"Well...the decorations are lovely," Alya commented hesitantly while Marinette and her looked around at the room covered in gold, "they're really, um, festive."
Marinette sighed, she really didn't want to be here, celebrating Christmas in a room full of people she either didn't know or didn't know anymore. She had tried to keep in touch with the people from her middle school and high school days, but as time passed what little contact they had kept thinning until it was none at all. All of them were now around 24 years old, just like her, and six years changed people, maybe not enough to make this a harrowing experience (she was an adult, dammit!) but Marinette couldn't help but feel a little...jarred.
"There are so many people here, Alya, where did Chloé even find all these people?" The panicked girl whispered.
"Mari! Don't be like that! Give this party a chance."
Alya sighed, "okay, listen, I feel you. And I'm sorry I dragged you here, but I really do think it'll do you good to get out of the house for a bit. Ever since the breakup, you've been holed up in there..."
"Alya, do you even realize that he's probably gonna be here?" Marinette asked flatly.
"Well...yes. But it's time you face him!"
"I think you should have let me decide for myself."
"I'm sorry." A pause, "but! You came, didn't you? I know that if you really didn't want to come, you wouldn't have."
"Well...! I was just curious! But I'm starting to deeply regret it... Maybe I should just go home, I'm not doing anything here anyway and-" Marinette was cut off by someone patting her on the back with considerable strength. She had half a mind to roundhouse kick whoever had tried to attack her but recognized Kim's voice before she could make the night even worse.
"Hey girls! Long time no see!"
"Hi, Kim!" Alya greeted pleasantly, "how're things?"
"Well, pretty good! I'm getting married in like two months, the opening of our gym went amazing...things are really working out so far. How about you, ladies?"
Marinette giggled nervously, she really didn't want to talk about how her life was going. Her online store was faring well but, besides that, everything felt like a train wreck about to happen right in front of her eyes, and she didn't know how to stop it.
"Going great too! I'm working on a big story right now," Alya smiled. "Can't wait to see you guys getting married though! Are Alix and Max here too?"
"Yeah! They're off somewhere," he laughed. "You, Marinette? Everything okay?"
The girl froze, champagne glass halfway to her lips, "oh, uh, hah, you know...things are going, uh, smooth..."
He nodded, looking entirely like he didn't know, "I see. That's great! Anyway, good seeing you two, it really has been a while! We should meet up sometime before the wedding! You guys take care, see you!" Kim finished, walking away to talk to someone else.
The three of them knew that meet up wasn't happening.
"Mariboo, my girl, my babe...you know I love you anyway, right? But you have to get it together, girl," Alya spoke softly, like she might hurt her, and it only made her feel a lot worse.
"I-I know. And I will." She just didn't feel like that would happen right now.
Her friend nodded at her solemnly, "I know."
It had been a rough month, a rough year really, but she would pull through, even if everything felt incredibly overwhelming at the moment.
Alya grabbed her arm, "oh, look!"
Marinette looked. At the entrance, stood Adrien, someone who she hadn't seen in a long, long time, but still missed dearly. She had gotten over her crush (somewhat) but what she felt for him ran deeper, the admiration and love she had for him never faded, so it sent a tingle down her back to see him again. She didn't think she could ever tire of looking at him, at his kind eyes and soft smile.
She wasn't entirely sure why they had stopped hanging out, he and Nino were still friends, but Alya, the girlfriend herself, said she didn't get to see Adrien much either. He was a busy person after all, what with his job as a teacher and his part-time as a model for Gabriel.
"Oh, wow. It's been a long time since I've seen him, hasn't it?" She sighed. He looked better than ever, if at all possible.
Alya rolled her eyes, "yes, it has. I see the crush coming back already."
"Don't even start, I don't have time for any kind of crush right now." She really didn't, which would absolutely not stop said crush from secretly reblossoming anyway. Oh, well.
There was a clinking sound.
"Everyone!" Chloé called dramatically, aided by a microphone she held while standing on top of a large stage where a band played softly. "I would like to thank you all for coming to my Christmas ball. Now that the guest of honor has arrived, we can really get this party going!" Chloé laughed and winked at Adrien, "he's a hero after all."
Marinette glanced at Adrien, noticing that he looked nervous - something that didn't usually happen to him - and frowned.
"What does she even mean 'a hero'...?"
"Who knows? I feel like Chloé has been getting progressively weirder."
"She really has," an amused voice spoke from behind them, making both girls jump.
"Jesus, Sabrina! Don't do that!" Alya choked out, clutching her chest while Marinette laughed it out.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you! I guess I'm light on my feet," she smiled.
"Sabrina, hi! You really are! It's been so long, how are things?" Marinette asked, trying to cover up the fact that she had been bad-mouthing Sabrina's (ex?) best friend just a few seconds ago.
The girl, standing confidently and clad in a beautiful turquoise gown, gave them a knowing smile, "oh, it's been great! I'm still studying, so I'm trying to focus on that. I also have some projects on the side... I can say I'm happy with my life, you know? And you, girls! Update me!"
Marinette once again found herself sipping nervously from her (second) champagne glass, letting Alya take on the conversation as she tried to make herself look smaller.
"When does Nino get here, anyway?" Marinette asked, exasperatedly, "I really wanna go sleep in the car, Alya."
"Yeah, he's late... Shouldn't take much longer, though. You know how his boss has been running him ragged, working up to being a lawyer is even harder than I thought..."
Marinette released a shaky sigh, "I'm gonna go to the bathroom, okay?"
Alya nodded and she went off, hoping not to find anyone else that wanted to ask her how her life was going since graduating high school. She was already on her fourth glass of champagne and she expected them to hit her any time now.
After leaving the bathroom, Marinette felt better. She had splashed a little water on her makeup-less cheeks and given herself a pep talk, she was ready to-
Did- Did someone just spill their drink all over her?
"Oh-! Oh my God, Marinette, I am so sorry!" Adrien half-shouted, looking horrified.
Marinette had to repress a groan because of fucking course it had to be him. Instead, she tried to put on a sane looking smile while pointedly not looking down at her now ruined red gown.
"Uh, hi Adrien...it's okay, honestly." She made an attempt at laughing it off, "sucks that we had to meet like this after spending so long without seeing each other, but i'll take what I can get."
"It really does," he started, rubbing the back of his neck. "And - obviously - i'll pay for whatever damage I caused! I really am sorry."
That dress was one of her originals and Marinette knew that stain would never, ever, leave. "It's fine, Adrien! I know it was an accident," this time her smile was more real, he was too endearing...
"I'm just gonna go try and do some damage control..." She said, motioning for the bathroom. She knew there was nothing she could do for the dress at this point, but at least she could go bang her head against a wall for a few minutes and pretend like everything was okay.
"Oh, uh, sure! Do you mind if I wait for you so we can catch up?"
And the look he directed at her was so genuinely hopeful that she just couldn't say no.
So that was how Marinette now found herself alone with Adrien in a huge balcony, after months of mutual silence.
"So!" Adrien almost shouted into the silent night, making them both wince, "how are you?"
Marinette had been expecting this question, she really had! She had been bracing herself for it. It wasn't like she hadn't been asked roughly the same thing a hundred times that night.
But this...this was different. It was Adrien, who she knew had a special place in her heart, no matter what. And they were alone, and it was so quiet out here and, frankly, she was starting to get cold...
"Hey...hey, Mari? I'm sorry," he moved closer to hug her and she realized that, yes, she was crying like a baby.
It only made her angrier. She still hadn't seen Nath - which she had been mentally preparing for for two whole days - Nino was late, and all she wanted was to cuddle Alya on the couch while watching some stupid re-run on TV. She definitely didn't want any of whatever this was! None of this crying in her high school crush's arms in a stupidly big balcony bullshit - in a ruined dress, no less!
"I'm sorry Mari..."
"Why the hell are you sorry?" She spat out. "You don't even know any of what happened for me to be like this, I'm just being dramatic, just- leave me alone, I feel so pathetic..."
But she missed Chat Noir, and she was angry at Nath, and upset over everything, and, frankly, she felt exhausted. She felt like her career was going nowhere. Despite the store not going bad, it also wasn't doing great enough to sustain her. Not that it mattered, who had time for eating when you had to work on commissions, anyway? She missed Tikki forcing her to eat, she even missed Chat's stupid puns. She looked up at Adrien then, remembering that his own father was Hawkmoth, and felt even more pathetic. Here she was, crying in the arms of someone who was probably suffering a lot more than her.
Marinette dabbed at her cheeks with the calloused pads of her fingers, "I'm really sorry. I drank a little too much and I'm being a brat. I really need to get some sleep before I chew someone's head off..." she tried to laugh.
"Don't say that. What you're feeling is valid, Marinette. Your feelings are no less than mine, or anyone else's. Everyone's allowed to be in a bad mood once in a while. Or going through a rough patch. I've never seen you spreading anything if not love, positivity, and kindness..." he paused, still looking into her eyes. "It's okay that you're having a rough time, it doesn't mean it'll last forever. And I know you probably know that, but if it were me, I would like to be reassured so...this is me reassuring you," he smirked.
"We all get overwhelmed sometimes, doesn't make us any less strong. Cry away, scream at me all you want. I promise I'll even like it! I know it would be helping you. I'm in a good place, and I like to try bringing as many people up with me as I can when that happens."
He said all of this with a soft smile on his face, and with such understanding in his eyes, that it made Marinette feel like throwing up. Instead, she just cried harder, and for a long time. She didn't know how long, but enough for her throat to feel raw.
When she finally stopped, her eyes feeling strangely dry and her insides feeling empty, Adrien was still holding onto her, and for a moment he reminded her so much of Chat that she just let the confession escape her in the form of a soft whisper.
"I just really miss him..."
He hesitated for a few moments, "who?"
"Chat Noir. I really, really miss him. And you know what's even more upsetting? That, even after two years, that's genuinely the most bothersome, painful thing in my life right now," she inhaled deeply before letting it all out again in one heavy exhale, trying to rid herself of the feeling of heaviness.
Adrien looked at her with something akin to wonder in his expression. For a moment he just stared, his lips slowly parting, making Marinette a little uncomfortable, "Adrien...?"
Then...recognition and disbelief.
"Boy..." he exclaimed breathlessly, "do I have some news for you..."