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Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Chat Noir © Thomas Astruc

She felt numb.

Sorting through each drawer, flicking through every book that had been collected over the years, and folding up the clothing that wouldn't be worn again, the wetness of her eyes only increased. Quiet sobs escaped as she closed up new box filled with belongings, taking breaks to go through the toilet roll that she'd wisely brought with her.

Her father was gone, there was no denying it any more. When she'd seen his body frozen in bed, blond-coloured hair swept into a disarray from slumber, it was easy to convince herself that it wasn't happening. He looked vulnerable because he was asleep, that's what she told herself as she padded across the room to gently nudge his shoulder. Yet there was no reaction to her movements, no steady rising of his chest to convince her otherwise. Marinette fell onto the duvet with pained breaths, frantically searching for a pulse as she whispered words of denial.

The funeral was held the following week. Her father's associates attended, extending their sincerest apologies while she tried to hold herself together—hands nervously tugging on the black dress that he'd once uttered looked beautiful on her—which turned out to be a pitiful attempt when she stuttered and stumbled through her speech.

It was strange trying to live without him. For as long as she could remember her life had revolved him; the crinkling of his eyes when he truly smiled, not the polite one that he offered to others for work, the breathless noise of his laughter when she animatedly told him about her day. Her father had been—he was everything to her. It had been the two of them curled up in the living room in the evenings growing up, then making sure to have dinner once a week when she left for further education, and the fact that she was left alone in the quiet house that echoed when she walked barefoot across the wooden floorboards had her heart aching with every step.

“What am I supposed to do now?” she mumbled to herself, frantically wiping at her wet cheeks.

If he was there, he would've ran comforting fingers through her hair, murmuring words that would've tugged the smallest of smiles on her lips. He—he would've talked her through her troubles, but the problem was the fact that he wasn't there.

Everything had been left to her. All of their family members had passed away, and with no wife in the picture, that meant that a twenty-three-year-old Marinette inherited it all; the quaint two-story house that was filled with belongings over the years, an extraordinary amount of money that had her dazed from looking at the figures, and, goodness, her breath caught as a choked sob escaped.

He left the company to her. Not to one of his faithful employees that had stuck with him through the years, no. Her father had been delighted, so proud that he was misty-eyed when she'd graduated, when she followed in his footsteps for fashion design. They'd spent countless years creating clothing for her stuffed animals, anything she pleased since he appeared touched that she wanted to be just like him.

Marinette blew her nose before she flipped through another book, checking to see if anything would fall out. When she dropped a novel and discovered a picture of her hidden inside, her emotions had been torn between grief and happiness that he'd kept it tucked away at all.

There was never doubt that he loved her. Their healthy relationship through the years proved that, and it had made countless friends of hers jealous whenever it was brought up. They fought, of course, but she was never the type to mutter bad things about her father without a reason. When jabs were sent her way about her appearance, she simply smiled because she knew that she was wanted.

It wasn't hard to figure out she was adopted. Her father had blond hair, blue eyes that were a different shade to hers, and wide shoulders with a lean body. He fawned over for his job—and one of her primary school teachers had tried to ask him on a date through her—so it was natural for a young Marinette to question why she didn't have a mother.

He didn't date, not since his wife had passed away before he'd adopted Marinette. They had been planning to create a family together before tragedy struck, and the crack in his voice whenever he spoke about her had Marinette wrapping her arms around him in comfort. She was beautiful, just as he was; golden-coloured hair, green eyes and a small figure that was similar to the images she saw her father drawing throughout the years.

“She would've loved you,” he assured her, placing a soft kiss to the top of her head. “It's impossible not to, little one.”

When she was younger, peering into the mirror to note the black hair, the eyelids that were a different shape to his (to which he replied that the lack of crease was due to her biological parents), and the cerulean-coloured eyes that were brighter than his. They looked nothing alike, and that was what rude children liked to point out, as if that would cause troubled feelings to brew within her.

“So what?” she'd replied, crossing her arms stubbornly. “My papa loves me, and he wouldn't have me any other way.”

When she came home with bruises one day, her father marched into the school with an angered expression. After the raised voices had calmed down—she had been sat in the hall, happily flipping through a book—he'd gotten onto his knees in front of her, ignoring the expensive trousers he had on, and asked whether she'd be more comfortable schooled at home.

She'd blinked. “Will I get to spend more time with you?”

And thus, she was tutored at home until his designer brand had gained popularity. The designs were catered to adults and child, steadily expanding the ages ranges as she grew up.

“They're made with you in mind,” he pointed out as she was making appreciative noises while flicking through his designs. “You'll tell me if you don't like them, won't you?”

Marinette had gasped dramatically before she exclaimed, “Papa, I love them!”

It was good, great and—

Over.

She didn't answer her cell phone that evening, instead drowning her sorrows in loud piano music that her father had been so fond of, resisting the despicable urge to fetch a bottle of wine from the garage. They'd been stored away there for celebrations, and bawling until her eyes stung when she blinked was certainly not worthy of it.

Marinette left the house in an oversized sweater and tight dark-washed jeans when food was running low. There had been countless calls, business and personal alike, and she'd selfishly shoved the responsibility of her father's work onto his assistant, who'd replied with comforting words and assured her she'd take care of everything until she was ready to take her father's place.

It only made her cry more.

She pushed the shopping trolley through the store, resting more weight on it than necessary as she navigated through the aisles. Designer sunglasses that had been made specifically for her—a gift for her twenty-first birthday—were perched on her nose to hide the furiously red skin and swollen eyelids, and she looked thoroughly out of place due to the gloomy clouds in the sky.

Her thoughts drifted as she waited in the queue, cursing the business of the city even of a weekday, and it was after a few minutes had passed by that she glanced up in confusion. There was a gap between the customer in front of her and the rest of the queue, large enough to fit four people in between.

“You're in the queue, right?” Marinette asked.

There wasn't a response. The one in front of her—male, she realised as he turned his head to look to the side—was busy humming under his breath, effectively not paying attention to the world around him. His hands were in the pockets of his jeans, the long sleeves of his white shirt pushed up messily by his elbows.

“Hey,” she tried again, voice louder as she leaned onto the trolley. Weeks of isolation hadn't made her social skills any better. “Hello? I'm behind you, you know.”

The male ran a hand through his blond hair, messing up the style it had been in.

Marinette sighed to herself before she pushed to the side, walking around as she looked to her side and grumbled as passed him, “Pay attention next time, please.”

He just stared at her as she walked by. It was unnerving, for a lack of a better word. She furrowed her eyebrows from confusion, surprised when there wasn't a single muttered complaint that she'd pushed past him in the queue.

When she returned a week later, dressed considerably better without the sunglasses that time, she used a basket. She was steadily getting better with the help of her friends—that she'd finally answered the calls of—and it was showing in her appearance. The ingredients she picked out were for meals further than a few steps, ones that she would've happily made every night in the past. Marinette secured her dark hair into a ponytail, tucking the awkward bits that weren't long enough and couldn't pass as bangs behind her ears, before she approached the queue.

As always, it was busy. Marinette slowed walked forward, messaging her friends on her cell phone to pass the time.

The lack of movement in front of her was what made her looked up with furrowed eyebrows. When she caught sight of the golden-coloured hair that brushed against the top of his ears, and the daydreaming pose where he ignored those around him, she sighed at her luck.

“Hello?” she tried, changing her grip on the basket. “You should really pay attention to the queue.”

Just like before, he showed no sign of hearing her. A horrified thought that she was being inconsiderate and rude because he was deaf occurred, so she stepped beside him in an effort to catch his attention (reaching out to touch him seemed too rude).

She peered up at him, trying to appear friendly as their shoulders almost brushed. “I—hi,” she blurted, awkwardly making hand gestures in an attempt to usher him along in the line.

Instead of apologising and quickly moving up in the queue as she anticipated, the male continued gazing past, whimsically rocking onto his heels as she was promptly ignored. It was the idle movement of a child that was waiting for their parent—yet he was there, standing awkwardly in the middle of the queue that was being disturbed once more.

Colour blossomed along her cheeks, not hidden by the sunglasses that time. “Excuse me?” she tried again, hesitantly waving a hand in front of his face.

“Miss?” a voice from behind called for her attention, and she turned around to see a flustered-looking male. “I understand that you might be troubled, but could you please move?”

An embarrassed noise that was a mixture of an apology and her saying okay, Marinette shuffled past the blond male, hands tightening on the basket once more. There were grumbles behind as the queue started to move, and she wondered whether it was a regular occurrence at that specific store. She hadn't shopped there for long, as grocery shopping was usually spent laughing and visiting other surroundings shops in another area to enjoy the company she kept.

She couldn't exactly ask one of her friends to come grocery shopping with her, could she? With a quick glance over her shoulder by the exit, Marinette confirmed that the blond-haired male was still there, hands swaying from a silent rhythm by his side, eyes focused on other things than the people surrounding him. The other customers were ignoring his presence, and she wondered whether she'd been considered rude for attempting to strike up conversation with him. He looked, well—he appeared to be lost. His clothes were the same as before—dark trousers and a white long-sleeved shirt that weren't pushed up that time—and if it wasn't for how clean he appeared to be, she would've worried about him more.

In the end, she didn't have to ask for someone to come with her. Her best friend, Alya, a girl with curly red hair that had a quick tongue and a great sense of humour, agreed to spend the evening with her when Marinette had refused to go out for the fifth time. Drinking alcohol in a public setting was something she was trying to avoid; so far strangers had approached her with questions about her father's brand during the day, and she was sure if she was intoxicated it wouldn't be long until she burst into snotty tears if they asked her anything at all.

Alya took pity on her and said they'd watch the worst films they could get their hands on, promising not to touch the bottles of wine that were stored away. Instead, they walked separately through the aisles, the red-head searching for the required snacks, while Marinette had been appointed the task of deciding which alcoholic drinks to buy.

She was balancing three bottles in her arms, trying not to drop them as she cursed the pang of pain from her ankle. The shoes were pretty, but walking around in them for most of the day had caused them to rub awfully, and she was sure her socks would have stains of blood on them later that evening. Marinette had been trying to discreetly limp down the aisle when she realised she'd almost knocked into an immobile figure, only just regaining her balance—almost falling backwards from the surprise—as she looked up in a bewildered surprise.

If the blond hair and fair-coloured skin didn't give away his identity, then the same outfit that he always wore did. His sleeves were rolled up once more, though. There were creases, as though he'd been wearing it for more than a few hours, but no dirt stains that proved he wasn't clean. Rather than gazing off in different directions and ignoring everything around him, Marinette's eyes widened when she realised that he was standing in front of her, hands tucked into his pockets as he looked at her curiously.

“I—hello,” she blurted, cheeks heating up from her fumbling. The bottles were clutched to her chest, cold against the skin that wasn't covered by her sundress. “Can I help you?”

He only stared. With emerald-coloured eyes that didn't give any hints to his feelings, and she felt increasingly more as though she was being put on the spot as the moments passed by. There she was, holding too many bottles with a stranger gazing at her with a detached expression, as though she wasn't there in the first place.

Clearing her throat, Marinette ducked her head from mortification as she scrambled past him, foot limping as she went.

Later that evening, when she was tucked up on the couch with Alya beside her, they were using the fanciest glasses in the house that were usually reserved for special guests. For good measure, the red-head had produced miniature umbrellas with a wide smile, then they indulged themselves until they were thoroughly intoxicated. Marinette vented her problems, and her friend did in turn, too, spouting her worries without a care about how they sounded.

It was therapeutic, in a way. Their hangover in the morning was deemed worth it.

Alya had been her room-mate at university, so she knew a lot about her life. When Marinette had moved out to a nearby apartment, close to her home so she could spend her time with her father, it was Alya that was there to convince her to spend time with others her own age. Now that she'd moved back home after quitting her part-time job, she was thankful that there was enough money left behind to help her with the bills. It was a lonely house, yes, but she couldn't see herself selling it in the future.

“You'll call me if you need anything, right?” Alya said, looking at her with a concerned expression. “Even if it's someone to complain at, I'm here for you.”

Marinette smile was tight as she tried not to let her eyes grow damp. “I'll be fine, okay? We're meeting up for dinner in two weeks, I promise not to harm myself before then.”

Rolling her eyes, the red-haired female pulled her into a tight hug. “You better not. I need my best friend alive and well if we're going to cause havoc at my own wedding.”

She'd been saying that for years, though. Alya's fiancé had proposed to her in their second year of university, and their engagement had turned into a running joke since they both wanted to save up before they married. Despite living together since finishing their courses, they indulged each other with smiles and knowing looks whenever someone questioned when their wedding was planned for.

“At this rate, I'm going to marry someone first,” she pointed out, fond smile tugging at her lips. “Now get your ass to work before I kick you in the shins.”

Dramatically, Alya placed a hand on her heart and gasped. “You wound me.”

“I'll do worse if you get yourself fired,” she quipped.

-x-

With Alya as a constant positive presence in her life, Marinette was recovering emotionally. The duties of her father's company was still assigned to his former personal assistant, and she was flourishing and able to keep everything running smoothly for the meanwhile. Marinette had sorted through all of her father's possessions by the sixth week, tucking away the precious sketchbooks and albums into the loft, keeping a few large sweaters to wear around to house, while the rest was donated.

After quitting her job, she hadn't been inspired to pick up a pencil or a needle. Marinette flicked through her father's favourite books instead, cosied up in an armchair by the fireplace that she was too scared of lighting. In the past, she'd tried to start it to surprise him while he was busy, and had instead caused smoke to fill the living room while she coughed and spluttered before calling for help. It was always with fondness that he'd remind her not to touch it, instead purchasing her candles within large glass jars so the chance of her creating a disaster was smaller.

She hadn't lit a candle for six weeks.

There was a familiar face when she went to purchase groceries. Marinette blinked in surprise, almost losing her grip on the item she was holding in the refrigerated section, when she caught sight of of his hands swaying as he rocked on his heels with a peaceful expression.

“...Hello,” she greeted, cheeks burning from embarrassment due to her fumbling hands.

He was staring at her again—she was thankful that his expression had some feelings shown that time, at least. Their previous encounter had been unnerving enough, and she still felt increasingly awkward about how she'd handled the daydreaming male's presence in the past. He was always there, therefore regular customers that appeared more often than her knew how to handle him and his whimsical ways. Surely, it would've caused a commotion if there was someone interrupting queues and walking around the store for countless times unless he was known. She contemplated whether he was related to an employee, and that was why he was seen hanging around a lot.

There was silence between them. Customers walked by, collecting their desired products, weaving around her without paying attention.

It was hard to swallow. Nerves were getting the best of her, anxiety creeping up that she'd horribly offended him in the past and his retaliation was to stare as though he could set her on fire with his green eyes.

“...It's rude to stare, did anyone ever tell you that?” she found herself saying. Gasping in embarrassment, Marinette fumbled with her basket, averting her eyes from his blank face with the intention to leave.

The words she heard made her pause. “Your underwear's showing.”

Gullible was a good word to describe her. Her hands flew to her jeans, making sure they were high enough to be deemed appropriate before she looked at him in confusion. They weren't showing—her shirt was long enough to cover her waistband and was non-transparent.

“I said your underwear's showing,” he repeated, voice calm as he tilted his head to the side in what she would've considered an endearing action if she knew him at all.

Her hand remained on her backside, though. “No, it's not,” she replied, knitting her eyebrows together.

When he smiled, dimples appeared on his fair-skinned cheeks. “What's not?” the male questioned, staring intently at her.

“My underwear isn't showing,” Marinette replied, confusion clear. “Are you... okay?”

There were looks as customers walked past. They looked at her with flashes of pity, some scared and one mother even held their child close and avoided eye contact. If it wasn't clear before that the male before her was a fixture in the store that was to be ignored, then the judging glances definitely made it apparent. She ran a hand through her dark hair, utterly baffled by their conversation. If he meant her the straps of her brassiere, he was wrong there, too. She wasn't going to pat her shoulders to see whether he was right—a strap wasn't something to be embarrassed over.

Glancing up, she saw that his smile reached his eyes. “I lied,” he said.

She blinked. “I kind of figured that out for myself, thanks.”

The grin grew, showing a flash of white teeth.

“As nice as this talk was, I really have to get going,” Marinette babbled, flustered as she tucked her intended purchases into the basket and rushed down the aisle (running away from her problems never seemed so appropriate to say as it did then).

When it came time to visit the store for groceries, she walked for twenty minutes to visit a different one. There wasn't a flash of blond hair, nor the same outfit that he constantly wore, and she was fine. Worrying over offending someone was pushed out of her mind, and she enjoyed the time that she spent outside with her friends, and when it reached two months, Marinette picked up a needle to mend a whole in one of her father's sweaters. She wasn't pushing herself to create anything new, but she did pass on copies of the last creations he'd been working on to his assistant.

It was nice, actually. Her days were filled with catching up on old hobbies, picking up the bandalore that her father had specifically made for her from childhood, and sketching anything that wasn't to do with fashion.

Television shows that featured animals played silently in the living room in the evenings that she was free, with a blanket wrapped around her shoulder and smudges of pencil covering her hands as she drew the different animals that caught her eye. She'd considered purchasing a pet before realising she couldn't push her emotional problems onto someone—or something—else, so she'd denied the kind offer from Alya promising to visit the pet-store with her.

At three months, Marinette was walking alongside Alya and her fiancé, a tanned male with short black curls and a wide smile. He had always been kind to her, and had never belittled her when she showed up at their door crying on the odd occasion. Nino was witty, had a loud laugh that drew attention to them when they were in restaurants, and when he was with Alya, the corner of his eyes crinkled from smiling.

“Come on, Mari,” Alya choked out through her laughter. “It won't be all bad, I promise! He seems like a nice guy.”

She wryly replied, “That's what you said about a lot of men before, too.”

“He's been asking to meet you for a while,” Nino interjected. He hastily held his hands up in a sign of surrender as they rounded a corner, trying hard not to let his amusement show too much. “We'll be right there, okay?”

It was a bad habit; Alya fancied herself as a matchmaker, so she'd constantly tried to set Marinette up on dates in the past. On a whim, she'd agreed to go out for the evening, not realising until they were walking the streets together that the couple weren't intending to sit with her at all. The restaurant was a nice one—where waiters actually went to the table to ask for their orders—and all she got for a parting gesture was the name of her date.

He wasn't very impressive. Well, appearance wise he had muscles that were visible underneath the dark-coloured shirt, that had one too many buttons undone, and broad shoulders that would've attracted a lot of attention on the street. The problem, however, was that his belt didn't match the rest of his outfit, and his black hair was styled off of his face to appear sophisticated, yet all she could think was how her father would've laughed at his attempt to appear mature.

Kim prattled on, jumping between topics quickly, and as their starter came—and she was hating the fact that it seemed he wanted to have the whole three courses—and she tried to make the right noises, since when she opened her mouth to reply, he was already starting a new topic. It was cute, in a way. He wasn't trying to be rude; there was genuine excitement in his expression, wide smile that showed his teeth when he became even more enthusiastic, and she had the feeling that they could've been friends if they tried.

After finishing the first course, Marinette excused herself to the bathroom, shooting a glare in Alya's direction when she caught her eye across the room. They were too far to chat (and that would've been rude), and she highly doubted her friend would skip to the bathroom with her to gossip with her when it was clear she wasn't emotionally unstable.

She may have washed her hands twice.

Walking back past the bar in the right direction, it was the white shirt that made him start out from the dark colours. Marinette furrowed her eyebrows, wondering whether it would really be the male from the store—she'd avoided shopping there since, their encounters too awkward to endure unless she desperately needed to visit. Thus far, she was doing okay.

And yet, he was standing just beside the bar, hands tucked into his pockets, daydreaming once more.

She tried to walk past without catching his attention.

A laugh came from him, one that was slightly breathy. “That eager to return to your date?”

It was directed at her, she realised. Marinette placed a hand on her elbow, a absent-minded action she did when she was nervous, and stared at him.

“Oh, don't let me hold you back from running into the sunset with lover boy,” the blond-haired male continued, hand appearing from his pocket to wave in the general direction she'd been sat. “I'm sure you'd make wonderful babies together, no?”

What? Baffled, Marinette could only stare at him in a mixture of incredulity and confusion, wondering what his point could possibly be. Their limited interactions had never been so open—teasing—and his sudden appearance definitely threw her off. She'd been avoiding him for a reason; there was something about him that caused her to be constantly uncertain and unsure of herself.

She smoothed out the material of her dress. “I don't think children are in the picture for us, sadly,” the dark-haired female replied, voice slightly shaky. “And if they were, why would it concern you?”

“Do you not like your date, then?” he questioned, lips curling up into a smile. It was such an innocent expression, a contradiction to his words. “You looked like you enjoyed him dominating the conversation completely.”

Taken aback, Marinette retorted, “I'm sorry, were you listening?”

“Everyone in that section of the restaurant heard, actually,” the blond male replied matter-of-factly. “You weren't quite stroking his ego enough, I think.”

His eyes flickered behind her with a knowing smile, and she decided not to indulge him further. They weren't friends, and she'd already been gone for too long to deal with such nonsense. So, with a deep breath, she promptly ignored him and walked past, trying to ignore the embarrassed flush of her cheeks as his laughter echoed until she'd turned the corner. The sheer nerve that he'd finally struck up had her shaking her head in confusion, wondering whether she'd brought such comments on herself in the past—well, at least she knew he didn't have a wearing problem, as he'd replied easily without looking at her lips.

The table was empty. Their main course had arrived during her disappearance, and they were both left there, untouched. The cutlery was askew, her bag still on the chair where she'd left it, and there was no sign of the blazer that Kim had left hanging over the back of his.

He'd left. There wasn't any point in denying it after she'd sat down for five minutes, not touching her food, as she tried to recall whether he'd walked past to the bathroom while she'd been preoccupied.

Well, that was just rude. Marinette grumbled to herself, stomach too tight and appetite lost as she was left to pay for the whole meal, no date there to split half of the bill with. After a quick message to Alya, informing her that Kim had disappeared and therefore she had no faith left in the dates set up for her, she slipped on her cardigan and left the establishment.

To make her luck worse, there was a blond mop of hair outside that was slowly becoming more familiar. A noise of frustration left her lips as he caught sight of her, face visibly brightening as he raised a hand to wave.

“I did warn you,” he started.

She stared.

The indents of his cheeks showed. “That you didn't stroke his ego enough, I mean,” the male supplied happily, falling into step beside her, hands tucked into his pockets comfortably. It was a move that a friend would do, not someone that she'd barely conversed with; yet there he was, smiling at her as though they'd shared a close joke, a lack of personal space as his shadow enveloped her from the lights.

“I think you're confused,” Marinette began, clearing her throat after. “We've barely spoken, okay?”

He didn't falter. “Let's remedy that, then.”

“No, thank you.” She took a purposeful step to the side, distancing them from each other. “I may have been on a date, but that doesn't mean I'm going to leave with the next available man because I got ditched.”

The air was chilly, dark streets illuminated by the lamps and various vehicles that passed, so she crossed her arms underneath her bosom to preserve warmth. There was a constant presence beside her as she navigated the streets, expression contorting into a blank state as she realised that he was, indeed, following alongside her as though it wasn't a problem at all; suddenly, the male was treating her as he would a friend, a small smile on his lips as they strolled.

It wasn't right. They weren't close enough to brush shoulders, thankfully, so they took up almost the whole pavement as they walked.

How was she supposed to get someone to stop following her without coming across awfully rude?

So, rather than politely telling him to piss off, Marinette blurted out loudly, “Are you stalking me?”

The reaction she expected was for him to rudely correct her or perhaps look at her in indignation; rather, he let out another breathy laugh, higher-pitched than his voice, that sounded so utterly genuine that it baffled her. He—he was strange, there was a plethora of ways to describe how peculiar he was, but none would explain why he'd decided to grace her with his presence out of nowhere.

“Did I annoy you at the store or something?” she continued, words coming out fast as she rambled, hands moving to emphasise her words without her realising. “This is a weird form of revenge, right? Look, I'll apologise, so please—”

Stop baffling her, she wanted to say.

The grin reached his viridian eyes, dimples showing on his cheek as he looked at her as they walked. “I never thought I'd hear that me walking someone home is considered an act of revenge.”

“...Pardon?”

“I'm,” the blond-haired male started, pointing his index finger dramatically to his own chest before flicking it towards her, “walking you home.”

Incredulously, she replied, “No, you're not.”

And before he was given the chance to talk further, Marinette decided to sprint down the street, not looking over her shoulder to see his reaction and she fled—it was the best choice in the end, she didn't want him to know where she lived after his strange behaviour, after all. Her breaths were coming quick and fast as she rounded the corner to her home, sweat causing the material of her dress to stick to her skin. She walked through the front gate that squeaked, clumsily searching through her bag for the cell phone that had been ringing for the past few minutes.

-x-

Alya had laughed hysterically when she learned about the blond. Despite her friend's pleas to visit the store to see whether he'd be there, Marinette stubbornly refused, sticking to her routine of travelling further for her groceries to avoid the awkward moments. She proclaimed she was determined to reject any potential dates for the upcoming future due to Kim expressing his concerns for Marinette's well-being (which irritated further as he'd known barely anything about her).

Eventually, he was dubbed Aisle Boy due to underwear talk at the store (which had the red-head roaring with laughter when Marinette had groaned in her hands from recounting the encounter), and thus the mention of him was interjected into their conversations, promptly Alya to happily explain to their friends when they didn't understand who they were referring to.

She often heard, “Oh, Marinette! He sounds just as awkward as you!”

Her favoured response was to look at them blankly until the subject changed.

Her father's company—which consisted of the brand Gabriel—was doing well in his employee's capable hands. Each month, she received the statistics of how they were doing, with his assistant visiting Marinette at home, explaining it all to her personally before asking whether she was okay, and if she wanted to become involved with the work just yet. As always, Marinette swallowed thickly, shaking her head in denial as it seemed far too soon. There were worries that when she touched it, the brand that had taken two decades to become irrevocably popular would turn into failure, and there were still impromptu questions in public that asked her plans for the future that caused the anxiousness of associating herself with it.

For three months, she hadn't created anything to do with fashion; she'd fixed a few articles of clothing, happily drew a variety of animals with a small smile on her face, and that was it. She was happy was that at that time, as there was no crushing sense of expectations that the outside world seemed to have for her when it was revealed that she'd inherited Gabriel.

It was three weeks after her date with Kim that she met him again.

Marinette was minding her own business, lazily sketching one of the dogs in the local park, legs tucked underneath her as she selfishly took up most of the bench. A hat was on her head with the intent of obstructing her identity to avoid the imposing questions, so when a shadow appeared in front of her—hiding the canine she'd been focused on—the grip on her pencil faltered, creating an ugly mark on the paper.

“I never took you for a dog person,” was his first comment—no greeting before he casually sat down beside where her feet were propped up, perched on the edge of the cold bench. “Is this how you spend your days, then?”

Collecting her belongings as quickly as she could without fumbling, the dark-haired female responded blandly, “Oh, is that the time? I need to leave.”

“You don't have a watch on,” Aisle Boy pointed out, and she could hear the smile in his voice. She didn't need to look to the side to see that he'd be dressed in his favourite outfit—and the only one she'd ever seen—with the same hairstyle that he ran his fingers through.

“I checked my phone,” she lied, fiddling with the device in her hands. The sketchbook was neatly closed, drawing equipment clumsily stashed into her pockets where the cell phone was tucked after she'd stumbled over her words. “Leave me alone, please. Bye.”

He took in a exaggerated breath, and she saw him clutch at his covered chest dramatically. “You wound me, Marinette.”

Standing up, she looked at him sharply, confusion clear in her voice as she stated, “I never told you my name.” There wasn't the instinctive feeling of wariness, just befuddlement from his sporadic presence.

“Don't you remember? Half the restaurant could hear Kim talk about himself and occasionally comment on your hair,” the male readily explained, laughing towards the end. “I wondered if I'd see you again. It seems taking a stroll through the park worked out in my favour.”

And if that wasn't disconcerting, she didn't know what was. Clutching the sketchbook tighter, pressed against her chest, her knuckles were turning white as she walked off in a different direction with a determined expression. She wasn't in the mood to deal with his whimsical moods, so she tugged the hat further down, slipping on her sunglasses quickly.

It was after two streets that she realised she wasn't alone. He had been quiet, no humming or loud footsteps to announce his presence from two steps behind (they would've been drowned out by the noise of the streets anyway). Marinette had stopped to safely cross the road, which resulted in him standing beside her as she waited for the light to turn green.

She didn't want to snap in front of people, really. It was only when she turned and accidentally caught the mop of blond hair, causing her blue eyes to flicker to see his lopsided smile that looked entirely too pleased with himself.

“Are you following me again?” she demanded hotly, trying to keep her voice quiet amongst the crowd that had formed on the pavement.

Hands in his pockets, Aisle Boy rocked on the heels of his feet, only raising his eyebrows as a reply.

He was annoying. From his whimsical attention span—that had suddenly decided to focus on her when they saw each other—to the odd actions he did when he was idle, everything she saw irked her. It—he was a frustrating bundle of contradictions that was suddenly gracing her with his presence, and she didn't understand it at all. He didn't have trouble hearing, she knew that now, yet he had blatantly ignored her in the past (where he should have stayed in the past).

“What do you want from me?” Marinette asked, higher-pitched than usual from the sudden desperation of wanting to understand. “I—I don't know you.”

The blond-haired male continued to smile at her, and the expression seemed so different now; not innocent, as they were standing behind the swarm of people waiting to cross, his facial features were twisted into a mocking look that had her stomach churning uncomfortably, wondering—

Why?” she breathed.

Two things happened at once, both equally as confusing as each other.

A woman turned to look at her, expression changing into one that was usually associated with concern as she approached, an uncertain hand hovering as though they were unsure whether to reach out and touch her. It wasn't that that had her choking, though; as the self-appointed concerned citizen walked towards her, they should've collided with the blond male—except they didn't.

His image didn't distort, no. It was fully there, no ripples or anything that would've appeared in dreams, and it was as though the woman had walked through him with no problems other than the visible shudder that ran through her.

Aisle Boy didn't move. He looked the same—body in tact, tufts of golden-coloured hair sticking up from his own doing, and hands tucked casually into his pockets—but the corners of his mouth curled into a smirk directed at her.

“Honey, are you okay?” the woman asked softly, trying to capture her attention.

With breaths coming past, Marinette's eyes flickered between the two, trying to comprehend fully what had happened before she blurted out her unnecessary thoughts. It wasn't something normal that she'd usually see, but then again, the blond hadn't exactly been the average person in the time that she'd known him. As if he knew her thoughts, Aisle Boy dramatically did a sarcastic bow, while chuckling to himself.

A strangled noise escaped.

The woman noticed her changing emotions, fast breaths and knitted her eyebrows together. “Do you want me to call someone for you?”

They were drawing attention to themselves. Marinette felt her face burn from the curious stares, suddenly the hat and sunglasses not providing adequate protection from their gazes. There was muttering, words that weren't loud enough to make out, before their attention was caught by the sudden noise, indicating that it was safe to cross.

Only she and Aisle Boy remained, and she watched with wide eyes as countless individuals walked through him, or stuck their arm through his body as they walked past. It looked peaceful to him; he wasn't shuddering, making noises of pain or giving any indication that he was damaged by their contact, yet without fail any that touched him either contorted their expression for a moment or shivered profusely. None looked at him directly, nor did they move around him, and that caused her to take a shaky step backwards, hands clutching the sketchbook tightly.

It was no wonder he had ignored her at the store, then. He was accustomed to everyone around him not seeing him, passing through his body which caused shudders, and that was the only way that he could assure himself that he was there.

But—

“I can see you,” she breathed, voice barely audible amongst the bustle of the busy street.

He rocked on the spot, a bright smile directed at her that reached his emerald-coloured eyes. “Correct.”

Instead of freaking out further—though she wouldn't deny that rapidly beating of her heart or clammy hands that were uncomfortable—Marinette instead babbled, “So you are stalking me!”

As his laughter came out, the noise genuine with the corner of his eyes contorting, Marinette realised the implications of what she'd seen. If others could walk through him without realising something was wrong—or someone was there—how had he been able to sit down beside her on the bench? It didn't make sense, and she couldn't hide the confusion from showing on her face.

“If you want to finally talk, perhaps the middle of the street isn't the best place.” There was amusement in his tone. “Haven't you wondered about all the looks you get?”

If he was only visible to her, that meant that he couldn't be heard either—and goodness, that meant she'd been talking to air, stuttering and blushing with no one there for others to see. There had to have been mutters about her sanity, and the strangers that had approached her with concern written across their faces were all because of him. Marinette swallowed thickly, trying to take in a deep breath to calm down her rapid breathing as she processed his words.

Weakly, she replied, “Okay.”

He didn't push her for conversation as they walked. Since it seemed like he wasn't going to cause trouble—no one could see him, which wouldn't spur gossip among her nosey neighbours—Marinette didn't run away from him that night. She led the way to her home, right up to the gate that creaked and pulled her key out from her pocket, accidentally dropping her sketchbook and a pencil in the process.

“Crap,” she muttered, busy unlocking the door. “Can you get those for me?”

After the door was open, she turned around to see him standing behind her, staring down at the mess with an unfathomable expression.

“No,” he replied softly, “I can't.”

Right. “Oh,” Marinette whispered, sinking to her knees to collect her belongings. Her cheeks burned from the assumptions and the implications of his word, wondering internally about his limits, unsure how to broach the subject.

It made sense that he'd followed her around if she was one of the only ones to see him, she realised. At least he hadn't gone overboard, turning up everywhere, popping up in her vision each day for her to panic and try and escape from. As slow as he'd taken it, he hadn't exactly been subtle about wanting to know her, not after the horrendous date—

“Wait.” The dark-haired female looked over her shoulder with furrowed eyes. “Was that why my date ran away? He heard me talking to you?”

He ran a hand through his hair. “Well, he heard you talking to yourself about babies. As did a few other patrons.”

Torn between laughter and being incredulous, Marinette settled with saying, “You did it on purpose, didn't you?”

“I've got to amuse myself somehow,” Aisle Boy replied wistfully, strolling past her with curious eyes as he inspected the décor. It was a compliment how his gaze lingered on the personal touches, from the folded blanket, different ornaments that had had meaning when they were bought, and the framed photographs along the mantle. “You have a nice home.”

She jumped at the sound of his voice. “I—thank you.”

Everything about the situation was absurd. Marinette discarded the hat and sunglasses, emptying her pockets onto the table as she watched him walk around the room, humming to himself as he went. The odd behaviour made sense if he'd been isolated for long, which meant he was all too happy with the sudden company.

A thought struck her. “You are going to leave again, right?”

He settled down on the sofa, looking entirely pleased with himself as he glanced up. “Sure, if you need a break. I promise not to intrude on any of your, you know, personal time.”

Flustered, she snapped, “I didn't mean that.”

“You're the first person to see or hear me,” Aisle Boy started, fiddling with the sleeves of his shirt. “Unless we really don't get along, I promise not to follow you around all the time.”

Well, it's not like she could call a priest to come and ward her home off from evil spirits. There wasn't much she could do about it, actually—he'd already settled himself into her home with the intent of staying.

She ran a hand through her hair. “Well, I—fuck, if we're going to be stuck together now, we should at least try and be friends, I guess. That'll be better than ignoring each other.”

“I can do that.” He smiled, the curve not quite reaching his eyes as he glanced up at her. “You're taking this a lot better than I thought you would.”

“You'll probably hear me scream later after the shock has disappeared,” she muttered. “So do—do you eat?” There was silence between them as she squirmed uncomfortably, feeling put on the spot from his gaze, before she realised her mistake. “Right, oh, gosh. Can you even eat?”

There was a lot of inconsistencies. The sight of him sat upon her couch was one that didn't add up in her mind—if someone could walk through him, how was he not falling down through the material? Then again, if that was the case, the floor wouldn't have acted as a barrier for him—her thoughts were getting out of control with no scientific facts to back up her jumbled assumptions.

His voice caught her attention. It was soft, and the smile across his lips was self-deprecating. “No, I—I don't need any of that, okay? I'm here for company so I know I'm not insane, honestly.”

She swallowed thickly. “Am I the first to see you?” The words that she wanted to ask—to question how long he'd sauntered around without anyone knowing—never made it out. It seemed too soon to pry into that, especially when she wasn't sure on what his reactions could be.

“Yes.” He rested his chin on the palm of his hand, elbow propped on his thigh. “I didn't realise for quite some time, so I'm not sure how long I've seen you without knowing it.”

There was a rough estimate as she'd only frequented that store after her father's passing. She didn't tell him that detail, instead saying that she'd decided to visit it three months ago. The first mystery was solved from his answer to why he was at the store—while the living, since he was clearly classing himself as not that, could walk through him with no problems, he wasn't able to control his body in such ways. He couldn't walk through walls, contort his being to pass through doors or anything of the sort; the blond had to walk through open doorways like anyone else, so he had to try and run through when someone unsuspecting was minding their own business.

The store was one of his favourite places to go due to the constant trickle of visitors, so he could have easy access, with a plethora of strangers to amuse himself with watching.

It sounded devastatingly lonely. They didn't know each other well enough to express such feelings, so when he'd finished explaining himself, Marinette kept her hands to herself, eyes flickering uncertainly from hearing the soft tone of his voice.

It wasn't right to pity him. He was a strange phenomenon that only she knew of, and it wouldn't be right to cause him to feel worse about his existence. So, after clearing her throat, she tentatively said, “I'm glad you found me, then.”

“I—yeah,” he stuttered, lips curling into a smile. “Thank you, really.”

-x-

They weren't instantly friends. Marinette woke up with bleary eyes the next morning, clad in pyjamas with messy hair as she came downstairs with the intent of a hot drink, so when she caught sight of him relaxed on her couch, the television playing quietly (she'd left it on as he couldn't touch the remote), she screamed.

He made it his personal mission to scare her at least once every few days, and it terrified her each time. As he couldn't make sound—his feet didn't even produce footsteps as he walked, which was equally terrifying and confusing—he resorted to hiding or crouching to catch her when she was unaware. It was a compromise so he wouldn't follow her outside, or to disappear when company came over so she wouldn't appear to be talking to herself.

When they actually spoke to each other, it seemed that personal topics were uncomfortable. Marinette licked her lips nervously when he quietly admitted that he didn't know his name before he changed the subject loudly, prattling on about something he saw in the street that day. It was clear that he wanted to distance himself from the past—or, rather; the unknown—so she indulged him, and found that within time that she didn't mind his company.

He had a bad sense of humour, which she'd already known from him getting her to say awkward things around unsuspecting strangers, and made himself laugh often at his own jokes, but it was nice. The company in the evenings meant she wasn't left to her own thoughts, when she returned home from checking on her father's company he was there, greeting her like an excited pet that was happy to see her.

She wondered whether she'd really acquired a pet. As nice as the neighbourhood she lived in was, she couldn't leave a door or a window open for him to escape out of during the day, so sometimes he opted to walk around the streets, returning in the evening to shout loudly outside the front door to try and catch her attention.

The nickname wasn't one he was fond of. The blond-haired male scrunched up his facial features in distaste as he proclaimed, “I'm clearly a man, Marinette. Why would you belittle me by referring to me as a boy for so long?”

Rolling her eyes, Marinette stirred her food, busy in the kitchen as he was slouched on the couch. A good thing of having an apparition as a room-mate meant that he couldn't mess up her possessions, no matter the amount of pressure he tried to put on them. He could sit on things, sure, but there was no actual indication that he was there at all other than her eyes.

“I demand a better name,” he continued, and she was sure he was making more dramatic expressions while her attention was elsewhere. “Let's read a book of baby names together.”

“Oh, I'm sorry,” she replied, trying not to laugh at his tone. “Children aren't in the picture for us.”

If he could touch things, she was sure something would've been thrown at her. She saw him raise his hands in exasperation from the corner of her eyes instead. “For me, Marinette!”

“We could just abbreviate Aisle Boy?” she suggested.

The response she got was a snort.

He didn't like to talk about himself, though. They had been living together for just over a month at that point, and it was the first time he'd brought up the subject of names since he'd admitted his lack of one—Marinette had made sure to look at him while talking so he knew that he was who it was intended for. It wasn't him opening up to her, no; the blond-haired male was adamant to ignore the serious nature of his situation, convinced that it wasn't important. He couldn't have been content to watch others for a lifetime, especially when all he could do was fiddle with his own body to feel the sensation of touch.

And thus, a new tradition was born. When Marinette tried to wake up in the mornings, with the animated blond male beside her (who couldn't sleep), their day began with excited comments from him.

Such as, “I'm going by Gerard today.”

He'd select a name to try out each morning before deciding it didn't suit him by the following day, and she decide to make use of the tiny whiteboard on the wall by writing down the selected name while she was still sleepy.

She found out he was fond of cats when her neighbour's one had managed to get into her living room.

It was five months when he asked, “What is your surname?”

“Eh?” Marinette blinked, swallowing her mouthful of food as she leaned against the kitchen countertop. After trying to eat dinner at a table and having him demand that she pulled out a chair for him, too, she'd settled to casually eating wherever she went to avoid the hassle. It didn't seem like he minded, though; Aisle Boy—it was easier to refer to him as that in her head, rather than the various new names—wasn't likely to demand a plate in front of him to feel included.

“Last name, Marinette,” the blond clarified, making a disapproving noise with his tongue. “I just realised I don't know what it is.”

Well, she didn't know what his was. “It's Agreste. My name's Marinette Agreste.”

“Okay.” Stretching his arms above his head, sighing from how it felt, he approached her silently. “And you don't have a job, right?”

Perhaps staring at him wasn't the best response. They had known each other for quite some time at that point, yet he hadn't been interested in her personal life. The male was pleased just to have someone to converse with about silly topics, anyone capable of laughing at his jokes (other than him), to keep his sanity stable. So, him suddenly asking her questions had her furrowing her eyebrows in confusion.

His smile was as soft-looking as his hair. “It just hit me that I don't really know anything about you.”

That was another thing about him—he didn't get dirty. The environment didn't change him; if he was outside in the rain, he would be dry, and there wasn't droplets of sweat on his skin when the sunlight was blaring. No, it seemed the only thing that changed was the amount of wrinkles in his clothing and the style of his hair—that didn't even grow. He was stuck with the appearance he had, change completely out of his control, for the foreseeable future. While Marinette could have her weight fluctuate and cut her hair, he was trapped, and knowing that while he smiled at her gratefully in the evenings made her heart feel heavy.

“You know intimate things that my ex-boyfriends don't,” Marinette pointed out, not embarrassed any more. “Like how unresponsive I am in the mornings, my awkward cooking habits and even what I do in my free time.”

He hummed in agreement. “But I don't even know your age.”

“Does it matter?” she asked, tilting her head quizzically while looking at him over her shoulder. “You're not going to leave just because I'm twenty-three, right?”

“That's a very unattractive age, so I think I will,” the blond-haired male tried to say without laughing, causing his voice to shake as he pressed his lips into a tight line. “If you'd be so kind to open the door, I'll disappear from your life.”

Cleaning up her dinner, a laugh escaped. “Yes, sure. What will I do without my resident ghost?”

“Live in peace, Miss Agreste,” he replied.

It was an honest mistake. Marinette turned towards him with the intention of playfully hitting him on the shoulder, but instead her hand passed through his body—not feeling the white shirt, nor the warm skin that was there before her eyes—and touched the air, a demanding chill running through her body and causing her hairs to stand on end as she shivered.

His eyes were wide when she looked up. Marinette retracted her hand quickly, clutching it to her chest with a horrified expression—not at his body, but rather that she'd forgotten and caused him to fall silent, the uncomfortable feeling in her stomach building due to it being solely her fault.

Aisle Boy excused himself, disappearing up the stairs silently. The doors were shut, but she gave him the space he needed.

When he returned hours later to see her curled up on the couch, blanket on her lap and a quiet film playing, he settled down beside her without a word.

Marinette moved the fabric so it was just beside his thigh.

He was full of smiles the next day, her forgetfulness thrown aside, but the grins didn't meet his eyes. Rather than asking what was wrong—since it was so awkwardly obvious and it made her feel awful each time she thought about it—Marinette indulged his childish antics, placing her cell phone to her ear as they walked the streets together so they could talk. It wasn't something they did often; when Marinette did go outside, it was deemed as her alone time (or time with her friends without him hovering nearby, muttering under his breath at every sentence).

“What am I supposed to call you today?” she asked, laughter clear in her voice as they turned a corner. “I can barely keep up.”

Her eyes were on them despite the device, so she could see him dramatically tap his chin in thought. “I quite like the sound of Théo.”

“Okay, Théo,” the dark-haired female agreed easily. “Are you coming to see Alya with me?”

They'd planned to go shopping together. The blond-haired male had expressed his want to explore the outside world once more, though it was agreed he wouldn't travel with them in any way other than walking. The thought of him getting separated from her via train had her worried since they had no way other than to shout to hear each other—then, she'd appear to be shouting at thin air while trying to remember the name he'd picked for himself that day.

The possibilities had her anxious. Once she confessed of her fear of them splitting up accidentally, he promised not to stray too far and make sure to return.

He shook his head, golden-coloured tresses obscuring his eyebrows. The words that came next were mumbled, “I won't intrude on your precious alone time with your best friend.”

She tried not to laugh. “You're a close second, I promise you.”

And it wasn't a lie. The past few months had been a constant stream of fun, terrible jokes and awkward interactions as they got to know each other. Even if she didn't know what food he had liked, or even the genre of music he preferred, their comments to each other had turned teasing and silly. She was happy, so much so to the point that her friends questioned what had brightened up her mood when they met outside (sans the ghost), and she'd taken to responding that she'd made a new friend.

“I've seen your sleeping face yet I can't be your best friend?”

A laugh escaped at that. “That doesn't automatically promote you. Alya was my room-mate at university; she's seen it far more than you.”

He exhaled loudly, hair on his forehead moving from the blown air. “Now I'm just offended.”

“Oh, A—Théo.” Marinette caught herself at the last moment, having almost blurted his hated nickname. It came out when she was sleepy at times, which only earned her half-hearted glares and crossed arms, childish actions that had started to appear endearing as she got to know him. “Why don't you go out for a run?”

He looked at her suspiciously. “Why would I do that? I'm cursed with the muscles I had before I died; no amount of running will change that.”

“You should get some, you know,” she started, voice dropping into a whisper as a smile blossomed across her lips, “exorcise.”

For a moment, he gaped at her. Then he burst into honest laughter that caused her cheeks to hurt from her proud smile—because he wasn't the only one allowed to make bad jokes—and she joined in, too, pleased once more with the happy atmosphere that surrounded their conversations. Though he was only visible to her, and had therefore chosen to latch onto her for that reason, she hoped that they would've been friends if he was normal. He didn't look too young; there wasn't pre-pubescent fat on his cheeks, his body was tall and lean—standing straight beside her, she came up to his chin—and his voice was definitely post-puberty.

The official story when she chatted with Alya was that she had made a friend online (Aisle Boy was long forgotten, thankfully), so her red-haired friend was entirely too happy to hear about the new development. Marinette chose to say they stuck to pseudonyms and sent each other bad jokes during the week, the relationship purely platonic before any conclusions were jumped to.

Their day ended with her meeting Aisle Boy at the local park. He was propped against a wall, arms crossed on his chest as he watched people walking past. Alya had already rushed off to meet her fiancé with a grin, so it was with a cell phone clutched in her hands that Marinette had a fast steps as she approached him.

“Hey, you!” she called, device pressed against her ear (it was on silent, so she wouldn't embarrass herself if a call really did go through). “I was wondering where you'd wandered off to.”

It took a moment for him to realise the words were meant for him. When he turned his head and spotted her, his expression visibly brightened, a smile on his lips as he enthusiastically beckoned her over with a hand. “Over here,” he urged. “You arrived just in time. I think the climax will happen soon.”

Watching strangers for countless hours meant that he had to become invested in their interactions to gain some enjoyment. Bemused, Marinette complied and stood beside him, peering into the park to try and see where he was pointing to. As it turned out, it was a couple that had his attention that time: a red-haired male scrawling on his sketchbook from the ground, while a blonde woman was sat on the bench with a bored expression.

She knitted her eyebrows together. “...Okay?”

Usually, he walked behind his chosen ones, listening into their conversations from a close distance rather than standing far away, looking on from a fence that was meant to keep them apart. It meant that he had intentionally placed himself out there, on the pavement that she had to walk past on her way back (whenever that was).

“She thinks he's drawing her, but he's not,” he revealed with a laugh. “Last time I looked, it was actually the scenery. She's complained about staying in the same position for too long twice already.”

It wasn't right to pity him. The highlights of his life thus far were the conversations he listened to, or the television that she left on in the evening despite the lack of variety from the one channel. He was severely restricted in what he could do, so seeing him smiling from something so trivial was to be cherished, not squashed.

“Exciting,” she murmured, trying to appear as though she really wasn't standing there staring at a couple to pass the time. “Have you been here all day?”

His shrug was the answer.

When the blonde-haired female finally found out that it wasn't her picture being drawn, that was the moment Marinette realised that she knew them—both of them. They'd attended school together she was younger, fallen out of contact as the years passed. She relayed this information to the male beside her, who wasn't so amused any more since the anticipated complaints had been soothed with a kiss.

“Oh,” was the response he gave.

They walked back together, device hot against her ear from the prolonged use. As she stole looks at him, noticing the set of his eyebrows and the unhappy curve of his lips, she wondered how she could comfort him. Although he seemed to be an optimistic person, it was understandable for his moods to be negative, too. It was just that she had limited ways to comfort him outside of touch, and she couldn't even offer a warm drink as a nice gesture. Instead she fiddled with the strap of her bag, fingers fiddling as she kept her mouth shut.

It was him that broke the silence. “Sometimes I forget that you have a life outside of me.”

Her voice didn't shake as she asked, “Are you trying to say I'm your life?”

“Don't be silly.” A smile tugged on his lips, but it was half-hearted. “How can I claim to have a life when I'm already dead?”

Usually when he casually mentioned his death, Marinette steered uncertainly away from the subject, not wanting to attempt to tackle that topic without more knowledge to him. Yet that was the problem; the blond-haired male was quick to deflect away from him, mood turning sour if she tried to pry anything prior to them meeting. Asking whether he liked the television shows from the night before was just fine, but trying to see whether he remembered his favourite film caused his face to contort into a pained expression.

She licked her lips before quietly enquiring, “How do you know you're dead?”

His footsteps didn't falter. “What I have right now can't be classed as living—if I'm technically alive right now, I'm cursed and I used to want nothing more than an escape from this.”

That—Marinette sucked in a sharp breath, cell phone falling from her hands as she turned to face him with wide eyes. “Y-you—”

Running a hand through his golden-coloured tresses, in a move that was partly nervous and self-conscious as she'd noticed over their time together, he quietly continued with averted eyes, “I'm not so sure now.”

Her heart hurt.

“We don't know that for sure,” she whispered, kneeling down to pick up the pieces of her shattered cell phone on the floor. “You're not exactly capable of researching your condition.”

“Condition?” he questioned, bitter amusement clear. “You're allowed to say it, Marinette. I'm a walking nightmare that I'd wish upon no one.”

The screen was broken, not illuminating properly when she tried to press buttons on the device. “That's a bit dramatic, don't you think? If it makes you feel better, you're the cleanest pet anyone could ever ask for.”

“I'll also be the noisiest if you keep this up,” Aisle Boy grumbled.

-x-

Opening up wasn't easy for him, she understood that. It took two weeks for him to begrudgingly admit that he didn't have many memories; he flickered into existence with hazy vision, not fully aware of his surroundings before it became clear that he couldn't physically interact with anything. Leaning against objects or sitting down was all well and good, but having someone pass through his body without acknowledgement had been the worst realisation, according to him. Marinette didn't try to hide her wet eyes when he told her that, though she did use an embarrassing amount of tissues to try and get her emotions under control.

They had a rough timeline. The blond-haired male had become coherent and could think clearly six months ago, give or take, and it was that time that caused her hand to still from where she was writing down their notes.

“What is it?” he questioned, concerned.

“I—” Marinette cleared her throat, surprised at herself for not realising the date sooner. “That's around the time my father passed away.”

They'd avoided the subject of her family for a long time. He never questioned the man in the photographs around the house, nor pry further to ask whether there was any remaining parental figures in her life. Other than Alya and Nino, the guests she'd had in her home had been limited to business, and sometimes deliveries, which didn't warrant questions.

His voice caught her attention again; it was soft, like how it was advised to talk to a crying child. “Is that why you live here alone?”

“Yes.” She wiped at her face quickly, surprised that none of the tears had leaked. “I—I used to live somewhere else, but this was left to me.”

“I'm going to assume that that also has something to do with why you can get away with not having a job?”

Warmth blossomed along her cheeks. “If you must know, I actually do have a job. I just don't think I deserve it.”

“Wait, what?” the male questioned, sounding baffled as he sat beside her on the couch (the cushions didn't sink, nor was there any noise). “You're not going to suddenly say you're rich, are you?”

Well, she wouldn't have put it so crassly.

The lack of response was picked up upon. “You are?” Aisle Boy babbled, hands moving to emphasise his words enthusiastically. “No offense, but I wouldn't be able to tell that from the way you are, or how you dress. Is that rude? I'm trying to give you a compliment, really.”

“If this is where I think it's going—no, I am not buying a bigger television.”

His laugh was sweet. “A better laptop would be fine, too.”

“Mine's fine,” she defended hotly, crossing her arms beneath her breasts. “It just makes a weird noise after it gets too hot—oh, don't give me that look. It's roughly an hour before it starts screaming.”

As it turned out, hiring a private investigator wasn't something she wanted to do. She wasn't even entirely sure whether the man she lived with was alive or dead, so asking a stranger to research with only a sketch of her companion's face for information wasn't the best way to go about it. Instead, she tried to look through newspapers and online to see what local deaths were listed for six months ago, trying to find out his identity that way.

They decided he died near to the day he appeared; his appearance never changed from that, and no new clothes appeared on his body (despite his complaints that wearing the shirt with all the buttons done up was uncomfortable for days on end).

It was with no luck on her research that she sat down at the dining table with him. It was a small one, four chairs with cushions on them stained a matching colour, within a room that had a landscape painting that she'd painted when she was a teenager—her father had been overjoyed with it for a present and readily displayed in their home despite her protests.

She only sat down properly, having pulled out a chair for him to sneak into, when there was something on her mind.

Half of her food was gone by the time he grew impatient. “Just tell me, Marinette. I'm getting anxious.”

“Okay.” She placed her cutlery down, fiddling with her hands immediately. “This is going to sound weird, but why do you think you're dead?”

He could've laughed at her, brushed it off or made a sarcastic remark; she'd actually fully anticipated one of those responses, so seeing him appear contemplative—thinking of a response that would make sense—had her pulling her hair into a ponytail for something to do while she waited.

“Other than the obvious?” Aisle Boy began, a self-deprecating smile on his lips. “I can't mature or change; I'm stuck the same way I have been for months. Something must've happened to cause this, and the only thing that makes sense to me is death. I haven't always been this way.”

With clammy palms, her hands dropped to her thighs. “You're free to laugh at me, really, but I'm just—I think we might be missing the obvious here, okay?”

He raised his eyebrows.

“You—right now, as you are, you breathe. I know you're not capable of eating or even moving things, but don't you think it's strange that you still appear as a functioning human?” Marinette babbled, cheeks growing warm as she spouted her words with averted eyes. “You don't have any memories prior to when you appeared, so what is your consciousness split off, and you're the result?”

“I don't think someone's consciousness is capable of splitting of and creating another human being, Marinette,” he replied quiet, not brushing her off as she'd expected.

She blinked. “You're right—that's why you're fucked up.”

The laugh that escaped him was loud.

“Oh, not like that!” the dark-haired female quickly defending herself, frantically shaking her head. “I think your—you know, your body is. I quite like you as a person.”

When she looked up, the smile met his eyes. It wasn't the expression of someone that was disapproving of her theories, and the warm look had her grinning tentatively right back. “What a nice compliment.”

“Shut up.” She stuck her tongue out childishly. “Now humour me as I ask you to do something, okay?” At the nod she got in return, Marinette continued to ask, “Can you check if you have a pulse?”

Complying with her request, she watched as he placed a palm over his chest, lips tugging down into a frown before he tested other parts of his body, too. The shirt was pushed aside to touch his neck easily, sleeves roughly pooled by his elbows as he worked methodically, counting numbers underneath his breath that she could only make out from the movement of his lips.

His fingertips were against his neck as he murmured, “This doesn't prove much.”

“That's a yes, then,” she concluded, swallowing thickly. Where would they go with this? Proving that he had a pulse wasn't going to amount to much; he couldn't eat or drink, nor could he make his presence known to anyone else, so the small detail of information left in her hands made her anxious to get answers. “Do you—I mean, is there anything wrong with your body, other than the whole ghost thing?”

Although his memory meant he couldn't recall details about himself, he knew things about the outside world that baffled her at times. He could recount news articles from a couple of years ago easily, the large headlines that had been all the rage at the time, and had general knowledge of most things that meant he wasn't completely in a strange land.

He patted his body down obediently. “Honestly, I don't really know. There's no scratches or bruises that could've been from an accident, so I'm torn on what to think. If you're right, then there should be some evidence left on me, right?”

Shaking her head, Marinette glumly responded, “It's not showing how you died, so let's just assume that this is your appearance before something happened. Can we agree on that?”

“I guess.” His shirt rustled as he shrugged. “I don't think I dressed like this normally, though. The shoes have no marks on them.”

Maybe. He had days where he wore the shirt tucked in with most of the buttons done up, then he swapped to a messier style to give himself a sense of identity on others. Peering underneath the table, Marinette confirmed that the shoes—that couldn't trek dirt into her home, thankfully—were pristine, shining mockingly from how the light was placed.

“Okay,” she said slowly, pushing her chair back as she ran a hand through her bangs. “You were dressed up for some kind of event, then—I don't know, you woke up disorientated in the streets?”

He didn't need to answer that. She already knew that he wasn't certain where he came into existence, too incoherent to recognise his surroundings or remember the earlier days clearly.

-x-

In a way, she was happy that they'd managed to find each other (or, rather; that he'd taken notice that she was actually addressing him and then acted really weird to gain her attention). Her nights weren't spent alone with her jumbled emotions any more; she had someone there with a bright smile to greet her each morning, even when she was grumpy and incoherent from sleeping badly, with optimism that helped cheer up her days.

Having someone to talk to must've helped him, too. The bad jokes increased over time—which she returned that always produced a dramatic response from him—and it seemed that the best compliment she could give his sense of humour was a flippant insult that had his smile growing larger.

By the seventh month without her father, she lit a candle. The blond-haired male had nosed around their home (he was a permanent lodger there, in her mind), sniffing the large jars that had scented candles within them, lids having disappeared over time, and then pointed out his favourite and wanted to know whether it would smell better when the wick was lit.

So, she did it. Marinette placed the favoured one onto the coffee table, settled down in her large sweater onto the sofa and busied herself with sketching the scenery that was shown on the film they were watching together.

“You're very artistic, aren't you?” Aisle Boy mused from beside her, propping his elbow on the side as he rested his head in his palm, eyes on her rather than the television. “I haven't told you this enough, but you're really good.”

“Oh,” was her intelligent response.

He was deterred. “Did you plan to do something like this in the future?”

The idea of being in charge of Gabriel had her up late at night, sweating nervously with anxious thoughts of all the things that could go wrong. So, she settled with saying, “Originally, yes. I'm not sure what I'll do now.”

“Do anything you want,” the blond-haired male advised, gaze focused on the lazy scratches of her pencil. “What if you wake up like me someday? It would be a shame for you to not be able to do what you desire.”

That only made her feel worse. The lead left an ugly mark on the paper as she paused, glancing at him uncertainly. “I think the worst thing is that you don't remember what you enjoy.”

He stiffened, causing her to feel regret for uttering the words at all. Of course he wouldn't want to be reminded of all the things he was missing out on, though it would've been indefinitely crueller if he was aware of his past hobbies. Goodness—what if he'd left someone behind without realising it? Love wasn't a topic they often spoke about—other than when she'd drunkenly spilled the embarrassing secrets of her last relationship with him—yet there was a chance that the man beside her had been involved with someone.

“You're not a child,” Marinette blurted, trail of thought not coming out coherently.

Relaxing once more, a smile curled on his lips, indents showing on his cheeks. “Thank you for noticing, I suppose.”

“No—I-I mean, you're an adult,” she tried to clarify, hastily placing her sketchbook on the coffee table. “What if you had a girlfriend—or boyfriend, there's nothing wrong with that, really—wait, do you even know if you're attracted to anyone?”

The laughter that came from him wasn't forced. There was a soft expression on his face as he looked at her, green eyes gazing at her fondly instead of at her artwork. “As cute as your babbling is, are you trying to ask my orientation?”

Her cheeks burned as she retorted, “You might've forgotten someone!”

“It's okay, Marinette,” he assured her, grinning widely in what appeared to be a playful way. “I can assure you I'm not a polter-gay-st.”

She blinked. “...I'm trying to have a serious conversation with you.”

The smile grew, showing the whites of his teeth, as he held his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “I've wondered about that before; due to the lack of a ring on my finger, I decided it would be best to just forget about it. If I did have someone, it's already been months, and there's a less than one percent chance that they'd see me, so what's the point?”

“But—”

“No.” He shook his head, running his fingers through the golden-coloured tresses on his head. “I'm not going to be miserable by thinking about the past, okay? I just—I have you, and that's more than I could've hoped for back when I was alone.”

Her throat felt tight as she swallowed. They were the kind of comments that caught her off guard; how he could casually compliment her and make her feel miserable at the same time, trying to imagine how he'd managed to be on his own.

Marinette whispered, “I wish I could hug you.”

From the soft smile, she assumed that he did, too.

The topic of her father's company came up a few weeks later. Aisle Boy—who was going by Hugo for that day, which she refused to say due to how he'd proclaimed it loudly in the morning—had caught sight of one of the letters she'd left on the kitchen countertop.

“...Marinette?” he called, voice loud enough to hear from the upstairs.

Marinette padded downstairs with wet hair, clothes sticking to her from rushing to see what was the matter (they had clear boundaries; he wasn't allowed near the bathroom in case he was tempted to scare her), and furrowed her eyebrows in confusion as she caught sight of him. He'd done weird things before, yes—there was an time where he tried something new by rolling up his expensive-looking trousers to be make-shift shorts, but they'd appeared bulky and uncomfortable—so seeing him shirtless, fiddling with his shirt in the middle of her kitchen wasn't something she saw often.

“What are you doing?” she questioned.

Rather than looking up to greet her, his fingers searched through the material of his shirt before his expression visibly brightened. With a smile, he extended the shirt out towards her, allowing her to see the label.

Gabriel.

Excitedly, he exclaimed, “I knew it sounded familiar!”

That didn't make sense, though. Marinette foolishly tried to grasp onto the shirt to inspect it further, but similar to his body, a chill ran through her as her fingers pushed through it and touched thin air. Retracting her hand quickly with a jump, she watched him in confusion as he dressed again.

“What about the rest of your clothes?” she asked quietly.

He busied himself with the buttons. “All the same, even the new shoes. Do you think we could track them somehow? It might be a bit weird for you to ask, but it's your father's company, isn't it?”

There was a hopeful quality to his voice, and she really didn't want to squash them, but the nagging feeling of things not adding up was whispering in her head. She knew her father's designs; he was always enthusiastic to show her, happily providing pictures of the final product for her to see models wearing his outfits with fierce expressions.

They didn't make plain white shirts. Her father liked to have patterns on the buttons or details of the cuffs that made the shirt stand out—seeing something so normal with the branded didn't make sense. The shoes weren't ones that she could recall either. They were polished, made of a beautiful leather that looked expensive even from afar—but they didn't sell them.

“We—these aren't sold by Gabriel,” she murmured, eyes flickering between the articles of clothing. “I-I think they might be fakes?” They were at least decent quality, if they were.

His smile tightened. “Oh.”

“There are books upstairs,” Marinette blurted quickly, pointing to the ceiling, “with all the designs, complete with dates they were released. We could, well, look? Together?”

Alone, he wouldn't have been able to even enter the room. With a nervously pounding heart, Marinette opened the door to her father's study, where she knew his belongings had been packed away into boxes, not moved or touched since she'd organised them. It had seemed wrong to store everything away out of reach, so she'd opted to ignoring the room altogether. The wanted boxes were found quickly, and she was thankful for the labels on the spines (her gaze didn't linger on her father's handwriting).

It was a lot of work. They were mostly silent as she flicked through the pages, the blond-haired male sat on the floor beside her, gazing at the pictures with a determined expression that hadn't been there previously.

The first night didn't offer much luck.

Neither did the second, third, or fourth.

It was with the fifth that something happened. Aisle Boy—who hadn't picked a name for himself that day, and had instead insisted they search after she'd had breakfast—was growing restless from their lack of progress. His mood had plummeted after they'd tried to search the internet for answers, and had instead ended up with too many results instead of the plain white shirt they were looking for.

She didn't want to smother the hope that he had. Even if they were able to locate when it was made, there were countless retail stores and online ones that sold it, meaning they would reach another dead end that would drive them crazy. Being the designer's daughter didn't give her the benefit of demanding to know everyone that had purchased an article of clothing, yet he was promptly ignoring that fact for the time being.

What was she supposed to say? Apologise for encouraging his hopeless fantasies of finding out his identity from his clothing? Their search for local deaths hadn't turned out well, and neither had her attempting to find out if anyone had been in a life-threatening accident but had managed to pull through with his description.

It was in the afternoon when he said he needed a break. He disappeared from the room, leaving her in the suffocating space filled with memories and hopeless dreams that couldn't be accomplished, so it was with a nostalgic smile that she opened one of the boxes that contained her father's sketchbooks in.

The first pages had caused her to choke up the first time she'd seen them, all those months ago. It was filled with sketches of her growing up; missing teeth, chubby cheeks that had only thinned out when she was almost out of her teenage years, and happy smiles that were directed at him. Sometimes underneath he'd included writing, scrawling a quote that she'd said from that day so he could admire them later.

She flicked through them with a wide smile, surprised that her eyes weren't welling with tears from the happiness.

Her breath caught when she turned a page.

“W-what—” Marinette cut herself off with a strangled noise as she took in the various sketches. Some were messy, clearly unfinished and left as they were, while others were perfected with thick outlines and a dusting of colour to help give the pictures a sense of life.

Hastily searching through the rest of the pages, Marinette noticed two things quickly. As the images of herself grew up slowly, so did the newcomer. There was no mistaking who she was looking at, though; the dimples were shown on his plump cheeks when he smiled, his eyes were coloured in with shades of green that helped to identify him, and the tufts of blond-coloured hair stuck out stubbornly even at that young age.

Her breaths were pained and fast as she searched through the books for other sketchbooks, trying to put them in chronological order and attempt to make sense of what she was seeing—she knew that her father hadn't had a son, or another close family member. His wife had died, that was why he'd adopted her in the first place.

Yet, the drawn pictures showed the ghostly presence that she'd become accustomed to growing up through the years. Numbers were sometimes scrawled at the top, indicating his age, and it showed him in a plethora of clothing with happy expressions to display his feelings.

The fourth sketchbook made her glad that she was sat down. It wasn't the same as the others; the drawings weren't lazily etched with pencil, spread out across the page without order.

It was a storyboard, she realised. There were notes, indicating what he'd planned to have happen and which characters to include, and it was with a shaking hand that she reached for another book, terrified of what she'd find.

The pages were filled with bright colours, ink, beautiful sceneries and a blinding smile that looked eerily similar to the one she'd seen in front of her for months. It—it was a comic with the man she'd been living with as the main character.

The second panel had her heart beating painfully.

“Adrien Agreste,” she whispered, reading the name that he'd introduced himself as.

Chapter Text

 Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Chat Noir © Thomas Astruc

There were tears welling up in her eyes, hot and itchy in contrast to how cold her shaking hands felt. Denial was spiralling rapidly within her mind, trying to connect the evidence in front of her with the truth that she knew—there was no doubt that her father's wife had passed away before they had conceived a child. It was shortly after their marriage, before he'd snagged himself a stable job with the promise of financial stability. He'd tearfully told her the story when she was old enough to understand, to fully grasp that there hadn't been a chance for Adrien to be conceived, especially when he appeared to be around the same age as her.

Marinette hastily wiped at her eyes, closing the various books she had scattered open, trying to hide the strange situation until there was a sufficient explanation. It seemed cruel to point to the book without further proof; to give him a sense of hope only to squash it by saying it couldn't be true—because her father's only child was her, and he certainly hadn't procreated without his knowledge.

“Marinette?” Aisle Boy called, sounding worried.

Her gaze flickered up to see the furrow in his brow, the concern shown clearly in his expression, and it was that that caused a choked sob to escape her throat.

The tears hadn't stopped; rather, they were coming back with an unrelenting force, eyes burning as she blinked rapidly, pressing the palms of her hands over them with a pained noise. Breaking down in front of him wasn't the plan she had in mind, but seeing his kind-hearted concern from her dazed state had only caused guilt to well up inside her.

Think—she needed to think about it clearly.

Taking in deep breaths, eyes closed as she awkwardly cradled her head in her hands where she was sure he was silently gazing at her, aware that her breaths were loud and sounded congested. The constant sniffing made her feel even more so pathetic.

His silence was appreciated.

Why would her father had sketchbooks full of a random child? He wouldn't—no where else had scrawls or detailed drawings of another child. There was a chance that it was because Adrien resembled his dead wife—she could prove that by placing a picture of her beside him—but then that didn't explain how he was able to keep tabs on the boy as the years passed by. A coincidental meeting wouldn't warrant years of drawings the same boy, as though he was plagued by the thought of him leaving, too.

How—” Marinette grimaced as her voice cracked.

When she'd wiped her face clean to the best of her ability, aware that her nose was wet and utterly unattractive, she was greeted to the sight of the blond male kneeling down in front of her. With a frown on his lips and mused hair that was purely his doing—she'd come to realise he played with it when he was uncertain or nervous—there was little space between the two of them.

His voice was soft. “It's okay, Marinette.”

At his words, her stomach clenched uncomfortably.

“If you didn't find anything, I really don't mind, okay?” he continued, fiddling with his hands within his lap.

Goodness—how she wished to comfort him in some way, attempt to relieve him of the burden of not knowing anything about himself. All she had to show for their days of research was a bunch of sketchbooks that made no sense, and an unrelenting feeling of guilt brewing within her.

With a dry throat, she choked out, “H-how can you say that?”

The smile he flashed her soft and reached his green-coloured eyes. “I still have you, don't I?”

That made it worse. By the widening of his eyes, the sudden parting of his lips as he tried to pick out the right words to comfort her with, he realised that, too. Marinette flinched back, hand connecting with the floor to steady herself, but instead of the carpet, her fingertips brushed against the weathered leather of one of the sketchbooks.

An almost hysterical laugh escaped her lips as she leaned forward in frustration, head hovering a close distance from her knees. What was she supposed to say to him? Trying to explain the content of the sketchbooks would be difficult and endlessly frustrating, and there was no one else they could turn to for answers.

“I—I found something,” she stuttered, curling her fingers around the spine of one of the books. Her back straightened out as she began to sit properly, though she had no doubt that her eyes were wide, skin paler than usual due to the sudden stress. “But that doesn't mean I understand it.”

His eyebrows knitted together.

Of course, he thought she was still talking about clothes. That had been what they were looking for in the first place—not stylised baby pictures of him through the years.

With a grimace, she scrambled to find the one where it mentioned his name first. With shaking hands—they wouldn't stop any time soon, she assumed—she swallowed audibly as she looked up to meet his befuddled gaze.

“I'm sorry in advance,” Marinette whispered, feeling the words were right to say. It would only cause his emotional turmoil to increase, after all. With a small wave of her hand to indicate for him to come closer, the blond-haired male sat down beside her soundlessly. “I—just tell me if this seems familiar at all, okay?”

Keeping her eyes trained in front of her, aimed at the plant that she needed to water soon instead of his face or the comic, she turned to the desired page. Her heart was beating rapidly in her chest, almost drowning out the sound of the small gasp he produced. It may not have been a picture where the two of them were wearing the same clothes, but the resemblance was uncanny—the dimples of his cheeks, the curl of his hair that she'd become familiar with, and the curve of his nose when he turned to the side.

He had noticed it, too. “...Marinette.”

“I know,” she murmured, voice coming out strained. “I know.”

-x-

The natural first reaction was denial, of course. Aisle Boy rejected the connection for five minutes, until she'd pulled out the other sketchbooks with a pained expression. Then she watched as his eyes grew wide from seeing the drawn images of him growing up through the years, seeing that they were sometimes placed besides ones of her. He had grown pale, much as she had, and stared at the page blankly for longer than necessary. It was to be expected, she tried to tell herself as she kept her hands to herself, focusing on holding the book upright and visible rather than breaking down once more.

He didn't pick a name for himself for two days.

That time was filled with awkward silences, uncertain glances at each other as they went about their days. The blond-haired male travelled through the house as he pleased rather than going outside, and she left the door to the office open, even though he couldn't open the books to flick through them. There were still more that they had to search, but she couldn't pull herself together to do that yet, not when their relationship was as strained as it was at that moment.

He wasn't trying to scare her, making terrible jokes, or there at the door to greet her when she came back from shopping for groceries. He hadn't wandered outside to spy on people, hadn't retold tales of some of the strangest things he'd seen in the time he'd been alone, and that made her heart clench painfully.

It was her fault, there was no doubt about it. The denial was painful, and she had no ways of explaining it.

Setting her dirty mug on the side for later, Marinette carefully picked up one of the pictures she had framed upon the fireplace, staring at the image while biting her lower lip before deciding it was worth a shot.

“Are you upstairs?” she asked loudly, footsteps sounding as she ascended the wooden staircase so she wouldn't startle him.

Her hands were clammy.

It wasn't hard to locate him. The only door open on that floor was the study—their agreement made it so he wouldn't intrude in the bedrooms or the bathroom, leaving the mystery door one that he hadn't been inside until it was necessary. Aisle Boy was sat on the floor, back against the wall as he stared at the five sketchbooks she'd left laid out, but closed, in front of him. He was staring at them with a blank expression, arms crossed upon his chest with messy hair, the sleeves of his shirt pushed up and two buttons undone.

Clearing her throat to get his attention, Marinette started weakly, “Hey.”

His head snapped up to look at her, eyes widened in surprise as he quickly ran a hand through his messy hair. “Hello,” he greeted her. “I didn't hear you coming up.”

She'd practically stomped up the stairs. The only way she could've been louder was if she wore shoes within the house.

“My bad,” she apologised quietly, hands gripping the frame of the photograph tightly. It was angled towards her for a sense of secrecy at first, which caused his eyes to flicker down when he saw that she hadn't come empty-handed. “I... I want to ask you something, if that's okay.”

The half-smile he gave wasn't sincere. “Sure.” The hand that had been in his hair had fallen to fiddle with the strands at the nape of his neck, another nervous habit that she'd noticed over time.

Turning the photograph around carefully, Marinette sat down in front of him after pushing the books aside. Letting him see the image clearly, she asked, “Do they look familiar to you?”

He blinked. “Yes.”

She stilled.

“That's your father, isn't it? I've seen the picture before downstairs,” the blond-haired male continued, eyes trained onto one side of the photograph. Surely, he was inspecting her father's younger figure, trying to decide why the man had decided to immortalise a stranger's life in drawings. “I don't understand what you want me to say.”

Right. She licked her lips nervously. “Let's ignore him for a moment, okay?” Marinette requested, pulse thumping loudly. “She—she was my father's wife. They married young and had only just moved in together when she died.”

“Okay,” he replied, gazing across at her rather than staring at the photograph once more. “What about her, then?”

“She wasn't pregnant,” she blurted out, wanting to get that piece of information out of the way first of all. With flushed cheeks as he looked at her in surprise, Marinette hastily continued to explain, “They planned to have a family, yes. She wasn't pregnant when she died, and she didn't give birth beforehand.”

He caught on in a heartbeat. “Yet you seem to think we're connected.”

Nodding in agreement despite his furrowed eyebrows, the dark-haired female pointed out, “You two definitely look related, don't you agree?”

“A lot of people look similar, Marinette,” he argued weakly.

The rebuttal didn't deter her. “I'm not claiming you're their lost son or something, okay? I don't really know what I'm suggesting since I know they had no children, but it can't be a coincidence that my father was so fond of you that he made a story where you're his son.”

“He could've seen me on the street,” Aisle Boy disagreed, hand falling from his neck to clasp the other loosely upon his lap. “All we have here is evidence that he knew I existed, and a picture of his dead wife that looks like me. That might be the only reason he took notice of me in the first place; because I look like her.”

She drew in a slow breath. “I've never seen you.”

“I could be the son of one of my employees,” the blond argued quietly. “What if they took me into work every now and then, so that's where he saw me?”

Unimpressed, Marinette said flatly, “So you think he dedicated his free time to drawing you because you look like his dead wife, and had happened to run into him at work.”

“Why not?” he questioned.

“I'd know!” she retorted, placing the photograph carefully on the floor so it wouldn't get damaged when unknowingly moved her hands to emphasise her words (a habit she couldn't break). “Whenever an employee brought their children into work, I'd meet them—Father was insistent that I needed to be friendly with them. He wouldn't have hid you from me for selfish reasons, nor would the other children neglect to mention you for the chance to gloat that they knew you first.”

Running a hand through his hair, Aisle Boy let out a sigh. “Where are you trying to go with this? I could be a relative of hers, for all we know.”

She knew that not to be true. The lack of both of their families resulted in a small informal wedding. “And what? Father decided to tag his surname onto you?”

“Well, that's all we've got, isn't it?” he murmured, looking glumly at the books as his hand fell. “It's wishful thinking to believe we're going to find my life story in your father's comics, no matter how much he seemed to adore me from afar. If you don't know me, then I highly doubt he did.”

Picking up the leather book with the comic within it, she had to agree with that. From her knowledge, his wife hadn't had any remaining family; the funeral had been small and personal, just her father and their closest friends rather than a large, and sad, mourning party. The theory of him being her cousin—not by blood—had her shaking her head in denial.

“She—” Marinette cut herself off with blushing cheeks, knowing that her words sounded weak to her own ears. She fiddled with her hands, nervous. “She didn't have any family left. They only had each other.”

They chose not to push that topic further. Marinette tucked her hair into a plait to keep it out of her face as she sorted out the five books they'd seen originally, placing them into chronological order in front of them. The comic one was opened in her hands as she shuffled to sit down beside him, making it so they could both see the contents clearly.

She wetted her lips. “We're going to go through this, okay?”

“If you're asking me not to bolt, I can't make any promises,” the blond-haired male grumbled, hands placed on his thighs as he stared at the floor, avoiding eye contact on purpose. “If he turns out to be a stalker, I don't know how I'll feel.”

If she could've, she would've whacked him for that comment. She scoffed instead. “If he's a stalker, you're not much better for accepting the presents.”

“Presents?” he queried, looking at her through his blond-stained lashes.

Nodding, she pointed out, “You've got clothing made by him that isn't available in stores.”

“Great, I probably urged him on with this,” was the dry reply she received.

Half-heartedly narrowing her cerulean eyes, Marinette said, “Now if you're done bad mouthing my dead father, I'd like to read this with you.”

A grimace appeared on him, and he'd opened his mouth silently before shutting it with a wince. She assumed he was finding it hard to apologise for his words due to the situation. Although there was a sting from the insinuation, she couldn't deny that it was suspicious, therefore she wouldn't hold it against him, especially when she was the only one that he had for the time being. If she was to push him away due to her nagging feelings, the guilt would've festered.

“I'm not mad,” she reassured him quietly, flicking to the first page.

Adrien Agreste, as he was named in the comic, seemed to be a happy twenty-something male with a bright smile and a sense of humour that made people laugh (mostly at him, and rarely at the actual jokes). The comic depicted a normal day of his life, where he introduced himself to someone on his cell phone after a call came, then made his way by walking to the local store where he worked as a florist. It had him greeting customers happily, conversing with friends over messages with promises of meeting up, then spending the evening cuddled up on the sofa with his two cats.

It hurt more than it should've.

There wasn't any mystery to it, no foreboding feeling of a dramatic twist or illness that was going to strike down the main character at any moment, which was perhaps what had her close to tears from reading it. The images showed him happy, living a normal life to the best of his ability—it was everything she'd wished for the male beside her over the months; to see him smile, relax into his surroundings and interact happily with others, rather than watching them from a lonely distance that couldn't be broken by anyone but her.

Glancing to her side, it seemed he was having such the same reaction. His expression was pained as he took in an audible breath, averting his eyes from the book once more, purposely slowing down his breathing in an attempt to get his emotions under control.

She almost didn't hear his whisper of, “I can't do this.”

As he silently stood up, facial features pinched together in a grimace, she watched his retreating figure with wet eyes and conflicted feelings.

She didn't know how to comfort him.

-x-

After the disaster that trying to investigate turned out to be the previous time, Aisle Boy—who still hadn't picked a name for himself, and they both didn't feel comfortable with addressing him as Adrien—had distanced himself from it. He didn't venture upstairs, not even when she left the door to the office open, nor did he question what she was doing for hours when she was upstairs.

He avoided the topic, actually. Their days weren't as awkward as they had been previously, though they didn't possess the comfortable easy-going atmosphere that they had going beforehand. He slipped a few puns, yes, but sometimes his smiles didn't reach his eyes, and her chest clenched painfully when she realised that it was still her fault. Marinette tried her best to act casual, to snort at the atrociously timed jokes, making sure to include him in the evenings, even if it was just her saying her thoughts aloud.

After waking up fully in the mornings, questioning his plans for the day—which turned out to be staying in, not exploring outside to watch strangers—Marinette excused herself after breakfast to sit at the desk in the study, flicking through the multiple books as she wrote down the information in a notebook she'd purchased.

The door was left open wide enough for a body to fit through, but he didn't join her.

Adrien Agreste was twenty-three in the comic, twenty-four if the date was correct and carried over to the real world version of him, raised by two loving parents that hadn't been shown in the panels thus far, and he was a happy character who saw the positive in most situations. He'd dabbled in fencing and piano when he was teenager, was gifted with learning languages, before deciding to follow in his mother's footsteps to be a florist, due to growing up exposed to her love for flowers.

The friends weren't shown in the pictures often, but their names were mentioned. Sometimes there would be a flashback of Adrien from when he was in school still—his younger self wearing the uniform Marinette's first school had had to wear until before puberty—with faceless students surrounding him, being intentionally vague about his close relationships.

It was a story of his daily life; happy snippets and memories of warm hugs and kind words from family and friends.

It was almost everything a parent could want for their child, she realised.

Her father hadn't stopped after the one book. There were multiple, some others featuring storyboards for future sketchbooks to flesh out, and it was with a wobbling lower lip that she pried open the second book with the comic featured with in. As before, the lines were fleshed out, colour filling in to create the beautiful pictures that she'd only ever seen used to depict clothing and hairstyles in the past.

Adrien, with his bright smile that reached his green-coloured eyes, enjoyed the weekend by lazing around his home in untidy clothes and messy hair. It was a quaint apartment in a nice area, with a view of the roads and building from the windows, rather than the rough streets that it could've shown in a bad neighbourhood. He enjoyed sipping his warm drink with a sleepy-looking expression, stretching out so his feet were over the top of the couch since he was too tall, and it was the small details of his life that the pages focused on.

It would've never sold. If her father had intended them to be for the eyes of others, they wouldn't have been appreciated. The tale that was depicted was intimate and happy, one that had no twists and turns that had readers curling their toes in suspense. Marinette found herself smiling as she saw him falling over while trying to get dressed, a curse escaping his lips and captured in a speech bubble, and it was so similar to the muttered comments she'd heard from the male living with her that she was beginning to suspect that they were too alike.

Her father's business trips had never been long enough to know someone so well. Somehow, he knew of the small quirks that Aisle Boy had, the absent-minded movements as he ruffled his hair or nervously fiddled with the strands at the nape of his neck—all the things that he shouldn't.

Marinette spent her free time sorting through the details of the books, jotting down the intimate things that shouldn't have been known, trying to arrange a timeline. She climbed the ladder to the loft, retrieving the other boxes filled with drawings that she'd stashed away as there were too many to store in the study.

It was after that that she found the comics that had started from his childhood, showing a toddling Adrien with plump cheeks and babbled words trying to navigate the world. The images showed his parents from the waist down—reminding her of some animated shows she'd seen—though she supposed that was because her father hadn't felt comfortable drawing himself in such a way. She read through the years, taking in the blurred faces of his class-mates, the teachers that praised him for his intelligence, and it was in his seventh year that he discovered that he absorbed the knowledge of languages well.

Although Marinette had been adopted as a babe, her father had been adamant that she should learn the language of her birth mother, to know the heritage that she came from.

Adrien had studied the same; it was the third language he'd learned, much like she.

She took pictures on her cell phone of the turning points of his life, when he entered secondary school and had had braces on his teeth, the birthday party for his sixteenth birthday, a tall Adrien in his university dorm-room, and him standing proudly with an apron in his hands, ready for his first day of work.

It wasn't just his mother's love of flowers that had caused him to become a florist—she was one, too. The mother in the comic, that she never saw the face of, but sometimes saw a flash of blonde-coloured hair over her shoulder, had happily been one when Adrien was little, and had given the keys to her own shop over to her son while speaking words filled with pride, the speech bubbles adorned with warm lighting and love.

Much like in Marinette's life, her father—he was referred to as Gabe, by Adrien's mother—was a fashion designer, though it didn't mention his brand, nor the achievements that he'd accomplished in his life. Instead of bragging, the story focused on Adrien's happy life, the presents he was given when it was a special occasion, and sometimes the formal dinners he attended, dressed smartly in crisp suits that his father had created.

When Adrien was alone, he preferred to dress casually, not living through the means of expensive tastes or habits. He enjoyed cheap meals from stores, visiting quaint restaurants and cafés with his parents, not at all bothered by fans of his father's work, not approached for secretive details that only those that worked for the company should've been aware of. He was left in peace, walking through life with a happy smile and long limbs, ones that tripped him up when he was too busy lost in his thoughts, not paying attention to the pavement below.

Once she'd caught up to the adult years that she'd first found, she closed the books, taking in a deep breath. There was countless information that could be used to confirm her suspicions, but dumping them all on the brooding ghost that was quietly by himself downstairs wasn't going to do any good.

She schemed instead.

-x-

It started off with Marinette playing the piano music that her father was fond of. Although she didn't have much knowledge of it—she hadn't been a fan, and had grumbled in the background whenever he'd turned up the volume with a wide smile—she knew that Adrien in the comics had taken lessons for many years. He had been a fan of it, sharing personal smiles with anyone who happened to watch him play with his fingers flying across the keys.

“What are you doing, Marinette?” the blond-haired male questioned, sounding thoroughly confused as she fiddled with the stereo.

She turned the knob to adjust the volume. “Do you know what this is?”

“It's a freaking dinosaur.” If she turned around, she was sure she would've seen him rolling his eyes in distaste at the lack of upgrades she had for her technology. The complaints about her laptop hadn't ceased, nor the comments on the television that had seen better days. “If you're in the middle of trying to be sophisticated, I hate to tell you this, but you're going to be disappointed in the end.”

Without turning around, she lifted her hand above her shoulder and moved her hand into a rude gesture. “I've attended more fancy dinner parties that you can dream of.”

Aisle Boy laughed at that. “I can't imagine you sitting still down for more than a few minutes.”

She sniffed. “We're getting off-topic because you're being an idiot again. Now,” Marinette continued, raising her voice and covering the noise he'd made so he wouldn't interrupt again, “I lost the case to this. Do you have any idea who it is?”

“It's in your hand.”

Well, that didn't work out as planned. Marinette begrudgingly placed the disc away, shooting the amused spectral being who was leaning against her wall with his arms crossed distasteful looks.

When she tried again the following week, making sure the disc and case didn't match up, he'd flatly informed her that the name would be on the disc, and that she needed to stop whatever she was trying to do.

She respected his wishes, really, but the fact that he'd refused to venture upstairs into the study for the past three weeks was making her frustrated. The answers were there, however unclear they were, and instead of trying to find out, he was staying downstairs, not even going outside to stare at strangers, and he hadn't picked out a name for himself since.

She tried playing piano videos on the laptop, leaving them on as she disappeared to the toilet for a few minutes, only to return to his unimpressed face as he looked at her with a frown.

It was when he shifted uncomfortably as she played music on her cell phone, from where she was sat at down on a stray chair by the counters, that she realised that she was doing more harm than good in her tactics. Marinette clammy hands clenched her thighs, eyes darting between the male that had relaxed once he'd heard the upbeat music and her legs, unsure of how to advance.

With a cautious expression, Marinette quietly apologised in a foreign tongue.

She hadn't been expecting an answer, really. With how unresponsive he'd been to the piano-related attempts, Marinette had thought that he'd promptly ignore her, not bothering to enquire further or ask what she meant.

His voice came out equally soft. “It's okay.”

She stood up quickly, blue eyes wide as she pointed at him and exclaimed in surprise, “That was Mandarin!”

He stared at her blankly, clearly startled at her sudden reaction, and it was when she was crossing the room with quick steps that he scooted along the couch until his back hit the arm on the other side. Marinette climbed onto the furniture, staring at his unfathomable expression as she tucked her knees underneath her, hands resting on her cloth-clad thighs nervously.

It was the first confirmation that her wild theory was right, after all. It was understandable that her heart was beating fast, and she knew without a doubt that he wanted to deny it all, to bat away the absurd possibilities with a cynical point of view. Aisle Boy was convinced that his life was lost, that he wasn't going to be able to find out about himself since the plan for hunting down his clothing hadn't turned out as he'd thought (not that it was a well thought out plan in the beginning, but she wasn't going to tell him that).

Clearing her throat, Marinette tried again, asking him whether he could understand her.

With his eyes firmly staring anywhere but at her, he rasped, “Yes.”

That—it was a start. She took in his self-conscious stance, the way he was curling into himself and avoiding her gaze, and knew that it wouldn't do any good to push him further. It couldn't be a coincidence, no matter how much he'd try and persuade her as such, but it was another point that she could write down in her notebook, ready to show him when he'd grown to accept the crazy idea, rather than shut her down.

Marinette adjusted herself to sit normally, her thighs a few centimetres away from him, sitting as she would with any of her close friends. “That's good. No, that's great. I'm living with a genius.”

“I wouldn't say that,” he mumbled, sounding unlike himself. The music had almost drowned him out. Aisle Boy was notorious for boasting about his good points—which he deemed to be his sense of humour and ability to use puns at the worst times—so to hear him try and correct her was unusual. “If knowing another language makes me a genius, then you're one, too.”

She blinked. “...Wait.”

“Which isn't be possible, Marinette,” the blond-haired male continued, voice becoming louder, more sure of himself as a smile played at the corner of his lips. “No one smart would try to put milk in a cupboard instead of the fridge.”

Pulling a face, Marinette retorted hotly, “You promised not to mention that again!”

He played with his hair, fingertips fiddling with the strands as he looked at her with innocent-looking eyes. “I don't know what you're talking about.”

“I thought we were friends,” she grumbled, crossing her arms underneath her breasts.

“We're best friends,” Aisle Boy corrected, shooting her a crooked smile that showed one dimple. “Now go make breakfast before the beast in your stomach announces itself again.”

Childishly, she stuck her tongue out.

They had an amusing conversation while she ate her breakfast, with her leaning against the countertop rather than at the table, and at one point she almost choked on her food from his timing with an inappropriate comment. It was nice, a stressless environment that she'd grown used to, and although he stiffened when she touched her cell phone to turn off the music, she didn't mention it.

Once she'd put the television on for him—the routine having been her selecting the channel for him or choosing the websites on the laptop, then disappearing upstairs to research, or go outside to shop for the necessities—Marinette hesitated after putting the remote on the coffee-table, hovering uncertainly as she stared at his figure, noting the long legs that were curled up on the cushion that showed no indication that it had weight put upon it.

She licked her lips.

“I—do you want to go watch a film together?” the dark-haired female blurted, cheeks burning when she realised that she'd almost shouted it at him.

He blinked. “Are you asking me on a date, Marinette?”

Clutching at her elbow in a self-conscious move, she stumbled over her words, the explanation coming out shaky. “No, I-I—well, maybe? I mean, not really. Kind of?” Marinette cut herself off to try and recover from the fumble, gripping the fabric covering her arm with nervous fingers. “It's just that we've never really gone out together, have we?”

Over the months together they'd walked through the streets, yes, with Marinette clutching her cell phone to her ear so it didn't look like she was talking to herself, and he'd kept her company while she shopped a few times, but that wasn't often. Most of the time, Aisle Boy hovered outside for the day, watching strangers and occupying his time by observing the population rather than staying glued to her sides. When she met up with friends, he busied himself, not intruding on the time, never listening in by her side or inserting himself when he knew that she couldn't respond.

The internet friend Marinette had mentioned before had been a topic of interest for Alya and Nino, but she hadn't confessed any additional information, instead firmly shutting her lips into a firm line when her friends asked for updates. Telling them about the blond-haired male that she lived with—he was the perfect room-mate, in terms of cleaning up after himself—was too personal, and she couldn't answer the first question of what his name was without a lot of consideration. So, she stuck with being tight-lipped and secretive, despite the raised eyebrows it caused.

At least Alya had forgotten about the first time she'd mentioned Aisle Boy.

“Okay,” he agreed, standing up and brushing his clothing to smooth it out. “You have permission to woo me.”

She muttered in return, “Extended vowels are usually reserved for the ghosts.”

It was a strange affair. Marinette disappeared upstairs to brush her hair and wear a shirt that wasn't wrinkled, and when she'd returned, his top buttons were done up. Apparently, it was only right to try and appear presentable when going on a date, and the bright smile that was sent her way only made her fondly rolled her eyes.

She had to hold the door for him to climb into the passenger seat, then close it after him, silencing his remark of, “Well, aren't you chivalrous?”

“I don't drive often,” Marinette confessed as she climbed in, hand gesturing to the clean interior due to lack of use. “I prefer walking, which is why I chose to go to the store we met in.”

“I have no idea if I can drive,” he remarked casually, leaning back against the seat and stretching out. “Knowledge of signs and stuff doesn't equate to me actually knowing how. I could just be smart—you did say I was a genius earlier, after all.”

At least he was mentioning it himself.

Humming in agreement, their conversation changed to light-hearted topics as she drove to the cinema, only realising a problem when she'd parked the car and turned off the engine. How would they go about sitting down together? Marinette supposed she could weigh down a seat so he could actually sit down, but then he'd be perched upon her bag, which she really doubted was heavy enough to make it work in the first place. He couldn't just stand beside her in the aisle, liable for the other viewers to walk through him and shiver as the time passed. Not to mention that she'd have to acquire an aisle seat in the first place to make that happen, and what if the only available seat was in the middle of a row? Aisle Boy would be separated from her, unless he awkwardly stood in front of her neighbour for the whole duration.

Goodness, could he stand for almost two hours without feeling discomfort? She'd never asked whether he was capable of feeling it, hadn't gotten around to asking whether he sat down out of habit or because his legs actually started to ache. But he hadn't been sat down in the store, had he?

“I can feel you stressing from here, Marinette,” the blond-haired male remarked, snapping her out of her thoughts. “What's on your mind?”

She answered honestly with, “Your body.”

“Well, that's a surprise.” He raised his eyebrows, a smirk playing on the corner of his lips, and the cocky expression quickly made her realise how her words could be implied. Before she could open her mouth to splutter an explanation, he continued to say, “I can't say I blame you. I am pretty attractive.”

“Not like that, you dork,” Marinette replied, playfully narrowing her blue eyes. “Does it hurt to stand up for minutes on end? I mean, do you feel uncomfortable?”

Making an non-committal noise, he shrugged his shoulders. “I don't feel much, that's why the dead theory is still my favourite, remember?” The weight of his words combined with the fact that his small smile didn't reach his eyes made her frown. “No pain, no accelerated heartbeat when I run, and I most definitely don't feel the temperature. It would suck if I did, considering I appeared without a jacket.”

“But you feel when someone...”

“Walks through me?” Aisle Boy supplied, running his fingers through his hair that he'd styled neatly when she'd disappeared upstairs. “Yeah.”

Eloquently, she replied, “Oh.”

“Now that that's out of the way,” he started brightly, looking at her coyly. “Isn't it about time you romantically open the door for me?”

She dramatically bowed as she did so, earning a snort of laughter, not caring that strangers were looking at her weirdly for opening the door for thin air. The genuine sound of his laughter and the smile on his lips was worth it, as was the excited look in his eyes as he looked over the lists of available films after she'd assigned him the task of selecting what they were going to see. After he'd awoken, he hadn't ventured to a cinema. The possibility of endless films hadn't interested him, so he'd stuck to populated shops and parks instead.

Marinette had bought herself a seat by the aisle, but her bag wasn't heavy enough to weigh the seat beside her down.

“What if I put a foot on it?” she mused, trying to adjust her body to put part of her leg on the seat beside her without flashing her underwear due to wearing a skirt. It was a poor choice, she'd decided. “I'm sure I can manage this.”

Aisle Boy was laughing to himself, not being helpful at all as he stood in the aisle—how fitting—shuffled close to her so he was almost touching her armrest. She was struggling, trying to make it comfortable for the two of them. The lights were still on throughout the theatre, the screen black without adverts and uninteresting audio as there was still countless minutes before the film started. Viewers were trickling in, finding their assigned seats, and a buzz of conversation sounded throughout the room.

Marinette mumbled curses under her breath when her leg protested at a position. She tried to readjust, one hand holding down her clothing between her thighs as she shifted, and muttered, “I should've bought two ticket.”

“...Miss?” a voice called, interrupting her struggle. “I'd like to get to my seat, please.”

Her companion let out a loud laugh while she coloured red.

They compromised in the end, with Marinette leaning as far to the side without inconveniencing her seat-mate, allowing for Aisle Boy to perch himself upon her armrest after she'd demanded underneath her breath for him to sit there, and then wrote a message on her cell phone, tilting it towards him so he could see the text.

He made comments throughout the film, even going as far as to change his voice so it was high-pitched and imitate her replies. Marinette had to try and stifle her inappropriate laughter, though it came out as strangled noises at times as she covered her mouth with a hand. It didn't help that her reactions were only spurring him on, his bright smile illuminated by the light of the screen.

The couple behind them tapped Marinette on the shoulder halfway through, politely asking her to be quiet.

“I think some teenagers are getting some action at the back,” the blond remarked, sounding amused as he pointed at the section behind them. “Oh, his head's disappeared now and the other guy's biting his lip.”

“Stop looking,” Marinette hissed, hands curling into the material of her skirt to stop herself from trying to swat him, as she would've done with her other friends. She'd found that occupying her hands stopped her from repeating her mistake in the past. “Give them some privacy, you pervert.”

He whistled. “They're getting frisky in a theatre where anyone could turn around and see them. Mari, there's a child three rows in front of them.”

“Why do I like you?” she grumbled, running a hand through her bangs with a sigh. The position she was in was starting to hurt her back, the slouch not comfortable when she was contorting her body awkwardly. Her seat-mate had shuffled away from her, too, allowing her to occupy the armrest between them without contesting at all.

Turning towards her, he winked with a grin. “I don't think he's braiding his hair.”

No.”

It was the person in front that told her to be quiet that time. The fellow beside hadn't struck up a conversation, other than asking to get into his seat, but she supposed that he'd decided that she was muttering to herself before he'd even sat down and wanted to avoid her. The constant shushing only caused her companion to laugh, the breathy sound audible despite the loud audio of the film, and from the smile across his lips, she supposed that it was good that he was enjoying himself (and was out of the house).

“Marinette,” Aisle Boy began, catching her attention after a dramatic scene had ended. “I have an important question.”

She looked at him with narrowed eyes.

His smile could only be described as mischievous. “If I happened to get frisky in this condition, would it be called erectoplasm instead?”

“You are literally haunting me.” She closed her eyes, taking in a deep breath as he cackled, clearly pleased with himself. “You keep me up at night—I can't sleep because your stupid face flashes in my head whenever I close my eyes, and all I can think about is that your jokes fucking suck.”

“Marinette,” he started, an exaggerated gasp escaping, and she peeked at him dimly-lit figure to see that he had a hand pressed against his chest. “That's the sweetest confession I've ever heard. I never knew you felt this way about me.”

If she'd bought food, she would've thrown some at him, regardless of the fact that it would pass through him. She settled with reaching down to pick up her bottle of drink, taking a long sip while staring at him blankly.

When the teenagers were finished, Aisle Boy made sure to look at her with raised eyebrows when he announced their smug faces. Somehow, they made it through the film without her being told to stop talking—which was surprising, she was actually expecting food to be thrown at her by the immature members of the audience—and they stayed in the theatre until the credits were finished and the crowd had disappeared, so there was less of a chance of strangers bumping into him.

She stretched her body when she stood up, sighing in relief from relieving her body of the awkward position she'd been stuck in.

“I'm jealous that you don't have get cramps,” she mumbled.

Fiddling with the cuff of his sleeve, playing with the button there, Aisle Boy didn't look up as he responded blandly, “I can't list all the things I'm envious of right now.”

Right. “My bad,” Marinette apologised weakly, adjusting the strap of her bag for longer than necessary. “Sorry I couldn't spoil you with crappy food during the film.”

When she looked up, she noted that his smile wasn't self-deprecating as it once might've been by her mistake. He was looking at her with a fond expression, one where the corner of his bright eyes were contorted, the blond-stained lashes standing out against the pale skin of his high cheekbones. There was no denying that he was attractive, and seeing him genuinely happy—not hiding behind his particular sense of humour or deflecting with jokes—had her cheeks warming as she returned the grin.

“You can make it up to me by opening doors for me again,” he answered, raising his chin in the air as he strutted towards the exit. “It makes me feel like royalty.”

She made sure to bow her head as she did as he requested, choking out through her laughter, “Okay, princess.”

-x-

They spent more time together outside.

Whether it was sitting in the park with her buying multiple flavours of ice cream from his demand, trying to describe each one to him, visiting different shops or visiting a local animal shelter, Marinette made sure to spare time for him during the day, determined to treat him as though they were normal friends. She didn't want to limit their interactions to the ones restricted to inside their home, not when he'd taken to staying inside, not wanting to navigate the world alone since the clues to his identity had been found.

Her father's assistant—who was standing in for his position while Marinette was still uncertain—continued to visit every few weeks, pointing out the important details in the papers she delivered, explaining the condition of the company, and sometimes had a selection of new designers that needed her seal of approval to be officially hired. Although it was clear that it was an annoyance to be included in such a way because Marinette felt self-conscious when she walked the halls of the company, no complaints were verbalised.

Sometimes, she found herself cancelling her plans with other friends to spend the evenings with Aisle Boy. They watched films on the sofa, surrounded different scented candles (that he chose, of course), or she read a book aloud with him peering over her shoulder, looking at the pages as his fingers twitched, longing to hold onto the paper.

She took him on drives in her car, travelling to see different towns and cities, spending a night or two in hotels to fully enjoy the experience. Along the way she'd bought an earpiece to slot into her ear, making sure her hair was tucked so it was visible, as it was easier than holding her cell phone for an extended period of time. Marinette grew used to being looked at strangely when she gazed at him in the street, though her face still warmed from the whispered comments when she used her hands to emphasise her words.

Along the way, she referred to her notes, ticking off the similarities.

Aisle Boy helped choose a specialised bouquet at a florist without complaining. Alya loved the selection, and Marinette looked up the meanings of each that was selected when she was alone.

They watched foreign films since they could both understand the language without subtitles.

When she insisted they go out one evening, she surprised him by taking a taxi to a karaoke bar. She paid for a private room, shamelessly booking it for herself alone. The Adrien of the comic had often hummed underneath his breath, lyrics escaping him when he worked or was particularly happy, so her intention was to ditch the microphone and sing along beside him as the words appeared on the screen.

“This is new,” the blond remarked, happily trailing into the room first as she held open the door. “It really does feel like you're taking me on dates now, though.”

She snickered. “Are you complaining?”

“I feel like I should be.” He grinned, sitting down and making himself appear to be comfortable. “I'm the cheapest date you'll ever have, honestly. I don't know whether to feel proud of that or not.”

Picking up the remote, she shot him a wide grin. “You're also the cheapest pet—cleanest, too.”

He haughtily sniffed. “Shut up and sing so I can hear what you sound like outside of the shower.”

Due to his condition, his throat didn't feel dry despite the amount of songs he picked. Marinette indulged herself by ordering alcoholic beverages, buying two at a time and placing one in front of him, even though he couldn't touch them. Whether he was bothered by it or not, he didn't mention them, simply smiling whenever she took a sip and scrunched her facial features together in response.

He had a nice voice, she realised when he'd started to sing properly, rather than changing the quality of his tone to something shrill for comedic reasons. He was familiar with popular music of the past few years, and then older music that he'd probably learned from his parents. When he recited the verses to a song that she'd seen immortalised in speech bubbles—from when he'd been washing dishes, of all things—her stomach twisted in response, adding another tick to her list.

Would he feel betrayed if he realised that she had ulterior motives to their time together? It wasn't as though she was staying with him out of obligation, but that thought must've crossed his mind at some point. Marinette wasn't the type to stick with someone because of guilt, staying quiet because of her insecurities.

So, it was with a slightly stumbling voice that she confessed, “I like—I really like you.”

The curve of his lips was of amusement. “Is that so?” he questioned, not out of breath or licking his lips due to dryness like she'd been moments ago.

“You're my best friend,” she declared, smile reaching her bright and dazed-looking eyes. “I mean it, really. I would've absolutely loved to meet you when you were all fleshed out and clumsy.”

He breathed out audibly. “Clumsy?”

“You—you're like perfect right now, you know?” Marinette waved a hand between the two of them to try and emphasise her point, aware that her habit of using her hands became worse than she drank. “I'm here tripping over myself and looking like death in the mornings, while you're all prim and proper. Well, no. Sometimes you're an idiot, especially when you try and roll up your trousers into shorts. You look like an idiot—looked, right now you look pretty cool, actually.”

Leaning forward and resting his chin in his hand, Aisle Boy's smile showed his dimples, giving him an endearing feature that always betrayed when his expressions were faked. “Your rambling is really cute.”

Me?” The dark-haired female snorted, occupying her hands once more with the remote so she wouldn't reach out and try and touch him. “There's no way you were single, my friend.”

There was a moment of silence where they simply looked at each other. She took in the flicks in his hair, the way it stuck out around his ears that weren't pierced, and the lack of bumps in his nose that meant he probably hadn't broken it in his lifetime.

She almost jumped when he quietly spoke, “Why don't we change that now, then?”

Blinking, she blurted, “What?”

“We might as well be dating with everything we're doing now, right?” the blond enquired, tilting his head quizzically with that small smile, the one that caused one of her own to blossom from seeing it. “I wouldn't be opposed to it. I quite like you, actually.”

Her eyebrows knitted together, confused. “You can't mean that,” Marinette replied weakly, aware that of the breathless quality her voice had taken on from surprise. “I—we're friends.”

“And why can't we be more when it's clear that we care about each other?” he returned, nervous fingers playing with the light hairs at the nape of his neck, though he kept his eyes focused on hers, nothing in his expression displaying that he was joking. “Marinette, you'd rather curl up next to me most days than go out with your friends. You've said so yourself that I know you better than those that you dated in the past.”

Yes, but that didn't mean that her feelings had shifted into romantic ones. The love she felt for him was platonic and had gathered over time, bundling up whenever she saw him smile and seem genuinely happy despite his living situation. Perhaps it was the loss of her father that had pushed her to fill the empty space with her relationship with the spectral being, to cover the gaps with his presence and bright personality.

Even if her feelings had developed into another set, it wouldn't have been possible to explore their boundaries; they were wholly limited, stuck to not touching, simply gazing from afar and exchanging words to convey their meaning. In the time they'd been together she'd come to know that his heart was incapable of speeding up, that it couldn't skip a beat when he was overcome with emotions, and no colour filled his cheeks when he was embarrassed. She wouldn't know how he'd flush, whether it would spread to his ears or down his neck—he didn't have that knowledge either.

“We can't,” she whispered, hands tightening around the remote as she leaned back, eyes wide.

He was there, his solid-looking thigh a few centimetres from her own, but she wouldn't be able to confirm it with touch. She would never be able to embrace him, to playfully touch his arm or even tickle him in good humour.

“Oh,” the blond whispered, hand falling onto his cloth-clad thigh, covering the spot where she'd been staring at. His eyes flickered away, focusing on anything but her as his blond-stained eyelashes covered his bright irides. “I can officially be dubbed the friend-zoned ghost, then.”

As much as she wanted to reach out to clasp his shoulder in comfort—to offer anything over than her words and expressions—she could do nothing more than fumble with the remote with her clammy hands.

She forgot that he couldn't cry, too.

-x-

While she'd always planned to confront him with her findings, to grin triumphantly with information that he couldn't deny, she hadn't thought it would happen while she was sobbing grossly, utterly unattractive as her emotions were all over the place.

After the rejection, Aisle Boy was the same as always. It was as though it didn't happen; he was her best friend, a happy presence in her life that burst into laughter whenever she messed up in the kitchen from her sleepy condition, one that greeted her at the front door whenever she returned home.

He encouraged her to draw, sometimes pointing to the television, or even a passage from a book, demanding that she create her own version of it. Marinette had bought a new sketchbook with the intention of filling it with his requests, and it was coming along nicely. Whenever she was self-conscious or doubted her work, he was there nodding happily, pointing out the parts that he liked, helpfully trying to help fix that details that sh wasn't pleased with.

When her birthday came, making her match his age of twenty-four (if the comic was to be trusted), she spent an evening out with her friends before drunkenly stumbling through her front door, cheeks hurting from smiling when she saw that he was still there, waiting.

“I'll make a cake and everything for yours,” she'd mumbled after trying to explain that the pillow in her arms was supposed to be him, then she continued to squeeze it tightly to show her affection. “I'll find the stupidest party hats, maybe even a crown. You'd truly get to be a princess then.”

He fondly told her all about her intoxicated ramblings in the morning.

Although her time was filled with him, she spent a few hours a week in the study—door left open enough for him to venture him, but he hadn't climbed the stairs for months—flicking through the different books, reacquainting herself with his story and the little details that had been included.

Adrien often wore a long-sleeved shirt instead of a jacket when he was sleepy. He enjoyed playing with his cats, losing track of time in the mornings due to their playful natures, which resulted in him running to get to work in time. As nice as his apartment was, he couldn't fit a full-sized piano, so he had a keyboard that he kept tucked away in the closet where his hoover was located.

He didn't have identifying moles or marks, though. Adrien wasn't drawn or coloured with freckles, his skin tone was consistent without a blemish—he had been shown with acne when he was a teenager in a few scenes—but there was one thing that was shown when he'd adopted his second cat.

The feline tried to scale his leg, claws scratching through the material of his trousers and digging into his flesh when it had started to fall. Adrien was shown to have a scar there, a centimetre or two of raised white skin where the nails had been.

It was just another thing to note down and ask about in the future. Aisle Boy hadn't tried to style his clothing into shorts for a while, and he certainly hadn't taken to walking around in a state of undress, as the weather didn't bother him, so she hadn't had the chance to confirm it with her eyes.

She hadn't planned to for a while, honestly. Marinette was pleased just to be by his side, being the reason for his smiles, so when she'd moved onto the next sketchbook that featured Adrien's story in it, she hadn't prepared herself for anything other than the light-hearted plot that had been in the other pages.

The drawings were outlined, coloured precisely with the backgrounds beautiful and developed, and it was with a fast-beating heart that she flicked to the next page, taking in the picture.

Adrien was wearing the outfit that Aisle Boy had been stuck in for the past eleven months. The shirt was simple, there was no embroidery or designs added onto it, and the shoes shined just like they did in person. Marinette read through, noting that he had a blazer hanging on his arm, prepared for a change in temperature. He adjusted his hair in the mirror, made sure he looked presentable before placing his cell phone in the pocket of his jacket, along with his keys and wallet. It explained his lack of belongings if it really was him, then.

How was she supposed to use this as evidence, though?

She took in a breath, continuing to read with a determined expression. There had to be something within the pages that she could trace her fingertips over, where she could feel the indents on the paper from the nibs and effort that had been put into them.

He was going to a restaurant to celebrate a friend's birthday. Their name wasn't mentioned, but Adrien's text explained that he'd arranged for their gift to be delivered the next day, the actual date of their birth. He was happy, though. The smile on his lips met his green-coloured eyes, and there was a healthy colouring of red to his cheeks as he walked through the streets; somehow, the illustrated version of him managed to look more alive than the spectral being she'd become acquainted with, and realising that as her hand tightened around the book had her eyes starting to feel hot.

Aisle Boy deserved so much more than was offered to him. Marinette wanted to shower him with different foods to find his favourite, to hold his hand as they walked through the streets, to have strangers move out of his way, rather than always the opposite.

The page wasn't completed.

The first scenes were there, with Adrien's smiling face and his thoughts displayed at the top, but then the scenery wasn't coloured in, he wasn't featured in them, and the pencil gracing the page looked lonely, left out.

Frantically, Marinette turned to the next page.

It was blank, too.

A noise of frustration left her as she stared at the endless white-coloured papers in front of her. The sketchbook was new. She couldn't tell from the metal spiral how many pages had been ripped out, but there was a good thickness left to it.

“No,” escaped her lips as she flipped another, lips curling into a frown as she realised that they were empty, too.

Was this all there was left? Her father's decline in health had been harsh, yes, and he'd passed away in his sleep without so much as a warning. The day before when she'd visited him, he'd been coherent, able to smile and laugh hoarsely at her jokes. He'd enjoyed drawing when he wasn't too week, and the carer that had been assigned to tend to him in his frail state had been more than happy to provide him with the materials he needed when he wanted.

Adrien's story had ended abruptly, much like his own life, then.

Blinking back the tears that hadn't spilled, Marinette slowly caressed the paper, taking in the softness and clear expanse of availability that hadn't been touched. The storyboards were bound to be in the loft, tucked away in another box that she hadn't opened yet. The completed comics had been her first priority; it was easier to find the coloured in ones, to know the content that she was looking for.

She squashed the total number of pages between her hand, feeling the thickness before flicking through each one as she would a flip book.

There was colour.

Marinette stilled, surprised and uncertain as she skipped a small section, at least pen pages in total. There was blackness covering the two pages completely, leaving the only white spaces beside the metal spine, a few dots that stood out against the darkness that had covered the open area. It was as though ink had been spilled on it and then brushed carelessly around, some parts lighter than the rest, allowing markings from the brushes to be seen.

It continued for four more pages, two turns of her hands, with darkness for only the eye to see, then there was an opening at the bottom right. A small panel, one void of the darkness as it showed the sun coming through a clean window, glass illuminated and being the main focus of the frame.

There was one more.

Adrien had his eyes closed as he was covered by a sheet in a hospital bed, a drip tucked into the crook of his arm and a heart monitor positioned beside him, showing his steady condition. The room was decorated to a minimum, no framed painting or photograph to adorn the wall, and the vase with flowers on the table was starting to wilt. The colours were dull, barely standing out against the harsh lines of the bedding, and the shadows of the room stood out, making the room appear to be unwelcoming.

There was no continuation; no explanation of how he came to be there, what had happened to him, but it was clear that he'd been in the hospital for an extended period of time (long enough for the flowers to show signs of wilting).

Turning the page, searching for more of the work, didn't help with the answers. Nestled inside, attached with tape at the corners, was a crinkled piece of paper that had been cut out to fit within the notebook, safely shortened so it wouldn't be squashed during transport.

It was hers, she realised slowly. The small page had three pictures, each tiny with arrows pointing at different sections to point out details, and writing to explain what was going on.

She could recognise her writing anywhere. It was hers, but youthful; messy scrawl and loopy from her carelessness, the dots enthusiastic and demanding to be seen. The drawing was just as childish, with colour escaping the lines, while the ink and smudged and had started to fade from time.

“Adrien Agreste,” she recited aloud, lips curling into a fond smile from the way her younger self had heavily underlined the name.

The paper had been moved throughout the years, well loved and had attention paid to it. Marinette swallowed audibly as her fingertips softly traced her writing, taking in the information at a slow pace to quell the nervous energy within her.

She'd designed him—made him.

Marinette had demanded he have dimples because they were cute, and according to her younger self, her father deserved to have adorable children (much like herself, she'd scribbled with a heart beside it). For him to have blond-coloured hair that was similar to the pretty wife her father had had, the same beautiful eyes that she'd always remarked on, and for him to like cats because their neighbour's dog had barked at her loudly the previous week, and it had scared her terribly.

The jotted aspects to Adrien continued: he'd fence, because her father had once enjoyed it and Marinette didn't like it herself, and play the piano because Marinette's coordination wasn't the best with her hands, therefore it was only fair that someone else would be good at it. He'd be sweet and pretty, just like the desserts they'd eat together, and, of course, he'd adore Marinette because they'd be the best siblings (crossed out, it mentioned rude twins that she'd shared a class with before she withdrew from school).

What was she supposed to think with this? Marinette ran her shaking fingers through her hair, pulling at the roots in frustration as she blinked at her itching eyes, trying hard to keep her inconsistent emotions intact.

He—he was there, downstairs and breathing, capable of speech and feeling emotions, even though his current condition was damaged and limited his interactions and responses. She couldn't have been imagining him for all their time together. They'd lived together for ten months, and she hadn't felt like her mental state was anything but normal.

It couldn't have been possible for him to flicker into her existence after the loss of her father, for him to be a part of her vivid imagination without realising it.

There was nothing that could prove that he was really there, though. Aisle Boy was incapable of proving his being, other than talking to her and being visible, and Adrien was simply a character that matched up to him in an personal comic book. Adrien was someone that she didn't remember having a part in his creation—he was a forgotten portion of her childhood that she'd pushed aside for pretty toys and other activities, one which her father had nurtured and brought to life, matching their ages up as they grew up.

She'd always wanted an older brother, after all.

A choked sob escaped as she hastily wiped at her flowing tears, the sleeve of her sweater becoming damp as it lightly scratched her cheeks. What did this say about her? She had been emotionally damaged from her father's passing and had somehow conjured up an annoying companion to stay by her side through the days?

As she sniffed unattractively, Marinette tried to recall their interactions, to think whether she'd learned something through him, rather than the other say around. If he was something that had come from her brain, then it would only be natural for him to share her knowledge, wouldn't it?

That would explain why he hadn't responded to her questions about which classical music was playing, she realised as she took in a shaky breath. But—why? Marinette hadn't yearned to have a close room-mate; she thought she'd been happy with her previous arrangement, living in an apartment and working in her part-time job, visiting her father in her free time, and meeting with Alya whenever the red-head demanded her presence. It had been great, other than the reporters that had approached her outside, asking for information on her father's company.

Adrien was the brother she'd lovingly imagined when she was little, the bright-eyed son for her father—he wasn't supposed to be the imaginary friend that had stuck by her side for almost a year.

Her hands felt cold, a stark contrast to her burning eyes, as she gathered the last sketchbook, cradling it against her chest as though it was precious. Her breaths were audible as she descended the stairs, hoarse and betraying her emotions, and she wiped at her eyes in an attempt to be presentable, rather than the grossly sobbing image she'd seen in the mirror as she passed.

“Marinette?” the blond-haired male called, concerned as he stood up from the sofa.

He didn't have to stretch his limbs, of course. There was no discomfort if he stood for hours on end in the same position, all for the same reason why he'd never shed tears or mirror her pathetic state of emotions—he wasn't real.

It hurt more than it should've to have that realisation. Why hadn't she questioned it in the beginning? Ghosts weren't real, let alone ones with charming smiles that happened to get along with her swimmingly once they'd gotten past their awkward introduction. Friendly ghosts belonged in fiction, and imaginary brothers needed to stay immortalised on paper, not looking at her with worried and furrowed eyebrows from a short distance away.

He raised a hand and started to reach out towards her—whether to clasp her shoulder for comfort, or brush the bangs that were getting damp from her face out of the way—and realised his mistake quickly, swallowing audibly as it fell back down to his side.

“I-I know why you're here,” Marinette stuttered, voice thick with her sadness and disbelief.

Seeing his features pinch together in confusion caused her stomach to twist uncomfortably. “I—what?” he enquired.

Tightening around the book, feeling the incessant banging of her heart against her chest, the dark-haired female let out a laugh that teetered on the edge of hysterical as tears flowed from her blue eyes. “I know you,” she started, vision blurry as she stared beseechingly at him.

“Well, yes,” he responded, perplexed and looking so lost and concerned that she yearned for his worries to be real, not a figment of her imagination that she was projecting on herself. “We've been friends for a while, haven't we?”

Close friends, certainly. She didn't know how to feel about the fact that he'd offered to start a romantic relationship with her, either due to the fact that he existed because of her, or it was her subconscious that had dictated how he'd act towards her. Other than rejecting him in her drunken state, the last time she'd given romance a shot had been on her disastrous date with Kim.

“I don't understand.”

Her breath hitched.

“What happened, Marinette?” the blond-haired male asked softly, soft and intimate.

The clothing was the same. His hair hadn't grown, his body hadn't changed at all, and the concerned frown was one that had her shifting on the spot.

Had she been so starved for affection that this had happened?

“I know—I know you,” the dark-haired female tried again, voice breaking midway. She cleared her throat and sniffed in an attempt to make herself more understandable. “But I... I don't know you at the same time.”

He made a frustrated noise, mirroring her internal emotions. “You're not making any sense.”

Using a hand to wipe at her damp eyes with more pressure than needed, she accepted the irritation of her skin from the rough material of her sweater. “I—I just... I want—”

A sob escaped.

“I want to see how your skin colours when you bruise, whether your ears turn red when you're embarrassed,” she confessed shakily, eyes clenched shut to avoid looking at his vulnerable expression. “I-I want to know how you sound in the mornings, to see you pink from the shower—from the rain—anything! I just want to see you.”

She refused to look his way as he whispered, “I'm right here.”

“No, you're not,” Marinette denied, shaking her head wildly, hearing her beating heart clearly. “But I know you.”

The silence was deafening. She had to remind herself that he couldn't cry, that he was unable of showing the level of emotions that she was, but that didn't mean that he wasn't capable of feeling them on the inside.

She could hear him as he sighed.

With a determined expression, a firm set of her eyebrows that showed her intentions, Marinette looked up to meet his eyes. He looked vulnerable and distressed, lips that couldn't get chapped pulled into a frown, and she wasn't fooled by the dry-looking green eyes that stared right back at her.

He was something that she'd created, after all. The curves of his face, the clothes that adorned his body, and even the little details of his fingers had been crafted and inked with affection; each part of him had love poured into it, and the unfeeling version that she could see and hear in front of her had no place in her life.

“I know you,” Marinette repeated, voice stronger as she took a step forward, closing the distance between the two of them. Her hands were holding the sketchbook to her chest, cradling the precious information as she gripped the edges as a lifeline, reminding her of why she was there in the first place. “Your fingers are calloused because I'm untalented.”

Confusion was the main expression on his face. The blond's eyes flickered from hers for a moment, staring down at his uncovered hands without checking the pads of his fingertips before they returned. “What—”

“Your thighs are muscular because I'm not athletic,” she announced, tears obscuring her vision as her voice shook. The book was there, guiding her through with its presence. “You—you like cats because a dog used to terrorise me, and you like desserts because I do.”

“Marinette,” he tried to say, eyes wide and panicked as his voice cracked.

She blinked rapidly. “You have a scar from your second cat above your left knee.”

“I—what?” the male questioned, voice higher-pitched than before. “Marinette, please—”

She held his stare, heart thumping as she took in his concern and panic. “You're everything I wanted; the son that my father could've had, the brother that I would've adored.”

“Why are you saying this?” he whispered, pained.

As much as she didn't want to feel guilty, the feeling was there, nagging and festering within her chest. “I'm saying this because you're Adrien Agreste,” Marinette confessed, unable to fully comprehend his expression from her tears, “the boy I created, and the man my father helped you grow into.”

“I-I don't understand,” the blond repeated, pain and confusion clear. His expression was pinched together, dry-looking eyes betraying the anguish in the rest of his face. “I'm—”

He wasn't real.

Marinette took a small step back, opening the sketchbook and drawing attention towards it, enough for him to cut himself off with a strangled noise that should've been paired with unrelenting tears, not the sad face of someone disadvantaged. She flipped through it, turning to the page where her childhood scribbles were taped down, wetness coating her cheeks as she rotated it for him to see.

With wide eyes, he breathed audibly, flickering across and taking in the messy notes, the way her colouring had been clumsily outside of the lines and youthful.

“I didn't question it enough in the beginning,” she choked out shakily, stuttering over the syllables as she sniffed at the end. “Why—why else would you see me?”

His mouth opened, but no words came out.

“No one else,” Marinette continued, book wobbling in her hands as she tried to keep it steady and visible. There was no use turning to the previous page, pointing to his character that was recovering in a hospital bed. “You're here for me, and I can't do this any more, Adrien.”

Flinching, he took a step backwards, trying to distance himself. “That's not my name.”

“Adrien,” she insisted, moving closer.

Running a hand roughly through the clean strands of his hair, gripping it tightly so his knuckles appeared lighter, and clenching his eyes shut, refusing to look into hers, he shook his head adamantly. “That isn't me,” he denied weakly.

“You're everything I wanted and more,” Marinette responded, a sad smile not quite reaching her blurry eyes. “I'm—I'm so glad I got to know you, but this isn't right, Adrien. You don't belong here.”

The laugh that escaped him was borderline hysterical, sounding like she had when she was in the study. “So what now, then? You're going to try and exorcise me?” the blond asked, quiet and vulnerable, eyes shut and avoiding her gaze, still. “All because you've grown tired of me?”

If he opened them and continued to stare at her, her tears would've only increased, along with the stuttering in her breathing as she struggled with sniffing and trying to be slightly presentable. The guilt was there within her, an uncomfortably knot in her stomach that wouldn't be going away anytime soon.

“No,” she whispered, blinking rapidly, out of sync to the frantic beating of her heart. “You're still my best friend, but this isn't healthy for either of us. I—I can't have you around here, and you—”

His eyes opened, and he jerked his green-coloured eyes to stare at her incredulously. “You don't think I'm real,” he accused.

A bubble of insane laughter escaped her. How—how was this possible? The signs had been there all along, and she'd been too stubborn to see them, instead pleased just to spend time with him and investigate when she was alone. For him to stand before her with restricted emotions, to try and deflect and convince her otherwise from what she'd learned was a blow that she hadn't thought she would've experienced.

“You think this is your imagination,” he breathed in a tone of betrayal.

She flinched, being the one to back away that time.

Adrien—for that was who he was, with his blond hair and specifically coloured eyes, the grown up version of the brother she'd envisioned, many years ago—wasn't allowing that, though. There was desperation clear on his face, a need to explain himself and try and tell her otherwise, and all she could think was that it was her own fault as he strode forward, feet stopping a short distance from hers.

If he was human, she would've felt his breath fan across her face.

“Is my love for you all in your head, too?” Adrien asked, the twisted smile on his lips not showing his dimples.

She wiped hastily at her face. “I want you to accept that this is you.”

“I—I'm not enough for you as I am,” he rambled, eyes wide with that betrayed expression that had her backing away, with him following until her back was pressed against a wall. “Why now, Marinette? What did I do for you to feel this way?”

It was audible as she swallowed. “It's what you can't do,” she confessed.

She watched as his face crumpled.

“I'm sorry,” Marinette apologised, repeating the phrase over and over with her hoarse voice, wet eyes itching from the exposed air as he hovered above her, a visible but untouchable obstruction. Her lips grew dry as she closed her eyes, hugging the sketchbook to her chest as a reminder, continuing to chant the soft mantra of her inconsistent feelings. “Please, I—”

“So I'm Adrien Agreste, am I?” he whispered, not a trace of confusion in his tone. “And what is he to you?”

Her stomach clenched. “A fantasy.”

There was silence as her reply sunk in, one that had her hiccuping and sniffling, wiping at her irritated eyes from her meltdown. It wasn't supposed to come to that—she'd envisioned identifying him, somehow finding out that his body was comatose in a local hospital, or that he really was a ghost of a recently deceased male. The thought of him not being real—the one that most would jump to, but she hadn't—didn't cross her mind for the longest time, and that was her biggest mistake.

As her breathing started to return to normal, with her sleeves damp from tears and other bodily fluids, Marinette sniffed to attempt to clear her airways, ready to try and convince him once more. She'd already used her most legitimate evidence, but it was only a part of herself that she was arguing to, wasn't it? There was a small section of herself that wanted him to exist, to be there for her in the evenings with sweet words and terrible jokes. It was something that she didn't know she wanted until he arrived, and now that she was facing the reality of the situation, it was staggering.

She honestly wished he was real.

Adrien had been the highlight of her months. His bright smiles when he recounted his day, how happy he would be when he spotted a cat in the garden, and his honest breathy laughter had all been wonderful to see and hear, and now that she was close to losing them, it was finally hitting her that they'd been things she'd been craving.

“Adrien,” she started with her voice hoarse from tears. After clearing her throat, she looked up to where she was sure he was, perhaps hovering in front of her and attempting to invade her personal space to the best of his ability.

But he wasn't there.

Marinette jerked her head, looking across the room as she called, “Adrien?”

There wasn't an answer.

Panic flooded through her, and she barely noticed as the sketchbook hit the floor with an audible noise, as she was running across the floorboards with her bare feet, looking in the possible places he could've gone. She didn't touch the doors as she knew he wouldn't have been able to get in there, but but when the kitchen and the living room was empty, void of the blond hair that she was accustomed to seeing, she wildly pushed the doors open, calling his name with a desperation each time.

Marinette climbed the staircase, tripping at the top step and hitting her chin on the floor before she scrambled up, stumbling into the study to see whether that was where he'd retreated to.

The empty room greeted her, the sunlight that was streaming in mocking her as it highlighted the organised sketchbooks.

“No,” she chanted, a mantra of denial as she hastily looked through the bedrooms, the bathroom, then circled back to clumsily search through them again.

The dark-haired female dropped onto the floor, going as far as to look underneath the beds to see whether he was hiding, but there was no sign of him. The house was silent other than her unsteady breaths, and her already irritated eyes were welling up with burning tears that soon freely flowed, as she was preoccupied running around the house, shouting his name with stutters and sobs.

That was what she wanted, wasn't it?

-x-

It wasn't easy recovering from the fact that she'd imagined her best friend.

Alya was there, bewildered and concerned when Marinette had ran to her house, not trusting herself to drive through her tears. Alya readily offered her the spare bedroom for as much time was needed, a shoulder to cry on, and a source of smiles and jokes that had her responding within no time. Nino was equally as welcoming, promising not to wake her up in the mornings when he had to leave for work, even though she was the one that was intruding.

They didn't pressure her to tell them what was wrong, which was the main reason she'd ran to them instead of her other friends.

Marinette refused to go into therapy—not that anyone suggested for her to do so, as she hadn't divulged the information on her condition to anyone, only letting it slip to Alya that something had happened to the friend she'd been talking to online (she was still adamant that he was only a friend, to her friend's amusement), and she wasn't sure what to do.

She stayed at their house for two nights before braving her home. It wasn't that she was unwelcome; no, Alya was always more than happy to have the extra company, and they always had leftovers from their meals from their generous servings, but Marinette felt that she needed to face reality rather than drown herself in good food and their personalities.

So it was with her clad in Alya's clothing and her own stuffed in a plastic bag by her side that she approached the gate, staring blankly at the dark windows, trying to see a glimpse of someone inside.

She burst into tears when it was empty again.

There was nothing—nothing—other than her memory to prove that he had been there in the first place. No threads from his clothing, blond hairs littered across the floor, or belongings that had forgotten there. Anyone would've made their presence known more than him, even a stray cat that had wandered in and left small flecks of dirt from their paws.

She lit a candle when it was a year since her father's death, spending the even alone, rejecting the invitation from for the party from her father's company. His assistant was still running the place, and from the reports that she'd looked through, there was no problems there. Although his death had been a blow to the community, there was an increase in sales after his sudden passing, and designers that had been signed on were still there, helping with work and providing their ideas steadying so Gabriel thrived.

Still, she didn't feel like she had a right to intrude. Marinette had never had such of a hand in it before; she'd contribute to her father's designs at home, commenting on the patterns and colours when they were together, but she'd never submitted anything of her own.

The plan had been for her to pursue her career in fashion elsewhere, not relying on her father's name, despite how supportive he had been throughout her life. He didn't complain about her wanting to do it by herself, allowing her to have the mundane part-time job to pay for her own apartment and expenses, happily allowing her to borrow money if she was a few short, smiling indulgently when she adamantly promised to repay him.

After clearing up the sketchbooks, placing the ones that wouldn't fit on the shelves in boxes and pushing them in the corner of the study, not ready to climb up to the loft and store them away for good, Marinette kept the door closed. The sketchbook that she'd used to draw Adrien's whims had been stored away in there, too, and she chose to draw in the living room, not wanting to step into the room which would make her eyes water when she thought too much.

The sewing machine in her father's room had use after two months, where she made Nino a ridiculous pair of socks after he'd remarked on how boring his were. He'd been so utterly delighted with them, taking pictures and sending them to the rest of their friends with teasing comments that he was the one loved enough to receive them, that he requested more, trying to shove money into her hands when she complied and sketched out the designs for him.

She never thought she'd get paid for socks, honestly.

Alya—who was so nosey with a good heart—was the one that reached out to her father's assistant about the socks. Marinette had designed countless socks for friends at that point, deciding that the personalised gifts were amusing and fun to make as presents, regardless if the celebration was a birthday or an anniversary. From the positive reactions she continued to receive, she presumed that the gifts were well liked, too.

Nathalie Sancoeur, her father's assistant, arrived with a briefcase filled with papers. She had her dark hair pulled into a bun, wide-rimmed glasses on her nose, and had a gentle smile on her lips as she greeted her with, “I've heard you've been busy, Marinette.”

Marinette had tensed.

It wasn't that she didn't like her. Nathalie had been a part of her life since she was little, as a serious figure that sometimes smiled at her, was kind enough to pick up the crayons that fell onto the floor, and had offered her womanly advice through the years (which had been horrendously awkward when puberty hit). They'd grown somewhat close through it all, and when she was younger she'd questioned whether Nathalie would become her mother, which had only caused her father to choke on his food before he rejected that idea with flushed cheeks.

She just wanted to continue the fragile peace that her life had acquired. Marinette had only just become used to the quiet evenings, the lack of a presence in the house, and although she knew that it wasn't healthy to rely on the income from her father's work, she hadn't set about finding a job yet.

Nathalie was someone who wasn't afraid to tell her she was wasting her time, wallowing in the dark rooms of the quaint home that had once been so full of life. Well, not exactly life for the past year, Marinette had to accept that her imagination needed to stay in the past, and not let it invade her daily life.

So, with Nathalie stepping through the entrance with her high-heels shoes clicking audibly as she walked across the floorboards, she ran a hand through her hair in a nervous move.

Nathalie wanted her to come work for Gabriel. She was aware of Marinette's feeling on the matter, and promised her that it was fine—the stressed word didn't help her dubiousness—for her to start with a lower position, an entry-level job to work her way up, rather than taking her father's place and starting an internal conflict that had been brewing since she'd been announced as the successor.

“You're even creating clothes again,” the bespectacled woman pointed out, smiling with fondness that Marinette didn't feel she deserved.

She frowned. “Socks.”

“It's a start.” Nathalie waved her hand in a dismissive way, clearly done with that topic of conversation.

If it had been any other employee, they would've taken advantage of Marinette's unwillingness, or perhaps had failed in taking over her father's position in the beginning, but Nathalie had done everything that was asked of her and more, not complaining as she did so. She had been so utterly loyal to her late father, to the company, to Marinette—

“Fine,” she whispered with a sigh. “I'll do it.”

There was more than a few muttered comments in the beginning, remarking that she was their late boss' daughter, and some of the inexperienced employees that had been recently hired had gawked when she'd revealed her surname casually in conversation. Marinette had secluded herself from the public, avoiding the charity events, fancy dinners that included potential clients and companies, instead indulging herself with her normal relationships with friends that weren't attached to the world of cameras and flashing lights.

Nathalie made her attend a few events, though.

Marinette arrived at fashion shows acting as her father's daughter, rather than the low-level employee that she was during the daytime. She was enjoying herself, actually, once she'd gotten past the nerves and self-doubt that had been crushing in the beginning. No one had been harder on her than she had been on herself, and when the higher-ups that were observing her work offered praise for her own doings, regardless of her surname, her smile was blinding.

She still thought about Adrien.

It wasn't as though she could've shoved him out of her life permanently. Her memories were still there, floating in her mind when she tried to close her eyes to sleep, or when she was spending time alone. When she visited places with friends, she could recall the times she'd been there with him, or the off-handed comments that he'd like to go there someday, and that was what caused her to blind rapidly in an attempt to combat the growing dampness of her eyes.

Alya assumed her internet friend died. She didn't correct her.

It was nine months after his disappearance that she opened the door to the study.

There was dust coating the desk, on top of the books and blanketing the vase that hadn't had flowers in it for almost two years.

She gulped.

Shoved across the room, Marinette leaned down on the dirty floor, opening the boxes that she'd neglected, searching for the last sketchbook that she'd held in her arms, the one that contained her childhood drawing of Adrien.

It seemed right to give it a place in the house, rather than hiding it away as a dirty secret. Marinette had intended to carefully peel the tape off and then put the piece of paper into a frame in the living room, but when she'd turned the pages, she stared bewildered at it instead.

There was colour beneath the tape, behind her childish scrawl and doodles. Darkness and colour, ink bursting out and giving the page life that hadn't been there—

She carefully removed the tape, setting aside the paper with his information on it.

It shouldn't have been possible.

The breath caught in her throat.

The comic had continued. Where the last page had left off, with Adrien resting in a hospital bed, it showed him opening his eyes, detailing the blond-stained ends of his eyelashes, the bleary look in his green—vivid—irides, and his incoherent thoughts were scattered across the space.

No one had been in the study, she knew that for certain. The dust that had settled on top of the box had proved that, too, as no fingerprints were left on top of it. Yet, somehow someone had ventured inside, and had the nerve to touch her father's possessions and continue the twisted tale in front of her.

There was more than two pages added to it. Marinette flipped through the pages, not focusing on the text or the images as she took in the multiple pages that were perfectly inked and designed, leaving only a small portion of the sketchbook blank towards the end.

Marinette hands were shaky as she backtracked, trying to find the spot where she'd last stopped reading to restart. Someone—they must've had a good reason to continue it, right?

But no one had. Marinette had been the only one to enter or look into the study for the past year. When friends stayed over, or when strangers visited, they used the bathroom downstairs, and no one had stayed over for the night, as she hadn't touched her father's bedroom or converted it into a spare room yet (that plan was always being pushed back).

It wasn't possible, it shouldn't—

Adrien had woken up, confused and groggy in the hospital bed. The faces of the nurses and visitors were blurred out, much like in the rest of the story, and the time skipped whenever he wasn't paying attention, or if there wasn't an important event.

What really caught her attention, however, was that there was no visible difference from the recent additions to the rest. Whoever had done it had captured her father's strokes, the way he preferred to draw hair, and even the style he used for scenery; it was all perfect, matching up to the other sketchbooks without raising suspicions.

“How?” Marinette croaked, running her fingers over the pages, feeling where the ink had dried into the paper.

She didn't need this, she didn't want to question her sanity again, to feel like she was losing her mind because of the things she'd seen.

Marinette squeezed her eyes shut tightly, willing herself to count to ten before opening her eyes. And when she did, a strangled noise escaped as there was still drawings over the pages, depicting Adrien's life after his accident.

Her stomach churned uncomfortably as she read his speech bubbles, saw the way he was shown to smile in a confused fashion, the question marks beside his face showing exactly how she felt.

He—he was supposed to be a part of her imagination, someone—something—that she'd pushed into the past to move onto a healthy life, yet there he was, gracing the pages of a forgotten book, waking up from the coma she'd once read he was in.

Wanting to know whether she was imagining it, Marinette did the first thing she could think of.

She sent a picture of the book to Alya, asking whether she liked the style of the artist. It was a normal question to come from her, one that wouldn't raise questions that she didn't want to answer.

The red-head responded five minutes later, which Marinette spent the time trying not to burst into confused tears as she anxiously waited, hands tightening around her cell phone in worry.

'Alya:
The guy's cute. Something new you just bought?
'

She wasn't hallucinating, then.

That didn't make her feel better.

Pocketing her cell phone once more, the dark-haired female shifted to get comfortable on the floor, eyebrows downcast in a determined expression as she pulled the sketchbook into her lap. She stared at the pages for longer than necessary, trying to see if the style of the drawings changed at all, if the colouring faltered and changed—but it didn't.

Their times matched up. Although the year wasn't mentioned, Adrien had been in a coma for eleven months before he woke up, which was the length that he'd appeared in her world, and when he'd manifested after her father's death. He spent two months in hospital, recovering his strength, before he was allowed to go home. He visited for recommended treatments, taking as much time off of work as he could before he appeared with a bright smile and greeted the costumers with his apron tied around him.

What disturbed Marinette more than anything else was that when he daydreamed, when his thoughts strayed as he tried to sleep or was bored, he saw a blurry face with dark-coloured hair.

He was frustrated, trying to recall the image clearly, sometimes groaning and running his hands through his hair—that could get dirty, could appear greasy at the roots—and muttering words at his useless memory.

He assumed that he'd met her before the accident, and that caused a lump to appear in Marinette's throat as she tried to swallow.

Somehow, she didn't think someone would've broken in just to torment her.

Chapter Text

 Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Chat Noir © Thomas Astruc

The following week, there was a few more pages added to the comic. The ink was dried, there was no smudging from the sketchbook being closed, and when Marinette opened it with wide eyes to see the new panels that had appeared, she shivered from confusion.

It was still not possible.

After she'd found the additions the first time since Adrien's disappearance, the dark-haired female had waited until her tears had ran dry before she tidied away the mess, pushing the box back to the other side of the dusty room, and kept the sketchbook underneath her arm as she walked into her bedroom where she placed it safely underneath her mattress.

So, the theory of someone purposely tormenting her was definitely out (it was from the beginning, she'd never described her ghostly friend to anyone, let alone tried to connect the dots aloud to the comic, so no one could've come to that conclusion).

It didn't update daily. Although it showed Adrien's life, it skipped time a lot, only featuring the interesting moments of his encounters, a brief glance of his endearing moments with his pets, or his internal thoughts that he hadn't told his faceless friends. Marinette noticed that the speech patterns she'd become familiar with, the way he'd furrow his eyebrows while thinking of something troubling, in the pictures, and she found herself brushing her fingertips across the images more than once before snapping out of it.

It wasn't right to long for what she couldn't have, but then again, nothing of her situation was normal.

After a month of watching the updates slowly take place, no sense of a schedule clear so she dutifully checked each evening after she'd returned home from work, and making sure to store the sketchbook in a different location after colour had appeared, Marinette started to question her sanity again.

But Alya had seen it, hadn't she?

With that in mind, Marinette warily tucked the sketchbook into her bag and met her friend for lunch, carefully revealing it after their plates had been taken away. As she expected, Alya was able to flick through the pages, making appreciative noises at the beautiful scenery, remarking on the crisp lines and the general mood of the comic.

“Didn't you send me a picture of this before?” the red-head enquired, a small smile on her lips as she turned a page.

She didn't see Marinette tense. “Yes.”

With that confirmed, knowing that she wasn't imagining it and somehow—no matter how impossible—she was in possession of a comic that seemed to write itself, she started to question her life at all. She knew that magic didn't exist, and ghosts belonged in horror stories where they haunted victims with screams and malicious intent, not a bright personality and a bad sense of humour.

Adrien wasn't classed as dead; or, rather, he wasn't in his world. When his character had the accident, the one that was never shown or explained, other than the blackness of the pages and the hospital stay and recovery, his consciousness had travelled through to her side. He'd appeared as a mangled version of a ghost, unable to communicate with anyone but her, and she suspected that was because she'd created him.

“Or not,” Marinette said, shaking her head with a groan.

It was also possible that it was the other way around; that his displacement over to her world had caused the blackout and coma, and not the opposite. There was no way of confirming or denying her theories, so they were just that—theories that she scribbled on tiny pieces of paper, sticking them onto the wall in her bedroom, where no one would venture if they came to visit.

A pressing matter alerted her when she read about Adrien asking his blurry friends if they knew anyone of her description, rejecting the idea that it was someone that he already knew, and didn't realise that was who he was talking about.

There was a limited amount of paper left, not enough to last endlessly, and she doubted the supernatural sketchbook she'd acquired was capable of producing pages out of thin air.

How had her father done it? She didn't know where his own work ended and the comic had started itself, unsure whether he'd been the one to predict for Adrien to be in an accident or not. With furrowed eyebrows and a weekend off from work, Marinette spent her time hauled up in the study—she'd cleaned it out slowly, wiping a surface each time she entered through the door—searching through the storyboards, trying to make sense of the situation.

As she'd started to suspect, the storyboards didn't include the accident. Adrien was supposed to arrive at friend's birthday gathering with a smile, enjoy his evening with snippet showing across the pages; he wasn't supposed to collapse in the middle of the street, and then be comatose for almost a year.

The supernatural elements must've started with her father's death, she concluded sceptically. There was evidence of her father's planning for the scenes before Adrien's accident, proving that he was the one that had been in control of the story. That meant he hadn't had to contemplate the situation of the sketchbook, to consider whether it was too unnatural to accept, or question his sanity along the way.

Marinette had wished for a normal life when she was little, back when reporters and other media-related employees used to try and use her childish ways to reveal about her father's life or work, and although she'd accepted she was living anything but a mundane life, she hadn't expected to be involved with something she couldn't explain. How would she tell anyone about it? They'd suggest she seek medical help, as she wouldn't be able to prove that she'd actually seen Adrien, and had been living with him for months.

The real question was whether he was still classed as fictional. Marinette had watched him breathe, the steady rise and fall of his chest that never wavered due to his limited capability; yes, he'd been handicapped and in a deformed, but he had been there. She'd tried to deny the time they'd spent together, to shove it aside and class it as a breakdown of sorts from grief, but that wasn't right, and it wasn't fair to him.

Adrien trying to remember her was the main part of the comic now. He tried to recall her face in his thoughts, attempted to recreate her with his drawings—that were childish and undeveloped—even going as far as to check the newspapers and articles that had mentioned his collapse, trying to see whether the small picture displayed on them would show her in them.

The worst part was that he didn't know how to justify his curiosity. There was a nagging feeling that tugged at him, and all of that was written in text, available for her to see his intimate thoughts that should've been private.

She felt like she was intruding by reading them.

Running a hand through her dark hair, she confessed softly, “I'm so confused.”

The sketchbook was alive, so he was, too. That's what she had to tell herself; that his face was there, clear and visible with his thoughts on display, while the others in the story were blurred and not in the focus of the pages, not intended to draw her attention. The fact that she couldn't recall a single name that had been uttered other than his proved that, too.

The sketchbook had acquired powers around the time of her father's death. If it sucked the life from him to coat the pages in magic, she was unsure, and she really didn't want to think that it was the cause of his departure. His death had been from natural causes, confirmed by the doctors, so she wasn't going to go down that path of blaming an inanimate object. So, that left one option—when he'd passed, it had awakened as Adrien fell comatose, presumably because his creator had disappeared.

If her father had been able to mould him into what he wanted, to lead his fictional son through a happy life, then shouldn't she have a say, too? The rules of the sketchbook weren't clear, not at all, but she had had a hand in creating him. Whether that mattered was unknown, but she wanted to see if she could take over her father's place.

If she was able to, if the pages allowed her to place the nib of her utensils onto the blank paper, then she could give Adrien the happy life he'd had previously; to forget about the time they'd spent together, to allow him to forget the dark-haired female that was predominate in his thoughts as of late. He deserved to returned to the blissful ignorance that he'd lived in previously, rather than stuck on the idea of her.

It wasn't as though she'd saved him when he fell. They'd come across each other by pure chance—

How had he gotten there? If Adrien had manifested from the sketchbook, then he should've appeared in her father's bedroom or study, wherever the carer had last left his work. There was no reason for him to have been outside, trapped amongst crowds that looked past him with unseeing eyes. He shouldn't have been roaming outside, far from the creaky gate that greeted guests.

Perhaps something had gone wrong when he appeared. Nothing was clear about the supernatural, so of course it would have hiccups, though Marinette had to admit that if she'd returned from transporting her father's body to find a groggy ghost in her home, she would've reacted completely differently. Perhaps violently, and then that would've been awkward when all she felt was a chill, rather than her fist connecting with someone's flesh.

She wanted to fix what was wrong. It would be closure in a way; to see Adrien happy without her, then she could move on and heal the wounds from their past. The fact that she was more cut up from his disappearance rather than any of her last relationships was telling, but then again, she had been living with Adrien (and that had to count for something).

With her resolve found, she experimented in the evenings, trying to hone her style to depict him well. It was unclear whether she had to try and copy her father's drawings perfectly, or if her relation to Adrien was what allowed her to be involved, so she decided to practice first, to try and become comfortable with drawing him first before she attempted to alter his life.

The first time she sketched his face, attempting to recreate his puzzled expression he wore whenever Marinette had shuffled downstairs with mismatched socks or forgotten articles of clothing, she didn't get through to inking before she burst into tears.

It was a new form of suffering; drawings her best friend from different angles, remembering his quirks and nervous gestures, trying to find the correct colours or guess the type of clothing that he could wear. She'd flipped through the previous pages of the comic, taking note of the interior of his apartment, and had found her father's designs for his home and character design at his current age. With shaky hands, she'd put them carefully into frames and then onto the walls of the study, so she only had to look up for his references.

The animal studies she'd done when he was living with her helped when she draw his cats. Their faces were always looking away, no eye colour showing, with their tails flicking whenever a speech bubble with their noises inside them was displayed.

As she planned on what to do, the continued to ink themselves, displaying Adrien groaning as he tried to figure out his feelings on why he felt lonely.

That had her stomach clenching uncomfortably.

He shouldn't feel loneliness, nor any other emotion; Adrien was supposed to be a fictional character that ended when his creator passed away, not living a life of his own in a supernatural book that kept her up-to-date on the situation of his life. To see his thoughts lost and uncertain, trying to recall her and the time they'd spent together—learning each other's quirks, growing close and fond—continued to remind her of hat she'd lost.

It wasn't as though she could make him real. Adrien was trapped in the book, where he belonged. She didn't want him to be in the state he had been before, stuck by her side and unable to touch her shoulder in comfort, but there was nothing else she could do for him. The power to pull him through to her world wasn't her own; it had only happened because the previous creator's life had ended, resulting in a strange occurrence.

She wasn't contemplating hurting herself to attempt to pull him through. If she fell into a coma, she highly doubted that she'd appear in his blurry-faced world.

“No,” Marinette tried to convince herself. There were people left in her own world that cared about her, and she wasn't going to abandon them for the small chance that she'd be reunited with her best friend—the thought was insane and needed to be banished. She wouldn't leave Alya to pick up the pieces she left behind, nor for Nathalie to cope with her disappearance.

It wouldn't do for her to harm herself in her efforts for closure.

The first time she tried to use pencil on the sketchbook, she was baffled as it wouldn't appear. Regardless of how hard she pressed, no lines appeared on the blank area, and when she stubbornly reached for a pen, the ink reacted the same way. Frustrated, she closed the sketchbook harder than intended, irritation causing her eyes to grow hot from her incompetence.

She'd planned out a whole scene: Adrien would meet a blurry-faced female with dark hair and move on with his life, knowing that it wasn't her but it was enough. Marinette had the storyboards beside her, filling up the remaining pages perfectly as she'd rushed herself for the deadline.

The rejection meant that the sketchbook wasn't accepting her idea, or her as the new creator. She wouldn't have a say in what happened, stuck with watching as the remaining blank pages filled with Adrien's sighs and growing loneliness that she couldn't cure, no matter how hard she tried.

She wanted to cry.

-x-

Although she knew that her efforts were in vain, when Marinette passed by a flower-shop, she ducked inside to see the employees, staring intently at the aprons to see whether she recognised them. It had made her receive a few odd looks along the way, but she was absolutely certain that Adrien didn't work nearby.

She had to tell herself countless times that it wasn't possible for him to be from her world; his mother had died before he came into existence, and she'd searched local accidents and hospitals to see whether anyone had fit his description. All that aside, it didn't mean she couldn't inhale the floral fragrances, trying to imagine what he would smell like after a day of work.

She celebrated her birthday quietly, enjoying a meal cooked by Nino with a couple of friends. It wasn't the extravagant celebration that she might've once had, and when she was greeted at home by silence, rather than the quiet murmur of electronics left on, she might've cried for a good half an hour.

When the darkness surrounded her as she climbed into bed, the quiet of her house deafening as she could hear the noise of a clock, the distant sound of cars in the distance, she wondered whether her feelings had transformed into an obsession. It wasn't healthy to be so focused on something, but she needed to have results, to grasp onto some sort of an answer on what had happened. There was a decreasing time limit established by the sketchbook itself that she had to abide to, but that didn't mean she couldn't try to bypass it. Marinette had bought a new book, peeled off the plastic covering, and placed it beside the current, trying to see whether it would pass on the supernatural quality to the new one.

Of course, she didn't have much hope for that. The chance of it happening was miniscule, which is why she arrived at work with dark circles underneath her eyes, sleep becoming worse with every page that appeared. It seemed to be taunting her with the slow speed, only showing snippets of Adrien's life as he scribbled on notes and other surfaces, trying to piece together his complicated feelings.

If the ink would've let her, she could've made him happy. Goodness—if her stationery worked, she could've even drawn a quick note on his desk, greeting him or anything else. The thought of that had appeared more than once, a horrified thrill running through her as she pondered the possibilities, wondering whether he'd reply by hand or in his speech bubbles.

Marinette gasped, clumsy hands turning on her lamp as she sat up in bed, rubbing her tired eyes as she stumbled through the hallway, opening the door to the study and sitting herself down at the desk. The sudden idea had struck her, and she wanted to test it, not forget it after an exhausting day at work, so it was with her clad in light pyjamas and messy hair that she thumbed through the sketchbook, finding the last page that had appeared.

If she couldn't shape the flow of the story herself, did that mean she couldn't edit the rest?

She wasn't hoping for a miracle. Passing over the eraser, Marinette selected a pen, tired blue-coloured eyes searching through the page for a place to write, somewhere where words would've made sense, not appearing out of thin air.

On one of the panels where he was scribbling his thoughts—which included a lot of bold question marks—there was free space, but she'd have to write purposely tiny for it to fit.

“Please work,” she whispered, aware that she sounded mad.

She wrote his name with a question mark, and to her shock, the ink was accepted. There it was in front of her, a tiny scribble of Adrien upon his piece of paper, blending into the mess of the the rest of the page.

But it was still there.

With renewed hope, Marinette tried to see whether she could scribble on anything else—his desk, the floor, even the snippet of bare wall that appeared—but the ink wasn't accepted anywhere else than paper, where it had been intended for writing to appear. She could accept the limitations as the idea working at all had been absurd, and now she just needed Adrien to catch sight of it.

She couldn't have been losing her mind. It was perfectly normal to try and communicate with a fictional character, or whatever he was classed as from his evolution.

There wasn't an update for two days, and she knew that that meant that nothing interesting had occurred for him, not noteworthy enough to grace the limited pages of the sketchbook. So it was on the weekend, after she'd placed her smart shoes for work away into the closet and rested against the soft couch with the sketchbook left tauntingly on the coffee-table that she checked again.

Adrien's first reaction to the note was to assume that it was from himself. It was a simple half a page that had appeared, a glimpse of the paper with Marinette's scrawl on it, and then his off-handed remark that he didn't remember writing it.

A noise of frustration left her at that. Half a page was all she was worth at that moment, apparently, and it hurt more than it should've. She didn't know if she'd expected him to remember her instantly—would he ever?—or ignore it, but the dismissal had her narrowing her eyes at the page.

There was still room on the note, and the convenient placing of it meant that she was still able to write on it. With a smile, she searched through the various pots filled with pens throughout the house, trying to find the most obnoxious one to announce her presence with.

It had glitter in it.

Her message was longer this time, telling him to respond by writing on the note, leaving no mention of her name or how it had came to be.

As expected, for once, Adrien's eyes widened when he caught sight of it the following day, clearly unprepared for the sudden appearance. At first he searched through his own pens, trying to see whether he owned it, and then listed off the various people that had been in his house since he'd last looked at it (which came to none).

He asked her whether she was haunting him.

The laughter that spilled from her lips was a tad hysterical. Her? He was unaware of the things that he'd put her through, including their first morning together where he'd absolutely terrified her after she'd woken up.

There was enough pages left for them to get to know each other either; the limit was counting down with every panel that showed his perplexed or shocked reactions, the timid way he brushed his fingers over the top of the note to see whether it was real, and if the ink was fresh and would smudge. The assumption that she was a ghost amused her more than it should've, though she didn't feel the need to make terrible ghost jokes, as he would've if the situation was reversed.

She told him in that glittery pen that she didn't have much time, needed to know that she didn't save him from his accident, and she definitely hadn't been present for it, then finished it off that it was futile searching for her. The few sentences filled up the remaining space, letters tight and squished together to allow it all to be seen, and she knew that she probably wouldn't have another chance after that. When words started to mysteriously appear on paper, the expected reaction was fear or paranoia, not attempting to befriend them.

When she checked the following day, there was a fresh note asking her who she was, no shot of his face or inner thoughts—one fourth of the page was focused on that alone, leaving the rest blank, ready for their interaction.

He had to be real in his own supernatural way to converse with her as he was. Marinette was unable to shape the story by herself, not having the power to bring her drawings of him to life despite how she'd practised.

She gave him her full name, and he responded with their shared surname in bold, complete with multiple question marks. A smile tugged on her lips from the reaction, and she imagined that his green eyes had widened, too.

They were starting to communicate through a skewed version of e-mails, which amused her greatly before she stiffened, remembering how emotionally messed up she'd been back when he'd disappeared. It was he who was considering her the supernatural force that time, and she didn't feel the need to deny that fact, as everything about the situation was hard to explain. It seemed too fictional to tell him that he'd spent the time during his coma in her world as a ghost, but then again, they were talking in the remaining five pages of the sketchbook.

With glitter-speckled ink, she asked if he remembered dreaming anything in his coma, to which he asked her how long she'd been stalking him to know about that.

She snorted.

With an estimation of ten replies, or more depending on how small Adrien's panels were at times, Marinette quickly scribbled that she had limited time that she could talk to him, and if he wanted to walk away and forget about her, it was fine. She was giving him a choice, a chance to forget about the glimpses of her blurry face that he'd seen in his thoughts when he was lost and confused.

Naturally, he didn't react like most would. Adrien asked her why he'd want to talk to her at all, that ghosts weren't usually so kind, so he tried to prompt her to tell him her hidden agenda.

His handwriting was endearing. When he continued to trace over what he'd inked out, making the lines bold and sloppy, it showed his enthusiasm, much like the loopy curls on his letters from where he'd been trying to write too quickly. If he put time and effort into it, she was sure that he could've had presentable handwriting that would've looked wonderful on greeting cards in his store, rather than the scribbles that she was sent.

Unsure whether to reach for a pencil, Marinette grabbed a black pen instead, then continued on to draw a small picture of her face, trying to show the shape of her eyes and the colour of her hair by messily scribbling within the lines. Underneath she included an arrow saying that that was her, and that they had been friends some time ago.

He had wanted to be more than friends once.

Although there was no image of his face to show the surprised expression, the sloppy handwriting and the smudges from where he'd accidentally wiped his hand on the ink showed his impatience. He asked whether she was breaking in to purposely mess with him and play a practical joke, and she choked back a laugh from the fact that she'd assumed that in the beginning, too.

Although she hadn't seen the sketchbook self-update in front of her eyes, when it was closed and tucked away in a safe place, the next time she'd look it would change. She assumed he was experiencing much the same, too, with the messages only appearing when he looked away, no matter how much he stared at the blank spaces, waiting for writing to appear.

Against her tactful thoughts, Marinette replied that he'd spent the time in his coma in her world.

He chose to ink his multiple question marks in different colour. The note had been looking drab from the lack of glitter, and that was what she wanted to reply to apply humour to their conversation, but there was only four pages left, and then they'd be stuck with festering wounds that wouldn't be closed anytime soon.

Running a hand through her wet hair, Marinette wondered whether it was a smart idea to start to communicate with him at all. Although he'd been curious, yes, he didn't have the memories to remember her, so he hadn't been in the same position as her. She'd lived through months, almost a year without him, and yet she still craved the relationship they'd once had.

She was selfish, then.

The next day, after staring at his question marks with a soft smile from how mismatched they were, Marinette chose to draw a simple picture of her father had his late wife, relying on colours to help identify them, along with writing their names underneath where she asked whether they were his parents.

The affirmative from him had her gulping.

Three pages remained. Adrien's impatience and confusion was portrayed with multiple punctuation to make up for the fact that she couldn't hear his voice and reactions, though she was starting to believe that the memory of his voice was fading from their time apart. The only reason she could accurately remember his face was because of the countless comics and the references that she had framed on the wall in the study, acting as a make-shift shrine that had her cheeks burning whenever she firmly shut the study room when visitors arrived at her home.

There was nothing that Adrien had said to her that she could relay to him, to prove that he had been in her life. He'd had missing memories and made up for them with a bright personality, and she doubted that repeating some of the jokes she'd heard was going to convince him that she hadn't simply leaned that by stalking him (if he was still suspecting that theory—and if so, she was certainly stealthy if she'd managed to break into his home every few days).

So, she went for the truth once more. Being blunt and forward, she stated that in her world, their father had adopted her.

Adrien asked whether she lived in a parallel world where they were siblings.

She licked her lips, taking in the small space on the page, counting that there was two more remaining. It wasn't enough to explain her life story, and that certainly wasn't important enough to tell him. She flexed her fingers from where they'd grown cold, almost numb, from gripping the pen too tightly while contemplating her answer.

“How am I supposed to get closure from this?” she muttered. If anything, her feelings would only be worse when their contact was cut, the supernatural sketchbook ceasing their strange connection.

It had got him through to her once, though. Surely, there had to be something that she could do, outside of physically harming herself in an attempt to reach through to him. She didn't want to wish damage upon Adrien neither, but he was bound to have already pieced together that something was strange about their connection, especially since she'd revealed that she was in another world.

Somehow, he was going along with her words, believing her instead of outright saying she was lying.

She replied tentatively that her father's death had caused his comatose state, and had somehow pulled him through to her world for the time that he was unconscious. Her heart was beating fast as she wrote out the quick explanation, hoping that it was enough to get through to him—surely, if he was to reject her, he would've done it sooner rather than begin corresponding with her.

The memory of his crumpled face when she'd pushed him away—forcing him to return once he'd accepted his identity—made her heart feel heavy. The time that had passed since then had convinced her absolutely that he wasn't her imagination, and that the her delusional realisation had caused harm and had split them apart.

It would've been selfish to keep him as a ghost, though. They couldn't have been more than friends; him as her ghostly lodger who kept her company in the evenings, while she lived the life of a recluse, refusing to have a part in her father's company.

She'd grown up since he'd disappeared, but that didn't mean she didn't want him any more. The Adrien she'd come to know had been someone she liked unconditionally, and perhaps if he was capable of touching her—his fingertips able to touch anything—then they could've grown into more.

Her cheeks warmed at that.

Adrien's response was short, a small scribble asking why. It had only one question mark.

There was no time to tell him gently. The comic had been kind to her thus far, focusing on the replies rather than his reactions and his everyday life, but there was only two pages left, and if she wanted to explain herself fully, she would've needed a lot more than that.

Marinette kept it simple; in her world, her father made a comic about Adrien's life, and that was how she was speaking to him.

She choked out a laugh as he sent back multiple question marks the following day.

How could she sum up her feelings in one page? She couldn't, not for him to understand fully, so she settled for what she should've said the last time they'd been together.

“You're real,” she read aloud, feeling giddy from admitting it.

-x-

The day the final panel filled the sketchbook, thus ending the comic, came sooner than she wanted. The drawings had been small, allowing her to try and fit her scrawl in the notes to send him messages, and had been forgiving to her, not showing Adrien's life. The comic had focused on their letters until the final moment, the closing shot showing the pen he'd been using placed upon the piece of paper, illuminated by a lamp on his desk. It was an intimate shot that would've been appreciated at any other time, but only caused her eyes to itch as she took in the the image, realising that it was signalling the end.

The other sketchbook she'd bought in hopes of it continuing was blank. There was no sign that it was going to take up the supernatural abilities of the other one that she kept close to it, but she continued to check it daily, blinking back the tears as the blank and empty pages greeted her.

Their final messages had involved her explaining in brief sentences that she'd housed his ghostly form for months, telling him that he'd lost the memories of his life, and it was the comic that had made her think he was a fictional character.

She didn't know whether to laugh or cry that the last message she received from him—the final one to show in that closing shot of his dimly-lit desk—was him calling her mad. She supposed he was right, in a way, but she felt saner and healthier than she did back when he'd disappeared, when she'd honestly doubted her sanity after the revelation.

There hadn't been many clues pointing to the alternative, though. Marinette could recall the times he'd told her about his day, commenting on people he'd seen and events he'd witnessed; all the things that she hadn't been there for, and couldn't have known, but it was knowledge of his own that proved that he was alive, and not supplied by her delusional mind. Sure, he hadn't said the composer of the different piano music she'd played, but that wasn't common knowledge he could've plucked from the top of his head. And even though he hadn't said them aloud, the bouquet he'd helped to select for Alya had had matching meanings, ones that couldn't have been picked at random because the flowers were attractive.

For the umpteenth time, she repeated underneath her breath the mantra of, “Real.”

It was out there, off of her chest. Adrien had the basic gist of what had happened, the general idea of the amount of time they'd spent together underneath her roof, and he could do with that what he wished. Marinette was unable to do anything further, she knew that without a doubt. The sketchbook had ceased to work, leaving her stuck without a connection to his blurry-faced world, and she was trapped in her own.

She asked about the meanings of the flowers she'd bought when she purchased the bouquet for her father's second death anniversary. Nathalie, who was still acting as the boss with a stern face whenever she walked through the company halls, had planned a large event to celebrate the life that had been lost, to honour his accomplishments in life and highlight his career.

With the threat of purchasing coffee for higher-ups, Marinette was forced to attend with red-rimmed eyes and could only offer awkward smiles as the press called for her attention outside, and then the guests continued to express their condolences, placing clammy hands onto her bare shoulder in what was supposed to be comfort. The dark-haired female chose to stay by Nathalie's side as she worked through the crowd, allowing the woman she'd considered a motherly figure to dominate the flow of the conversation so she could freely sip her drinks in peace.

As nice as it had been to spend her days doing as she pleased with Adrien—being a spoiled brat with an unnecessary amount of money to help her through—having a stable job meant that she had to interact with others. She attended the employee dinners, the meetings with higher-ups when her presence was needed as her surname, rather than a low-level worker that was slowly working through the trials and work. Nathalie was adamant that she needed to be included in the inner-workings of the company, either by joining the meetings or receiving the papers and files to study in the evening when she was alone.

That was something she still shared with Adrien, though. She hadn't been born into the name Agreste, but she was still proud of it. Knowing that he still had both of his parents in his world, one where she hadn't been born into, filled her with more happiness than sadness. If his childhood had been anything like hers, then he was bound to have been happy with them.

She wondered idly whether he father had truly had control over the world, as the blurry faces and nameless figures had stayed anonymous through the years. Would her biological parents be alive there?

Well, it wasn't as though she could ask. That was out of the window, and she'd had more pressing matters to talk about rather than curiosity.

She was stuck on what to do with the countless sketchbooks. They were private, not something she wanted to share with others, and filled up a good portion of the loft from the multiple boxes. The study was already filled to the bring with bookcases and the desk, along with a armchair beside the window that had boxes stacked on top of it, making it out of use. She supposed that she could use her father's room for storage, and then figure out what to do with it if guests needed to stay over.

The sofa downstairs was comfortable, after all. She could deal with sleeping on it for a couple of days. So, with that in mind, she spent a few days moving the boxes from the loft and study into the bedroom, piling upon the bare mattress and dresser, leaving space for access to the sewing machine without it being too cramped.

Trailing her fingers over the cover of the last sketchbook, the one that had glittery ink caused her lips to curl into a fond smile, she wondered where she would've been if no supernatural events had taken place. Marinette assumed that she would've continued to be a recluse, not being as outgoing as she had been with him, mostly persuaded to visit places with Alya. And, well, she certainly wouldn't have booked a room at a karaoke bar by herself, let alone considered taking dancing lessons (before she realised how dangerous that could be, with participants moving around at will).

She'd had fun with him, even if he'd purposely ruined her terrible date and made her embarrass herself in public in the beginning.

When she went out to a restaurant with friends, consuming a few too many alcoholic beverages since they'd been brightly-coloured and even had fruit in them, Marinette had laughed and choked as she slipped in some of the worst puns in their conversations, gasping for air when she saw the dumbfounded faces that were directed at her. She'd always had a sense of humour, yes, but her puns had always been quite reserved, only appearing when she was particularly happy or feeling witty.

Nino choked on his drink when she made a cat pun.

Kim, who'd wormed his way into their group of friends a few months ago from starting to date one of them, was kind enough to give her a lift home. She waved enthusiastically and exclaimed her thanks—which was probably too loud for the neighbourhood at that time of night—and proceeded to stumble through the gate and then fumble with her keys, dropping them down on the floor.

“Adrien can pick them up now,” she remarked aloud, lifting them up so they were level with her eyes. “That's nice for him.”

Staring at inanimate objects at night wasn't a good idea, no matter how blurry her vision turned when she moved her head too fast, so she managed to unlock the door after her second try. Her high-heeled shoes were discarded messily in the hallway, and her jacket ended up on the kitchen table before she relaxed on the sofa, closing her eyes and taking in a deep breath.

As enjoyable as it was to enjoy herself outside, whenever she returned home—no matter if it was from work or grocery shopping—the silence of the empty rooms wasn't welcoming. Her electricity bill had gone down since she wasn't leaving the television on while she slept, her laptop was given time to recuperate and cool down rather than being too hot to touch when she woke up.

She wondered again whether to get a pet for the company. There she was at twenty-five, working for Gabriel with two different positions, no romantic relationships to speak of, and her best friend only existed in pictures. Well, he should've been demoted now since he'd been gone for over a year, missing her last birthday—and she'd missed his again. The first time she hadn't known when it was, and she'd been too busy ignoring the sketchbooks and convincing herself that he wasn't real for the recent one, which made her cheeks flush in embarrassment.

She must've looked hysterical, choking out accusations about him while sobbing grossly, and he hadn't been able to defend himself against them. There wasn't anything he could've done to convince her otherwise because she'd been so stubbornly certain, and that only made her feel worse, with her stomach clenching uncomfortably from the uneasy feeling.

It was too bad that she had no means to apologise. She couldn't go back and edit the panels from the past; they were inaccessible as the objects had been moved and changed, no longer the reality on his end.

It hurt her head to try and think about the details while she was still slightly intoxicated. Marinette ran a hand through her hair, pulling the braids out and breathing a sigh of relief as she stretched her body.

She didn't have the power to change his reality; Adrien was living freely, while she had her own life, one where she wasn't able to touch his, and it made sense, of course. The fact that he'd crossed over and had found her had been a rare occurrence, and it wasn't as though she could step through the door to his shop.

Sitting up quickly, eyes wide as her stomach protested from the fast movement, Marinette slipped on the floorboards as she dashed through the house, footsteps audible as she ran upstairs and into her father's bedroom.

She had all these books, the volumes that showed a good portion of his adult life, and it wasn't right to leave them to collect dust when she could do something productive. It was a ridiculous idea that she would've immediately scoffed at in her sober state, but at that moment, as she stumbled when walking too fast, it seemed to be the best idea she'd had in a long time.

If she couldn't change his future, would she be able to change the shape of it into something else? Marinette searched through the boxes, wildly pulling out the sketchbooks that she'd carefully organised, selecting the volumes that showed him since he'd moved out of his parents' home.

She grabbed small pieces of bright-coloured paper, placing them by the spine to mark the pages that she needed to come back to at a later date, and she dutifully flicked through the multiple sketchbooks until her fingertips were starting to feel irritated from the continued use. The sun was starting to come for the morning, indicating that she had to make her way into work in a matter of hours, but the thought of napping for a limited time skipped her mind.

Co-workers asked her whether she was ill that day, and she decided it was best to say yes because, well, the lack of sleep was making her cranky and she wanted the tedious conversations to be over as quick as possible. It was a plus that Nathalie wasn't visiting her section that day, too, as she would've forced Marinette to visit a doctor to make sure she was healthy.

The marked sketchbooks greeted her when she arrived home, dark colouring beneath her half-lidded eyes. She took a nap before dinner, to try and gain acceptable response times and stop yawning constantly, and it was with a full stomach that she entered the bedroom.

“This is mad,” she whispered to herself, running her fingers through her hair self-consciously. The only argument she could make was that drawing on the notes in the comics had been, too.

She sighed. In the end, it was with a shrug of her shoulders that she accepted that she'd rather try for the impossible than sit around doing nothing. It gave her something to do in the evenings, as long as she didn't sacrifice sleep for it again, and she'd contemplated acquiring a new hobby for a while.

The first step of the plan was finding a blank space on a wall big enough. Searching through the house, Marinette eventually found a section of wall that was clear, plaster with a small crack down it in the dining room. She pushed the table along to the side, awkwardly moving the chairs with the cushions on top so they were clumped together, as they couldn't be stacked on top of each other. It was the wall opposite to where the landscape painting she'd made when she was a teenager was placed.

Since she'd figured out that the sketchbook had been supernatural, it lessened the ridiculousness of her ideas. Marinette used a pencil and the longest ruler—metal, with her father's initials at the bottom—to mark out the rough shape on the wall, matching the measurements she'd taken from the rest of the house to make it average in size.

At the weekend, when she'd regretfully told Alya she was sick and had to cancel their plans to eat cake, Marinette sat on the floor of the kitchen with all the tabbed sketchbooks laid out in front of her, scissors in hand as she snipped the selected panels and arranged them so they were weighted down underneath plastic coverings with heavy objects on either side, unlikely to blow away by her erratic movements. The windows and doors had already been locked so they wouldn't interfere, and she really didn't want to be disturbed.

It was sort of like a puzzle and a collage mixed into one. Marinette used putty-like adhesive to stick the pieces of paper onto the wall, slowly adding to it each day that she had free time. She made sure to sleep a healthy amount, smile and make it through the tedious conversations at work, and eat dinner before she ventured into the dining room.

When she'd first started, she thought she'd struggle with the amount that the comic showed what she wanted to cut out and collect, yet as she continued, it became glaringly obvious that most of the shots in his home featured what she needed. The colours were different, along with lighting at different, but she assumed that wouldn't matter; it usually didn't for collages, and that was what she going for in the end, cutting small images and placing them together to make something larger in the end.

She gave herself papercuts along the way, wincing and sucking on the stinging flesh for a sense of relief, before returning to her work. It was frustrating and took a long time, but the longer that she continued, the more she thought that even if it didn't work, at least she had a somewhat creative decoration in the most boring room in her home. She wasn't planning to have dinner parties there any time soon, and could make do with eating standing up or on the sofa, as she had done with Adrien. The habit hadn't changed since he'd been gone.

It took almost two months to finish.

Covering the crack in the wall, hundreds—perhaps thousands, she hadn't kept count—of pictures that were stained different shades of brown were stuck; it was shaped to show the panels of wood and the shining metal of the doorknob that was unturned. She'd searched throughout the different sketches to see which door was shown the most, and she quickly realised that it was his bedroom that was shown, usually in the evenings.

It was the average size of the rest of the doors in her home—she hadn't felt like researching and trying to identify the actual door it was based on for the resolutions—located in the middle of the wall. Although it didn't match the rest of the door, she figured she could just buy a curtain to cover the archway into the dining room, or explain it away by saying it was a project of sorts for herself, and it was the only available space that had what she required.

Running her fingers across the many pieces of paper that were stuck on with far too much putty-like adhesive, a sad small spread across her lips.

She whispered to herself, “Absolutely mad.”

When she woke up the next morning to see that it was unchanged, she assumed that it was only acting as normal paper because a lot of the other sketchbooks had been included (the mangled and cut apart books were stored back in boxes, placed on her father's bed for storage). Her tiny hopes were ruined, but she didn't have it in herself to cry. There hadn't been much expectation to begin with; it had all grown from a drunken idea that had seemed shining and holy at the time, a true epiphany.

As she locked her front door, she wondered whether she could class her fascination as obsession. She pondered on that for most of the day, idly contemplating why she'd thought snippets of a supernatural comic that had once only allowed her to write on notes would work as something else; to think that she'd be able to mould it into a door, a way to travel between the two worlds without the creator having to die, seemed a large leap for her to make.

With an unfortunate stain on her trousers from someone bumping into her and spilling their coffee, Marinette locked the front door behind her before shuffling out of the clothing in the hallway. She placed them in the wicker basket to wash at a later date, then stretched her arms over her head with an audible sigh. She wanted nothing more than to curl up into bed and sleep before doing anything productive, but she had work that needed to be done before dinner, and only then would she have time to unwind.

She wished she hadn't been drinking when she walked past the dining room archway, as there was a fallen figure on her floor.

Marinette coughed and spluttered, face hot and red, throat burning in protest, as she tried to get her breathing under control. Her vision was obscured by the liquid that had welled into her eyes, and it took her roughly wiping at them to clear her vision, yet the sight was still the same.

After she'd stopped choking, she had her cell phone in her hands, the number for the emergency line typed out but not connecting, as her first thought was to wildly jump to the slumped over form to be an intruder—but that wasn't right. There was a plethora of objects that could've been looted, yet there was no bag in sight, and nothing in the house had been noticeably moved or touched.

Her breath caught as she saw the blond hair.

It took a few moments for her to remember to move. The dark-haired female placed her cell phone back onto a surface, hands shaking from the nerves as she slowly padded forward, her sock-clad feet almost silent against the floorboards. Of all the times she'd imagined seeing him again, it had never included her being partially dressed after a tedious day at work.

It was ludicrous, insane, and absolutely impossible, yet she couldn't mistake the pale shade of his skin, the way his blond-coloured hair flicked out at the ends. The most noticeable difference was the fact that he was unconscious, the steady rise and fall of his chest indicating that he was okay, just slumped forward with his a cheek pressed against the floor, golden-stained eyelashes creating shadows over his face.

He—it was abnormal and spectacular all at once, and a strangled noise escaped her throat as she dropped to her bare knees in front of his sleeping body. Adrien was asleep, something that he hadn't been capable of before, and just that tell had her heart thumping in excitement from the possibilities that it could've meant.

With a trembling hand, Marinette started to reach out towards him, pulling back uncertainly when she was a few centimetres away. But, surely, if he was capable of sleeping, that meant it was different to the previous time. The fact that her insane idea of a door had worked baffled her greatly, and she flickered her blue-coloured eyes to see see the scraps of paper still stuck onto the wall, not resembling the door that was depicted whatsoever—but he was there, definitive proof that something had worked in her ridiculous plan.

The position wouldn't be comfortable for him—if he could feel discomfort—with his chest flat on the floor, limbs sprawled out at different angles, not none were dangerous. It looked like he'd fainted, honestly. Marinette scooted closer, bare knees almost pressing against his elbow that was nearest to her.

She hovered her fingers above his neck, audibly gulping before she lowered them and stiffened immediately as she came into contact with warm flesh, not feeling the shudder of cold that she'd always associated with him. Snapping out of her momentary shock, she persisted and searched for his pulse, and when she found it, the tears were welling up in her eyes from sheer relief that he was there, he was touchable—

His outfit had changed, too. The cardigan suited him.

-x-

After sobbing for a few minutes—grossly wiping her fluids on her clothing rather than disappear into the downstairs' toilet and risk him disappearing—Marinette had gathered her strength and rearranged him at first, body sweating from exertion by the time he was slumped with his back against the wall, not on the collage, and with a blanket wrapped around him for warmth.

She slept on the floor beside him for that night, too exhausted to attempt to haul him upstairs, and placed the cushions from the sofa behind him for comfort. When she woke up and saw him there, still peacefully breathing without stirring, she'd gasped and rubbed at her eyes frantically, trying to see whether it was her imagination. It was with the twinge of pain in her back from sleeping in an uncomfortable position that assured her it was not.

Marinette checked his pulse—steady, healthy—before she slowly carried him up the stairs, wincing whenever his body hit the floor too hard when she lost her grip. There was bound to be bruises across his skin when he woke up, a collection to match the splattering of colour that had started to appear on his face, proving that he'd fallen over harshly. Since the other bedroom was out of commission due to storage, she readily tucked him into her bed, then stepped back to stare at the surreal sight of Adrien wrapped up in her duvet peacefully (other than the bruises that adorned his face).

It took three days of sleeping terribly on the sofa, since it wasn't as nice to sleep on at nights than sitting on it during the day for a short period of time, and worriedly checking on him every day for something to change. Marinette had made sure to leave a note on her bedside table, explaining that she'd gone to work and would be back soon if he woke up, along with a glass of water that she refilled each morning.

She'd just settled down on the couch, clad in her pyjamas and ready for the tossing and turning she was bound to do, when she heard a noise from upstairs. It wasn't him talking, though; it sounded as though he'd fallen out of bed, and that was what spurred her to slip on the floorboards as she sprinted up the stairs and opened the door to her bedroom.

Clutching his hands to his head, expression twisted in pain as he grimaced, Adrien was sat on the floor with the duvet half pulled off over his body. He was muttering something incoherent under his breath, and she could do was stand there in the hallway, uncertain with a pounding heart as she watched his disorientated state.

He must've heard her because a few moments later, his eyes cracked open—his bleary, sleepy eyes that were almost half-lidded from waking up—and stared at her with an unreadable expression.

Her stomach lurched.

Over the three days she'd pondered how he'd react; contemplated whether he'd freak out and turn hysterical from the sudden change, perhaps not remember their time together still, or maybe run out of the front door before she had a chance to explain that she was the one that he had been talking to some time ago.

Adrien always ruined her expectations. The first words out of his mouth were, “You're wearing pyjamas.”

She furrowed her eyebrows, looking down at her brightly-coloured trousers quickly. “Yes?”

Shifting the duvet around him, cardigan sleeves pushed up and still on as it had felt too intimate to undress him, the blond-haired male looked at her with narrowed eyes. “Kidnappers don't usually dress so vulnerably. Is this your first time?”

She stared.

There must've seen something amusing about her face because he burst into laughter; it was the breathy high-pitched kind that she'd associated with him when it wasn't forced, and that perplexed her further. That wasn't what was normal when someone was lost and confused, but then again, humour had always been his shield for when he felt uncomfortable.

“Do you recognise me?” she whispered, voice cracking at the end.

Running a hand through his messy hair, wincing as he tried to stand up before staying settled on the floor, Adrien looked at her with a lopsided smile. “Are you going to try and convince me that you've always loved me from afar and that you can't hold yourself back any more? If so, I'll have to stop you there,” he replied, a hand alternating between pointing at each of them. “We have to have some boundaries between us, Marinette. I can only be friend-zoned once before I get expectations.”

He knew.

Her answering smile was blinding, and she watched as he returned it, dimples showing as he looked at her with that fondness that she'd missed, and it was a matter of seconds before it drained from his face as he looked down to his body and paled.

Marinette was rooted in the doorway, confused and utterly unsure of what was happening, as the blond continued to run his hands over the duvet, putting his face into the material and making a strangled noise that was muffled due to his position. Adrien stayed like that for a while, face hidden as he was hunched over on the floor, and her feet stayed rooted to the spot as she tried to think of the cause of his breakdown. Of course, he hadn't wished to be with her, and that could've been the cause of it—but he'd been so happy for a moment, the whites of his teeth showing as he grinned before a realisation had struck.

As he patted down his clothing, knuckles turning white as he gripped the cardigan tightly, she walked forward, dropping to her knees in front of him and carefully reached out to place a hand on his shoulder in what was supposed to be comfort.

He panicked from it, though. Adrien scooted back so his back connected painfully with the bedside table, head pulled up with a flushed cheeks from the limited air within the duvet, and had an expression of distress as he backed away from her touch. His eyes were wide, standing out against his pale skin, as he looked at her.

Softly, she called, “Adrien?”

To her horror, she could see tears welling up in his eyes, and he was blinking rapidly to try and dismiss them. Marinette dropped the hand that had been reaching out for him, placing them on her pyjama-clad knees as she considered the situation.

Adrien was there—alive, breathing, capable of showing complicated emotions—but he wasn't seriously accusing her of kidnapping; rather, he seemed to know who she was immediately, and had teased her before bursting out in laughter. Then he'd realised his surroundings, what was placed on him, and reacted to her touch.

She wetted her lips.

“I—” Marinette started before she stopped to clear her throat. “What do you last remember?”

Although he wasn't pressing against her backside table with a lot of force any more, Adrien didn't relax fully as he pulled the duvet around him, hands clenched around the material for a sense of stability, and that made her truly wish that hypothesis was wrong. There was a pain across his expression, facial features contorted into a grimace as he stared silently at her.

She opened her mouth to enquire what was wrong, but he made a winded noise and reached up to clutch his head with pale hands, eyes squeezed shut as he groaned in displeasure. There was clearly something wrong, even so that the sound of his pain was causing her to feel nervous and concerned when it was paired with his pale skin, that certainly wasn't his natural shade.

“Adrien?” she questioned, hands digging into the material of trousers to stop her from reaching out to touch him again.

He didn't have the chance to reply. The distressed noises stopped as his hands fell limp, muscles relaxing and no longer tensed, as he fell unconscious. Marinette scrambled forward, catching his head before it could reach the floor and bruise him further, releasing a deep breath slowly before she lifted him up into the bed once more. It was easier than going up the stairs again, at least.

When she woke up for work the next morning, she checked in to see that he was in the same position she'd adjusted him into previously, and left some medicine beside the note that explained where she'd be. She was restless throughout the day, jittery hands gripping the steering wheel too tightly when she was driving, and had accidentally tripped over into one of the newest interns since her thoughts were preoccupied.

She went into her bedroom immediately after kicking off her shoes, but he was still unconscious.

Adrien had said that he'd been disorientated the last time around, back when he'd been unable to feel pain. It might've been the same, only he could fully feel it and couldn't handle the pressure that his body was experiencing. She felt guilty for that, touching the nape of her neck as she idly watched a television show, barely paying attention to what was happening.

The following night, he woke up. Marinette had been brushing her teeth when she heard the noise of him falling out of bed—again—and quickly spat out her mouthful. Knocking on the door to announce her presence, giving him a moment to collect himself, Marinette entered and found him huddled up in the duvet, a hand gripping the blond strands of his hair tightly as his eyes were squeezed together tightly.

She felt it appropriate to point out, “There's painkillers on the bedside table beside you.”

A noise that sounded similar to a grunt and one of approval left him as he clumsily groped behind him, almost knocking over the glass of water that she hadn't replaced that morning. He found the two pills that she'd left out, and hastily placed his palm over his mouth as he swallowed them dry.

Blinking, she remarked, “A glass of water is up there, too. I mean, not that that wasn't impressive, because I can't do that.”

“Stop being cute while I'm in pain,” he grumbled, a bleary eye opening as he looked behind him to find the glass. After taking a drink, letting the hand from his hair fall onto the duvet that was practically a cocoon at that point, he released a sigh of what sounded like relief. “Why am I able to feel, Marinette?”

That wasn't a question that she could respond to instantly when it came out of nowhere. Marinette hovered in the hallway, hand on the handle as she shifted her weight to another foot, debating her answer before she settled with asking again, “What do you remember last, Adrien?”

He stood up with shaky legs, sitting on the bed of the bed with the duvet draped over his legs as he rested his elbows on his knees, clutching his head in his hands and effectively hiding his expression from her. The position was one of pain or sadness, and combined with how unkempt he looked was unsettling; she hadn't physically seen him with dirty hair or clothing that shouldn't have been worn for multiple days on end.

“We...” Adrien trailed off as he ground his palm into his temple. “That I'm Adrien, I guess.”

With wide eyes, she repeated, “You guess?”

“Well, yeah,” he grumbled, voice hoarse and thick with sleep still. “You were telling me I'm not real.”

Her breath caught in her throat. “You—that's what you remember last?” Marinette questioned, a feeling of horror building within her, torn on how to feel about his condition. “You were with me and not alone?”

“What are you on about, Marinette?” he groaned, running his fingers through his dirty hair before grimacing and flexing his fingers. “Please, just tell me what's going on. My head is killing me right now, and I really need to pee.”

After helping him up, awkwardly trailing along behind him to make sure he didn't fall over, Marinette waited outside of the bathroom for him to appear. Adrien had splashed water on his face—he hadn't been sweaty before, so it wasn't that—causing the damp strands of his fringe to cling to his skin, and droplets of water were dripping from his chin onto his clothing.

She hadn't bought him any clothing, and all she had left from her father's wardrobe was a few large sweaters that would've swamped him. While she came up to Adrien's shoulder, meaning she had to look up whenever they were close together, her father had been taller than that, one of the reasons why his designs tried to include sizes for all heights (weights had been argued, but not implemented).

Clutching onto the frame of the door with one pale hand, Adrien offered her a small smile. “So, did you manage to exorcise me in the end? I'm assuming not, since I'm here right now.”

“You've been gone over a year,” she whispered, voice soft and full of regret.

Barely audible, Adrien repeated underneath his breath, “A year.”

“You're real, okay?” Marinette blurted out, nervously clutching her elbow as the words spilled out of her, sometimes stuttering from the rush. “I—I really fucked up. I can't deny that, and I don't expect you to forgive me, but—but—I wasn't wrong, Adrien.”

A humourless laugh escaped him. “So, what now? I'm a real part of your imagination that you made up years ago? I may not remember anything, but that doesn't mean I—” Adrien cut himself with a groan, reaching up and clutching his head with his free hand, the other tightening on the frame to keep himself steady. “Fuck.”

As much as she wanted to move forward to offer him support, she knew that their emotions were too unstable at that moment. If he swatted her hand away—as one of their first physical interactions—she would've burst into sobs in an instant.

“Look, I... I kind of summoned you here,” the dark-haired female confessed, guilt painting her features. “We—I found a way to communicate with you a little while ago, and when that stopped, I-I just really missed you. I didn't think this would happen.”

“We've been talking?” he enquired, voice clearly pained as he kept his eyes shut.

She shifted her weight on her feet. “Through letters.” It seemed the easiest way to simplify their exchanges. “Adrien, you didn't know who I was—well, you kind of did? You remembered that my hair was dark, and my gender, but you didn't know how we met or anything about our time together.”

“I don't understand,” he murmured, leaning his shoulder to rest against the frame as the hand that was on his head disappeared, but he didn't open his eyes, or stop furrowing his brow from the pain. “If I'm fictional, how the hell do you explain us talking? Fuck, I don't even know how long I've been here.”

“This is the fifth day,” she replied honestly. “You were unconscious for a lot, and it looks like you might pass out again, so please, can you get back into bed? I promise to explain myself later, but I'm running really fucking late for work.”

He released an audible breath. “You work now.”

It wasn't a question.

“A lot of things are different,” Marinette answered. “You, for example, are a fully functioning human being who's close to collapsing. It's not like the last time where you could stay up infinitely watching trashy television shows.”

An amused noise escaped him as he cracked opened his eyes, a frown still on his lips. “I'm sorry you're late for work.”

“I'd call in sick if I wasn't classed as the owner,” she replied, shrugging her shoulders lightly. “I know someone would request a doctor to visit me unless I can provide proof that I've already done so, and that would only lead to someone finding you.”

As much as she wanted to call an ambulance and have him treated, there was the major detail that he had no identification on him, and that it wouldn't hold up in her world, where he technically shouldn't exist. It was with that in mind that she helped him climb back into bed, promising that she'd be back by the end of the day with medication and food that wouldn't be too rich for him, and his replies were slurred and quiet when she left (not before replacing the glass of water and leaving a plate with a few crackers in it).

He was awake when she returned with food she'd bought at a nearby restaurant, and a separate bag with medicine she'd bought at a pharmacy. Their meal was still warm as she placed it in a bowl and carried it upstairs, feet bare from taking off her high-heeled shoes for the evening. Adrien responded to her knock with an incoherent noise, one that she took to be a sleepy greeting, and the sight of him rubbing one eye as he yawned was what greeted her, and she was so utterly overjoyed with such a simple thing that her smile met her eyes.

“I need to buy you clothes,” Marinette remarked aloud, eyes darting to the crumpled cardigan that was draped over the frame of the bed. “And toiletries, and—

A throaty laugh escaped him. “Calm down, Marinette.”

She smiled sheepishly at him. “Sorry. I'm just finding this hard to believe. I—I thought I lost you, Adrien.”

“I'm in your bed with a killer headache, and it's not from intimate activities,” the blond pointed out, pillows propped up as he leaned back against them. “Tell me you've got the good drugs.”

She carefully passed the bowl over to him, and then the cutlery. “Only after you've eaten at least half of that.”

His grin was lopsided. “Bribing me with drugs is low, even for you.”

“If you keep your mouth occupied so you can't butt in, I'll tell you what's happened since your disappearance,” Marinette offered, sitting down on the stray armchair that she had by the window, rather than on the end of the bed. It looked like he needed the space for his feet, as they were almost hanging off of her mattress when he slept. “Including why you're here now.”

When he had his first mouthful, Adrien looked at her expectantly with his cheeks stuffed.

-x-

Adrien accepted it as well as could be expected. He disbelieved her at first, especially when she got to the part of talking to him via the sketchbook, and it was only from showing him pictures of the door that she'd created downstairs that he'd started to realise that her words were true. That didn't mean that he wasn't frustrated with his memory, or the splitting headaches that plagued him. The painkillers didn't dull the violent throbs much, but he was able to stagger himself to the bathroom without her help.

Begrudgingly, he agreed to let her pay for clothing, as he couldn't stay in the same outfit for days on end, especially when he had nothing more than a few sweaters to change into when she washed them. He was wearing one of the jumpers, and the loosest pyjamas bottoms that she owned, but they ended up showing his ankles. At least his sense of humour was fine; he laughed it off and commented on how soft they felt, running his fingertips over the material.

Marinette showed him the scraps left of the comics, a large amount of panels cut out from her quest for the collage, and the first time he'd stared at the image of his face, his expression had been blank before he averted his eyes. She didn't comment on the tears that gathered there.

She explained her theory; hands animated as she gestured back and forth, even to the windows at random points to emphasise her enthusiasm. Adrien didn't interrupt as she theorised about her father's death, and how he'd flickered into existence in her world from her father's disappearance, stating that she assumed the knowledge of his identity had been what was needed to draw him back to his original body.

“I don't know if you're from parallel world, and I somehow managed to draw you when I was younger, or if you're truly fictional, but that's not what's important,” Marinette declared. She'd pulled the armchair closer to the other side of the bed days ago, to sit nearby as he ate his meals, and to spend time together as she was determined to keep him bedridden until he wasn't stumbling from pain. “You exist, you're real, and maybe I was too in denial to see that before, but I'm not now.”

He swallowed his mouthful. “To be fair, I didn't even class myself as alive back then. It's really fucking weird to suddenly feel everything after I've been so—so accustomed not to.”

It wasn't as though she'd gained her best friend back instantly. Adrien was unhealthy, could barely walk, and often kept his eyes closed when they spoke because of the splitting pain of his headaches. He didn't know if he'd suffered from them before, and Marinette had no answers since the comic hadn't focused on his illnesses. All she knew were mostly the positive things—such as his favourite food and drink, which caused her to smile to herself whenever his expression visibly brightened as he had a mouthful of them.

When he bathed—since showers were out of the question if he fainted—Marinette sat outside the door with a book, just to make sure that he was okay. The clothes she'd gotten him to choose online had arrived the day after ordering them, and they'd had to guess his sizes after he'd fallen over when trying to stand up for her to measure him. Marinette promised that she could adjust them if they were too drastically different to his figure, and that had earned her a fond roll of his eyes that had her cheeks hurting from smiling.

There was still a sadness to him, though. Sometimes when she came into the bedroom, after a night of crappy sleep on the sofa (she really needed to move the boxes in the other bedroom into the loft for space), he'd be staring out of the window with a blank expression, which would make her pause, unsure whether to disturb him.

And then there was the confession of, “It feels like it was only last week that you wanted me to leave.” It had been soft, quiet, and barely audible, but she heard it and she felt her breath catch in her throat.

“I'm sorry,” Marinette confessed for the umpteenth time, regret and embarrassment clear in her voice and the way she shuffled on the spot. “I-I know this is different for the two of us, but—”

“Marinette,” Adrien cut her off with a call of her name. “It's okay, really. I forgive you, but only if you promise never to do that again. I'm actually capable of sobbing now, and that is something you do not want to see.”

She blinked. “I want to see everything about you.”

Shaking his head, there was a small smile on his lips. “I've discovered I'm ugly when I cry, so no, you do not.”

A breath of amusement escaped her. “You?” She pointed to him with her index finger. “You're even attractive when you're unconscious with blossoming bruises from the fall, Adrien. That's a filthy lie and you know it.”

He leaned back against the pillows, eyes clenched shut with that pained expression that she'd become used to. In the times that he was awake, it seemed that the pain was increasing, getting worse for when he had his eyes open and tried to look around for an extended period of time. Marinette had babbled on about perhaps trying to find somewhere to make him fake identification, but that came the problem of the fact that she was known because of her father, and photographs were taken of her candidly on the street. She didn't want to think about trying to explain to Nathalie why she thought it had been a good idea to do something illegal when she was twenty-five.

“Want me to go for a bit?” she offered.

“No, I want you here,” Adrien replied immediately, not a hint of hesitation. “Just, maybe, be a bit quieter if you can.”

Settling down in the armchair, regretting not changing out of her clothes from work as they were stiff and she couldn't easily curl her legs up underneath her in the skirt, she asked in a whisper, “It's getting worse, isn't it?”

He huffed. “I don't really have a good scale of pain, but this is the worst it's been, yes. And don't you dare apologise for this.”

“I literally forced you here and made you fall unconscious on my floor after you hit your head,” she defended hotly, the same weak argument that she'd brought up every time he tried to convince her that it wasn't her fault.

“I'd rather be in pain than unaware of my life,” Adrien retorted, eyebrows furrowed as he palmed at his temple. “And don't you dare say I was living just fine without you—the me I am right now lost sense of time when you banished me last. Hell, you even exorcised me, Marinette. That's some serious power you've got there.”

She'd managed to get one leg underneath her. “All I did was make you realise you're Adrien Agreste, who's apparently my brother from another universe.”

“Maybe you're in the other universe, too,” he quipped.

“Maybe,” she agreed, eyes staring at the ceiling rather than the pain in his expression. “Everyone's either blurred out or their faces aren't visible; I don't even know the name of your cats, let alone your best friend over there.”

There was no response from him for that, not even a noise of acknowledgement.

She licked her lips.

Placing her chin on her palm, Marinette decided to tentatively, start with, “Adrien, what if your memories are altered when you cross sides?”

A sound did leave him at that; it was a low and short hum.

“I mean, it would explain everything, wouldn't it?” she continued, trying to keep her voice from raising from her enthusiasm at the theory. “It's already impossible that you manage to come through to here, especially in your actual body like you are now, so it could be true, right?”

As the seconds passed without him answering verbally, only the sound of the duvet moving as he most likely readjusted his position, Marinette didn't think anything of the quietness. She'd assumed that he'd wanted to contemplate it to himself, or was feeling too sick to answer, so when her eyes flickered over to him a minute or so later, her eyes widened in surprise as she quickly stood up, stumbling from the leg that she'd been sitting on not cooperating properly.

“Adrien?” Marinette called, trying to determine whether he was conscious.

His head was slumped back, eyes still closed but the furrow in his brow was gone, but that wasn't what made her worried. Scarlet liquid was steadily dripping from his nose, decorating his chin, shirt, and the duvet in trails and stains as it fell. Marinette hastily scrambled forward, looking for a cloth of some sort to bundle underneath his nose, and quickly settled for the cardigan that she was wearing.

There was no response as she brushed the hair from his hair, awkwardly cradling his head as she placed the scrunched together cardigan on his nose, feeling the warmth of his blood as it coated the material and started to leak through to her hand. She looked for any signs of consciousness, but there were none; no fluttering of his blond-stained eyelashes, no mumbled complaints or any sense of recognition that his face and chest were wet.

She stayed there for fifteen minutes, stressing and wondering whether it would be worth the questions to seek medical help. She could call her doctor to visit her home—they'd been open to doing that before, especially on Nathalie's request—but then she'd have to explain the stranger in her bed. It felt so utterly selfish, but he didn't have an identity, and she didn't want to be separated from him if were to be discovered.

The cardigan was swapped out for one of his shirts, as it was the closest. The bleeding turned into a dribble over time, and she cautiously pulled the clothing back and waited to see if any more would emerge. When it seemed fine, Marinette fetched a wet flannel from the bathroom to clean his skin, though she didn't feel comfortable enough to change his clothing. She managed to pull the duvet away and change the sheet, but the blood had seeped through to the other side, and her washing machine wasn't big enough to clean it.

She ended up climbing up into the loft to find the duvet she'd stored away there, managing to put a new cover on it and then place it upon him in the time that he was unconscious. Marinette adjusted him down so he was on his back—like he was sleeping—before disappearing to make dinner.

That didn't mean she didn't check on him, though. She considered buying him a cell phone to call her with, but she knew that it was excessive and he would've been overwhelmed by her nonchalance at spending money on him. Back when he'd first discovered her acquired wealth, she'd refused to replace the television or laptop, and had only spent money for their random activities to get him out of the house.

The flushing of the toilet alerted her that he was awake two days later. Marinette had been in the middle of a call when she heard it, and had tried to speed up the pace of the remaining time. She shifted her weight on the spot, resting her free arm on the countertop to at least try and be comfortable, and it was ten minutes later that she was able to put down her cell phone and ascend the stairs with a glass of water.

She called his name, tapping her knuckles against the wood of the door.

He hadn't had another nosebleed since, but she'd found a cloth that was designed for the kitchen and put it on the bedside table, just in case.

Entering her bedroom, she was greeted by the sight of him sitting on the edge of the bed, hair damp and wet from a shower—she really had been too immersed in the call, if she hadn't heard the water—with the towel folded up beside him, clad in the clothing that she'd found him in; the long-sleeved t-shirt, cardigan and jeans with holes in the knees. He was running his hands through the strands of his hair, trying to sort them into something relatively presentable.

“Hey,” she greeted.

Adrien jumped, head snapping her way with a surprised expression, one that faded into him narrowing his eyes, not opening his mouth since it was pressing into a thin line.

Well, it was understandable. They'd been in the middle of a conversation two days ago, while she was unaware of his flickering consciousness. Marinette offered him a smile as she started, “I'm sorry for not realising you weren't feeling too good. I should've gone away—wait, no. If I did, then you might've choked on your blood.”

He blinked.

“You had a really bad nosebleed and fainted,” she explained. He must've known that, though, as there was bound to have been congealed or dried blood within his nose when he woke up. “How's your head today?”

The narrowing of his eyes didn't disappear as he opened his mouth to announce, “You stole my bedroom.”

Tilting her head slightly to the side, Marinette's eyebrows were knitted together as she responded, “Well, no. This is actually my bedroom and I've been sleeping on the sofa downstairs. It looks pretty and feels nice for a few hours, but in the morning it feels like torture.”

“My bedroom door!” Adrien corrected himself, hands thrown up momentarily to emphasise his point. “You're a thief. You literally stole away my bedroom, Marinette. I doubt I'll be able to use that door without coming through to here again.”

Marinette stared openly, torn on how to respond. There was one thing that was glaringly clear—Adrien could clearly remember how he'd passed over to her world. From the way that he was talking to her with such familiarity, even the corner of his lips twitching in amusement as he tried to hold his serious expression, meant that he hadn't reverted to the memories of his own world, back when he only knew her from the notes. It—it hurt her head, honestly.

She swallowed. “Has your headache gone?”

“Don't change the subject,” he scolded her, bare feet padding across the carpet as he came to stand in front of her stability for the first time since he'd appeared. “I'm perfectly recovered without a split personality.”

“I wouldn't say it was a split personality,” Marinette rejected. “You were pretty much the same.”

His feet were almost touching hers. “There I was, home from a stressful day at work, ready to change and go to sleep, and what do you know? My door's suddenly a magical portal and I lose consciousness from stepping through. That sounds like a wonderful way to finish the day, don't you think so?”

Wincing, Marinette parted her lips to start to mumble her apologies, but she was cut off by him placing his palm over her mouth, warm flesh covering hers. She looked at him widened eyes, surprised by how easily he was taking being able to touch her—well, he'd accepted the help with moving begrudgingly when he'd suffered from splitting headache, but not casual touches—and happy to see the lopsided smile that had spread across his lips.

“When you stopped writing to me, I really thought I was mad,” Adrien continued, keeping his hand on her. “I—I just thought I was making you up somehow, so I asked my mother if she could read one of the notes, too.”

Even if she could've talk, she wouldn't have known what to say to that. It was similar to what she had done. When the hand fell from her mouth, she didn't try and interrupt him, just stood there, looking up at him as he struggled to find the right words.

“And she could. I ran out of there after snatching it up, not willing to explain myself.” He shrugged his shoulders at that, a small laugh escaping. “She's so used to my silliness that she didn't bother pressuring me for answers. I honestly thought you were someone I imagined because of the flashes I had of you after I woke up in the hospital. I searched for you, did you know that?”

She nodded, but it wasn't necessary.

Not expecting her to answer, Adrien stumbled on, “I guess you do, since you read about me. That's just—it's so weird Marinette. I woke up over there sore and disorientated, and all I could wonder was why you seemed important to me, like I was the protagonist in a childish film.”

Marinette reached out and intertwined her fingers with him, smile encouragingly for him to continue. It was better to let him get all the words off of his chest, rather than hold them in.

“Why did you do it?” he asked, a sort of desperation in his voice that she couldn't place.

There was many things that he could've been asking; why she made the collage, initiated contact at all, or pushed him away in the beginning. So, she settled with the honest confession of, “I missed you.”

“You made a shrine because you missed me?”

She squeezed his hand. “I didn't mean to snatch you or injure you in the process. I just—I wanted to apologise properly and be with you again.”

“You're coping perfectly fine without me,” Adrien responded, eyes flickering to take in the smart clothing that she'd worn to work. “The Marinette I knew was unemployed and liked to wear jeans and pretty dresses.”

“That may be so,” she started, smile meeting her eyes as he returned the movement and gripped her hand tighter for a moment, “but I'm that Marinette and then some more, just like you're you, with much more Adrien added in.”

The laughter was escaped him was breathy. “You're very eloquent,” the blond teased her.

She could feel her cheeks warming. “I'm still me. I'm the clumsy girl you lived with, and you're my best friend, even if you remember your favourite things now.”

“Are you sure I didn't get demoted in our time apart?” Adrien asked, amusement clear in his voice. “It has been over a year, after all. I even missed your birthday.”

She blinked. “Adrien, I've missed two of yours.”

“Well, that's true.” He hummed. “As much as I'd like to spend time with you here, Marinette, I've been missing for...”

Realising that he'd trailed off for her input, she quickly tried to recall the date. “Eleven days now.”

“Yeah, that long.” He ran his free hand through his hair—the strands were mostly dry by that point, flicking out at the ends in their own style. “We need to see if I can get back because I'm sure my parents are going crazy from my disappearance. Actually, saying that, I need a good story to explain my absence because they're not going to believe me when I lie terribly and say that I went exploring from a mid-life crisis.”

She snorted in amusement. “Adrien, you're twenty-five.”

Exactly!”

-x-

It worked like a door for him, and only him.

When Adrien reached towards the collage, his hand was able to touch the door even though it appeared to be flat and made up of cut apart pieces of paper, and although it didn't move, Marinette watched in horrified wonder as he was able to walk through into it. Slowly, he placed one leg in with an arm before he turned to look at her over his shoulder, an equally surprised expression on his face.

“It looked normal on the other side,” he offered.

Dumbly, she nodded. “I'm sure it did.”

“Really,” Adrien insisted, his body half disappeared without bothering him at all. It was scarily wonderful to look at, a shock to the system and something that she'd probably never see again. “As long as you don't get rid of this shrine, I'm one hundred percent sure I'll be able to come back through.”

Rubbing a hand quickly over her face, applying pressure on her eyes to prove that what she was seeing was real, Marinette looked at him with narrowed eyes. “It's not a shrine—it's art.”

“Yes, of my bedroom door.” He grinned wolfishly. “That's not what a stalker would do at all.”

He offered to show her through, to explore his world together before returning back, but that offer was rejected when her hands were stopped by the wall, fingertips feeling the papers that were stuck on and nothing out of the ordinary. While Adrien was right there beside her, eyebrows knitted together as his body was able to reach through the paper without ruining them, not even causing a hole to appear around his limbs. It was strange and surreal, proving once more than she wasn't meant to have a part in shaping his world.

“I can't go with you,” she whispered, voice cracking at the end.

He wasn't deterred, though. “Hold onto my hand.”

“It won't work,” Marinette insisted as she intertwined their fingers, gripping tightly as her other hand held onto his arm. “Just—please, come back to me, okay? I'm not asking you to leave your life and live with me. I'm not insane, I—I just really like spending time with you.”

“I'll come back as soon as I can, Marinette. You've stolen my bedroom, remember? There's nowhere else I can go in the evenings,” Adrien assured her, smile not quite reaching his green eyes. He reached forward to push a few stray hairs out of her face, and she could feel her face warming from the intimacy and familiarity of the movement. “You're going to come with me so I at least have the excuse of running off to elope with you.”

For once, she was able to reach out and lightly hit him on the shoulder. “You're terrible,” Marinette accused.

“And you're coming with me,” the blond repeated, tilting his head towards the collage. “On the count of three, okay?”

She couldn't go through. Even with her holding onto Adrien, her body met the paper on the wall, not able to go any further. She could do nothing but watch as he disappeared through while she was stuck there, holding the hands that she'd had wrapped around him to her chest. It had looked similar to when Adrien was a ghost—if he could've been classed as that—to the times when strangers would pass through him without causing his image to be distorted or altered; they were simply able to walk through him, and that was what he'd done with the door.

As it wasn't a day where she needed to work, Marinette busied herself by clearing out the other bedroom, carrying the boxes up the ladder to the loft, almost losing her balance a few times. Her palms were reddened and hurting by the time she was done, clothes clinging to her uncomfortably, but both of the beds were set up, ready for the next time he was back, so no one had to fall victim to the sofa overnight. The sheets were changed, rooms cleaned, and when the countertops in the kitchen were gleaming, she sat down on the sofa with a sigh.

The cleaning had distracted her, but now she had time to stare at the clock on the mantle, seeing the time pass that he wasn't there. She was undeniably worried, fretting that it wouldn't work again, that the first time had been a fluke and he wouldn't be able to get through. And then there was the worry that if it did work, then he'd have to experience the splitting headache again until the two parts of his memories merged.

He didn't come back that evening. Marinette kept a light on in the dining room, slowly ate her dinner alone and stored his portion away in the fridge, willing herself not to stay in the room and stare at the collage for too long.

She didn't cry.

Marinette went out with friends the following day, finally taking up the offer of meeting as she'd neglected to keep in contact with most for almost two weeks. She knew that if she rejected for any longer without a legitimate excuse, some were likely to venture to her home, and Alya had the knowledge of where she kept her spare key.

She quenched their curiosity by saying she was busy with work—inspired by some nonsense—and apologised for not responding often.

Nino had the gall to ruffle her hair.

As Adrien didn't appear that evening, she ate his meal that she'd kept in the fridge. She didn't cook for him the next day, and her hopes were being crushed with each passing day. It had been nice to see him, yes, and he'd seemed genuinely happy for a moment when his memories had merged, but the concern for his family was one that she hadn't even considered. Even though she hadn't seen his friends and family, or even knew their names, they could be just as real as him, and she'd unjustly taken him without explanation.

“Oh, gosh,” she muttered underneath her breath, running her fingers through her hair. “I really am a kidnapper.”

That thought was quelled the following day after she'd returned home from work. Marinette had been preoccupied taking off her high-heeled shoes, feeling relief on her feet against the floorboards, to take into account her surroundings. So, when she looked up after starting to tie her hair into a loose ponytail to see his figure standing before her with a nervous smile, Marinette shrieked.

She almost lost her footing, only catching her balance as she reached out to put her hand on the wall, and looked at him incredulously. “Adrien?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I didn't think I'd scare you,” the blond started, hands suspiciously kept behind his back. The outfit was different; newer jeans that had no holes, and a long-sleeved shirt that had a button undone at the top. It was smarter than the attire she usually saw him wear in the comics, as he reserved shirts for special occasions (she didn't think she counted for that).

“You're back,” she stated dumbly.

Rather than laugh at her—and her surely shocked expression that showed her relief and amazement that he'd chose to come at all—Adrien's smile met his eyes. “Sorry I took so long,” he apologised, staying where he was in the hallway, hands tucked behind him in what she was quickly suspecting to be secrecy. “It turns out if you claim you had a mid-life crisis, you have to live with your parents for a couple of days to reassure them you're not insane.”

A laugh escaped her. “I was started to worry that it wouldn't work.”

“Oh, it definitely does.” For a moment, his expression flickered to one of forced sadness. “I can see my room and everything, but as soon as I pass through the frame, it transports me here—which is still horribly disorientating, by the way. Both of my cats decided to spend the day on my bed and refuse to come out.”

A guilty look flashed across hers. “I'm sorry—”

“Don't you dare.” Adrien playfully narrowed his eyes, the smile on his lips giving him away. “I have no idea when you finish work normally, so I've been lurking in your home for an hour feeling increasingly awkward, even though I used to spend all my time here.”

She could understand that. “I could get you a key, if you want.” There was one outside that was usually stored away for her, but she could easily get another one cut instead, since that way he wouldn't have to feel locked in when she was away.

“If you'd be quiet for a moment, I'm trying to be spontaneous here,” Adrien chided her lightly.

Smiling, Marinette held her hands up in a sign of surrender.

With a grin, he pulled his arms out from behind his back, revealing a small bouquet of flowers that were bursting with colour, a small ribbon wrapped around them and tied into a bow over the top of the wrapping. Marinette's eyes widened as he held them out for her, and she caught sight of the logo from his shop on the wrapping, realising that he'd brought them over with him.

Taking them into her hands and turning them around to inspect, ignoring his baffled expression for a moment, Marinette's eyes flickered up to his as she smiled and stated, “I guess you didn't fall over this time.”

He scrunched his nose in displeasure. “I admit I was dizzy for a bit, but no horrible headaches or missing memories. I'd say that's a big improvement.”

“You bought me flowers,” she murmured in wonder, fingertips reaching out to caress the sofa petals, some pollen catching on her skin. “I've only ever had them delivered when I'm ill.”

“I hope you're not ill,” he remarked, humming as he stepped forward and placed the back of his hand against her forehead to check her temperature. “I kind of planned to take you on a date—well, if you want to, that is.”

She blinked. “A date.”

“Yes,” Adrien responded without missing a beat. “That's something I'm able to do now; no more having to sit on the arm of your chair, or have you opening all the doors and being purposely slow, as though you had something wrong with your legs.”

Yet all she could say again was, “A date.”

A laugh escaped him at that; it was breathy and fond, and the corner of his eyes crinkled as he smiled. “A date, Marinette,” Adrien confirmed, sounding thoroughly amused. “Or did you forget the little detail that I love you? You did reject my confession once before.”

With wide blue eyes, Marinette retorted incredulously, “That wasn't a confession!” The flowers were cradled against her chest, petals touching her chin and causing pollen to scent her clothing as they were held close. “You said it like it would be something of convenience, and it didn't sound sincere at all.”

“I was nervous!” he defended, colour blossoming along his cheeks and causing her to watch in wonder as it appeared. “I just—I didn't know how to ask you out, okay?”

She felt her own warm. “We wouldn't have been able to do anything.”

“A long-distance relationship is still a relationship,” he pointed out cheerily.

Pulling a sour face, Marinette walked past him, heading to the kitchen to find a vase that she'd stored away for the flowers. Adrien was laughing at the snub behind her, clearly pleased that his jokes still had the same effect on her, while she was trying to think of a good answer.

When he'd asked before, back when he'd been limited and she'd had a few alcoholic beverages, she had thought about it. Adrien was her closest friend, someone she enjoyed spending her time with, but one of the reasons she'd rejected him was because of his condition. The other hand been the nonchalance, to which she'd assumed he was only suggesting it because he wanted a sense of intimacy from only being able to talk to her.

“Are you sure?” Marinette asked softly, unwrapping the flowers to keep herself occupied, eyes focused on her task. “You—you have a lot more options now—”

Taking the scissors from her hand, Adrien replied just as quietly, “I'm sure, Marinette.”

She moved to the side, allowing him to take over (it was his job, after all, so he'd do much better than her attempts to make the flowers arranged beautifully in the vase). A pleased smile curled on her lips, a private one that she kept to herself as she watched him work. His movements didn't falter as he placed each flower in a specific place, familiarity and confidence clear in each moment. She would've loved to see him work normally; to see the apron that he always wore in person, and smell whether the scents of the flowers stuck to him after a day of work.

“And because I know you're wondering to yourself, it's my pleasure to tell you that no, I was not dating anyone before I came to stay with you,” the blond-haired male confessed, a quiet laugh sounding at the end. “I haven't been on a date since I woke up either.”

Tucking a stray hair behind her ear, Marinette whispered, “Me, too.”

“Why don't we change that now, then?” Adrien asked, words reminiscent to the ones he'd quietly asked in the karaoke bar—except they were stronger, not as nervous, and he had a lopsided grin as he turned to look at her. “I'll even let you drive me, just like the old times.”

He was ridiculous, but that was why she liked him.

Marinette snorted. “Fine.”

-x-

The main difference in their interactions was that they were reaching out to touch each other, using any excuse to brush their fingertips over the other's skin, or playfully whack lightly when a bad joke was uttered (usually it was her gently hitting him, rather than insult him where the customers around them could hear).

Adrien gave her as much time as she needed to get ready—all she did was change clothes and come downstairs to choose a different pair of shoes—and then clasped her hand, remembering that she preferred to walk most places, despite the comment to driving that he'd uttered earlier. He was comfortable leading, apparently happy to just walk through the streets with her, asking every now and then whether the restaurant they passed was a favourite of hers.

It was when they came to the one that she'd had her disastrous date with Kim that she groaned, resting her forehead on his shoulder to muffle her laughter. Adrien's grin when he lead them inside was slightly smug, even more so when they were seated in the same section as back then.

“I'm curious,” Marinette started, menu resting on the table in front of her. “You managed to get here with flowers. Do you think you can bring anything through?”

He hummed. “We'll just have to find out in the future. I tested out my phone, by the way. There's no signal on it—network providers don't transcend universes, sadly.”

She snorted a laugh at that. “Credit cards?”

“I already thought of that.” The white of his teeth showed as he grinned. “I've got cash ready—don't you dare think about paying when you had to spend it whenever we spent time together before.”

In her defence, he had been invisible to everyone else. When Marinette pointed out that she'd technically only paid for herself in those situations and therefore could split half of the total, as it was a fair arrangement for the both of them, Adrien had stayed silent and stared at her. After their meal, it should've been clear that he was planning something as he disappeared with the excuse of visiting the toilet, only to return with that smug expression that he'd had when they'd entered, holding the hand with his wallet in it so it was visible.

She scowled. “You're unbelievable.”

“I've been told that before, but never as an insult,” he quipped, tucking her chair under the table once she'd stood up.

Marinette stuck her tongue out childishly.

He was insistent that to make up for the unfairness of their interactions, so much so that he increased his pace to dart forward to open a door for her, even when she tried to match him, missing the handle by a second, so it caused him to him victoriously. Marinette begrudgingly walked through the doorways first, eager to beat him the next time.

By the time they'd arrived at her creaking front gate, he even opened that and did the mocking bow that she'd once done, even though they could've easily bypassed it by jumping over the top (as she sometimes did when she was playful or drunk, as it wasn't too high).

Her grin was smug at the front door, though. “You don't have a key,” she sang.

Raising his eyebrows in amusement, he stated, “Marinette, I lived with you for almost a year.”

And with that said, he proved himself by retrieving the spare key that only Alya knew about, unlocking the door and pushing it open before he turned to her and held them out, offering them to her.

She shook her head, brushing his shoulder lightly as she went through first. “You might as well keep that so you're not locked inside when I'm at work. You might go stir crazy.”

“Why, Marinette, it sounds like you're asking me to move in with you,” Adrien remarked as he entered the warmth of the house. The heating had been left on—from her neglect—so she shrugged off her jacket, while the blond-haired male pushed up the sleeves of his long-sleeved shirt.

She might've stared at the exposed skin a bit.

“I stole your bedroom,” she reminded him, lips curling up into an amused smile. “Unless you're willing to climb up a ladder and through the window?”

He grimaced. “How do you think I got these clothes?”

Laughter escaped from her, and it was honest and breathy, as she tried to picture it. “Why would you only tell me this now?”

“Because I knew you'd laugh at me!” Adrien defended, slipping off his shoes and padding across the floorboards into the kitchen. It was nice that he was still familiar with the layout of the house, and she assumed it was from her insistence that he treat it as though it was his home—from back when he was detained in her bedroom—that had him feeling comfortable enough to open a cupboard for a glass without asking for permission. “I had to convince my neighbours that my bedroom door wouldn't unlock, and then make up multiple excuses for them not to go in. They've known me for years, Marinette, and now I'm now known as the paranoid guy that locks his bedroom when he goes out.”

She held a hand over her mouth, trying to muffle her amusement. “What did you do?” Marinette managed to stutter out, voice slightly higher-pitched than usual.

“I got someone to hold the bottom of the ladder while I broke into my own bedroom, of course.” He paused for a bit to sip at his drink. “And then I came down with arms full of clothes and belongings that I needed—like my damn charger for my phone, Marinette—all of which I've stored in my living room.”

The laughter continued to spill out of her, though, even more so when she looked up to see his lower lip jutted out dramatically. “Oh, I'm so sorry,” she gasped out, tears brimming in her eyes from her enjoyment, and her chest was starting to protest at the use. “You probably look like a hoarder!”

He sniffed. “And it's completely your fault, I'll have you know.”

“It's a good thing I cleared out the other bedroom, then,” she remarked, smile widening as she saw the widening of his eyes. “What? You really didn't think I'd let you stay in my bedroom forever, did you?”

“Well, I wouldn't have minded sharing with you.”

She grinned. “I'm not sleeping with you on the first date.”

The night didn't end with a kiss, as most of the other dates had in the past, but with intimate touches, clasped hands when they sat down on the sofa together, and they naturally sought out each other to make up for the time that they'd missed. Marinette didn't flinch in surprise or pull away when she felt a hand in her hair, or when his hand was placed gently on her knee as they watched a film together. It was everything they would've done if they could've, not making their interactions uncomfortable at all.

The best thing about their relationship was that she was utterly comfortable with him. Marinette didn't worry in the morning when she rolled out of bed whether her clothing was unattractive, if her hair was a mess or any of those insecure thoughts. Adrien had seen her in her worst moments—could remember them clearly—and her hands didn't become clammy from those silly worries that always been there when she liked someone before.

Adrien was someone she had affectionate feelings for, truly. He'd been a constant in her life and her closest friend for months on end before his disappearance, and it seemed like they were picking up where they'd left off, regardless of the differences. His memories weren't skewed any longer, not thinking that their separation had happening only a week ago, and she was starting to catch herself staring at him for longer than necessary when they were together.

True to his word, Adrien appeared in the evenings, pyjamas tucked under his arms or in a small bag, and spending the night before he disappeared in the mornings to work. It was so utterly domestic, with the two of them taking it in turns to cook—or whoever managed to make it home first—and he started to bring personal items through the door with him.

Sadly, he couldn't bring his cats. They weren't able to make it through with him, though they did enjoy his bedroom because it was often left open while he was away at hers, which brought forward the worry of how he was going to clean.

“Well, you might just have to hire someone to,” Marinette mused, pondering the implications. She couldn't go through, neither could his cats, so she doubted that anyone else would be able to, too. The blurry-faced strangers of his world hadn't been the intended ones for the comic, which lead her to believe that they'd be able to walk through his door without any problems. “I'll happily pay for it, if you'll let me.”

When he started to reply that maybe it wouldn't be so bad, that cat hair would collect and there was a chance he'd be able to ignore it if no one ever entered his room, Marinette scoffed and said that the dust in the study had been bad enough when she'd neglected it for months, and that it was his bedroom, of course visitors would expect it to be clean, and what if his parents visited? There was countless arguments why he should just allow her to pay for it, to which he stubbornly refused each time.

So, they had a routine set up. They were living together because of Marinette's spontaneous idea to snatch his bedroom door without thinking of the consequences, but he wasn't mad about it. Adrien constantly reminded her that he was overjoyed to see her—placing a hand gently on top of her own, thumb tracing gentle shapes into her skin—and that he wouldn't trade that for access to his bed.

“Yours has a better mattress anyway,” he announced, grinning wolfishly.

She might've shoved her spoon in his mouth.

When there was a day that he had a prior arrangement, Marinette would come home to find a note on the dining room table (the room still wasn't set up, with the chairs pushed aside to create as much space as possible), and another bouquet of flowers that was already arranged beautifully in the vase from the first time. He'd slip in when she was asleep, his bright smile greeting her in the mornings before they had to part ways for work.

It was like they had a secret life with each other. Adrien's family didn't know about her, and Marinette kept her own personal life to herself. She told her friends that she was busy with work for the upcoming weeks to set aside time to commit to making their situation work, dreading thinking of a time where the blond would request to end their connection, and she assumed that he'd told the same to his friends, too.

After their date—which had been successful, even if it hadn't ended in a kiss—he hadn't pushed for another, as they were both content to stay inside for the time being. Marinette enjoyed sitting beside him with their hands clasped, sometimes resting her head on his shoulder to be comfortable, and he'd wrap an arm around her as it was natural. It was what their time could've been; filled with warmth, friendly contact and fond smiles, and she didn't feel at all uneasy about it.

As she glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes, watching the exposed strip of skin as he dried his hair, the side of his face when he was concentrating, or the way he licked his lips during their meals, she acknowledged the attraction she had for him. There wasn't differences in their bodies holding them back any more, and Adrien had definitely conveyed his feelings as true.

It was a month after they'd started living together that they kissed.

Adrien had been sat beside her, babbling enthusiastically about one of the customers that had entered his shop that day, hands moving to emphasise his words. Marinette had made the appropriate noises to encourage him, watching with raised eyebrows as he continued to rant, eyebrows adorably furrowed as he tried to understand the customer's thoughts, and all she could think was that was the type of silly thing that she liked him for.

As he continued to ponder heatedly aloud, she reached over and gently tapped his shoulder, moving closer so their clothing-clad thighs were pressed against each other. He didn't jump from surprise from the sudden movement, simply turning his head to look at her quizzically.

She smiled, leaning closer so their noses were touching, warm breath greeting her as her eyes glanced up to see his reaction.

A noise of surprise left him as she pressed her lips against his, and it had her feeling all sorts of pleased and smug all at once, even more so as he shifted to the side, a hand placed on her arm and slowly trailing up as she began to apply pressure as her eyes closed. He returned the kiss tentatively, gently, and soon there was a hand cupping her face softly, thumb idly tracing soft patterns into her skin in a way that had her lips curling into a smile despite their position. It seemed that he could feel it, too, as a breath of amusement left him, grin clear as they continued.

Marinette loosely grasped onto his shirt to occupy her hands, resisting the urge not to run her fingers through his hair—he'd came home a few nights ago with a new haircut that he wasn't happy with, as it was shorter than he was used to. She'd learned so many new things about him, and the way that she could feel the warmth of his breath and the constant pressure against her lips had a pleased sound escaping her.

It only spurred him on.

Soon, there was a tongue languidly gliding over her lower lip in a silent question, and she complied with a hum, feeling the redness that had appeared on her cheeks. She was sure that if she opened her eyes, he would've matched. With mingled breaths that were coming out as pants, the kiss became slow and lazy, not the desperate and passionate one that she would've expected from a first kiss. Adrien's hand on her face was gentle and calming, movements almost nervous, as though he was worried that he was crossing boundaries that he wasn't aware of.

When they parted, Marinette took in the sight of his reddened lips, the splash of colour on his cheeks, and a lopsided smile appeared on her face as she saw his untouched hair. The fond look in his eyes was reserved for her, and knowing that had her pulse fluttering, a warmth in her abdomen demanding as it spiralled lower, all because even when she his faults, he was undeniably endearing and lovable. There's wasn't anything that she would change about him if she could; he was there, breathing and touchable, no longer the incomplete version of himself.

Of all the romantic things she could've said, she blurted out instead, “I wouldn't mind sharing a bed with you.”

He threw his head back and laughed.

-x-

The first to find out about their relationship was some of Adrien's friends. The blond-haired male appeared frazzled as he came through one evening—late, Marinette had placed the small whiteboard from the kitchen into the dining room for convenience—quickly busting into a rant that she only understood half of, thoroughly amused as she cradled a warm mug to her chest.

From what she could make out, his co-worker, one that had worked for his mother beforehand and had informed his parents when he'd disappeared when he didn't open the flower-shop for the duration of his absence, had seen the picture of her on his cell phone. She thought it was sweet that she was his background image (her own was of him pulling an unattractive face, while the one of her was normal), and wasn't understanding the problem.

“We're in a long-distance relationship, Marinette!” Adrien explained, throwing his hands in the air for emphasise. “That's what I told my parents, and now—now they're going to hear that I have a picture of the two of us on my phone, and they'll know that I didn't tell them—”

She raised a hand as though she was in a classroom, catching his attention with a confused smile. “The two of us?” Marinette questioned.

Yes.” Taking out the offending device from his pocket, he illuminated the screen and held it out so she could see it. “My arm's around you, see?”

It was, but only a portion of his shoulder was visible. “Unless you tell someone that that's your shirt, no one's going to know,” the dark-haired female responded smartly. “Also, you could've just taken it on your mid-life crisis? You know, the one where you came to stay with me?”

A look of realisation appeared on his face as put away the cell phone. “I never actually said where I went,” he muttered to himself, loud enough that she was just able to catch it.

She snorted. “Okay, easy,” Marinette started, nodding her with a forced serious expression. “You went searching for the answers to your life, and instead you found me. I was on holiday and had to return home, so you did the same, but we kept in contact. What a romantic story to tell your parents.”

Adrien crossed his arms over his chest. “I spent eleven days recovering in your bed.”

“If necessary, you can say it was from intimate activities.” She winked. “Actually, don't. We're not a fling.”

Rolling his eyes, making it so she had a smile as she sipped from her mug, Adrien muttered under his breath that that wasn't how he wanted to introduce her to his parents. He spoke about the awkward moments of his previous relationships, of how they'd met his parents in ways that had either been planned or hadn't, and she found herself nodding along with the explained reactions.

“Our fathers sound very similar,” Marinette mused, tilting her head slightly as she looked at him quizzically. “Do you think it's a parallel universe thing?”

He blinked. “I thought I was from a fictional world.”

“I think I like my new theory better,” the dark-haired female confessed, licking her lips after taking another drink of the lukewarm liquid. “Think about it—there's supposed to be an endless amount of parallel worlds, right? There was bound to be some where you were born.”

Not looking convinced, Adrien settled himself down on a chair, running one hand through his blond tresses. “And, what? There just happened to be one where I studied fencing and took piano lessons when I was younger?”

“Those hobbies were based on my father—well, yours, so, yes.” She shrugged her shoulders, almost jostling the mug out of her grasp. “I much prefer you being alive than a fictional character, so this is what I'm going to choose to believe. It's all insane, does it really matter what I think any more?”

As she sat down beside him, he leaned into her so their shoulders were touching. “Parallel world would mean that...” Adrien trailed off for a moment, clearly trying to grasp onto the right words as she waited patiently. “That would mean that we share the same people, except they've made different choices; partners, careers and small details. Right?”

“I guess. I'm not exactly a specialist on this.”

He hummed to himself. “What if I name some of my closest friends, then? You might recognise them if their families stayed in the same area.”

Considering that she didn't know any of their names, and Adrien often chose to keep the details to a minimum and give them nicknames while talking about them so she wouldn't get confused, she replied positively, “Go for it, I guess.”

“Théo Grimault? He's a tall guy with brown hair down to his shoulders on my end,” Adrien described, hand held above his had to try and indicate his height. “I can't remember his original surname since he got married before we met.”

She tried to search through her mind, thinking of the families she'd met there were connected to her father, but none of them matched. “Not that I know of,” she admitted sheepishly. “We could always try and search for them online, but I doubt he married the same person over here.”

The blond-haired male deflated a bit, slumping back against the sofa. “Okay, he's out, then. I won't even bother asking you for his husband—he's horribly shy and doesn't use social media.”

“I'm sorry.”

A grin tugged on his lips. “Yes, how dare you not know everyone, Marinette. I had too many expectations of you.”

If she hadn't had the warm mug in her hands, she would've bumped against his shoulder in protest. “Tell me another one of your friends, then.”

“Chloé Bourgeois?” Adrien named, not pausing or looking her way to see her reaction as he raised a hand to try and indicate height once more. “Natural blonde, a little bit smaller than me—”

“I know her!” Marinette interrupted, reaching out to put the mug on the coffee-table as she turned to look at him, visibly surprised. “You've seen her, back when you were over here.”

He blinked. “Are you sure?”

Nodding her head, she insisted, “She was at the park with her boyfriend one day, remember? I said I used to go to school with them, but we haven't spoken in a few years.”

Furrowing his eyebrows, the blond had a contemplative expression before he uttered, “I—I think I remember? She looks a lot different when she's my best friend, also has a girlfriend, not a boyfriend. That's one of the changes here, I guess.”

“Do you recognise any of my friends?” she asked, trying to remember whether he'd actually met them. After he'd started living with her, back when he'd only been visible to her alone, Adrien had drifted out of the room and spent his time away from her company, sometimes meeting her on the street when she was on her way back from gatherings.

He raised his shoulders as he shrugged. “It's been too long to correctly recall them, honestly.”

And with that said, that was how Marinette decided it was time to stop avoiding her friends. Adrien returned to the other world—her chosen way to call it, since it had gotten confusing—and was happy to tell his parents, friends, and co-workers that he was happy in a long-distance relationship, so he could freely spend evenings in his apartment without them worrying about his social life. His parents were pleased that he'd found someone that made him smile, even more so when he relented to their pestering and showed the pictures that he'd taken of her a few days before (not that they knew that; they thought they were from back when they'd met during his mid-life crisis, or sent from her).

Marinette, on the other hand, was on the receiving end of disbelief from suddenly announcing that she was in a relationship when Alya came round with a bad film for the two of them to watch together, as Adrien was busy for the evening, spending the night at Théo's house (he promised to come back with a photograph, so she had a face to put to the name).

“You're dating someone,” Alya repeated flatly.

She winced. “Yes?”

The red-haired female reached up to push her spectacles up as she narrowed her eyes, “You're dating someone, so that's why you've been a recluse and refusing to come out.”

“I—yes?” A squawk of pain escaped as she was hit on the shoulder, and laughter spilled out as she tried to push her friends weakly slapping hands away from her. “Hey!”

“You promised never to be that type of person!” her friend accused her hotly, though her glare wasn't serious. “Come on, Marinette. We made a pact and everything so we wouldn't ditch each other because of love.”

She held her hands up in a sign of surrender. “To be fair, you were already dating Nino when we met—or were you engaged? I don't know, you've been engaged for what feels like forever.”

“That's besides the point,” Alya retorted, talking louder than the dialogue of the film that they'd chosen to ignore for the time being. “Is it anyone I know?”

That was a loaded question. Alya had heard about him before, yes, but as two different people, and considering that she believed her internet friend to have been in a terrible accident, that left only one remaining. So, it was with her averting her eyes that she mumbled, “Aisle Boy.”

“What was that?”

She cleared her throat. “Do you remember the weird guy from the supermarket? It was over a year ago. You nicknamed him Aisle Boy.”

It took a moment for recognition to flicker onto her face, and then Alya was leaning back with a gleeful expression as she exclaimed, “No.”

“Yes.”

They stayed up into the late hours of the night, ordering food to be delivered and sipping carbonated drinks, laughing and genuinely having a good time. It was only when Alya ventured to the upstairs bathroom—claiming that the other one was always colder—and returned that she had a smug smile on her lips, and it took five minutes for the red-head to point out the extra toothbrush that was upstairs.

She had extra, of course. For Adrien to disappear to the other world to brush his teeth and return didn't make sense, so he kept some clothing in her room, had toiletries and other items to make himself feel more welcome. It wasn't as though she could tell her that, though, so Marinette settled with shrugging her shoulders, not giving a verbal reply as her friend started to say that she was smitten.

And she was. Marinette didn't see a reason to deny her feelings for him; the circumstances to their relationship were odd, yes, but she wasn't shy enough to not say she sincerely liked him to others. So, when it spread through their friends that Marinette was dating someone that had originally freaked her out (Alya's words, not hers), she chose to say that he grew on her from his persistence.

That was how they ended up walking hand-in-hand to a nearby restaurant to meet Alya and Nino only. Marinette had adamantly refused to meet a larger group beforehand because she was panicked of how to explain their situation, much like Adrien had been back when his co-worker had seen his cell phone's picture.

Marinette was fretting as they turned a corner, hand gripping his tightly as she babbled, “We met in a supermarket, okay? Then, we bumped into each other a few months ago, and you made this stupid joke—”

“You're worrying too much,” the blond-haired male announced, pulling her to a stop so he could place his hands gently on her shoulders, shooting a reassuring smile before leaning in to kiss her forehead. “We don't have to tell everyone a detailed backstory, Marinette. Details are always bound to be different; we don't have to match up exactly.”

She made a frustrated noise as she reached up to hold onto his arm. “I just want them to like you.”

“They sound nice,” he assured her.

“Just—just tell me if you want to leave, okay?” Marinette requested, looking up at him with a sincere expression. “I know it's unfair because I can't meet your friends, but I don't want to hide you in the house forever.”

The night went better than expected. There was a disaster at the beginning where Adrien lost his footing after Alya had stood up and called Marinette's name to catch their attention, then he looked at Marinette with a dumbfounded expression for a moment before he was composed. He got along tremendously with Nino and Alya, so much so that they extended an invitation to their wedding within the first thirty minutes, which only made Marinette laugh since they still hadn't set a date or made any plans for it.

Later, she found out that the initial surprise had been because he recognised Alya. The surname was different, along with haircut and style of clothing, but she seemed similar to his version of her. The Alya that Marinette knew was apparently a lot more affectionate and allowed herself to express her feelings by touching, protective of her friends, and had a different sexuality. Adrien's version wasn't a close friend, but what he knew was from Chloé, who was dating her.

Marinette had taken in the information that evening when they were alone slowly, lips opening and closing without making noise, before she settled on, “Well, that's another point to the parallel world theory.”

“It's possible,” he conceded.

As Adrien was able to bring objects to and from the other world, Marinette took it upon herself to buy a small box and slap postage stamps upon it, then demand for him to tell her his address so she could make it seem as though it was delivered to him. She amused herself by buying different items—a few cat-shaped objects, even a pencil with a cat on it, mugs, and a frame that she put a photograph of the two of them inside—and packing them inside, before pushing it into his arms one morning.

“This is what some long-distance couples do,” she insisted. “Now I won't seem like such a horrible girlfriend the next time you mention me to your parents.”

Amused, Adrien felt it important to point out, “I haven't got anything for you, though.”

“That's because I get to actually see you daily, rather than through webcams like everyone you know thinks,” she retorted, directing him by placing her hands on his shoulders towards the dining room. “Now, go through there and make me seem like a good person.”

“You're the best.” He grinned, placing a chaste kiss on her lips before he straightened up, ready to head through the collage. “And we already know that my judgemental father would like you anyway, so there's no need to worry about my parents' opinions.”

She scrunched her facial features together in displeasure. “It's different. What if they ask to meet me?”

“I'll say you're volunteering in a foreign country, so you can't.”

“Please, don't,” Marinette requested, horrified. It must've shown on her expression because his lips twitched from restrained laughter. “What if anyone asks to see me on webcam, then? You can't claim I'm horribly shy and won't meet anyone new, because then that would've applied to you, too.”

His face was disturbingly blank as he replied, “We met when you escaped a mental institution.”

Raising her hands momentarily in exasperation, Marinette sighed and mumbled, “Get to work before someone calls your mother about your absence.”

His laughter filled the room as one side of his body disappeared, head turned towards her with a fond smile that reached his green eyes as he confessed softly, “I love you, too, Marinette.”

It still astounded her that he did.

-x-

While their relationship was happy and filled with all things good, there were still times where she was sad. Marinette fiddled with her hands in her lap as they sat up in bed, lazing around since neither of them had to rush off to work that day.

Adrien had fit in with her friends wonderfully, telling them that he lived a while away in an obscure area, never giving a straight answer. He never seemed upset when the invitations were extended to him, happy to attend with his hand clasping hers in support. The main issue that had popped up was his lack of a cell phone, and he tried to explain that away by saying his last broke and he was in the process of buying one, but there was only so many times that he could say that before it became suspicious. He was insistent that he didn't need one for each world, and didn't seem to mind the idea of saying that he didn't like phones.

“I'm already known as the guy that locks his bedroom door.” Adrien shrugged, though he had laughed himself to tears when he'd actually heard that uttered in his apartment building for the first time since the event. It seemed that the gossip circulated through his neighbours, and one child had eve asked him if it was true.

It was nice being with him. Adrien couldn't drive due to his lack of correct identification—she had to refuse to let him try and get away with flashing the license from his world—had to only pay in cash, and couldn't introduce her to anyone from his life, but he didn't seem upset with it. Of course, there were moments when his smile was half-hearted as he uttered the things that he wished they could've done, it was wishful thinking at all that they were together in the first place.

He'd placed a kiss to her forehead before and uttered, “My parents would love you if they could meet you, Marinette.”

“My father already loved you,” she'd gently reminded him in return.

They didn't try to understand the comic, the collaged door, or the explanation behind his appearances. The dizziness didn't disappear when he travelled to and from, but he hadn't passed out since his first arrival, which was a plus. When a piece fell down, adhesive left on the wall, Marinette gently returned the paper to the rightful place, heart pounding as she wondered whether it would work or not. Although only a few had fallen, the door still worked, so she supposed it was fine as though as it still looked like his bedroom door. Adrien was adamant that he didn't want to somehow undo his ability by discovering why he was there in the first place—as she'd done when confronting him with his identity—and she didn't fight him on it.

Resting her head against his shoulder with the duvet across her thighs, Marinette asked quietly, “Are you sure this is what you want?”

He hummed, attention turned towards her as his chin came to touch the top of her head, wrapping an arm around her. “What was that?”

She wetted her lips. “I mean, this—between us? It's a lot harder on you than it is for me.”

“Why wouldn't I want to be with you, though?” He didn't sound offended; his voice was soft and intimate, one that was reserved for her and stray cats that he passed on the street. “You were there for me when no one else was, Marinette. I'm here because I love you, not because I'm trying to repay you for your kindness.”

As it always did, hearing him confess his feelings in such a casual way had her lips curling up into a private smile. “You're basically an illegal immigrant right now.”

“I'll try and apply for identification, then,” he replied easily.

She snorted. “Good luck with that.”

Not deterred by her short laugh, Adrien continued on to say, “Really, I can try. I'm sure there's some cases of someone losing their records, or amnesia with no one to provide an identity for them. I've had amnesia before, I can probably fake it—well, no. It's really hard trying to lie, and I'm not very good at that.”

“Stick to the truth, then,” Marinette murmured, closing her eyes as she breathed steadily, comfortable in their position. “Say you're a relative of Gabriel Agreste that lost all documentation somehow. I'm sure I've got some dead relatives that I never met that you can decide are your parents.”

She could feel his chest vibrate when he spoke. “And, what, you'll try and support my lies and say we met when we were younger?”

“I guess so? I think it would be fine, I mean, why would I lie for a random person? Although, some might just think we're married already because of the matching surnames, and you saying you're related to my father might mean they'll test you. I don't know how blood tests work—will they find out you're a match to my father that way? Seriously, I have no idea. Will they even want one?” Marinette babbled, eyebrows knitting together from the idea. “I haven't watched nearly enough crime television to try and think of this properly.”

“You've still got the drawings of me from when I was little, right?” he asked.

Blinking, she answered, “Yes, but some of them are beside pictures of me.”

Shrugging one shoulder meant that her head was lifted into the air, and she laughed at the movement. “It's better than nothing.”

There was still something that was nagging her, though. She decided to confess softly, announcing an insecurity that had bothered her for some time, “I don't want you to leave your world, but right now I'm practically hiding you.”

“I don't have to leave anything,” Adrien assured her, fingertips tracing the bare skin of her shoulder in soothing patterns. “I've got a nice service that cleans my bedroom once a month with no questions asked, and I'm able to spend my evenings curled up with you after feeling the sunshine in the other world.”

She fiddled with the duvet with her wandering hands. “What happens when you decide that you want more than this, though?”

“The same could be said to you,” the blond-haired male pointed out, no sadness or exasperation clear in his voice. Although the topics they were talking about made her frown, they weren't growing angry or restless. “I know that I can't marry you—at least, now as I am now.”

Smiling, Marinette turned her head to press a kiss to his shirt-clad shoulder. “Isn't it a bit too soon to be thinking about that?”

“Hey, I don't know how long it'll take to try and gain citizenship or identification,” he shot back, grin clear in his voice as he tightened his hold in the one-armed embrace. “And, in total, we've been living together for roughly a year and a half. It might be in our future to be forever engaged like Nino and Alya.”

“You wouldn't need identification for that,” she agreed with a laugh.

He released a chuckle, too. “The matching surnames would really throw people off when we tell them we're only engaged. Though, it would be even weirder if they ask if my family adopted you.”

“They kind of did.”

“Well, in this world.” Adrien pulled back, showing his teeth as his smile met his eyes while he looked down at her with fondness. “I promise not to tell strangers you're my sister.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Sometimes, I wonder if your sense of humour can get any worse.”

Marinette,” he gasped, placing a hand on his chest in an exaggerated manner, expression feigning hurt. “It was my jokes that made you fall in love with me.”

She pointed her index finger at him with a lopsided smile. “I'm in love with you despite them, you mean,” Marinette corrected, shuffling closer and running her fingers through his hair, rather than pointing at him still. “The bad humour makes me like you more because it assures me that no one's perfect; you're flawed, and I love you that way.”

“That's terribly romantic and hurtful at the same time,” he mused. “Does this mean I can kiss you?”

“I suppose so,” she said with a laugh, leaning forward so their noses brushed, “since you were nice enough to ask.”

His sound of his amusement was muffled as she pressed her lips against his, and although they'd kissed more times than she could count, there were still moments where their teeth awkwardly touched; the clumsiness was mixed with enthusiasm, and it was endlessly endearing. Marinette ran her fingers through his hair lightly—having found out that he was fond of that when they were intimate—and she smiled against his lips as they applied pressure, equally as heated and invested.

Marinette made a noise of surprise as he manoeuvred her, lips apart and eyes open so she could see his wide grin as she straddled him, knees on either side of him, duvet bunched uncomfortably underneath her backside. She reached back and pushed it away, settling down on top of the thin material of his underwear.

As she felt his cloth-clad arousal press against her, Marinette raised her eyebrows and asked, “Already?”

He wasn't embarrassed at all. Adrien wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her closer so their chests were almost pressed together, and announced while smiling unabashedly, “You're only in your underwear.” And to prove that further, his eyes flickered down to her bare breasts for a moment, and she knew that her brassiere was placed on the armchair that she'd once sat on to talk to him.

“That means you're dressed too much,” she quipped, hands gripping onto his t-shirt and starting to bunch it up. “Don't you want to be fair?”

She could feel it as he purposely hummed. “Maybe if you kiss me again.”

So, she did. Marinette pressed her lips to his with fervour, eyes closing as she wrapped her arms around his neck and angled her head up slightly to be comfortable. The height difference wasn't much of a bother when they were sat down—she didn't have to try and stand on the tips of her toes when he wanted to tease her—and she was able to freely enjoy herself without the worry of not reaching.

Their breaths mingled together as the kiss deepened, tongues touching as his he held her close, and she made a noise of appreciation as she shifted her hips, their clothed arousals brushing into each other on purpose. She could feel the the pounding heartbeat within her chest was echoed between her legs, fast and demanding, warmth coiling within her abdomen as little bursts of pleasure appeared as he tried to mimic her movements to the best of his ability from his position.

She could feel him clearly through the flimsy material as she ground against him, breaths becoming unbalanced as friction reached her protrusion through her underwear. It wasn't teasing, though, as it sometimes was when she perched herself on his lap for a kiss before she disappeared for a prior engagement; their movements were slow,

Their kiss ended with a breathless gasp, and the sight of his reddened lips caused a smug smile to appear on her own.

“Your shirt,” Marinette reminded him, shifting her hips once more.

There was colour across his cheekbones as he removed the article of clothing, letting it rest on the bedside table for the foreseeable future. “You're awfully demanding today,” Adrien observed.

She grinned as she reminded him, “We had a deal.”

“You're right,” he acknowledged, one of the hands that that had been wrapped around her trailing over the skin of her hip, skimming the top of her underwear. “How could I forget that?”

With a quick kiss to his lips, that had him smiling, Marinette placed her feet on the floor and stood up, fingers tugging on her underwear until they were on the floor, and she was climbing willingly back on top of him, a little bit further back, so his clothed arousal wasn't touching her any more. To make up for that, though, Marinette fiddled with his waistband as his hands came back to touch her hips.

His hands wandered lower, one grasping onto her backside with a lopsided grin when she peeked up at him, as she pulled down the material of his underwear, one hand grasping his member, feeling the heat and softness of his skin. She moved her hand slowly at first, trying to become accustomed to the awkward position of her wrist, and the breathy noises that escaped him made it so she knew he was enjoying it.

As he trailed a fingertip over her cleft, purposely touching the damp skin and avoiding her protrusion and lower—where he knew she wanted attention to be directed at—Marinette retaliated with a particularly tight grip on his arousal, grin widening as a gasp escaped him. She moved her hand at a steady pace after that, adjusting her hold at the bottom and relishing in the noises that he made, while she knew that she was producing much the same as he slipped a finger tentatively inside of her. Their movements were erratic without much of a rhythm, sometimes staying still for a moment or two as they recovered from a gasp or the sudden rush of pleasure.

Marinette bit down onto her bottom lip as a second digit entered her, stretching her slow and tentatively, the way that he knew she liked. She ground down onto him, making it so his fingers reached deeper within her, throbbing pulse a persistent reminder of her arousal and want, all the while she jerkily tugged his member was varying grips.

She was impatient, though. As much as she'd liked to stay like that, sat upon his thighs and feeling the warmth of his skin on her legs and her hand, to indulge herself in the tiny bursts of pleasure that appeared as his fingers delved within her, she knew that she'd much prefer more, even though it meant a momentarily loss of contact.

Trailing her thumb over the tip of his member, Marinette murmured, “Do we still have—”

The fingers inside her curled as the blond interrupted her with, “Yes.”

She was the one to remove her hand first, having to playfully slap his wrist when he continued to move (as she couldn't scowl when a noise of pleasure escaped her lips). Adrien offered her a grin as she climbed off of him, and she watched his body as he reached across to the bedside table, fetching an item from the drawer.

Marinette leaned in and pressed kisses to the exposed skin of his shoulder as he lifted himself up to remove the underwear fully, making sure not to leave any marks as the tell-tale noise of crinkling sounded. It wouldn't do for Adrien to return to the other world with intimate marks marring his skin on display when he claimed to be in a long-distance relationship, even if they were from her, he was insistent that her honour needed to remain in tact, so she settled with kissing him when she could.

When she'd started to pepper smooches across his jawline—a part of him that she appreciated when he was looking to the side often—he'd finished preparing, so he wrapped his arms around her and embraced her tightly, making it so his head was resting on her shoulder.

“This is romantic,” Marinette quipped.

She could feel his chest vibrate as he laughed and scolded her softly, “Shut up, I'm appreciating you.”

She smiled. “You can appreciate me in other ways, you know, like maybe ravishing me.”

He didn't protest as she gently pushed him back, instead he complied with the adjustment, moving the pillows so he was on his back with his head slightly propped up to avoid discomfort, a smug grin on his lips as she repeated her earlier actions of straddling him.

“This is a sight I definitely appreciate,” Adrien confessed, hands settling on her waist.

Childishly, she stuck out her tongue. Marinette raised her hips, placing one hand on his body for support while the other grasped his member, guiding his arousal so it gently prodded her arousal at first. She took in a deep breath as she shifted her weight, pushing down to allow the intrusion.

There was a few seconds of them breathing after she'd settled down on him. And then his fingers were tracing soothing patterns into her skin—waiting, patient and intimate—and she'd adjusted to the change. She could see the colour that appeared on his cheeks, the golden-tinged eyelashes that were visible from their distance, the fond expression, and smile that showed the indents of his cheeks—all of those details combined had her stomach clenching from budding arousal, and knowing that he was sincere when he looked at her with such a loving face had her heart beating rapidly.

A breathless noise escaped her as she lifted her up, hands steadying herself on his warm chest, making it so he almost withdrew fully before she took in another breath and sank back down.

The moan was from him that time.

Marinette slowly increased her pace, using his hands to keep her from falling forward as Adrien grip on her hips became tighter. He copied her movements, meeting her with a thrust to the best of his ability every few moments, fingernails surely creating little half-moon shapes in her skin as his eyes closed from the pleasure. Marinette was much the same, experiencing pleasure from the feelings and his sounds, spurred on as she rocked forward, making it so her protrusion rubbed against his pelvis from the movement.

The feeling was wonderful, and a noise of appreciation escaped her as she repeated the movement, enjoying the bonus friction and the way he was thrusting into her still as she fell forward, catching herself by putting her hands on either side of his head.

A huff of laughter escaped him, and she opened her eyes to realise that her hair that landed in his face.

“Sorry,” she apologised half-heartedly, tucking the strands behind her ear and trying to keep it over her shoulder.

His response was to shift his hips, making her moan.

Their movements became erratic and desperate; Marinette clumsily tried to keep her hair back and breasts back from hitting him if she fell forward again, only for her to slump against him as the pleasure continued to build, a breathless gasp sounding as she buried her head in the crook of his neck, warmth from her breath on her face as she moved her hips to meet his thrusts.

The wetness between her legs made their actions audible, and her moans were muffled as the sound of their slick skin connecting filled the room. Marinette rocked against him, face burning from the small space and the ongoing sensations, legs tightening around him as she reached her peak.

The added tightness from her release had caused him to be close, she realised as he rutted against her, lifting his hips to seek his own as she tried to regain control over her breathing. He shuddered against her, a choked groan from his lips, and she placed sloppy kisses on his neck as he recovered.

“Gosh, I love you,” he murmured, voice as breathless as she felt.

Tucking her messy hair behind her ear, Marinette kissed his neck once more before uttering, “I love you, too, dork.”

The next day, he researched on how to apply for an identity.

-x-

Adrien's birthday was a date that she'd planned thoroughly for, since she'd missed two of his previous ones, she was determined to make it memorable. Her father had always celebrated her birthday when she was growing up by baking cakes with her in the kitchen, blowing up too many balloons and allowing her to have free reign over their activities for the day.

Nino helped her by volunteering his car to store half of the balloons in. She'd found a somewhat local store that sold balloons that had cat ears, and she'd bought twenty-six to match his age, only to find that she couldn't fit them all in her own vehicle. A bemused Nino had answered her phone call the day before Adrien's birthday—she'd requested a day off from work so she could sort out the details while the blond was away in the other world—and willingly allowed himself to be dragged to all sorts of shops on her whims.

When they were done and twenty-six balloons were hidden in the study, the room Adrien was least likely to go into, Nino stuck around to keep her company while she ran around, trying to hide all the different items from sight. His presents were hidden in the wardrobe of the spare bedroom, covered by a blanket that he never lifted, and she'd bought brightly-coloured napkins, party hats and even straws.

“It's like you're planning a party for a kid,” Nino mused, thoroughly amused as she tested out the strings on one of the hats.

She made a rude gesture with her hand. “Because I know he'll love it.”

“No banners?”

Shaking her head, Marinette begrudgingly muttered, “No, I might fall off the chair while trying to put them up tomorrow.”

Adrien didn't find any of the hidden items that evening. He left for work the next morning, kissing her quickly on the lips before disappearing through the door with the assumption that she was going to work, and she knew that he'd be back late due to having dinner with his parents and closest friends. He'd joked that he'd take along a framed picture of her to make her feel included.

She busied herself with baking the cake, leaving it to cool down on the side before she ventured out to a local flower-shop. The flowers she picked out were ones that she'd researched online, wanting not to embarrass herself by having mixed meanings that he'd unfortunately know, and then bought the items she needed before she returned home.

It turned out that making a flower crown was harder than it looked on the internet. Marinette tried to follow the videos that her laptop displayed—it was still the old one that made awful noises after an hour of being turned on, making the radio in the background obsolete—groaning and cutting her fingers at times. She looked up written guides as well, following the pictures to try and make her monstrosity pretty.

The end result wasn't perfect, but she was proud of it. She had glue on her fingers from the ribbons she'd stuck on it, and there was pollen coating the countertops, but that didn't get rid of her proud smile. The cake wasn't much better; it was two-tiered and lopsided, coated in white icing, sprinkles and twenty-six brightly-coloured candles (that almost took up the entire top).

The flower crown was hidden in the cupboard where she kept the plates, cake covered, and she placed the childish party hats she'd bought in clear sight on the countertop.

He came through the door late in the evening, thirty minutes after Marinette had cleared up her dinner, with a wide smile and a large badge attached to his shirt that displayed his age.

“It suits you.” She grinned.

Colour appeared in his cheeks as he glanced down to the offending addition to his outfit. “Oh, leave me alone. My mother came into work and insisted I wear it all day.”

“You'll continue to wear it, then,” Marinette insisted, walking towards him quickly to embrace him tightly. “Happy birthday, Adrien.”

As she predicted, his eyes widened as he caught sight of the hats, and she had to cover her mouth to muffle her laughter as he made a show of trying each of them on, asking which one suited him best. The excited expression on his face was so utterly adorable that her smile started to mirror his, and she couldn't resist reaching forward to pull the string underneath his chin down before letting go, making it so it snapped against his skin lightly.

“That hurt,” he protested with a grin.

Reaching up to grasp the hat, Marinette pulled it off carefully as she confessed, “I have something even better for you to wear.”

His eyes were wide when she retrieved the flower crown. Adrien leaned down so she could easily place it on his head, the mixture of flowers and ribbons standing out against the mop of golden-coloured hair (that had grown out to roughly the same style that he'd had when they met). She didn't know whether he remembered the promise she'd once made when they were living together before, the want that she'd had to celebrate his birthday in the most ridiculous way possible.

“I really feel like a princess now,” the blond announced, hand reaching up to adjust the crown.

Her laughter was honest. “You're old enough to pay rent, too.”