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A Gift Horse

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            It had started, of course, with Adrien. It always did, after all.

            “Well you’re an ugly little brat, and I don’t understand how you have any friends at all,” Chloe snarled, jabbing her finger into Marinette’s chest, and leaning forward so their faces were inches apart. She smirked when Marinette’s confident expression wavered, exposing to her the insecure girl that Marinette had been as a child. She knew the weak girl that cried at every little insult was still in there somewhere, and she knew that if she pressed the right buttons she could expose her to the world.

            “You know what Chloe? You can go—”

            Adrien planted a hand on both of their shoulders, pushing them apart gently and then stepping between them. Marinette shut up instantly, face glowing red as she spluttered and stared, blue eyes wide.

            Chloe grabbed Adrien’s arm, hugging it tight and batting her eyelashes at him as she poked out her bottom lip. “Adrikins, Marinette was harassing me! She was saying such horrible things!” she wailed, pressing her face into his chest, and letting out a (fake) stifled sob.

            Her act did not gain the reaction she wished for, as Adrien pried her from his arm and stepped away from her. He took a seat at his desk, shaking his head.

            “I’m disappointed in you two,” he said, and both girls froze.

            “Adrien!” Chloe cried. “Disappointed? In me?”

            At the same time, Marinette began spluttering, “What—oh, god, sorry. S-sorry, I wanted to didn’t disappoint—I mean didn’t want to d-d-disappoint you, c-cause you’re, like, super awesome… super awesome at not being disappointed, I mean! Yep! I mean—fuck!”

            “Girls,” Adrien sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, “you two really need to learn to get along. I’m sick of seeing my two best friends fight like this! I just want you to be friends!”

            Both girls were silent once again.

            Marinette broke it first, nodding shyly. She clasped her hands together in front of her, staring at her pink shoes with equally pink cheeks as she hung her head. Her baby blue eyes darted up to peer at Adrien through her bangs. Marinette’s perfect teeth pinched her bottom lip, and she whispered so sweetly, and so stutter-free that Chloe found herself shocked.

            “I’m sorry for upsetting you, Adrien. I’ll try to be get along with her,” she said earnestly, glancing over at Chloe. She held out her hand, hesitantly, of course, and looked away again. “Friends?”

            Chloe, naturally, wasn’t buying the coy act. She was just trying to be cute, and the sickening part was that she was succeeding. She was fucking adorable, and the way that Adrien was beaming at Marinette like she was the living embodiment of the sun had her seething. As tempted as she was to slap the hand away, Chloe needed to get Adrien to like her more, and she wouldn’t do that by being mean. At least, not while he was around.

            Warily, Chloe pinched Marinette’s palm between two fingers and jerked their hands up and down a few times. Then, she snatched her hand away and pulled hand sanitizer out of her purse, squeezing a generous dollop onto her hands, and scrubbing them together.

            Adrien’s face nearly cracked in half with the force of his smile, and he threw his arms around their shoulders. He pulled them in for a hug, squeezing them tight. Adrien was a good head taller than Chloe, who was even taller than Marinette, so she had no trouble giving Marinette her nastiest glare without him being able to see. Marinette didn’t appear to notice, face red as she leaned into Adrien, chewing her lip.

            “Thank you so much! This means a lot to me, and I’m so proud of you!” he cheered.

            The next morning, the battle began.

            Chloe was sitting at her desk, filing her nails as Sabrina explained to her what her homework had been on, debriefing her for the homework quiz they would be having when class began. She purposely ignored Marinette when she entered, surprisingly early, for once. She didn’t say hello, didn’t even glance at her, but she didn’t mock her fashion sense, and she resisted the urge to give her a dirty look.

            Marinette didn’t say anything to her either, but she was grinning as she set a box down on her desk. She hummed to herself as she opened the box and carefully slid a tray of four massive cupcakes out, balancing it with such an extreme concentration that Chloe couldn’t help but stare.

            The girl plucked a vanilla cupcake from one of the spaces in the tray. As Chloe not-so-subtly snooped, craning her head to see it, she saw that the orange frosting on top was decorated in the shape of a fox. Said fox had chocolate chips for its nose and eyes, and had a smile drawn on with a bit of black icing. She set that one in front of Alya, who gasped and squealed.

            “Marinette, this is beautiful! Did you make it?”

            “Yep! I had some free time last night, and I know you’re a huge Rena Rouge fan, soooo…” she trailed off with a knowing grin as Alya blushed.

            “Me? Rena Rouge? No way. I’m loyal to Ladybug!” she argued, red cheeks betraying that she was lying about… something.

            “I think Rena is pretty cute. And underrated,” Marinette said with a shrug as she moved on.

            This time, the vanilla cupcake she pulled out had bright blue frosting. A record was painted on it with frosting, complete with careful little letters labelling it with Nino’s name. He grinned at her, nodding, and she stepped over.

            “Is that that Chatbot, from Ultimate Mecha Stick III?” Adrien exclaimed, and Marinette didn’t bother trying to formulate a reply as she thrust the chocolate cupcake out at him. He gave her one of those magical, adoring smiles that could make any girl’s heart melt, and Marinette’s legs visibly trembled. She nodded quickly and scooted away from his desk.

            Chloe harrumphed and turned her head away, scowling as she saw that she had been filing her nail in the same spot for so long that she had flattened it.

            “Sabrina. Call the lady that does my nails. Tell her to book me for lunch,” she ordered, scowling at the traitorous nail.

            “Um… Chloe?” Marinette asked, and Chloe frowned. She had thought that Marinette had returned to her desk.

            “What?” she hissed, turning to look at her. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”
            “I made you a cupcake. Adrien said you like lemon cake,” Marinette offered, holding out the final treat.

            Chloe stared up at the hopeful expression on Marinette’s face, eyes wide with shock. Slowly, her eyes lowered to the cupcake in her hands, and she swallowed.

            It was equally as large as the others, and it looked as if just as much thought had been put into it. The base layer of frosting was a pleasant cream color. On top, three mini-roses had been piped on with a lemon-yellow frosting. Little, olive green leaves stuck out from under the roses, filling in some of the negative space between the flowers. The cupcake was gorgeous, decorated with such skill and care that Chloe had no doubt that Marinette had spent just as much time on hers as everyone else’s, if not more.

            “Well?” Marinette asked softly, frowning as Chloe continued to do nothing else but stare at it.

            “O-oh,” Chloe said, cheeks turning red. She glanced at Adrien, who flashed her an encouraging smile and a thumbs up, before nodding. “Yeah, uh, I guess. I’ll give it a try.”

            Marinette cheered, placing the cupcake on her desk, and returning to her own. She plopped down next to Alya as the bell rang, giggling as Adrien turned around to congratulate her on being so nice.

            Chloe clenched her fists, glaring down at the pretty cupcake.

            That little bitch. She had used Chloe to her advantage, to impress Adrien! Chloe had fallen for it, like a loser, and now Marinette was ahead of her in the race.

            “It’s on, Dupain-Cheng,” she growled, trying to stay angry as she took a large bite of the (un)surprisingly delicious cupcake.

            “Marikins!” Chloe called, cringing at the nickname as soon as it escaped her lips. That nickname was reserved for Adrien and her father only, the two most important people in her life, and it sounded wrong when used on someone like Marinette.

            Marinette, who stood on the steps to the school, talking to Alya, turned around with a confused expression as Chloe marched up.

            “Here,” she said, watching Adrien with the corner of her eye as she thrust a bag into Marinette’s arms.

            Marinette cocked her head to the side like a confused puppy, black eyebrows arched, and her blue eyes opened in that stupid doe-like way that made Chloe angry. Her lips pulled back into a pleased smile as she hugged the large bag to her chest. Her eyes crinkled at the corners as she laughed.

            “Is this a present, from Chloe Bourgeois, the mayor’s daughter?” she asked teasingly, clutching the bag like it might disappear.

            Chloe scowled at her, hands on her hips as she stomped a foot against the ground. “I can always take it back, Dupain-Cheng! Open it already!”

            She tried to ignore the amused expression Adrien was giving them as he walked up behind Marinette, peering over her shoulder as she hugged the bag tighter.

            “Oh, but I’m too excited! I can’t! I love the suspense!” she giggled, still chewing on her lip. She did that a lot, Chloe noted. It probably cut up her lips a lot, and she was tempted to reach out and pull her lips from between her teeth.

            Instead, she huffed, “Hurry up already!”

            Marinette laughed again, opening the bag and peering in. She went still, staring in silence as the smile dropped clean off her face. For a while, it didn’t even seem like she was breathing, and Chloe shifted from foot to foot.

            “Don’t tell me you don’t like it. I know that you probably can’t tell, since you’re an amateur and all, but that fabric is—”
            “Oh my god, Chloe! This must have cost you a fortune,” Marinette gasped, snapping the bag shut and whipping her head up to stare at her. There were still no traces of a smile in her eyes, instead a mixture of horror and shock filled their depths. “This is the highest quality silk I’ve ever seen! This stuff is expensive! I can’t accept this!” she cried, thrusting the bag back at her.

            “Excuse me? You can’t accept it?” Chloe sneered, hands on her hips. “No one’s ever rejected a gift from me before!” Everyone loved her gifts. They cooed and fawned over her when she bought them expensive gifts. For example, Sabrina liked to get distant on her sometimes, and whenever she did, Chloe would buy her a new, designer sweater. Sabrina would suddenly be all over her all the time, treating Chloe as if she was a princess. No one, especially not someone as middle class as Marinette, turned away her gifts.

            “No way! I didn’t do anything to earn this! I can’t just take something so expensive from you, it wouldn’t be right!” Marinette defended, still trying to hand the bag back to Chloe.

            “Okay, first of all, it’s a gift. You’re not supposed to earn it. Secondly, I’m fucking rich, so this is noting to me. Thirdly, I bought it in emerald green specifically so that you could make yourself something to wear with gold eyeshadow, because gold eyeshadow will make your eyes pop. So, don’t try to force me to take it back, because I’ll just throw it out, and it’ll be a waste,” she said haughtily.

            Marinette still looked unsure, but slowly brought the bag back to her chest. She hugged it again, as if it were her most prized possession, and nodded slowly. “Thank you, Chloe. This was very sweet of you.”

            “Yeah, Chloe,” Adrien chirped, and Marinette screamed.

            It appeared that she hadn’t known he was behind her, nor that he was that close to her ear, as she flailed wildly and toppled forward.

            Adrien’s eyes widened as he reached for her, but he only managed to catch the falling bag of fabric as Marinette lost her balance and pitched forward down the steps. She closed her eyes and braced for impact, but a pair of hands caught her by the hips. On instinct, Marinette raised her hands to wrap them around her savior’s shoulders, holding on for dear life. Instead of falling down the steps, they spun, and Marinette ended up in a dipped position, she and Chloe holding onto each other tightly as Chloe held her off the ground.

            Marinette cracked open her eyes and the girls stared at each other a moment, before wrenching away from one another. Marinette spluttered an apology as Chloe accused her of being too clumsy for her own good, both of their faces red with embarrassment.

            Marinette grabbed the bag from Adrien and took off across the street to, presumably, drop the fabric off at home, and Chloe made a beeline for the school.

            By the time Marinette returned to school, she was six minutes late and was met with a scolding from Madame Bustier in front of the entire class.

            No matter how long the lecture drew on, and how many pairs of eyes stared at her as it did, she couldn’t wipe the grin from her face.

            Two days later, Marinette was once again late to class. It wasn’t a shock to anyone, and Madame Bustier barely managed her exasperated sigh as the door was flung open and slammed into the wall behind it.

            “Marinette, if you’re going to show up late, then do it quietly! We’re having a lesson!” she reprimanded, and Marinette panted, hunched over and clutching her knees.

            She held up a finger, wheezing as she took a moment to catch her breath.

            “Sor… sorry, Madame. I got hit by a truck on the way over, and I think I got knocked unconscious for a few minutes,” she explained, clutching her side as she limped up the stairs to her desk.

            “What?” Madame Bustier demanded, spinning around to face her. The entire class did the same, staring at the girl.

            Sure enough, Chloe could see the tears in Marinette’s jeans and the dirt covering her arms and cheeks. There were bruises and scrapes all over her forearms, and she was bleeding from a few of them.

            “Marinette! Go to the nurse!” Madame Bustier commanded as Marinette unloaded her backpack on her desk. She pulled out a pile of books and a slim package, wrapped in white wrapping paper and decorated with little yellow flowers and bees.

            “I’m fine! I’ve survived way worse than this,” Marinette said with a laugh, waving her hand dismissively.

            “Girl, how clumsy are you?” Alya asked, grabbing Marinette’s arm, and twisting it around to look at the scrapes and bruises littering it.

            Marinette froze, face turning red as she pulled her arm back. “Oh! Clumsy! Right! Yeah, I’m, like, super clumsy. That’s what I was talking about. Being clumsy. Falling down stairs. And such.”

            “I think she may have hit her head,” Adrien commented. “Marinette, please go to the nurse.”

            Naturally, she agreed when Adrien suggested it, and grabbed her purse as she made her way quickly out of the classroom. Chloe scowled at her back as she left.

            The girl lived right across the street! How careless did she have to be, to get hit by a truck while crossing one road! Even besides that, she thought she had lost consciousness? Did she not know? How did someone get knocked out for ‘a few minutes’ and not know about it? And then she had claimed that she was fine, as she struggled to breathe around her obviously fractured ribs! Chloe had no idea who Marinette thought she was fooling with that statement, but it seemed pretty apparent to her that Marinette was a shitty liar. Chloe would have to teach her the craft of deceiving one day, not because she wanted to, but because watching her lie so blatantly was physically painful.

            “Looks like Marinette got you something, Chloe,” Alya mused, studying the box that Marinette had left behind. She tossed it over to her, and Chloe caught it as Madame Bustier hushed the whispering class and resumed her lesson.

            Chloe carefully opened the box, doing her best to not tear the wrapping paper as she revealed its contents.

            Inside sat a bag. It was small and round, striped black and white the match the shirt that Chloe wore so often. Little, golden, embroidered flowers decorated the outside of it. The largest flower sat on the bottom and contained a cursive ‘C,’ also hand stitched. She opened the clasp of the bag and studied the yellow fabric that filled the inside, eyes locking on the golden signature stitched along the top of the interior. She rubbed her thumb against it, before it dawned on her that Marinette had made her a purse. She had made her a purse out of her favorite color, with her favorite pattern, with her initials on it.

            And she had made it to match the purse that she had made herself.

            Chloe glanced over at Adrien, bristling at the grin plastered across her best friend’s face. He looked way too happy over this, and Chloe clutched the purse tightly as her face went red. Marinette had successfully gotten herself back on top, but Chloe wouldn’t let her stay there for very long.

            Alya gasped loudly behind her, and Chloe glanced back at her with a scowl. Most of the class did the same as Alya stood up, slamming her phone onto the desk.

            “Are you fucking kidding me?!” she cried.

            “Alya! Language!” Madame Bustier exclaimed.

            “But Madame! There was an akuma attack before school this morning and I missed it! Chat Noir didn’t show up, and the akuma ran Ladybug over with a truck and then dragged her unconscious body around Paris!”

            The next day, Marinette didn’t show up for school. The empty seat to her left weighed almost as heavily on Chloe as the item stowed away in the purse in her lap did.

            She spent the first hour or so of class glancing back and forth from the door to the empty bench, her leg bouncing in time with the rapid beating of her heart. Marinette hadn’t come back to class after Madame Bustier sent her to the nurse, and Alya had left school that afternoon with Marinette’s belongings. Marinette didn’t miss school frequently, only when she absolutely had to, and Chloe had been hoping that her classmate was simply late. She wanted to give Marinette her gift, as well as the thoughtful speech she had prepared to go with it, so she could knock the socks off Adrien with her kindness and compassion.

            After the hundredth glance, Alya took pity on Chloe and threw a balled-up paper at the back of her head. Naturally, Chloe had turned around to sneer at her, but Alya had given her thumbs up and then gestured wildly in a serious of incomprehensible movements. After a moment of pure confusion, Chloe picked up the paper and unfurled it, frowning at the message written on it.

            “Marinette went to the hospital yesterday, so her parents made her stay home sick just in case. She’ll be back tomorrow.”

            “As if I cared,” Chloe scribbled in return, throwing the paper back at Alya with a glare.

            Alya giggled when she read the note, and Chloe almost stood up in the middle of class to demand what was so funny.

            She didn’t, however, and instead she turned back to face the front and pretend to be paying attention to the lesson.

            The next morning, as Alya had promised, Marinette walked into the building. She had little pink bandages on her various cuts, and there were some nasty looking bruises on her arms, but there was a smile plastered on her face nonetheless.

            Chloe stopped her conversation with Adrien mid-sentence, flashing Marinette a smile.

            “Marinette!” she cheered, skipping over, and grabbing her hands. “I’m so happy you’re okay!”

            Marinette blinked in surprise, cheeks turning pink. “Oh. Um. Thanks? I really am fine, you know. I didn’t get that hurt,” she mumbled, looking away from the excited blonde.

            “Well, anyways, I was, like, super worried, so I got you a gift!” she announced, reaching into the bag Marinette had gotten her and retrieving the small sketchbook she had gotten her. She thrust it out at her, grinning proudly at the confused expression on Marinette’s face.

            “A Ladybug notebook…?” she asked, taking the book, and looking up at her.

            “Um, no,” Chloe said haughtily. “It’s a Ladybug sketchbook. You’re always lugging around your diary to sketch in, and I imagine that having those lines in the way is inconvenient when you’re designing. I figured you could use a separate book, just for designing. I also made it Ladybug themed, because Ladybug is amazing and anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong,” Chloe explained.

            She watched Adrien out of the corner of her eye, satisfied with the soft smile he wore at that moment.

            “Wow, Chloe, that’s… really sweet of you,” Marinette whispered. “I’m more of a Chat Noir fan, myself, but…”

            Adrien’s face lit up, not that Chloe noticed, because she was too busy being offended.

            “Excuse me? Ladybug is a total fucking queen, and I would marry her for sure if I got the chance. Chat Noir is a mangey alley cat,” Chloe grumbled, blushing when Marinette giggled.

            “I had no idea you had such strong feelings about Ladybug,” she teased, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She angled her face down at the ground, peering up at her from beneath her long eyelashes.

            “I’m Ladybug’s number one fan!” Chloe cried. “She’s saved my life more than anyone else in this entire city. I have a tally.”

            To prove her point, Chloe whipped out her phone and thrust it in Marinette’s face, scrolling down to point at the list. “After me is Chat Noir, but that’s only because she’s with him all the time.”

            Marinette giggled, looking over the list. “This list is cute and all, Chloe, but I think Alya may disagree with you on who’s her number one fan. And Chat Noir, for that matter,” she said, lips quirked up into a shy smile.

            “And me,” Adrien interjected, oblivious to the way that Marinette’s face went red and she jumped back with flailing arms. “I have more Ladybug merchandise than anyone else,” he bragged.

            “W-w-wow, really? Y-you like Ladybug?” Marinette fawned, and Chloe scoffed.

            “Oh, Adrikins. You’re lucky you’re my best friend, or we’d have a serious issue right now. No one loves Ladybug more than I do,” she said, planting her hands on her hips. “I’d like to try and see you convince me otherwise.”

            Two days later, Marinette returned Chloe’s gift with another of her own. This one came in the form of a colorful, beaded bracelet. It wasn’t from an expensive jewelry store, rather it was made of plastic beads and charms. The color scheme ranged from Chloe’s favorite, yellow, to a rich purple. The center charm seemed to be some sort of honeybee, and she lifted it from the small box to study it closer.

            “It’s a lucky charm!” Marinette exclaimed, hands clasped behind her back and a pleased grin stretched across her face. “I use one all the time! I luck to think that it counteracts my bad luck and clumsiness!” She held up her wrist to show off the blue and yellow beads tied to her wrist, and Chloe nodded slowly.

            “It’s… lovely,” she said flatly, tying the charm to the strap of her purse.

            “You really think so?” Marinette asked, eyes wide and her voice convincingly hopeful. She was good at this whole friendship act she had going on, Chloe realized, probably better than Chloe was.

            “Of course,” Chloe said unsurely, glancing distastefully at the cheap beads hanging from her bag. It was bad enough that she was toting around a handmade bag, but a lousy friendship bracelet? Her rich friends would have a field day the next time they saw her.

            She would probably keep it for a few days and then throw it out, once Marinette had forgotten about it.

            Adrien leaned over from his desk, reaching down to gently lift the beads. “You made one for Chloe, too?” he asked, and Marinette beamed and nodded. As usual, her cheeks turned pink when Adrien acknowledged her, and Chloe tugged her bag from Adrien’s grasp, shooting him a glare as she hugged it to her chest.

            He didn’t notice her aggression, instead digging through his pocket to pull out a beaded bracelet of his own.

            “Marinette gave me this one before the Ultimate Mecha Strike III tournament! They really do work!” he said excitedly. “Now we all match!”

            “Excuse me, girl, when do Nino and I get our friendship bracelets? I’m offended,” Alya called from her seat, and Marinette skipped back up to her seat.

            “I can make you guys some,” she promised, smiling over at Chloe.

            Chloe glanced at Adrien’s bracelet as he slid it into his pocket once more, then fastened hers around her wrist. She tipped her nose into the air, turning her face away.

            “It’s rude to not wear a gift, Adrikins,” she informed him, pulling her sleeves up past her elbow so that the bracelet on her slim wrist was obvious.

            Three school days later, Chloe presented Marinette with a small package, wrapped neatly in gold wrapping paper, and tied off with a black bow. She hadn’t done it herself, of course. She had paid someone to do it, the same person that she had been paying to wrap Marinette’s presents for the past week. Chloe liked to think that the best way to get someone excited for a gift was to make sure it was wrapped beautifully. It showed that the gift was superior without even opening it, and it made a fantastic first impression. As her politician father loved to say, first impressions were everything.

            The world of politics was full of subtle attacks and betrayals. It was a world of faking friends with powerful people to gain an advantage and sabotaging them when you had exceeded them. It was full of first impressions and lies, showing off for people you wanted attention from while pretending that you weren’t interested. In her case, she was bragging about her kindness and class in front of Adrien without explicitly stating it, herself. Instead, Marinette’s priceless reactions to the gifts was impressing him for her.

            Marinette didn’t know her joy was helping Chloe’s cause, of course. She didn’t know that, when she reacted with a smile and a hug, she wasn’t showing off her own sincerity, but Chloe’s. The poor thing had no idea that every time she squealed and threw her arms around her ‘friend,’ she was only driving Adrien away from her and toward his rightful girlfriend. Chloe was winning their subtle, unspoken battle, slowly but surely.

            As Marinette stepped out of school at the end of the day, Chloe was already waiting on the stairs. She watched as Marinette chatted with Adrien as they walked, a scowl gracing her features.

            “Yeah! He was totally using cheat codes the entire time!” Marinette exclaimed animatedly, throwing her hands up in the air.

            Adrien cringed, shaking his head. “I’m sorry Marinette. It really sucks that you lost the tournament to a cheater.”

            “What? Who said I lost?” Marinette asked, smirking. “I kicked his scrawny little ass, even with his lame cheat codes. I won, and I exposed him,” she bragged, flipping a pigtail over her shoulder.

            Adrien laughed at that, shaking his head. “You’re amazing, Marinette, really,” he sighed.

            Marinette’s cheeks were faintly pink, Chloe observed, but not nearly as red as they would have been a short while prior.

            Marinette had gotten better at speaking to Adrien, recently. Ever since their little game had begun, Marinette had been quietly improving her speaking ability and clumsiness around him. Her stuttering was not nearly as bad as it once had been, and usually disappeared entirely when she was speaking about something she was passionate about. That wasn’t difficult for her to do, either, since Marinette seemed to be passionate about practically everything in her life. It was as if Marinette only had the motivation to stop being such a mess around her crush now that the competition had gotten serious, and Chloe knew that she had to step up her game to overcome that.

            “Marinette! Adrikins!” she cooed, waving, and breaking away from Sabrina. She bounded up the stairs, two at a time, and skidded to a stop before the pair.

            “C-Chloe,” Marinette cried, eyes wide and cheeks pinker than they had been a few seconds before.

            Chloe smirked, planting her left hand on her hip as she thrust the present at the other girl. Marinette hadn’t expected to be confronted today, it seemed. She thought that she was safe because Chloe hadn’t approached her during lunch. Chloe loved that she had caught Marinette off guard, because it meant that her reaction would be even more genuine, and Adrien would love Chloe even more for it. Marinette wasn’t going to defeat her.

            She waited expectantly as Marinette hesitantly accepted the package, eyeing Chloe suspiciously as she peeled it open. She blinked when she saw it, jaw falling open as she looked back up at her friend.

            “It’s Ultimate Mecha Strike IV,” Chloe supplied, crossing her arms over her chest, and grinning smugly at her. “It’s not out for another two months, but I have friends in high places and managed to snag a copy for you. You’re the first person to be able to play it, aside from the developers, of course.”

            “Chloe, you’re just… fantastic!” Marinette spluttered, throwing her arms around Chloe’s torso, and hugging her tightly. “Thank you so much! What did I do to deserve someone as amazing as you?”

            Chloe’s cheeks heated up as she patted Marinette’s back awkwardly, faking snootiness as she looked away. “I have no idea. I don’t know what anyone did to deserve someone as amazing as me.”

            Marinette giggled, pulling away to face Adrien. “Are you free Saturday? I’m going to invite you and Max over to play it with me! Chloe, you can come, too, of course!”

            Chloe shook her head. “As… tempting as that sounds, I’m not into video games. I’ll pass.”


            The pattern continued like this for weeks. Marinette would bring something handmade and unique, something that Chloe’s endless money couldn’t buy, and Chloe would give her something expensive, something that Marinette had only ever dreamed of buying for herself.

            Marinette’s gifts were usually pastries and items of clothing of her own design. Chloe suspected that she had enlisted the help of Sabrina and Adrien to gather information about her size, favorite colors, textures, and flavors.

            Chloe would casually ask Alya and Nino what fabrics and threads Marinette needed, as if she had always cared about her interests. She pretended to not be involved in a gift war with everyone except for Adrien, with whom she made sure to show off all the gifts she had gotten Marinette. He seemed ecstatic that his friends were finally getting along, and Chloe had lost track of who was in the lead.

            She wouldn’t need to keep score after this gift, however, because the gift she was about to give Marinette would blow her out of the water. Chloe could already see the way that her bright blue eyes would widen with disbelief. She could picture how her eyebrows would arch, and her plump lips would fall apart, and she would stare at the gift, frozen in shock. Her cheeks would turn pink and expose the dozens of faint freckles dotting them, and she would raise her hands up to cover her mouth. Then, she would stutter something about being unable to accept something like this, and Chloe would threaten to destroy said something if she didn’t. Marinette would reluctantly agree and would spend the rest of the way grinning when she thought no one was listening.

            Chloe stepped through the door of the Dupain-Cheng bakery, flashing Marinette’s parents an award-winning grin as they greeted her like family. She motioned for her butler to follow her, forcing him to lug the heavy box up the stairs and into Marinette’s bedroom. As soon as it was through the trapdoor, she shooed him off, kicking it closed behind him.

            She placed her hands on her hips, smirking out at the four teens in front of her.

            Alya sighed, lifting her legs from where they sat on Nino’s lap and leaning back on the chaise. “Let me guess. Another gift for Marinette,” she said dryly, crossing her arms over her chest. “This is getting old, you two.”

            Marinette pressed paused on the game she was playing with Adrien, setting her controller down and smiling awkwardly at Chloe.

            “Chlo, you how I feel about you buying me things,” she said exasperatedly, and Chloe blushed at the friendly nickname.

            “I have the money, so you shouldn’t worry about it so much,” she argued, studying her nails. She glanced up at Marinette, hand still raised in front of her face. “Well? Are you going to open it or not?”

            Marinette ran her fingers through her hair, sliding out of her computer seat and trudging over to the box. She knelt beside it, pulling away the paper and going rigid where she sat.

            “No. You didn’t.”

            “What is it?” Alya asked as Marinette stood up and backed away.

            “Chloe, do you have any idea how expensive that sewing machine is?” Marinette shrieked, voice cracking.

            “Uh, yes, seeing as I bought it,” Chloe muttered, putting her hands on her hips. “Let me guess; you can’t accept it.”

            “No, I can’t!” Marinette cried. “I don’t like it when people spend money on me, Chloe! I’ve done nothing to earn this! I don’t deserve it.”

            “Yes, you have, and yes you do. You’re my friend, and—”

            “No, I haven’t. You’re going to find wherever you dumped the receipt for this and return it right now, because I’m done accepting handouts,” Marinette interrupted, scowling at her friend.

            “Marinette is right, Chloe. This is pretty over the top, even for you,” Nino said, stroking Alya’s hair as his girlfriend studied the two girls carefully.

            “If you don’t take it, I’ll—”

            “Go ahead. I don’t want it,” Marinette hissed, turning back to her game.

            Adrien was frowning, now, as Marinette resumed the game and slammed her fingers against the buttons on her controller, obliterating Adrien’s character in a matter of seconds. The victory screen flashed, but Marinette didn’t celebrate. Instead, she hit rematch, and once again destroyed Adrien within seconds.

            “You’ve been holding back on me this whole time, haven’t you?” Adrien teased with a strained voice, but Marinette only grunted.

            He sighed, running his fingers through his hair, and flashing Chloe an apologetic smile.


            Later that night, Chloe sat on her couch. She stared at the high-tech sewing machine perched on her table, worrying her lip between her teeth as she lost herself in thought. Her phone vibrated beside her as Sabrina called her for the hundredth time, but she barely noticed. She didn’t even notice when her butler came in with her dinner, staring off into space as he set it next to the machine and excused himself from the room.

            Why had Marinette gotten so upset when she tried to give this to her? Sure, she got anxious and uncomfortable, at times, when she gave her expensive gifts, but she had chalked it up to Marinette being unhappy with the knowledge that Chloe was winning. But a straight up rejection of a gift? That was unheard of. No one ever said know to Chloe Bourgeois’ amazing presents!

            She was startled from her thoughts when there was a knock on her window, and Chloe turned her head in confusion. Her eyes locked on Ladybug, standing on her terrace outside her window. She was rubbing her arms and shivering, teeth chattering as she offered Chloe a weak smile from where she stood in the rain,

            Chloe recovered quickly, leaping off her couch and throwing open the door. “Ladybug! Come in! Are you in trouble? Am I in trouble? Is there an akuma? I didn’t get a Ladyblog update!”

            “You read the Ladyblog?” Ladybug asked, smile tugging at the corner of her lips.

            Chloe blushed. “It’s not that I really like Alya’s writing or anything! I’m just a fan of you!” she protested, waving her hands in front of her in a panicked motion that proved that Marinette was rubbing off on her.

            “Relax, Chloe,” she giggled, closing the door behind her and standing only on the doormat, so she didn’t drip water on the floor. “No one is in trouble. Actually, I was sent here by Marinette.”

            “You know Marinette?” Chloe asked skeptically, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

            “We’ve been close friends for a couple of years, now,” Ladybug admitted. “Anyways… Marinette said you weren’t answering your phone, and I—she figured that a visit from your favorite hero might cheer you up. She just wanted to say that she was sorry for getting mad at you earlier. She cares about you a lot, and she didn’t want to accept a gift like that because she didn’t want your friendship to be based off money. She doesn’t like expensive gifts because she feels like you’re paying her to be your friend, and she wants you to recognize that you don’t have to spend money on her for her to love you.”

            Chloe stared at Ladybug, then glanced over at the sewing machine. She hugged herself, fixing her gaze on the floor beneath them. “But she gives me gifts all the time.”

            “Those are different!” Ladybug yelled, blushing when Chloe gave her a confused look. “S-sorry. What I mean is, she makes you her gifts. They all come from her heart. She doesn’t try to spend tons of money from you, because she wants you to know that you’re worth more to her than money. She wants you to understand that you’re worth all the time and energy and love she puts into the things she makes you. That’s why the sketchbook you gave her is her favorite gift. It was the most heartfelt.”

            Ladybug stepped forward, grasping Chloe’s hands between hers and smiling gently at her. She rubbed her thumbs against he backs of them, squeezing gently as she whispered. “Marinette loves you.”

            Chloe’s heart picked up at the thought, but she yanked her hands away and stepped back.

            “As if,” she snorted, storming away to the other side of the room. “I know the real reason that she rejected it.”

            “You do?” Ladybug asked, frowning at Chloe’s back. “What… reason is that?”

            “She and I are locked in an intense battle, you see. We’re giving each other gifts to try and impress Adrien Agreste. We both love him, you see, and he asked us to stop fighting for his sake. So, we still hate each other, but we’re doing it without being obvious. It’s a very clever game. We’re trying to impress Adrien by impressing each other.”

            “You hate Marinette?” Ladybug asked softly, clutching her yo-yo between her hands as she stared at Chloe’s back.

            “Of course!” Chloe said, a little bit too quickly. She was pretty sure that the emotions she had toward Marinette were hate, at least. She always got so jealous when she saw her around Adrien, and she wanted nothing more than to destroy his chances with her. She hated that Marinette was interested in Adrien romantically, and if that wasn’t a sign of her contempt for Marinette, she didn’t know what was.

            “Oh,” Ladybug said dumbly.

            “She knows this, of course. I’m sorry she used you as a pawn in our war,” Chloe said with a sigh.

            “I should probably go, now,” Ladybug said, voice quivering as she backed out the doors and into the rain. She didn’t say goodbye as she leapt off the roof of the hotel, falling for a distance before hooking her yo-yo around a chimney and flying off.

            Chloe slammed the terrace doors behind her, muttering around the rain now soaking her rug.


            The next day at school, Marinette came in late. That wasn’t unusual in itself, but the way she strolled in quietly seconds after the bell rang was. Most mornings, she would burst into the room several minutes late, panting and heaving as she stumbled up to her seat. Any later than fifteen minutes, and she would creep in stealthily, hiding behind desks and students as she attempted to make it to her desk unnoticed.

            Today, she simply walked in a few seconds late and sat at her seat. Her eyes were ringed red, and she looked like she hadn’t slept all night, and Chloe vaguely wondered if she had pulled another all-nighter playing video games or working on a design. She did that so often that Chloe sometimes wondered if she ever slept at all.

            When the bell rang to signal lunch time had begun, Marinette gathered up her things, whispering some sort of excuse to Alya before she dashed across the street to her bakery. When lunch ended, she once again came in only seconds after the bell rang, and she took off as soon as the final bell had rung.

            She repeated this routine for three days, until even Adrien picked up on her strange behavior and obvious lack of presents.

            Chloe, Adrien, Nino and Alya sat on a picnic blanket in the park, eating quietly. All of them sent the occasional glance at the balcony of the building across the street, where they could see Marinette leaning against the railing and staring out at the school. She didn’t appear to have seen them as they ate, but she was also standing so still that Chloe theorized she may as well have been sleeping.

            “I think that Marinette is avoiding us,” Alya said finally, setting her sandwich down. “She’s been acting weird since for a few days now, and she refuses to tell me what’s wrong…”

            “I always thought Marinette was an open book,” Nino remarked through a mouthful of tuna.

            “Are you kidding me? That girl has way too many secrets,” Alya said with a frustrated sigh. “She’ll talk about little things, but if something is seriously eating at her then she refuses to speak about it.”

            “Did someone have an argument with her?” Chloe asked, leaning back on her hands. All three of her friends shook their heads, and she pursed her lips and frowned.

            After another day of Marinette’s bizarre behavior, Chloe decided that it was time someone spoke to her.

            By ‘spoke,’ she didn’t mean Adrien’s method of asking if she was okay and nodding along with whatever answer she fed him. She didn’t mean Nino’s tactic of gently prodding her for the truth, until she gave him a convincing lie and he sighed in relief, before realizing hours later that that couldn’t possibly be true. She didn’t mean it like Alya did. Alya would demand answers aggressively, then allow herself to be swayed by a few fake (or real) tears and an emotional excuse about why she couldn’t possibly tell Alya what was on her mind.

            No, Chloe wouldn’t allow the wool to be pulled over her eyes. She would corner Marinette and demand answers, keeping her pinned until she received the truth.

            When the lunch bell rang, Chloe left her books with Sabrina and followed Marinette out of the room. She hid behind the corner as Marinette dumped her belongings into her locker and kept to the opposite side of the road as Marinette made her way out of the school. She didn’t head far, just into the park across the street, and Chloe smirked as she entered after her.

            She cracked her knuckles and flexed her fingers, before straightening her back and walking confidently toward the bench Marinette sat on. She opened her mouth to shout for her attention, but the words died in her throat as someone beat her to it, quite literally falling out of the sky to land on the bench next to Marinette.

            “Chat Noir?” Marinette shrieked, scrambling back across the bench. Her chest heaved as she clutched it, her other hand gripping the edge of the bench so that she wasn’t sent crashing off the side.

            “The one and only!” he replied, leaning back on the bench, and draping his arms over the back. He grinned as Marinette sat back up, and Chloe dove behind a bush so that neither teen would spot her eavesdropping.

            “Why the long face, Princess?” Chat asked, reaching out to pinch her chin between his thumb and finger. He smiled at her again, even as she removed his hand from her face and placed it back on the back of bench.

            “Why are you here?”

            “I asked first,” Chat said, angling his body so that he was facing her completely. He pulled his legs up onto the bench and folded them under himself, resting his chin on the back of his arm as it sat on the back of the bench.

            “It doesn’t matter,” Marinette declared, turning her body away so that she was facing the park, rather than him. She turned her face away, too, refusing to acknowledge him.

            Chat reached out and cupped Marinette’s cheek, turning her to look at him as he leaned closer.

            “Princess,” he whispered, close enough to make Marinette’s cheeks go pink in embarrassment.

            Chloe clenched her jaw, growling as she watched Chat Noir get way too close to Marinette. He was getting rather handsy, too, a fact that had steam metaphorically coming out of Chloe’s ears.

            “It’s stupid, okay? You wouldn’t want to bother yourself with it,” Marinette reasoned, not moving away as Chat Noir scooted closer to her. If that wasn’t infuriating enough, she allowed him to wrap an arm around her and pull her into his side.

            “Princess,” he said softly, repeating the ridiculous pet name that had Chloe cursing his existence. “We’re friends. You can tell me what’s on your mind, and I won’t tell anyone. Cat’s Honor.”

            Marinette rested her head on Chat’s shoulder, eyes fluttering shut as she sighed.

            “You know Chloe Bourgeois?” she mumbled, and Chloe perked up at the mention of her name.

            “Well… I… I asked Ladybug to go tell her how I felt about her, because I was too scared to do it after what happened with Kim on Valentine’s day a couple of years ago. I thought she had changed, so I was pretty sure she wouldn’t mock me like that, but I’m not brave like Ladybug is. It turns out I made the right choice,” she said.

            “What makes you say that?” Chat asked, kissing the top of her hair.

            “She told Ladybug that she hates me. We were enemies before this, and our mutual friend Adrien asked us to stop fighting, so I brought her a cupcake as an apology gift. And then she brought me a gift, and then we just went back and for like that for weeks. I thought it was because she was my friend, and because she cared about me, but it turns out that this entire time she was using it as a strategy to convince Adrien that she had changed. She wanted him to believe that she was nice, and to make him fall in love with her. She never once had any positive thoughts about me,” Marinette explained. She pulled away from Chat Noir, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them.

            “Oh, Marinette,” Chat Noir whispered.

            “It backfired, thought, because I was the one that thought she had changed. I was the one that thought she was kind and gentle and empathetic. I was the one that fell in love with her,” she sobbed, squeezing her eyes shut tight. She wiped at her eyes roughly, shaking her head. It was apparent that she was trying very hard not to cry.

            “Oh, Marinette,” Chat Noir repeated. His voice was dripping with pity, and the expression on his face showed that he really did feel as sympathetic as he sounded.

            “I hope Adrien asks her out. They’d be cute together, and at least then they’d both finally get to be happy. At least then what she did to me wouldn’t be in vain,” Marinette finished, losing her battle against the tears gathering in her eyes. They spilled over onto her cheeks and she dropped her head, pressing her forehead to her knees to hide her face. Her shaking shoulders were evidence enough of her tears.

            Chloe sat behind her bush, dumbfounded, and shocked into silence for possibly the first time in her life.

            “Anyone cruel enough to play with a heart as pure as yours is undeserving of its love,” Chat decided aloud, wrapping his arms around her, and pulling her against him. He rubbed her back as she melted against him, sobbing into his chest, and clutching at his back. “This Chloe girl must be a horrible person, to break the heart of someone as amazing as you, Marinette. I’m sure Adrien would hate her if he knew what she did to you.”

            “Please don’t tell him, Chat. He tries to hide it, but I know he’s going through enough as it is. Losing his childhood best friend because of me would just make him feel worse, and Adrien deserves so much more than that,” Marinette pleaded. The request was so innocent, and so selfless, and so Marinette that it sent a jab of pain through Chloe’s chest. Only Marinette would get her heart stomped on by someone she thought loved her back and refuse to admit it to protect the feelings of her friends. Only Marinette would be able to keep her emotions under lock and key so that they wouldn’t damage those of her loved ones, and so that she wouldn’t get akumatized and cause harm to others. Judging by the way she was still crying into Chat Noir’s shoulder, she should have been targeted by Hawkmoth, but she wasn’t. She was so much stronger than anyone, especially Chloe, had ever realized.

            Chloe could see that now.

            She sat behind her bush until long after Marinette had quietly excused herself and thanked Chat Noir for his time. She sat there until after Chat Noir had shook his head and leapt off onto a rooftop, and after the lunch bell had rung. She stayed there for nearly an hour, before walking dazedly home. She didn’t return to school that day.

            Chloe drummed her fingers against her desk, pushing her bangs out of her face as she reread the problem for the hundredth time. As soon as she finished reading it, it would escape her mind and she would be forced to skim it over a second time. After nearly an hour of barely getting any work done, Chloe shoved her physics homework across the surface of her desk. She pushed off the edge of her desk, spinning her chair around to so she could stare out the windows at the dark blanket of nighttime.

            Thousands of little lights glowed across the small expanse of the city she could see from where she was, lighting up the horizon and making it glow a warm gray. The pollution from these lights blotted out the millions of stars that were surely up there.

            “I hate that there are so many people in Paris. It means that I can’t see the stars at night. Mother used to say that each star represents someone important. She said that doing good all your life would put your star in the sky,” Chloe had once said, sitting on the lawn chair on Marinette’s balcony.

            Marinette had hopped up onto her railing, balancing with an ease and a grace that was uncharacteristic for her clumsy nature. “I see thousands of those stars,” she had mused, peering at Chloe from under long lashes.

            “What? Where?” Chloe had asked, tilting her head back so she could stare up into the gray abyss.

            “All around us!” Marinette had declared, jumping up so that she was standing on the railing. She had spread her arms out at her side dramatically, ignoring Chloe’s protests at the action as Marinette swayed dangerously back and forth.

            Marinette had paid it no mind, throwing her hands into the air above her head, and tilting her chin into the air. She had closed her eyes, humming contently. “Every light in Paris is a little star, representing someone incredibly special. Everyone is capable of bad, sure, but everyone is also capable of doing immense good, so they all get a little light in their honor.”

            Chloe frowned at the memory, rising from her seat. She padded over to the doors to her terrace, pushing them open and stepping into the chill of the night. She wrapped her flimsy bathrobe around herself tightly, rubbing her arms as she approached her own railing.

            “I hate the cold,” Chloe had whined one chilly Spring morning as the wind lashed at her through her impractical clothing.

            Marinette had laughed in that joyful, contagious way she did. She had slipped her shawl off her own shoulders and draped it over Chloe’s. The smile she had given her was full of kindness and warmth, and had Chloe not been focusing on the fact that Marinette had done that in front their friends, including Adrien, it would surely have warmed her, inside and out.

            “What’s so wrong with cold? The cold lets the world sleep for a few months, so that when it’s finally warm again, it can bloom brighter than ever before,” Marinette had reasoned, shivering without her own protection from the wind. “There’s no such thing as light without darkness, and there’s no such thing as warm without cold. There’s a balance, in life.”

            Chloe leaned against the metal bar, sighing as she stared at the street below. There was a familiar sensation in her chest, growing by the second. It was as if there were stone sitting in the center of her chest, a feeling she recognized from when her mother had abandoned her daughter and husband. It weighed heavily on her, threatening to crush her heart as it swelled.

            “Love is a funny thing,” Marinette had announced without warning one day in the park. Alya and Nino were at Andre’s ice cream stand together, out of earshot. Marinette had bought herself one, vanilla and lemon with a blueberry on top, but Chloe had claimed to be on a diet and avoided the cart like the plague.

            Chloe had looked over at her friend. She was used to her spontaneity of thought, but this was strange, even for her. “Huh?”

            “I mean,” Marinette had begun, licking a stripe up the lemon ice cream with a pleased hum. “People might spend months, maybe years, searching for a soulmate. They might waste their entire lives searching for something perfect and undeniable, like something out of a film, but love isn’t like that. Sometimes, love is right in front of you the entire time, and you just don’t realize it. Sometimes, you fall in love so slowly that you don’t notice it at first, but when you do the only surprising thing about it is that you didn’t realize sooner.”

            “Gushing about Adrien again, are we?” Chloe had scoffed with an eye roll.

            “Not really,” Marinette had said simply, a knowing smile stretching across her lips. “Just observing.”

            Chloe squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her palms to her eyes, sucking in a deep, quivering breath.

            Marinette was right, of course. She almost always was.

            She wasn’t surprised. She should have recognized the signs sooner.

            If Adrien gave a hug and an autograph to a rabid fangirl, Chloe would simply scoff. When Lila had asked Adrien to ‘hang out’ and Adrien had happily accepted, the innuendo going straight over his head, she hadn’t done more than roll her eyes. When Ladybug had saved Adrien that one time, and he had ended up on top of her as they laid together on the ground, she hadn’t felt a thing.

            When Marinette had gained Adrien’s friendship the first day she had met him, Chloe had felt betrayed and had buckled down on her harassment of the girl. When Marinette had almost kissed Adrien during Horrificator’s attack, Chloe had been absolutely livid. All of Marinette’s stuttering and blushing around Adrien made her want to throttle her. Hearing that Nino had had a crush on Marinette before he dated Alya had made Chloe wary of him whenever he was alone with her friend. Seeing that Nathanael was still drawing Marinette whenever she wasn’t looking made her quake with rage, and she had ‘accidentally’ spilled coffee on his sketchbook when he drew something that Chloe knew with all her heart would not be okay with Marinette.

            Chloe had misread and misplaced her emotions for years, insisting to herself that she was in love with Adrien because she was convinced that she wasn’t attracted to girls.

            Except she was, and she had broken the heart of the most important one.

            Chloe shook her head as a tear slipped down her cheek, chest aching with regret.

            Chloe waited behind as the warning bell rang. Other students gathered up their belongings and filtered up into their classrooms for first period, but she remained rooted in place. She had abandoned her bright, yellow jacked for a plain black hoodie, hiding her telltale blonde hair from view under its hood as she hid behind the row of lockers behind Marinette’s.

            As expected, Marinette also hung behind, organizing the contents of her locker until the final bell rang. The hallway was finally clear of students, and Marinette closed her locker and turned to leave.

            Chloe was already behind her, blocking her path and drawing a startled shout from Marinette as she dropped her belongings. Her pens and papers scattered across the floor, while her books hit the ground in a pile with a loud thud. Marinette stepped back in her shock, trapping herself in the corner as Chloe followed her.

            “O-oh! Chloe! I-I was just heading to c-class, and—”

            Chloe grabbed Marinette’s hips and stepped closer, smiling as Marinette grew increasingly more flustered. She leaned down, pressing their lips together in an insistent kiss.

            Marinette gasped, eyes widening as she went rigid against Chloe. She relaxed not long after, slumping against her as she rested her loose fists against her chest. Chloe was proud to note that Mariette’s right knee bent, raising her foot into the air as one hand slid up Chloe’s neck to bury itself in her hair. Chloe pressed Marinette into the wall behind her, smirking at the breathy noise that Marinette made in response.

            Then, as Marinette’s mind finally registered fully what was happening, Chloe was being shoved back.

            Marinette shrank in on herself, wrapping her arms around herself self-consciously as she glared at Chloe. The tears gathering in the corners of her eyes were the only sign that Chloe had in that moment that Marinette didn’t hate her for the kiss, and that she was just hurt.

            “What the hell was that, Bourgeois?” she hissed, wiping frantically at her eyes.

            “Something I should have done years ago,” Chloe said.

            “You told Ladybug you hated me. That you only wanted to be my friend to get Adrien to fall in love with you!” Marinette accused, voice quivering. Chloe hadn’t seen Marinette react this way to something she had done to her in years. Marinette had started standing up to her when they were thirteen, but it seemed that Chloe’s actions had finally broken her down into the insecure girl that she had been long ago. Chloe hadn’t realized how much she hated seeing Marinette like this until that moment. She’d always assumed that the sickening feeling she gained from seeing Marinette cry was from her disgust toward her, not love.

            “Can I explain myself to you, Marinette?” she requested gently, reaching out to wipe a tear off Marinette’s cheek.

            Marinette didn’t respond immediately. It was obvious that she felt comforted by Chloe’s hand on her cheek, judging by the way that her eyes fluttered shut and she leaned into her palm. The moment didn’t last. Marinette reached up to push Chloe’s hand away, staring at her feet in silence.

            Chloe took that as a yes.

            “I don’t hate you. I never did. I was confused and in denial and I was cruel. I thought that the feelings I had against you were hate, because I didn’t know what else it could be, so I bullied you our entire childhood. That was wrong. And then you met Adrien, and you fell in love with him, and I got jealous. I thought that I was jealous of him, because I thought there was no way I could be into girls, but I was jealous of you. I bullied Nathanael for drawing lewd drawings of you—fuck I wasn’t supposed to tell you that—and I was mean to Nino because he had a crush on you before he dated Alya. I didn’t know until I heard you talking to Chat Noir the other day that you loved me, and I love you,” Chloe rambled. She stepped closer again and settled her hands on Marinette’s sides, rubbing them slowly.

            “Y-you heard me s-s-speaking to Chat?” Marinette squawked.

            “Yeah, I may have eavesdropped a bit, sorry. Look… I understand if you hate me for this. I was wrong, and I was mean. I don’t regret anything more than I regret that. I’m sorry, but I won’t be mad if you can’t accept my apology,” she concluded, taking a step away from Marinette.

            She waited patiently as Marinette mulled over what had been said. Her emotions flitted across her face, as they always did. It was cute, Chloe decided as Marinette screwed up her face into a pout, then relaxed it into a more defeated expression. Not long after, she opened her mouth and arched her eyebrows, before shaking her head and closing it, eyebrows drawing together as she scowled. She reached up to tug anxiously at her earrings, tracing her lips with her tongue as her eyes rose to Chloe’s face.

            The conflict on her face was replaced with a timidity that Chloe had only ever previously seen around Adrien. It was a shy adoration, her eyebrows pulled down just a bit, and her lips pursed as she angled her face toward the ground. Her cheeks were pink, and her blue eyes cycled between staring at her shoes and Chloe as she fumbled with her hands. She was trying to work up the courage to say or do something, Chloe theorized as she watched Marinette shake in her shoes.

            Slowly, Marinette nodded. She lifted her hands to Chloe’s shoulders, sliding them around the back of her neck and lacing them together as she gently guided Chloe’s head down. She pressed their lips together gently, sweetly, in a way that was so Marinette that it made the stone in Chloe’s chest shrivel and disappear. The kiss was short and shy, but it was heartfelt and soothing, nothing like Chloe’s forceful, insistent kiss from a few minutes prior.

            Chloe couldn’t seem to breathe as Marinette drew away a few centimeters, her own warm breaths washing over Chloe’s face in gentle puffs. When her mind finally recovered enough to order her lungs to take in oxygen, Chloe found the rest of her body frozen and rigid, unable to move as Marinette wrapped her arms around her and tucked her head under Chloe’s chin.

            Robotically, she returned the hold. She was unused to gaining affection from others. Typically, she forced it on her friends, who would either shove her off or stand there awkwardly until she released them. Receiving a hug like this granted her a catharsis she hadn’t known she had needed so badly, and she melted into Marinette. She peppered the head of hair below her with kisses, before pressing her nose into her hair and taking a deep breath.

            “God, Marinette. You’re so… fuck, you’re so… magnificent,” she whispered, smiling at Marinette’s responding giggle. “You’re so sweet and kind and selfless and you know exactly how to make me feel so happy and all your gifts were so perfect and I just… fuck, Marinette.”

            Chloe, the daughter of a talented politician, had never struggled to find words before this. She had never been so helplessly in love that she couldn’t find the words the express it, and she had never met someone that could steal her breath with a simple kiss. She had never felt so hopelessly, beautifully loved before.

            As Marinette sighed contently, tightening her hold around Chloe’s waist and slumping into her, Chloe decided that she would give anything to feel like this forever.