This looks like a frosty reception," jokes a voice from above.
Ladybug glances up to see her partner seated on his staff, lodged firmly in the side of the building. He shoots her a sly grin from his perch.
"Oh, thank god," she breathes.
"Need some help, Bugaboo?"
"What I need is for you to take out your phone right now and start recording."
He blinks, bewildered. "What now?"
"Just do it!" she hollers as she loosens her grip on her yo-yo before unwinding it, lowering herself precariously to the ground.
She sees Chat Noir fumble with his cell phone for a moment, fingers speedily moving through apps and then hovering over the recording button; he look at her questioningly, uncertain.
"Now say that line again."
"Uh..." He points his phone to Winter Rose, who is busy at work coating the streets with ice. "This looks like a frosty reception?"
"Then," Ladybug announces with an exaggerated wink, "I think it's time we spring into action."
Chat Noir nearly drops his phone.
"Don't stop recording," insists Ladybug, wrapping her yo-yo around a street light hanging over Winter Rose before launching herself through the air.
"My Lady, what-"
"I'm just winging it, Chat!" she hollers as she flies through the air, extending a leg to collide with Winter Rose's hand; she knocks it so the icy blast misfires, hitting the ground under a car to coat it with sleet and freezing it in place.
Winter Rose snarls. "How dare-"
"Icy your vendetta and all," cuts Ladybug smoothly, as she begins circling Winter Rose. The akuma paces around her in a mirrored stance, her cold gaze level and fixed on Ladybug. "Bug I'd appreciate it if you'd chill out."
Chat Noir leaps to the car behind Ladybug, phone still held in one hand while he extends his staff in the other, battle-ready but wary. "Ladybug, should I really be doing this when-"
"Hush. You're ruining your present, Chat."
"I'm going to kick this akuma's ass for you," she says coolly, pointing at the camera with a determined expression, "and I'm going to pun while I do it. Don't tell me you haven't dreamed about this, like, all the time."
Chat Noir turns beet red.
"Oh my god, you have."
He opens his mouth to retort, but she's already launched herself at the akuma; Winter Rose swings both hands in front of her to fire consecutive shots of frost at Ladybug, who narrowly dodges each with swift jerks of her body.
"Your footwork is looking a bit spotty there."
Chat swings around, trying to keep both women clearly in frame while hovering close enough in case he's needed, but it doesn't seem Ladybug is having much trouble, if any at all, circling Winter Rose and dodging blasts while shooting out biting comments laced with wordplay.
"Your aim's pretty miracu-lousy, you know!"
Winter Rose howls, and finally, yes, out come the spikes from her arms at last; they protrude sharply from the gloves, lengthening into what seem to be thin javelins, which she dislodges from her arms and flings with wild abandon at Ladybug.
Ladybug flips backwards in an acrobatic display, shielding herself from the blows as she lands behind the car Chat is perched on and crouches into cover. The javelins lodge themselves firmly into its side in a clean line of spikes, the car alarm now blaring loudly at the impact.
Ladybug whistles. "You're a pretty thornery akuma, aren't you?"
"Whoa," murmurs Chat Noir, eyes wide. "Top-tier."
She grins at him. "Antaenna-out-of-ten, right?"
He beams at her with pride.
"The both of you," hisses Winter Rose, who stalks closer with her arms outstretched, "are utterly infuriating. Give me your miraculouses."
"Luck off," says Ladybug.
"That one was a stretch," comments Chat Noir mildly.
"Do you want to be on the receiving end of a punch-buggy?"
"No ma'am. Though the idea makes me pretty thorny-"
She coughs, cheeks tinging pink. "Okay, that's enough of that."
He rubs the back of his neck. "Too much?"
"Sorry." He grins sheepishly. "I'm having a really good time."
She pats his cheek affectionately, then points at the akuma's head. "The brooch. Think you can grab it?"
One cataclysm and a few minutes of reckless slip-and-sliding on sleet, and he does. Considering how easily he cleans up, in retrospect, makes him feel a little less ashamed at essentially gawking the entire battle and leaving her to fend for herself.
"Bye bye, little butterfly," sings Ladybug, releasing it with a flutter.
Once the sleet and ice clear away in a burst of glittering wings, Chat Noir puts his phone away with a content sigh. "I still don't understand entirely how you managed to churn out so many, My Lady, but I'm not complaining." He cocks his head at her. "Why did you make me record it, though?"
She smiles wryly. "For you to release to the Ladyblog. Now there's undeniable proof for you, and the world, that Ladybug is your punning partner - at least for today."
He chortles appreciatively, before his grin turns sly. "So how long did it take for My Lady to come up with her source material?"
"Hours," she admits. "I didn't even get to use them all, either."
"Shame," he hums, expression smug. "I would have liked to hear them. It isn't that easy, is it?"
"Easy, kitty. Punning may be hard for a cat, but I challenge you to come up with one feasible pun involving aphids."
"Give me like an hour and I can come up with ten."
She tweaks his ear as she did last time, and he purrs into her hand with a nuzzle. "I don't doubt it. Does this make us even, then?"
"Pawsitively. But if you don't mind, I'd rather not release it to the public."
She blinks and withdraws her hand. "Why not? Don't you want them to see us as a matched set?"
He shrugs. "We already are a matched set, Bugaboo. And I don't care about public displays. It's more special to me if it's just between us."
Her heart warms a little at that. "Chat..."
He winks. "Like our own little secret, kept punder wraps."
"It seems you've punderestimated me, My Lady. I'm quick on the mend!"
She sticks her chin up proudly. "Careful, Chat. If you don't watch yourself, eventually I'll be the one taking you punder my wings."
"Meowch," he cries, grasping his chest with a wounded look. "But you won't usurp me once I aphiddle with some new ideas."
Ladybug whistles. "Wow..."
He shimmies a little, pleased with himself. "You like that?"
"No. Not remotely. But I have a healthy dose of respect for the effort, at least."
The sound of his beeping interrupts them both, and he lets out a disparate sigh.
"Glad you're back in action, chaton," she says with a wink, tossing her yo-yo to vault herself away. "Sorry again about before. And for goodness' sake, lock your phone!"
He gives her a two-fingered salute as she disappears in a red blur over the rooftops.
Marinette stumbles into class the next morning as she routinely does - late enough to be noticed by everyone in class.
"Marinette, you started the week so well," chides Ms. Bustier with a frown, hands on her hips as the young girl shuffles awkwardly into the room.
"Sorry, Ms. Bustier," she murmurs meekly with a blush, making her way up the tiered classroom to her seat. She slides into the chair and swings her bag over her shoulder to start pulling out her books.
"You doing okay?" whispers Alya next to her, eyeing her notebook. "All done with your pun parade?"
"Yeah," she whispers back.
"How'd it go?"
"Good." She smiles fondly as she smooths out her notes, fingers tracing the same margins Alya's did yesterday. "He seemed really happy about it."
"That's great, Marinette."
"Now I don't have to waste any more time wracking my brains." She relaxes in her seat with a satisfied look. "What a nightmare that was."
Alya shifts uncomfortably. "Um. Well, I didn't know you were finished quite so soon. Because this morning before class I did mention something about needing some help to Adrien, you know, in case you wanted some quality time with-"
Marinette jolts in her seat. "You what?" she hisses, aghast.
Alya winces, hands thrown up defensively. "I'm sorry, girl. But look on the bright side, you have a library date with him after school. That's good, right?"
"Adrien and puns?" Marinette mutters as she sinks deep into her seat, melting in her chair glumly. "That's like mixing ice cream with brussel sprouts. You ruin the best thing with the worst thing."
"Hey, I like brussel sprouts. But me and Nino will join you, okay? Pressure off."
Speaking of Nino, she could hear hushed, excited whispers from the seats in front of them, and glances up warily to see a chair swiveled around towards her.
Regarding her was a pair of striking green eyes.
"I heard you like puns," Adrien mouthes, looking excited.
She flushes immediately. "Y-yeah."
"Me too. Can't wait to brainstorm."
She could feel her mouth moving of its own volition. "The puntification is really punnecessary, Adrien. It's okay if you need Agreste from your busy schedule."
His eyes widen; she immediately feels the mortification bubbling up from her gut, and she has to choke down the urge to scream. But then, the smile on his face grows until he's beaming wider than she's ever seen, and is that a blush on his face? Is Adrien blushing because of her?
She has Chat to thank, she thinks, for that.