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Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Chat Noir © Thomas Astruc

When Marinette realised that she couldn't be a normal teenager and have an average relationship, she was fourteen.

It started with a flash of red as a being smaller than her hand appeared, introducing herself as Tikki as they blinked their large blue-coloured eyes. The three black dots that decorated their head stood out, and she learned that the genderless creature, that preferred female pronouns, was a kwami, like Marinette was a human. Once she'd gotten past the shock of the two antennae and the tail with three tips on it, she learned that the creature—that was able to float and materialise herself through walls and most obstructions—was connected to the pair of earrings that she'd found.

As thus, she became Ladybug. Tikki had the ability to infuse herself into the earrings, known as a miraculous, making Marinette's outfit, no matter what she was wearing, transform in a red bodysuit with dots covering it, along with a spotted mask to obscure her identity. She learned that while transformed, her body was harder to injure, and that she could pull of feats that even professional athletes couldn't do; she could leap higher, propel herself with the help of her dotted bandalore so she could fly over the top of buildings, and complete complicated flips that she couldn't do while in her civilian form.

The bandalore was ridiculous, truly. At thirteen, being given such ridiculous power, she'd been wide-eyed and speechless after Tikki had given her the explanation. If it was swung fast enough, it could be used a shield, to deflect falling rumble or objects, along with other things she'd yet to experiment with.

It wasn't for nothing, of course; a miraculous holder named Papillon had malicious intentions, and they used their kwami to infect wronged civilians with butterflies that were called akumas, turning them into horrifying versions of themselves that listened to their demands. They ravaged the city, destroying buildings and injuring innocents, all in the pursuit of collecting her miraculous, along with her partner's.

Chat Noir, clad in his black bodysuit that was made of a similar unknown material to her own, was lounging on top of the building with her that evening. There was a difference in their outfits; his had cat ears that somehow twitched and moved according to his emotions placed in his hair (unable to be removed), his mask went further down his nose, and there was a belt wrapped around his waist that acted as a tail.

Unlike her bandalore, he had a baton that extended into a staff, allowing him to complete the same impossible moves by propelling himself forward. Both of their weapons had screens inside that could be used to access the internet, communicate with each other, and a mini-map that allowed them to see where the other was.

“Do you ever wish you had a normal life?” Marinette questioned, voice soft and wistful as sat down beside him.

At first, they'd tried to patrol at night to be prepared for akumas, but it only made them exhausted the next day. Papillon was more prone to strike during the day, and they'd yet to infect someone when most were asleep. So, after a couple of months of wearing themselves out, they agreed not to patrol and meet on a weekend night to spar and talk—a night of relaxation for them.

Chat hummed in contemplation. “I guess? It's getting hard to make up excuses for why I go out all the time to my flat-mates now.”

“Same,” she muttered, sighing afterwards. “They're convinced I have some secret boyfriend since I have to actually use the front door due to cameras. I should've gone for the cheaper apartment so I'd avoid this problem.”

Since she was thirteen—barely a teenager, only just getting a grip of her studies, let alone her life—Marinette had taken on responsibility and taken on the role of one of the protectors of the city, and that had caused her friendships to suffer due to her lack of free time. She couldn't cry and whine over it, not when there was at least two akuma attacks a month, but it was draining.

“Is that so bad?” Chat quipped, sounding amused. “Mine think I'm into something illegal because I mistakenly said it was work that time someone posted about an attack at three in the morning.”

They'd learned not to trust the internet from that. A lot of teenagers posted online in an attempt to see the two of them in the flesh, regardless of the fact they didn't make social appearances.

Pushing her dark-coloured bangs out of her face, Marinette muttered, “It's a problem because I'm eighteen and I've never actually had a boyfriend last longer than a month, Chat.”

The thought of trying to hide Tikki while in a relationship made her anxious, let alone the excuses she would've had to make if an attack happened. She was bad enough with her friends and family, but they rightly assumed that she was good at hiding when something happened. If any of them had an inkling that she was doing anything dangerous, they didn't let it show.

They couldn't connect her to Ladybug without seeing her transform before their eyes; Tikki had explained that the miraculous was designed that way to protect the wearer. For someone with the ability to heal and reverse the damage that happened during the fights, Marinette didn't question the feats of magic that the kwami could accomplish any more.

He reached over and patted her lightly on the head. “Well, you're not alone, remember? I'm here to share your pain, my lady.”

“Right.” She gently slapped his hand away, laughing.

“Really,” Chat insisted, smile reaching his eyes and showing the dimples on his cheeks. The green colour of his irides bled over to his sclera while he was transformed, the pupil becoming cat-like and allowing him to see in the dark; cat eyes, like his name and outfit suggested. “You could always get a long-distance boyfriend, you know. You wouldn't have to make excuses and cancel dates if you had one of them.”

Through the years, she'd seen Chat mature; his blond-coloured hair changed length from haircuts every few months before he settled with it brushing against the tops of his ears, the fringe messy, and she'd barely noticed as he grew taller, with wide shoulders and developing muscles that hadn't been there when they'd been merely children, until she'd seen videos and images of the two of them online.

She hadn't noticed that she'd become muscular, too, until one of her friends had asked for her fitness routine.

She wrinkled her nose in displeasure. “That involves meeting someone online somehow.”

“There's dating sites,” he pointed out, amused. “Actually, I think people mostly use their phones now. You could try that out to ease your loneliness.”

With a dramatic shudder, Marinette rested her head on his shoulder, a move she'd done countless times over the years. “I've only heard horror stories about them—you just want to laugh at my misfortune.”

He had the decency to look sheepish at that.

“Do you feel like you're missing out?” Chat asked, voice soft as he stared up at the darkened sky above them.

Sometimes, she had to wonder what she was doing with her life when she didn't know the actual identity of her best friend. They'd agreed early on, even back on their first few days of being superheroes, that it would be safer for their family and friends for the two of them to not converse outside of the suit; for all they knew, those infected with akumas would harm them to get to them both.

The friends she had in her normal life were lovely, yes, but when she'd fought beside Chat's side for five years, knowing that he was utterly reliable and that he was able to take a hit for her to sway the favour of the fight in their direction, there was only so much a civilian best friend could compare to. They wouldn't cheer her up with terrible puns in the middle of fights, or know her strategies.

“Chat, we can't even go on holiday without worrying,” she whispered, hating how selfish she felt. “I'm just—I'm tired, I guess.”

Without the worry that an akuma would appear that late at night—Papillon had a strict schedule for ruining people's lives, apparently—they wrapped up their conversation for the evening with the promise to meet up the following weekend, as they both didn't have prior engagements. With the help of her bandalore, Marinette manoeuvred her way through the city, stopping off a few blocks from her apartment building to revert the transformation.

Her flat-mates were either absent or too preoccupied with their own activities to give her trouble for coming back just before midnight.

As the week continued, her classes at university not too tiring compared to after a night of fighting crime, Marinette settled back down onto her bed, scrolling through her messages on her cell phone.

For a moment, she opened an application and stared at the different names, then she surprised herself by downloading one of them, like Chat had suggested.

She might've used a picture of her with drawn on cat ears as her profile picture, leaving her description short and ambiguous. She didn't want to set it up for sex, as some clearly wanted to from their descriptions, but it was just a curiosity that she gave into.

When they met up the next weekend and Chat revealed that he'd joined one, too, she didn't even try to muffle her laughter.

“I'm not even kidding,” the blond-haired male continued, voice breathy from his own chuckles. “I expected something nice after hello, okay? She just straight up asked for the size of my—”

Her laughter grew breathless. “I've already had countless men messaging me to trade pictures! I didn't even have a provocative profile, really. Where's the innocence gone?”

“Hey, look,” Chat started, grinning widely as he elbowed her lightly. “I'm sharing your pain, just like I said I would.”

Childishly, she stuck her tongue out.

They compared silly stories the next time they met, too. It was completely fine for the two of them to share insignificant tales such as those, as they'd agreed beforehand not to give each other any hints to their lives on purpose. So, Marinette knew that he was around her age from a slip up when he'd mentioned upcoming exams soon, but she didn't know his exact one, or even what university he attended; all she knew for sure that he was attending one, as he'd complained about some vocal students that sat in front of him in one class.

It was three weeks when she found someone that didn't immediately ask for something crude. The idea of the application that she downloaded was for pictures and names to be shown, and for the user to say whether they were interested—if both said yes, then they were allowed to open up a chat to talk.

The reason she'd said yes to the horrible picture was due to the hat with cat ears that the male was wearing. The image itself was blurry, hair and hands obscuring his face, but the clothing had made her laugh, so she'd agreed to it in passing.

Adrien, no surname listed—not many did, and neither did she—was eighteen, and had filled out his description with emojis instead of text. There was no other pictures of him available other than the first, but she was still curious.

As it turned out, he wasn't a creep. The first thing he asked was how she was, rather than the colour of her clothing or anything similar to that. He was polite to a fault in the beginning; his typing precise with punctuation in the right places, clearly thinking about what to say before replying, and it took a couple of days for him to become casually lazier, no longer correcting his spelling mistakes.

They spoke about random topics, showing each other silly videos that they found online every now and then, or mentioning an absurd event that had happened in their city. She had no idea what he did for a living—whether he was in education or had a job—but she wasn't bothered by that. Adrien was clearly only interested in talking, as he'd never questioned whether they'd meet up or where she even lived in the city, and she was just fine with that.

After tiring days of classes and completing her projects, the akuma attacks that appeared without a rhythm wore her out even more. Unlike most people, even websites and various news outlets, the first conversation with Adrien that she had after an attack wasn't about what had happened to the city. He didn't mention it at all, actually, not like her class-mates and friends who'd remarked about the horrifying experience that they'd witnessed from cameras, while the ones that had been close by had been interviewed to describe it first-hand.

She continued to tell Chat about those that approached her badly via the application, hearing his own tales in return, but after a few weeks had passed, she stopped looking at the pictures and descriptions to approve. Instead, she loaded it up just to click on the messaging section, checking the window that she had with Adrien to see whether he'd replied in the time that she'd been missing.

After wondering whether it was too forward for a while, Marinette asked whether they could exchange phone numbers, so she could delete the application from her cell phone for the time being.

To her surprise, he said yes. So, she saved the blurry picture from his profile and made it his contact image for her cell phone, and it was in the upcoming days that she started to see it more and more, sometimes rivalling one of her best friends (who she, unfortunately, didn't live with).

Although they didn't talk about anything too deep; Adrien didn't mention his family, only referred to a few friends by nicknames rather than actual names, and Marinette didn't complain about her woes of battle when akumas appeared. It was a comfortable friendship filled with nonsense and laughter, one that she didn't know she'd wanted until she had it.

When her flat-mates annoyed her, either by not washing their dishes or playing music too loudly in the middle of the night, she told him about it. He did the same in return, and then it developed from sending internet videos to him sending her a picture of a cat he walked past that morning. It was silly things like that; weird-looking objects in shop windows, animals that were either adorable or absurd to look at, and she returned it all fully.

After her transformation had fallen—Tikki couldn't hold it for long after she'd summoned a helpful object to help in the fight, and the dots on her earrings indicated the amount of time she had left before the magic wore off and her civilian self was revealed—and she'd walked back through the healed streets of the city to return to her university, Marinette was startled by the ringing of her cell phone.

It wasn't unusual for friends and family to worry about each other when there was an attack by Papillon. She had a few messages enquiring whether she was near the destruction, but that wasn't what caught her attention.

Adrien was calling her.

She cleared her throat as she placed her cell phone to her ear. “Hello?”

“Marinette?”

“Yes,” she confirmed, sure that her confusion was portrayed in her voice. “Are you—you're Adrien, right?”

From the short laugh that she received, she flushed. “Yes, that's me,” he confirmed, sounding more amused than he should've been. “I'm sorry for calling you so suddenly. It's not too weird, is it?”

She tucked her hair behind her ear. “It was just unexpected, I guess.”

“Right.” He cleared his throat that time, and an awkward pause appeared as they seemed to both be uncertain of what to say. Adrien was the one that broke out as he tentatively asked, “I'm just—I wanted to ask, are you okay?”

It took a moment for her to realise what he was asking.

They'd only been talking for a couple of weeks—not even serious topics—yet he'd taken the time to worry about her when he'd heard the news about the akuma. She'd never told him where she lived, after all, but they knew that they were both in the same city. Yet, the thought of his safety hadn't crossed her mind when she'd been fighting, nor afterwards as she looked through her messages.

She didn't know whether to feel guilty about that or not. The guilt and self-blame only appeared when an akuma managed to damage a building that one of her loved ones were in, or if she'd been there to witness the black butterfly-like creature that floated through the air before it landed on a victim and turned them into Papillon's puppet.

“Oh,” she breathed, surprised. “I'm fine, thank you. Are—are you okay?”

He breathed out audibly. “Yeah, I'm okay. I heard about the attack and wondered whether you were okay.”

Unsure of how to appropriately respond to that, Marinette quietly pointed out, “Even if I was injured, it would've been reversed when the akuma was caught.”

“That doesn't mean I can't worry, still,” he replied easily, not sounding as nervous as he had before. When she'd tried to imagine his voice—or even his face, though that was still unknown to her—she hadn't had much luck on guessing what suited him best. “I can hang up, if you're not comfortable talking to me.”

She adjusted the strap of her bag on her shoulders. “Oh, no,” Marinette hastily answered. “It's not that I don't want to. I do, really, it's nice to put a voice to the name, even though I don't have a face for you—wait, I mean, I don't know your face—”

The sound of his laughter made her jump. It was breathy, and slightly higher-pitched than his voice from the honesty of it.

“I'm late to class,” she added on, aware that her cheeks had coloured from her embarrassment of rambling. It was a nervous tick that she had, one of her tells, as her parents told her. “It was really nice talking to you, Adrien.”

“Yeah,” he agreed softly. “You, too, Marinette.”

-x-

The highlight of her days for the next month was talking to Adrien—actual talking. At night, after they'd finished their duties for the day (she still had no idea what he even did), either of them would send a message to the other, asking whether it was okay to call. After the first one due to the akuma attack, they'd started a routine when she'd apologised later that day about cutting their conversation short.

So, she found herself laughing in the safety of her bedroom, talking animatedly on the phone as they discussed their same silly topics. The jokes had more charm to them when they were told with his voice, rather than with spelling mistakes and enthusiastic punctuation, and she wasn't at all put off when they transferred over to her laptop. Marinette made sure her camera was off when they used that to speak—as she could click the links easier and not devote all her time to holding the cell phone to her ear—and he did the same, too.

Adrien was nice—that was the best way she could put it. He didn't make her feel uncomfortable; he didn't utter intrusive questions, put her on the spot so she felt pressured, or even attempt to convince her to tell him anything he wanted. If she didn't want to continue a topic, she didn't feel rude when she said so. Adrien good-heartedly agreed and changed the subject in a beat, and she did the same for him in return.

She learned about his favourite foods, how he made his drinks in the morning, and even the quirks of his closest friends. Marinette looked forward to talking to him each day, a bright smile on her lips whenever the screen of her phone illuminated with a message from him or when her laptop pinged with a notification.

Idly, she wondered whether he felt the same way.

The best thing about him was that he didn't ask to meet. There was no exchanging of pictures, no arranging a time where she was free (and could possibly be pulled away when there was an attack, therefore snubbing him), and that was a relief in itself. Adrien was a friend that cheered up her days without asking about her absences from class or her building, someone that didn't enquiry her every move.

After changing back to her civilian clothing and hiding Tikki in her bag, where the kwami could sleep peacefully until she could fly around freely in her room, Marinette stopped off at a café on her way home. She got the money from her purse as she waited in the queue, shifting her weight on her feet as she slowly shuffled forward.

The grip she had on the coins failed when someone bumped into her on their way past, and she groaned, dropping to her knees to collect the money before someone else did. Someone else joined her, holding their clenched hand out in offering when she'd finished picking up all she could see.

“Thank you,” Marinette said as she stood up, accepting it with a sigh of relief. The queue had hardly moved in that time, and she only had to move up a few steps to catch up to where she had been.

The one that helped her was a tall male with blond-coloured hair. He smiled politely and replied, “It was no problem.”

It was a fleeting moment, something not to remember, but when Chat asked about how her week had been a few days later when they met up, she still felt second-hand embarrassment from holding up the queue, especially when she'd fumbled with the retrieved money and forgotten her order afterwards.

They'd finished sparring—their suits and enhanced abilities making it so they weren't out of breath—and were dangling their legs dangerously over the edge of a rooftop, doing daring things casually that they never would've done when they were first starting out. Marinette was still quite amazed with herself when she saw footage of their fights in her everyday life, knowing that she couldn't pull off such techniques without Tikki's help; lifting up heavy objects due to built up muscles wasn't as impressive as doing a backflip out of the way of a stray vehicle that was barrelling towards her.

“Anything interesting happen for you lately, Bug?” Chat questioned, reaching over to fiddle with one of her ribbons. They'd found out that they couldn't be removed like the cat-shaped ears on top of his head. “My life's been terribly boring.”

She lightly smacked his hand. “You can't live your life through me.”

“I can try,” he said with a whine, dramatically leaning against her and resting his head on her shoulder. “The most fun I've had as a civilian was staying up to play games with my friend and regretting it the next morning.”

Marinette laughed. “That sounds very much like you.”

“Are you trying to say that you don't make mistakes?”

That caused her to groan, the memory of the café popping back into her mind. “Me? Apart from being a complete idiot when we started working together, I'm still clumsy when I'm outside of the suit, really. I'm having nightmares about one of my moments a few days ago.”

Humming in agreement, close to her ear and with his chest pressed against her arm so she could feel him vibrating, Chat urged her on with, “Oh?”

“I ended up dropping all of my money while waiting in line—well, it wasn't really my fault. Someone bumped into me, actually. I have them to blame for my embarrassment,” she rambled, hands moving to emphasise her words. “It still haunts me to this very day; the judgemental stares, the mutters underneath their breaths—”

“I think you might be exaggerating a little there,” the blond-haired male pointed out, laughing with her, rather than at her. “It can't have been that bad. Did someone help you out?”

She snorted. “Some guy did, so I guess that was nice of him to take pity on me.”

“Hang on,” he said suddenly, lifting himself up to sit upright as he looked at her with widened eyes. There was a moment of silence with the two of them staring at each other; Marinette with her eyebrows furrowed, trying to understand the sudden shift that had happened. It wasn't unusual for Chat to move between topics quickly while they were talking, trying to cover a lot at once. “Was this in a café?”

She blinked. “Yes?”

“Oh, fuck,” he hissed, quickly covering his face with his hands as he groaned, effectively hiding his face from her. He continued to repeat the same phrase under his breath, quiet and private, but she still reached out to caress his hair in a caring manner. “I shouldn't tell you this—I know I shouldn't, we agreed not to—but—”

Fingers running through his blond tresses, careful to bypass the ears, Marinette murmured, “Take your time.”

“Ladybug, I helped collect someone's money after they dropped it in a café three days ago, after the akuma attack.”

That—that made sense for why he was swearing, then. Marinette was dumbfounded for words, not knowing how to answer him. Whenever she'd seen a head of blond-coloured hair over the years, it was only natural for her to wonder whether it was him, but she'd never imagined that they'd admit it to each other. To know that she'd been in the same room as him while her appearance was that of a civilian, to hear his voice without connecting it to the mask that covered his sclera, was something else entirely.

But it was a moment in passing, something not to be remembered other than her emotions at that time. She hadn't paid attention to his appearance, couldn't even conjure it in her mind as she'd been too focused on wanting to hide herself—yet it had been him that had helped her out in such a frustrating time.

“Fuck, indeed,” she agreed eloquently, dropping her hands into her lap. “I'm actually mad at myself for not remembering what you look like.”

The hands uncovered his face, revealing redness that had appeared on his cheeks, and he quickly ran them through his hair in a frustrated way. “Right back at you,” Chat muttered. “I always thought that when I'd see you as a civilian that something would just click, you know? That I'd see you and instantly realise.”

“Been fantasising about me, Chat?” Marinette teased, leaning against his shoulder lightly. “I have to admit I've always thought the same, too. I've convinced myself over the years that I couldn't have seen you without realising it because we know each other so well.”

He wrapped his arm loosely around her, pulling her into a half-hearted embrace. “This is strange.”

“Yes, who knew you'd be so polite in person?” she mused, glancing up so he could see her grinning clearly. “Thanks again for that, by the way. As much as I'd like to crawl into a hole and wish it never happened, I'm glad that it was you that helped me.”

“I'm confessing now that I'm not the one that bumped into you, just in case you were wondering,” Chat quipped, though the thought hadn't crossed her mind. The next words that left his lips were quiet, barely audible over the noise of the busy streets below them. “It's still not a good idea for us to meet, is it?”

She swallowed.

As much as she wanted to know him, to spend more time together than fighting turned villains and seeing each other once a week, it wasn't smart. Chat had been a presence in her life for five years, almost six at that point, but they couldn't risk their identities on the chance that Papillon was able to connect them to their loved ones, therefore threatening them for leverage. It was the reason why they had masks that obscured their identities in the first place; no one close to her looked on the television and saw Marinette, not even her parents.

Softly, she confirmed, “No, it's not.”

“Not even if I promised not to tell you my name?” he offered, only sounding like he was slightly joking. “I could even wear a a disguise—Chat Noir outfits are all the rage nowadays, I'd blend right in.”

A laugh escaped her. “In where?” she retorted, the image she'd conjured in her head entertaining; the superhero apparel that had been created for the past years were mostly costumes designed for parties, or pyjamas with their designs on them. “It's not like we could waltz into a cinema together and pretend it's completely normal to meet another dressed ridiculously.”

“Sure, we can,” the blond said, voice shaking from his restrained laughter. “It's a party if there's more than one person dressed up, right?”

“We'd look suspicious,” she shot back. “From trying not to draw attention to ourselves, it would just turn out to be a disaster.”

With a sigh, he agreed, “Yes. At least it's a success in my imagination.”

-x-

Adrien started to call her after every akuma attack. His name was included in the list that featured her family and closest friends, all of them wanting to know whether she was okay. Although he wasn't consistent in how long after the attack had finished—as he'd never called during one, only afterwards when Tikki's powers were spread across the city and healed any damage that had occurred—she fumbled with her cell phone and managed to answer by the third call at the latest. She made up excuses for her lateness, saying that she was caught up in class or busy with her friends, but no matter how flimsy her reasons were, he didn't question them further.

Not even when she said that she'd been preoccupied making sure a stray cat was safe from the chaos on the streets.

“That's sweet,” he'd said, sounding endearingly fond and sweet. “I'd probably do the same if I saw a cat near the attack.”

He quickly became one of her closest friends, which was a surprise even to her. If she was being honest, she hadn't expected anything lasting to happen from the application, let alone for a non-romantic relationship to appear; Adrien was everything she wanted in a friend and more, proving himself to be wonderful to talk to with every passing day. Marinette laughed until her she was breathless when she spoke, cheeks hurting from smiling at his silliness.

“Is it strange that I'm pretty much considering you my best friend right now?” Marinette asked one evening. She was sat at her desk, their call connected on her laptop as they dabbled in playing games together, one of the ways she spent her nights when she wasn't swamped in work for university. “I mean, I'd rather hang out with you than anyone else, even when it's not raining.”

The sound of him clicking his mouse filled up any silence, along with the keyboard. “Not really? I'm feeling the same about you, too. I hope that doesn't scare you away.”

She snorted. “I don't think that's possible any more, not after I've heard you scream from being scared.”

“First of all, that scene came out of nowhere, it's perfectly understandable that I reacted like that, unlike you, you cold-hearted monster,” he retorted, no heat to his words. “And that's good. Maybe you'll put up with me for another six months.”

It was surreal to think about. Adrien had made his way into her life in an instant, starting to become her first thought on days, even though it was a purely long-distance friendship. He seemed just as disinterested as she about meeting each other in person, though she had to wonder whether he was just shy, or if she wasn't appealing for him to meet.

“Can I ask you a question?” Marinette asked quietly, the sound of her keyboard almost seeming louder than her voice. “If it makes you uncomfortable, you don't have to answer.”

She could hear him clicking, so there was no worry that he'd walked away without saying something. Adrien wasn't a fan of pressing down a button to talk—and neither was she—so the both of their microphones were constantly open, able to pick up any noise within the room.

Tikki chose to sleep in those times, nestled within Marinette's pile of pillows upon the bed. She kept a small plate of sweet-related food on her bedside table for the kwami, just in case she was peckish, as it wasn't as though the red-coloured being could float through her apartment and scare her flat-mates, let alone phase through the walls (it took a lot of energy for her to use that ability, so it would only cause her to have to carry a larger about of food).

He didn't sound put off as he replied, “Go for it.”

“Why haven't you asked to meet?” she questioned, trailing off towards the end. She swallowed nervously, adding on, “We met on an app designed for dating—shouldn't we have asked to see each other by now?”

The noise of him clearing his throat was picked up. “Well,” Adrien started, pausing for a moment as he thought about how to answer. At least, that's what she thought had happened as the sounds of him playing had stopped, not even the keyboard being audible any more. “I guess for the same reason that you haven't?”

It seemed like he was deflecting.

“Me?” she parroted, higher-pitched than usual from the surprise.

“You,” he confirmed, and the tone was the same friendly one that he'd adopted after a few weeks of talking to each other, one that clearly wasn't false. “You've never asked me, have you?”

Even though he clearly didn't want to answer first, she wasn't irritated. “I—I never really thought about it, if I'm being honest. I just assumed that it would happen eventually without me trying to organise it.”

“I'm a voice that you've never had a face to match to,” Adrien pointed out quietly. “Shouldn't you ask to see a picture of me first?”

Without hesitating, she replied, “From the lack of pictures on your profile, I just assumed that you're not comfortable sharing them.”

“Sharing them with strangers, yes,” he confirmed, voice warm and comforting. “But you haven't been a stranger to me in months, Marinette. We just established that we've ascended into best friend status.”

It was nice to hear that, even though she'd known that they'd been friends for months; for him to say it verbally, the fondness seeping into his voice as he did so, it caused her to smile to herself as she murmured, “Oh.”

“You might realise why I haven't shared it when I show you it,” Adrien said quickly for a short explanation, though it only made her more confused.

Rather than pressing for more information, she didn't ask for the picture again. It was only after they stopped playing, both of them saying that they should sleep soon, that she received a notification on her cell phone. The screen illuminated to show a message from him, and when she opened it, she was greeted with a dimpled smile, green eyes, and golden-coloured hair that was brushed aside his forehead, complimenting his face shape well.

When she answered her phone the following day, she asked, “If you're going to start spouting poetry about how attractive you are, I'll tell you to shut up.”

A burst of honest laughter escaped him, the sound loud and breathy. “What?”

“That's why you don't put your pictures up online, right?” Marinette continued, jumping to the only reason that she could think of. “You're clearly well aware that you're good-looking.”

Once he'd recovered from his chortles, Adrien uttered, “If this is to make me feel better, it's working.”

“I'm not understanding.”

There was lull in their conversation, filled by the busy sounds of the streets as she walked her way back to her apartment. Classes had been stressful, especially when she'd bumped into someone in the hallway and dropped part of her project onto the floor, only for the papers to be stepped on within seconds. She'd tried to stay as late as possible, able to sit in the classroom until they were closed up for the evening two hours after her last class. Adrien had messaged her sporadically throughout the day, so he'd already known about her disaster.

“You—you don't recognise me?” Adrien questioned, obvious disbelief causing his voice to break.

She blinked. “No?”

“Oh.”

Marinette waited for him to recover, letting him have a few moments to collect himself. She was confused, yes, but she wasn't going to voice the conclusions that she was jumping to—all she knew about his personal life was that he lived within her area and had turned nineteen a few months ago, back when they hadn't been too close, so he hadn't disclosed the information on the day. She wasn't too sure of the exact date.

“So,” he started, clearly feeling as awkward as he sounded.

Her lips curled into a grin as she parroted back, “So.”

A laugh escaped him, and that was a sign that he wasn't too uncomfortable.

-x-

“How will I know if I've met you again?” Chat asked as he dropped down beside her on a bench, the two of them deciding to seek shelter underneath a tree after rain had started to fall. “Do you have any identifying marks that you can tell me about?”

Although there was a risk of the weather getting worse, they wanted to spend time together. In the past, they'd tried having their evenings in a gym to spar or inside other buildings, but they'd always generated a crowd and caused pictures of the two of them to be posted onto the internet, only for more to turn up, just to watch them interact when there wasn't an attack. From the magic of their kwamis, the weather didn't bother them in their suits, but it still wasn't nice for her to have soaked hair while her clothing was dry.

She raised her eyebrows, causing the mask that was covering them to bend to fit her expression. “Yes, let me describe the exact positions of my moles and freckles. I'm sure you'll remember them.”

Crossing his arms, the blond-haired male muttered, “I meant more like scars, you rude woman.”

Knowing that he truly wasn't upset, Marinette scooted over and leaned against him, head propped on his shoulder due to their height difference. “I hope I didn't hurt your feelings too badly.”

“I'm wounded.”

“Oh, really?” Her smile was hidden by his shoulder. “You have to get injured to get a scar, so that's good. You should tell me where it's located so I can find you in a crowd.”

His body shook with his restrained laughter. “You're a terrible person.”

“At least you appreciate me for my faults,” she quipped, tilting her head to grin up at him. “And to answer you question, I haven't really got any scars that would be visible when I'm wearing clothes—unless we meet at a swimming pool, we'll never know.”

Purposely slow, Chat wrapped the arm that she'd been leaning against around her, pulling her closer so she was pressed against his chest. “You should tell me more about your body.”

With a laugh, Marinette pushed him away gently by his chin. “In your dreams, kitty.”

“It was worth a try.” He recovered easily, still loosely embracing her with one arm as she rested her head on his chest, a comfortable position they'd taken countless times over the years. “And even though you didn't ask, I've got a scar from when I got my appendix taken out.”

It was something so trivial, as though he'd just admitted that he had a chipped tooth. “That's real helpful,” she answered dryly. “I'll be able to narrow you down in a crowd easily when you're shirtless.”

“Just you wait until the summer, Ladybug,” he chimed in, extending the syllables akin to singing. “You'll be looking at all the shirtless blond men.”

“I don't even know your age range,” she pointed out. “What if I looking at young men instead? The transformation could hide your five o'clock shadow.”

He huffed. “Real funny.”

“I thought so.” She grinned widely, showing her teeth. “It's not like we could have a codeword either, right? I'd be blurting something random at every tall blond-haired guy that I see topless.”

“Yeah,” he breathed, sounding put off by the idea of it. “It just sucks, you know? You're my best friend, Ladybug, but we barely get to see each other. I'd love to just hang out with you when the city isn't in danger—for something more than our weekly sessions.”

Reaching up to touch his soft hair, Marinette quietly responded, “Me, too.”

And it was true. As much as she'd liked to come out and say her identity, to make it so they could easily spend time together in public, there was still a chance that they'd be noticed when the two of them disappeared to transform if an akuma attack was to happen. There was also the fact that they weren't immune to becoming victims of Papillon themselves; if the inevitable were to happen, their trust in each other wouldn't be enough, as the villain would pry the information from them.

“You'd absolutely love me when I'm a civilian,” she murmured, fiddling with the cat ears upon his head. “I'm even more hilarious when you can see my eyebrows.”

Pulling her into a tighter hug, Chat rested his chin upon the top of her head. “Yeah?”

“I'm serious.”

She could feel it as he said, “I'd love you even if you drew your eyebrows on every morning.”

“I shave them weekly, too,” she deadpanned.

With a laugh, the blond-haired male replied, “I might draw the line on your naked brow—it'll be too weird to see.”

“No.” Her lips quivered from trying not to burst into laughter. “That's what I do in the mornings.”

They stayed there until they started to yawn, the rain still falling around them. After parting with a tight hug, Marinette carefully made her way across the city to an alleyway where the cameras weren't working—they'd been smashed a few weeks prior, not replaced yet—knowing that she had to walk through the front of her apartment building.

They'd learned to pay attention to cameras and onlookers throughout the years, knowing that if anyone saw them transform, they were more than likely to talk and post any footage that they'd found, regardless of the fact that they were endangering her and Chat in the process. From the amount of times they'd been asked about their identities, requested to give hints after they'd tried to comfort the newly recovered victim that had ransacked the city, they knew that reporters and the public cared about who they were during the day a lot, maybe even more so than Papillon.

She woke up in the morning to a picture from Adrien, one that had a caption for her to wrap up warm due to the weather.

It was a nice change, definitely. He was more open to sharing pictures with her since the first time he'd shown her, and due that, she was respecting his privacy and wasn't trying to search for why he'd expected her to recognise him—she assumed it was due to a popular video or an embarrassing situation, something that would make him react as he did. The Adrien she knew was kind and caring, someone that she couldn't imagine doing a terrible deed, and she wanted to keep it that way.

They started to exchange pictures a lot. The two of them pulling faces, showing where they were during the day, and even taking a few pictures with their friends so they could put names to faces (or in his case, put the nicknames to his friends' faces). Marinette was in a constantly good mood whenever his name popped up on her cell phone, especially after she received a picture that was taken just for her.

When one of them included his collarbones in the shot, along with his shoulders that showed he was in shape, Marinette had to ask, “Are you flirting with me?”

There was a silence as she held the phone against her ear, steadily feeling the warmth flood her cheeks.

“Yes?”

It sounded like a question.

She blinked. “Oh.”

“Oh,” he repeated, a breathy laugh escaping him. “I kind of thought you've been flirting right back at me?”

Well, she had been. She didn't know whether Adrien was a flirty person with his jokes and teasing when he got to know people, so she hadn't jumped to conclusions. After all, they'd known each other for months from a dating application, but nothing had come of it, not even conversations about their past significant others; neither of them had asked anything of that nature.

“I wasn't really sure,” she admitted, feeling embarrassed as she did so. “I mean, we've never—you've never even hinted to being interested in me romantically, so I thought we were just chatting as friends.”

There wasn't a chance to ponder over what to say next as he quickly responded without missing a beat, “I wouldn't send just a friend shirtless pictures of me.”

“To be fair, you've only sent one so far,” Marinette pointed out, lips curling into a grin. “And it didn't show everything, so for all I know, you're stealing these pictures from someone else.”

Adrien's laughter was honest. “Okay, fine,” he started, an amused lilt to his voice. “I know how to solve both of these problems. Are you busy at the weekend?”

She wetted her lips. “No, I'm not.”

“Would you like to meet up?”

That took her by surprise. Marinette hadn't been expecting that, not after them both avoiding the subject for so long; the image of Adrien's shyness that she'd been holding onto was shattered in a moment, and she squeaked out, “What?”

“It doesn't have to be a date,” he corrected himself quickly, sounding embarrassed. “We could just spend some time together to see whether we'd get along as well in person, if you want?”

She wondered how his body language was when he was shy, or whether his blush travelled down his neck. There was countless details about him that she didn't know; couldn't know from only talking to him for months on end, just like he didn't know that she fiddled with her elbows or hair when she was nervous.

Connecting the image of his attractive face to the personality she'd known had already been a surprising experience, but to see him in person seemed just as rewarding in the end.

Tucking her hair behind her ear, Marinette quietly answered, “I'd like that.”

“I—really?” Adrien stuttered, sounding just as surprised as she felt. “Okay, great. Yes.”

She tried not to laugh at how adorable he was rambling to himself, choosing to cover her mouth with her hand as she smiled instead, as she didn't want him to get the wrong idea and become embarrassed.

“I'm already booked for Saturday evening,” she admitted. “Is that okay?”

There was no hesitation as he replied, “Yes, absolutely.”

The only thing to interrupt their correspondence through the week to the upcoming meeting was an akuma. Marinette had seen the flash of movement, the dark-coloured butterfly-like creature that flew through the air outside the window of her classroom, but it wasn't intended for anyone in her building. The alarms sounded, quickly echoed throughout the neighbour and alerting the city that a disaster was in the making, and civilians alike were herded together to get to safety, making it increasingly difficult to slip out and escape as the fights added up.

Back in the beginning, she'd only had to lag behind her class-mates and slip into a bathroom to transform.

Chat Noir beat her to their destination. He was leaning against a building, idly twirling his baton as the akuma ravaged vehicles and took out their anger in the form of violence, and the bright smile that was directed her way seemed severely out of place for the situation.

Once they'd gotten the victim into medical care—to deal with the shock of being picked by Papillon, not for injuries, as Tikki's powers cured all the wrongdoings that had happened during an attack—they had only a few minutes to spare before their transformations fell away.

Chat surprised her by holding onto her wrist, keeping her from vaulting away.

“Yes?” she questioned, not at all breathless from their movements.

“I know we have to go soon but I wanted to catch you before the weekend,” he started, eyes not darting around to acknowledge the multiple glances that were being sent their way. They were far enough away that no one could listen in easily, and Chat strengthened that as he quietly continued, “I just—you're free to tell me that it's dumb, but I thought of something.”

It turned out that he thought of friendship bracelets as a way for them to recognise each other. Marinette had been wary, but he blurted it all out at once as his miraculous made a high-pitch noise, indicating it was one less minute he had until the transformation fell.

As handmade bracelets to each other would've been too obvious, Chat gave her a store name; she knew it, of course, as it was a small but popular store that sold various little items, ones that were especially popular due to the cuteness of the items. There was a small section of bracelets that looked to be made out of rope of some sort, all different colours and patterns in the threads.

She settled with buying him a generic one, something that any person could have. It was a small identifier, one to warn themselves away from each other before potentially talking and compromising their identities—after all, there was only so many tall blond-haired males that she could bump into that wore the bracelet that she specifically chose for him.

Holding it up to the light in her bedroom, Marinette asked, “Think he'll like it, Tikki?”

From the giggle she received, she hoped so.

-x-

Adrien wasn't what she was expecting.

Well, that wasn't quite right. She knew him, and in turn, he knew her, too. There wasn't a lapse in conversation or many awkward moments once they'd gotten past the constant waving at the beginning when they'd spotted each other, though that was mostly due to her being dumbfounded that he looked just as attractive in person as he was in pictures.

He was tall, too. Marinette had returned the awkward hug in silence, realising that she only came up to his chin as she loosely wrapped her arms around him.

The warm body, the tone of voice, even the silly jokes; Adrien was everything she'd come to love about him in person and more, as she was able to see his dimpled grin in front of her. He was enthusiastic with his hands when he ranted about anything he was passionate about, laughed a little too loud and drew attention to them, but more than anything, he was—he was just Adrien.

Any worries that she had were squashed as she smiled brightly, easily slipping into their usual banter as they spoke. For some reason, she'd feared that when they met that they wouldn't get along as easily. She'd feared that he wouldn't laugh at her jokes, or that their conversations would fall flat and the two of them would be stuck with nothing to do but stare at each other before one of them called it off and went home.

But it wasn't like that at all. They walked through the streets for hours, ducking into random shops to look at trinkets and other items, buying snacks along the way as they couldn't decide whether to sit down and eat in a diner or not.

“Thanks for agreeing to meet me today,” Adrien said softly once they'd remarked on the time. He hadn't asked what she had to do later that evening, but he respected that she had prior plans without pushing to know about them further. “It was nice to see you in person.”

Her smile met her eyes. “Is it weird that I was expecting us not to get along in person or something?”

The indents on his cheeks showed as he replied, “No, I completely get it. I was worried about it, too.”

“I'm not trying to feed your ego here,” she retorted, crossing her arms. “I'm just saying that you're lucky that your appearance didn't ruin our friendship.”

She could clearly see the green of his irides and the blond at the ends of his eyelashes as he looked at her and asked, “It wasn't a date, then?”

She swallowed. “Maybe?”

“That's very specific,” he noted, sounding amused. “Would you be opposed to giving me a second chance? I think I'd be able to make you have a definite answer next time.”

There was no need for her to wait and think about it. “Okay,” Marinette agreed, smiling widely. “I think I can fit you in next weekend.”

“Great.”

Even when they'd only been apart for half an hour, they started to message each other again. Marinette's cheeks were burning when she read the messages that were telling her how pretty she was, complete with multiple punctuation marks and typos, but it was so utterly endearing that she made a high-pitched noise and pressed her face into her pillow.

When she said that she had to stop replying to meet up with a friend, he didn't complain. Adrien wished her a good evening, and it was with that that she set out into the cold night, a coat on despite the fact that she'd be clad in her magical suit soon enough.

It would've been suspicious if she walked through a few streets in her pyjamas, too lazy to change.

Chat was as happy as ever to see her, sweeping her into a tight hug before they started to spar. She set an alarm on her bandalore to alert them when they'd gone on for too long, trying to pace themselves as though they were outside of the suit. Even with the added abilities and reflexes, it still helped in the long run—Marinette had found herself reacting with a fighting stance when she'd been pulled by the back of her shirt one time, something that she'd bemoaned about to Chat the next day.

“Did you think about what I said before?” the blond-haired male questioned as they sat next to each other, sipping at the bottles of water that she'd brought along. If they were to stop by any of the local stores, the owners were more than happy to give them free items, but she felt increasingly bad about accepting.

Rather than answering, Marinette retrieved the bandalore from her waist, opening up a tiny compartment and bringing the bracelet out into view. She watched as his green-coloured eyes widened wordlessly, staring at the gift for longer than needed.

As caught his hand and opened up his palm to drop it into, Marinette asked, “You did get one for me, right?”

“Right.” He snapped out of it, lips curling into a wide grin. Similarly, he'd stored it within his baton for safekeeping, something that they couldn't do with most items due to the size restrictions—they were primarily weapons, after all, and couldn't hold too much. “I actually bought it before I told you about it.”

She swallowed audibly at that. They hadn't exchanged gifts before due to the worry that it would seem too personal; they didn't even know each other's birthdays, but they had shared cakes to celebrate another year passing together, making do with blowing out the candles once a year.

“Chat—”

“I know,” he interrupted her, passing her the bracelet quickly. “I shouldn't have. We don't do gifts.”

He deserved more than a friend that was only there when there was a disaster—they both did.

With her her expression set to reflect her determination, Marinette corrected him, “We do now.”

His eyes flickered to hers. “Ladybug?”

“It's—it's been over five years,” she whispered thickly, clearing her throat to give her a chance to get her emotions under control. “You're the best thing that has happened to me. If I see you wearing my bracelet on the street, I'm not going to turn the other way.”

Whether he was unsure of how to answer or not, he instead helped her put the bracelet around her suit-clad wrist. She didn't know how the new addition to her outfit would react to the transformation falling, as she'd never had the need for scarves or hats when she was Ladybug before. She knew it would be in good condition, at least.

Marinette helped clasp his. “I'm not thirteen any more. I'm more than capable of knowing you in person and not endangering everyone because of it. Papillon's had years to try and infect us, but it's never happened—it won't happen.”

The smile he gave her met his eyes, causing his mask to flex to cover the skin that would've been exposed. “This sounds like the right setting for you to confess your love to me now,” Chat murmured, fondness clear in his voice.

She tugged on the bracelet, making sure it was on him properly. “I think I need to see whether you have eyebrows first before I tell you all about my undying love.”

A burst of laughter escaped him, the sound breathy and honest, surprising the both of them. “You're really fixated on eyebrows,” Chat said once he'd gotten his laughter under control, grinning widely at her. “Should I be worried?”

“You could be a nail biter, too,” Marinette retorted, shooting a narrowed-eyed glance down to his hands that were permanently covered with gloves, unable to be removed. “There's a lot of things I need to consider before asking for your hand in marriage.”

Lifting his hand up, he purposely wiggled his fingers with a thoughtful expression. “So it's a no if my nails aren't in pristine condition?”

“Well, that and if you're really walking around the city with a case of messy hair all day.”

Dramatically, he placed a hand on his chest over his heart. “How dare you,” Chat gasped, green-coloured eyes wide. “I'll have you know that this hairstyle is a hit. It's even in the samples section at salons, so anyone can try and replicate it.”

She raised her eyebrows.

He sniffed. “...I brush my hair, thank you.”

“I'll consider not returning the ring, then.”

-x-

When she saw Adrien in person for the second time, it wasn't on purpose. Marinette had let the transformation fall in a safe place, helping Tikki retreat into her bag, and she'd only just started walking back to where she was supposed to be when her cell phone started ringing.

As always, he was concerned for her safety. The guilty feeling for not contacting him first was there, as it was a lot of the time, but she'd been too concerned with making sure her identity was safe before acting. She'd answered, assuring him that she was fine before returning the questions, and it was only when she made him laugh that the sound seemed to echo, causing her to stop on the street and peer around curiously.

He was a few steps ahead of her, standing outside a book-store without paying attention to the crowd passing him, free hand casually in his pocket as he used the other to keep the phone to his ear. The smile on his lips was clear to see, and one of her own appeared as she abruptly said good-bye, disconnecting their call as she came to stand beside him.

Adrien was too busy staring at the screen to notice her arrival at first.

She cleared her throat, trying not to laugh as he was startled.

“Marinette!” he exclaimed, the surprise turning quickly in happiness as he greeted her.

As the attack had interrupted her last class, she was free for the rest of the day. It turned out that Adrien's schedule had been disrupted also—something that the city was far too used to—and they decided to spend some time together. Rather than browsing the streets as they'd done before, the two of them slipped into a nearby café, ordering hot drinks despite the fact that it was almost summer, meaning they only had to wear light jackets when it wasn't raining.

They spoke about more personal subjects than they did when not face-to-face. Marinette learned that he attended a private school when he was a teenager, pursuing an education at another university in the city, one that she'd considered going to in the first place. They lived thirty minutes away from each other, universities in opposite directions during the day, but there was still the slight chance of them running into each other as they'd done that day.

He was sweet, even more so in person when she could see his genuine smile. From the amount of time they'd spent together, she was able to tell when his laughter was honest, to know whether he truly thought something was interesting when she brought it up.

The fondness that she had for him grew because of it, too. Marinette wasn't afraid to admit that she liked him, and it very much seemed that he felt the same way about her from the way their hands brushed when they walked beside her, or even the shy glances that he shot her when he thought she wasn't looking.

It was sweet. Their silent exchanges as they smiled shyly at each other caused warmth to blossom in her chest, smile reaching her eyes, and she knew that it was only an amount of time before that happiness was squashed by her lies that she'd have to spout when an attack occurred while they were in each other's presence.

That had been the catalyst to her other relationships; the fact that she wouldn't seek shelter and safety with the person she'd been dating, the lies on where she'd slipped out to be, and the reasons for never meeting on a weekend evening. There was only so many times she could say that she was meeting her parents, after all.

Chat deserved more than one night a week, but she wasn't going to take that away from their relationship due to her pining. If Adrien continued to be non-intrusive as he had been before they'd met in person, then she thought it was possible that they were able to actually have a healthy relationship that wasn't filled with irritation due to her disappearances.

Adrien walked her back to her apartment, not commenting on the chipped paint of the outside, nor the litter that was by the gate, most likely due to her rowdy neighbours.

Tentatively, she asked, “Do you still want to meet at the weekend?”

The smile she received was almost blinding.

They went to the cinema together after she'd given him free reign on deciding what to do, though she had a say on what film. Marinette had insisted on buying their food and drinks since he'd bought the tickets online—forgetting to tell her about it—and it turned out that the film wasn't as awful as she'd originally suspected.

It might've helped that he held her hand halfway through.

It was dark outside by the time it was finished. Marinette pulled her jacket tighter around her from the breeze, trying not to laugh as eyed someone with their cell phone held up their way distrustfully.

“Should I be worried that they're taking a picture of you?” she questioned, more amused by his recoiling reaction than the fact that someone had apparently recognised him (the way they'd hit their friend's arm before pointing his way had helped make that clear).

He pulled a face. “It's unfortunate.”

Marinette hummed in agreement, easily matching his pace as they started to walk together. The cinema was closer to his apartment than hers, and he'd offered to let her come inside for a while before going home, as it wasn't late enough for her to disappear thus far. From accepting, she'd decided to transform nearby instead of going home only to go out again—plus, there wasn't the need to make an excuse for her absence to her flat-mates if they noticed her.

“I know I should be used to it, but it's still—” Adrien cut himself off, eyebrows furrowed as he struggled to find the right words. Eventually, he settled with lamely saying, “It just sucks.”

“Oh,” she replied dumbly, realising the implications immediately. While he respected her privacy and didn't pry, she'd responded in the same way despite her curiosity. Marinette tucked some stray hairs behind her ear as she admitted, “I—I never actually bothered to see why I should recognise you, by the way.”

For a moment, he only stared at her with amazement. Marinette awkwardly shrugged her shoulders, unsure of whether she needed to justify herself, and all he could do was let out a laugh as he pulled her into a quick embrace, arms wrapped around her loosely as she was pulled against his chest.

His voice was filled with happiness as he announced, “You're great, did you know that?”

“Thank you?” she answered, unsure.

Just as sudden as the hug had been, in was over and he was walking by her side again, slipping his fingers through hers and holding her hand. “You're into fashion so I just—I assumed that you knew by now.”

“You're talking in riddles, Adrien.”

He laughed. “To you, it seems so.”

“Now you're insulting my intelligence,” the dark-haired female grumbled, though there was no heat to her words.

Beaming, Adrien responded, “Agreste.”

She blinked. “What?”

“Adrien Agreste,” he answered without missing a beat, offering his other hand out to her to shake, a formal greeting that was utterly unnecessary and awkward considering that he was already holding her other hand. “You've probably studied about my father.”

The course she was studying covered a lot of designers, but Gabriel Agreste was one of the most successful that originated from their country. Marinette had heard of him, of course, but she'd never been too invested in the lives of those in the spotlight, not after seeing the attempts the media had taken to try and delve into her and Chat's personal lives. She'd known that Gabriel had a son, though she hadn't bothered to check the age nor what he was doing with his life.

There was one piece of information that she knew, however. “You're a model,” she blurted, trying not to look at him in a new light.

Adrien's smile didn't falter as he dropped his hand back down to his side, correcting her easily with, “I was a model.”

She nodded, the two of them suddenly walking slower as she processed the information. It was no wonder that strangers took photographs of him, then, if he'd already been exposed to the public for years on end. “Now you're a student.”

“Well, I was always a student when I was modelling,” he pointed out, sounding amused. “You really didn't know, did you?”

Warmth blossomed on her face. “I just assumed you had an embarrassing video or something,” she defended herself.

He squeezed her hand gently, a reassuring gesture that caused her pulse to splutter. “There actually is a video of the last time I modelled; kind of the reason I quit.”

“Really?” she asked, surprised. “I haven't heard anything about it.”

Pushing some of his hair from his eyes, Adrien readily explained, “I got really ill on set a while ago—since it was an outside shoot, someone recorded it before I was rushed to hospital.”

She swallowed. “That sounds serious.”

“It wasn't too bad.” He shrugged, directing them both around a corner. “I came out with a scar and was given to the choice to stop. I only ever started to try and please my father, honestly, so I jumped at the chance to quit.”

When they got to his apartment, his flat-mates were out. He lived with two of them, the duo both attending the same university as him—they'd been put together by a housing website that required proof of them studying, much the same situation as she was in with hers. Although they weren't closed friends, and neither was she with the ones she lived with, she still knew some details about them (other than the nicknames).

The flat was larger than hers, meaning that the bedrooms and bathrooms were bigger, too. They actually had a table rather than stools for island counters, something that Marinette hadn't seen for her friends or herself. She groaned in appreciation as she relaxed against his mattress, admiring the view of his room—including the the modest-sized window, unlike her tiny one that shined above her desk—all while he laughed at her reactions.

“You're living the life of luxury while I have to use a lamp when it's not even evening,” she muttered, clutching one of his pillows to her chest. “How could you not tell me about this?”

He raised his eyebrows. “It's not like you tell me your window woes often.”

“I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it once or twice,” Marinette retorted, narrowing her eyes. “You're not going to tell me that you don't have to wait for the water to warm up before a shower, are you?”

The answer she received was him keeping his mouth purposely shut, but that was reason enough for her to throw the pillow at him.

Adrien was—he was comfortable, that was the best word to describe him. When they were together, regardless of whether it was in person or over a device, he had her feeling at ease. It wasn't the clammy hands inducing feelings that she'd had in her early relationships, not ruined by her panicking and overthinking every reaction he had; rather, when he smiled at her, she felt comforted that her feelings were reciprocated. The fondness she'd developed for him wasn't juvenile or a silly infatuation, something that she'd worried about at first.

As they sat next to each other on the bed, Marinette leaning against him in a comfortable way that she wouldn't have done if they hadn't known each other for months, she wasn't too surprised when he gently held her hand as he turned to look at her, the indents of his cheeks showing as he smiled. She swallowed audibly when she realised they were close enough for her to feel the warmth of his breath against her face, noses almost brushing as she leaned into him, eyes darting up to look into his green-coloured ones to see whether he was okay.

The touch of his lips to hers was soft and gentle. It was clumsy at first, the both of them unknowing of how to interact with each other properly, but as she loosely held onto the material of his shirt, eyes closing as she tilted her head upwards to make the kiss more comfortable, she had to admit that it was nice. There was no overwhelming passion or a promise of leading further; if anything, it was quite chaste and innocent, something more fitting for a newly developed relationship.

Then again, they hadn't been dating for too long.

When he placed a hand on her jaw, cupping her face softly in a way that made her feel cherished, she knew that he could feel her smiling.

After pulling away to catch their breaths—aware that her heart was beating fast and the echo of her pulse was loud in her head—he didn't say anything, instead just wrapping his arms around her for an embrace, one that she returned happily, resting her chin on his shoulder.

It was safe to say by the time she was reading herself to leave, she could officially call him her boyfriend. As silly as it seemed, having a name to put to what they were, more than friends despite how close they'd been for a long time, made her happy.

When he walked further than escorting her to his door, following her outside with a jacket on, Marinette had to quickly shake her head. “It's okay!” she insisted, shaking her hands in time with her words. “I'll catch a bus, you don't have to walk me.”

He looked unsure. “Are you sure?”

“It's not that late yet,” she pointed out, adjusting the strap of her bag. “I'm going to my parents anyway.”

After a moment of silence, he sighed. “Fine,” Adrien gave in, though he didn't look happy about it. “You'll tell me when you get there safely, won't you?”

“Absolutely.” She beamed. “Have a good evening, Adrien.”

She beat Chat there that evening. Marinette had stopped off to purchase some food before she arrived, hoping that it was still warm by the time he appeared at their meeting spot for that week, gracefully settling down beside her as he pushed the hair from his face.

“Fancy seeing you here, my lady,” he greeted, bowing his head dramatically as he'd already sat down. “And even with food. My, what's the celebration?”

“I'll tell you if you manage to beat me,” she sang, stretching her arms out in front of her. “It'll still taste good when it's cold. Also, it's your favourite.”

Clicking his fingers, Chat exclaimed, “You're proposing.”

“To you?” Marinette laughed, standing up and offering her hand out to him, pulling him up easily with the added strength of the transformation. “I'm not telling you anything until after our workout—you know how this goes.”

With a sigh, he gave in. As she'd said, the food was fine when they were done, only lukewarm in the centre, but it was okay. They ate with their plastic cutlery that she picked up from the store, sharing containers between them with familiarity with each other's likes and dislikes. When she found a piece that she'd know that he'd prefer, she wordlessly judged his arm with the container, gesturing towards it with her mouth full.

“So,” he started around a mouthful.

She hummed, not replying any further.

He jabbed her lightly with his cutlery. “You're going to need to know my ring size if we're taking our relationship further.”

She snorted. “I still don't know about your fingernails, Chat.”

“Or eyebrows,” the blond chimed in, extending the syllables as though he was singing. “What's the special occasion? You're lucky that I didn't eat dinner before coming to meet you.”

“Well,” Marinette started slowly, taking in another mouthful and chewing as she thought. “Remember you said about the dating app?”

It took a few seconds for him to realise what she was talking about. It had been months since they'd last spoken about it, after all, and they'd both deleted the application after sharing their horror stories. Marinette hadn't spoken to him about Adrien before; when she had mentioned her relationships in the past, it was only to say that they were over, same as him, the both of them not going into too many details.

He nodded, too busy eating to reply.

She wiped at the sauce on his cheek with a napkin. “I met someone on there.”

Once he'd swallowed, he asked suspiciously, “This isn't going to take a weird twist, is it?”

Throwing the napkin at him—only for him to catch it easily with a grin—Marinette huffed. “No, it's not.”

“You're dating now?” Chat for confirmation, not sounding disapproving. After she nodded, he grinned and exclaimed, “That's great. I hope he's oblivious enough to put up with your lies about disappearing for hours on end.”

A familiar excuse that he'd tried to convince her to use popped up in her head. “I'm not going to say I'm a part of the mafia,” Marinette said with a groan, eyes narrowed playfully as she pointed her cutlery at him. “He's a nice guy. I don't want to scare him away with ridiculous excuses.”

“If he ever asks where you disappeared to, tell him you had to escort an old lady across the street.”

“More like the entire city,” she muttered.

Chat beamed. “Yes, that'll work. It's natural for you to want to protect her groceries from the attack.”

With a laugh, Marinette asked, “How do any of these excuses work for you?”

He winked. “My charming face makes people trust me.”

-x-

Dating Adrien wasn't any different than being his best friend. They continued to talk whenever they could, the two of them offering more information than before. Adrien told her the actual names of his friends—rather than the nicknames that the two of them had referred to them as for months—and Marinette opened up in return, telling him some of insecurities and worries she had.

When they both had free time, they either chose to meet up or play games together online. There wasn't a pressure for her to see him a set amount of times a week, no nagging worry that she had to keep him interested because of how well they knew each other. After revealing his surname, Marinette learned far more insignificant facts about Gabriel Agreste, designer and strict parent, than she would've found on the internet.

He sent her a picture of him with a bag from her parents' shop, holding up the logo with a large grin.

Her flat-mates were certainly surprised when he came to visit, awkwardly waving at them in the kitchen before ducking into her bedroom. Although she wasn't close with them, they were polite enough to tell each other when they had someone staying over—a warning that there could be noise—so she did receive a few messages asking whether she was planning a busy night.

Adrien might've cackled when he read them and understood the actual meaning.

They were watching a film on her laptop in her bedroom, the two of them on her mattress and indulging in the pile of pillows she owned, when she pushed up the sleeves of her shirt, the weather far too warm for her outfit. Adrien grinned smugly as he pointed gazed down at his own short-sleeved t-shirt, looking far too pleased with himself.

“My friend has a bracelet like this,” Adrien remarked when noticed her wrist, lifting her hand up to inspect the loose threads. “Where did you get it?”

She told him the name of the store. It was a common question, really; one of her flat-mates had even asked after noticing her wearing one, especially since they were popular as of late.

As the summer had started, the weather warming enough for sleeves to be pushed up and dresses to be donned, she couldn't stop herself from eyeing the wrists of blond-haired males at times. It was curiosity, of course, ever since the time Chat had admitted that they'd bumped into each other in person before. As much as she wanted to be smart, to keep her identity a secret due to the risk of possession, it had still been years without that happening to them both.

The first akuma attack that happened when they were together in person happened after a month of dating. They'd visited a coffee-shop between the two of them, bemoaning the weather that had started to rain almost as soon as they'd met up. When the tell-tale alarms and alerts were playing over the radio, on the televisions, and messages sent to phones, it didn't take long for people to run away from the location of the attack.

It turned out to be a few blocks away. Marinette had lost sight of Adrien when people started to push, but she didn't have time to think about it—she knew that she'd be able to heal any injuries that occurred, although thinking about the cause of them wasn't nice.

The akuma was purified quickly, one of the least violent of the year. They had been too busy fighting with Papillon's instructions and demands, only giving in after heated arguing back a few times.

When Marinette came back to the coffee-shop to see Adrien standing outside, looking around with his cell phone in his hand, clearly about to call her, she swallowed audibly.

“Adrien!” she called, raising a hand to be seen above the crowd. “Over here!”

The hug she received was tight and full of feelings, something she hadn't been expecting.

“You're okay,” he started, hands cupping her face as he pulled back to take in her appearance. His eyebrows knitted together from the messiness of her hair—she'd ran back after not finding a safe spot nearby to drop the transformation—but the blinding smile he gave her showed that he wasn't anything but relieved that she was fine. “I couldn't find you anywhere.”

Guilt nagged at her, the usual feeling of keeping secrets resurfacing. “I'm sorry,” she said quickly, averting her eyes as she lifted a hand to touch his, keeping it against her cheek in the process. “I—I saw an elderly woman, so I was helping her out.”

A beat of silence appeared, and all she could do was resist the urge to curse at herself for giving into using Chat's ridiculous excuse. It was the first one that popped into her head, unfortunately, and she knew that it was too unbelievable to be true.

And yet, all Adrien did was pull her into another hug, his chin resting on top of her head as he murmured, “I'm just glad you're okay.”

She tried to tell herself that it was understandable that she didn't like to keep secrets, but to see him readily accept the lie that had spewed from her mouth just made her feel worse.

It was one of her most silly ones, but she didn't think anything of it, not really. Her relationship with Adrien was as strong as ever, and she was still utterly thankful that he wasn't one to push to receive answers. He wasn't all that concerned with meeting up as often as possible, instead happy just to talk online, something that she fully returned, too.

She stayed as late as possible to finish her design one night at university, only stepping into the streets as it was becoming dark outside. Marinette sent a message to Adrien to tell him that she was on her way home, deciding to pick up food rather than cook on her way back.

It was only when she had a plastic bag in her hands that someone fell into step beside her.

When she caught sight of the black-coloured bodysuit, she gawked. “Chat Noir?”

He flashed her a dimpled grin. “Hello. Fancy helping me out?”

For a moment, she was silent, conscious of the curious gazes that were being sent their way. It wasn't often that Chat Noir—or even her as Ladybug—stopped to talk to civilians, let alone when there wasn't an akuma. He'd spoken to her a few times as Marinette, yes, but she doubted that he could even remember her name, not when she was just a face in a crowd.

Her wrist was covered by her a long-sleeved shirt she was wearing a jacket, so he hadn't stopped because he'd spotted that in the middle of the street. The main question that was plaguing her seemed more important than worrying about his impulsiveness, though.

“Why are you transformed?” she blurted, aware that she had no tact.

With a dramatic wave of his hand, he pointed to the suit. “It's a lot easier to travel this way, in case you couldn't tell.”

She stared.

“I'm only here to ask for some directions, if you wouldn't mind,” Chat continued with a flourish, sounding mischievous.

When it became clear that she wasn't going to protest, he truly did ask for directions. Marinette awkwardly pointed down the street he needed to go, trying to explain the way to the best of her memory. It was a brief interaction, barely a few minutes, but she couldn't remember the last time she'd heard about him doing such a thing.

There was the fact that his baton was capable of showing him a map, rendering asking someone for directions useless.

He didn't know, surely. There'd been no casual flirting as they always did, nothing more than the friendliness that he offered to anyone that tried to talk to him.

She was actually disappointed.

It was confirmed when they met up with each other the next weekend. Marinette sipped at her bottled water that he'd brought along for the two of them, daring dangling her legs off of the edge of the roof. Although the suit didn't make her overheat in the summer weather—nor did it cause her to freeze from lack of clothing in the winter—it was still nice to feel the breeze on the exposed skin of her face.

Chat wasn't acting any different around her. He was the same affectionate self, draping an arm around her shoulder, leaning against her while speaking, and even reaching over and taking a drink from her bottle.

They spoke about their week as much as they could without giving too much away, talking about some of the sillier reports that had been on the news. Teenagers had tried to stage an akuma attack at a party in the middle of the night, something that neither of them had heard of until at least three of them were arrested for disrupting the peace of their neighbourhood.

“I'm going to have to be honest with you, my lady,” he started after a lapse in their conversation, the comfortable silence broken by his quiet voice. “I keep forgetting to wear my bracelet.”

She blinked.

With an exaggerated grimace, the blond-haired male continued on to say, “It's hard to remember to put it on after showering, okay?”

Slowly, Marinette asked, “Why not just leave it on, then?”

“Leave it on?” he parroted, furrowed his brow at her. “As in all the time on?”

Lips curling up into a smile, she replied, “Yes?”

“Oh.” It sounded as though he'd had a realisation as he lifted up her arm, the one where he'd helped to secure her bracelet. “It's still in okay condition, isn't it?”

“Yes,” she confirmed. “The ends are a bit loose, but that's to be expected with this type of thing. You don't have to take it off whenever you're going to touch water—I'm much too lazy for that.”

Humming in a way that sounded like agreement, Chat released the hold that he had on her arm. He flexed his hand out instead, stretching the fingers as he muttered, “It's already have trouble trying not to remove my ring. I got into so many fights with my father about it before.”

A ring seemed more ostentatious than her earrings as a vessel for his kwami, but then again, she didn't know what the piece of jewellery looked like when it wasn't active. Her earrings faded to black and looked generic, but they'd never told each other about them.

“Does it get loose in the winter when it's cold?” she questioned, curious. “It would be a lot of hassle if you lost it.”

He snorted. “That's one of the first questions I had, but no. It sizes itself to fit my finger, which is really weird, by the way. Then again, picking Chat Noirs based on their ring sizes seems very inconvenient.”

She clicked her tongue. “Looks like I'm not getting your size tonight, then.”

“You need to see and assess my eyebrows first, thank you.”

-x-

The rain caught them unaware one day. As they were closest to her apartment, she tugged on Adrien's hand and darted through the streets until they were safely inside, but their clothes were drenched. She muttered underneath her breath as she searched for replacement clothing, trying to see if any of her large t-shirts would fit him.

When he was given a pyjama shirt that required buttoning up, he only raised his eyebrows at the pattern of the material. She offered to pay to use the dryer in the building to make it so they could wear their own clothes sooner, causing him to wrap his arms around the shirt and accuse her of trying to part him from the soft fabric.

“You can't have my pyjamas,” she spluttered as he started to caress the material while his eyes were narrowed towards her. “They're mine for a reason. I love them.”

“You should've thought about that before you got me all wet,” Adrien sang, extending the syllables sloppily. With a smug smile, he perched himself on her mattress, trying to pull the sleeves down to cover his wrists. When he stood up, the shirt brushed against the waistband of his jeans, not a suitable length for him at all. “I'll only forgive you if I get to wear this forever.”

She pointed to her tiny window above her desk. “I'm not responsible for the weather!”

He shrugged. “I can't be held responsible for falling in love with this shirt, then.”

With a large, Marinette feel to her knees to search through a drawer, retrieving the piece of clothing that she was looking for. When she returned from the bathroom, other than the new t-shirt that she'd slipped in, she had a smug smile as she walked purposely slow to highlight the trousers that she'd put on.

“You're a monster,” he accused when he caught sight of them, crossing his arms. “I can't believe you.”

Grinning, she sat down beside him, bumping their shoulders lightly together. “I think that might be why you love me.”

“I'm not a masochist,” Adrien denied, laughing. “You're just too cute to be mad at.”

She ruffled his hair. “I'm sure.”

Their wet clothes were draped across her desk chair that had been wheeled over to her radiator—that she'd had to put on, bemoaning about it the whole time—and the two of them amused themselves with her laptop in the meantime. He'd still rejected letting her venture into the building to dry their clothes, using the excuse of her shirt being too comfortable to get rid of.

When he went to the bathroom, she might've ordered a similar pair for him in the largest size.

As neither of them had class the following morning, she offered for him to stay the night. It was the first time they were doing anything like that, though it wasn't too awkward. Marinette's only worry had been the lack of a toothbrush to give him, but that was resolved by the two of them simply going to a nearby store when the rain had disappeared, buying two toothbrushes; one to keep at hers, and one for her when she was at his in the future.

Adrien only laughed when she dashed into her bedroom first, snatching up the pyjama shirt with a smug grin.

“You win,” he lamented, visibly deflating as he placed the plastic bag with their shopping onto the floor, taking longer than necessary to take off his shoes. “I guess I'll just have to sleep sadly without wearing a shirt.”

She snorted. “I don't think you'll be too sad when I get into bed with you.”

“I'll be needing all the comforting, actually,” the blond replied, trying not to laugh as he said so.

Her flat-mates were present when they were making dinner. It turned out that one of them had recognised Adrien due to his previous work for his father, even going as far as to ask for an autograph while he was chopping vegetables. He didn't seem to bothered by it, but Marinette still eyed them and their sudden interest in hanging out with her—and him by extension—with suspicion.

“They're never that bothered with even talking to me,” she muttered when they ducked into her bedroom to eat, opting out of sitting around with an audience.

“Just living together out of convenience?”

She pulled a face. “Yes, unfortunately. I couldn't get a room beside my friends.”

“Same here,” he said, patting her head in a move that was more patronising than comforting. “At least they seem friendly?”

Over the months, he'd heard all about their limited contact and the petty arguments that happened around the apartment. Marinette swatted his hand away as she pointed out, “That's just because you're here and they're convinced that I'm dating a celebrity now.”

He winced dramatically, clutching his hand to his chest. “To be fair, I'm only related to one.”

“You were in magazines for years, Adrien—and not just ones aimed at teenage girls. It takes work and connections to get there; so, you kind of are one,” Marinette answered, fiddling with her cutlery. She'd wondered whether he'd be comfortable with the lack of table for eating, but he was perfectly fine with balancing the plate on his lap. “Which is weird to think about. You don't have a bodyguard, do you?”

“...Not any more.”

After cleaning up—where Adrien kindly offered to dry the dishes—they settled for watching a film again, eventually deciding between two that they wanted to see. It was comfortable and easy, and Marinette didn't feel nervous around him. She didn't think twice before lounging over him, even propping her feet on his lap at times.

The radiator had been turned off when their clothes were dried, but the room was still hot. When Marinette changed into her pyjamas, it wasn't back into the patterned trousers that she'd been wearing earlier, but matching shorts and a t-shirt, hoping that it wouldn't be too warm while sleeping. The only form of air conditioning her room had was from her tiny window, but even then it changed barely anything.

Turning her laptop off, Marinette had to say, “Maybe you really will have to sleep without your shirt on.”

A lopsided smile appeared on his lips. “You're trying to get me out of my clothes already?”

“I'm not going to offer you my pyjamas when they'll make you even hotter,” she pointed out, crossing her arms. “And before you say it, I mean because of the weather.”

He jutted his lower lip out. “I'm hurt that you even think that of me.”

“It was literally on the tip of your tongue.”

It should've been a warning when his smile widened, no longer pretending to be offended by her comment. Adrien's eyes flickered to hers as he replied, “If you play your cards right, you could be on my tongue instead.”

Instead of rolling her eyes, Marinette shot him a withering look and breathed out slowly, showing no signs of her being amused. If it had been the first time he'd said such a thing, she probably would've spluttered when she tried to respond, but she'd learned how to please him the most with her responses; apparently, in his eyes, suffering looks were a lot better than laughter.

From the way he laughed at her reaction, it still seemed true.

Adrien patted the bed beside him, attempting to usher her closer. “Before I take my clothes off for you, I need you to know one thing first.”

Warily, she perched herself on the edge of the mattress, feet touching her carpet. “Okay?”

“Excuse you, it's completely innocent.” He sniffed.

“I'm sure,” she muttered. “What is it, Adrien?”

With a sigh, the blond-haired male fell back onto the bed, adjusting himself so he was resting on a pillow, although he was still on top of the duvet. “No, you don't deserve to know after that judgemental look you gave me.”

“You're going to be horribly uncomfortable if you sleep in jeans,” Marinette pointed out, fingers toying with the material on his knee. “I promise not to laugh if you have weird underwear on.”

“...It wasn't that.”

She patted his knee. “Okay, I might laugh a little.”

“Really, it wasn't,” Adrien insisted, a slight whine to his voice that made her burst into laughter. He joined in with her for a bit, then once she'd calmed down, he continued on to say, “I just want you to know that I forgot something after my shower today.”

Crawling on the bed to settle down beside him, Marinette inhaled when she rested her head on his shoulder. “Well, you don't smell bad.”

He snorted. “You would've noticed it a lot sooner if I did.”

“You can go into the bathroom to get undressed, you know,” she said, pointing towards the door leading to it. “You don't have to give me a show—I didn't give you one.”

“I'm only allowed to strip in front of you if we do it together?” he questioned, sounding amused. “As nice as that would be, I'm not going to ask for that. I'm just trying to awkwardly tell you something before I get changed.”

She peered up at him, able to see the blond at the end of his eyelashes from the short distance. “Whatever it is, I'm pretty sure I'll still like you afterwards.”

“Oh, Marinette.” He grinned, the smile reaching his eyes. “You'll love me.”

Trying not to laugh, she reached up to pat his head.

Adrien chuckled before he climbed over her, disappearing into the bathroom for a few minutes. She didn't know what he had to feel uncomfortable about, but she was determined not to have a reaction that would offend him; if anything, he was just building up to nothing, something that she was partly expecting due to his playful nature.

Getting underneath the covers, she kicked them down to her knees from being too hot, already feeling the need to apologise to him for the bad circulation in her room. She sat up with her back against the wall, brushing her hair out of her face.

It was the first summer that she was experiencing, her first year of university, too, so she hadn't expected it to be as bad as it was getting. The limited fridge and freezer space meant that she didn't have any ice cubes for their drinks—something she'd already had to regretfully tell him him weeks prior—but he never complained any more than pushing his clothing up with a sigh, one that she mirrored herself.

“I wasn't expecting to come back to you looking like death,” Adrien's exclaimed, his eyebrows raised when she turned to look at him, her facial features twisted in displeasure. “It's only going to get worse, you know.”

She narrowed her eyes. “You're really good at making me feel better, thank you.”

“Someone has to be realistic in our relationship,” he sang.

Although he'd mentioned a scar before, she hadn't looked up the video of it happened. Marinette searched and found his modelling photos instead, finding it hard to picture him so serious and straight-faced for minutes on end while they were being taken.

“You didn't get stabbed, did you?” she questioned, eyeing the puckered line across his abdomen. The skin was coloured there, but not tender-looking, so it hadn't been done recently. From the stop of his career, she knew that it had happened over a year ago.

Adrien didn't seem embarrassed at all to be walking around in his underwear, the clothing he'd been wearing folded and underneath his arm before he placed it onto her desk for the following morning. “No,” he denied. “If I got stabbed in public, I'm sure you would've heard all about it.”

“That's true,” she mused, trying to think of the cause of it. As he sat down beside her, putting his feet beneath the duvet as she had done, Adrien propped his head up on his arm, elbow pressing into the pillow as he looked at her with raised eyebrows. “You're really going to make me guess, aren't you?”

His smile showed his dimples. “It's not a battle wound, I can tell you that much.”

“Battle?” Marinette let out a burst of laughter, trying to imagine him in such a situation.

Although Adrien's body hadn't gotten out of shape after he'd stopped modelling, and she could easily see the muscles beneath his clothing whenever he stretched or reached up to collect something from a shelf, but that didn't mean—

She stared at the scar. “What did you forget after your shower?” Marinette asked, her voice quiet and filled with implications, ones that had her heart starting to beat wildly in her chest.

He hummed, not giving a clear answer as he peered up at where she was sitting, the corner of his green-coloured eyes crinkled from his smile.

There was no feeling of disappointment, not really. It was like the pieces for sliding into place; his reluctance to meet in the beginning, the lack of information that he offered about his life, how he hadn't pressured her for anything more than he could give himself. It was only natural that their friendship had started off so well when they'd both been content with just talking from afar.

Marinette swallowed the lump in her throat.

His fingers brushed against her wrist as he murmured, “A bracelet.”

Adrien being Chat Noir was completely understandable; the sense of humour, the kindness he readily showed to everyone, even the dimples and blond-coloured hair that wasn't messy from jumping over rooftops. Although the miraculous made it hard to connect him to how he looked in his suit, she could at least see the bits of Adrien that showed from the exposed skin.

He'd been worried about her even after dropping the transformation. One of the first things he'd done after the battles the past few months had been to call her, to see whether she'd been safe during the chaos.

She breathed out evenly. “How long have you known?”

Adrien pressed a kiss to her wrist, narrowly missing her own piece of jewellery that he'd gifted her. “Not long,” he answered, voice honest and clear. “It was the granny excuse that really gave you away.”

Warmth flooded her cheeks as she removed her hand from his grasp. “I panicked.”

As he sat up to mirror her position, the grin he gave her was genuine. “I didn't know for certain, not until I asked you for directions.”

Reaching out to hold his hand, her fingers brushed against the cold metal of the ring that she'd never inspected closely. “That doesn't make any sense.”

“You asked me why I was transformed,” the blond pointed out, sounding fond as he linked their fingers together, squeezing her lightly in a comforting way. “Most people assume that we're just wearing suits. I admit, it was a bit of a stretch, but you had the bracelet and everything—that's why I started to wonder.”

He hadn't known for that long, then. It made sense why he didn't just blurt it out—although she couldn't say she wouldn't have done that if she was shocked and had found him out by accident—but knowing that her best friend for the past eight months had turned out to be Chat Noir wasn't a disappointment in the slightest.

Marinette pulled him into a tight hug, eyes shut as she rested her head on the crook of his neck. “I'm so glad it's you,” she murmured, breath warming his skin as she did so. “You're right. I absolutely love you.”

She could feel it as he laughed. “I don't bite my fingernails.”

“No, you do not,” she confirmed, hiding her smile into his neck. “And you have pretty nice eyebrows, too. I think they might be worthy of a model.”

“Well, I couldn't just come out and tell you that,” Adrien replied, arms loosely wrapped around her waist. “It would've either given away my identity immediately or you wouldn't have believed me at all, knowing you.”

Moving to sit upright, Marinette gently pressed her lips against his, able to feel that he was smiling as she closed her eyes. It was as soft and tentative as their first, breaths caressing each other's faces as they returned each other's enthusiasm. Marinette toyed with the hair at the nape of his neck, trying not to laugh as his fingers brushed against the lower part of her back, going beneath her t-shirt to touch her skin.

His fingertips were too light, though, and she choked out a laugh as she flinched away, the laughter only coming out more as he exhaled in amusement. She continued to guffaw, forehead resting against his bare shoulder as he joined in, not at all put off or annoyed by the interruption.

It was hilarious, really. The two of them had been stressing for years over whether knowing each other as civilians would be safe, yet she'd managed to know each other for eight months without realising it. Not even when she'd spoke to him as Adrien for a long length of time, nor when she saw him in person, had she connected him to be being Chat Noir.

No one would look at the two of them in person and know their identities, the same way they'd been when they'd glimpsed each other in the café.

She wiped at her eyes, voice breathy as she murmured, “This is ridiculous.”

“Should I be apologising?” Adrien questioned, fingertips still running across the lower part of her back, no longer light enough to make her laugh. “I feel like I should say a speech or something right now.”

“You should apologise, yes,” Marinette exclaimed, jabbing her index finger into his chest as she pulled back, staring up at him with narrowed eyes. “You could've revealed yourself at any time, you didn't have to be almost naked to do it.”

The innocent expression that appeared didn't fool her at all, not even as he batted his eyelashes. “You know my body so well, though.”

“I know it when you're covered in a skintight suit,” she countered, crossing her arms stubbornly. “You could've just said that you've had your appendix out.”

He blinked. “But it's far too hot to sleep in clothes.”

“...You're impossible.”

It wasn't awkward after that, not really. They were used to lounging across each other from experience, so sharing a bed wasn't troublesome. It was only after she'd turned the light off and climbed into bed again, closing her eyes, that a thought occurred to her. They both realised that they hadn't spoken about their kwamis—hadn't even acknowledged them when they were realising each others' identities—and it was only from Marinette revealing that Tikki spent time in her closet in a little make-shift room when Adrien was around that they started to talk about them.

Plagg, Adrien's kwami—who was black-coloured with cat ears, had a perpetually grumpy attitude and preferred male pronouns—made his appearance after he was called a few times. While he was full of frowns and sarcasm, Tikki was a ball of brightness and happiness, easily getting along with him. The two of them went about their own business, their whispers barely audible from across the room.

-x-

The only difference in their relationship after that was the inclusion of their kwamis. Sometimes while they were talking, either on the phone or through her laptop, Tikki would shoot through her room and float in front of her screen, happily calling Plagg's name to catch his attention. It was adorable and endearing all at once, even when Marinette woke up to the sound of her ringtone at one o'clock in the morning, only to find out that it was Plagg demanding to talk to his red-coloured counterpart.

Although they'd been apart willingly for years, tending to her and Adrien without knowing where the other was, it was nice to see the two of them interact. When she met up with Adrien for a date, Marinette wore a slightly larger bag than usual, big enough for the two kwamis to fit in comfortably and spend their time together. Adrien bemoaned about the sudden increase of his phone bill jokingly at the end of the first month of them knowing, and all Plagg did in return was call other numbers to increase the cost while Adrien was asleep.

Knowing the being that created Chat Noir was nice, too. Plagg begrudgingly got to know her, while Adrien and Tikki hit off it easily with their bright personalities. Sometimes in the mornings, when Adrien would roll out of her bed and try to usher her out to make it to classes on time, Marinette would pull the duvet over her head, only to find that Plagg was reacting similarly, grumpily mumbling under his breath from the disturbance.

The first time they transformed together, it was in a disabled bathroom. It wasn't the best choice, sure, but it was the closest and safest place that they could find, and the fact that they had to squeeze through the small window after unlocking the door had her laughing unattractively by the time they were outside, peering both ways to see if they'd been spotted.

Their fighting techniques were the same as ever; it was still her best friend risking injury in a suit, fighting by her side the whole time. The only difference was that when they dropped the transformation, she was able to pull him into a kiss or hug him tightly, conveying that she was glad that he was safe. Even though it was difficult to injure them in their suits, it was still hard to see him take a blow and be knocked off his feet. The knowledge of knowing that he'd be fine, to jump back up after a few seconds without bruises or even a dribble of blood appearing, was all that kept her from checking to see if he was okay.

When her friends or family asked where she had been during the attack, she had a consistent excuse—she was with Adrien. If they wondered whether their relationship was unhealthy from spending too much time together, they didn't speak up about it.

Despite knowing each other as civilians, they kept to their traditions of sparring on Saturday nights. They took it in turns to arrive with food, having dinner together afterwards where they spoke animatedly about anything and everything. Although it was hard not to slip and call each other their actual names, they'd decided beforehand to keep their intimate moments—such as kissing—to when they weren't acting as heroes to the city. It helped that they'd been affectionate for years, so someone glimpsing them hugging wasn't a big deal.

It was strange that all it took for her to see him in a different light was for them to meet as civilians. The fond feelings that she had for him had always been there, building up from their closeness over the years, but she hadn't toyed with being in love with him. Chat Noir had been out of bounds—as Ladybug was for him—yet she still had to wonder.

“Hey, Chat,” she called, catching his attention as she played with her food. “I have a question for you.”

Since he had a mouthful, he hummed instead, looking at her with his brow raised.

“Did you ever have a crush on me?”

He swallowed audibly. “Do you mean as Ladybug or—”

“Ladybug,” Marinette confirmed, still pushing around her food with her cutlery, resting her chin on her palm as she did so. “You don't have to answer if you're uncomfortable.”

“It's not that,” the blond said quickly, shaking his head in a way to emphasise his point. “I thought it was obvious? I've been crushing on you for years.”

She blinked.

Sure, they'd been friendly, but it hadn't pushed further than jokingly flirting with each other, having the same inside jokes and affectionate nicknames—

“Oh,” she blurted, eloquent as ever as she was hit with the realisation that the way they'd flirted through the years was the exact same way she'd been with him as Adrien the past months. “I—I didn't notice it, no. I thought you were just flirty with anyone that you're comfortable with.”

He waved a hand in a dismissive way. “It's fine, really. It's not like we could've done anything if you noticed.”

Furrowing her brow, she murmured, “But you've told me about your past relationships before.”

“Yes? Just because I was hung up on you didn't mean I was dooming myself to a lonely existence—it's not like they lasted longer than yours, anyway,” Adrien pointed out, laughing towards the end. “I think we're both officially each other's longest relationship.”

Tucking a stray hair behind her ear, Marinette admitted, “I feel guilty now.”

“For not noticing my pining?” he questioned, leaning over to bump his shoulder against her lightly. “I'm not that surprised. It took you a while to realise that I was actually flirting with you, remember?”

“I'm feeling really attacked right now.”

A burst of honest laughter escaped him. “I'm only telling the truth.”

Attacked,” she retorted, narrowing her eyes at him.

His grin showed his dimples as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “It's okay. I love that you're so oblivious.”