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under leaves so green

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe you,” Marinette said under her breath, coming to the back door and undoing the lock. Immediately, a streak of blonde and black leapt through the opening, inviting a stream of unseasonably chilly air into the room. It might have been refreshing to some, but Marinette preferred the cozy warmth of the greenhouse.

A smug, annoyingly handsome grin flashed across from her. Marinette rolled her eyes and placed a hand at her hip.

“I’m sorry for the late hour, Puur-incess. I know the shop is closed, but I was patrolling nearby when it began to rain, and I thought I could…”

With a good-humored sigh, the girl moved to a cabinet and grabbed some spare towels. She handed them to her “guest,” if that was the right word for him, before sitting at the desk in the back office, opposite the door.

“It’s fine, I’m just surprised you’re out so late. And it’s storming. Don’t you have anything to do tomorrow?”

Chat Noir smiled and dodged the question, instead countering with a flirty remark. “Don’t you? You are here awfully late. Perhaps we could dine together, or walk down the Seine. I hear Andre makes the most delicious ice cream.”

All the while, Chat wasted no time making himself comfortable. He toweled himself off quickly and then laid out on the chaise, curling into a ball and nestling himself into the cushy warmth.

She smirked, ignoring his invitation. “Well, don’t you look comfortable?”

“Mmm,” the black cat hummed a response, and Marinette couldn’t suppress the giggle that escaped her lips when her partner’s ear twitched. Sometimes he was more Cat than he was Chat.

“Summer or not, aren’t you afraid of catching a cold, being out in the rain like this?” Marinette was half-thinking out loud, but once the words were out there, she recognized that there was genuine cause for concern. Tikki was susceptible to illness if they were out in the rain too long, and she had to wonder if it was ubiquitous across kwamis.

Noncommittally, Chat Noir shrugged and mumbled a few words before turning to face her. “I’ve got nine lives, a little rain won’t put meow-t of commission...”

With a brow raised, Marinette was prepared to respond but stopped when the blond-haired hero opened his eyes.

“Mari?” Chat called, peeking through his half-closed lids. Behind the mask, his verdant eyes were droopy, but there was a hardness beneath the lethargy. Something about the way he said her name made her skin erupt into pinpricks, and she rubbed her exposed arms subconsciously.

“...Yes?”

He stared at her for a beat too long, and Marinette was about ready to kick him out of the employee office for making her blush, but he spoke up before she gathered the nerve. “I’m sorry about stopping in like this on you, all of the time. I know it’s rude of me…”

She blinked a few times, the action deliberate and confused. Of course, Ladybug didn’t mind Chat Noir’s company (so long as he wasn’t being annoying). As a civilian, however, she could see how it could be seen as odd for a superhero to hang out casually with a random, awkward sixteen year-old as frequently as he did.

By day, Chat Noir’s visits came as a double-edged sword; it was good for business, but it also brought a lot of extra work. As he was basically a celebrity and in his wake came paparazzi, passing affectionate fans, and general increasing foot traffic in the shop’s part of town. His visits increased sales, which helped her parent’s business, but Marinette had trouble keeping up with the demand that came with it.

In those instances when Chat Noir came by day, he would never leave without buying something.

A rose, a lily, a bouquet of mums, an arrangement of tulips, even potted plants like rosemary or shamrocks were sometimes his purchase. And more often than not, she would end up with the same colorful flower that he had selected, gifted to Ladybug the next time they crossed paths as superheroes.

He might be annoying, but Marinette had to admit that Chat was sweet.

“Don’t worry about it,” she replied gently, rolling the desk chair closer to him. She did not break eye contact once, and his expression softened when she placed a supportive hand on his forearm. Automatically, the fingers from his other hand crawled up to meet her’s.

“But I do worry about it. I… I know it’s not fair to come to you whenever I have a problem, but I feel like you are one of the few people in all of Paris I can really trust.”

Marinette’s fingers tightened against his arm before she pulled away, not interested in getting caught in the cat’s flirtations.

Carefully, she crafted a response that was both thoughtful and, hopefully, therapeutic. “Chat... That’s… really kind of you to say. But you can’t mean that. What about your family? Or your civilian friends? Or… um, Ladybug?”

He responded by sitting up from his prone feline position on the chair and facing Marinette properly, only to drop his head into his hands. Needless to say, Marinette was surprised by his fluctuating attitude; she was used to seeing him emboldened by confidence and dramatic, romantic fantasies. This was a totally different Chat Noir than she was used to.

“I feel like half of the time, my family is my problem. Ladybug will never talk to me about personal things, you know, for sake of our identities. And… I want to tell my friends, but it just feels like there’s never the right time. It’s hard to explain, and I can’t tell you too much, but sometimes it’s nice to just…”

He stopped and looked up at her, eyes wide and tired and emotional. There was something in the curvature to his lips that seemed caught between continuing to talk and refusing to speak. Incidentally, if anyone could understand the stress of living a double-life, it was Marinette.

“No, no” she said, biting her lower lip. “You don’t have to explain, if you don’t want to. And you don’t ever have to apologize for coming, Chaton. You’re always welcome here.”

Chat did not come by after hours very often. For starters, it was closed; lights off and door locked, Marinette would retreat to the back to help prepare the shop for the next day. Count the till from the register, replace any popular bouquets, weave a few flower crowns (particularly popular with the teens right now) to set out for the next morning, and prep any special orders made for weddings, funerals, or other such formal functions. In the evening, Chat couldn’t waltz through the front door with that charming look on his face; he was forced to go around the back if he wanted to come inside, to knock and await Marinette’s permission. Of course, she never turned him away, but it was nice that he respected that boundary.

The black-suited hero looked up, encouraged by the kindness in her voice, and smiled. “Thank you. Let’s just say there was a disagreement at my household…” he paused, a grimace replacing his brightened mood. “A loud, door-slamming kind of disagreement. I just needed to clear my head, and…”

“And you knew I would have nothing better to do?” Marinette joked. Chat Noir grinned before giving a hyperbolic, aggrieved gasp at the suggestion in mock-offense, but his ears did not perk up like they might once have.

“Heh. It’s not that at all! It’s just, between your cheery smile and the beautiful flowers, my mood cannot help but improve. I’m drawn here, helpless against your charms.”

Marinette snorted and rolled towards the desk in the chair, grabbing an unfinished crown before scooting back towards him. She busied her hands on the delicate weaving of stem into stem, careful not to smash the buds in the process.

“Very cute, Chaton,” she commented, kicking her legs up on the chaise beside them. He at least had the decency to blush.

“But you’re here now, and I’m here. Do you want to talk about it? You don’t have to, but, I can be a good listener.”

Chat scrunched up his nose, pondering the thought, and leaned back in the chaise. He didn’t seem to mind Marinette’s feet crossing over his legs. They were simply that comfortable with each other.

“You are one of those people who make things better by listening, Purr-incess. But it would be… meow-ic to my ears just to listen to you for a little while. Get my mind off of it. What do you say?”

“Ugh, I suppose.” Marinette complained through a smile, watching Chat relax as they steered away from the topic.

Beaming at her impish annoyance, the cat closed his eyes. “How’s business?”

Marinette focused on the crown, weaving and pulling, careful but confident in the strokes and pattern. Chat had put both hands behind his head, and had the weather not been so dreary, he might have looked like he was trying to tan.

“That’s a loaded question, chaton.”

“Oh?” He peeked at her through a lid, and Marinette sighed. The exasperation in her voice was palpable.

She was basically running the place herself, and in truth, it was rather stressful. The Dupain-Cheng bakery had achieved such success that Maman and Papa restructured the business to accommodate large catering requests, partnering with local wedding planners, gown boutiques, tailors and seamstresses, chefs, and, of course, flower shops.

For Marinette, the flower shop had started out as just a part-time gig during the school year beginning back in October. The business was in a partnership with her parent’s business, she had some latitude with her hours. That was a must for Marinette, since she was known to mysteriously drop everything and disappear for a few hours - especially, by total coincidence, during akuma attacks! Still, she didn’t like to take advantage of the flexibility, but rather accepted it with good graces and tried to right by the shop.

The owners, until about three weeks ago, had been a kind gentleman and his wife, though she only made rare appearances. Approaching his upper sixties, the husband of the team was Mohamad Ashi Yuehula, but he insisted everyone just call him Mo. He would joke that he and Marinette were a perfect team, M&M’s, and always left a bowl of the so-named candy on the counter in the back office. Madam Yuehula was reserved and charming, and during her infrequent visits she always treated Marinette with nothing but hospitality.

For the Yuehula’s, the stress of entrepreneurship in a Paris-constantly-under-siege by Hawkmoth, combined with their climbing age and some family affairs prompted them to sell the business, and decisions were made quickly thereafter.

Papa bought the place for a good price, indebted to Mo and Madam Yuehula for their loyalty as business partners and their magnanimity overall. (There were some choice words exchanged by Maman and Papa on the subject after the fact about impulse control, but the deed was done).

With Mo gone from the store, Marinette was all but balancing the books herself (thankfully, Papa and Maman covered that), but she did everything else. Cleaning, ordering, stocking, preparing, pruning, watering, hauling, coordinating, everything. She supposed she should be grateful that her parents put such faith in her, but, that only made the weight of responsibility evermore pressing.

A silver-lining that Marinette was still thankful for: Mo had been a great teacher. With her eye for design, she was quick to learn on the delicate intricacies of all things flora. From arrangements to bouquets, crowns, potted plants and crawling vines, to proper watering, soil pH, fertilizer and pruning, she felt like it was just another extension of her lessons in fashion. Truly, the two went hand-in-hand. How to pair the right shades of lillies for a bridesmaid dress or what would complement the bride’s personality felt to her just as natural as hemming a skirt or comparing textures for an evening gown.

Before the store was left to her parents, the job had been a nice change from her day-to-day. She could go to school and work some days and “relax” on her off days (which translates to superhero for “fight crime”). No one minded if she did her homework in the back when business was slow, which was just an added bonus. During the transitional weeks Marinette’s parents helped as much as they could, but their support was more moral and emotional than anything. Her parents made appearances at the shop a few times in the beginning, but it was on a different part of town than the bakery and that was the main site of operations, so it made sense for them to stay home. After all, they knew flour, and now Marinette knew flowers.

Two weeks before the semester wrapped up, the day the shop changed hands, Marinette had been about the closest she’s ever come to losing it. She had let herself be stretched too thin. Forty-hour work weeks, conservatively, combined with the temptations of sunshine and social outings with her friends, protecting Paris from akuma attacks and working on her design submissions? If that hadn’t been bad enough, the western wind that were final exams swept across Francois-DuPont and knocked out whatever breath she had left. Marinette’s current semblance of sanity was all the remained from that nightmare.

In the end, her grades came out salvageable, and a week into the summer, Marinette was at least grateful to be liberated from homework. She had three months - almost to the day - until her third year of high school began, but that only brought with it a new wave of priorities.

In the world of fashion, this time was considered critical to building the base of her portfolio. The designs she prepared this next year would be instrumental to any of the fashion programs she to which she might apply. The application process itself would bring a different set of difficulties in the months to come, but the preparation of her designs were consuming her nights and free-time since school concluded.

In a way, it felt like her final “real” summer. Next summer, she would be preparing for her senior year of school, applying to schools, preparing for… well, life. A real, adult, career-driven life. Now, she was a student, but she continued her appointed position as judge, jury and executioner for her final summer of freedom, and this job was the death sentence. At least it would kill her with warmth and honeybees, right?

Tom and Sabine Dupain-Cheng were constantly concerned it was too much to balance for their only daughter, and, truth be told, it was too much, but Marinette would never tell them. The business was profitable and with her college education on the horizon, the family could use the extra income to bolster whatever savings they had. Marinette did, all in all, enjoy the work. It came with a lot of responsibilities, but she handled it with about as much grace as anyone with her coordination could. And with an occasional blacksuited hero to keep her company, it wasn’t always lonely.

“Mari? Is something wrong?”

Chat had roused her from her daydreams, only for Marinette to realize a warm tear had strayed from its hold and down her cheek, and she quickly rubbed it away.

“O-oh, no I’m fine,” Marinette replied a little too quickly. “I think it’s just the changing weather, making my eyes water. But you asked me something?”

“Well,” he was still looking at her, reclined and relaxed like his namesake. His voice sounded doubtful. “I asked how business was, but then you got this vacant look in your eyes like you had seen the devil himself.”

“Considering you’re the only one here, that would make you the devil,” Marinette quipped, returning to her handiwork.

Chat grinned. “Surprised that the devil is so devilishly handsome?”

She rolled her eyes and jokingly kicked him, though he made a show of pretending to be mortally wounded.

“No, my mind was wandering. It feels nice to just sit and relax, if I am honest minou. The shop is very busy.”

They lulled into a comfortable conversation after that, talking about their days with perfected degrees of vagueness for sake of Chat’s identity. Marinette did not bring up that the “friend” she watched the news with in the morning was Tikki, and Chat did not point out where he lived or reveal any of the names of his friends, and it was nice. But… conversations with Chat were never just nice - they were playful or filled with laughter or even joyous if he was in an especially good mood, but tonight? Something was off. There was a certain tension, and Marinette guessed that the “disagreement” he mentioned was more than he let on. His jokes felt hollow and his posture wilted like a bruised flower, the petals lackluster and unfamiliar. She hoped it was just a bad day, and tried to distract his mood with some stories.

At one point, Marinette shared a tale from about a particularly challenging groom that Mo had been kind enough to handle a few months back, but Chat vehemently defended the man in question.

“He was simply trying to do right by his bride! How can you fault the poor man that?”

Marinette giggled and placed the crown she had just completed on his head, and darned if the cat couldn’t model the look perfectly. His soft tresses provided a perfect pillow on which the buds and blossoms rested, and Marinette nodded approvingly at her work.

“I didn’t say I faulted him, Chat,” she murmured, rolling back in the desk chair to recover another unfinished crown. “I just think he could benefit from a… cat-titude adjustment.”

Chat’s face went comically blank, staring at Marinette like she had just propositioned him, and she felt herself pink a little. She had been trying to help cheer up the poor cat, whatever had gotten him so down today, but had it been too much?

“That,” he paused, completely serious. “Was the best pun I’ve ever heard. You can’t see it, but I am laughing.”

Marinette felt a giggle bubble to her lips and nudged him with her foot. “You don’t look like you’re laughing.”

“I am!” He insisted, grin wide and wrought with mischief. “Have you ever eaten something, and it was just so good that you couldn’t describe it? Or beat a really difficult level in a game, and you’re just like… amazed? I’m laughing so hard, nothing is coming out.”

The dark-haired girl covered her mouth with her hands, setting the crown to the side while she was rocked by her own laughter. Chat seemed amused, if not a little concerned, by her sudden and unexplained hysterics.

He knocked her legs aside the chaise and turned to her properly, an air of minor indignance surrounding him. “What! What did I say?”

“I have been spending entirely too much time with you.”

He drew back, surprised, but Marinette backtracked immediately.

“I didn’t mean it like that! I just - ugh! You with your puns! Here I am, trying to have a normal conversation, and they just swoop into my vocabulary like nothing. I just thought of another and it was… good. I made myself laugh! What’s wrong with me?”

Marinette was still seated in the communal desk chair beside him, so Chat got down on one knee and grasped one of her hands in both of his own. The pair of them were caught in the throes of a certain kind of euphoria, the high of suppressing and snickering through the impulse laugh, and they met eyes.

Chat tried to make his face serious, and it was a total failure. “Purr-incess, I must know the joke! Teach me your ways of co-meow-dy!

She had to press her lips together to keep from bursting at the seams, and she patted the top of his hand gently.

“Mon Chaton, I cannot teach you. These are ancient secrets, passed down for generations. When it happens, you will know. It is the… meow-ment of cat-arthsis.”

His face blossomed like a budding daisy, bright and blonde and positively radiant. Apparently, that had been enough to do him in, and they both leaned forward across Marinette’s knees and laughed to the point where their sides were in stitches.

“That was just what I needed,” he sighed contently and leaned back on his hands, his weight bouncing on the chaise. Marinette had flushed from the giggles, her face full of life and color as she finished the winding of another crown.

“You’re so kind, Mari. Thank you.”

She blushed a little harder, taken off-guard by his sincerity, and scooped the first crown off of his head. He swatted at her hand, clearly enjoying himself, but she was too quick for him.

“It’s easy to be nice when I have someone nice to talk to.” Marinette spun from the chair and returned to the desk, setting the finished crowns aside and musing to herself.

Back turned and hands going over “the books” on the desk (which was really just scribbled notes by the Dupain-Cheng family to one another about the shop), she blurted out a thought.

“I wish I could do more than listen though. You deserve better.”

The silence that followed was uncomfortable, and Marinette silently wished she hadn’t turned her back to him, because it would be too obvious to look at him now. She waited with baited breath for some sort of acknowledgement - even a “no” would be better than nothing.

Quietly, he spoke into her ear, and Marinette all but leapt out of her skin. Something about his cat-like prowl made his movements silent, eclipsed by the echo of her beating heart.

“I can’t burden you with my problems.”

Marinette gulped down hard on her throat and tried very hard not to turn her head, determined not to look at him so close behind her. She could feel the radiating warmth of his presence, inches away. Instead, she fumbled with her thumbs, trying to rid her nails of some dirt that inevitably stuck to her throughout the day

“You’re never a burden, Chat. I’m just worried about you… you don’t have to tell me everything, or anything. Just... whatever you’re comfortable with, know I’m here. It might help.” Her voice sounded unnaturally high, and she hoped he didn’t notice.

He stepped back after a moment, holding his baton in one hand and turning to look out the glass walls of the greenhouse. Cold droplets of rain splattered the windows, turning the world into a kaleidoscope of grey. It seemed fitting for his mood.

He started slowly, rolling his weapon between his latexed hands. “It’s… embarrassing, I guess.”

Marinette turned around to face him after regaining her breath, unable to keep smirk that crept to her lips. In a tone void of humor, she joined in his studies of the watery Parisian skyline.

“Then you’ve come to the right place. I happen to know a thing or two about embarrassment.”

He glanced towards her, both grinning at the undeniability of the fact that yes, Marinette Dupain-Cheng was known for falling, stumbling, stuttering, and altogether getting herself into less than ideal situations. She, of course, was referring to their shared experiences when her civilian self had gotten on the wrong side of more than her fair share of akuma attacks, but Chat knew the other, lengthier side of the that story.

“Well,” he exhaled, and Marinette nodded in encouragement. “My family lost… someone important a while ago. I miss them everyday, and the… other people in my family will never acknowledge that there’s this gap between us. Some less than kind words were exchanged today on the subject, and it just brought up a lot of… I don’t know. Whatever this is.” He flicked his wrist, as if to demonstrate the extent of his concerns so simply.

Marinette’s brow drew closer and closer together as he spoke, and Chat Noir noticed.

A little distressed, he started to backpedal.  “It’s not so bad, most days, you know? Just every once and a while, things --”

“Chat?” Marinette stopped him, placing a careful hand on his shoulder. He halted immediately, biting his lip. Had he said too much? Marinette knew some of the broad strokes of his family life as Adrien, but it was so easy to talk to her as Chat he couldn’t help himself.

“I want to show you something… come here,” her hand moved down the length of his arm and grasped his hand, turning back towards the main part of the store.

It was an enchanting spot at anytime of day, the building almost entirely made of glass to emulate the conditions of a greenhouse for the plants. Lush greens and wild pastels dotted every corner of the store, bushes and flowers and buds and bouquets all aligned on displays and different tables and racks - but at night, the place had an entirely different feel to it.

“Wow.” Chat Noir whispered, awed by the sight. He had never been allowed into the front of the store after hours, only ever bugging Marinette in the back.

The warmth was the first thing he noticed, the heat of a summer day trapped inside to keep the flowers at optimal health, though the sun had not truly made an appearance that stormy day. It was so warm he might have mistaken it for a blush branching across his cheeks, his whole body relaxing at the comfortable sensation.

But the climate was quickly forgotten, and Chat’s attention was all but eclipsed by the mesmerizing sight inside the store once his eyes adjusted. It felt as if he was just invited to some sort of terrarium of twilight, the frosted glass and yellow-orange street lamps casting a hypnotic glow on everything within. It reminded him of watching people sit around a campfire on TV or walking by candlelight, but unlike those, there was no single source of the light. A private sunrise saturated the small store from all five walls - ceiling included - and it was breathtaking. The muted filter of the lamps outside painted everything sepia, from the flowers, to the paleness of Marinette’s fingers and even his midnight black suit. It was, in a word, like the world itself had been subdued. Paused. Slowed down, but in the best way imaginable. The place had all the tenderness of a marigold with the shine of amber, dripping with honeyed delicacy that Chat was entirely unable and unprepared to describe.

“This way,” whispered Marinette. She wasn’t sure why she was being so quiet - no one was here - but it felt wrong to speak so loudly when the only sound was the falling rain above their heads.

Chat was fine to be guided, enjoying the short stroll through the golden garden with admiring eyes.

Marinette stopped walking, but tugged his hand to gather his attention. “Here.”

She dropped her hold once he followed her gaze, though he was almost sorry for the emptiness in his fingers.

Chat looked down at a tray on a small folding table, upon which sat a potted plant. The tag read “Russian Snowdrop.” Situated beside it were a small pair of scissors, a bowl of fresh soil and a spray bottle filled with what he could only presume was water.

“Some of my friends came by the shop the other day, and one of them knocked over this puschkinia,” she explained, bending down and peering at the many fallen petals around the base of the stem.

“It was an accident, of course. And they’re resilient little plants, so I’ve been trying to tend to it. It’s not recovering well, but that’s just the way things are sometimes.”

Chat Noir studied the pot and noted the wilt of the angular petals, the diffused blue lines under the medallion glow. It clearly drooped at the sides, but when Chat glanced beside him, Marinette seemed pleased. They had brought their faces down to level with the plant, inches apart as they admired the fragile flower.

“It might not get better,” she stated simply, no trace of disappointment in her tone. “It might, but it might not. And that’s okay.”

Marinette turned around and tried to arrange whatever look was on her face into a sympathetic smile. “Whatever is happening at home, whoever you lost, Chat… I can’t imagine what that’s like. It doesn’t really matter if it was yesterday, a week ago, or years - you’re healing, and healing takes time. Maybe the other people in your family don’t need to be tended to,” she paused and picked up a few of the fallen petals from the topsoil, rubbing the silken texture between her fingers. “And maybe you do. No one heals the same way.”

Chat’s mouth open slightly as he listened, a little amazed (by the words, the moment in general, or her in general, he wasn’t sure). This moment with Marinette was special, and he felt a bit of clarity beneath the falling rain, under the canopy hanging leaves and branches of dark flowers.

“Mari…” was all he could really manage, looking down at his hands.

“It’s okay, Chat Noir.” She opened the palm of one of his hands and placed some of the fallen petals there, small and fragile within his grip.

“Just focus on your own healing; that’s all you can do if people won’t let you help them. An interesting thing about flowers...” she mused, changing her attention to a different pot on a shelf behind them, two rosemary bushes growing side-by-side in the fertile soil. Chat watched her every move with reverent attention, drinking it all in.

Marinette paused to test the density of the soil with her thumb. “If the kin of a flower nearby is thriving, instead of dominating the resources in the soil, they try to work together to be better. A healthy plant will only take what it needs, so the other might be left to focus its energy on what it’s missing. It’s sort of amazing, how smart they are. They help the other, just by focusing on what’s best for themselves.”

Chat pursued his lips, absorbing her words and the flowers and the gentle beauty of all of this. His chest squeezed with something like guilt, feeling undeserving of both her kindness, her knowledge, and this balmy sanctuary in the middle of Paris.

“Thank you. Marinette, I really appreciate… everything.” He took a step back. “But, I did not keep an eye on the time, and I really should go.” Chat clenched his fist closed, cupping the petals within before moving towards the employee area again. He did not wait for Marinette to direct them back as she did before.

“Oh, um, okay. Good --”

A tinkle of a bell told her the door had already opened. Standing in the doorway between the storefront and back room, her hand dropped to her side and she frowned.

“...bye,” she said with an exhale. Marinette heard the hydrangeas behind her rustle, and she knew Tikki was somewhere nearby.

“He seemed... off, didn’t he?” The kwami appeared at her shoulder, and Marinette glanced at her collarbone in acknowledgement.

“Yeah… That cat is unpredictable.” Marinette shrugged. She went back to the desk and gathered her things, ready to turn off the light before she lingered around the finished tiaras of tulips and diadems of daisies she had spent the evening creating. The daisies, she recalled, had looked particularly cute nestled in Chat’s flaxen fringe.

With a frown, she and Tikki exchanged a somber look. “I do hope he’s okay.”

 


 

 

“What’s your problem?” Plagg asked with an accusatory tone between bites. His annoyance, usually extinguished by presence of camembert in his paws, was still conspicuously present.

“I know, I know. That was…” Adrien replied, slumped on his bed.

“Rude?” Plagg suggested, earning him a dirty look.

With a huff of hot air, Adrien laid back on the mattress and draped an arm over his face. “Yeah, I know. You’re not making me feel any better, you know.”

“It’s not my duty to make you feel better,” replied the kwami, though he did float down to sit on Adrien’s chest. Their green eyes met from beneath Adrien’s half-covered face.

“It was just so bizarre, Plagg. It just felt like… I felt just like I do when I talk to Ladybug. And then, just, bam. I got this urge to kiss her, but this is Marinette! As in, sweet, loyal, class president Marinette. When I realized what I was doing I had to get out of there.”

Plagg made a face. “You humans and your feelings…”

Adrien rolled his eyes and lowered his arm, looking down at the small black presence that sat above his heart. Before he could say anything, Plagg paused in his feasting, wearing an odd expression.

“So… the girl reminds you of Ladybug?”

Adrien wrinkled his nose, partially at the suggestion but mostly at the smell from Plagg’s cheese. “No - I don’t know. Not exactly? I mean, they are really different in terms of personality, it just felt… I don’t know, nice, talking to her like that. Like I do with LB. She has no way of knowing what’s going on with my dad as Chat Noir, and somehow she was still so...understanding?”

The kwami hummed in reply, forcing a rather large chunk of cheese into his small mouth.

Through a stuffed gullet, Plagg sputtered out, “So what’re you gonna do, kid? Another lady in your life, then?”

“No, I didn’t mean it like that,” he said, sitting up. Plagg floated upwards easily, unaffected by the change in position. “Marinette is pretty and kind, but I can hardly manage being in love with one person. Besides, she’s one of my closest friends… I can’t jeopardize that.”

The kwami zoomed over towards Adrien’s desk and plopped down on the corner, letting his tiny legs kick over the side while he finished his final bite of the odorous snack.

“That sounds pretty… logical.” Plagg narrowed his eyes, lingering on the last word.

Adrien looked up, frowning at the little magical cat. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

“Oh, it’s not. Not necessarily, anyways.” Plagg replied, bobbing his large head back and forth along his shoulders. Adrien made a face.

“Look,” his kwami sighed. “I’m not interested in doling out advice in the love department. It’s gross and not worth the return on investment, if you ask me.”

Rolling his eyes, Adrien quipped, “Sounds an awful lot like camembert…”

Plagg ignored him, but rubbed his full belly in contentment. “All I’m saying is, you just explained what you think you should do, but you’re usually the one all oh, my feelings! And you haven’t mentioned a word of how you feel about your classmate, besides that she reminds you of Ladybug and you felt like you wanted to kiss her.”

Adrien blinked repeatedly, chewing his inner lip and letting the kwami’s words sink in. For as annoying as Plagg could be, he certainly had a point - it doesn’t make sense to be romantically interested in Marinette when his heart belongs to Ladybug, not to mention the fact that she is one of his closest friends. But, he was pulled back into the memory of an hour ago, standing so close to her raven-hair and the softness of her ocean eyes under that hypnotic light in the flower shop… Her lips looked shiny, and soft -- supple, if he had to choose a single word. She smiled so easily beside him, and her words were tender and caring and surprisingly simple. It was like she knew what he was feeling, and in a simple act, extracted all his negativity with nothing more than a gesture.

“We all heal differently…” he murmured, getting up and walking to the coffee table, eyes resting on the petals she had gifted him before he fled the scene. In truth, Adrien had all but forgotten about his argument with his father after talking to her.

“All I’m saying kid,” Plagg flew up and popped into Adrien’s hand where the petal was, and the current caused the flower to swoop up in the air, only to float back down and land on the kwami’s head. It was like a tiny, tiny flower crown just for Plagg, and even Adrien had to admit it was one of the most adorable things he’s ever seen.

“Maybe just get to know her better. If you like being around her and she makes you feel better, it’s probably better than hanging out here in your room all summer. You don’t have to marry her, but geez, seeing you mope all the time gets really exhausting. And it makes me hungry,” Plagg finished matter-of-factly.

Adrien flipped his hand upside down and let Plagg fall a few centimeters, only to bob in midair with ease. The black presence was making a very good argument, and Adrien couldn’t deny that Marinette did tend to put a smile on his face. Honestly, the girl was so enigmatically brilliant he would be surprised if she couldn’t put a smile on anyone’s face (well, except maybe Chloe). Whether at school or hanging out with Nino and Alya, he found her easy to talk to and she was always a positive presence. The stuttering and shyness she originally endured when they met dissipated around the start of last summer, and he even had to gall to ask her about it once. Apparently, she was naturally a little jumpy - which he could definitely attest to, still startling her on occasion - and she was originally nervous to be speaking to him as the son of Gabriel Agreste, which made a lot of sense in retrospect. Marinette wanted to be a fashion designer, after all, so he could have imagined his surname and her own nerves made things challenging for her in the beginning.

But he had no doubts on the growth of their bond since then. If nothing else, they had really forged a friendship out of need, driven by Alya's and Nino frequent disappearances to “go look for something” when the four of them were hanging out. Incidentally, the couple would always come back thirty minutes later with nothing found but sporting some conspicuous bedhead and flushed, breathy expressions. The first time or two, Marinette had seemed almost as uncomfortable as he was with the knowledge that - yep, their friends just ran off to have sex, and they were stuck here. But once they put it out in the open that, yes, the two had very clearly gone to have a romp in the sheets (or the bathroom, an empty classroom, a dark movie theatre, or basically anywhere they could), the tension started to disappear.

Things evolved with time, and Adrien began to appreciate more than just Marinette’s kindness (which he did, of course). Quick-witted and whimsical, he already knew some of that side of her from their encounters as Chat Noir, but the dynamic was different. It wasn’t just a hero and a civilian, skirting around his personal life and making vague conversation, teasing but friendly. Their interactions developed in a different kind of way, and things felt more natural by consequence. They learned each other’s quirks - like that Marinette couldn’t sleep with her socks on, or that he was sensitive to pressure changes and thereby hated flying - and it was one of the things he cherished most of all since attending public school. Nino was his best friend, but Marinette was sort of his partner-in-crime. If he was Chat Noir by night, working alongside Lady Bug to defend Paris, it felt like he could depend on Marinette in the same way by day.

That would explain getting swept up in the moment earlier, and the inappropriate urge to kiss her. His heart was merely having trouble untangling how comfortable he felt around the two, and he let his probably-hormone-driven instincts get the better of him.

Was it such a bad idea? Certainly, as his kwami pointed out, Adrien didn’t have to marry her, and it didn’t even necessarily have to be romantic. It seemed as easy as breathing to spend time with Marinette, and Plagg had at least one thing right - if it made him feel better to be with her, why not? It had been almost three years, and Lady Bug did not seem to be returning his affections anytime soon.

Besides, they weren’t in any sort of exclusive relationship, so if he just wanted to become better friends with Marinette… that was okay, right?

“Mmm…” Adrien mumbled to himself, pacing his room. Plagg watched him with amusement, and while the kwami was tempted to point out that his charge was doing the same thing again - thinking not feeling - he ultimately thought better of it.

“Plagg?”

Adrien stopped and faced the kwami, standing maybe a foot away and offered the black presence his cupped hands. Smirking, he walked towards the bed and dropped Plagg on the tiny pillow next to his own, Adrien-sized one before settling into bed.

“I never thought I’d say this in my life, but I think you’re right.”

Plagg made an annoyed face and settled into the warmth of the pillows, curling into a ball of black fur. “Don’t sound so surprised. You would think, after thousands of years, I’d garner a little more trust when it comes to giving advice.”

Adrien sank into the mattress and gave the kwami a smug grin. “I thought you weren’t interested in giving out love advice?”

“Oh, love? Is that what this is? I thought you just wanted to spend time with her.”

Scoffing, Adrien turned over and wrapped himself in his blanket, choosing to ignore Plagg’s laughter at the slight color that found his cheeks. The blonde was hoping for sleep, and he expected it to come easily. He had been so sleepy in the cozy warmth of Marinette’s office with nothing but the pitter-patter of rain against glass filling his ears, but of course, now that he wanted rest? Adrien found himself very awake and mind very full of his blue-eyed friend.

Superhero or not, Adrien was first and foremost a human male. He would be have to be dense not to notice how attractive Marinette was, her skin like porcelain and features soft. After all, Adrien was a model - it should be expected that he could appreciate how good looking other people were without being romantically invested, right? And sure, his throat hitched from time to time when he caused her to giggle, but he always considered himself as getting swept up in the moment… just, a moment that happened to occur regularly. She always smelled of cookies, even after starting her job at the flower shop. It was quite literally like the smell of chocolate and sugar was stuck to her skin from the year’s of a bakery-bound lifestyle. It was warm, familiar, and he rather enjoyed it.

Between her incredibly capacity for compassion and her charming clumsiness, Adrien considered himself lucky just to know Marinette, as a classmate and friend, but as Chat Noir especially.

Why was that? he wondered. Perhaps it was his problem with genuity - being raised by a famous designer, and himself growing into his own small fame as a model - he couldn’t shake the small feeling that people treated him in accordance to his “status.” The mere thought made him grimace, and he turned his attention to the ceiling.

Nino, Alya, and Marinette - indeed, most of their class with the exception of Chloe by default and Sabrina by association - treated him like an equal, but that was more-or-less the entirety of his social circle. He had no frame of reference to know when people were being themselves or acting a certain way to appease him. Where did the friendships end and the rubbing elbows begin?

“Ugh,” Adrien muttered, turning over. He shouldn’t think like that - these people are his friends! It was unfair to even imagine Nino sharing a joke with him because he wanted something, or to think about Rose waving in the hallway just to improve her position.

But his Agreste walls were high, and old, and resilient.

By comparison, Chat Noir had no attachments or obligations (aside from the minor task of helping defend Paris from evil forces, but other than that, no obligations). And then there was Marinette, the only civilian he really spent time around regularly as Chat Noir, and that had really just been an accident. He enjoyed her company as Adrien, so he would occasionally pop in on her balcony and lapse into conversation. Then, when she started working at the flower shop, his visits became even more frequent. The store was so close to his house, it almost became a habit just to pop in if he was transformed and on his way out or home from patrol.

Marinette treated him with the same esteem, with or without the mask. She neither swooned at his fame, model or hero, or dismissed his presence like he was a bother. She seemed almost unable to judge people poorly, and it reflected in her treatment of Adrien, Chat Noir, or anybody else.

He would visit her at work tomorrow. That wasn’t an unusual thing to do - friends drop in on friends all the time at their jobs. He had been to visit her plenty as Chat Noir, and on a handful of occasions with Nino and Alya. Just get to know her better - what was wrong with that?

“You have the dumbest look on your face right now.” Plagg offered sleepily, turning over as Adrien’s rolled his eyes.

“Gee, thanks, Plagg.”

“Don’t mention it. Or do. I don’t really care.”

With a chuckle, Adrien rolled over and tried to welcome sleep a second time, and with some patience and the rhythmic purring of Plagg beside him, it eventually came. His mind swirled, glimpses of his father, or a faceless girl with navy hair, or Hawk Moth, or even looming shadows, anxieties for the future ahead each making their appearance before morning.

Mostly, though, his idle dreams were filled with Russian Snowflakes, creamy and blue, silken between his fingers.

Chapter Text

Marinette fixed her hair for the final-final-final time, trying to make her fringe lie flat in the awful humidity.

“Heh, it’s not a bad look, you know,” Tikki offered, gesturing her own antenna as she adjusted her own tiny body in the mirror.

“Very funny,” Marinette whined as she clipped another bobby pin in place, adding a little spray, and removing the pin again.

Voice hopeful, she beamed in the mirror. “There?”

It twirled right back up her forehead.

Uuuuugh,” the girl let her head roll backwards, defeated. “I don’t have time for this! The DiMaggio’s wedding is this Friday and they’re coming to look at the final selections. Aaaagggh!”

Her kwami tried to reassure her, but Marinette was hardly listening as she threw on her clothes. With the mid-May heat, her usual ensemble of pink capris, white and black shirt with her blazer would be stifling. She managed yesterday, but the weather had been dreary and unusually cold.

Today could not have been more different - hot, humid, and so bright it blinded her.

Marinette had enlisted Alya to help her capture the right “look” for a greenhouse-employee-but-also-aspiring-designer-and-sort-of-manager-of-operations. She wanted to be professional, but something that could get afford to get dirty. Nothing flowy like a skirt or a dress, as she’d be hauling bags of soil and planters of every size. They settled on breathable, form-fitting jeans and a simple buffalo-plaid shirt with capped sleeves. Navy blue and white, the colors seemed right for summer, and the jeans were soft and easy to wash. True sleeves would make her sweaty, but a tank-top seemed too unprofessional, so the capped shoulders seemed a suitable compromise.

Marinette!” Tikki poked her directly in the face, causing her to jump.

At least she stopped fidgeting with her outfit, the kwami thought ruefully, and she pointed towards Marinette’s phone. “What time are the DiMaggio’s supposed to be there?”

“The shop doesn’t to open until 10 AM, and they’re going to be there at 10:30-ish? They said it might a little… oh, god, Tikki,” Marinette blanched, looking at her phone. “Please tell me this doesn’t say 9:58 AM.”

The kind kwami made a face and tried to lie convincingly. “It… doesn’t say 9:58 AM?”

“How can I be this late? How? It’s so much later than school! UGH.” Marinette sprinted around for her bag and the dark green apron embroidered with her name in black before she froze in place.

The kwami and her charge met eyes, the latter trying not to look too pathetic.

Tikki… please?” Marinette made her eyes glassy and pleading, but the red presence simply appeared bemused, if not a little exasperated.

Tikki smiled and flew to her palms, shaking her head knowingly. “Of course, Marinette. Just be careful when you release the transformation, and your parents will be wondering why you didn’t come through the front. Perhaps you should wait until you’re in an alley?

She groaned. “Oh, for the love of marzipan...”

Marinette was wearing a such a very “Marinette look” on her face that Tikki couldn’t suppress her giggles as she flew into the familiar pouch at the girl’s hip.

For as clumsy as she was known to be, Marinette demonstrated impressive speed and reflexes as she flung herself down the stairs and into the bakery. A bag with some variety of sweets and (bless her mother) her extra-large coffee thermos were already perched on the back counter, so she grabbed them and in a flurry of sound and movements, she said goodbye to her parents and ran out the door, the bell jingling as she passed the threshold. It all ended with an unceremonious splat of Marinette’s torso hitting the concrete - she was good all the way until leaving the bakery. Anything after was fair game.

“Gahhh…” Rubbing her shoulder, she was vaguely aware that Tikki was tittering in worry, squeaky voice muffled by the bag.

“Sweetie?”

Marinette could already hear her mother coming to make sure she was okay, so she jumped to her feet, shouted, “I’mGoodNoWorriesByeMamanLoveYou!” and sprinted in the direction of the flower shop, flinging herself into the first alley she could find.

Through comically heavy breaths, Marinette heaved three familiar words. “Tikki… spots… on…”

The flash of pink surrounded her and, like jumping in an ice cold pool, she immediately felt herself wicked of any exhaustion. Transforming would never become less exhilarating, the strength and curvature of her muscles accentuated by the suit, and with a breathy sigh, Ladybug took to the rooftops.

The tip of the Agreste mansion was the only visible landmark in that part of town that she could see from her vantage point, so she immediately set a familiar course through the Parisian skyways, relishing each breeze that brushed against her cheeks or tousled her hair.

Her appointment with the DiMaggio’s would be fine, she reassured herself as she swung through the city, but she was more worried about other customers arriving in the meantime. Her inner-Marinette really needed to get her act together and go to bed, get up, and generally manage her life and schedule a little more carefully. The summer was wedding season, after all, and things would only get busier. Then again, there would be time to think about that sort of misery tomorrow. Right now, she couldn’t stop counting the seconds until the coffee in her hands was pure caffeine coursing through her veins.

As she went, Ladybug’s mind wandered, wondering after the other miraculous wielder that prowled these streets. He had been in an unusual mood last night when he stopped by the shop, oddly sincere and serious at times, and he just bolted away without a proper goodbye. It’s not like she was offended; she had no claim on Chat Noir’s time, even as Ladybug, unless there was an akuma attack. So why did his sudden departure yesterday still trouble her?

Perhaps it was the bit of confession, and the subsequent guilt. She shouldn’t have pushed him to share for more than a handful of reasons. After all, she should be the first to sympathize with keeping secrets, but this still felt like more than that. The knowledge of his family…

Chat Noir had made a passing comment that his home life was not ideal, mentioning their “gig” as superheroes as a sort of escape. Ladybug felt the truth to that too, though not because of her family, but from herself - Marinette had worries to deal with and burdens to bare, responsibilities to manage and expectations to meet. Becoming Ladybug did not make those duties disappear, but they were easier to manage. Success came more naturally with the suit flush to her skin.

The dark-haired girl shook her head of the thoughts, realizing she had passed the shop already, her line of travel laser-focused towards the Agreste mansion. She wondered with a smile what Adrien was doing or if he was home, but the time for such idle queries ended about 8 minutes ago.

Leaping down between the outside of a building and a solid, wooden fence, Ladybug swept her surroundings for any onlookers a final time before coming back to reality.

“Tikki, spots off.”

The kwami fluttered happily beside her almost immediately, not as tired as she might have been if they used her Lucky Charm. Still, Marinette giggled when she opened the wax-paper bag of treats her parents packed and watched Tikki dive-in, antennae first.

Marinette pulled out her phone as she exited the private chasm between heroism and humanity, checking her messages and the time. No new notifications, and it wasn’t even fifteen after yet.

“Phew, not bad, Tikki. We made it in like, ten minutes.” Marinette half-whispered to the bag in her hands, glad that there weren’t many people on the streets. It could’ve been a lot more of a media hassle to get here if there were more people (not to mention the strange looks she would get talking to a bag of pastries), but there were no Ladybloggers about today.

It was a strange start to her vacation, for sure, and nothing like the movies made her believe high school summer would be like. There wasn’t enough time for beach outings, no wild and rowdy road trips, no late night bonfires or images really worth scrapbooking. To be fair, she didn’t really want for any of those things in particular, but just to have more time with her friends. Going to the arcade, fencing, or getting dinner and catching a movie with Alya, Adrien and Nino were some of the most precious memories she had, but they weren’t the sort of thing you put down in a picture book.

They were too special for that anyways. Marinette kept the feelings, not the sights, locked in her heart, and in those versions she kept for safekeeping, there might have been some PhotoNetteShopping going on that involved more than a friendly arm around her waist from a certain blond boy. There might have been more strokes of the jaw, tucking of hair behind the ears, and many, many more kisses in her imagination of the ideal summer, but hey, she wasn’t complaining. Adrien was a valuable, cherished friend - she tried to accept that he didn’t want her like that almost a year ago, and it made being his friend so much easier. She would always be hopelessly and utterly in love with him, but her nerves and jitters had been crippling what precious little time they all had together during these years before they had to grow up and move on.

Marinette sighed and took a long sip of her coffee. Hot - even in the summer - with cream and almond syrup.

“Mmm,” she cooed, going back for a second sip while Tikki’s minimal weight shifted in the bag.

And then she smacked into someone, lost as she was in her tasty reprieve, narrowly avoiding dribbling coffee down her front.

“Oh, god, I’m so sorr-”

“Pardon me, I should --”

A pause and two pairs of wide eyes.

“Adrien?”

“Marinette?”

Face affixed with a blushy smile, Marinette thought literally running into a stranger (or worse, the DiMaggios) would have been the most humiliating thing that could happen first thing in the morning, but alas, here stood her literal worst case scenario, blonde and gorgeous. And her predictable two-left-feet had persuaded him, good-natured as he was, into holding her arms when she started to stumble. He looked about as surprised as she was when they righted themselves.

“I’m so sorry, Mari. You okay?” He smiled easily, a little flustered himself.

Chalking it up to embarrassment for almost causing her to fall, Marinette grinned apologetically and tried to cover up the redness on her cheeks. “Pff, don’t worry. I’m good. You’re good. You’re so good! I mean, um, it was all me anyways. Unless you were walking backwards, I bulldozed right into you.”

They both laughed, unable to deny the truth to her words. Marinette prayed to her lucky stars that he hadn’t heard her say “you’re so good,” in that social faux pas, and judging by the easy way Adrien rubbed the back of his neck before falling into step beside her, he hadn’t noticed. She allowed herself to relax a tiny bit.

The shop was only a little way down the block, and now he was walking her to work. How had things gone from disastrous to a daydream so quickly? Her heart was soaring despite the blunder, and Marinette felt evermore anxiety melt off her shoulders when she spotted no angry customers or DiMaggio family standing at the door.

Marinette held her breath and turned her head to the side, meeting Adrien’s polite gaze. She never would be able to get over how mesmerizing his vibrant green eyes were and sighed longingly.

Alya’s voice perked up in her mind.

Don’t stare - if you stare, ask him about his day!

Marinette coughed. “So, what brings you to this part of town today?”

“This part of town?” Adrien nodded his head towards the high walls surrounding the Agreste mansion, visible even from a few blocks over, and his voice sounded amused. “I do live right over there, you know.”

“Duh, me,” she laughed and scratched her cheek. Thankfully, she didn’t have to try to remember Alya’s conversation coaching as they made it to the shop a moment later.

“Oh, could you hold this for me for a sec?” Marinette offered him the thermos, and Adrien compiled without explanation. As calmly as she could, she dug for her keys, thanking her designer neuroticism that she color-coded them all or they might be here for an hour.

The lock clicked and Marinette pushed open the door, exhaling happily at the warmth within. It was just as hot and just as humid in the greenhouse, but at least the shop was prettier than the mostly empty streets. It was like a mini jungle, curated privately in the middle of Paris, and she easily fell into her rhythm of opening the store.

“Gosh,” Adrien gazed around, following her inside, still holding her coffee. “I sometimes forget how pretty this place is.”

Marinette nodded in agreement and relieved him of his duty, taking back her drink with greedy hands. She sipped heartily.

“Ahh,” her face immediately relaxed. Adrien watched her curiously, and she merely shrugged.

“I’ve been deadbeat tired, and coffee is a great invention. I’d, um, offer you some, but you don’t drink it, right?”

“Not regularly,” he grinned and tapped his chin. “The last time we all went out for coffee, I still regret it. I was up like, half the night, bouncing off the walls. Too much caffeine for me.” His eyes sparkled, and Marinette felt her heart stop beating.

“I can’t imagine you hyper…” she mused and shook her head. “Just a sec, I need to put my stuff down.”

Adrien started perusing the shelves and displays politely, allowing Marinette to catch her breath and regulate her heartbeat again. All she really needed to do was let Tikki out of the pastry bag and put on her apron, but damn if this boy wasn’t going to give her a heart attack.

Tikki popped out as Marinette unruffled the top of the bag, printed with the logo D-C on the front, and she was beaming.

“Tikki,” Marinette whispered furiously, bouncing on her heels. “Adrien is here! What do I do?”

“You’re doing great, Marinette! Remember Alya’s tips, and don’t forget to breathe.” The kwami gave her an encouraging hug against her cheek, and Marinette cupped Tikki in her hand to return the affection.

With a low exhale, she nodded a little too vigorously and shook out her apron. Bright green and warn with care, Marinette looped the fabric over her head, gripped the ties at her waist and fixed an easy bow at her back. “Phew, phew, okay. I got this. I got this.”

“You got this.” Tikki agreed.

One foot out the back, her gaze lingered on the lunch her parents packed for her, and she grabbed it on an impulse.

“Okay, sorry about that,” Marinette said, hoping she didn’t sound as nervous as she felt. Thankfully, the words were out before she spotted him, turning to her greeting with an award-winning smile. He drifted back to the counter to, leaning his elbows across the surface and meeting her eyes. Marinette had to remember Alya’s, Tikki’s and her own advice: breathe, woman!

“No need to apologize, you’re working, Mari. I’m not in any sort of hurry.”

“Okay,” she nodded and looked away for sake of her blood pressure.

Only slightly squeaky, she grasped the bag over the counter in front of him. “Oh!” She tried to gather her confidence, using the familiar weight of her parent’s labor of love to push her on. “You don’t drink coffee, but, maybe, you’d want a croissant? Or something. I’m not actually even sure what’s in here, my parents just sort of shove stuff in, and then I forget to eat it all half the time, and I know you usually love Papa’s food, and it would be a shame to waste them – and - oh, I’m rambling, aren’t I?”

Marinette stopped and chuckled abruptly, trying to imagine which was redder, her face or her Ladybug suit at the moment. It must have been close.

Mercifully for her, Adrien was so consumed in the offer that he basically didn’t hear anything she said after “croissant.”

“Yes, please.” He nodded and let her open the bag, and they both leaned forward to peer inside. She felt the warmth of his body, and when a few tickling tresses of his hair touched the top of her head, Marinette was about ready to faint.

He dug around in the wax-paper for a moment and appeared victorious, his fingers awkwardly clinging to two different pastries.

“This is basically the best morning of my life,” Adrien sighed contently, worshipping the croissant he moved to his left hand and the orange cranberry muffin that stayed in his right.

Marinette giggled, pleased, and he didn’t even mind being embarrassed about his manners as he took a bite of the croissant.

“Why don’t you sit here?” She offered, impressed by her own confidence. The stool behind the register was light and she had no problem bringing it around. The timing was in her favor, as he was still working on his rather large first bite, and the scowl on his face looked prepared to decline.

“Don’t, I insist.” She held up a hand and situated the stool next to him, now on the opposite side of the counter. “I don’t like standing while I eat, and I’m not hungry yet. And besides, I have to count the till.”

Thanks to Mo’s diligent training, the motions for opening were more or less ingrained in her subconscious. Marinette was able to keep up the conversation with relative ease while bringing out the cash for the register, placing the newest crowns on the display case, filling up watering cans with the hose, and checking over her list of arrangements for the DiMaggio’s appointment.

With a brief silence as Adrien finished chewing his rather greedy bite, he swallowed and frowned. “Well, okay, but only because this is so good, I would probably faint without a chair.”

Marinette found it easier to speak when she wasn’t drowning in the green pools of his eyes.

“That good, huh?”

Half-stuffed cheeks responded. “They’re a-muff-azing.”

She winced, about ready to throw her clipboard at him, but the big goofy grin on his face was simply too charming. “Why does everyone I know insist on puns?”

“They’re objectively funny, Marinette.” His tone was serious.

Instead of risking doing the model any bodily harm at the claim, she hummed and sought for a different topic.

Alya’s voice was in her mind again: Don’t have anything? Turn the conversation to him! Ask him a question - anything - just don’t freeze up.

“Sooo, um... you were just…. walking around this morning?” Marinette had to stop herself from groaning. Real smooth.

Adrien paused before answering. “You could say that… I would ask you the same, but I see the working man’s burden is your keeper today. Has business been nice, at least?”

Her snort was automatic. “Nice might be putting it strongly. Do you remember Mohamad?”

Adrien looked thoughtful, watching her move about the store. “You called him Mo, right? The owner?”

Previous owner,” Marinette corrected. “God, I forgot I haven’t hung out with you all since before finals. My parents bought the business. It’s just me now.”

His mouth dropped open, which Marinette found amusing. She smiled and cracked her knuckles, heaving a fifty pound bag of topsoil on one of her shoulders. There were definite perks to being a superhero, she mused, moving the sack towards the eastern wall that housed the towering, Amazonian-esque plants. Her speech continued as naturally as if she just bent over to tie a shoe.

“That’s... crazy! I had no idea. Are your parents going to hire help?”

Marinette wiped her hands on her green apron. “Probably, eventually. It’s just hard to find the time to even bother with interviews.”

“I guess summer is probably your busiest season,” he said, concern evident in his voice. Marinette paused and returned to the counter, standing a few feet from him and taking a long sip of her coffee. She smiled appreciatively.

“Mmm, yeah, that’s part of it. You can have the rest, by the way,” she shook the bag of treats at Adrien. Internally, Adrien scolded himself for probably seeming too eager, but he simply could not resist the smile and temptation of the Dupain-Cheng pastries. After claiming the remaining two chocolate chip cookies, he urged Marinette to continue.

“Summer is busy, what with weddings and stuff, but Mo used to joke that Chat Noir was like a walking billboard. He would come here pretty often, and you know…”

Adrien made a scowl so adorable it should have been criminal, lowering the cookie and meeting her eyes, green to blue, like a valley and the sea.

Marinette forgot what - to breathe -  and - how - what?

What?

Breathing?

What was her name again?

Um…

Oh.

Right.

Right.

With a shy smile, Marinette inhaled and adjusted her fringe, patiently waiting for her voice to return. Damn those Agreste genes - he had only grown taller since they met, and the quizzical look that hooked up one of his perfectly symmetrical eyebrows was downright unfair.

Before she could address the confusion on his face, both teens jumped at the loud bell at the front announcing entrance.

“Mari!” A plump older woman with a bronze complexion, maybe in her fifties, rushed towards the pair and Adrien swiftly grabbed the stool and stepped away before he was caught in the cross-fire.

A blur of fiery hair, crossed the length of the store easily and wrapped Marinette into a tight hug. The woman was wearing a maroon velvet blazer-pencil skirt combo that… frankly, Marinette found appalling. It was matronly, and that choice of fabric in this weather made her sweat just by looking at her.

“Ma-madam DiMaggio! Good morning,” Marinette replied, her petite figure shrinking under the force of the embrace. She and Adrien made eye contact and he looked like it was taking every last bit of his mental energy not to burst out laughing, and she stuck out her tongue in his direction.

Mercifully, the pressure subsided as the woman stepped away from Marinette, a hand on each shoulder. “You are looking healthy, my dear. So glad. So glad! I hope your school year ended well. And you remember my soon-to-be daughter, mademoiselle Declair?”

A younger woman stood in the doorway, looking clearly uncomfortable, with a man about her age. Marinette recognized the auburn-haired woman, tall and statuesque, but only barely - they probably met once at the store for a brief introduction a few months ago, but this was a much more intimate morning appointment. She presumed the man was the fiancé and strode forward to make her greetings.

An appropriate distance away, Marinette bowed politely. “Bonjour, Madam Declair. It is very nice to see you again,” she paused and turned towards the gentleman. “I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure?”

“Mademoiselle, the pleasure is mine,” said the man, and he bowed and took her knuckles, grazing them with a kiss. “Jared Declair. Madam Declair - Suzanne - is my sister.”

Marinette gulped at the lump in her throat, a little taken aback by his brazen introduction, but nodded and turned robotically back to the counter. Adrien had returned her stool to its proper place and had taken to studying her current project - the Russian Snowflakes - and was politely pretending not to listen, for which she was grateful.

“So I’ve been going over my list,” Marinette cleared her throat and looked at her clipboard, reviewing the DiMaggio’s order. She smiled kindly towards the bride, who still appeared uneasy.

“And unless you have any objections, I believe the cream ribbon that Madam Declair originally selected would be best for the bouquet. Here, if I may…” Marinette draped the selected silk around the bundle and pined it in place with a needle, careful to turn the bouquet at the base and not disturb any of the arrangement.

Madam DiMaggio was thrilled.

“Oh, Mari, dear. You never cease to amaze,” the woman cooed, practically singing her praises, and Marinette beamed. She was vaguely aware that Adrien had drifted closer, perhaps to get a better look at the display.

The Declairs were a little less enthusiastic. The brother had taken to poking and teasing some of the sample arrangements Marinette had brought to the counter, and she winced every time he nudged a bud.

“I don’t know if I remember picking this color,” Madam Declaire offered, although not harshly. If anything, Marinette thought the woman seemed sad. Brides tended to act dramatic or they would completely shut down the week of their wedding, as Marinette had come to learn, so she tried to be reassuring.

“Well, that shouldn’t be a problem. We have a variety of colors in the basic silk, and even some lace you could add overtop. The surcharge is modest, and -- ”

The brother spoke over her. “These aren’t even in bloom yet. Will they be ready for Friday?”

“Monsieur,” Marinette interrupted politely, trying to pull away a centerpiece before he prodded a poor Gerber daisy to death. “These are fragile, if you could please…”

“Mari,” Madam DiMaggio called gently. “Could we see the laces, please?”

“Of course, they’re just in the back. Just a moment; please, look over the rest of the samples?”

The soon-to-be-joined family continued to chatter amongst themselves, and Marinette left them with her clipboard to review. She mouthed a quick “sorry,” to Adrien who merely smiled and waved her to go ahead, and so she zipped into the back and recovered the assortment of laces, and brought out the organza and tulle for good measure.

This was her favorite part of the job, of course. The crossroads of design and flora made the whole experience feel much more familiar - more her. It wasn’t just a job to make money or a set of facts and figures Mo left for her to understand; these were her ideas, mingled with the creative demands of the layperson to satisfy and hopefully calm the worries of a bride-to-be. It was like a tiny preview into her future, and Marinette rather enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, as she piled up the fabrics she had, the bell from the front jingled and she had to suppress a groan - hopefully the person wouldn’t mind browsing while she tended to the DiMaggio appointment.

With a quick leap around the corner to the entrance, she felt her shoulders unwind marginally - it was only Monsieur Bjalkabrink. He was in his thirties, if Marinette had to guess, and the surname coupled with his impressive platinum beard reminded her of a Viking. He was always very polite, and he stopped by every Tuesday and picked up flowers for his wife. Marinette had even gotten into the habit of putting an extra effort into the bouquets she guessed he would select for Madam Bjalkabrink.

“Bonjour, Monsieur Bjalkabrink!” She waved towards the door awkwardly, balancing the fabrics between her closed arms. “I’ll be with you in a minute!”

He smiled and waved in return, heading to the display of prepared bouquets and browsed the selection. Naturally, Marinette’s eyes were more interested in the location of a different blond, and her heart fluttered to see he was still here. Granted, he couldn’t have snuck out without sounding the bell, but she hoped he would stay a little longer. Marinette even let her better judgement falter, hoping that maybe he wasn’t just waiting for her to be finished. Did he want to talk to her? Maybe that’s why he was walking this morning?

“Mademoiselle?”

She squeaked in surprise, and with a flush of embarrassment realized the Declairs and Madam DiMaggio were standing at the counter, expectant. The older woman had taken out her reading glasses and was still consulting the quantities (and probably the expenses) of the list, mouthing to herself as she went.

“M-my apologies, here we are,” Marinette laid the assortment of textile across the counter beside the register, providing generous clearance for her to accidentally drop something or fall over without upsetting the samples down the length of the counter.

With a relaxing exhale, Marinette adjusted her apron and pointed towards the selections.

“Now, if I recall Madam Declair…”

The woman peeked up at her, looking a little overwhelmed.

“My notes from our first meeting indicated that you are planning for rose-colored accents for your bridesmaids, and your shoes?”

The auburn woman blinked a few times, apparently surprised, and nodded while Marinette continued to discuss complementary accents.

Fiscally speaking, it was not a “productive” conversation. Marinette poured over every detail the bride shared with her, nodding along and considering each detail of the wedding, and nearly twenty minutes had passed before they came to an agreement, but Madam Declair was visibly less tense by the end of the discussion.

“So, we’ll agree to this shade of pink for the silk, with cream organza at the top to accentuate the daisies? But we’ll stop it about here,” Marinette pointed about three-quarters the length of the bouquet. “So you can hold it comfortably, and -”

“So it doesn’t get smashed down, it might get wrinkly…”

“Yes, exactly!” Marinette beamed, nodding at the woman’s attention to detail. As someone who worries about literally everything, Marinette had to appreciate the astute observation.

As a final assurance, she pinned the look together and allowed Madam Declair to hold it. “Will that work?”

After a shy smile, Madam Declair nodded and handed the arrangement back to Marinette.

“It’s perfect.”

“Perfect, Mari.” Madam DiMaggio agreed.

After a comparatively quick discussion on the centerpieces and arranging a pick-up schedule for Friday, Madam DiMaggio wrote a check paying in full for the remainder of the order. Still, Marinette hadn’t been quite fast enough, and Monsieur Bjalkabrink had skirted out of the store by the time she had placed the check in the register - not that she could blame him, he was usually an in-and-out type of buyer. Maybe he would come back tomorrow, she mused while walking the family to the front door and thanking them again for their business.

“Give Sabine my best,” Madam DiMaggio said a final time with a hug, and Marinette promised she would.

“Mademoiselle - Marinette, if I may,” Monsieur Declair took her hand again and brought it to his lips, and Marinette simply pressed her own lips together in distaste.

He locked eyes with her, smoldering and dark. “Excuse my forwardness, but you are more lovely than any of the flowers that line these walls. Perhaps I can sweep you away for dinner one evening?”

She felt herself turn red, eyes wide. While he was not particularly bad looking, he was probably in his mid-twenties and definitely not her green-eyed, blond-haired type.

Who happened to be here at this very moment.

Whywhywhywhywhywhywhy?

“U-um, I am flattered, Monsieur,” Marinette started.

“Jared.” He was still holding her hand, rubbing circles with his thumb.

She coughed, blushing harder as Madam DiMaggio and Madam Declair watched the exchange from just outside.

“J-jared, then. I’m flattered, but I must decline. I must keep a professional relationship with all my clients…”

There was a gentle pressure against her fingers, and she had to resist the urge to grimace. Her arm felt like dead-weight.

“But I am not a client, only a guest to my sister. Don’t break a poor man’s heart?”

Now she was getting irritated by his insistence - a polite request for a date was different than a guilty plea.

Patting the top of his hand with her free one, Marinette pulled her fingers away. “Really, I’m sorry, but no.”

He frowned and shook his head, but fixed his face into a civil smile. “Well, I would have been a fool not to try. Thank you for the flowers for my sister, Marinette. Good day.”

With a polite nod and wave, Marinette completed her goodbyes, waiting for the bell to stop before turning around.

She exhaled deeply, not even bothering to will the blush to rid itself from her cheeks. It would have been a lost cause, anyways, knowing full well Adrien Agreste was still here, in the store, and probably looking right at her.

 


 

Adrien waited patiently for Marinette to collect herself, feeling no pity for the painful rejection he just beared witness to. Instead, his heart was strangely exhilarated, and he couldn’t wipe the grin off his face no matter how hard he tried.

It took a certain kwami to shake it from him, and with poor timing, too.

Plagg zoomed out of his pocket and into some bushes before Adrien could do much more than gasp, and he whipped after him as Marinette turned around.

Her gaze flickered at him and then quickly away. “Adrien? Are you okay?”

Cursing internally, Adrien tried to think of the most cruel way to burn a stockpile of cheese without his father or Nathalie noticing. He forced an even voice. “Umm… yeah. Just thought I… dropped something.” He kept his eyes narrowed, scanning the displays for the green-eyed monstrosity.

“Oh,” her creased brow relaxed a little, but she was clearly still pink in the face. “S-sorry, about that. I didn’t expect them to take so long…” She spoke while moving around the counter and took a seat at the stool behind the register. Absently, her eyes moved over the forgotten clipboard from her meeting with the DiMaggio’s a final time, but she wasn’t really reading it.

Adrien shook his head of annoying kwamis and put on a smile, turning her direction and resting an elbow on the counter. “Why would you apologize? It was actually really interesting to listen to the appointment - you really know your stuff.”

That earned him a curious look, but Marinette’s voice seemed grateful. “Oh? Well, then, thank you. That’s my favorite part of the job, you know? Meeting with brides and trying to make things work. Most appointments aren’t so… crowded.”

“That sounds like you,” he commented, looking down at some of the injured petals from Jared’s aggressive hands. “I hope that guy didn’t ruin your flowers.”

“Ugh, right.” The girl slid from the stool and came closer to the counter, turning the base of the arrangement to inspect some of the damage. Adrien had to admire how quickly she dropped into her role, all of her usual confidence returned.

With laser-focused vision and a serious slant to her brow, Marinette pulled a few damaged petals off and cleaned away the base of the arrangement for fallen leaves.  “I think it’ll be okay. Thankfully it was just one sample. That guy was a jerk.”

Adrien tried not to appear too pleased. “You thought so too?”

“Yes!” Her gaze had grown from intent to intense when she looked up at him, tides crashing with angry currents. “I don’t mind guests during appointments, but when he asked me on a date? That was bad enough, and then to start insisting? I mean, yo -- Madam DiMaggio and Madam Declair were right there, watching. It was just really embarrassing.”

Adrien had to suppress a very Chat-Noir growl that he felt rumble in his chest. He didn’t want to overstep, as it was clear Marinette had control of the situation, but it bothered him that she felt embarrassed for that guy’s behavior.

“Well… I thought you handled it really well. You were professional but firm.”

She sighed and some of the fire dissipated, trying for a smile. “Well… thank you. And, um, … thanks for sticking around.”

Did her freckles always dance like that when she grinned? Adrien felt stupid for not having noticed sooner, and he just spoke the first words that came to mind.

“Of course! It would have felt wrong to leave without saying goodbye.”

Once the words were out there, he immediately regretted them. Disappointment flickered in Marinette’s expression. It was a tiny change, her frown minimal, her brows slightly creased, eyes a little darker, but the image was like a stain on her pretty face. This girl should never be sad, he decided.

Oddly, though, Adrien felt a tiny, selfish swell of pride…Was she bothered that I said I was going? His mind was tempted by the thought, but, no. No, that was silly. This is Marinette. She probably just liked the company, not his company specifically.

“Oh.” She found her voice after a beat. “I guess you probably have things to do today. Don’t let me keep you.”

Adrien tried to backtrack. Standing from his casual lean against the counter, his hand found the way to the back of his neck, rubbing it anxiously. “I - no, I mean, I don’t have to say goodbye. Yet? I just, you know… I hope I’m not bothering you. You are busy.”

“You could never bother me!” Marinette blurted, her skin blossoming like a dozen roses, and now it was her turn to stumble.

“N-not that, I mean, you’re very… kind, and polite. We’re not busy now, and... It would be difficult to imagine you bothering me?”

Adrien felt his heart flutter, brightening at the statement. She was just being her polite infallibly self, but that “gentleman” from earlier hadn’t elicited such a reaction from her, had he?

Tied as Adrien was to his inner-Chat Noir, for better or for worse, he saw the opportunity for teasing. To no one’s surprise, like the sly cat he was, he took it.

“I highly doubt that.”

That gave Marinette pause. “Oh?”

He grinned, filling with a familiar sense of mischief. “I bet I could get on your nerves. What if I… started with some puns?”

Marinette rolled her eyes, but the smile that took place of her strained scowl was glowing. “I take back every nice thing I said.”

“But you haven’t even heard the joke yet!”

Marinette pealed with laughter at his indignation, and Adrien merely beamed. The sound was so delicate, like a lovely chord on his piano.

Resigned to a life of bad jokes, between her father, Chat, and now Adrien, Marinette shrugged. “Ah, well, fine. Give me your best shot.”

Adrien, however, acted with mock-offense. He stood up straight and crossing his arms. “Well, maybe now I don’t want to tell you.”

Marinette was never one to back down from a challenge, he had learned, which made the look on her face all the more surprising. When he might have expected her to laugh or bait him, there was only a puzzling sort of tenacious stoicism. He peeked at her through his own pseudo-anger, watching as she returned to her duties and checking off her clipboard like he wasn’t even there.

She was trying to beat him at his own game, trying to out-fake-anger him. Oh, boy, now it was on.

She scrunched her face in focus, the twitching of her lip threatening to betray her careful mask. Adrien, amused, watched her fight what he could only guess was a cheeky remark or maintaining this obstinate silence. A victory could come easily, he mused, if he kissed the twitch right off her lips.

Oh, god. Get it together, Agreste.

But, really, she is cute when she’s pretending to be mad.

Not trusting his voice – he knew he would lose if he tried to speak - Adrien moved down the counter to stand directly across from her. Marinette continued humming and pretending to ignore him, and he saw a weakness; her hair was twisted into two little braids on each side, so he reached a hand out and let his fingers brush along her neck for just long enough to get her attention.

With a devilish grin, his fingers pulled out the elastic keeping her hair secure and slid it up his wrist.

“Hey!” Cross, one of Marinette’s hand shot up to massage her untamed mane, brushing against her bright red cheeks - from her exertion in maintaining a straight face, he assumed.

Adrien bit his tongue and tried to suppress the urge to laugh, loving the tone of affront that colored her usually compassionate voice. He knew plenty well as Chat that even when she was annoyed, her words were still kind beneath the inflection.

“I’m sorry,” he said, trying to give her his best apologetic eyes. She pursed her lips seriously, and he studied her face for any traces of genuine betrayal. Of course, there was only humor in her grimace.

After forgiving him with a kind shake of her head, Marinette tried to launch herself across the counter to capture his hand and retrieve her hair tie, but in typical Marinette fashion, she banged her elbow into the register. Immediately doubled over, she massaged the spot tenderly and hissed through her teeth.

Adrien was having a very, very difficult time not laughing. His legs automatically brought him around the counter, and with a hand on her upper back, he tried for a response free of giggles. “Oh, Marinette, I’m sorry. Are you okay?”

The dark-haired girl’s hissing subsided upon his touch, and her hands shot out and grabbed his left wrist (eliciting from him a very unmasculine yelp). With ease, she stole back the hairband and jumped up in victory.

“Hah!”

He shook his head and let out a good-natured sigh. “Did you seriously hurt yourself just to ‘win’?” Neither of them had really pointed out that they were playing a game with winners or losers, but the activity had fallen upon them naturally.

“Actually, no.” She rubbed her elbow, but went to re-braiding her lost plait. “That was just unfortunate timing. Or, incredibly fortunate timing, depending on how you look at it.”

The mention of misfortune reminded him of a certain absence in his pocket and he gazed around the hanging branches, potted flowers and bushes in the near vicinity with annoyance. No Plagg yet. How was he supposed to sneak the little jerk back into his shirt pocket without Marinette noticing? How was he even supposed to find the darned kwami?

The register dinged as Marinette fiddled with the buttons momentarily, and it snapped Adrien out of his reprieve.

“Oh.” Their earlier banter forgotten, he fished around in his pocket and retrieved a twenty-dollar bill and held it out for Marinette.

Too confused to bother with her manners, Marinette frowned. “Wah?”

Adrien placed the bill on the counter. “That guy who was here - the one with the beard. He took a bouquet and he asked me to give this to you - I’m guessing it’s payment? I felt a little awkward to be honest, so I hope he didn’t underpay… He called you Mari, so I just guessed he knew you?”

“Ohhh,” Marinette nodded knowingly, and accepted the payment by popping open the register. “Yes. That’s Monsieur Bjalkabrink. He gets flowers for his wife every Tuesday, but he doesn’t linger. I’m surprised he gave you the money, though,” Marinette added the last part, looking Adrien over with suspicious eyes.

He smiled a little, but shrugged as he returned to the appropriate side of the counter. “Maybe I’m just that trustworthy.”

Marinette snorted derisively and they both laughed again, slowly falling into a contented silence by the time the jokes had settled. Adrien decided to leave Marinette to some of her work momentarily, floating away from the front to admire the assorted flora. His mind was wandering, though, silently seeing worries instead of blossoms. Had he outstayed his welcome? Would he know when she wanted him to leave, or was he as clueless as “Monsieur” Declair and needed to be flat out told to go? Marinette was probably too nice to tell him to leave, but then again, Marinette was fierce and did what she had to do when push came to shove. How can she balance that so well? He admired it as much as he found it elusive.

More troubling yet... why did the prospect of leaving fill him with dread? Marinette was just such a positive presence to be around, he hated the idea of leaving her here for hours with no one… or, worse, for his absence to invite more presumptuous young men to come while she was alone. He had no fear that Marinette could handle herself, but that didn’t mean he liked the idea, either. The man had backed off once Marinette was firm in her disinterest, but what if he insisted?

A little presence in the back of his mind, sounding annoyingly like Plagg, pointed out that Marinette has worked here for weeks without the original owner and she was doing fine. Why did care now whether or not she was alone? He just appreciated this time with her, and didn’t want anyone to take advantage of her kindness, that was all. Yep. That was definitely it.

Adrien glanced over at her, frustrated with himself. The girl was so… what was she? Simple? No, that had a negative connotation. He watched her discover her forgotten coffee and take a sip, grimacing. The drink had likely gone cold, but she took another sip anyways, probably resigned to needing the caffeine.

She’s effortless. That’s what it was. Marinette was neither cynical nor scornful, but patient and thoughtful and motivated in everything she did. A comment he made last night as Chat Noir swam to the surface of his memories, and now he imagined there was a little more truth there then he intended.

I’m drawn here, helpless to your charms.

Adrien, realizing he was staring, shook his head and coughed. He grappled for an appropriate topic.

“You were saying something about Chat Noir? Him visiting, I think?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah.” She made a face, turning on her heel and pausing to look at the Russian Snowflake.

“Yeah. When Chat Noir started to stop by before Mo left, it was really good for business.” Her tone sounded unintentionally bitter, and Adrien noticed.

“Do you not like him coming in?” He asked, a little wary of the answer.

Marinette tapped her chin and faced the blond from behind the counter, sitting up on her stool again. “No, it’s not like that… He’s actually really nice, but I think I’ll go crazy if he keeps it up and we don’t get an assistant or something in here. He’s really popular, especially with the girls, so they follow after him here. When Mo was around we balanced the work, but them’s the breaks, I guess.”

Marinette had meant the story with good-humor, but Adrien felt his stomach squeeze uncomfortably. He had never accounted for the strain his presence might put on her responsibilities, and Marinette had never mentioned it to him before during his visits. Of course she wouldn’t, though.

“I never thought about it like that. I’m sorry. You must be really stressed.”

“Oh there’s nothing to be sorry about,” Marinette assured him seriously, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. “Honestly I’d feel probably the same way if he didn’t stop by. Chat Noir is a really good person… uh, at least, I think he is. From the times we’ve crossed paths. It’s not his fault, it’s more of the job itself... I love this place, and my parents, but...” she stood and moved down the length counter, body turned slightly towards the wall.

Marinette stopped at the far edge of the counter, where it turned at a hard right and connected to the dividing wall that separated the storefront from the back office. Descending from a planter, perhaps four feet up from the surface of the countertop, hovered a sprouting dynasty of blood red petals, each bud bumping and brushing into a neighbor with each inch that it fell. The gravity seemed to only be doing the plant favors in terms of growth, for it was wide and thick and the blooms were almost aggressive as they plummeted towards the Earth, some of the longer tendrils brushing up against the surface of the counter. A contrast sharp enough to put Ladybug and Chat Noir to test, chartreuse vines and bushels of leaves only made each ruby blossom, lustrous and almost sinful in their shades of maroon to crimson red, stand out more sharply. Adrien was reminded somewhat of the ever classic rose, but these petals were much too large, at least two or three times the size of the healthiest rose he had ever seen, and each of these crowded and clambered towards the earth, a red waterfall searching for a spring to yield to.  

Hands steady, Marinette’s fingers delicately brushed the petals of a nearby bud with absence in her eyes.

Adrien had come a little closer, on the other side of the flora as her vision went unfocused. “Mari? Are you okay?”

Blinking repeatedly, Marinette’s eyes found his and she blushed before looking away. “No, yeah, I’m good. Sorry. I just… um, it’s nothing.”

Again, he found himself frowning, and his eyes studied the flower and the tender way her hands danced around the vertical meadow, tracing lines across wild rubies. “Hey, we all need to vent from time to time. It’s not a problem. Okay?”

Her eyes, blue and searching, seemed to brighten slightly from his reassurance. She smiled.

“Okay... Thanks, Adrien.”

“Of course,” he said with a careful smile of his own, wondering what she could be thinking about. Something in their conversation had clearly stirred Marinette, and she was acting with a familiar amount of distance that he often felt around Ladybug. An arm’s length away, there was yet another mask separating him from something he wanted to understand.

Turning his attention towards the same wall, Adrien decided he best not pry. The topic literally springing from the walls seemed like an easy enough segway.

“...What is this flower? It sort of looks like a rose, but it’s huge.”

Marinette nodded, pointing at an especially bulbous example in front of him. “You’re not wrong. These are roses, just not the kind we’re used to.”

Adrien, making a mental note to Google common flowers later so he might not continue to make a fool of himself, urged her to continue. “What are they, then?”

“Well…” She toyed with the hem of her apron, not meeting his eyes. “The roses we’re all used to - you know, the one in every cliché movie where the guy is trying to impress the girl?”

You don’t know the half of it… He smiled wryly, recalling an evening he had saved this same girl from Glaciator. It was a night that ended by giving Ladybug a rose.

“That’s the Modern Garden Rose, and there’s a whole mythos to that alone. But these are rosa banksiae, or, Banks’ roses. This big guy,” she raised a hand and gestured up the wall. “Was the one Spring ‘project’ that Mo let me plant on my own, so maybe I’m biased, but I actually prefer these to regular roses.” She chuckled and scratched her cheek, still focused ahead, not meeting his eyes.

Adrien leaned towards a bud and inhaled, his curiosity growing. It didn’t smell quite like a normal rose, either.

“So... what is special about bank roses?”

“No, no,” Marinette laughed, sounding a little less vacant. “Not bank roses, Bankssss’ roses.” She emphasized the s, exhaling the sound through her teeth.

“Banksssss?” Adrien repeated, if only to hear her do it again.

With a giggle, she parroted him. “Banksssss.

Yesssssss, his mind chimed, enjoying her laughter.

Adrien refocused his attention to Marinette, and she had a dreamy look about her, half-lidded eyes with an easy smile. He must have started her from a daydream, because her skin piqued a dark crimson that was uncannily close to their floral subject of conversation.

“Um! Well, they, you - um, they’re sig, like you b-baid, - I mean, ugh, big like you said.” She shook her head and took a deep breath. Adrien bit his lower lip, a little worried that he might be making her uncomfortable. Was the story behind the roses perhaps too personal?

Before he could excuse his possible intrusion, Marinette recovered her confidence.

“Sorry, heh, my mind was blanking. The ssss’s got me.” Marinette gave him a breathy chuckle.

“That’s okay,” he reassured her, and she seemed to appreciate that. Nodding and turning back towards the flowers, she picked up her explanation and Adrien listened attentively.

“Um… Oh yeah. Right. So these are just called Banks’ because they’re named after the man who discovered them’s... wife. I can’t remember their first names, but it’s sometimes called the Lady Banks’ Rose.”

Adrien hummed his understanding, not wanting to interrupt.

“So for me, the Banks’ rose reminds me of baking something really difficult with Papa, like a mille-feuille. They’re really fickle, even though they’re big and bold. And they only bloom once per season, earlier than most roses, too. You’d think they’re monsters with their size and the just… density and concentration of the blossoms, but they’re more fragile than they look.”

“Huh…” Adrien replied, not sure what else to say. It was genuinely fascinating information, and much like their encounter last night, her explanation was eloquently simple.

With a little snort, Marinette added, “Plus, they’re the only variety of roses that don’t have thorns.... the less opportunities for me to prick myself, the better.”

Now it was Adrien’s turn to laugh and Marinette grinned proudly, skin kindled a soft shade of pink.

The two paused and admired Marinette’s creation, silence passing comfortably with the shared story. Scarlet underdogs, each successful blossom that cascaded from their plume on the wall was impressive by default. It really shouldn’t have surprised him that Marinette had grown these herself, but the knowledge made his perception of them both more beautiful and less overwhelming by extension.

Adrien’s phone began to buzz. He blinked a few times and stepped back from the Banks’ roses, like someone had flicked some cold water in his face, and dug through his pockets.

 

Nathalie (11:41 AM):

This is a very long “walk” to go on without your bodyguard. Your father has a break between meetings at noon and wishes to see you.

 

“Great.”

Adrien’s tone made it evident that things were not, however, great. The blue letters on the screen were innocent enough, but he could feel the metaphorical leash around his neck tightening as he re-read the message. Nathalie’s text had been carefully crafted, the vague threats of his father’s will not needing to be made explicit. The “very long walk” hinted at the unsaid disapproval, the mention of his “bodyguard” served as a reminder that his occasional social freedoms without the man could very easily be taken away, and the mention of his father suggested that he already knew Adrien wasn’t home.

“Everything okay?”

His gaze flickered up momentarily to see crystal blue pools of concern, trying to decode whatever look crossed his face.

“Mmm,” he replied noncommittally, letting inattentive fingers construct a canned response that was good enough.

 

Adrien (11:42 AM):

My apologies, I will be right home. I bumped into a friend and lost track of time. It won’t happen again.

 

With a heavy sigh, Adrien tucked his phone away and scratched the back of his neck, eyes focusing upon Marinette’s hands folded neatly on the counter. They were slender and a little dirty (from soil, no doubt).

How had nearly two hours passed already? He really should feel guiltier for keeping her from her work, but a little selfish voice in his head was not only feeling zero guilt, but was practically soaring on cloud nine. This morning had just been like a tiny gasp of oxygen in a black sea of responsibility, constantly dragging him back to his own reality. Being around Marinette made him feel like he could breathe, and damn it if Plagg hadn’t been right.

Plagg!

He nearly forgotten - he can’t leave until his kwami comes out of the bushes. And boy, was the little black annoyance going to get an earful when Adrien got his hands on him.

Marinette called his attention again. “Um… Adrien?”

He blinked and shook his head, stating a little too loudly. “I need to go home soon.”

Adrien let his gaze fall upon his friend’s face, a little worried for what he might see there, but this time there was no frown or disappointment in her eyes. Marinette simply smiled with everything she had, pure and bright, and the sight filled him with warmth.

A little shyly, she started to fiddle with her apron. “Well it… um, was nice to have some company?”

“Yeah?” He grinned, unable to help himself.

She was surprisingly enthusiastic. “Yeah! You were fun! I, um, I mean this was fun - you know?”

“It really was. And… uh…” Adrien’s voice trailed off.

Just passed Marinette’s shoulder, the blonde spotted a conspicuous black movement in one of the DiMaggio’s arrangements.

Adrien felt his eye twitch when a beady pair of green irises had the nerve to wink at him.

Gulping hard on his throat, he struggled for a distraction. “I - uh, um, I like your apron, by the way!” He blurted, not really sure what came over him. It was true, although he would have liked to not practically yell it at her.

He forced his attention to the pretty cursive that embroidered her name, black and shiny against a dark green backdrop.

“Hmm? Oh,” she appeared dazed before looking down, running a finger over her own name. “T-Thank you! I thought the stitching added a little something, you know?”

“It didn’t come like that?” He leaned across the counter, squinting at the perfect detail. It looked professionally made. Meanwhile, in his periphery, he noticed a little brush of black fur hover above their heads.

She kept her eyes on the lettering. “No, I did it. You know, seamstress-to-be and all.”

“Wow,” he breathed, genuinely impressed but mostly relieved when he felt a stupid kwami’s warmth cup into his hands, folded behind his back.

Adrien cleared his throat and leaned back, returning to a respectful distance. “I know I’ve said it before, but you are really talented, Marinette.”

The redness that camouflaged away her freckles in the warming hue was flattering, and Adrien was starting to enjoy being the one to put it there.

This felt good, and right, and he wanted to see her again.

 


 

(Bonus Scene)

 

This was not amusing. Not at all, even if he seemed to find the idea hilarious.

If anything, it was dangerous.

“You’re the worst, you know that?”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

Plagg placed two paws behind his head and floated against a huge hydrangea blossom, using the petals as a bed. Thankfully, Marinette had moved this pot to the back room to be included in a pick-up order, so they were able to speak and hide without either of their charges listening.

Tikki felt one of her antenna twitch.

“And what would we do if Hawk Moth akumatized someone right now? Adrien has no idea how to find you. If Marinette comes back here and sees you, you’ve put both of their identities in jeopardy.”

Plagg swatted a hand at her, and Tikki considered throwing something at him.

“It’ll be fine. You can’t tell me you’re actually upset about this.”

“Actually, I am, but I don’t think you heard me the first four times.”

He snickered and peeked at her through a closed lid, shrugging. “C’mon, Tikki, they need this. You don’t have to live with Adrien, I’m going to lose it if he spends another summer pining after Ladybug.”

“And you think manipulating fate is the right thing to do?” Tikki’s tone was biting, but Plagg did not back down.

“You know,” he hummed, “I thought about that after the whole stint with Dark Owl. If it’s ‘destined’ that they get together like Master Fu thinks, then wouldn’t they just be falling right into the path of fate? What if the whole point of ‘fate’ was to test my ancient patience, until I gave the kid some honest advice and helped him to clear his infatuated brain?”

The red kwami pursed her lips, and Plagg tacked on, “If they’re going to get together one way or another anyways, I would much prefer sooner. I think your girl would too, honestly. Why deprive them of that?”

Allowing herself a calming inhale before she constructed a response, Tikki closed her eyes. “Yes, Plagg, to some extent I agree with you. Marinette and Adrien will find each other in the end, at least, I believe they will. But you can’t act like this won’t be putting the balance at risk; if they move too quickly and fall into the path of fate, they might just as easily fall off it again.”

“You worry too much,” Plagg responded, nestling into the sapphire buds.

Under her breath, Tikki muttered a derisive “well, one of us has to…”

If Plagg noticed, he didn’t say anything.

They sat in silence for a little while, Plagg idle and Tikki listening hard for the sound of Marinette’s footsteps.

Eventually, the black kwami sat up, two paws splayed out behind him to support his weight. “I’ll back off the track of fate thing, okay?”

That took Tikki by surprise, and when she cocked her head from confusion, Plagg elaborated.

“I’ll back off, but I’m not going to lie to Adrien, either. If he asks me for advice, I’m going to tell him what I think he should do. That’s our job, isn’t it? To guide them?”

Tikki’s face softened, and she could have sworn Plagg’s cheeks tinted a pale green. “Well… that’s fair, I suppose. I do coach Marinette in the same way. Just don’t get overly involved, okay?”

He snorted and plopped back onto the petals. “Easy for you to say; at least Ladybug hardly ever seeks out Adrien in person. Kid’s got it bad, as himself and Chat Noir.”

Still smiling, Tikki detected a hint of something deeper than annoyance in her counterpart. She had a suspicion - was that a twinge of compassion for her charge, she sensed? - but decided to keep the thought to herself.

Instead, she opted for a slight topic change. “Speaking of Chat Noir… it is not my business, but is Adrien okay? At home, I mean. Yesterday, Chat Noir was behaving rather… strangely.”

Plagg flinched, but he made a show of relaxing and stretching out on the petals, curling onto his side to face her. Something was definitely up.

“It’s just as bad as it always is… just, you know, kid might be hitting his limit with his dad. He’s almost 17 and I think he’s starting to feel...” The dark kwami made a face. “Trapped?”

They looked at each other for an extended pause, both knowing each other too well after thousands of years. The silence was a sort of acknowledgment: Tikki knew Plagg was withholding information, but Plagg would only do so if he thought it was for Adrien’s best interest.

Eventually, Tikki released a small sigh and gave her other half a sympathetic smile. “I’ll trust your judgment, then.”

His face flickered with a smile, but he banished the look with a roll of the eyes. “Why does everyone keep questioning my methods? First Adrien, now you? I’m just as -- ”

Both froze at the call of a familiar voice, carrying to the back room.

I have to go home soon.”

Plagg scowled. “That’s my cue.”

Pressing a red paw to her forehead, Tikki tried not to sound exasperated. “Hopefully Marinette doesn’t notice him yelling for you.”

Floating from the petals, Plagg smirked and opened his mouth, preparing some sort of arrogant counter. Tikki didn’t give him the chance.

She took him by surprise, meeting him in the center of the hydrangea bush and kissing the top of his head, just between the ears.

“Bye, Plagg,” she hummed, thoroughly pleased with the ferocious green tinge on his face. His eyes were wider than her own, and the sight made her giggle.

A little smug, Tikki floated back through the pastel purples and soft sighs of cobalt blossoms. “Don’t do anything too stupid, okay?”

He mewled uselessly for a moment, but his scowl soon returned.

“H-hey!” Plagg called to the receding sight of the red kwami, still blushing furiously. She didn’t turn around, so he grumbled to himself before phasing through the wall, into the front of the store, and settling into some bushel of flowers.

Chapter Text

Once she managed to walk Adrien to the front without tripping over her own feet, Marinette sank to the floor and laughed - it was borderline cackling - until Tikki appeared beside her.

Beaming, the red being squished against her cheek. “Oh, Marinette! How did it go?”

Marinette scooped Tikki into her hands and started towards the back room. “Oh. My. God. Tikki -  it was amazing. He was - I - we…

She practically collapsed into the desk chair and let her kwami fly to eye level, earning her some proud giggles from Tikki.

“Just take some deep breaths and start from the beginning!”

Marinette shook her head and retrieved lukewarm water bottle from beneath the desk, a convenient place for the 24-pack when she was feeling lazy or breathless. Somehow, right now, she was both.

Marinette downed the whole 16 oz. almost immediately, wiping her lips of a few lingering droplets and sighed. Her kwami settled against the perpendicular corner where desk met wall, humming all the while. Hands shaking, Marinette bounced on the chair and faced her red companion, almost glowing under the harsh sun of the greenhouse. The ceilings were glass, after all, so even the back was warm.

“Okay, the beginning… right, so I took the stuff Maman and Papa packed out with me…” Marinette launched into her story. She repeated as much as she could remember thoroughly, analyzing key moments with her kwami and puzzling over Adrien’s own odd behavior. Tikki gave her the perfect audience, clapping and gasping and swooning in time with Marinette’s story. At some point, Marinette dragged herself around the room to busy her hands, working on the DiMaggio’s pick-up for Friday as the pair continued to process her most exciting two hours since the beginning of break. It was almost like a date, a thought which she repeatedly tried to smack with a shovel and bury beneath her subconscious, refusing to let herself get overly invested. In spite of her most valiant efforts, the feeling continued to creep up and it kept her stomach churning, fit to burst with nerves.

The next few hours of Marinette’s shift passed like a breeze, her heart full and mind replaying the scenes again and again and again. She had originally planned to call Alya at the end of the day and drop Adrien’s visit into the conversation casually, but she was simply too excited. After meeting with a few customers, she spotted the clock. It was just passed 2:30 PM, and having finished a large portion of the DiMaggio’s order (at least, what she felt like she could with a few days to go. She didn’t want to be too eager and risk wilting) she felt deserving of a break. Marinette sent a certain nosy friend a conspicuous text.

 

Marinette (2:38 PM):

hey! Are you busy tonight? Cause i got a scoop for you :P

 

Waiting for a response, the bell of the door rang indicating the arrival of a customer. It was Brielle - Marinette didn’t know her last name - a local “lifestyle” blogger that would come by and pick up the trendiest arrangements she had in stock. They chatted briefly about fashion (Brielle was almost always dressed to the nines) and Marinette helped her make an appropriately in-season selection, settling on Red Fox Veronicas. The tall blooms made for an interesting choice in home decoration, and the color seemed to suit Brielle’s ever-trendy fresh lipstick.

Red Fox Veronicas were Mo’s favorite bloom of choice to give to his wife, and Marinette had always found the selection romantic. They were the symbol of purity and fidelity, especially in marriage. Loyalty. Protective. In a weird way, Marinette thought of Chat Noir when she lingered on the topic, but she guessed that was just the nature of a partnership like theirs. He would never betray her, and neither would she betray him. Of course, they weren’t married (the thought alone made Marinette laugh), but their bond was pure. Trust was intrinsic. Their relationship was one forged from unwavering loyalty. Marinette could always rely on him, and she hoped he felt the same.

Marinette gave the girl a wistful goodbye, thanking her profusely for the on-blog advertising she always included as part of the purchase. It was a kind gesture, and they did occasionally have people come in who mentioned they heard about it through the young woman, so Marinette wanted to be sure to express her gratitude.

If only I was in marketing, Marinette thought wryly. Between accidental advertising and Chat Noir, I could have the most successful brand in all of France.

Marinette peaked her head into back, searching for Tikki. The kwami was asleep on one of Marinette’s forgotten aprons. With a giggle, she ducked back around to the front and sat at her stool, checking her phone again.

 

Alya (2:40 PM):

Oh girl im never too busy for a scoop. Whats the deets? Did CN come to the store again?

 

Snorting, Marinette’s fingers hovered about the screen, thoughtful. Should she answer honestly? Indeed, Chat Noir did come to the shop the previous evening, but Marinette usually only shared details with Alya if it was during one of the black-suited heroes more public (AKA, daytime) appearances. The Ladyblog and the store benefited simultaneously from his appearances, but the night time visits felt private. She didn’t want any reporters – even Alya – stalking around outside in the evenings, hoping to catch a glimpse of the cat.

 

Marinette (2:59 PM):

Pfff. no - it’s about a different blonde. Any guesses???

 

She hardly had time to breathe before a predictable “...” appeared, indicating Alya's pending response.

 

Alya (2:59 PM):

ugh Chloe?

 

Marinette groaned as if Alya was right next to her. Did she have to spell it out for her? Licking her lips, she considered just calling her friend right now, but that also felt disrespectful in case anyone showed up while she was on the phone.

 

Alya (3:01 PM):

NO WAIT

 

Alya (3:01 PM):

YOU DON’T MEAN

 

Alya (3:01 PM):

A.A.?????????

 

Marinette clicked her tongue, now unable to decide if she should be annoyed or amused - was it really that unbelievable that something finally happened between her and Adrien? It’s only been… almost three years… and they just hung out... for two hours…

Brow furrowed, Marinette stared at Alya's text message. Why was she making such a big deal of this? Nothing truly “happened” between her and Adrien… Why would he suddenly take an interest in her? Things weren’t different between them, he was just a gentleman who was nearly knocked over by a clumsy friend, and he passed some time in her company, that was all. Maybe she was being too eager...

With a shake of her head, Marinette decidedly locked her phone and let herself come back to reality for a few hours. Besides, Alya's reporter instincts would be burning by the time Marinette got home - probably by seven, she guessed. By then, the dark-haired girl was sure she could think rationally and receive Alya's insight without second-guessing everything.

Marinette tried to ignore the subtle squirming in her stomach, but she was frustratingly aware that it felt an awful lot like fear. She was building herself up to get hurt again, wasn’t she?

“Bah,” she muttered while standing up. It was clear that this train of thought was leading nowhere. If she was going to sit and stew, then she might as well be productive. Something to get her mind off things… she glanced around the front of the store and noted the flower crown display, always quick to diminish these days, and sought out her flower wire and tape from a shelf in the back. With a quick check on Tikki - still slumbering soundly - Marinette snatched the supplies she needed and splayed them out on the front counter. She positioned her stool so she could comfortably cross her legs and work while near enough to the counter that she didn’t constantly have to get up.

These sort of activities, what some might considered to be “mindless,” Marinette actually found to be rather therapeutic. It was pure comfort, to bask in the western rays of sunshine, almost soft as it polarized through the glass walls and ceiling and grazed her skin. It bleached the short hairs down her arm a pale gray, and the light provided life to the greenhouse.

While the building was glass and empty but for her, the place still provided security and company of a different kind; though it was not human, this place was very much alive. Her yuccas and palms glowed with chlorophyllic energy along the Eastern wall, providing security and staining the light that burned through it pastel green. The tropical towers were like organic sentinels, lining the glass like a portcullis that provided some sanctum from the world outside. Above, daubs of black shadows traced their ways down the aisles, byproducts of twisting ivy that snaked laurels around and between each supporting beam of the building.

Martinette sighed happily, feeling her heart swell in pride at the little world she’s fostered here. With steady hands, she regained her focus and set to work, organizing a sort of assembly line of approximate length wires - not overly concerned with accuracy - and a generous amount of little 1-inch strips of tape a few feet in either direction. The bases were little more than curving pieces of super-thin steel, secured into a circle by taping both ends - it was sort of tedious work, but that’s what Marinette needed right now. Designing crowns was the conventional ‘fun’ part, and she loved to take a critical eye to making pairs. Drawing upon different textures and colors of various flowers, vines and branches with attentive focus, it suited her love of design. But right now, today, her mind was too filled with green eyes and teasing laughter to feel particularly creative, so busy work was a welcome change.

After her fifth dozen set of wire rings, Marinette deemed her backstock sufficient and decided to rest her hands of one task and work on another, and another, and another. That path of distractions took up the remainder of her shift, watering and pruning, adding fresh soil to some of the larger planters, meeting with a handful of customers with each passing hour. The delivery man came by for the night orders and those for tomorrow morning around 3:30, and Tikki stirred shortly after. The kwami was cheery and helped Marinette to reach some high buds that weren’t cooperating, antenna bouncing animatedly as they chattered and giggled.

The sun sank lower and lower in the sky, blue sky bleeding into golden rays of crisp sunset, only to finally yield to dark night by the time Marinette finally sat again.

It was past six when she felt it worth checking her phone, blown up with texts from a predictably curious best friend, and wiped the sweat from her brow. Twenty-four messages, all but two from Alya. One was from her group chat with her parents, and one was a text reminder to pick up her prescription from the pharmacy.

Marinette let out a low sigh after locking the front door and flipping the sign to closed, retreating again towards the back and finding refuge in her desk chair. The girl slumped over and rested her head in her arms, palms splayed out beside each elbow. Tikki fluttered beside her, plopping into one of Marinette’s open hands.

“Was today a dream, Tikki?” She turned her head to one side. Her kwami looked amused and merely shook her head.

“I don’t think so. But if it was, I guess the dream version of me wouldn’t know that, would she?”

Marinette smiled lazily and returned to her slouch, forehead pressing against her forearms while she took a moment to measure her breathing. The inhales came slow and laborious, which she supposed was unusual.

Mumbling, Marinette posed some vague rhetoric to her kwami. “I talked to Adrien...for almost two hours today, by myself. Part of me can’t believe it happened… and part of me doesn’t even believe it did.”

Tikki did not respond immediately, a quiet moment passing between the pair. When the kwami did speak up, however, her voice was pitched with concern. “Marinette, you’re looking… pale. Are you feeling okay?”

The girl turned her head, confused blue eyes meeting uneasy orbs of the same color.

“Hmm?”

Tikki hovered closer, slipping between her folded arms and settling in the shadow cast by Marinette’s chest above the counter. “You’re also breathing really heavily. Do you feel alright?”

To incriminate her further, Marinette’s stomach growled loudly as if to answer Tikki’s question. The girl groaned and rolled her head to one side, pressing her cheek against the desk. Tikki’s lips pursed in disapproval.

“I forgot to eat, I got so wrapped up in working… I just didn’t even think about hungry I was until you said something… Thankfully I stayed hydrated.” She tapped the long-emptied water bottle with a finger, untouched since Adrien left this morning.

A reluctant hum followed, and Tikki zipped her way into Marinette’s purse as the girl fixed her posture. The kwami’s little red face still peered upwards, watching Marinette carefully.

“We should go home early, Marinette. Don’t worry about the rest of the store - you really need to eat something.”

Marinette stood up and stretched her arms above her head, unlooping her apron while she did so. Chagrined as she was to admit it, Tikki was right - standing brought some unpleasant vertigo, and she saw swampy splotches behind her eyes. A rush of another summer day, come and gone, had finally caught up with her upon the witching hour. Now her body was feeling cumbersome and her head heavy, so she shook out her headache in vain and readjusted the bag across her shoulders.

“Ugh… okay, right. You’re right. Let me just lock up the register and we’ll go.”

Tikki nodded before disappearing from sight, clasping the top of Marinette’s bag when she vanished into the depths of her cluttered sanctuary.

Marinette hummed to herself while she completed only the most critical of closing procedures - double, triple-checking that the door was locked, taking the money from the till, counting it and putting it in the safe, and making sure all of the lights were off. None of these tasks really took very long, but her sluggish focus made everything feel about ten times harder. It was a blessing that there was no akumas tonight, or else she might be as good as useless.

Exhaling low with her hand on the back door, Marinette closed her eyes and tried not to focus on the pounding in her ears. She could get home quicker as Ladybug, though she knew getting into the habit of traveling as her alter ego to and from the shop would become suspicious if anyone noticed. Walking would take longer, but if she missed her footing with a bout of dizziness while swinging across the rooftops, she could risk falling and seriously injuring herself - Ladybug or Marinette.

Loathed as she was to admit it, trekking home on foot was the safer option.

Marinette pushed open the door. Summer breathed an energizing rush of fresh air into her lungs, which helped to steady her in the patches of milky moonlight. She smiled when she exited through the glass walls, stepping onto a small stone garden overgrown with weeds and shrubbery to make a sort of paradoxical path of organic and inorganic materials. The neighboring businesses - a guitar repair store to her left and a salon to her right - all shared the small courtyard behind their shops. Perhaps twenty feet-wide, the stoney garden was a crescent against the paved alley, yielding to flat earth that led to the end of the block, just adjacent to the main drag. It only took another minute to come around the corner and up to the fully lit streets.

A summer in Paris, Marinette let herself indulge in the happiness of roaming couples and groups of friends that floated over the sidewalks. She started in the direction of her home, passing parents and children or friends and loved ones, picking up a forgotten piece of conversation in passing. She reveled in their jokes and secrets, a little envious of the exuberance of their freedom; Marinette had only the hum of white noise to carry her home, buzzing like a collective presence, not needing a name or discerning voice.

She only made it two blocks before having to stop. Marinette leaned her back against a brick facade, squeezing her eyes tight in exertion. Her body felt sweaty and cold, mind reeling with the sensation of unstable cement beneath her feet. She knew the spinning world was just her imagination, but it was starting to make her feel ill.

A few heartbeats throbbed against her ribcage, leaden and deliberate, but Marinette reminded herself that she really needed to get home. Part of her considered calling Alya, but she knew the girl didn’t have her own car; Maman and Papa were off the list, unless she felt like explaining why she was so famished.

Yes, Maman, I got so awe-struck by a boy who stopped by the shop that I gave him all of my food and forgot to eat. That sounded even less pleasant than just crawling the rest of the way.

She felt a wispy trembling of her purse along her hip, knowing Tikki was trying to garner her attention, but it really was a wasted effort.

“Hello there,” called a familiar voice.

Marinette’s heart jumped to her throat, wishful thinking becoming hopeful words. “Chat Noir?”

Of course, she knew it wasn’t Chat Noir the moment he spoke, but her brain had simply reacted. She could really do with that cat’s help right now.

Right meow?

Focus, Marinette!

...

Mouth almost watering by the time she stumbled into the side door, Marinette thanked the hero for their help in getting her home. After a curt lecture on wandering around at night, Marinette was dismissed and her legs had never moved faster than they did to deliver her to the kitchen, her parents and dinner waiting. Marinette vaulted the stairs to her room, opening the clasp for Tikki before abandoning the purse on the floor, too hungry to bother changing.

Food had never tasted so good, and Marinette couldn’t do much but offer sheepish apologies to her parents questions. They were clearly disappointed she didn't text them back earlier; Marinette truthfully told them she forgot, their text buried under Alya's.

The Dupain-Cheng family chattered briefly, asking about each other’s days. Marinette gave her parents vague answers that omitted any details about Adrien’s visit. She knew how Maman could get about the subject and didn’t want to invite their questions, and… truthfully, there was a little pecking fear in the brain told her not to say anything about it out loud. Acknowledging it would be too much like hope, and Adrien didn’t want her like that.

Sure, his pictures still decorated her room, only growing in number as he continued to model and age did him plenty of favors. From fifteen to seventeen, he grew and his features only became obnoxiously more handsome - perfect nose, sharp-but-not-pointed jaw, a complexion that would put a cherub to shame. The fanfare of beautiful blond hair and graceful green eyes that greeted her every time she opened the trap door should have been a red flag that - duh - she wasn’t even close to being over him. She had grown to accept the way things were, but now that foundation was starting to crumble.

Marinette needed to get herself back to neutral.

At this rate, she was going to get disappointed when he wasn’t there in the morning tomorrow - she knew he wouldn’t be, but something told her he could be…

Tikki seemed to detect the change in Marinette’s mood when she reappeared about an hour later, exchanging words while Marinette handed her a few cookies.

“Marinette, what’s wrong?”

The red presence floated over carefully to her desk, accepting one of the treats and taking a big bite.

Marinette pressed her lips together and shook her head before sitting down at her desk. She retrieved her drawing tablet and the special pen, queuing up her most recent project: a brilliant purple gown, almost midnight around the sweetheart bodice and lightning to pastels, lavender and almost dusty rose pink along the bottom.

“Nothing, Tikki,” she mumbled as she set to work, sketching and resketching the forms, some without color and others with, again and again. There was the predictable problem of what sort of waistline to do, and each time she readjusted the drop at the hips, she rethought the gradation of color. The look was an ode to her favorite hydrangea bush, inspired by the blossoms’ natural degrees of cool shades. Each petal swirled, ranging from pastel blush anywhere to electric blue and hypnotic indigo, each degree driven by the naturally occurring pH variance in the soil.

Marinette now felt bad about texting Alya earlier. She went and made a big deal of nothing with Adrien, and now she was going to have to admit it to her friend, unless she wanted to lie to her.

Beside her, the red kwami ate three cookies and watched Marinette’s wrist guide the tip of her pen over, around, under and back again in a trying process that was familiar to them both: creation. Nothing was ever as simple as it looked, and the art of making something from the imagination into reality was a difficult one.

Tikki worried. This sort of focus, heavy and quiet, was unlike the girl she knew.

The balance…

Marinette’s phone buzzed again by the time Tikki finished her fourth and final cookie, and they both glanced at the words on the screen.

 

Alya (10:01 PM):

I am seriously worried about you. Are you hurt? What’s going on? Please respond.

 

A grimace appeared on Marinette’s face, tinged with surprise. “It’s already ten…? Ugh.”

Tikki did not comment.

Marinette was chiding herself for not giving her design an appropriate amount of attention, sighing as she studied her tablet. For some reason, she could not stop replaying her interaction with Brielle today, thinking about the Red Fox Veronicas all over again. Maybe it was because she had started to associate a certain friend with foxes in general, chewing on her lip as she contemplated how she might reply to Alya's message. Or maybe it was just because it had been one of the few moments that day that didn’t feel like it was going to betray her if she thought about it too much. It had just been her, and her flowers, and her customers, and her work. It made sense. It wasn’t surreal or unusual – just pure and natural, like her bond with Chat Noir.

If only talking to Adrien could be that easy, she might not be twisting her mind into knots over this silly predicament.

She picked up her phone and flicked open the messages, determined not to read the twenty-plus others that had already spammed her phone. Instead, she quickly penned a message that attempted sincerity, but her heart just wasn’t in it right now.

 

Marinette (10:03 PM):

I’m so sorry Alya. The shop got really busy and I was there late. I only just got home and finished dinner, then I got caught up drawing. I feel like everything is moving in super-speed and I only just caught my breath. I’m sorry!!

 

She only had time to add a few more brush strokes to the current reiteration of the gown when her phone started to ring - actually ring, and Alya's contact popped up on the screen.

Marinette knew she should be excited to talk to her, but now the conversation felt like a mortar waiting to be tread upon, and she was blindfolded and walking across the battlefield. It was only a matter of time until she stepped on it.

“Hello?” Marinette answered.

“Girl! I’ve been worried sick about you,” Alya replied, a little indignant on the other line.

“Alya I’m soooorry,” Marinette moaned into phone, holding it against her ear as she sank onto her desk.

“It’s okay! I’m - I’m sorry for blowing you up. You know how I get sometimes.”

Marinette had to smile at that, knowing her friend’s concern had come from a place of caring. She was sort of like a Mama Bear, always there for her cubs. Marinette just happened to be her favorite cub.

“Yeah… It’s fine. I just feel bad for worrying you.”

Alya paused, but chuckled. “Nah, it’s all good. So what’s the scoop? Is it about who I think it is?”

“Um…” Marinette stood and began to pace her room. She came to a stop in front of her tall window overlooking the street, so she watched the moon and prayed for some lunar penitence.

“Maybe?”

“That’s very specific, Marinette. Thank you.”

The sarcasm was so thick and Alya's tone so goofy that Marinette couldn’t help but giggle. “Okay, okay. I guess I got a little excited this morning, but I thought about it all day and I think I was overreacting buuut…”

“But?”

As quickly as she could manage, Marinette explained in a rush. “Okay! Adrien! He came to the shop this morning and we hung out for almost two hours, and he waited through a horrible appointment for me and there was this jerk who kissed my hand, but then I gave him a bag of cookies and he took one of my braids out. Then I told him about Banks’ roses and he was really nice but had to go, I think cause of his dad. He looked annoyed by a text on his phone. I just wish it could be like a Veronica!”

A short silence followed, and for a moment Marinette thought the line went dead.

“Alya?”

Girl,” her friend slowly exhaled. “I’m going to admit that was… really confusing. Who is Veronica? And who exactly kissed you? All I really got from that was that Adrien spent time with you at work this morning? Of course, that’s amazing, and I’m so happy for you!”

“What?! No!” Marinette’s head fell back on her shoulders, and she was embarrassed to feel the pricking of hot tears form around her eyes. “H-he was just walking in the neighborhood, you know? He lives near there. Oh, god, AlyaI ran right into him on the sidewalk. I wasn’t paying any attention. He came in with me and talked, but I spaced out like twice and blushed like, a million times! I probably made a fool of myself.”

Alya's voice turned serious. “Nu-uh. Don’t say that. Adrien is a nice guy, and, last time I checked, one of your best friends. Besides me, of course. He would never think badly of you, even if you did make a fool of yourself. Which I’m sure you didn’t.”

“But Alya, I - ”

And second,” her friend bulldozed on. “He didn’t mention smack to Nino or I about coming to see you, and he’s never done that before on his own. How often does a kid with a bodyguard and literal daily schedule just ‘go out for a walk’? And hang out for several hours? Seems suspicious to me.”

Marinette bit her lip, feeling that familiar pit in her stomach. Alya was making some very reasonable points, but what if she was wrong? This is exactly why she had tried to bury her hopes with a shovel, but the damned graverobber kept sneaking back, intent on reviving her heart until it indelibly went cold again.

Alya hummed on the other line, an exaggerated sound of a curious reporter looking for the right questions. “Let me check something.”

After what felt like forever, a voice returned on the other line.

“Okay... I can’t talk for too much longer, but hey, how about this? I’m free tomorrow around noon - why don’t I bring you lunch to the store and you can tell me all about it? No holding back though. You have to promise to tell me ev-ery-thing!

That gave her a little comfort - it would be nice to see Alya tomorrow, even if she was going to ravage her for details. Marinette had asked for this in sending that text, so with a small chuckle, she agreed.

“Okay… that’s fair. But I want something really crappy. Like pizza, or something.”

“I think I can work with that.” Alya laughed. “Just take a few deep breaths and don’t overthink everything, okay? We can figure out whatever’s going on in blondie’s head tomorrow. Got it?” Marinette felt herself smile. “Okay. Deal.”

“I’ll text you tomorrow before I head over, so see you then?”

“That’d be perfect. Good night, girlfraaaaaaand.” Marinette made herself laugh at the horrible valley-girl inflection of her own voice, and Alya chortled.

“Good night, crazy child.”

“Heh, bye.”

 


 

Chat Noir crouched beside the glass of the rooftop balcony, waving at the dark-haired girl that faced him with incredulity. He tried to appear sheepish rather than blatantly excited. After all, to appear at a girl’s window at almost 11 PM? He was only a half-step away from being a peeping tom, but alas, he really wanted to talk to Marinette. Texting her had been an option, but seeing her in person? Even better.

She had been sitting at her desk, and when he called her attention, she comically balled her hands into fists and rubbed her eyes, blinking dramatically at his outline in the window. Chat had to snicker at the theatrics and nodded, just to reaffirm to her that he was, indeed, real.

Marinette held up her index finger, the universal symbol for hold on, and so Chat stood and stretched his arms. It felt nice to be here again, though he seldom bothered Marinette so late. He was sort of surprised she was even awake, and he had no doubts her job was physically taxing. Something about watching her haul that massive bag of soil like it was nothing… he gulped, almost worried by how the memory sent an excited quiver down his spine. Marinette was stronger than she looked, and he wouldn’t be surprised if she could knock someone unconscious with a single swing. It bothered him, how much he liked that.

Chat had turned and moved to the railing, gripping the metal as he leaned forward, eyes scanning the thinning Parisian streets. No one would be able to see him with his dark suit against a black backdrop of sky, but it was still a little strange to see so many people out at this hour. Summer, he supposed.

“Chat Noir?”

His smile was automatic, and he half-turned towards the opening to see a curious set of blue eyes, appraising him cautiously.

“Ah,” he bowed. “Purr-incess.”

She rolled her eyes and stepped out onto the balcony, closing the door behind her. Chat noted that she was still wearing her work clothes, which struck him as odd. Did she only just get home?

Marinette sat at one of her outdoor chairs, looking a little worn around the edges. Still, the smile she gave him was radiant.

“How are you tonight, minou? I was a little worried after you vanished yesterday.”

“Ohh…” he ran a hand through his hair. Right. Marinette didn’t know they saw each other this morning. Chewing the inside of his lip, Chat sat on the ground beside her, leaning his head against the left arm rest.

“No, no, I am feline fine. Thank you again for the advice, and the lesson in flowers. It was paw-satively infor-meow-tive.”

“Uggggggggh,” Marinette groaned, rolling her head back against the chair. Chat turned his head in the same fashion, but only to watch her dramatic reaction.

“Not in the meow-d for my puns?” He grinned, and Marinette scratched his hair behind an ear, eliciting a content purr almost instantly.

“That one wasn’t even a pun - you can’t just stick meow onto every word that has an ‘M’ in it.”

He hardly heard her, melting under her touch. A soft rumbling buzzed in his chest, ebbing and flowing with her magic fingers.

For several seconds, Chat forgot his own name - pseudonym and autonym - and just sighed while nuzzling into her touch.

“I believe you are…” he eventually managed, peaking at her through one opened lid. She snorted and shook her head.

“Don’t say it.”

His grin widened, and Marinette stopped petting.

“Don’t say it!”

Chat was at a true crossroads now. To get more of these heavenly scratches, or to land the perfect joke?

“...meow-staken.”

UGHHHHH, CHAT,” she slapped a hand over her eyes, thoroughly done with today and blonde boys.

“Forgive me!” He pleaded, turning around to face her over the armrest. Hands folded in prayer, he did his best to give her his most vulnerable pout.

She leaned her elbow against the rest, brushing his pleading gesture aside, and propped her chin against a closed fist. Her expression was tired but amused, and he was starting to adore the curve of her lips like that.

“Not the kitten eyes,” she whined through a smile.

“Now you know I can’t help that,” he fluttered his lashes and Marinette giggled.

After a brief silence, the girl’s voice had turned solemn. It took him by surprise. “I’m actually glad you’re here.”

He tried to catch her gaze, but she was looking past him, at the buildings or into her memories, he didn’t know.

A little higher than he intended, he spoke the first stupid word that came to mind. “R-Really?”

“Really, mon chaton. Thanks for popping by. Today was… a long day.”

Chat’s ears drooped at her announcement, and he pulled himself away slightly.

“What troubles you, Princess?”

Marinette pursed her lips and avoided his eyes. Chat reached out, though he knew he probably shouldn’t, and placed a finger under her chin. His suit just brushed against the back of the knuckles supporting her head, and he tried to lift her burden ever so slightly.

“You can talk to me about anything.”

She smirked, which was at least something, but Chat wanted to do more to help her. It was the least he could do for all she’s done for him - all of him.

Marinette murmured, “You must be serious... if you said ‘talk to me about anythingand you didn’t even make a pun.”

The both stared seriously at the each other, frozen, and then Chat started to laugh. Slow at first, he felt a snicker or two break through his worried scowl, and after the third or fourth suppressed giggle escaped him, Marinette joined in with chuckles of her own. They grew in volume and in feeling, and in no time at all, he was laying on his back sighing, looking at the few stars that danced in the night sky. Paris was far too bright to see much but an occasional twinkle, but aren’t those glimmers the ones worth chasing?

He stretched contently, nearly forgetting about the topic that had flattened him until he heard Marinette sniffle. Almost so fast that he gave himself a head rush, Chat was up again and beside her.

Black leather wiped warm, soft cheeks, dispelling the moisture that stained them.

“Marinette? What is wrong? I didn’t offend you, did I?”

She hadn’t looked straight in his eyes until the last word, and Chat felt his breath catch in his throat. The bottomless blues were no longer gentle pools, but swirling tempests with strange depths that Chat could make neither head-nor-tails of. He continued to stroke his thumb across her cheekbones, desperate to provide some sort of comfort.

“It’s not you, minou. I promise.” Her words were punctured by a self-deprecating sort of chuckle, and she moved one of her slender hands over his own and rubbed the length of his knuckles with her thumb. Then she pulled his hand away. “I’m just stupid.”

“That doesn’t sound like you.” He responded immediately, adjusting so he was on his knees on the ground in front of her, while she curled her own knees into her chest, the tips of her toes poking over the chair. His gaze was forward, but hers looked away.

“You’ll have to take my word for it.”

There it was again - her mask on, her guard up. Marinette was keeping him at arm’s length, shouldering some invisible weight she didn’t want to trouble him with.

“Please, Marinette. You helped me. Let me help you?”

Worn from exhaustion or his words, Marinette sighed heavily and squeezed her eyes shut.

“I’m fine, really. I don’t even know why I’m so emotional - I just got off the phone with my friend Alya… uh, you know? The Ladyblogger?” She glanced at him, and Chat nodded. “I think my nerves are just worn. Work, you know?”

Chat was at least relieved to hear her usual tone returned, but he was far from satisfied. “Are you sure? If there’s anything I can do, name it, Princess.”

Marinette merely smiled and adjusted in her chair, scooting forward and putting her feet on the ground. Her cerulean stare was full and pure once again, and she was so close he could smell the familiar richness of chocolate and flour that had phased itself into her skin. She leaned forward and pressed her lips into his cheek.

“I promise, mon chaton.”

Chat - Adrien - whoever he was - swallowed hard on his throat. With what, he had no idea; his mouth had gone totally dry. It took everything in him not to close the distance between them when she leaned away. He found himself wanting very, very badly to discover how soft her lips would feel against his own, or if she tasted like sugar, or if he could feel her smiling between their gasps for breath.

“Um, Chat?”

He was staring. Oh, god, he was staring, wasn’t he? Stop staring, idiot.

Wait, who am I talking to? Don’t engage with fictional versions of your own consciousness, idiot.

Who are you calling idiot, idiot?

Oh, god, just say something.

Chat cleared his throat and practically fell backwards, landing on his bottom and supporting his weight with his hands. Part of him wondered how stupid he looked right now.

“S-sorry, cat got my tongue?”

Marinette blinked twice as the joke settled before she positively burst with laughter. She rolled back in her chair and grabbed her sides, snickering and giggling and shaking her head in annoyed admiration.

Chat proudly rose to standing, puffing out his chest and giving a radiant smile. He hoped she didn’t notice his blush, feeling hugely embarrassed. “That’s meow-r like it, Purr-incess.”

She shook her head as a few more giggles escaped her lips. “I can’t decide if I love you or if I hate you.”

Beaming, Chat leapt easily onto the palisade that looked over the streets, this time crouching low so he might sit more comfortably with his weight distributed between both hands and feet. He had no trouble with the suit on, of course.

“You’re such a cat sometimes,” Marinette remarked. He hummed in agreement, rather enjoying the comfortable quiet of this stretch of Paris skyline at night. With a lovely girl in his company, he felt almost at bliss. He just needed to stop with the random urges to kiss her, and he could be at peace.

Marinette rested her arms on the railing, looking out over the park that neighbored her house. Chat could see the statue of himself and Ladybug from here, setting off a little pang in his stomach. He wondered what his Lady was doing this evening.

His present company roused him from his thoughts with a change of topic.

“I would ask if you were following me, but I know that’s not true. Or else you would already know who I ran into on my way home.”

Chat prowled down the railing, settling on his backside just beside one of her elbows. “Oh? And would you enlighten me?”

“Nah. Girl’s gotta have some secrets.”

He bumped his hip slightly into her arm, and she chuckled. “I’m teasing. It was only the most notorious superhero across all of Paris, of course.”

Chat almost slipped from the balcony. “W-what? You saw Ladybug?”

One look at her told him otherwise, her blue eyes devilish and lips suppressing a grin.

“No, guess again.”

“I’m pretty sure that just leaves me… I didn’t see you since this mo- er,” Chat paused, catching himself. “Since yesterday. Which could mean that Copycat was akumatized again?”

Marinette merely shook her head, biting her lip to keep from laughing. “Nope. Try again. This person is way cooler than you.”

He flashed a set of white teeth, now feeling provoked. “Rena Rogue?”

“Ehhhh.” Marinette made a noise reminiscent of a game show buzzer. “Though I do feel you’re getting closer. Give up?”

“You’d like that wouldn’t you?”

Sliding down the metal banister, Chat maneuvered himself so he was facing Marinette from the other side of the balcony, his feet finding leverage against the shingling of the house. He moved deftly and used his arms to support most of his weight, not wanting to damage the exterior of the Dupain-Cheng home, but feeling too bristled to back down.

He enjoyed meeting Marinette’s challenges head-on, and what was more literal than face to face?

Chat rather enjoyed the brush of red that swept her cheeks. Marinette, he had noticed, was easy to flush, but a tiny part of him wondered. Did he bring that reaction from her, being so close? Did he want that?

“Hmm… well, as far as heroes go, that only leaves, one, someone I haven’t met,” Chat started counting off on his claws, lifting a finger in time with his explanation.

“Which seems unfair. Two, someone who isn’t a conventional ‘hero.’ Like the police…?”

No reaction.

What was the furthest thing from a hero he could think of?

“Or like Hawk Moth?”

Marinette snorted and didn’t even grant him a response, the life in her eyes practically dancing under the peekaboo stars and crisp moonlight. He wanted to solve her puzzle and deny her the smug satisfaction of his concession.

“Dang,” he let out a good-humored sigh and his shoulders rolled back. Chat extended his arms and pushed his torso back from the balcony to pull away from Marinette’s face. “I was hoping that with your luck, you might have just run into him on your way home and befriended him. That would have made my job a lot easier.”

“Pff,” Marinette sputtered through a smirk. “While that does sound like something that could happen to me, I’m afraid not. Keep dreamin’, minou.”

Chat hung his head in mock-defeat, drooping his ears for dramatic effect. “Well that could only mean option three, you lied to this poor stray, and you just wanted to tease me until I gave up.”

“Bite your tongue, chaton!” Marinette patted one of his hands on the railing playfully, and he merely pouted. Peering up through his lashes, Chat tried to use his experience as a model to affix his best smoldering smile.

Marinette’s smirk twitched and she let out a low exhale. “Oh fine. It was number two. Unconventional is the right word.”

Crossing her arms, Marinette huffed and turned away, calling a familiar phrase over her shoulder.

Hoo-hoo.

Chat gasped, and Marinette spun around with a knowing, almost wicked grin. He crouched quickly and propelled his weight skyward, landing on the cool metal of the bannister once again. This time, he remained standing, and he bent both arms towards his chest, keeping his elbows pointed perpendicular.

“You don’t mean…”

Marinette nodded, covering her mouth with a hand to force down her snickering.

The Owl!” Chat cooed.

A mirror of his own gesture, the dark-haired girl’s face turned impressively stoic.

The Owl.”

Chat leapt down from his perch, if only so he could double-over without risking his life, because he was shaking from laughter, and Marinette was no better. She backed up into the same chair as earlier, sinking low as she giggled and snorted, eventually turning red and breathy from their antics.

A cat through-and-through, Chat found himself on the ground once again, this time curling up beside one of her legs and resting the back of his head against her knees. Shaking his head at their utter goofiness, Chat sighed peacefully and studied a few pale clouds, watching their western trek across the sky. Marinette returned to her earlier task of combing his blond hair with her fingers, and Chat didn’t even bother to suppress the purring that stirred in his chest.

As Adrien, he could only imagine being so bold with Marinette. To be comfortable like this. There was the ever-present risk that he might make her uncomfortable. Even friends without his mask, he always felt on the outside of her circle. What circle - social, personal - he didn’t even know, but that barrier dissolved when he met her as Chat.

...and, more recently, he was dealing with a hollow sort of worry. One that he wasn’t even quite sure he was ready to admit; that she might not want to be like this if he was Adrien. Comfortable. Goofy. Running a hand through his hair as natural as breathing, the sensation almost dazing him with her firm but soft touch. Their morning together had been a dream, but would he have to wake up? As Chat, he felt he could hit the snooze and put everything on pause (or, on paws, he mused with himself). That wasn’t an option as Adrien.

“Hmm,” he heard Marinette murmur, and she stopped scratching to cover a yawn with one hand.

“Of course,” Chat chuckled. “The Purr-incess must rest. Another day of pastries, flowers, and possibly feline visitors awaits her, after all.”

She rolled her eyes but accepted his hand, offering to help her stand. “You make it sound so lovely when you put it that way. If only.” Marinette clicked her tongue, and the thought made him frown.

Chat gave her fingers a light squeeze before putting both of his own hands behind his head, walking back towards the edge of the balcony. “Was it another difficult day at the store?”

“Actually…” She paused and Chat glanced behind him. Was she… blushing?

“It was a... much better day than usual. I had a special visitor who doesn’t usually come and… it was really nice.” She wore a sad smile, but looked up at him with sweet sincerity. “It probably won’t happen again anytime soon, but it was a nice change.”

He blinked a few times, lowering his arms.

“They won’t come visit you again?”

Marinette shook her head. “I doubt it. They are very busy. It’s okay, though,” she smiled and looked at her feet.

“I’m just grateful to enjoy it while I had the chance. We must take advantages of our few opportunities of good luck, mustn’t we, minou?”

Chat felt his heart flutter under her gaze, and he smiled before looking up at the stars once again. “Indeed. We must cherish those moments we’re given for what they are.” He exhaled and turned, flashing her a final smile and two fingered salute.

“Sleep well, Princess.”

“You too, Chat Noir.” Marinette waved, eyes drooping.

To himself, Chat murmured a small promise.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Adrien awoke the next morning with a full heart and dreamy smile - probably the happiest he’s ever been to wake up to his blaring alarm, at least since his first day of public school.

It was eight AM.

The flower shop opened at ten.

Only two more hours until he could see her again.

“Kid, you’re killing me.” Plagg whined as he rolled over in bed, sinking deeper into his tiny pillow.

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” Adrien said. “Aren’t you like, thousands of years old? Wouldn’t you stop noticing a few hours lost?”

“You’d think so…” Plagg grumbled.

Adrien sighed and got up, starting his day with a shower and requesting breakfast be prepared by the chefs in the meantime. It wouldn’t do to eat all of Marinette’s food again, but he might not be able to resist a croissant if offered. At least if he was full, he’d be a little less tempted, right?

Showering, dressing and eating all came and went too quickly. Pursuing his lips, Adrien wondered if he had been a little too eager today; it was only nine AM and he was ready to be out the door.

Chuckling to himself, Adrien would have bet one of his nine lives that Marinette wasn’t even awake yet. For as impressive as she was, nothing was more predictable than her awesome power of tardiness.

Adrien returned to his room and considered browsing the web to pass the time, perhaps check up on the Ladyblog, but ended up fiddling with his phone. Nino had texted him, which was definitely odd this early on a Wednesday in the middle of summer.

 

Nino (8:55 AM):

Hey! You busy today?

 

Adrien hesitated. Technically he didn’t have “plans” with Marinette, at least, none that she knew about… but he had kind of structured his day around seeing her, going so far as to lie to Nathalie and say he was going to hang out with the very same friend who just texted him.

 

Adrien (9:08 AM):

Not really - was going to go out in a bit but nothing set in stone. What’s up?

 

Deciding not to lie, Adrien sent the text and almost immediately regretted it. His phone was now ringing.

 

“Hey, Nino,” he greeted, earning him an annoyed grunt from Plagg who was still trying to sleep.

The familiar brightness of his friend’s voice was a sound that Adrien would never tire of.

“‘Sup, bro! Sorry if you were sleeping.”

“Nope, I’ve been awake for an hour. I’m actually surprised you’re not sleeping,” Adrien said pointedly.

Nino paused. “Yeah, you got me there. I had to leave Ayla’s house really early today.”

“W-wait,” Adrien caught his friend’s insinuation, mortified. “You spent the night at Alya’s?!”

“Pff,” Nino chuckled. “Get your mind out of the gutter. We just got caught up watching a movie, and her parents didn’t want me walking home that late. I slept on the couch, like a gentleman, thank you very much.”

Adrien stood and moved to his window, glad he was having this conversation by phone. It was embarrassing enough to talk about, but for Nino to see him blushing on top of it? That would be social suicide.

He coughed. “Well, then, what are you up to now?”

“That’s why I was calling, actually,” Nino sighed. “I’m beyond bored and I’m already too awake to go back to bed. Alya is going to see Marinette in a little while, and she said it was a ‘girl time,’” Nino emphasized the words, and Adrien could practically the air quotes. “So I thought we could hang. It’s been too long, dude.”

Adrien snorted in good-humor. “I did see you, like, five days ago, right?”

“I know, but I’ve been with Alya almost everyday since. I need a little less romance and a little more bromance in my life right now.”

“Is that what we’re calling it now?” Adrien was laughing, and he noted Plagg drag himself into the air, floating into reluctant consciousness.

“That’s what Alya calls it,” Nino snickered. “So, are you busy? I’m dying for breakfast.”

“Mmm,” Adrien tapped his chin, thinking.

He was anxious to see Marinette again, though his recent conversations with Plagg were feeling borderline accusatory. His motivation to hang out with her was strictly because she made him feel better and happy, no matter how much his kwami teased. Certainly Nino put him in a good mood, too, though; it wouldn’t really make sense to pass up the chance to hang out with his best friend to stop in on Marinette again - besides, she’s working. His company was probably distracting.

And conveniently, he had already told Nathalie that he was going to see Nino today. The lie had been simply been opportune, but it wouldn’t be a huge deal to own up to it. Nino was his best friend after all, so it was sort of the default excuse if he was going out, and he was basically the only person who ever came over to the mansion for a significant amount of time. If he had to guess, Nino was the only one of his friends Nathalie even knew by name. Adrien might even go so far as to guess Nathalie was glad that he had Nino is his life; he occasionally caught her smiling when he would say goodbye to Nino after school and never seemed to ask too many questions if Adrien wanted to rearrange his schedule to accommodate him.

“I had plans, but nothing that I can’t do later. I actually just ate, but we could still go out? I kind of want to give coffee another shot.”

Nino groaned. “I remember the last time you got coffee… maybe go for decaf this time, for my sake?”

Grinning, Adrien moved around his room and collected his wallet and a jacket. “We’ll see.”

The boys agreed on a time and a spot near Nino’s house and quickly wrapped up their conversation.

Now it was Plagg’s turn to bother him.

“So, you’re not going to the flower shop today?” The kwami was clearly trying to goad him, but was Adrien imagining it, or did he detect the tiniest hint of disappointment?

Adrien rolled his eyes and began to pull on his shoes. “What, are you upset that you’re not going to get to ditch me again?”

Plagg scoffed and turned away. “Tsk. I told you, I’m not apologizing for yesterday. I can’t stand to listen to your terrible attempts at flirting. It drives me crazy.”

“I wasn’t flirting with her,” Adrien huffed.

“Mmm, yeah, sure. Whatever you say, kid.” His kwami retreated to his camembert sanctuary momentarily, and the room turned quiet save for Adrien’s tapping foot.

“Just bring some with you,” Adrien said eventually.  “I told Nino I’d meet him in 20 minutes.”

Plagg appeared after another thirty seconds, paused to stick his tongue out at his chosen, and zoomed into the front pocket of Adrien’s jacket. Appropriately, he reeked of aged cheese. The blonde made a face but chose not to comment, lest he be made to suffer more of Plagg’s crude attempts at humor.

He had not been flirting with Marinette. They were just friends, enjoying each others company.

Thankfully, Nathalie had been easy enough to convince of the small change in plans. Adrien explained they changed their mind and wanted to go to a coffee shop on Nino’s side of town, so she arranged to have his driver at the front waiting in five minutes.

He leaned against one of the twin marble pillars outside the front door, watching the street. It was another beautiful, even picturesque, day in Paris. The morning heat was intense, but it felt a little less humid today - only the warming rays of the sun and endlessly blue skies above, juxtaposed by the subtle buzz of metropolitan life punctured by the occasional burst of a car engine shorting or the stacco thump of shoes on pavement.

Marinette should be getting to work soon, Adrien noted as he studied his watch. A tiny part of him still wished he had declined Nino’s offer, but he needn’t be greedy. He saw her twice yesterday and once the day before as Chat, and the day was still young.

We must take advantages of our few opportunities of good luck, mustn’t we, minou?

He watched the car pull up as he recalled their conversation yesterday, turning over the possibility that the “special visitor” she had referred to could have been him. It would have been weird to ask for the person’s name as Chat, but the curiosity was indeed killing this cat. What if it was him? Would she have been surprised if he had showed up this morning?

“Good morning,” Adrien said as he settled into the backseat. “To Nino’s, please.”

There was no reply - not that he expected one - and the car began moving. Adrien mindlessly pulled out his cellphone and stared at the screen, not really sure what he thought he might find there.

I could text her and that wouldn’t be weird, right?

He pursed his lips, but eventually tried for something friendly-yet-not-creepy.

 

Adrien (9:40 AM):

It was nice “running into you” yesterday Mari :P

 

Adrien had Marinette’s number for at least a year, probably longer, and while they did text occasionally, it was usually reserved for academic contexts, or for fencing practice. Marinette had become scary good since joining a few years ago, and --

 

Ayla (9:41 AM):

I’m sure it was “nice,” Agreste.

 ...

Oh.

Looking down, Adrien’s eyes went wide. He blinked a few times, as if it would help.

Oh, no.

He had texted all of them.

He and Marinette spoke more regularly over text if it was by way of their group chat with Alya and Nino; sometime last semester, they had all  managed to be partnered for a project and the chat still thrived to this day, even months later. Someone, usually himself or Ayla, would spur life back into their devices by sharing some sort of stupid picture or funny story… and his overly anxious brain just reacted to seeing Marinette’s name is his list of messages and didn’t even think to check if it was their private chat or not.

Well… that wasn’t a huge deal, right? Maybe it would have been even worse to text her individually, his rational side tried to reason, pretending to offer some comfort to disturbed palpitations that had begun to thump in his chest.

 

Nino (9:41 AM):

Is “running into you” slang for something we should know?

 

Adrien stared at the screen like it had just accused him of being Hawk Moth.

Now what was he supposed to do? Leave it to Nino and Ayla to make things totally inappropriate. So much for not creeping Marinette out.

Chewing at his lip, Adrien tried to think of some kind of low-key response, because saying nothing would only reaffirm whatever horrible innuendos they were trying to instill in his totally innocent comment, or, invite them to make even more explicit jokes at his expense.

 

Adrien (9:43 AM):

Well…. that digressed quickly.

 

He would be arriving Nino’s house in only another few minutes, so Adrien buried the desire to text his friend separately and berate him. Still, he watched the chat, hoping someone would say something else that would make him feel less like a total moron.

Marinette’s name popped up a few seconds later.

Adrien bit his tongue, trying and failing not to smile like an idiot.

 

Marinette (9:44 AM):

You could almost say it… “Agressted” quickly.

 

A pun. From Marinette. And it even used his name?

It was like fireworks went off in his throat and he released a very uncool sounding giggle, his heart suddenly much lighter. His sudden flash of happiness was dispelled by a distinctive twitch in his pocket; he could just feel the smug look on Plagg’s face. The kwami shifted, and it was a knowing kind of movement, dripping with “I told you so’s.” Adrien had to resist the urge to smack the tremble in his pocket out of spite.

 

Ayla (9:45 AM):

Welp I’m dead. Bye everyone.

 

Adrien shook his head in amusement, all worries forgotten. He could see Nino standing outside his house, smiling at his own phone - presumably enjoying his girlfriend’s joke in the same chat. He put his phone away and waited for the car to roll to a stop, and he quickly got out.

Leaning in before he closed the door, Adrien smiled politely at his bodyguard.

“Nino and I are going to the cafe around the corner. If you don’t mind waiting in the car?”

The man pursed his lips, and Adrien blinked a few times in surprise. It almost looked like he was going to say something. The thought was more troubling than it should have been, because Adrien was utterly unable to imagine what his voice sounded like.

But the moment passed. The man merely shut his eyes and nodded once, turning his attention back to the road and shifted gears to find a place to park.

“There’s my dude!” Nino beamed once the car was gone, offering Adrien an open hand. The blonde smiled and grasped it in his own, meeting shoulder-to-shoulder in a half-hug. It was a greeting that was as special to Adrien as it was routine. Socialites from fashion world shook hands, exclusively, and they were always way too firm or completely void of enthusiasm. With Nino, he need not even think about it; they always just hugged or bumped fists, depending on the moment, and it was only made more warming by the fact that it was second nature.

“‘Sup, Nino?” Adrien asked as they pulled apart.

“Just dying to break this fast, let’s goooo,” he pointed in the general direction of the cafe and jerked his head. Adrien fell into step beside him, exchanging a few normal pleasantries while they found their conversational rhythm.

Once they did, Nino showed no mercy.

“Soooo, what is this about you and Marinette ‘running into each other’ yesterday?”

Adrien shrugged. “It’s what it sounds like, what do you mean? She was on her way to work and we bumped into each other.”

That earned him a skeptical look from his bespeckled friend. “And should I expect a sweet text tomorrow from you in thanks for my company this morning?”

Adrien rolled his eyes. “Maybe it’s comments like that that caused Alya to start calling this a bromance.”

Nino placed a hand against his chest and jut out his chin. “Hey, I am a dude who is proud of his dude friends. No shame!”

A grin made its way to Adrien’s face.

“No shame,” he agreed.

The pair paused their banter momentarily as Nino directed them to the cafe entrance. Adrien had never been here before, so he encouraged Nino to order first.

The front of the store was relatively small, but had a connecting room to the right with extra tables. Most of the surfaces were rustic, marbles of gray and brown wood paneling the floor and mismatched tables and chairs cluttered the space between both rooms. There was a long book shelf and a decent collection of comic books, along with a few classic board games piled on a small shelf beside the counter. Some antique paintings lined the walls, and what he could only guess were curated old-timey lights dangled from the ceiling. It was quiet, only one table of three chattering above a light playlist in the background. Two other tables were occupied by individuals on their laptops, only adding to the din with light clicks against their keyboards.

Adrien followed Nino to the counter and quickly picked over the chalkboard menu - he had only just eaten, and yet, here he was, hungry again. Resigned not to overindulge this time, he ordered a small coffee and a cookie, though he could already tell they were going to pale in comparison to the superior Dupain-Cheng product he had grown to crave.

Nino, having ordered a proper meal, took a number and found a table in the neighboring room while the barista handed Adrien his coffee and cookie.

Settling in across from his friend, Adrien opted to hold off eating just yet, figuring it more polite for Nino’s food to be brought out and then to eat together. Unfortunately, his manners left him with no conversational defense against Nino’s questioning gaze.

“Soooo... you wanna tell me about it?”

“About what?” Adrien scratched his neck, trying to look nonchalant.

“Dude, you and Marinette almost never hang out alone. And all the sudden you’re sneaking around without me and Alya?” Nino crossed his arms and sat back in his chair, clearly enjoying himself.

Adrien bit his tongue. “Actually, Marinette and I hang out plenty without you guys. You know, considering, someone constantly ‘sneaks off’ all the time with his girlfriend when we’re hanging out.”

That made Nino grin, and he at least had the decency to look sheepish.

“That’s fair, that’s fair. Alya and Marinette talked on the phone last night, and I just wanted to make sure everything was cool. ‘Nette seemed upset, but Alya didn’t say about what.”

Adrien chose not to comment - it’s not like he could really say he showed up on Marinette’s balcony late last night and tried to comfort her not long after Alya. Assuming Nino was being honest, Marinette hadn’t shared what was bothering her with Alya, either.

I’m just stupid.

Why would she say that? It couldn’t be further than the truth, and it frustrated him that she felt that way about herself.

His reflections were interrupted when a server appeared at their table, delivering Nino’s breakfast.  He ordered some sort of egg sandwich and a bowl of fruit, so Adrien used this chance to test his coffee.

“Ick,” Adrien said with a grimace. Nino snorted.

“Did you remember to get decaf?”

“Nope,” Adrien stated, manning through another sip.

“Ugh... So bitter.” He glared at the coffee, wondering why caffeine had to come at such a horrible, flavorless price.

“Anyways,” the blonde sighed and set down his cup, breaking off a corner of his cookie. “To answer your question, there’s really nothing to talk about. I was out walking, and Marinette was on her way to work. You know the shop is just around the corner from my house, and we bumped into each other. Literally, Mari almost fell.” Nino nodded at Marinette’s typical lack of coordination, but did not interrupt. “Hence the whole, ‘running into you’ thing from the text. It was just a coincidence.”

Adrien felt Plagg claw him from within his pocket, and he flinched slightly. Thankfully, Nino didn’t notice, but the message was received.

That’s a lie and you know it.

Adrien wrinkled his nose at the acknowledgment. Plagg’s unspoken words were louder than they should have been, bouncing around his brain. Why did he lie to Nino? It’s not like his best friend would judge him poorly for wanting to spend time with Marinette. Nino had known Marinette for way longer anyways. Heck, if he could tell Plagg the truth and withstand his constant complaining and criticism, then surely Nino’s reaction couldn’t be worse.

Releasing a tiny breath that he didn’t even realize he was holding, Adrien scowled down at his coffee but did not amend his earlier statement.

Nino took a bite of his sandwich and chewed slowly, a puzzled look spreading across his own face. He almost appeared angry, or seriously focused on solving a math problem, neither of which really made sense in this context.

“Uhh, you good?” Adrien raised a brow in his direction.

“What?” He blinked a few times and shook his head. “Oh, yeah, yeah. Sorry just, uh, remembered something. So was it nice?”

“Oh, yeah, it was really nice. The shop is really peaceful - it feels out of place in the middle of Paris, you know?”

“Definitely,” Nino agreed. “And what about Marinette?”

“Umm,” Adrien felt his heart rate pick-up. “What do you mean?”

Nino popped a piece of pineapple into his mouth. “I haven’t seen her since last week. Did she mention what was bothering her?”

“Ohh,” he paused to take another bite from his cookie. “No, she really seemed her normal self in the morning. She did mention that her parents bought the place from the previous owner. She’s working there alone now, basically running the place herself, so it explains why she’s been M.I.A. lately...  I think the work and hours are just catching up with her, maybe.”

Nino nodded solemnly before taking another large bite from his sandwich; Adrien seized the opportunity to move the conversation away from himself and Marinette.

“So what’s been new with you?”

His friend rubbed his chin and finished chewing. “Hmm. Been hanging out with Alya, obviously, but other than that? Not much. I got a gig next weekend for some friend-of-a-friend’s party that I’m starting to get ready for. Same old otherwise.”

Adrien nodded, smiling at the good news. Nino’s popularity as a DJ was still modest, but it increased everyday. This would be his second or third “gig” in the past month.

“I forgot it was ‘party’ season. Marinette mentioned it’s wedding season for her and her parents, too.”

“Man,” Nino paused to wipe his mouth. “It would be sweet if she could get me in on one of her parent’s wedding shindigs. Those pay handsomely.” He made a show of making his voice sound about as pretentious as possible. It was suspiciously close to the way people spoke around Adrien’s father, and the notion made them both laugh.

“Have you asked her about it?” Adrien wondered aloud. “I mean, I don’t know how that stuff works, but all of their clients seem to love Marinette.”

He tried not to sound too annoyed, the memories of Mounseir Declair from yesterday still fresh in his mind.

“I mean, honestly, doesn’t everyone love Marinette?” Nino winked at him.

Why did he wink at him? And why did it suddenly feel really hot in here?

Must be the coffee. He sipped it anyways.

Adrien made a noncommittal “mmm” sound into his drink, and Nino just chuckled.

“No, I haven’t asked her. I thought that might seem, I don’t know, rude? Presumptive?” He finished his sandwich and moved to his fruit, skewering a strawberry. Adrien looked down at his coffee, starting to grow used to the strong acidity once it was paired with a sweet treat. The balance was nice, and it took him having the parts separately to appreciate them together.

“That’s a big word for you, Nino,” he said eventually, raising his brows as if inviting him to challenge the claim.

Nino scoffed. “Hey, an expansive vocabulary is just one of the many perks of dating an aspiring journalist. Ass.”

Adrien covered his mouth so as not to dribble coffee down his chin, trying not to laugh.

“Hmm,” Nino looked at the ceiling. “I guess I could see if they’d let me set out some business cards…”

“It never hurts to ask.” Adrien agreed, which Nino seemed to appreciate. He nodded before switching to another topic.

“We need to all get together again soon, you, me, Alya and Marinette,” said Nino, finishing his last piece of fruit. He pushed the bowl away, but Adrien watched that same calculating scowl appeared from earlier.

“I can see if Alya’s got some free time this week, maybe we could…”

Nino paused mid-sentence and his scowl only deepened. His pocket had began to buzz, so he retrieved his cell phone after a moment of digging.

“Ah,” he said with a smile. “Speak of the devil.”

He began typing a message to the Devil Herself.

Adrien watched as Nino’s fingers made a mad dash to respond to whatever exchange had just occurred between him and Alya, feeling a tiny pang of jealousy in his stomach. It must be nice to be able to communicate so easily with the people you care about. Always open. Available. Why was it so hard for him?

Scratching his cheek, Nino slipped his phone back into his pocket and asked a question so casually, Adrien might have been mistaking it as just a check of the time.

“So what are you going to do about Marinette?”

Adrien nearly spit out the dredges of his drink. “W-what?”

His friend blinked back at him, surprised by his reaction. “What? You like her, don’t you?”

The sound that came from his mouth could not be described as human - it couldn’t even pass as cat. It was like a cross between a cough and a gurgle, some disturbed creature writhing in his windpipe.

Adrien could feel himself blushing, which only him blush harder, the pink hue to his cheeks intensifying in waves.

Be embarrassed about what Nino said, then be even more embarrassed that you’re embarrassed about it! Great work, Agreste.

“W-why - no, no, I mean, why would you say that?”

“C’mon, man,” Nino said with a few final chuckles. “I’m your friend. If you really don’t want to talk about it, I’ll shut up. But I know when something is up with you.”

“I…” he opened his mouth, trying for some sort of reasonable response. Plagg twitched knowingly in his pocket again, and Adrien was feeling conversationally cornered.

“No,” he frowned. “I don’t think - I mean, I don’t like Marinette. Not like that. Besides, I like someone else, remember?”

“Oh,” his friend grimaced. “Right. Mystery Girl.”

Thankfully, Nino had stopped pressing him for details about Ladybug. They were resigned to referring to her as just Mystery Girl.

“You can like more than one person at the same time, you know.”

Adrien chewed his cookie slowly and shook his head. “That feels wrong. Scummy.”

Lips pursed, Nino looked ready to say something else but Adrien didn’t want to give him the chance.

“Besides,” Adrien bit his lip. “I mean, I don’t like her in any sort of romantic way, but, why, what would make you even think that?”

Nino narrowed his eyes at him. “Uhh, I mean, you are suddenly really nervous talking about her? Seems sort of sudden after knowing her for years. And, granted, you and Marinette spend time together when Alya and I need some privacy,” he paused to grin at the insinuation, but Adrien chose to ignore it. “But I’m guessing you don’t usually send her a ‘cute text’ the next day when Alya and I do that, do you? So something’s different.”

Adrien simply stared, wide-eyed. He attempted to open his mouth to counter, but firmly closed it again.

Sighing, Nino shook his head and sat back in his chair. “And, honestly dude, you’re blushing really hard right now.”

Adrien was desperately trying to think of something to say, but Nino was too fast for him.

“Listen, if you like her, you like her, and if you don’t, you don’t. But there’s something off about you.”

“Umm...” Adrien murmured, suddenly feeling like a child caught cheating on a test. Nino could read him too easily, and his guilty conscious raised a very good question once again, although it sounded an awful lot like Plagg in his mind. Why was he lying about it? He had no trouble explaining his feelings to Plagg, so why did it feel so difficult to express to Nino?

“Okay… you’re right,” he gulped. “I’m sorry. I guess I just got embarrassed ‘cause, I didn’t mean to text all of you, I just meant to text Marinette. And I didn’t ‘bump into her’ by accident. I knew she would be out around that time, and I wanted to see her.”

Nino raised a brow and waited for him to continue, which, to be honest, surprised him. Adrien didn’t really have anything else to say. The silence created a pressure of absence though, so he kept talking after a pause.

“I just, you know, I hate being home all the time by myself. My father wants me to join a business program early, attend introductory university classes on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons when school starts. So I really want to make this summer count, and… um, you know, you’re busy with Alya now. Don’t misunderstand, I’m super happy for you, man.” Adrien smiled, but it didn’t feel like it belonged on his face at that moment.

“So I thought, Marinette might feel similarly, since she might be in the same boat - you know, Alya is with you all the time. Before she worked at the store, we all spent time together and it was totally fine, but now it’s sort of… third-wheely if just I tag along. And, I mean, Marinette is nice and fun to be around, and since she works so close to my house now, I just thought we could spend more time together.”

Now his friend was frowning, and Adrien wished he wouldn’t. It wasn’t pity, not exactly, but it felt an awful lot like it, and it just made the whole thing that much frustrating.

“Sorry about your old man, dude, I didn’t know.” Nino eventually released a long exhale. “I’ll drop it, but let me just say one final thing, and I promise I won’t bring it up again. Fair?”

Tight-lipped, Adrien nodded. Surely he could stand for one more comment.

“Okay. Hear me out, then. There’s this study I heard about that an American psychologist did. It’s just a coin-toss, heads or tails. Right?”

Adrien notched a brow, which Nino took as an invitation to continue.

“The idea is, you pick a side and flip the coin. Like, for me, it could be - do I want this sandwich, or do I want this bowl of fruit?” He gestured towards the foods he had finished several minutes ago, empty plate and bowl before him. “If I get heads, I get the sandwich. If I get tails, I get the fruit. With me so far?”

“Uh, sure,” Adrien ran a hair through his hair. “I’m not sure what this has to do with Marinette and I hanging out, but…”

“Patience, young Padawan.”

Adrien shook his head, but Nino didn’t break his narrative stride.

“So, if I flipped the coin and got heads for the sandwich, and I felt a... like, how did the guy say it? Like, a pain in my stomach, like I was disappointed? Then that just meant I made the wrong choice. Even though I flipped and got heads, all it was really telling me was I wanted the fruit.”

Adrien just stared, comically clueless.

Nino sat back in his chair, his expression thoughtful. “So, Alya won’t tell me up-from-down when it comes to this stuff with ‘Nette, which is fair. I wouldn’t tell her about this,” he pointed at Adrien and back to himself, gesturing their conversation. “Either. So take this with a grain of salt, but I am Marinette’s friend too. And, I’m someone who’s known her for a long time and, if I say so myself, knows her fairly well. If you don’t like her like that, it’s not a big deal. Be better friends. I’m super in support of that, Marinette’s pretty awesome.” He shrugged and started to stand, Adrien just staring, utterly dumbstruck.

Looking at him over his glasses, Nino leaned forward and put his hands on the back of his chair. “But all this? It sounds like to me, honestly, that you are sort of missing out on what summer could be. What if, for example, Marinette liked you? Are you just dismissing everything because of Mystery Girl? It’s been years, man, and I hate seeing you like this. It’s frustrating from my perspective, because it doesn’t have to be this way. You’re basically choosing to make yourself miserable.”

A tense pause followed, Adrien not even moving to blink as the words crashed into him like angry pellets of rain at the top of the Eiffel Tower (a comparison, he acknowledged, that probably only a handful of people could ever make). The rain didn’t hurt, at least, not on purpose, but the intensity and biting chill against his skin was somehow refreshing and unpleasant all at the same time. Like a cup of black coffee, almost.

Eventually, with difficulty, Adrien found some words. They weren’t really adequate against the proverbial bomb Nino just dropped oh-so-casually onto his lap, but it was something.

“...Well, how… how am I even supposed to respond to that?”

“You don’t, dude. That’s the point. It’s a coin flip. You should already know.”

Could it really be that simple?

It couldn’t.

No.

Not possible.

Sure, Marinette was a burst of sunshine on a cloudy day. Her hair looked soft, her skin softer, and he loved to hear her giggle at one of his objectively funny jokes. There was the latent irritation that he had come to see Nino today instead of her, and there was the piecemeal of his spirit that he felt deposited by her ballet flats everytime they parted. She was a special person to him; passionate, fiercely loyal and a pair of eyes that made him feel like she was really seeing him, even as Chat. Ironic.

But…

What about Ladybug?

He gulped hard at the thought of her. There haven’t been any akumas in a week, so maybe he was just biased from spending so much time with Marinette and so little with his Lady.

As partners, their trust and the balance she provided to him was of immeasurable value to him. It had been nearly three years, and he wasn’t any closer to knowing who she was, who the other guy in her life was, and if those things might ever change. Ladybug was a mysterious, strong presence that kept him hopeful and motivated. She was special to him, too.

Nino roused him from his overwhelming thoughts by smacking his shoulder. “Welp, as promised, I’ll shut up now. And, I’ve still got plenty of time to kill today. It’s weird being up this early. Want to hang for awhile longer?”

Adrien looked up and he must have agreed, because after a few moments his legs were guiding him out the door behind his friend. How he could just go back to normal, hanging out after this? His mind was wound up in dizzying knots.

There was no way it was that simple, he concluded. Nino was wrong. The bubbly feeling in his chest when he thought of Marinette and the creeping worries when he thought of Ladybug couldn’t just be read as plain emotion; love was supposed to be complicated, right?

He was going to stick to the plan. Spend time with Marinette because she made him happy.

It’s not like the next time he sees her, everything would suddenly feel different.

 


 

Marinette sighed and hugged her phone to her chest while Tikki watched, amused.

“Can you believe he said that, Tikki?”

Honestly, Marinette probably wouldn’t have believed it herself if she hadn’t already re-read it five-hundred times.

“What do you think it means?” The girl breathed, twirling in the desk chair in the back of the flower shop.

The kwami giggled and floated in front of Marinette, forcing her to focus. “I think it means you might not get anything done at all today!”

“I can’t help it,” Marinette said, ironically as she stood to make herself get to work. “Now it’s all I can think about! Do you think he sent it to Nino and Alya on purpose? Or maybe he didn’t want to seem weird? But now Alya is going to ask me a bazillion questions!”

The dark-haired girl had put her apron on almost thirty minutes ago, but had yet to do much else besides turn on the lights and unlock the door. She had been dreading going to work, exhausted from staying up last night with Chat and feeling unsure of her standing with Adrien - no matter how much she tried to tell herself not to hope that he might be there, standing outside the shop this morning, little seeds of hope were planted and sprouted anyways.

Now, they were basking in the sunny warmth of a Wednesday morning, not quite in bloom yet, but feeling nurtured and healthy after his reassuring text message.

Adrien was a busy person. He couldn’t come see her everyday, like it seemed Chat was starting to do, but he still felt it important to share with her that he appreciated spending time with her the day before.

Don’t hope, Marinette tried to remind herself as she took a deep breath and started on the day’s orders. The delivery guy would be coming around three for tonight and tomorrow’s deliveries, and she hadn’t even started to prepare them.

Don’t hope, she said again, but I can at least cherish the moment for what it was. That had been Chat’s advice, and it was helping to keep her head on straight. Ayla had told her not to overthink everything, which was just about impossible, but the knowledge that her friend was coming in another hour and a half was grounding. Marinette could do anything for 90 minutes, including try not to drive herself crazy.

Business picked up by eleven, so Marinette had no choice but to kick her butt into third gear and forget about Adrien and Alya, and Chat and late night chats for a little while.

Two women  came in, and there were several more window shoppers. Almost one after another, a teenager entered (probably a little younger than herself) and was followed shortly thereafter by an older woman. Marinette recognized her as an event planner for Le Grand Paris. The staff was strictly forbidden from making any hotel purchases (of the sweet or floral variety) from the Dupain-Cheng’s, and she imagined that had something to do with the influence of a certain Bourgeois daughter. That being the case, this visit struck Marinette as odd. It could have been personal, as the middle-aged woman with dark hair and horn-rimmed glasses lingered mostly around individual prepotted plants, a favorite for quick gifts. Something for a family member, perhaps.

Once the teen settled on a pair of flower crowns, texting all the while, she came to the register and Marinette gathered her attention. She had begun to work on some of the arrangements for tonight's delivery, absentminded in her duties.

Focusing, Marinette smiled at the girl's selection. They were twin pink and white dahlias, affixed with eucalyptus leaves and an accent of berzillia greens. Sturdy and soft, simultaneously.

“For someone special?” Marinette asked as she swiped the girl’s debit card and prepared some paperwrap to help with transport.

“My best friend.” The customer smiled, a cheery blonde with a green streak in her hair. The sunlight filtering through the glass ceilings made her freckles stand-out, and Marinette had to wonder if the light ever had the same effect on her own. She had never noticed before.

Nodding, Marinette and handed her back the card and her purchases. “Well, I hope you both enjoy.”

The girl struggled with her wallet and tried to make conversation to help alleviate her awkward moment. Marinette could relate.

“We were gonna go to the beach, but apparently it’s going to rain. Again.” Her voice turned sour.

“Ugh,” Marinette echoed the sentiment and shook her head. That was summer for you, she supposed; by morning, breathtaking, crisp clouds of cotton framed against the ethereal stretching blue sky, only to be washed away by dark storms and claps of thunder come afternoon.

“Thank you,” the girl nodded twice and was out the door a moment later. The tinkling of the bell made Marinette’s heart swell proudly, in an oddly familiar way to her satisfaction after successfully protecting Paris and returning an akumatized victim to the sanctum of everyday life. It was much less poignant, mind you, but the perk in her spirit was reminiscent of the moment she and Chat Noir would fist bump. She did a good job, and no matter how small, that was something to be proud of.

A short silence passed before the older woman eventually left, ultimately not making any purchase. Marinette didn’t mind, as most of the profits didn’t come from individual sales anyways. It was weddings or funerals, the highs and lows of life, that brought the most money to the store. Honestly, it was sort of morbid to think on.

Marinette had left her phone on the desk in the back office with Tikki, so she didn’t see Alya’s warning text for what was coming. Instead, she busied herself with her own reflection, etched transparently into the paneled glass walls. At some point (probably during the almost-pulling-her-hair-out-in-surprise post-Adrien text period), her bun became undone. She had been wearing it up to keep the oppressive heat from making her even sweatier, but with nothing but time to pass until Alya arrived, she decided to opt for something a little cuter.

Smiling, Marinette returned to the back of the store and found her kwami splayed out on her stomach, head resting against her tiny paws. Marinette’s phone was propped up against a random stack of paperwork, and Tikki was humming along to some music video on the small screen.

Marinette grabbed her desk chair and scooted it close to back wall so she could better appraise herself, glass providing a sort of defunct mirror. With this morning’s excitement came a welcome brush of confidence. She was feeling more herself; inspired, creative, and self-assured. She wanted to produce and project that feeling, and never was Marinette happier than with her hair in pigtails, so she compromised on creating twin fishtail braids that hung just beneath each shoulder.

The project was a decent use of time before Alya arrived, but she still had some time to spare. She decided to urge Tikki to hide early, just in case Alya opted to come around the back - she usually didn’t, but with a nose like a bloodhound when it came to all things Ladybug, Marinette had learned it better to be safe than sorry when it came to the reporter.

She interrupted Tikki’s soft humming with a light pat on the top of her kwami’s head, eliciting a bubbly little laugh.

“Alya will be here soon,” Marinette said with a smile as Tikki floated up to eye-level. The little red presence had a knowing look on her face and gave Marinette’s cheek a light squeeze.

“Have fun, and don’t give all your food away this time!”

“Hey!” Marinette pouted in pseudo-offense, but both wore only smiles.

After a pause, Marinette looked around and her eyes fell on the collection of deliveries for this afternoon she had started earlier.

“Roses today?” She suggested.

Tikki nodded her agreement, and Marinette watched the kwami zoom past her in a flash of red, tucking herself into a bouquet of roses of the same color at the far end of her desk. She couldn’t help but snicker lightly as Tikki had to adjust her antenna one-by-one into the bouquet, crowded by a dozen half-finished other orders that had been set aside for delivery.

Just above the prepared consortium of buds and blossoms, Mo’s old tradescantia pallida caught Marinette’s eye. It hung lazily, spilling from the planter with as much apathy as a plant could have. Wild and and wandering, the vines and gaggle of purple leaves cast a strange darkness upon her deliveries, a composition of creeping shadows that turned Tikki’s hiding spot from the typical romantic gesture into something bleak and almost sinister in appearance. Still, it was a strategic spot for the kwami to hide - her coloration blended in perfectly, and it was out of the way of lingering eyes.

Marinette sighed as she appraised the irritating plant overhead, grabbing her forgotten phone on the desk and slipping it into her pocket. She strode around front to grab her small watering can.

Tradescantia pallida were generally houseplants, and apparently this one had started as such, but it quickly outgrew the Yuehula’s kitchen windowsill. Mo opted to try a few places around his house before bringing it to the store, eventually resigned to hanging the darned thing for as wild as it grew. It twisted and crept from the base and yet, somehow, appeared utterly innocent of it’s totally invasive vines. It had first occupied a space beside tray of succulents, but Marinette had to trim it away from snaking around the vulnerable little plants for as aggressively it sprouted.

Still, for some reason, she rather liked the mangy bush. It was pretty, producing flowers on occasion but mostly yielding rich purple leaves that sagged under the sunlight. They were comically fickle things, in her opinion, because just a bit of water would spring them right back up to their regular creepy crawling vines, but when dried, like now, they looked rather debauched.

Now, in retrospect, Marinette should have known this was a bad idea. She doubled as one of Paris’ most esteemed superheroes, so perhaps the imminent danger did not seem as threatening as it should have. So, utterly unphased, the girl dragged her stool around the back with the watering can in her other hand, standing on the seat so she could reach the hanging plant.

Marinette lifted the watering can above her head, using both hands to support the weight and slight turn of the metal. An abrupt bell interrupted her contemplative work.

Enter Alya, with a very loud, very in-character greeting.

Hey, girl! Lunch’s here, and uh…

Marinette practically jumped, rocking the stool beneath her heels with a fright. Her heart all but leapt into her throat, the adrenaline of almost falling making her freeze in place, half-tilting the watering can and trying to steady her thundering pulse.

“Marinette?” Alya called again, this time with concern when she didn’t respond.

Squeakier than normal, Marinette managed a weak reassurance. “H-hey! I’m back here, just a sec. I have…”

Then there was a third voice, and a fourth, and Marinette felt her knees buckle.

“You sure we can’t stay? That pizza smells mighty fine.”

That... sounded an awful lot like Nino.

“We really shouldn’t. Um, you know - give the girls some privacy. And we just ate.”

Now that voice she would know anywhere.

And for the second time in her life, she fell head over heels because of that head of blond hair. Just… more literally this time.

A cacophony erupted in the shop as she came crashing down onto the solid floor, landing hard on her left side and spilling water all around. The tinkle of reverberating metal, the muted slap of skin on concrete, the dripping of water from the surprise shower all rattled in her brain for a moment, but the sounds were subdued by the ringing in her ears. Marinette whined out of reflex, and she was pretty sure there were other voices around her, too.

The first coherent thought she had was a question. Why did her shoulder hurt so bad?  She rolled over, answering her own query as the semi-crushed face of her watering can appeared beneath her weight.

“Oh, god, Marinette are you okay?” Alya shoved the warped tool aside, her voice sharp as a whip with authority over the scene.

Oh yeah. Alya was here, with food.

Marinette blinked as her friend’s face came into focus. “Pizza?”

Alya scoffed and shook her head, gesturing behind her. Marinette spotted a visibly concerned Nino and Adrien, the former holding the object of her stomach’s desire, the latter being the literal object of her desire. She sighed idly, food and Adrien together in the same place, feeling rather aloof from the headrush.

Alya was scowling, but her voice was colored by relief. “She’s worried about the food. Yep, she’ll be alright.”

Marinette began to pull herself forward, but she hissed and gripped her left arm. “Ahhh…” There was a ripple of pain, extending from her shoulder down to her elbow.

Now Adrien was in front of her, kneeling and probably getting his shoes and socks wet.

Wait.

Adrien was… in front of her.

Adrien was in front of her.

Marinette’s eyes went wide - he was talking to her, too, and she wasn’t even paying attention.

“Huh?” She blurted, shaking her head from side to side as he leaned in closer.

His voice was low and urgent. “Did you hit your head at all? Do you want us to take you to the hospital?”

Marinette took a few deep breaths, blinking and focusing on the sensations across her body. Her head did not hurt, so she would be okay, just her shoulder felt a little sore. Probably a bruise, but she would survive.

With a silly grin, Marinette allowed herself a brief pep-talk, refusing to let all of her earlier self-confidence be blown away by her blunder, and forced an even voice.

“I’m okay. Thank you, Adrien.”

She could see his eyes searching her face, clearly unconvinced, but neither said anything.

For as airy and illuminate the shop was, sparkling with sunshine and painted with a rainbow of pastels from ceiling to floor, it only took one set of emerald eyes to make everything pale into disinterest. Marinette had become someone who surrounded herself with lush leaves and brilliant blooms every hour of the day, but yet, it only took one glimpse to make it all fade to gray. There was a sudden emptiness in her private universe, the greenhouse overwhelmed by eyes of the same color, more vibrant than any vine or laurel she had ever grown.

In that quiet moment, Marinette was sure she could have stared at him for forever. It was like magic.

Her heart pined for answers, and to her amazement, they came wordlessly but entirely.

Adrien smiled at her.

It wasn’t like his typical smile. Marinette knew that smile; it was plastered up against her bedroom walls and greeted her every morning, after all. She would see it sitting in front of her class, or could spot it after any satisfying fencing practice. She would swear for the rest of time that this time, it was different – it was sincere, passionate, and engaged. Honestly, she felt like Chat was the only one who had ever smiled at her like that, and only as Ladybug.

He was happy to see her, and the evidence was written all over his face.

Unfortunately, time doesn’t stop for anyone, not even superheroes. It moved, and showing no mercy to her heart, he moved with it. Away from Alya and Nino. Closer. He offered her a hand.

Maybe she was just caught up in the moment, or maybe she was just that hopelessly in love with him, but she felt something unusual. Whatever it was, she wondered if he felt it too.

Adrien doesn’t want her like that, the grounded part of her brain tried to chide her.

Right.

Still, Marinette smiled as kindly as she could and accepted his offer, feeling electricity where his hand touched hers.

“Honestly,” Alya spoke suddenly, and they both flinched apart. She had all but forgotten about Nino and her best friend.

“Marinette’s made of pretty sturdy stuff. But you would think, with her luck, she’d have enough sense not to use a stool as a step ladder.” Alya’s friend’s voice was accusatory, and Marinette could only scratch her cheek bashfully.

There was still a throbbing pain against the cusp of her collarbone, but she didn’t want to make them worry.

"It's the Wandering Jew’s fault." She said definitively, crossing her arms. All three of the others exchanged concerned glances, and Alya moved closer to her.

"Okay, um, you're sure you didn't hit your head?"

"Noooo," Marinette groaned, smacking her forehead. "It's the tradescantia pallida. This stupid plant. They're called Wandering Jews colloquially; it's only hung up high because it'll infest anything else."

She pointed above them, and in turn they all looked up to spot the dripping planter, its dark purple outline twinged translucent under the sun.

Nino frowned. "That name seems a little racist."

The girl sighed and shook her head, retrieving her dented watering can from the corner. "I mean, you’re not wrong. It’s just the name that stuck from biblical lore - there’s a million different stories about different Israelites and Jewish people wandering the desert, and others about a person cursed to wait and ‘wander the earth’ until the second coming of Christ. These things will expand relentlessly, no matter where you plant ‘em.”

Marinette frowned as she completed her explanation, not really blaming the plant for her fall. It was entirely her own fault, as Alya said, she should have had better sense not to climb on such unsteady footing. Mo never bought into the stories, and for the exact reason Nino pointed out, he preferred the botanical name to the colloquial one. It invited too much negativity by association, but Marinette had thought it more likely her friends had heard the common name to the technical one.

“That’s interesting,” Adrien murmured as he squinted at the ceiling, and Marinette felt a little swell of pride. That’s two days in a row she was able to impress him with her knowledge of all things taxonomical - not the most useful skill, but if he thought it was interesting, she could talk about it all day.

“Yes, they need to be tended to constantly… But I sort of like it, too. Not the extra work, mind you, especially since it’s not for sale. But it’s encouraging in a weird way. This thing can grow anywhere. It’s just up here cause it’s convenient… ironic, I know.” She paused to push the knocked over stool with her foot, and they all laughed.

“They’re rampant, though. It could be winter, indoor, outdoor, shade or sun. They’ll grow strong and hearty. They never, ever, ever give up.”

“If you put it that way, it’s actually more empowering a name than it is denigrating,” Alya pointed out, raising on her tiptoes to poke at one of the dangling vines.

“Mmm… that’s true, too. And I mean, they’re not like Bankssss roses,” she paused, shooting a sly grin at Adrien, who beamed at their little secret joke. “But they’re still pretty in their own way. Weirdly green-and-purple at the same time.”

Following her tangent, the teens lulled into a contemplative quiet for a time. Marinette rubbed her shoulder absently and eventually turned her attention back to the more animate company in the room.

Her nose picked up on the scene of tomatoes and toasted crust - how had she almost forgotten about the pizza?

“Anyways… Thanks for the help, guys. Sorry I’m always such a mess… it’s, um, a nice surprise to see you both.  Did you come to join us for lunch?”

Marinette was vaguely aware at that moment how entirely she sounded like her mother, popping her head out of the bakery to greet her and her friends. She always sounded utterly unsurprised, and right now, Marinette did too.

Alya grimaced and went to snatch the pizza box away from Nino. “That’s a good question, Marinette. Why are you two still here?”

The girl held the box out-and-away from Nino’s probing eyes, the pair getting caught in a rather incriminating game of cat-and-mouse with gratuitous handiwork from both parties. It became difficult to tell who was the cat and who the mouse, dark skin brushing against each other, paired with giggles and bright smiles. Nino threatened his girlfriend with a tickle or by nuzzling his head into the crook of her neck as she twirled and twisted away.

Across from them, looking plenty uncomfortable, Adrien and Marinette watched. Blushing, Marinette cleared her throat, and the blond sighed and shook his head, shooting her a good-natured scowl at their shared predicament: the curse of having best friends in love.

“Sorry, ‘Nette,” Nino said with a breathy laugh, sounding not at all sorry. “We didn’t mean to crash your girl time, Adrien and I were just driving by and spotted a certain someone,” he snaked an arm around Alya, who sighed. “Walking around Paris. What kinda gentleman would I be if I didn't offer her a ride?”

Marinette let out a mirthful sigh, tucking a stray strand of hair that she failed to capture in her braid behind her ear, feeling abundantly thankful that she had taken the time to make herself appear more presentable earlier. She might now be wet and a little ragged, but it could have been worse.

Adrien pursed his lips, slow to look away from her. “Uh, let’s be clear - it was my car that you offered her a ride in – happy to oblige, of course,” he paused to nod at Alya, and used the moment to shoot Marinette a playful smirk.

“But I think most gentlemen don’t invite themselves to join their girlfriend’s lunch plans, especially after just eating. Seems a little less gentleman-like, and little bit more Nino-like, if you ask me.”

Nino rolled his eyes and punched his friend on the arm. “Well it’s a good thing I didn’t ask you, then.”

The brunette shook her head. “Alright boys, that’s enough from both of you. You about scared Marinette to death,” she paused, looking upon the wet floor and incriminating watering can. “Literally.”

Adrien seemed tempted to say something else, but thought better of it. Nino, however, couldn’t resist.

“Ahh, right. I really am sorry, Marinette. You’re not hurt, right?”

She gave him her most reassuring smile. “Thank you, Nino. I’m really okay. Shoulder’s a little sore, but I’ve definitely had worse.”

The bespeckled boy nodded solemnly, turning to Adrien and stage-whispered.

See? That was pretty gentleman-like, wasn’t it?”

Adrien bit his lip to keep from laughing. “Hardly.”

Nino rolled his eyes. “Right, I forgot I was speaking to the perfect gentleman, Monsieur Agreste.”

Marinette and Alya laughed and shared a look as the boys quickly slipped into their bickering again.

Alya sauntered the length of the small office, dragging Marinette with her, and threw the girl into a masterful one-armed hug, still balancing the pizza like France’s most accomplished waitress. Marinette winced at the pressure on her shoulder as Alya murmured into her pigtails.

“Sorry, girl. Are you sure you’re okay? This really wasn’t my idea. If you want them to go, tell me and I’ll kick ‘em out.”

Marinette just laughed and gave her friend a squeeze.

“Nah.” She breathed, stepping back as Alya released her. “But it’s gonna have to be ‘standing room only.’ I only have the chair and the stool.” She grimaced at the stupid piece of furniture, still toppled over on the ground with the remaining shreds of Marinette’s dignity.

“Ah,” Alya held up a finger and began digging through her purse. “Way ahead of you.”

She pulled out a folded piece of paper and in large, black strokes of ink a few words read:

SHOP CLOSED FOR LUNCH.

BE BACK IN 20 MINS.

She pointed knowingly out the glass windows that opened to the courtyard, gesturing towards a small café table. As far as Marinette knew, only the women from the salon next-door would use it occasionally to rest while they smoked, but it didn’t belong to any of the businesses independently.

Marinette opened her mouth with words of worry springing to her tongue, but when she felt a hand on her uninjured shoulder, she instead prayed for a steadier set of legs.

“I’m really sorry if you fell because of us, Marinette. I’m glad you’re okay.” Adrien grinned at her as she turned around.

It must have been the trick of some light filtering through the glass ceiling, because if she didn’t know better, Adrien almost looked pink around his perfect cheekbones.

He pulled his hand back, and Marinette felt a shiver run across her from the absence. “Nino and I did just eat, though,” he paused and turned, narrowing his eyes at his defeated friend, standing dejected in the corner. “We’ll leave you and Alya to your lunch, okay?”

Marinette felt the kickstart of some sort of engine in her chest, and you know what? She decided to let it ride. A warmth flooded her cheeks, she ignored the soreness along her clavicle, and felt strangely empowered by the trembling of her fingers.  

“N-no! That’s okay, why don’t you stay? Both of you. We can…” Her eyes scanned the space, and Alya mercifully jerked her head towards the courtyard once again.

“Uhh… sit outside! There’s a communal table, and, it’s no trouble. Besides,” she leaned closer to him, nerves be damned. Marinette caught his eye with a playful smirk. "I can’t, in good-conscious, be the one to split these two up. If I do, you’ll be stuck with that.”

She pointed over his shoulder, and they both turned their attention to Nino; the boy was throwing himself one hell of a pity party. Adrien laughed and faced her again, and Marinette was overjoyed to see enthusiasm light up his features.

Apparently, he didn’t need much convincing. “Well, okay, if you’re sure.”

“I’m positive,” she beamed.

Over his shoulder, Adrien called, “Looks like you’ll get your brunch after all, Nino.” They watched the so-named DJ visibly brighten and all but leapt forward. He situated himself between the blonde and bluenette, wrapping Marinette into a hug and she grimaced.

“Marinette, you da’ boss. Literally.”

Alya slipped past them all and slammed her crinkly sign onto the front door. A loud click followed, and she spun around.

“Welp, let’s go kiddos. Pizza’s hot and I’m hungry.”

Nino zipped back towards the front, meeting her at the counter and offered her his arm.

“Are you sure about that? I’m pretty sure you’re hot, and I’m hungry.”

Marinette and Adrien shared a look as Alya elbowed him in the ribs. “Shut up, Hungry. I’m going to be Seriously Annoyed soon if my pizza is cold, so can we please eat already?”

Shaking her head, Marinette met eyes with blonde across from her once again, still standing just a foot away. He turned his attention to her and grinned, his unbridled enthusiasm giving her the boost she needed to spin on her heel and lead them all through the back. Adrien followed immediately, opening the door before she could get there and earned himself Marinette’s wrinkled nose of disapproval, but she allowed the courteous gesture.

They both missed the sly wink exchanged by Nino and Alya as the teens settled down for lunch.

Chapter Text

Growing up, Marinette had a lot to be thankful for. She was healthy, studious, and she tried everyday to embody the manners bestowed upon her by her loving parents. They were in a happy marriage, which was rare these days. With a every part of her heart, Marinette loved her friends, fashion, and despite some frustrations, her flowers, too. Never was there someone the Dupain-Cheng’s wouldn’t go out of their way to help if they could, and the family’s only daughter was no exception. She was compassionate, giving, thoughtful and, she liked to think, humble, too.

That being said, there were some things Marinette allowed herself to be proud of, and even the most modest bone in her body would tingle at the call.

One of those things happened to be patience.

It was being tested, right now, and she was flipping between being madly in love and succumbing to true, straight-jacketed madness.

“Mmm,” Marinette hummed into a large slice of her favorite veggie pizza, using the food to keep her tolerance in check.

“Okay, okay, here’s another one –” Adrien began, earning him a groan all around.

Between this boy and Chat’s antics, Marinette felt deserving of a medal.

He pushed on, obstinate against their collective disapproval. “Why did the cell phone go to the optometrist?”

Silence.

C’mon,” he looked around, almost bouncing from excitement. Nino mentioned he had coffee today, and oh boy, did the caffeine hit him.

They were seated at small stone table, huddled around a pizza box, laughing and sighing to the sounds of summer. To Marinette’s immediate right was Alya, on her phone, texting or blogging some secret goldmine of information, no doubt, and beside her was Nino, behaving just about as indulgently as Marinette, savoring each slice. That left Adrien, occupying the seat to Marinette’s left. He had accepted one piece in good graces, but otherwise merely feasted on the company.

“I don’t know, man,” Nino eventually conceded. “Because he wished he looked this good in glasses?”

Marinette covered her mouth to giggle, watching Nino use his hands to present Alya like she was Miss France. The girl in question smirked but continued to type into her phone.

“No,” Adrien shook his head. He had clearly given up on Alya’s participation, so there was only one person remaining to antagonize.

A halo of blonde hair sidled up beside her, brushing Marinette’s arm against his own. He was grinning just about as stupidly as Chat did sometimes, green eyes dancing as he tempted her to indulge in his horrible humor.

Marinette wrinkled her nose. “Um… something about service carriers, maybe?”

Adrien sighed and shook his head, but leaned close so he could whisper the answer to his terrible riddle into her ear.

He lost his contacts.”

How could someone so pure, so kind, and so smart be such a…

“Dork.” Marinette snickered and shook her head. “Very funny.”

It was a joke bad enough that she might expect it from her partner, but who knew? All it took was a little caffeine to turn Adrien into a total dork, too.

Adrien, still concerningly close, slouched his upper-body over the table. His head was still turned in Marinette’s direction, and she felt her cheeks grow ever warmer despite the darkening clouds that rolled in above.

He presented an angelic pout. “At least you appreciate my comedy, Marinette. Nino will hardly even humor me anymore.”

The girl had to bite her lip to keep herself from sighing. Was she really starting to enjoy the puns, or was the speaker just that charming? She patted Adrien’s hand on the table in comfort but met eyes with Nino.

“It’s a thankless job,” she offered solemnly, and Adrien beamed. He rather didn’t mind or didn’t notice the tiny jab at his taste in comedy.

In truth, Marinette didn’t mind. She and Adrien had grown closer, their conversations more natural and less awkward with time, but this was a more playful side of him than even she was used to. Chat must have worn her nerves down over the years for blondes with budding smiles, because she couldn’t be the one to damper Adrien’s pure, caffeine-fueled mood.

Alya looked up from her cell phone at that point and claimed the final piece of pizza, her mind clearly on other things.

“I’m convinced there’s something going on with Hawk Moth,” she paused to take a bite, and Adrien’s attention moved to the reporter-to-be. Alya’s eyes flickered down at the table in their direction, and Marinette felt her stomach flip. Her hand was still softly cupping Adrien’s in the earlier gesture of comfort, and rather he didn’t mind, or hadn’t noticed.

Nothing ever escaping Alya’s trained, investigative eyes, and she smirked knowingly at Marinette.  She gulped and tried to focus on her friend, but the jackhammer pounding within her ribs was fairly distracting.

Should she pull away? Maybe… maybe he wanted her hand to stay there?

“No akumas in 12 days?” Alya continued after a brief moment of silence. “That’s the longest break in almost two years. I wonder if Ladybug and Chat Noir, you know,” she glanced over at Nino, who was listening with interest. “Finished him off?”

Adrien grimaced and adjusted his slouch, and his hand stiffened slightly under Marinette’s.

Ah. He had just been listening to Alya and just realized what I was doing.

This, her heart pined. This is why you don’t hope.

Just as her fingers started to pull away, a tense grip squeezed her hand. Adrien’s fingers were soft but steady, and he continued to hold her hand in place.

Eyes wide, Marinette was glad at that moment for Hawk Moth’s conspicuous absence, because he probably could have akumatized all of Paris and she wouldn’t have been able to get up and interrupt this moment.

“I doubt it,” Adrien eventually offered, and Nino nodded seriously.

“Yeah, I mean, don’t you think it would have been a big public thing if they did?”

Alya’s brow furrowed. “Maybe. I mean, of course I hope that’s the case for the sake of the blog. But…” she paused, tapping her chin as she put her phone away.

“We don’t know much about Hawk Moth, still. Who knows if he’s the ‘you’ll have to kill me if you want to defeat me’ type? I have hard time imagining Chat Noir coming to the press saying he and Ladybug murdered someone.”

Marinette started coughing on her final bite of crust, having inhaled too sharply at Alya’s gruesome suggestion. To be fair, Nino and Adrien looked almost as horrified, but everyone’s attention turned towards the sputtering girl.

Adrien patted her back lightly as she turned away, trying not to hack all over the group, and Ayla threw her a bottle of water.

She drank greedily, liquid mercy releasing her from the rasping of stress within her windpipe.

“Okay, that’s a little unfair,” Nino pointed out as Marinette massaged her chest and thanked Adrien for his comfort. “I mean, even if that did happen, in theory, I don’t think people would see it as ‘murder.’ This is Hawk Moth we’re talking about.”

It was a minute change, but Marinette noticed Adrien tense at the suggestion, a slight dip in his brow, a shift of his jaw. She probably wouldn’t be able to notice such a subtle shift on anyone else, but she had memorized just about every angle of this boy’s face. This was an expression he seldom wore.

Alya was frowning. “Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like the idea either, but there was a discussion post about it on the community Reddit about it, and now it’s kind of stuck in my head. Like, I would never frame it like that if I were reporting on it, but I’m one person. There are just as many people out there who would dig their talons into either one of them - Ladybug or Chat Noir - just for their fifteen seconds of fame.”

“Ugh.” Marinette’s face was twisted in disgust. “I don’t know what’s wrong with people. Even if it ever came down to something like that, which I highly doubt anyways, why would people go on and villainize them? I mean, take Chat Noir for example. - he’s sweet and brave, and how many days and nights has he spent defending those same people? Just for them to turn their back the second it’s convenient?”

They all looked at her for an extended pause, clearly a little surprised that she came in with such a strong opinion. Marinette did not back down, however, face set firm as she met each of their eyes.

Well, she may have wavered just a little when she looked to her left, still plenty aware that Adrien was still sitting quite close. During her coughing fit, their hands separated, but he had angled his seat to be almost directly beside her.

His green eyes were fixed to her face, his brow suggesting confusion but the pools of emerald that were central to his features were sparkling entirely with admiration.

Marinette nodded seriously at him, as if answering an unspoken call. “Chat Noir would never hurt someone like that. And if something terrible happened that forced his or Ladybug’s hand, I’m sure they would be honest about it.”

Eventually, Alya sighed and shook her head. “Ya’ll are probably right, I don’t know why this has been bothering me all day. I think I’m just on edge, since it’s been so long it’s bound to happen soon? Let’s forget about it.”

Marinette had to drag her eyes away from Adrien’s own, wondering desperately what he might be thinking about. He was looking at her strangely, and it was making her feel self-conscious, so she felt compelled to get up.

Slowly, she stood from her rickety chair and began to gather their napkins and the greasy remainders of their lunch. The others began to follow suit, taking her hint that break time was over.

“Besides,” Nino said in a lighter tone. “Isn’t it more likely that, I dunno, there’s just no one to akumatize when it’s summer? There’s no one made miserable by having to see Chloe throw a fit every morning at school over her Adrikins.”

The bespeckled boy lolled himself all over Adrien with sickening sweetness to demonstrate, causing Alya and Marinette to laugh heartily. Adrien just gave Nino an awkward pat-pat and caught eyes with Alya.

“This is what you meant by bromance, isn’t it?”

“Yep,” she chirped, and Marinette giggled even harder as the boys began to untangle themselves.

“It was nice of you all to stop by, but I should probably get back to work,” Marinette said as she stretched her arms out and over her head, but there was a sickening pop that caught all their attention.

“Oh, god,” Marinette squeezed her eyes together as her right arm gripped desperately at her left shoulder, doubling over in the sudden throbbing pressure.The general soreness from her earlier tumble had faded since she had remained sedentary for the last half hour, but whatever she had just done reignited the sharp pain that flared, castrating her nerve-endings. It was like an airlock released, inviting a crushing force against her joint from all sides, smashing her bones together.

“Marinette!” Alya and Adrien called in unison, each of them rushing to one side.

She dropped the garbage uselessly onto the ground, and some of it caught in the growing wind brought by the afternoon storm, Nino moved to capture it all before it blew away.

“Marinette, what happened?” Alya tried to rub comforting circles against her lower back.

With grit teeth, Marinette slowly regained her posture but did not release her arm. “I just, ugh, I think I dislocated my shoulder? Maybe? It’s never happened before so I don’t know what that’s supposed to be like.”

Adrien pursed his lips. “Slowly try to lower your arm to your side, but stop if it hurts. Okay?”

Marinette felt guilty for making them worry, Nino rejoining their huddle as she tried to comply with Adrien’s suggestion.

She made it about three-fourths of the way before her grimace turned into a full scowl, wincing at the sensation. Alya had gone into full “World-War I nurse in the trenches” mode, brushing the hair from Marinette’s eyes as the girl hissed through her teeth, walking her towards the back of the store and barking orders to the boys.

“I’m calling your parents, Marinette. You can’t work like this.”

“What? No!” She shot up a little straighter, gnashing her teeth together in an effort to keep a straight face. “They can’t just leave the bakery, and the delivery guy is coming in a few hours. I need to finish the - ah,” she flinched as Alya made her to sit at the desk.

Adrien appeared beside her, kneeling so they were almost at eye-level. “Alya’s right, Marinette. If it’s dislocated, you’ll hurt yourself worse if you try to work through it.”

Nino crossed his arms, standing next to his girlfriend. “Yeah, seriously, ‘Nette. At least let Alya call your parents and tell them what happened.”

Sucking on her teeth, Marinette was prepared to protest but Alya was already walking out the back, phone at her ear.

She sighed, defeated.

“Well, fine. Can one of you go take the sign off the front door and unlock it? If there’s anyone waiting, tell them I’ll be just a minute.”

Nino straightened and saluted, receiving his marching orders with a good-humor about him. Marinette smiled in appreciation as he went, but she could feel another, more urgent set of eye’s studying her face.

“I’m sure I can sleep it off, like Alya said, I can take a hit or two.”

Marinette’s voice was an impressive masque of reassurance, but with a quick glimpse at Adrien, it was evident that he wasn’t convinced. She felt her cheeks burn under his gaze, and she glared daggers at the floor in frustration.

“Marinette?” Adrien called, voice serious. The girl continued to study her shoes, preferring not to look at him. Adrien decidedly took that option away from her, needing her to hear him. He lifted Marinette’s chin, turning her porcelain features with just the lightest touch towards him. Marinette could feel her skin tingle along her neck, his hands like electricity - her pain was utterly forgotten for a moment.

“You’re working yourself too hard,” he murmured, eyes never leaving her face. “Just relax for a few minutes. Okay?”

She nodded mutely, smiling.

In fairness, Marinette would have protested if her voice hadn’t evaporated. He was so close, and she could smell his shampoo, or cologne, or whatever his natural scent was that made her head dizzy. His gaze was endless and pure, and it simultaneously tore down all of her will only to rebuild it twice as strong, the structure sturdier with his reassurance. The moment was oddly intimate, to be only inches away, both their faces battling a blush, sincerity coloring every gesture. The whole moment passed a beat later, but he was like a rush in her bloodstream. Intoxicating, comfortable - he took the edge off and made her feel more herself.

He smiled back.

“Okay,” a crisp voice announced, Alya entering from the courtyard. Adrien leaned away in time with the bell, and Nino returned to the back before the door even closed behind Alya.

“Your parents said you’re to stop working right away. Your mom is coming to take over for the rest of the day, but…” She hesitated, which made the others a little anxious. “She’ll be a little bit. Apparently there’s something going on with a ‘caterer in crisis,’ so she won’t be here for about two hours. Also, your dad says stop being stupid and stubborn.” She paused, face severe. “Okay, I might have taken some creative license there, but the sentiment was basically the same.”

Marinette frowned. “What time is it?”

“Um, fifteen ‘til one,” Nino answered.

“By the time Maman gets here…” She did a quick calculation in her head. It would be 2:45 when her mother showed up. That left fifteen minutes to complete eleven more orders, only six of which were started. It was hopeless; Marinette couldn’t even pull that off, and she was superior to her mother when it came to all things botanical.

“Ugh…” she glared at the pile of unfinished work, kicking herself for letting this happen. Even if Marinette couldn’t blame herself for the fall, which she was already set on doing, the fault for slacking was totally her own.

Above her head, Alya and Nino looked ruefully at one another, moving towards the desk where Adrien still knelt, only looking at the girl seated there.

“Hmm…” The blond hummed through the tension, tapping fingers along his knee. Marinette, against her better judgement, let herself look his way again - now it was he who was glaring at the ground, though.

“What if we helped you until your Mom shows up? We could just do the orders and run the register.”

“Oh, no, I can’t ask that of -- ”

Alya wasn’t even going to let her finish.

“That’s a great idea! Not bad, blondie.” They grinned at each other. “Marinette, just tell us what to do.”

No way - that would be beyond unfair to them. They had come today to spend leisure time, Marinette wouldn’t put them to work. These were her friends, and this was her problem.

She leaned back and adjusted her apron.

“No, guys. This really feels like something I should take responsibility for. I can call Dan our delivery guy and explain -”

Nino looked skeptical and lowered himself to a crouch, his arms extending over his knees. “C’mon, ‘Nette. You literally help everyone all the time - I probably owe you times a thousand by now. Put us to work.”

Biting her lip, Marinette appraised the three before her, taking care to linger on each of their faces. Each one wore a smile, and their expressions did not hold an ounce of contempt. So why did it make the pit in her stomach twist ever the more shamefully?

“But if you guys hadn’t been here and I fell, I’d still have to… I can’t accept, I’m sorry.” She was embarrassed, the urge to cry clasping down on her throat. Why? Why couldn’t she get it together?

Alya sighed slowly and opened her mouth to argue, but Adrien spoke first. “Well, fortunately, that’s only a what if. It doesn’t change anything right now, and we’re here, and you’re hurt. You could see it as really bad luck that you fell, or that you’re just really lucky that we were there. Either way, we’re helping.”

Marinette blinked a few times, taken aback by his brusque tone. It didn’t leave room for questions, but was still somehow kind enough not to make her guilt worse. For some reason, she thought she recognized that inflection, but Marinette couldn’t recall from where.

Still, it put her disquieted consciousness at peace enough to comply.

“Okay, fine…” She crossed her arms, uncharacteristically petulant. The others beamed at her.

“Grab an apron, there are some extras in that cabinet.” Marinette pointed behind Alya’s head, so the girl did as she bid.

One by one, Alya distributed the dark green fabric and each of them tied their respective “uniform” in place. Thankfully, they had all decided to wear more-or-less appropriate clothing, besides, perhaps, Alya’s tank top that showcased her, um… assets.

Marinette remained seated, using the armrest of the chair to sort of prop her elbow into place, keeping her shoulder fixed at an exact angle.

“So the big thing is these deliveries, I think -- ” Marinette began, grimacing when her voice was interrupted by the familiar ringing of a bell. Someone was here.

She cursed quietly, and all of her apprentices looked at each other.

Someone come with me to the register,” she ordered in a low voice, scowling as she stood up. “The others stay. Wrap those.” She pointed towards a rubber-banded assorted bouquet of lilies and lotus blossoms and then towards a tray of plastic liners, praying they could figure it out.

Shaking her head succinctly, Marinette marched into the front, squeezing her left arm into her torso.

Bonjour,” she greeted warmly, relaxing upon entering her private garden. The nerves melted off her beneath the familiar greens.

Even better, this was a customer she knew. “Ah, Madam Kleinstein! How nice to see you.”

Marinette’s feet guided her automatically, strolling right past the counter to meet the old, old woman at the door. While Marinette would never ask Madam Kleinstein her age, she knew the woman had to be getting up there. (Of course, she had nothing on Master Fu, but Marinette felt the man’s age didn’t really count for comparisons.)

They had made acquaintances under unfortunate circumstances, when Monsieur Kleinstein had passed away in December. That was to be expected, Marinette supposed, when you worked in the business of funerals and weddings.

Their family rabbi contacted Mo to handle the arrangement process, but Madam wanted to have a more active role in the plans than most widows. She monitored each selection for the shiva, down to the color of the vases and the font of the cards, so that it might be a perfect goodbye for her husband. Of course, the store took the woman’s mourning seriously, and worked to meet her every demand. Mo even called in his wife to help the day before the delivery was due.

Since the funeral, Madam came in frequently for houseplants and flowers, chatting with Mo or Marinette endlessly. From context clues, Marinette gauged the woman to be at least 85; some of her stories alluded to living through the Holocaust as a young girl. And while the years had clearly taken the vibrancy from her body, Madam Kleinstein made up for it with her youthful spirit.

Petite and whispy, the woman always dressed in long skirts and comfortable-looking jumpers, even in the summer heat - the fabric made her appear even smaller beneath the layers. Still, her short-cropped hair and colorful reading glasses made her dark eyes twinkle, and Marinette never tired of listening to her stories of the “wild years” she spent in Austria, or the day she met her late husband, or of hearing the woman’s barometer reading of French politics. (It didn’t hurt that she apparently loved Ladybug, either).

“Marinette,” the woman called as she approached, donning a crinkly smile. She lifted up one of her many-ringed hands and held Marinette’s own, patting the top with her other just-as-many-ringed hand. “How nice it is to see you, dear. I heard about Mo leaving.”

Marinette smiled warmly and tried to ignore her shoulder. “Oh, yes, it was hard for him to say goodbye to this place, but it’s in good hands.”

“I can see that,” she said, peering above her glasses. “And who’s this?”

“Huh?”

Marinette followed her gaze, having entirely forgotten about her earlier command for someone to follow her.

Bonjour,” Adrien bowed politely with a smile that would put the portraits hanging in the Louvre to shame. He stood just a few feet behind Marinette, clearly courteous while remaining a respectful distance away.

“Madam Kleinstein, was it? My name is Adrien.”

The woman raised a brow, glancing between Marinette and Adrien with a puzzling look on her face. She seemed to approve of… whatever it was that she saw there, because her quizzical expression was replaced by a knowing smile.

“Well, it is a pleasure, Adrien. ‘Cecelia’ will do just fine. Madam Kleinstein was my mother-in-law.” She shuddered, and the teens chuckled. “When you get to be my age, you realize the best part about getting old is never having to deal with your in-laws again.”

She laughed at her own wit while Marinette and Adrien exchanged sheepish smiles. Their eyes met, and despite the woman’s pointed suggestion, Marinette could tell Adrien knew better than to call a customer anything but Madam. His confidence helped her to relax.

“Now,” Madam Kleinstein extended a hand towards Adrien. “Could you show me the seasons’ annuals? I need something just right for my planters.” He blinked at her like she had just spoken Portuguese, and Marinette considered slipping between them - she doubted Adrien knew perennials from annuals from shrubs.

But, acting the gentleman, he offered his arm to the tiny Madam - she only came up to about his waist.

“Well, of course. But I’m still training,” he emphasized the word, shooting a smile in Marinette’s direction. “So why don’t we let Mari show us both? I’d like the chance to learn a little more from the expert.”

Turning redder than a tomato, Marinette felt herself fluster from Adrien’s unexpected praise - she was sure he was only trying to moderate the situation with the customer, but she appreciated it all the same.

Marinette watched her feet shyly and beckoned for them to follow, leading around a display and two rows of pre-potted blossoms and coming to a stop at the western wall. Two shelves hugged the glass divider, one at about level with Marinette’s knees and another at her shoulder, and each were covered from edge to edge by her annuals. Each variety had at least two pallets, and each root system was secured by the cheap plastic planter liners that one could buy in bulk from garden supply stores. Draped above each shelf were a slightly lax piece of twine, tied to structural beams on either end of the greenhouse wall. Every few feet down, a small handwritten sign was clothespinned into place that spelled out each flower’s taxonomy and a severely simplified care guide.

She had been doing this for awhile now, even before the change in management. Mo’s handwriting had been atrocious, so Marinette insisted, and she thought the symbols made it easier on potential non-native French speakers: if there was a little yellow sun, the plant needed plenty of sunshine; if there was a cloud, the bud would grow best in the shade. One raindrop meant little water, two meant moderate, and three meant they were thirsty little buggers.

Waving her right hand, Marinette gestured towards the bottom of the two rows - there was no way tiny Madam Kleinstein would be able to see those on the top.

“Did you have anything in mind? The impatiens are coming along nicely, and they’re very low maintenance.”

The woman pursed her lips while she and Adrien both studied the sign Marinette had indicated. He cocked his head to one side and made a seemingly innocent remark. “You might even say, they don’t require a lot of patience?”

Marinette smacked her forehead with her good hand, too exasperated to regret it. The action jostled her torso, and she clenched her jaw through the sudden pain.

Madam Kleinstein, for whatever reason, seemed to find his joke rather funny.

“Not bad, Adrien.” She sniffed seriously, but winked up at him. He grinned smugly and looked pointedly Marinette, who rolled her eyes so heavily it was amazing she didn’t make herself dizzy.

“Yes, not bad, Adrien. Say, why don’t I leave you to it for a moment? I need to check something in the back.”

Adrien’s eyes became pleading the moment she started to walk away, his wordless struggle clear: Wait, I have no idea what I’m doing here! Don’t leave me with this woman!

A more responsible part of Marinette’s brain would have agreed that was probably not the smartest thing to do… but the look on his face paired with the instant gratification against his tireless puns? She couldn’t pass it up.

 


 

The store had grown humid, Adrien figured, because he felt a bead of sweat appear on his brow.

Now, that may very well have been the case - the storm due for the afternoon, damned be Parisian summer, had just started and the room reflected that. It was much darker outside, the pitter-patter of precipitation matched the rather frantic beating of his heart. The fluctuating heat and humidity could certainly be responsible for the perspiration.

Then again, he was also very stuck and very nervous. The adorable Madam Kleinstein was using his arm for support, and Marinette had just left him to the metaphorical vultures. The woman looked and sounded like the archetype of every grandma he had ever seen on television, and for some reason, that only made it more stressful.

Now, not only was he at risk of disappointing Marinette, but now it felt like he might also disappoint his own-but-not-really grandma.

Moving down the row of apparent “annuals,” she patted his arm, indicating they could stop.

“See something you like?” He asked, hoping he didn’t sound as anxious as he felt.

“Hmm,” she took back her hand and leaned over a clustering of some of the most shockingly pink flowers he had ever seen.

“These begonias are lovely,” she paused to adjust her glasses. “But I planted begonias last season and they didn’t do very well. Stunted little things. Too much sun, perhaps.”

“Mmm…” Adrien hummed, not really sure how to respond. He was way out of his comfort zone.

Madam smirked, looking back in the direction they came.

“You know, this is usually the part where Marinette shares some fascinating fact or story about begonias, and I’m so blown away that I just have to buy them. She’s a natural salesperson,” Madam Kleinstein mused, bending to waft some aroma from the pink blooms.

Adrien snickered in spite himself, fiddling with his apron. “Yeah, that sounds like Marinette. That’s how I feel just about every time she tries to teach me something here. She’s pretty amazing.”

“Yes,” the woman agreed, slowly straightening while rocking her head from shoulder to shoulder, demonstrating her indecision.

“Hmm…” Adrien looked at the shelf above, still a head too high for Madam Kleinstein, and paused upon the sign.

He was surprised to find an adorable little leprechaun, smiling back at him.

Lantanas?” He blurted aloud, frowning at the neat script above the caricature.

“Oh?” The woman turned, peering up at him. “May I?”

“Umm…” Adrien paused, literally not sure what he was getting himself into. Thankfully, Marinette’s labeling helped, but he rubbed the back of his neck and would not meet Madam Kleinstein’s eye.

“There’s um… sure, let me…”

He didn’t have to reach, as the shelf was at level with his chest, but it was sort of awkward by default since he didn’t know how to handle the plants. Probably more slowly and more carefully than he had to, Adrien pulled forward the first tray on the palette and brought it down to viewing height for the woman.

Madam Kleinstein beamed.

“Oh, I haven’t seen lantanas like these in years.”

Adrien, not having a frame of reference, could only politely nod. That being said, he still managed to appreciate how strikingly beautiful the cluster of buttery yellow flowers were. Tiny things, the sort of star-shaped petals seemed to him so fragile, but they formed floral spheres that made them appear mighty in congregation. Given the dreary turn the day had taken, between the weather and Marinette getting hurt, it made these blossoms seem that much cheerier. The bitty buds were like little balls of sunshine, refusing to be snuffed out by the clouds above, and they brought a smile to his face.

“How are we doing?” Marinette came around while Madam studied, and Adrien felt himself both relax and tense at the same time. He was glad Plagg abandoned him already, because the kwami would certainly be jeering in his pocket if he hadn’t vanished into the bushes the moment Marinette left him.

“Oh, the Little Lucky Pots of Gold? What a good choice, Adrien.” She smiled at him.

“Thanks!” He chirped happily, though he was certain both women were able to hear his heart for how loudly it was beating. Had he not been hyped up on caffeine, he probably could have stopped the absolutely goofy, proud grin from spreading across his face, but that chance passed this morning when he skipped the decafe.

Madam Kleinstein agreed. “They’re lovely, Marinette. Were these your’s or Mo’s?”

“Mo’s pick of course, but they’ve really only come in during the past month so they sorta feel like they’re mine.”

Moving closer, Marinette still gripped her left shoulder tenderly, but her eyes were sparkling.

“I do love lantanas, so I can imagine why they caught your eye…” She paused, rubbing her chin. “Don’t let the name deceive you, though. They might be rumored to bring good luck, but I wouldn’t bet on it if you plant them in Paris. That might be dangerous.”

Adrien and Madam shared a wistful smile while Marinette admired the tiny petals, almost smug in acknowledgment of Madam Kleinstein’s accurate portrayal of Marinette’s pattern in sales. She had a formula, tittering and bouncing through words and secret lore if someone got her started on a subspecies, Adrien had started to learn, and he didn’t mind a bit.

“What’s their story?” Madam eventually questioned.

Marinette responded by walking to the end of the row and retrieving a rolling cart she used to move cumbersome palettes or pots, and offered for Adrien to set the tray down.

Adrien watched her wheel the battered, plastic carrier closer, appreciative for the help. The tray wasn’t heavy, exactly, but it was awkward to hold and his arms were starting to cramp.

“Well, Lantanas are almost stubbornly resistant to damage - great in heat, not much watering, not really affected by soil pH,” Marinette explained, brushing some of the leaves as Adrien set the tray down. “And the Little Lucky Pots of Gold are one of my favorite varieties - the color is just so vivid. But, all Lantanas attract every sort of pollinators, which is the part get you into trouble.”

“Like bees?” Adrien questioned, bending to examine the blossoms. They were lively against the gray backdrop of the cart and with overcast skies, and he found it hard to believe something so tiny couldn’t possibly be “dangerous.”

“Sure,” Marinette nodded. “That’s one possibility. But there are others, too, like hummingbirds, even ants and beetles. But most of all, they’re known to attract Papillon - butterflies.”

She was smiling devilishly now, and recognition registered after a puzzling passing seconds.

Papillon - butterflies?

Hawkmoth.

In truth, Adrien found that information more disconcerting than it was amusing, but then, it’s not like normal, non-magical butterflies were dangerous. Akumas were dangerous, and the idea that little Madam Kleinstein would be attracting akumas to her garden with a planter full of these innocent little buds did make for a rather funny mental image.

“Hmm,” Madam mused. “Now that doesn’t sound very lucky to me, does it, Adrien?”

He snickering and bit his tongue. Now this woman knew how to appreciate a good pun.

“Do you think this means Hawkmoth is a leprechaun?” He countered seriously. “Theoretically, Ladybug and Chat Noir would find him if they merely found the pot of gold.”

“At the end of the rainbow!” Madam Kleinstein finished for him.

Adrien laughed openly, while the petite woman covered her mouth and chuckled.

Madam,” Marinette whined. “Don’t encourage him. Please.”

“Oh, don’t be a Dismal Dolly, Marinette.” The woman clicked her tongue, but both were smiling. “Adrien here just sold me on these, what with that quick wit!”

“Well,” he flustered slightly, blushing at the compliment. “I guess I’m just lucky.”

“Oh my god,” Marinette’s head rolled backwards, but she led them all to the register.

Once the purchase was finished - Madam bought two whole trays worth, which Marinette said was rather unprecedented - Marinette and Adrien thanked her repeatedly for her kindness and, in the case of the latter, for joining is his jokes

Marinette was hovering steadily towards the back as they said their goodbyes (likely anxious to check on Alya and Nino), but their salutations were interrupted by a rather aggressive clap of thunder.

“Oh,” Adrien blinked once his eyes readjusted - it was weird to be in a glass castle during a storm, each rolling cloud or zip of lightning that flashed across the sky was visible from within the transparent walls. They were really more of windows than walls, and Madam paused at the door.

“Ahh… Madam Kleinstein, perhaps I could walk you to your car? The storm is terrible and your flowers…”

She raised a hand to her cheek, tapping a finger there. “Hmm… No, I should be fine getting to the car. It’s just right in front here, but…”

Her eyes moved around the store, seeking a set of twin braids. Marinette was halfway leaning through the back, whispering imperceptibly, when Madam Kleinstein called for her.

“Marinette?”

“Hmm? Oh - oh, I’m sorry, Madam. Was there something else?” She dashed forward, standing just beside Adrien in front of the counter.

“Could I have my nephew come for these tomorrow? Transporting in the rain seems…”

The girl nodded, and smiled. “Unlucky?”

Madam beamed. “You could say that.”

Adrien simply admired the girl, the woman, and their humor quietly, filled with a warmth he hadn’t felt in years.

They waved a final goodbye as the woman hobbled through the rain, and true to her word, she made it to the car without issue. Still, Adrien’s chivalrous instincts were tingling, so he turned towards another lady to whom he could still offer to help.

Marinette was already in the back, so he waltzed after her to the familiar sound of Nino and Alya’s bickering.

“No, you, Marinette said like this.

“That’s what I did.”

“Mmm…” Marinette squinted at the creation by her feet as Adrien entered, Nino and Alya sitting crossed leg on either side of an arrangement, soft orange blossoms he didn’t know - lilies, maybe? - accented by little white buds and a large ribbon of the same color.

“It’s actually rather nice, although I would suggest some… ahh,” she sighed, sounding more annoyed than anything as she reached out and invited another stab of pain.

“Wow,” Adrien commented, crossing the room and sitting on the chaise. He unintentionally sank comfortably - too comfortably - into the light cushions. “You guys made that?”

“Yeah, I know right?” Alya nodded proudly in his direction, before gesturing towards her partner-in-crime. “I’ve seen Marinette do it a dozen times, but Nino here actually has a natural talent for this, I swear it.”

“You’re definitely good for this being your first time,” Marinette nodded her agreement, though her voice was lacking its usual radiant positivity.

“Thanks,” Nino bashfully fiddled with his borrowed apron. “I mean, it’s sort of like composing a song. Just with sight instead of sound, got to pair what works together, you know?”

Adrien had started to recline further into the cozy, familiar fuzziness of the chaise. How many times had he stretched out here and nearly fallen asleep as Chat? This afternoon was starting to catch up with him, the rain only adding to the ambiance.

“Really cool,” he murmured, resting his eyes for just a minute.

There was a brief pause, broken by the distinctive bzzz of a vibrating cell phone. All of them instinctively felt for their pockets, but Marinette was the one to silence the call.

“Hi, Maman,” she answered with reluctance. Adrien peeked open a lid as Marinette sat at her desk chair.

Alya pulled out her own phone, doing whatever it is that she does on that thing, and Nino sort of plucked and primped the arrangement, adjusting and re-adjusting the silken bow that tied it together. This was a stand-alone piece, by the looks of it, since none of the deliveries really matched.

“Yes, I know but, um, I actually didn’t need to close it. Did Alya…?” Marinette half-asked the question into the device at her ear, half-directed it towards her friend. Looking up from her phone, Alya frowned and shook her head.

“Um, well… some of my friends from school stopped in, just to visit and --”

Huffing, Marinette looked at the ceiling and spun away from the group. Adrien could still see her profile from his spot on the couch, and she was rather pink in the face.

“I know, Maman, but this was just to drop off lunch for me. They were here when I fell and offered to help until you got here. I really couldn’t say no, there are a lot of deliveries due before… yes, exactly. ”

There was a pause, the tittering voice of Mrs. Cheng on the other line, before Marinette inhaled sharply.

Maman!” She snapped, voice accusatory. “That’s not - I mean, no, Maman! No.”

Adrien and Nino locked eyes, both looking uncomfortable. They hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but being here now felt rather invasive.

“Sure… I know, just… bad timing. I thought the same thing. I’ll be sure to pay them.”

Another pause, before an exhausted sounding Marinette turned back to them all. “Yes, Maman. See you soon. I love you too.”

“I’ll accept payment from you when I’m dead,” Alya said flatly, not even waiting for Marinette to breathe once the call ended.

Nino’s brow furrowed. “Wow, Queen of Darkness over here today.”

She rolled her eyes. “Just being honest. If honesty and darkness are the same to you, maybe you need to re-evaluate some of your own views.”

The boy hissed and leaned away. “Yikes.”

Marinette just sported a frown, looking between the two before eventually turning to Adrien.

“I agree with my Mom on this, guys. If you won’t let me pay you, at least let me do something for you? Maybe I can bring you some desserts from the shop the next time we hang out? Maman insists.”

Adrien sighed contently just from the suggestion. Marinette was absolutely right; in no stretch of the imagination would he have accepted money from the Dupain-Cheng’s, but he was happy to be bribed with their food.

“Uh, better idea,” Alya stood and dusted herself off. “How about, we all get to pick the next thing we do as a hangout. And you can’t say no, no matter how much you don’t want to do it.”

Jumping in, Adrien sounded more defensive for food than was probably normal. “I don’t know, I was sort of okay with the pastry idea.”

“Nah,” Alya dismissed his suggestion. “Not that I don’t appreciate it, but your parents refuse money anytime - everytime we try to pay. That’s like ‘paying’ us with something that was already free.”

“Didn’t you say you weren’t accepting payment?” Marinette remarked, raising a brow. She was met with a devious grin.

“I did, as your best friend. But your Mom insisted, and that overrides my authority as BFF.”

Nino sucked his teeth. “Ehhhh… she’s got a point, ‘Nette.”

Marinette seemed to struggle for a moment, but settled on a pout. “Ummm, I don’t know... I guess that’d be okay. Just, it can’t be anything embarrassing. Okay?”

“Drat,” Adrien sighed. “There goes my idea for us all to go out for a day on the town in full cosplay.”

They all let that sit for a beat, before laughing and sputtering and shaking their heads.

“Weeb,” Nino said under his breath.

Adrien had accepted that.

“Yep.”

Alya went to Marinette’s side and rested her head against the girl’s uninjured shoulder. “I was thinking more of like, you take a day away from work and actually do something with us for a change?”

“Oh.”

It saddened him to watch her face flicker with excitement, only to fall with twice as much disappointment.

“I would actually love that,” Marinette said slowly, maneuvering herself away from Alya. “But you know I can’t. There’s no one who can cover for me.”

“I know.” Alya sounded uncharacteristically sad, and it made Adrien’s heart hurt worse to hear. He was prepared to say something, sitting up from the chaise when it was his phone’s turn to interrupt.

“Ahh…” he cursed under his breath. “Sorry. Just a sec.”

Standing, Adrien approached the glass that overlooked the courtyard and watched the slowing storm. He cleared his throat and accepted the call.

“Hello, Nathalie.”

She greeted him as warmly as ever. “Adrien.”

“Was there something you needed?” He tried not to sound irritated, but it was hard.

“Yes, actually,” she paused. “How is Mr. Lahiffe?”

“Oh,” he glanced at Nino out of instinct, who had curled up next to Alya when the reporter sat back down again.

Not wanting to lie, he decided to stay vague. “He is well. The cafe was nice.”

“I’m glad.” Her voice was like ice.

Adrien did not respond.

“Well, it is time for you to come home. Your father has something he would like to discuss.”

Pressing his lips together, Adrien felt his eye twitch. That was it. The unsaid threats again, but this time, it was a bit more fatal. Nathalie knew he had misconstrued his day, and if his father had specifically requested to talk, that meant he knew, too.

“I understand.” He ground his molars together, ever so slightly. “I’ll be home immediately.”

The line went dead, not bothering with real goodbyes.

Adrien was suddenly lamenting not walking Madam Kleinstein to her car. She had been so kind, it would have been the least he could do.

Taking a steady breath, he tried to put on a convincingly sheepish look. “Nino, I have to go. Do you want a ride?”

The DJ peered at his girlfriend, who gave him a very “hey, don’t look at me” look, so he shrugged.

“Yeah, I probably should. Will the lovely ladies be okay without us?”

“Frankly...” Alya began with a smile as Nino helped her to stand, but whatever cheeky remark she had prepared went unsaid. “Actually, nevermind. Why don’t you help me put the stool back up front?”

Nino blinked in confusion. “It’s a pretty small stool,” he commented, bending to scoop it up off the ground.

“Great, let’s go!” Alya made a demonstration of grabbing the other end and leading herself and Nino out of the back.

That left him alone, save for…

Marinette smiled weakly, examining the floor off to one side.  Standing very still, one arm cradling the other, her blue eyes were unseeing. It was clear there was something wrong, and just as Adrien’s words of concern started to form, she spoke.

“I’m sorry about everything today.”

Adrien shook his head and chuckled. “You are something else, Marinette.”

Her head shot up in his direction, looking hurt. Adrien moved forward, verbally backpedaling against the faux pas. “I meant, you shouldn’t be apologizing for anything. You work so hard to make sure everything is perfect here, but you’re human. It only takes one little slip up for things to unravel. I’m just glad we were here to help, at least to make things a little easier.”

She looked at him curiously for a moment, the sparkle of her eyes returning, and she smiled.

“Was that a pun? Slip up?”

Adrien bit his lip through a smile. “I thought that one was subtle enough you might not notice.”

“Nothing slips by me, I’m afraid.” Her expression was comically stoic.

“I believe it,” he said honestly. They looked at each for a moment, and Adrien felt like he could run a marathon with all the adrenaline pumping in his veins.

Nino’s stupid, stupid voice was playing in his head.

It’s a coin flip. You should already know.”

No, Nino, Adrien fumed internally. He didn’t “already know.”

It’s not like he had been half-tempted to ignore Nathalie’s call, just so he might stay a little longer. That would have been irresponsible. In fact, it’s not like at that exact moment, he was considering crossing the length of the office, to brush the hair bangs from her face just to better drink in her features, to memorize the melodies that composed her patient, confident voice, or to decipher the world behind her aquamarine gaze, always fiery but filled with compassion. It’s not like, if he was already that close, it would be anymore difficult to lean down and breathe in that wonderful mixture of flour and chocolate that always clung to her porcelain skin. It would be easy. She was like muscle memory to memories he didn’t have and muscles he couldn’t move.

It’s not like, if she was just a little closer, he might be able to kiss her.

He definitely wasn’t imagining that happening, looking across a vast emptiness that was only three feet but felt like three years, come and gone since he’s known her, and yet she was this close the whole time.

It’s not like he realized all of this the moment he laid eyes on her a few hours ago. He hadn’t even flipped a real coin, but then, why did this feel so different?

Here he was, locked in a silence of only thirty seconds that was so much harder than it had to be. Adrien wanted to be disappointed, or angry, or irritated that he had to go. He really did. With Marinette so near, however, he couldn’t seem to muster more than a sad smile.

Marinette blinked once, then twice, and a third time before speaking.

“I ...w-would offer you a hug, but I think it would hurt.”

Adrien’s smile grew, but only a bit. “That’s okay, I wouldn’t want to you to mess up your shoulder anymore.”

“Well…” She bit her lip, and Adrien wanted so badly to know what she might be thinking.

He had to get a grip. “I guess I should go.”

“Yeah. Thanks again for all of your help, really. I would have been really…”

She paused, brow furrowing but she dispelled it with a quick shake of her head. “Really out of luck if you all hadn’t been there.”

Adrien gulped and began to walk towards the front of the store, not sure his voice would work or if his brain could handle a reasonable response.

One foot into the front, and he recalled a memory with such intensity it almost made him waver. A rainy day. Marinette. Russian Snowdrops. Kindness, compassion, and that same inability to speak. She knocked the wind right out of him with her simple words, but when he breathed in again it was all refreshing and new, all over again.

Not again. He wouldn’t walk out like that, on her, again.

Adrien ran a hand through his hair.

“Marinette?” He spun on the spot, and she looked up.

“Thanks for… helping me with Madam Kleinstein. I was really out of my element.”

Real smooth, Agreste. Real smooth.

She giggled, and it was beautiful.

“You were the one who made the sale. I should be thanking you, but, I guess you did have a pretty great teacher.” She winked. “ But, yeah, it was… fun, working with you. I hope you’ll come by again.”

The words were confidence and his heart was hook-line-and-sinkered. Before he could stop himself, Adrien walked briskly towards Marinette and kissed her on the cheek. His actions caught up with his brain after a beat, and with the realization came with a rush of color to his face.

He smiled anyways, because that’s what this was all about. Marinette made him happy.

“Goodbye, Marinette.”

She took two shallow breaths, and he was happier than he should have been to see that she was blushing too.

“B-bye, Adrien.”

Chapter Text

Marinette was rather close to suffocating herself, but the moment was simply too euphoric to care.

She shoved the pillow against her face once again, squealing, and kicked her legs into the air.

“Marinette! I know you’re excited but you’re going to wake up your parents!” Tikki was floating beside her, and while the little kwami’s voice was stern, she was smiling almost as widely as Marinette had for the past several hours.

“I know, you’re right - god, I feel like such a teenager,” she said, flopping the pillow off to one side temporarily. “But I just - I can’t - why did he do that, Tikki?

The kwami bobbed her head from side to side before lowering herself to sit on Marinette’s tummy. “I know you and Alya had a long talk today after he left, and you’ve been unsure and bouncing back and forth on a lot. But…”

Marinette blinked down, surprised by Tikki’s suddenly serious tone. It made her earlier behavior feel ever the more childish, so Marinette propped herself on her elbows to pay better attention.

“But… I think you should… how do I put this?” A red paw pressed against red cheek, and Tikki hummed momentarily.

“You are a strong, confident young adult now, Marinette. You deserve to be happy, not to be pining. I know you are worried about his reaction, but I feel the time has come where you have to choose to tell him - to take that risk - or to finally let him go.”

Marinette gulped and sat back, repositioning her pillow behind her head like a normal human being.

“I… um, you’re probably right, Tikki. It just feels surreal, like, things have been so great I’m not sure… it’ll be… ” She was struggling to find the words to capture the latent fear, because it was so much more than a simple worry. This was about someone who had become central to her life, someone she relied on as her balance against Nino and Alya. Adrien was a true friend - he wasn’t just some boy she had a crush on anymore. This was a risk to her stability, and frankly, Marinette was comfortable with the way of things.

Tikki could sense her chosen’s troubles, so she floated higher to make Marinette look at her.

“Let me ask you something hypothetical,” she said with a smile. “If we were thinking like Ladybug, battling an akuma, what would you do?”

The teen frowned. “Well, usually there’s some sort of pattern with them. We find them or they seek us out, and they’re all ‘give me your miraculous,’ blah blah blah,” Marinette opened and closed her hand to mimic a mouth, and Tikki giggled. “Cue some bad joke from Chat Noir, and then, if we’re lucky, (and no that’s not a pun,) the akuma is somewhere obvious and we try to make a plan for one of us to smash it. If things aren't looking good, we’ll resort to the Lucky Charm, and ultimately I’ll de-evilize it.”

Tikki nodded along, content with Marinette’s summary.

“So, you and Chat Noir have developed a pretty consistent strategy, right?”

“I guess so?”

“Well,” the kwami floated to the photoboard beside Marinette’s bed, and pointed at Adrien’s perfect face. “You’re Ladybug beneath the suit, Marinette. You have no trouble fighting much larger, much more dangerous forces when you follow a plan. As Ladybug, you work best when you look for openings, follow your instincts, and stop your emotions from overriding your goal.”

Marinette blinked at the picture, considering each word Tikki spoke with care.

“Why not take that approach with Adrien?”

Though her walls were lined with an embarrassing amount of his pictures, Marinette only kept one of his photos by her bed anymore.

This one was special.

It wasn’t from a magazine or something she printed from the internet. It wasn’t something the paparazzi had forced from him when trying to go to-and-from places like school or Nino’s, and she remembered the day clearer than a cloudless sky.

Alya took this picture.

It was Adrien, leaning back on his tailbone, sitting close to a kneeling Marinette with a hand around her side, squeezing her closer to him. She, of course, was grinning like an absolute idiot into the camera. He looked every part the model beside her, with all of his purity shining through his defined features. They were wearing coats and Marinette had a maroon beret in her hair, which complimented the autumn leaves behind them, a pile of which had been futility gathered. Adrien’s eyes had brightened more than she had ever seen, asking if they could take turns jumping into it - Marinette remembered cringing at the suggestion. There were too many chances for things to go wrong, to be embarrassed by the chance of passersby grimacing or laughing at them.

Of course, when it came to him, she had no will power whatsoever and caved. Marinette was glad for it, too, because it had actually been a great day. She hadn’t hurt herself, they laughed until they were breathless, and she managed to get this picture of just the two of them together that day. It was one of her most special memories, and it often helped her fall asleep at night to remember.

Thoughtful, Marinette focused her eyes on her kwami. “What are you suggesting, Tikki?”

“This is your decision, and it will affect your life, Marinette. I want you to do whatever makes you happy. I think you should set yourself a plan and follow it, whether that means letting him go or really pursing something more. Just like you do when you defend Paris.” The kwami paused and looked at the photo as well. “Maybe start by setting yourself one tangible goal, every few days, and react thoughtfully each step of the way. It’s never failed you before.”

Tikki turned her head back and beamed, and Marinette couldn’t help but feel grateful for the kwami’s reassurance, guidance, and in many ways, friendship.

“Thanks, Tikki. Really. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” She offered Tikki her cupped hands, and the kwami easily lowered herself onto Marinette’s outstretched fingers. The little red presence hugged one of her thumbs.

“I feel the same way, Marinette. Every Ladybug is different, but they are always brave. I’ll support your decision, no matter what.”

The dark-haired girl smiled and closed her eyes for a moment, feeling her kwami squeeze her finger supportively.

“I think… I guess, no, I know you’re right. It’s a hard adjustment for me, to think about things with him this seriously, I never thought it could be so… real. Does that make sense?”

“It makes perfect sense,” the kwami nodded, and she started to say something else but was interrupted by her own tiny yawn.

“Oh, I guess we should get to bed, huh?” Marinette opened her eyes to check her phone, and it was nearly 11 PM.

In lieu of answering directly, Tikki zoomed to her favorite spot amongst Marinette’s pillows and settled into the fluffy warmth. “And dream of cookies…”

That made Marinette giggle, so she tried to get as comfortable as she could with the strange medicinal concoction Maman had soaked into a warm cloth and wrapped around her shoulder. It had helped to dull the pain, but it was moist and uncomfortable. Her parents agreed that if the pain continued through morning, she may have torn something and would go to the doctor; they had not, at any point, discussed what would happen to the shop if that were to occur. Marinette guessed they were all hoping it wasn’t serious, because that was easier than facing the alternative, and it made her stomach squirm with guilt.

She whispered a silent prayer that she might be better soon, if not for the shop, then for Paris. The conspicuous lack of akumas had been helpful for her adjustment with work, but she highly doubted it had anything to do with Hawkmoth thoughtfully adjusting his akumatizing schedule to accommodate Marinette’s personal life. There was serious reason to believe Alya’s suspicions that something was up, but she hadn’t a clue of what it might be.

A little pang of disappointment was the last thought Marinette had before she lulled to sleep, her ears straining through the silence while the muted rays of moonlight played an occasional trick of light behind her closed lids. She waited for some time, hoping to hear that familiar thump of boots against her ceiling, a cat prowling for company.

With the morning came a slow but reassuring test of her muscles, and Marinette was pleased to find that whatever strange healing solution her mother had used must have been successful.

Granted, she did not sleep exceptionally well, so her whole body felt drudged with exhaustion as she strolled down the street towards the flower shop.

On the walk there, Marinette whispered into her purse, spotting Tikki munch on some macarons.

“Hey, Tikki?” She beckoned. Blue eyes found hers, and the kwami cocked her head to a side.

“I thought about what you said last night,” she said, pausing to take a deep drink of her coffee. Hot as ever, it provided some liquid courage. “I think I know what I’m going to do.”

The kwami nodded vigorously, cheeks stuffed with sugary goodness that utterly inhibited speech. Marinette bit her lip through a smile.
“I’m going to go for him, Tikki. I’m going to do it, and I’m going to make it clear how I feel.”

She could practically see the stars in her kwami’s eyes, and Marinette couldn’t suppress letting out an airy little laugh. It had been clear that Tikki was trying to withhold which option she supported, wanting Marinette to be the one to make the choice, but the excitement was visible in from her kwami’s satisfied smile to the happy bobbing of her antenna. Even if she respected Tikki giving her the space she needed to come to a conclusion on Adrien, it was slightly reassuring to see the pride spread on her little red face.

Before Tikki vocalize her reaction, Marinette spotted a small gaggle of teenagers walking in her direction, chattering with enthusiasm about something. She clasped the top of her bag shut and busied her lips with her coffee, using the remainder of her walk to construe a plan. She wanted the moment to be just right, but nothing overly complicated. Just honest and open.

By the time she arrived to work, Marinette had to table the thoughts of blonde hair and green eyes for a time. There was a businessman, suitcase in tow, standing outside waiting for the shop to open, so Marinette had to rush to open the store and welcome him in. He quickly purchased a bouquet before placing a call on his way out the door, and from the moment he left, it felt like the door never fully shut.

A steady stream of customers came in for the first several hours, and Marinette chugged her coffee between each purchase. They ransacked her selection of crowns, cleaned house of her succulents, and someone even arranged for the purchase and delivery of one of the large, amaranthine Smoke Trees. There were only three of the trees in stock, for the space they took up, and the couple who had purchased it had to pay for it to be delivered in lieu of taking it home in their car.

By the time Marinette could rest her feet, her shoulder was throbbing slightly but it was nothing compared to the discomfort of yesterday. She all but sagged into her familiar desk chair, reaching for her phone while Tikki snoozed on the top of the chaise, almost glimmering ruby beneath the rising sunlight.

The time on her phone indicated it was just past noon. She had no messages yet today.

Marinette decided to work through her lunch during the short peace she had, thanking her lucky stars they did not have this kind of business yesterday. Even Adrien’s charm would have been futile to this unbelievable stream of customers.

She ate and worked in shifts, taking breaks from the deliveries to relish her cucumber croissant sandwich, and to refresh herself with plenty of water. A few times in the hours, a customer would come in, but beside the occasional interruption, Marinette was glad for the opportunity to focus. It felt like the first time in a month that the tedious activity of planting, potting, sorting, ordering, arranging, pruning, plucking, watering, and decorating that there wasn’t haggard stress creeping up from her stomach. Between the day she had shared with her friends yesterday, feeling accomplished with her sales, and her decisive choice on how to handle her feelings towards Adrien, it was like all of her worries were thrown in the bin.

Susiness did not really pick up again until 4:00 as most employees started to leave work, and Marinette checked her phone as the sun began to sink.

The time was just turning 4:45 PM, and Marinette still had no new messages.

She pursed her lips and made a pointed effort to finish the remainder of the order for the DiMaggio’s wedding. The ceremony was tomorrow at 11 AM, so she would be leaving here late and probably showing up early to accommodate the wedding coordinator and to be available for last-minute emergencies from Madam DiMaggio or Madam Declair.

A tiny part of her was disappointed that no one came to see her today, but Marinette recognized that this was actually normal. She had just gotten a little spoiled the past week between Chat, Adrien, and Alya and Nino keeping her company. It wasn’t worth beating herself up about, because it wasn’t fair to expect them to keep coming.

Still, the pangs went off at six o’clock when she walked to the front and turned the sign to close. She flipped the lights off and locked the door, standing at the glass for a moment to study the descending sun. She didn’t want to think about the fact that no one had bothered to text her, to see Adrien’s name pop-up and thank her again for spending time together. Even Alya’s name, questioning how she was going to handle her blonde-haired problem would have been a welcome reprieve. But pouting wouldn’t change anything, so she decided to admire the view.

Each ribbon of light that soared through the sky was as beautiful as they were distinct. This was a sunset that painters dreamed of, and she could see the silhouette of the tip Eiffel Tower rising above some of the buildings between the shop and the Seine.

Marinette tried not to think about the fact that she could even see the Agreste mansion, too. He was so close to her from here, and as empowering her decision had been to make her feelings known to him, it was also burning a hole through her chest.

Marinette wanted to see him. She wanted to tell him everything all at once, and to point at this breathtaking skyline. To ask him if he liked the way the oranges bled into pinks better than the dark purples yielded to scarlet with the sinking sun, and to wonder aloud what shapes he saw in the clouds. She wanted to transform into Ladybug and take to the rooftops, to try to impress him with her strength and grace in the suit, to share the beauty of an evening in Paris with him.

At least she had Tikki to keep her company, Marinette thought ruefully as she dragged her feet to the back and proceeded through her usual closing routine, sending a text to her parents.

 

Marinette (6:11 PM):

Hi Maman & Papa <heart>. I will be late b/c I need finish for DiMaggio’s wedding tomorrow, and there was a lot of foot traffic so I need to make some new stuff for opening. Don’t wait up for dinner, I’ll heat it up when I get home!

 

And so Marinette set herself to work, and work she did. Hours passed, her back aching from hunching over glass vases with Gerber daisies nestled into the bottom, awaiting a water bath tomorrow morning. These deep red blossoms were the main flower for the wedding, acting as centerpieces, central to each bouquet, and were accents to the aisle runners. The last bit was the part of the whole process that took the longest, as Marinette hadn’t much room to work in the back of the store. She wanted to make sure there was plenty of extra length to the runner in case last minute adjustments needed to be made on-site by the wedding coordinator. The golden rule with flowers, a particularly with weddings, Mo had taught her, was it’s better to have too much than not enough.

It was an extensive and repetitive process. Marinette pricked herself more than a half-dozen times on the wire she used to secure the last two bridesmaid bouquets, but she still managed to smile while working on the Madam DiMaggio’s corsage, taking extra care with each step.

It was easy to admire the woman’s choice, as she left it up to Marinette’s discretion on what to use based on a picture of Madam’s “mother of the groom” outfit. Marinette settled on one of her very own, hearty Banks’ roses for this, accented with soft Polka Weigela. Marinette might be biased, being the both the one who reared the ruby roses and as the notorious polka-dotted hero of France, but the corsage was her very favorite part of the entire wedding’s order.

The last piece she touched was Madam Declair’s wedding bouquet, which was thankfully mostly already done. All she had to do was prune away a few wilting leaves, resecure the wire wrapping and pin the linens in place that they had agreed upon to accent her dress.

It was five minutes until nine when all was said and done, and Marinette glared at the vacuum in the corner. She usually cleaned on Sunday, Tuesdays and Thursdays so that things wouldn’t get too grimy (working with dirt made that nigh impossible), but she didn’t have it in her today.

Tikki chattered warmly to her all the while, of course, and when it finally came time to leave the kwami was the one to suggest going out as Ladybug.

“Really, after a day like today, you just need to eat and go right to bed.” The kwami crossed her arms and nodded her head seriously. Marinette didn’t argue, eager to change from her sweaty work clothes and do just as Tikki suggested - her stomach was calling for food and her bed was calling for company.

The next day passed much like the first. Marinette hadn’t slept long enough, flopping from her mattress at 7 AM. She got ready quickly and arrived at the store just before 8:30 AM, and the wedding planner for the DiMaggio’s pulled up just as she flicked on the lights.
She helped load up the truck and provided detailed instructions to “Nance,” the woman who would be on location for the ceremony. Marinette scribbled a short note and tucked it into Madam DiMaggio’s corsage, thanking her for being such a patient and appreciative customer, and wishing well for the wedding.

Once the store opened “officially” at 10 AM, Marinette didn’t sit down again until the day was over. She hadn’t realized the date until that morning, but Sunday was Mother’s Day, and everyone was surging to get their last minute gifts for their family. She felt rather guilty for not thinking far enough ahead to get anything for Maman, so she decided to use the evening and some leftover fabric to make her a new baker’s apron. (Aprons, after all, were exceedingly easy - there was hardly any thought that had to go into the fit but for the length of one’s body, and Marinette was only a bit taller than her mother).

She checked her phone throughout the day, and she had but one message. Another reminder to go to the pharmacy and pick up her prescription.

Tikki started to worry. Her kwami insisted Marinette needed to rest, but the girl couldn’t in good conscious go to bed without at least starting her gift for her mother. Once the basic measurements were done, Marinette cut the fabric, and with bleary eyes, agreed to finishing the sewing tomorrow.

For as tired as she was, once Marinette crawled under her covers, her lids felt like they had been glued open. Doubts flooded her mind, and her heart started to sink through the mattress.

Her eyes lingered on their photo beside her bed, and it was mostly reassuring, filling her with some warmth. Did missing him always hurt this much? Was it because she admitted to herself that she wanted to be with him? It was only two days, but his sudden absence felt like a hole in her universe.

What she wouldn’t give to have a cat to talk to, to pick the brain of boys and blondes and to puzzle through these stupid emotions. Marinette was at least self-aware enough to recognize she was making a bigger deal out of this then she needed to be, but that was her rational-self talking. Her heart wasn’t attuned to logic, but rather, feelings.

And right now, she was feeling rather empty.

Tikki was already fast asleep beside her, and Marinette gazed at the kwami with gratitude as she listened to her little subdued inhales and exhales. Tomorrow would be better, certainly, it was just a busy time of year with long days and longer hours. Marinette would be fine.

 


 

 

Adrien closed the door quietly to his bedroom, using every ounce of self-control not to slam it. He wanted to rather badly, but that would be in poor taste.

“Tough break, kid,” Plagg appeared from his pocket with an uncharacteristically sympathetic look on his face. Adrien pressed his lips together and shrugged, moving to sit at his desk.

“You’ll have a phone again on, what, Monday? That’s what the lady said?”

“Nathalie,” Adrien corrected out of habit. “Yeah. I’m not really angry, just…”

“... Lonely?”

He blinked, surprised. Not because Plagg suggested it - for as obstinate a kwami as he was, he could always read Adrien like an open book. No, Adrien was a little unsettled by the fact that Plagg sounded like he was just as lonesome as he was.

“Are you okay, Plagg?” Adrien questioned, eyeing the kwami with a brow raised. “You’ve been acting weird all week, is there something going on? Does it have to do with Hawk Moth?”

“Pfft,” the kwami shook his head and splayed out across Adrien’s keyboard, which was a rather inconvenient place to sit if he actually wanted to use his computer. “I forgot about your friend talking about that the other day. Us, murder Hawk Moth? Geez. That’s some dark stuff.”

Adrien chewed on his lip, a bit anxious still as he recalled it. Certainly Alya hadn’t intended to plant the seed of doubt, but it was there and it was blooming. The villain’s absence was troubling, and it felt like it was only a matter of time before something happened.

It also did not escape Adrien that Plagg had dodged his question, which he took to mean that something was going on. Both times they went to the flower shop, Plagg disappeared only to find Adrien at the very last minute. He seemed almost as disappointed in their restrictions from leaving the house as Adrien, and as far as the teen could tell, Plagg was giving him an awful lot of slack. His teasing was less pointed, his advice earnest, and he didn’t even seem to mind Adrien’s constant addling on about Marinette.

Before Adrien could question Plagg, however, the little black presence rolled over onto his back across the F, G, T, H, Y keys and caused his computer to beep in protest.

“You know, I’m surprised. I thought once you were grounded the first thing you would do is turn into Chat Noir and slink into the night. Don’t you want to see your friend?”

Adrien considered his kwami for a moment.

“Yes. I did - I do. Though, I feel like I’m being dramatic since it’s only been two days. We were at the shop on Wednesday and it’s only…” His eyes flickered to the bottom of his computer screen, and it had just turned midnight. “Well, technically it’s now Saturday. But I don’t know, I guess I’m… worried. I don’t want to get in more trouble, and not be able to see her indefinitely.”

Plagg made a face, mirroring Adrien’s disapproval at the thought. “Yeah, I guess it’s better not to risk it. Wouldn’t want to be forbidden from seeing your girlfriend.”

It shouldn’t have still been so embarrassing, but Adrien blushed at Plagg’s insinuation. “She’s not my girlfriend, Plagg.”

“Yet,” his kwami countered, raising a brow. His tone was begging for Adrien to challenge him, so he acted the bigger Chat and ignored him, instead preparing for bed. Thankfully, he only had a photoshoot tomorrow afternoon, so at least he would be able to sleep in.

As Adrien turned out the lights and sank into his warm mattress, he anxiously missed his cell phone, wanting to text Marinette to see how she was doing. Did her arm get better? Did she go back to work? Had any other Mounseir Declair’s come by since he had seen her? Was everyone privy to Marinette’s lengthy explanations on the lore of her botanical wonderland, or did she only reserve that for special customers?

He turned his head to the left and looked at his desk chair, pale and dark against the moonlight streaming through his windows. A chartreuse apron stared back at him, refusing to be put in with his laundry or even hidden away. Marinette had given that to him as he exited the flower shop, insisting that he kept it as a humble thanks for his help.

“The color goes with your eyes, anyways.”

Adrien felt his cheeks burn, and was glad that the lights were out.

“Plagg, are you asleep?” He whispered, angling his head up towards the kwami’s tiny pillow.

He was met with a grunt, and the little black cat rolled away from him.

Adrien pursed his lips. “I’m thinking about telling my Dad I’m Chat Noir.”

What are you, NUTS, kid?!” Plagg practically yelled, shooting up from his near-sleep and hovering heatedly before his charge.

“Nope, I just knew it would get your attention.”

“...Oh.” Plagg narrowed his eyes. “Well, you got it, now what do you want?

“What do you think will happen if we do eventually defeat Hawk Moth? Or, I mean, he’s a human being too - like, what if he just got struck by lightning one day and his whole plot just disappeared because he disappeared? Would we even have a way of knowing?”

He could make out Plagg’s eyes, irises wide and green despite the darkness.

“I suppose that is possible, but in theory, if he died a mortal death, his miraculous would be removed for your human ‘burial sacraments’ or whatever you call them.”

Adrien blinked, evidently not picking up Plagg’s meaning.

Wrinkling his tiny nose, Plagg lowered himself to sit on Adrien’s chest, just above his heart.

“Basically, the miraculous would be found by someone, eventually. It could get put in a drawer for centuries, or it could be worn a week later. But unless Master Fu has it safely stored away, the Ladybug and Chat Noir miraculous would remain in circulation, waiting and searching for the other to be found. So, you and Ladybug would have to remain vigilant in case someone with poor intentions gets ahold of it.”

That gave Adrien pause, sucking on his teeth while he considered Plagg’s words.

So that was it. He had always sort of figured that was the case, especially after Ladybug explained why they rarely saw Rena Rouge. Whoever held the fox miraculous on occasion had to return it after every battle, only called upon in times of need.

There would likely be a day when there was no more Chat Noir.

No more gallivanting across rooftops and visiting girls on their balcony. No more Hawk Moth; no more Ladybug.
He would have to go back to being Adrien all the time, probably. The thought of not having Plagg in his life was heartbreaking enough, and when that day comes, he won’t even know Ladybug’s name. Maybe they could finally reveal themselves then, but maybe he wouldn’t want to.

“...Adrien?” Plagg called for his attention, which he offered wordlessly, glancing down at his chest.

“Before you go counting your cheese before it ripens,” the kwami stated, curling into a ball of black fur on his torso. He kept his eyes on Adrien, who returned the stare.

“Don’t worry yourself too much. Some generations of Chat Noir are called upon for other reasons than the one you were set out to complete, so you may keep the ring for other reasons. Protecting the public, promoting peace, blah blah. It’s Master Fu’s call. You might not… but even if you don’t, that’s okay. You don’t need to transform to be Chat Noir. You are Chat Noir.”

Adrien affixed his attention to the green apron splayed out on his chair again, smiling a little wider. “… I guess I wouldn’t have to smell like cheese all the time if you’re gone.”

A snort broke the tension, and both kwami and chosen laughed for a moment. It was an uplifting sort of feeling, shaking the stress from the room as the both chuckled heartily. Eventually, Plagg released a heavy breath and floated back towards his pillow.

“And listen, kid,” the kwami paused. “Don’t get all mushy on me or whatever, but Master Fu is going to have to fight me if he wants you to return the ring, even after all of this is over. You’re a… decent Chat Noir, I guess.”

Adrien brushed his eyes with the back of a hand, a little too moved to be bothered by Plagg’s backhanded compliment, knowing it was a façade. At that moment, he felt incredibly thankful to have been the one trusted with the blessing and burden that was this stupid little black cat.

“T-thanks, Plagg.” He said through a smile.

“I said don’t get mushy,” Plagg replied sleepily, and Adrien laughed again.

The pair went to bed quickly thereafter, dreams arriving to each of them in the form of blue eyes and bubbly laughter.

Adrien was awoken by a warm blast of Saturday sun in his face as the morning broke into his bedroom. Plagg, he was surprised to see, was already awake and eating his morning cheese, sitting atop the designated “camembert cabinet.”

“Ugh,” Adrien flopped an arm over his head to block out the intense sunshine. “What time is it?”

“Time to get a watch,” his kwami hummed while shoving another piece of cheese into his mouth.

“I hate you,” Adrien replied as he stood and stretched, shaking his computer mouse to wake up the screen. “Wow, already almost noon.”

Plagg mewled something about Adrien needing his beauty sleep, but the blonde just grumbled and requested his breakfast while heading to the shower.

The day passed uneventfully, but his mood was considerably better after the talk with Plagg late last night. It had always sort of been something in the back of his mind he wondered about, and hearing Plagg suggest that he may be a part of Adrien’s life forever was comforting.

More and more, as Ladybug seemed to be the sun in his universe, Marinette was the moon. The former was brilliant and amazing in the most literal sense of the word, but like the sun, she was too far away and too bright to bare. While she provided warmth, she also blinded him. Every aspect of her was a guide and beacon, but that only made her seem more like an idol and less like a real person. Every time he had tried to get to close, his wax wings melted, and it got tiring to continually plummet towards the earth.

Marinette was closer. Her light was softer, a more reliable source of comfort for several years. Her brilliance was similar to Ladybug’s, but muted with flaws and interests that he could actually appreciate. The girl was an uncoordinated mess, she adored the color pink, her battles were often uphill and she never backed down from a challenge. Not once since he had known her had Marinette’s very human mistakes made her any less admirable; indeed, in many ways, they only made him admire her more. It took an iron-will to stand up to Chloe again and again, she never let her tardiness tarnish her academics, and her tendency to hurt herself on accident just made her endurance that much more impressive.

Adrien’s day proceeded in a rush as he was ferreted from place to place by his driver, not leaving his or Nathalie’s supervision at any point since exiting his bedroom that morning. Almost painfully, he thought about dark pigtails and green aprons, about how much he missed her. It was impossible to focus on the appropriate pose he should follow during the photoshoot or to respond thoughtfully to Nathalie. Adrien just sort of wandered from place to place, a mind full of Marinette.

The stars came out by the time he felt like he could breathe again, calmly shutting his door, resisting the urge to slam it again. His father had come for dinner, to Adrien’s surprise - though it was not surprising that the conversation had barely remained cordial.

Plagg could tell Adrien was in a bad mood when he returned to his room, pacing the length of his windows and looking out over the rooftops.

Adrien stopped walking, staring at the opaque silvery light that bathed Paris in a white glow. Bright against a dark sky, he studied the moonlight for a time.

“Hey, Plagg?” Adrien called, rubbing his hands together anxiously.

His kwami was already ready. “You don’t need my permission. Some risks are worth taking.”

He needed no further invitation.

Plagg, claws out!”

 


 

 

A crisp knocking roused her, and Marinette was so shocked she punched the pedal of her sewing machine violently with her foot. It furiously spun the spool, weaving a bright yellow line of chaos into the navy fabric.

“Agghhh...” She rubbed her eyes and glared at the apron, cursing.

There was a long pause before a much quieter, almost shy tapping rapt against her skylight.

“Oh.” She breathed, realization causing her to shake her head and drag her legs to the hatch.

A familiar silhouette looked down at her, his face impossible to see with the moonlight at his back, but a pair of ears drooped down at her.

Marinette felt inarguably like garbage. She was so tired, just kneeling on her mattress to undo the lock tempted her to just crash into the cushiony warmth of her bed, but more than sleep, she craved company. It hadn’t been very long, but she was feeling stir-crazy, and she could always count on a particular stray to put her in a better mood.

Her voice was bright, not matching her entirely disheveled appearance. “Minou! What a surprise!”

The masked hero looked upset, but his tail and ears became more animated as she rose to the balcony.

“I am very sorry for waking you, Princess. I saw your light on and didn’t realize…”

Marinette shook her head with a smile, breathing in the refreshing night air. “I am actually very glad you woke me, Chat. I need to finish the project I’m working on by tomorrow, and I’m sure I would have slept through the night there if you hadn’t found me.”

Still unconvinced, Chat Noir approached the edge of the balcony with a forlorn expression. Marinette rolled her eyes and followed, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“I... purr-romise it’s okay?” She bit her lip, trying to hide the smile that she felt betray her.

That seemed to take the edge off, because some color returned to Chat’s face and he smiled his goofy grin at her.

“If you say so, Purr-incess.”

“I do,” she nodded, leaning her elbows on the railing and looking into the street. “What time is it, anyways? I don’t even know.”

Chat checked his baton quickly. “Only 9:30. You’ll have plenty of time to complete your project, I imagine.”

She furrowed her brow, remembering that she’ll have to unthread the last line of stitching. It had looked like a mortal wound of golden thread slashed through the thick cotton.

“Are you alright, Mari?” Chat asked as he put his baton away, ducking slightly to catch her eyes. She blinked a few times but smiled warmly.

“Yes, I’m okay, mon chaton. I’m just very tired. I’ve slept little these past few days.”

“Oh,” he frowned. “I’m sorry to hear that. I don’t want to keep you…”

Chat started to pull himself onto the bannister, but Marinette grabbed his tail.

“No!” She nearly shouted, causing her face to flush. “I-I mean, no, you can stay. I actually could use some company.”

Chat smiled and instead sat on the railing, letting his legs dangle on the other side. “Yeah?”

“Yes,” Marinette said quietly, and Chat glanced in her direction. “I’ve had a lot on my mind and it’s all getting twisted in my brain. The shop gets lonely, you know.”

Were she not so tired and admittedly miserable from exhaustion, she might have felt too self-conscious to admit something like that to Chat. He was a very important person in her life, but it also made her feel vulnerable to confess that sort of weakness to anyone.

She was surprised to hear his response, quiet and low.

“I’ve been lonely, too.”

Marinette wrinkled her nose and looked up at the stars. “Looks like we’re both strays tonight, Chat Noir.”

Chat leaned his head slowly onto her shoulder, and to her luck, he had chosen the more stable of the two.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been by to see you more,” he said slowly, and Marinette reached a hand to scratch his hair in comfort.

She smiled, almost a little regretful. “You don’t need to apologize, minou. You’re a hero of Paris, certainly you are busy.”

He tensed slightly, but relaxed as she continued to nuzzle his hair. “Oh… um, right. Have you been... enjoying your summer?”

With a low exhale, Marinette nodded. “Yes. Things are even busier than ever, but I’ve been feeling… lighter, somehow. We had a wedding on Friday, and with tomorrow being Mother’s Day…”

She felt Chat cringe, and Marinette stomach automatically twisted in guilt. It was easy to forget that Chat had a difficult family situation, and she had no idea of the relationship he might have with his mother. One of her best friends was without his mother, Marinette recalled as she thought of another boy with blonde hair and green eyes - she should have been more sensitive.

“S-sorry,” she explained quickly as he glared into the streets below. “I didn’t mean to, um…”

The black-suited hero’s scowl deepened for a second, but when he turned to look at her, his smile was radiant beneath the gentle light of the moon. “What? No, no, don’t apologize. I just remembered I’ll have to… uh, figure out a last minute… gift?”

She pressed her lips together. Chat was a terrible liar, but they were already skirting a dangerous line of personal information so Marinette decided to drop it.

She joined him in his study of the civilians, strolling the streets below.

“Well... the shop will be opening at noon tomorrow, since it’s Sunday, if you decide on flowers.”

“I might stop in,” Chat mused. “What sort of flower would you pick for a person that you love?”

Marinette straightened and turned around, so she was staring at the brick facade that outlined the chimney. It was a sweet question, if it was intended for Chat’s mother, but something about the inflection in his voice made Marinette believe it might be more romantic than familial love he was talking about.

“Well…” She began slowly, considering her blooms as of current. “That’s actually a difficult thing to answer. Almost every plant or flower has some sort of history, but we all ascribe meaning to things in our own way… like, my favorite flower is probably the blue lotus, or Nymphaea caerulea… but that doesn’t mean it’s a great thing to get someone.”

“Oh?” Chat turned his head to one side, gaze questioning. Marinette bit her tongue, hiding a blush.

“Yes, well, um, for instance, there’s a lot of folklore that suggests they’re a… medicinal herb, you know. For, well - sedating people in ancient healing practices.” When Chat still stared blankly, Marinette scowled and threw her hands up. “They’re a drug, okay? It’s considered illegal to even own them in some places.”

Chat flipped around on the railing and stood beside her, a hand at his hip. He was practically bouncing on his heels. “Oh! This is a different side of you, Princess. Perhaps the maiden is not so innocent after all?”

Chat!” Marinette punched his arm, probably harder than she had to, and he groaned in response.

“I was kidding!”

“I know - just, it’s embarrassing!” Marinette could feel her face burning, and though Chat massaged his arm, his face spread into a smile.

She trudged on through her explanation. “I can’t remember all of the places, but I know they’re at least banned in Russia and… Poland, I think? But anyways, I don’t know if I’ve ever explicitly mentioned it before, but I’m half-Chinese,” Marinette glanced at him and he nodded. “There’s a whole separate history to them in Asian and Chinese culture, and I prefer to follow that meaning - they’re linked to Buddhism and Hinduism and… even though I’m not either of those, I still feel a connection to them.”

The blonde’s face grew from merriment to an expression that was a sort of curious bewilderment. Marinette noticed, and tapped her chin.

“Sorry, is this boring to you? I forget sometimes that this is a lot of jargon and…”

“Oh, no!” He strode the length of the balcony and settled into one of her lounge chairs. “I’m very interested. I just don’t know how to respond to you, it’s… almost intimidating, the way you know so much. I just like to listen.”

That made Marinette smile, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear shyly. “Oh… well, thanks, Chat. It’s not that complicated, I just learned a lot from Mo and then I was interested in some of it myself. But we can talk about something else at any point, okay?”

He nodded and rested his chin against his knuckles, watching Marinette intently. “I could listen to you talk about anything and it would never bore me, Princess.”

Marinette rolled her eyes but turned her attention upwards, finding an occasional star. “So, the Blue Lotus. That’s my favorite flower, and they’re supposed to represent victory of spirit, and I sort of like that…” Marinette squeezed her arms across her chest, a little self-conscious. “Although they’re also supposed to represent purity and enlightenment and even, in some cases, like, wholesome awareness. Like you’re kind of all tuned properly, mind and body and spirit.

Out of habit, she massaged her shoulder, thinking on her injury. “I... like to think I’ve got the spirit part covered, but I don’t know about purity and enlightenment. I feel like I constantly mess up.”

Across from her, green eyes turned thoughtful.

“But you are those things, Marinette.” Chat stood and walked closer, leaving but inches between them.

“You might have two left feet...” he continued with a playful murmur. “But that doesn’t mean you’re not pure or wholesome. You’re positively lovely. Like the moon.” Chat pointed up and they both turned to look at the crisp ashen sphere, hovering high above their heads.

Marinette was so confused she didn’t bother trying to hide her flush. “The moon?”

Just like the moon,” he answered in a totally unhelpful way. Still, the sincerity of his utterly banal statement made her heart race a little faster, and Marinette was feeling oddly nervous.

“W-whatever you say, minou.” Marinette shrugged, trying to actual casual. “Anyways… the point I was trying to make is just, you know, you should pick out a flower for someone for your own reasons. I like to learn about the history and stuff, but you can like a flower for any reason. Just because they’re pretty, or because of the lore, or for any mixture of reasons. The Blue Lotus, for example – if you put aside the irony of drugs and innocence…” They both grinned, and Marinette continued. “I just love them because they’re swamp plants. They live in some of the most scorned environments, dark and oppressive, but they come out so bright and beautiful.”

The cat hummed while he listened, nodding along.

“And even better, they sink into the water at night, closing up. But when they come out a few days later to soak up the sun, they’re just as pure and full as the moment they disappeared. Perseverance. That’s why I liked them.”

“Fair is fair,” he said quietly, still standing unusually close. Chat exhaled and took a step back, and Marinette felt herself breathe more easily.

“So… I just need to make sure the flowers I pick aren’t on the French black-market, and I should be fine?”

Marinette snorted. “Sure, minou. If you ever need to pick out something for someone, I’m happy to help, but just go with what feels right. Roses are perfect for some, and shrubs are perfect for others. The most important part is the feeling, you know?”

The smile that crept to his lips was unrestrained, the image of hope.

“Yes, I think I do.”

He paced the length of the balcony, pausing to glance into her room. “Is there a reason you’re finishing this particular project for tomorrow?”

Marinette wasn’t paying much attention to his words, sort of mesmerized by the night sky and the buzzing of Paris to her back. “Um... oh, yes. That’s my mother’s day gift for my Mom, you know, she’s a baker. It’s an apron.”

He twirled around, very much resembling a cat as he prowled back to stand beside her. “Aprons run in your family, it seems.” His voice was teasing.

Marinette smiled. “I guess they do, don’t they?”

“Maybe, one of these days,” he tapped his chin. “You’ll bestow an apron upon this cat, perhaps as a token of your admiration?”

She laughed and rubbed a hand down her face. “Hey, making your own clothes isn’t cheap! And the ones we keep at the shop are scarce, so I can’t just give away those to just anyone. I have to order them by the dozen and that gets real expensive, real fast.”

Marinette harrumphed and looked away pointedly, though not before adding a final cheeky remark.

“And besides, I don’t see what you would even do with one.”

Chat’s voice was playful. “Why, I’d wear it over my suit, of course.”

His energy was infectious, and Marinette giggled while his tail swished against the paved balcony, just barely brushing against her calf. “Well, when an akuma is pelting flour or dirt at you, feel free to come grab one anytime.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” he said, turning to face the street, both hands gripping the metal railing. Marinette, emboldened by his lively attitude, wrapped her arms around one of his own and leaned into him. She had worried that, just maybe, that was too intimate a move for someone with their kind of relationship, and she was prepared to pull away when Chat tensed under her fingers. The moment passed, however, and his warmth melted her only closer, comfortable as they stood in silence.

For the first time in weeks, looking over this city they’d spent years protecting, Marinette felt almost entirely at peace. She didn’t know if Chat grew up here, but she did, and the metropolis only seemed more beautiful with time. The days plagued by Hawk Moth’s terror were far outnumbered by the nights like these, where all was still but for the subdued hum of humanity - a passing couple on the sidewalk, or a lone car rolling by. It wasn’t the same sort of absolute placidity one might expect in the countryside, but Marinette thought she would always prefer this.

Paris was alive, a being that breathed with energy and in which her friends, her parents, and her flowers thrived. Night’s in the city were timid, everything made softer by the occasional wink of a star, an accent against the opaque beams of lunar light that washed the city clean. All was ashen, pale by the sterile and sublime repose of a full moon in the cool evening of Parisian summer.

Marinette shook her head and smiled wryly, scolding herself for her attitude the past few days. At least she could chalk things up to lack of sleep, because really, it made no sense that she had been so fretful over the radio silence of her friends. Nino had let her know today that Alya’s phone was broken, and that he hadn’t heard from Adrien at all either. It could just be a matter of unfortunate timing, and Marinette was resigned to the fact that she had made a big deal of nothing, just letting her worries get the best of her.

She had made her choice about Adrien already, and she was going to see it through. Rather he would reject her, or he would accept, and she had to deal with the consequences.

Tomorrow.

“Hey, minou?” Marinette turned her attention back to him, and she was more than a little embarrassed to find he was looking right at her. She scrunched up her expression. “What? Something on my face?”

Beneath his mask, a red so intense it could rival the corsage she had made for Madam DiMaggio colored the cat’s cheeks.

“N-no, sorry,” Chat coughed. “Just um, had something on my mind at the meow-ment.” He grinned at her immediate displeasure over his use of word-play.

Marinette squinted at him, but figured it was nothing. She zoned out all the time, and frankly, her muscles were aching from the intensity of work over the past few days, and Marinette was feeling eager to sit down.

“Why don’t you come inside while I finish my mom’s present? The conversation will keep me awake, and there’s probably still some leftover croissants in the kitchen.” Finishing with a smile, Marinette tried to sound welcoming. She really didn’t want Chat to think he was bothering her, because he wasn’t, but the masked blonde was awfully sensitive as of late.

“Hmm… ” His head bobbed from side to side, as he pretended to very seriously consider the offer. “This cat cannot turn down any pastry of the Dupain-Cheng variety. It would be my purr-leasure.”

Her eye roll was almost a reflex at this point, so Marinette let him grin at his own joke while leading the way to the skylight.

“Ah,” she paused, holding a hand to stop him. Her feet were on the mattress, so only her torso was visible. “Just don’t be too loud, my parents are probably asleep.”

“First, drugs, and now, sneaking a boy into your bedroom? My, my, Mari. You’re scandalous tonight.” Chat’s wiggled his eyebrows, and she thought seriously about shutting the window on him, but couldn’t bring herself to do it.

“Okay,” Marinette lowered her voice a bit - they needn’t whisper, but it was a good precedent to start quiet. “Make yourself comfortable, and I’ll grab the croissants, okay?”

Chat shot her a very dorky thumbs-up as he leapt down from her bed. He landed, as always, on his feet.

Marinette quickly swept around the kitchen, gathering four croissants on a plate and popping them in the microwave. While she got out a pad of butter (and a few extra cookies for Tikki, for once Chat left), Marinette heard the gentle padding of footsteps above. Had Chat ever been in her room before? She rubbed her chin and concluded that he hadn’t, but they were so comfortable around each other at this point it’s not like she minded. The only tricky thing would be if her parents felt like a Saturday night was the appropriate time to surprise their daughter with a midnight visit to her bedroom. Maybe she would lock the door, just in case.

My, my, Mari. You’re Scandalous tonight. Chat’s voice cooed in her brain, and she shook her head.

Dumb cat.

Once the electronic timer reached 00:01, Marinette had that satisfying moment of stopping the microwave just before it sounded the proverbial midnight-snack-alarm. She had overheard a joke once about it being as thrilling as defusing a bomb, and given her double-life, she could recall a time or two where she’d been in a position to do just that. It was a little like that preventing a deadly explosion, she supposed… just, not nearly as scary.

Marinette ascended the stairs, careful not to trip and make a horrendous mess, and opened the door to her room. Chat was splayed out on her chaise, just as he would at the flower shop; if he didn’t look so much like he belonged there, Marinette might have scolded him for propping his dirty boots up on the light fabric.

She made sure to lock the door behind her.

He cleared his throat as Marinette caught his eye. “Is this, um,” he pointed to the poster beneath her loft, perfect for admiring while curled up on the seat. “That one model… I think his name is Adrien, maybe?”

Marinette bit her lip through a smile, feeling her pulse pick up, heart racing in part from embarrassment but mostly from just at mention of Adrien’s name.

“Yes,” she nodded curtly, sitting at her sewing machine and positioning the plate of treats on her desk. “His name is Adrien Agreste. Although to say he’s a model is sort of… asinine.” Her fingers began to unknot her earlier golden mistake from the apron, stitch by stitch. She could hear Chat sit up.

“Oh? How so?”

Face growing warmer by the minute, she shot him an irritated look. “I mean, he’s more than just a model, Chat. He’s someone I go to school with, and, he... means a lot to me. It feels weird to just label him like that, you know? Adrien is incredibly sweet and smart - he’s more than just someone who poses for pictures. That’s like… if I just called you a hero, instead of saying how you’re also helpful and, on occasion, terribly annoying.” She looked up and Chat was positively beaming. Marinette was glad he knew her words were not meant in offense. “Being a hero is only one part of who you are.”

The blonde paused and crossed the room, murmuring to himself. “You have no idea…”

Marinette did not respond, her lips pressed into a thin line of focus, so Chat munched on a croissant and sat beside her, cross-legged on the floor. They both watched as she finished withdrawing the last of the stitching that had been her unpleasant wake-up call.

“You said you haven’t been sleeping well?” Chat eventually asked as Marinette began to position her feet at the pedal.

“Hmm?” She blinked deliberately, eyes unfocused. “Oh. Yes. I probably have horrible bags under my eyes. Work, you know.” Marinette shrugged and began to coax the machine to life, feeling a little smug at the reverent way he watched her work.

“Geez, I knew you could sew Marinette,” Chat commented, coming so close his chin was all but resting on her desk. “But I’ve never had a front row seat before. It’s sort of crazy to watch.”

Marinette only hummed and smiled, lapsing into her rhythm. She found her creative pace and guided the fabric with masterful precision, turning the waves of navy in time with the curvature of the “bodice” of the apron.

In what seemed like no time at all, the cotton became something greater – the spool and Marinette’s fingers worked together to transform a pile of shapes into a seamless textile creation, with personality and charm befitting the creator.

After the large part of the stitching was completed, Marinette pulled out a needle and thread and adjusted in her chair, now facing Chat to appear a bit more hospitable. It was hard to talk over the sewing machine and stay wary of waking her parents, so they had remained mostly quiet. Chat didn’t seemed bothered to play the part of audience.

“I meant to ask you,” Chat questioned, watching the “D/C” logo come to life by Marinette’s hand along the breast of the fabric. “Did your… friend ever come back to see you, the other day? I remember you were…”

His voice trailed off as Marinette suddenly stopped her handiwork, brow furrowed. Normally she wouldn’t have any problem multitasking, but she had momentarily forgotten her bitterness. Her body and mind were started to feel the lack of sleep and emotional strain catch up with her, and judging by Chat’s reaction, it must have been apparent on her face.

He turned apologetic almost immediately. “I, um, I’m sorry, Marinette. I just… I remembered you seemed sad the other day. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to.”

And true to his claim, his voice was not at all demanding. It was just a simple statement of concern, and Chat Noir was her friend - why was she reacting like this? She felt herself drawing thinner, the wires of tension that kept her suspended grown taut. It was a shame that she might snap, and even worse, in front of Chat who had nothing to do with this.

Marinette released a large exhale and swallowed hard on the lump in her throat. She adjusted her weight and returned to her needlework, repeating the cathartic motions while gathering her nerve.

When Marinette did speak, her cheeks were dry.

“Yes. He did come back. And… he’s not just a friend, Chat.”

The hero blinked, evidently surprised by her sudden change in attitude. Chat hesitated with the final croissant halfway through his mouth, almost taking a bite. It must have been a trick of the light from her lamp that warmed the bedroom, because when she snuck a glance in his direction, it almost appeared as if he were blushing.

He’s not?”

“No.” Her voice was steady and calm, the kind of poise she hoped to take with her the next time she faced the other blonde boy in her life.

“Adrien isn’t just special to me. Really… he’s much more than that. He’s kind and thoughtful, though he’s got nearly as bad a sense of humor as you.” She smirked but did not look up, holding the apron slightly away and looking for uneven stitches.

“Actually, now that I’m thinking about it… You’d probably get along. I feel like you both sometimes try to get on my nerves on purpose.” Marinette mused as she looked around her desk for another thread. By the time she found what she deemed a suitable color paired with the deep blue of the apron, Marinette began to add her signature to the inside lining.

“Oooh,” Chat chuckled and crammed the remainder of the croissant in his mouth, mumbling something about a coincidence.

Slowly but surely, an aquamarine rendition of Marinette’s name began to appear against the midnight hue.

“You know, minou,” she let out a contented sigh. “I feel bad. I haven’t asked you at all how you’re doing. You said you were out patrolling tonight?”

Chat didn’t respond at first, so Marinette glanced up from the fabric in her hands and he had a puzzled look on his face.

“Um, Chat?”

“Oh,” he adjusted his weight, coming to his knees to look over her lap while she worked. “I’m feline fine, thank you very much. Personal life is… more of the same. Actually, better, lately. And Paris has been…”

Chat narrowed his eyes, lips quipped up in a playful grin. “Quiet.”

Marinette recognized the inflection; it was the beginning of a tired trope. She adopted his unnecessarily solemn tone, stood from her desk and placed both palms on the flat surface. She glanced at him, eyes squinting in pseudo-suspicion.

“...Too quiet.”

“Oh Princess,” Chat cupped his hands together, as if in prayer, and started to rise from his prone position. “How are you always so purr-fect?”

She scrunched up her face and held out her completed gift, too amused to be exasperated. “I don’t know about perfect, but I am pretty awesome.”

Paw-some,” he corrected.

Marinette groaned and shook her head, pulling the apron around her neck to make sure it sat even. “I should kick you out of my house for that.”

“So cruel, the truth is a sin to be spoken here.” The hero cried, voice practically bubbling with mirth.

Placing her hands against her lower back, Marinette stretched carefully and walked towards her full length mirror. The apron came just above her knees, which should be perfect for Maman’s few inch deficit on her. Unfortunately, Marinette had been avoiding looking at herself all night, knowing she probably looked about as good as she felt.

She looked even worse.

Pallid, her skin looked papery and the dark circles around her eyes only stood in contrast to her skin tone. She hadn’t washed her hair today and it was tied in something like a French braid that had mostly fallen out and framed her face with curly tendrils, wavy from another day of sweating through the summer heat. Her off-the-shoulder jumper was pale pink, and thankfully she kept her bra on when she fell asleep - to wake up without it in front of Chat might have killed her from embarrassment. Her favorite capris for bed, soft and pink with tiny white polka dots, were at least form fitting. Still, she reminded herself, pajamas were not exactly a sexy look for her.

“The apron looks wonderful,” Chat chimed as Marinette untied it and folded the gift carefully, returning to her desk. She would wrap it in the morning before heading out.

“Thanks, mon chaton. I appreciate you keeping me company,” Marinette turned and smiled kindly, hoping her words sounded sincere. They were, certainly, but her sort of slow grogginess was becoming more and more prominent in her movements and speech.

He seemed to notice. “Well, but of course, and now the Princess must get her sleep. May I?”

Marinette’s brow furrowed as he held out his arms, and she shrugged, thinking he wanted a hug. Thankfully, she managed not to yelp too loudly when his invitation was received, and Chat fluidly flipped her to curl into his arms, holding her bridal style.

“C-Chat Noir!” Marinette gasped, slightly breathless. “I don’t need you to carry me to bed!”

The blonde would not hear of it. “But Mari, you invited me into your home and fed me; at least let me do some sort of kindness in return?”

She felt her eye twitch, absolutely annoyed by the sincerity coloring every word and the droop to his stupid cat ears. The worst of it was those damned kitten eyes; he looked uncannily like a cute little stray, just asking to be pet by a passing stranger.

Ugh,” she groaned and allowed herself to settle closer to his chest. “Fine. But only because you look so pitiful.”

Chat grinned devilishly and, in one continuous movement, crouched and sprang high into the air, keeping his legs bent upon landing on the mattress so as not to hit his head. Marinette would never admit it, but it was actually sort of… cool.

His expression flickered momentarily, scowling before brightening twice as much.

“Hey, Mari?” he asked as he set her down. Marinette rolled to her side atop of the covers, and Chat faced the headboard, sitting up with one knee bent like an American football player. She appreciated that he kept a respectable distance between them.

“Knock knock.”

The exhaustion hit her like a ton of bricks, so she just shook her head to demonstrate her disapproval.

“Who’s there?”

The cat bit his lip, smile widening.

“Bed.”

She snickered and closed her eyes.

“Bed who?” Marinette murmured.

His voice came much closer than she expected, and the exhale of his words tickled the hairs of her face.

Bed you can’t catch me.”

And in a flash, the blonde hero kissed her forehead and sprang up towards the window, seamlessly pushing it open while Marinette had only time to sit up and look annoyed. Marinette narrowed her eyes at his silhouette looming above her for the second time tonight, but now, his whole presence seemed to radiate with happiness. She could only smile, wondering if it was her who elicited that reaction from him.

“I’ll get you for this, Chat Noir!” Marinette shook her fist in pretend villainy, and the cat had the audacity to blow her a kiss.

“I hope you do, Princess. Sleep well, my little lotus.” The window snapped lightly, and he waved before slinking back into the night.

She blinked skyward, utterly confused and annoyed and why am I blushing?

“Marinette,” Tikki called, appearing from beneath a mountain of pillows. She flinched in surprise. “Sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you. Are you okay?”

With a smile, Marinette nodded and held her kwami in her hands. “Yes, I’m great. There’s some cookies if you want them”.

Marinette gestured towards the desk and her little red companion practically glowed in appreciation.

“Chat Noir is lucky to have a partner like you,” she chimed while zooming across the room, and without asking she turned out the lamp light for Marinette.

The girl mumbled some sort of thanks for the kwami and crawled under the covers, eyes hovering over Adrien’s face beside her in the picture.
She needed sleep, and the last thought that fluttered through the thorns of sleep that crowned her dreams was of tomorrow, the next day, the final day.

No more waiting, no more shy glances or shaking hands.

She had a plan, and it begins tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Adrien had grown to enjoy the call of bells, almost always associating the pitchy jingle with happiness. One would ring at the front and back door of Marinette’s shop, come day or night. Another sounded lightly as he prowled the streets as Chat Noir, jostling ever so slightly just below his throat as he leapt from building to building.

And this morning, one greeted him upon entrance to the Dupain-Cheng bakery.

“Welcom - oh! Adrien, hello!” Madam Cheng beamed as he stepped inside, his senses overcome in the most fantastic sort of way.

It was warm within the buzzing bakery, but not hot and sticky like the summer air - this was a comfortable heat, one that reminded him of fuzzy blankets and hot chocolate. The smells were staggering in their own right, the aroma of cookies and fresh bread flowing around him like the sweetest tides of a cotton-candy sea. Adrien could drown in it and never want to come up for air; it was the same smell that always seeped from Marinette’s pores, only more poignant. A chattering pair of women eyed a display case near the window, so he strode past them and returned Madam Cheng’s smile with as much kindness as he could muster.

“Madam Cheng, so nice to see you. And Happy Mother’s Day, of course.” He bowed politely as he reached the register, standing just a bit aside in case anyone came up to make a purchase while he chatted. If it was possible, Madam Cheng smile only widened.

“This is Nathalie, my father’s assistant,” Adrien said through pursed lips, and the woman shook Madam Cheng’s hand.

Of course, Marinette’s mother seem just thrilled. “A pleasure, Nathalie -- and please, Adrien, Sabine is fine.” The tiny woman held up a finger to pause their pleasantries, leaning her head into the back. “Hey! Tom! Adrien is here!

A pause.

Be right there!” A familiar, jovial voice answered, and Adrien felt himself pink slightly. He tended to almost forget how overwhelmingly kind the Dupain-Chengs were until he was in their company, but then, their daughter was practically the dictionary definition of perfection. He shouldn’t be surprised.

“So, how can I help you this morning?” Sabine looked between the two, and Nathalie only responded with a strained smile. It took an impressive amount of self-control for Adrien not to laugh at the woman’s dismay,  clearly unsure of what to make of Madam Cheng’s bubbly attitude.

“Well…” Adrien fumbled with his fingers. “I actually came by to see if Marinette was available. I wanted to talk to her, but my phone is, uh,” his gaze flickered over the tight-lipped woman beside him. “Unavailable at the moment.”

Sabine frowned. “Oh, I’m so sorry, but Marinette’s not home. She left early this morning on an errand.”

Adrien had only enough time for his eye to twitch before a small bear emerged from the back in the shape of Marinette’s father.

Adrien! How are you, son?” Tom Dupain walked right around the counter and hugged Adrien fiercely, crushing his bones and giving his torso a light dusting of flour in the process. Nathalie looked like a fish out of water, both literally and figuratively, and appeared about ready to pry the man away from him.

The blond was all smiles, though, and gave Marinette’s father a firm pat-pat. “Hello, Monsieur Dupain, how are you?”

“Just great - business is, ah, hold on. Come!” He extended an arm and gestured for Nathalie and Adrien to follow him into the back of the bakery. Sabine nodded at them, but kept her focus on the customers who had just approached the counter with sweet selections in mind.

“Sorry, sorry. Just easier to talk without people buying - so good to see you! And who’s this?” Tom smiled kindly down at Nathalie, who cleared her throat.

“Nathalie Sancoeur, thank you. I work for Gabriel Agreste and am escorting Adrien this morning.”

He blinked, likely taken aback by her biting tone, but there was no dampening the man’s mood.

“Well, welcome to the Dupain-Cheng Boulangerie Patisserie! Don’t mind our mess; when you work with flour and dirt, it’s something you learn to live with.”

“I… see. Thank you.” Nathalie eyed their surroundings, quickly understanding the man’s meaning. The place was indeed a mess, all sorts of ingredients strewn around the work stations, a half-dozen aprons hanging on hooks, and piles and piles of open books littered with numbers and figures.

Monsieur Dupain set himself to task while making pleasant conversation, and Adrien thought his behavior seemed very much like Marinette at that moment. “So, did I hear you say you were here for Marinette?”

Sheepishly, Adrien scratched his cheek. “I - yes. But Madam Cheng said she’s not home?”

The man nodded severely, rolling out a mysterious dough that smelled like heaven. “Yes, it feels like our girl’s never home anymore. Did you want to leave a message of some sort? We can always give it to her when she comes back after work.”

Before he could answer, Marinette’s mother appeared beside Nathalie, and the leaner of the two women flinched.

Adrien had to snicker quietly at that. It was upon Nathalie’s own insistence that he was not to enter the bakery unattended, so he was going to enjoy watching her squirm, at least a little.

“Yes, and I’m afraid she didn’t say where she was going, probably just had to facilitate some deliveries or something,” Sabine sighed and wiped her hands on her apron, which caught his attention.

“Oh, your apron! It’s lovely.” He pointed, elated by his recognition.

She looked down momentarily and the smile that spread on her features reached her eyes.

“Oh, yes, speaking of Marinette,” she sighed contently and rubbed the embroidered D/C proudly. “This was a gift she made me for Mother’s Day. I didn’t expect her to get me anything; I don’t even know how she found the time.”

Adrien did not respond, but he nodded his agreement. Marinette had been deadbeat exhausted yesterday, but he wasn’t about to say that to her parents or Nathalie.

Oh, yes Madam Cheng, I know. I snuck into your daughter’s room last night while she finished making that apron. There was about a million reasons why that was a bad idea, and at least half of those reasons would have made him blush to think about.

Adrien coughed. “Well, I am sorry I missed her… Maybe I will just try again tomorrow, or swing by the shop later.” He didn’t even need to look her way to feel the look Nathalie was giving him. Such a detour was not in his schedule and therefore was not going to be allowed, but Adrien didn’t want to appear suspicious to Marinette’s parents.

“Well, that sounds like a wasted trip son, at least take some pastries back to your Dad.” Monsieur Dupain replied, wiping his cheek carefully with part of his forearm. The dough was taking taking the form of a swirled knot-bread, and Adrien could smell the vanilla and cinnamon from where he was standing. His stomach growled, and by some good graces, not loud enough for anyone to hear.

“Ahh, no, that’s okay,” Adrien rubbed his neck. “My Dad’s not really a… ‘sweets’ kind of guy. But thank you for offering.”

Of course, Madam Cheng wouldn’t hear of it.

“Hmm, well, how about at least something for your troubles? Nathalie, that includes you of course, pick out anything from the display and we’ll package it up for you.”

Adrien blushed, always overcome by their generosity. They hadn’t much, at least compared to his father’s wealth, but that never meant they weren’t eager to share.

“I- I, well,” Nathalie sputtered, uselessly pushing random buttons on her tablet. Clearly she was not used to being treated this way either, and Adrien remembered how flustered he had been the first few times he had come here.

“That would be amazing, thank you,” he accepted for the both of them, and Sabine lead them back out the front.
Adrien didn’t want to disrupt Marinette’s father a second time in the middle of working, so he went to give him a friendly pat on the back in farewell. Once again, more bear than man, Monsieur Dupain turned and engulfed Adrien in a hug so tightly he felt short of breath by the time his feet were back to solid ground.

“Take good care Adrien, and thanks for stopping. I’m sure Mari will be sorry she missed you.”

Tom Dupain finished his statement with a not-so-subtle wink. Adrien swallowed a lump in his throat and tried not to burn too furiously while returning to the front of the bakery.

Sabine greeted a new gaggle of customers that entered just as the three of them returned to the front of the store, so Adrien gestured for Nathalie to follow him to the glass display of cakes and breads and cookies.

Once out of earshot, Nathalie shot him a sharp whisper.

“These foods will not comply with your meal schedule, so please say your goodbyes and we’ll go.”

At that, Adrien snorted and had to cover his mouth to keep from laughing. He actually felt a little bad as Nathalie flushed, evidently disquieted by his behavior. She saw this place as one of indulgence - sugar and happiness, free food and plentiful hugs.

How ironic.

Wealth meant Adrien had seen display cases just like these many times, usually filled with pillows of rich velvet that were topped with excess. Diamond jewelry or watches that could fund a year abroad were the “bread and butter” of the upper-class, so expensive taste came with the territory.

Adrien felt the bread and butter prepared by the Dupain-Cheng’s hand to be much more tempting.

Everything was a careful arrangement of love here, and it filled him with a million reminders of Marinette at every turn. Each price tag was hand-written, with chalkboard specials on display. All of the boxes were pink and simple, somehow adorable and refined at the same time. The energy itself was animated, a welcome world, and it required no explanation to surmise that Marinette was a product of this saccharine wonderland.

By comparison, Adrien had felt only lucky enough to window shop before. He didn’t want to browse anymore.

Marinette may have been reared within these candied walls, but Adrien found it hollow without her in them. He longed for laurels of green and Banks’ roses. The absence of dirt felt like the absence of her, resolute and empowering without ever being too much. To him, the bakery had become an echo of her, whereas the shop was filled with Marinette from the dirt to the air to the sun itself. A pastoral daydream, between the green apron and the green house, the shop was the metropolitan wilderness.

A paradox.

It shouldn’t exist in a city like this, and it was too pure for this world.

Yet somehow, he had found her.

Nathalie interrupted his daydreams by clicking her tongue.

We cannot accept their food without paying. If word gets out, the press might take it to the rumor mill.”

His response was probably more bitter than it had to be, not because of her words but because of the sneer behind them.

“You are worrying too much,” he studied some cocoa truffles absently. “I’ve tried to pay them for years, but they always refuse. Marinette even snuck money back into my wallet once; their obstinacy is borderline unfair.”

Nathalie pursed her lips. “This… Marinette that you came to see. She’s been through your wallet?”

Sometimes he forgot how protective Nathalie and his father were, to a painful degree. Still, the insinuation that came with Nathalie’s worry he found to be in poor taste.

He kept his tone matter-of-fact. “Yes. I’d trust her with anything, my wallet included.”

The dark-haired woman narrowed her eyes and looked ready to say something else, but Sabine completed her recent customers and appeared across the glass case.

“Have you settled on anything? I already grabbed some of that cheese bread you always ask for, Adrien, but please, pick out at least a few more things.” Marinette’s mother jostled a bag lightly over the counter, and Adrien thanked her. In his shirt pocket, a very exciting twitching began at the call of cheese.

After some back and forth, Adrien made up Nathalie’s mind and kindly accepted two pieces of cheese bread, a sweet smelling strawberry tart for himself and a few macron’s for his father’s assistant. It took more effort than it should have to accept, what with Nathalie’s constant disapproval, but he had gone through the motions with the Dupain-Cheng’s enough time to know they were impossible to argue with.

By the time he said farewell, two hugs later and a whole heart fuller, Adrien settled into the backseat of the car and sighed comfortably. He almost could have forgotten he had come to see Marinette and utterly failed to do so. Almost.

Nathalie directed them home, dubiously accepting a macron when offered, and Adrien even tried to see if his ever-silent bodyguard would accept one. There was no verbal response, but the man did hold out his hand when Adrien reached towards the front of the sedan.

“So, is Marinette someone we should…?” Nathalie began as they were neared the mansion, and Adrien cleared his throat.

Nope, that’s -- nope.”

The woman sighed pointedly, but did not ask any further questions. They both knew better than to  bother his father with petty matters like high school crushes, so Adrien at least could confidently say Nathalie would not to bring up the subject again.

He bound up the stairs once they arrived home, shutting the door to his room behind him. A greedy-eyed kwami greeted him swiftly.

“Pay up, kid, I wants me some of that bread.” Plagg almost cackled as Adrien unfurreled the bag and set it at his desk, listening to the strange gorging sounds of a kwami bodily assaulting unsuspecting pastries.

Adrien was already pacing, running a frustrated hand through his hair.

“What a waste of a morning.” He stopped at the window, pressing an arm against the cool metal beams and resting his forehead there. “I don’t think I can wait until tonight to see her, and not as Chat Noir. I need to see her as me this time.”

“You know,” Plagg called from the bag, clearly speaking with his mouth full.

“You sure are going way out of your way to see this girl. You’re sure you just want to be friends?”

Adrien rolled his eyes. “Just, shut up, Plagg.”

“If your poor heart can’t wait, we could sneak out again. You know, stop by the flower shop, go and see your lovely lady,” the kwami mused in a sing-song voice.

Adrien didn’t answer. It’s not like he could deny it anymore.

From the night she gifted him the Russian Snowdrops petals, he probably should have realized it then. The comfortable way she deposited the sentiment, more than just the flowers, into his hand and the sincerity of her soft blue eyes within their private twilight was something from a movie.

That night had been a wickering candle that had burned just bright enough and just long enough for him to fall smitten.

If not then, Nino’s not-so-subtle talk should have forced him to acceptance. His friend had called him out like a judge during a fencing match, making Adrien confront some imaginary coin flip that he didn’t believe could be real.

But how far back did his denial go? The shy glances, sweet blushes, thoughtful gestures and innocuous little fleeting moments they had shared through the years. He couldn’t tell if his stomach had always twisted in excitement when it happened and he had just tried to bury the instinct, not wanting to freak her out, to the point where he himself believed it wasn’t there. Adrien tried to remember, but then, none of that mattered anymore.

What mattered now was that Adrien was absolutely, hopelessly in love with her.

Of course he was.

Marinette’s smile was everything. When she laughed, he felt like the most fortunate person in the world to hear the sound - and that’s not even to say how he felt when he was the one to make her erupt into giggles. Sometimes, if surprised, she would squeak, and it was adorable. She was beautiful - lean, strong, soft features and lips that looked so kissable he wanted to tear his hair out just thinking about it. If he hadn’t come to her home with the mask last night, he might not have been able to stop himself from kissing more than just her forehead.

His legs guided him to his bed, laying down and staring at the ceiling. Marinette was everywhere in his world, and so suddenly, too. It was like the most pleasant vertigo imaginable. The dark ceilings looked like her hair, soft and rich tresses of ebony. The sinking sound of his head hitting the pillow was her sigh, and the rustling of Plagg at his desk was the fluttering of her lashes. Most devastating was the sky, though, miles of her eyes for him to get lost in.

Marinette was everywhere, but even so, she wasn’t here.

Plagg belched and flew over to him, looking upon his charge with a smug grin.

“You’ve got it bad, you know that, don’t you?”

Adrien didn’t respond, but his face surely said enough. Plagg nodded.

“Well, if it means anything, I -- ”

The kwami stopped and his brow dipped, catching Adrien’s attention. A moment later, there was a crisp knocking on the door, and they met eyes before Plagg flew away to hide.

“Yes,” Adrien groaned as he sat back up, walking towards the door. “What is it, Natha-- ?”

“Adrien.” His father greeted with a nod, and the blond went slack jawed.

“D-Dad, hi, what are you…?” Adrien cleared his throat and paused when his father motioned for him to stop, raising a hand.

“Why don’t you come to my office for a moment?” He asked, though he spun on his heel before Adrien could answer. Stumbling after him, he hoped Plagg had enough sense to stay put, just in case, and followed his father down the stairs.

Each step felt like a march towards some sort of purgatory. Had he done something wrong? He couldn’t remember the last time his father called him to his office and they had a pleasant conversation. All they seemed to talk about anymore was Adrien’s future, and they both had very different visions in mind for what that looked like.

Adrien kept his irritations under lock-and-key. He was resigned to wait for his father’s invitation to speak.

It wasn’t until he shut the door that the conversation began, and Adrien wondered which one of them had lost their minds. It had to be one of them, because his Dad didn’t just say that, or he himself was dissociating and misheard him.

“Are you in a relationship with Marinette Dupain-Cheng?”

It was the proverbial record scratch of the past week. Flowers and blue eyes, slamming doors and text messages, late night stargazing and bitter coffee all rushed to greet him in a visceral sensory experience. A whole week’s worth of memories pumped through his veins, sending his heart into a tailspin of nerves and worries and fears but, more than all of that, Adrien was blindsided by so much sudden happiness that it a miracle he managed to stay on his own two feet.

He didn’t really have words, so he managed a croak.

Huh?”

His father pursed his lips, hands behind his back as he gestured for Adrien to sit in the pit around the runway. Apparently, he managed to comply with his Dad’s request, though he had no memory of even sitting down.

 


 

A few hours earlier

 

“I can do this.” Marinette fanned her face with a hand, as if it would help. It wasn’t particularly hot today, in fact, it was cloudy and pleasantly mild for a morning in the summer, but that wasn’t the cause of her clammy complexion.

No, this was the kind of crippling nervousness that would knock anyone off their feet in her situation, and Marinette wasn’t exactly known for her superior coordination.

“I can... do this.”

Spilling your guts out to your crush of three years was never easy.

Doing it on Mother’s Day seemed like an awful mistake, given his mother’s mysterious disappearance.

Coming to his house unannounced, early in the morning, with pastries and a tiny potted plant?

I can’t do this.”

Every neuron in her brain was firing off at once, screaming at her legs run away, but she was trying not to listen. Her heart was hammering, working overdrive to make up for the disagreement between her body and mind, and she was stuck.

Hiding.

Tikki jostled her purse, knocking into her hip slightly - it was a sort of silent code they had established, for Marinette to check their surroundings for curious eyes before opening the clasp.

With fumbling fingers, she managed to get the thing damned open and her kwami’s large round eyes were sympathetic.

“Don’t say that, Marinette! You can do it - you can do anything. I believe in you.”

“I-I know, Tikki,” she stammered, and the kwami’s red face frowned. “I just, heh, you know, we said ‘set small goals’? That was the agreement… I feel like… this is a little much…?”

“No,” her kwami shook her head. “It’ll be perfect, I promise. Do you trust me?”

“Of course I do!” Marinette’s response was immediate, and she felt her pulse relax just slightly. “I just… no, no, you’re right. I can do this.”

“You can do this,” Tikki parroted and nodded, closing the purse herself so Marinette couldn’t talk herself down.

“Thanks, Tikki,” the girl whispered before brushing herself off unnecessarily.

With a pit - no, a crater - in her stomach, Marinette slipped around the corner and stiffly walked up to the front gate. She spotted a familiar, almost angry-looking red button on an inlaid control panel, and gulped.

The first time she rang the Agreste doorbell, when Nino had been akumatized years ago, a little camera came out and appraised her. Just in case, Marinette fixed her bangs and patted out her pigtails, hoping her make-up covered most of the bags circling her eyes. Her choice of outfit was… acceptable. It was just her work uniform. The whole pretense of coming before work on a Sunday was so she had a designated time to leave in case things became awkward, and Marientte wanted to have an escape plan; she preferred to plan for the worst-case scenario, so anything better than that exceeded her expectations.

Long inhale.

Marinette pushed the button, feeling the weight of the world compress the shiny plastic covering against her forefinger.

No going back now.

Long exhale.

She stood for almost a minute, fidgeting more and more and thought about pressing again (or, better yet, about just running the other direction) when a voice finally answered, accompanied by a camera’s judgmental eye.

“Yes?”

It was male, but it wasn’t Adrien.

Oh for fondants sake…

Her mouth was horribly dry and she licked her lips - surely, that had to have looked great on camera.

“M-Monsieur Agreste! I apologize, I’m… um… a friend of Adrien’s. I was wondering if he was… home?”

There was a long silence, and once again, Marinette considered fleeing the scene.

A hard voice swept away whatever nerve she had gathered. “What’s your name?”

“I-I… I-I’m Ma-Marinette. Marinette Dupain-Cheng. A-Adrien’s, um, he’s in my class.” She swallowed, and Tikki jostled lightly against her hip. The reminder of her kwami gave her some confidence, however small, so she added, “I designed… a hat for your contest a few… years ago?”

Marinette tightened her grip on the reusable paper bag she had in her right hand in an effort to stop her nervous shaking, and, to her genuine surprise, it actually helped.

“Hmm,” Monseiur Agreste sounded thoughtful, and Marinette tried to smile at the camera as kindly-and-not-dorkily as possible.

“You may enter.”

The electric blue eye of the camera retracted back into the wall, and there was a brief buzzing as the lock on the gate fell. She could hear Tikki lightly chime at her hip.

You’re doing great, Marinette! Just keep it up!”

“Phew,” she breathed a sigh of relief and nodded, even if Tikki couldn’t see it. “Thanks. Wish me luck.”

Her usual stride was definitely clipped of it’s usual personality, much more rigid as the door loomed ever closer. She had only been here a few times, and this was the first time she’s ever come totally alone - the entrance seemed so massive up close.

A tiny voice dubbed Rationality in her mind noted that it was probably unusual for Gabriel Agreste to answer his own doorbell, but then, that tittering was snuffed out rather quickly by the hundred of others voices - Worry, Anxiety, Fear, and Uneasy, for example, were composing an epic interlude against the raging metronome provided by her heart.

Marinette, as conductor for this impromptu orchestra, only found it fitting that the crescendo built with the stacco thump of her knocking fist against the heavy barrier that kept her out.

Much faster than she expected, the door was opening, and stood before her was the ever-immaculate Gabriel Agreste. Sometimes, she was so wrapped up in Adrien that Marinette all but forgot her idolization of the man before her.

He was a fashion legend, and even his home attire showed for it - his hair was swiped back, out of his face. On his person, he wore a crisp white suit jacket with red pants that were tailored to perfection, accented by a red-white ascot.

Marinette bowed, feeling humbled and tragically underdressed.

Staring at her feet instead of at his piercing eyes, she found enough of her manners scattered on the immaculate foyer tiles to muster a greeting.

“Monsieur Agreste, it’s an honor to meet you in person. I’m… Adrien’s friend, but it’s also such an honor. I’m a huge fan of your work!”

She would never bet anything on it, but she could have sworn it almost sounded like, ever so lightly that he… laughed?

“Come in, Mlle. Dupain-Cheng,” he stepped aside and Marinette meekly scuttered in, feeling more a mouse in a giant labyrinthine of architectural splendor.

Naturally, she drank in as much as she could as fast as she could - huge ceilings, a refreshing clean smell, marble pillars and a central staircase like one she pictured in Cinderella. It was spacious and monochromatic, and Marinette could only admire the careful attention to the building with each slope or facade.

“I’m ashamed to admit I only vaguely recall our first meeting, Mlle. Dupain-Cheng.” Monsieur Agreste began, hands behind his back. His posture was impeccable, and Marinette quickly tried to fix her slouch.

“But I do remember the bowler you created; it was a rather impressive piece, especially for someone your age. So forgive me if I’m a bit... unsure to the nature of your visit.”

Marinette bit her lip - she knew from Adrien’s occasional mention that his father was harsh, but she could certainly tell where her friend got his lessons in etiquette. So far, Adrien’s father had been entirely intimidating, but surprisingly kind.

He frowned and cocked his head to one side when Marinette didn’t respond, and she nearly squeaked when she realized she was just staring into space.

“O-Oh! Right. I’m very sorry to show up unannounced, and on… a holiday, no less.” She paused to make sure she hadn’t just put her foot in her mouth, but he didn’t seem to mind the mention of today’s date. His wife was gone, but it had been several years so perhaps he had just learned to accept such affairs. “But I… I wanted to see Adrien and thank him for his help the other day. Your son is, um, a very… kind young man.”

Studying her shoes, Marinette quickly found his lack of response to be unbearable, so her gaze flickered his way. Mounseir Agreste had a small, albeit nonplussed, smile on his face, and it looked remarkably similar to Adrien’s.

Maybe she could do this after all.

Feeling a bit emboldened by his agreeable expression, Marinette held the bag out infront of her with the D/C logo printed proudly on the front.

“My parents own the Dupain-Cheng Boulangerie Patisserie - it used to just be called Tom and Sabine’s - by the school, and they recently purchased a flower shop only a few streets over from here. I work there and… I brought some pastries and flowers for Adrien as thanks. I... hope that’s okay?”

Mounseir Agreste studied the bag with a severe expression on his face before bringing a hand to his chin.

“Mlle. Dupain-Cheng,” his eyes flickered to her face, and Marinette felt herself blanch slightly. His voice was like a whip, and each word was the crack before the lashing.

“While your gesture is very kind, Adrien is not here at the moment.”

She deflated. Bag lowered back to her side, Marinette felt all of the reassurance she had spent the past several days gathering be swept away with a single sentence. This had been hard enough to do the first time, and now she was doubtful she could ever find the courage to come back here like this.

Still, she couldn’t just stand and sulk in the middle of the Agreste mansion, so she cleared her throat and turned politely towards the door.

“I’m very sorry for intr-- ”

“But he should be back soon,” Adrien’s father interrupted lightly, and her head shot up in his direction. Was he really saying what she thought he was saying…?

Flatly, he confirmed her disbelief with a few easy words.

“If you’d like, you are welcome to stay here until he returns.”

Marinette felt her mouth fall open, and she blinked repeatedly. “A-are you sure? I’d hate to impose!”

He shrugged, and Marinette couldn’t believe how impressively casual he was acting. Surely this couldn’t be the monster Adrien painted him to be?

“I assure you Mlle. Dupain-Cheng, it is fine. But Adrien is out with my assistant Nathalie, so would you be willing to wait for their return in my office? I mean no offense, but we prefer company to stay supervised in the house.”

She was practically bouncing now, almost too elated to mind her manners. “Are you kidding? Me, in the Gabriel Agreste office? Where you create your designs?! I would - I can’t -- ummmm,” she exhaled low and tried to calm herself, and to her relief, Mounseir Agreste didn’t seem to mind her fangirling. “I would be so honored, sir!”

“Very well,” he gestured for her to follow, and Marinette tried not to trip over her own feet as Adrien’s father stopped at the western wall before a set of massive double-doors. “We can leave the door open, so we’ll hear them come in.”

As Marinette passed the threshold, she could barely keep the bag in her hand, marveling each and every surface of the room with adoration. She had been in here before as Ladybug, but never had there been a chance for her to really stop and appreciate the room for what it was.

The walls were smoky marble, scored in a diamond lattice of light grey that stopped a few feet up from the ground, framed by wood so dark it was almost black. Each panel was carved with intricate molding, giving a sort of three-dimensional depth to the walls. The room itself was divided into three levels with short steps between each. Adrien’s father walked straight towards the top level on the far-end of the room where a large white screen - his famed ‘designscape’ - was situated, just in front of a grand golden portrait. Between the computer and the door, Marinette noticed a short sort of pit in the center of the room that opened to a lower level that mimicked a runway, but, she guessed, could also double as a conference table depending on the circumstances. Spread across the crisp white surface was a dozen portfolios and even more loose pictures, covering the desk from end to end with hundreds or even thousands of drawings and pictures of designs. The far end of the room was pierced by two larger-than-life panes of glass, windows to the world beyond, and they shone brilliantly with the emerging light of a Sunday morning.

On the wall to her immediate right upon entering, Marinette spotted Adrien. And Adrien. And more Adrien. This had been the image to capture her attention most prominently the last time she came here, naturally, and it was an ever expanding collection of his portraits done for his father’s fashion line. Everything about him, the poses, his smile, his presence - all of it, he was effortless.

Mounseir Agreste, apparently, noticed her staring. From behind his pseudo-computer, he commented off-handedly, “He does excellent work, doesn’t he?”

Marinette felt her heart leap into her throat, and she could barely breathe for how quickly the blood rushed to her cheeks.

“U-um, yes, sir. He’s very… ahh... talented?” Her hormone-addled teenage brain could come up with plenty more colorful descriptors for what else Adrien was, but perhaps his father was not the best audience for that. Instead, Marinette just laughed awkwardly, and Mounseir Agreste looked at her from above his glasses before smirking.

“You can set your things down on the tableau, if you’d like. Just push aside any of the mess,” he gestured towards the runway-esque-table in the center of the room, and Marinette shyly nodded and accepted the invitation.

Her mind was racing a million miles a minute, of course. Was this a stupid thing to do? What could she possibly talk to Adrien’s dad about? How long would they be - what if she had to get to work before Adrien even came home? And if not, would she even have sufficient time to talk to him? Why did she stop stalking Adrien’s calendar, if she knew where he was then this never would have happened!

Because, her brain scolded, tracking his whereabouts was creepy and you know it.

Yes, but, her squirming stomach argued, she had never been trapped in the Gabriel Agreste’s office when we had Adrien’s schedule memorized, now did we?

Both of you - Marinette’s jack-hammer heart interrupted - whatever figment of my imagination is giving you unique voices, please, cut it out! This is hard enough when I’m not arguing with myself!

Unsure what else to do, her eyes eventually started to linger across the countless designs sprawled across the length of the runway. The action started as a distraction, but Marinette’s attention was swept away in the painstaking detail that went into each image. From bodice to bustier, tulle and organza, slacks and skirts and accessories of every kind, the Gabriel span of influence know no bounds. She was particularly interested in a volume of unfinished work, most pages only half-colored but otherwise lined with pencil sketches suited to the shapes of men and women of every size and proportion.

“M-Mounseir Agreste?” Marinette spoke meekly, and his attention flickered up from the screen. “I hope you d-don’t mind me saying, but these are all so lovely.” She gestured a shaky hand across the runway.

“I-I promised myself if I ever got the chance, I would tell you the Adalaid handbag from Milan Fashion Week… was - is the most amazing use of suede I’ve ever seen… the attention to detail is something to be… sorry, I’m rambling,” Marinette pushed a hand against her forehead and ducked her head again, hoping he might just let her self-esteem die a quiet death.

“Milan is always a favorite of mine,” he responded, almost sounding bemused. Marinette glanced up to see him come to end of the runway, looking down over the cascade of his own creations through his decades in the industry.

“Ah,” his attention lingered over the thick portfolio right in front of her. “I see you’ve found Emilie’s work.”

“Emilie…?” Marinette responded, but she need not clarification when the man turned around and beheld the abstract, flawless painting of his wife hung behind his work station. She lowered her eyes on the book, and suddenly the unrefined but peculiar drawings seemed to make sense.

“Oh… these were, um, your wife’s…” She mumbled, trying to put distance between herself and the bound collection of sketches, feeling like there was some invisible line in social etiquette and that she had most definitely crossed.

“Yes,” he responded curtly, but sighed and descended to the pit. “She wore many hats, and her own creativity is something I still… I never sketch without the book you’ve got there.” His voice sounded wistful, and Marinette was surprised to hear him speak so openly about his wife. Adrien very rarely even mentioned Madam Agreste.

“It’s one of the handful of things she... left behind.”

Marinette didn’t dare ask for clarification on what else she might have “left behind,” but she didn’t really have to. There were some that required no explanation, like her husband and her son.

“You do have an eye for fashion, Mlle. Dupain-Cheng,” Mounseir Agreste said as he looked over her shoulder, noticing the sketches she pulled towards the front in her absent minded admiration. “I always did like this one, but the color always felt wrong. I could never get it as I wanted.”

He pointed at a brown-leather ensemble, fitted like a trench-coat but seemed to Marinette a dress, the bodice dipping to a sweetheart neck with dropped-shoulders. A wide buckle pulled the eyes to the waist while accentuating the curvature of the hips. Interestingly, there was a peek-a-boo line of fabric that poked out from the bottom of the dress, where the leather crossed over itself like a coat; vertical stripes of white and brown just hinted at something more. To the side of the page, a razor sharp stiletto heel of the same color crisscrossed over a more detailed side-sketch of a foot, with smaller straps that resembled the center buckle as it clasped around the ankle. Were it food, Marinette would have been drooling; but as a designer, she could only feel her creative intuition flare at the sight.

“Wow,” she breathed, and without thinking, added “You said it was the color? You mean the tone of the leather?”

He frowned. “Yes, it was supposed to be… young and bold. Spirited, even. But it always seems… matronly, when worn.”

Marinette had to swallow the urge to make suggestions - who was she kidding? She was a no-name designer speaking to the Gabriel Agreste. No way would she even think of proposing modifications to one of his designs. It’s not like the leather might not be better suited as the patent variety, broadening the possibilities of color. Something like red would certainly pop with spirit, but this… that wasn’t her place.

“I never considered patent leather,” mused Monsieur Agreste, and picked up the paper with one hand and rubbed his chin with the other.

Marinette’s eyes widened in mortification.

Did I seriously just… say that… out loud?

“Oh - oh my, I’m so sorry Mounsier Agreste! I just blabbed and I know that was totally inappropriate, my sincerest apologies - sir, um,” Marinette stood and stepped away, bowing her head again, but this time in shame. Her face was burning and her eyes were nearly watering from the embarrassment.

Looking at the floor, Marinette couldn’t see the amused, if not a little bewildered, raise of Monsieur Agreste’s brows.

“You should never regret speaking on an original idea, Mlle. Dupain-Cheng. They are scarce enough as it is. And a good idea? All the better.”

All she could do was blink inanely, sure she must have heard incorrectly.

“Some people make their literal livelihood as purveyors of honesty, you know,” he said, taking the picture with him to his designscape. Marinette slowly returned to the long table, not sitting but listening with interest.

“What is a critic but someone who is paid for their opinions? Or the curator of a museum? They seek out the best pieces of art on some sort of objective scale and create a gallery from their opinions alone. A discerning eye is a rare gift, Mlle., you might not be so quick to silence yours.”

“I… wow,” she eventually answered, nodding as she sort of collapsed onto the row seating again. “Thank you, that… that really means a lot, coming from you.”

Marinette watched Adrien’s father’s with rapt attention, his own gaze flickering between the wide touchscreen and the picture in his hand. He hardly paid her any mind for several minutes, and for that, Marinette was thankful; her face right now was probably the picture of dumbfounded admiration.

“So,” Mounsier Agreste offered after a few minutes of silence. “What exactly is the nature of your relationship with my son, Mlle. Dupain-Cheng?”

His voice had regained that pointed, almost dangerous quality to it, and Marinette flinched slightly. Thankfully, the man’s attention was caught in his work, so he didn’t notice see the very obvious embarrassment color her cheeks a deep crimson.

“Ah…” Marinette scratched her cheek.

“We are… just friends.” She sighed, unable to keep the regret from her tone. “His best friend Nino, you might know?” Marinette paused, but he so much as look up. With a dry gulp, she continued. “W-well, Adrien’s best friend Nino is in a… he’s dating my best friend, Alya. So… the four of us, um, hang out together. Socially. And at school, too - Adrien’s been… been, uhh, in my class since he started school with us. So…” She sort of just let her explanation taper out, not really sure where she was going with that.

They continued to sit quietly for a time after that, save for Marinette’s heart pounding in her ears and the occasional tap-tap against the designscape. She was torn between excusing herself, trying to think of anything that might not sound stupid to say to him, or continuing to suffer in the near-silence.

Mercifully, he cleared his throat and looked up from his work before she could act on any of her escape plans.

“My apologies, I wanted to incorporate this while it was still on my mind.” With a few keystrokes against the side of the machine, a projecting eye - much like the one she had been interrogated with at the front gate - popped out of the ceiling and a dazzling splash of blue light spilled onto the wall across from Adrien’s portraits. A narrow, blank canvas hung on the wall there - Marinette hadn’t really given it a second thought upon entering - but now it’s utility made perfect sense.

A life-sized drawing of the leather outfit, now accommodating Marinette’s suggestion for red patent, appeared and occupied the space perfectly. The empty canvas was almost poetic as Marinette stared, wide-eyed, at the creation come to life before her. With her suggestion, so too did the outfit itself come to life; the shine of the red seemed more animated than the maturity of browns and whites. Along the bottom lining, Monsieur Agreste had also recolored the peek-a-boo fabric to follow a nautical schema - vertical stripes of blue, white and red seemed to wink out from the folds of the dress, and it definitely looked youthful. Sexy, even, Marinette dared to admit.

“Wow…” She breathed, amazed by how quickly and masterfully her idea materialized by his hand.

“Indeed,” he said, agreeing with the sentiment of Marinette’s exclamation. The girl realized she was gaping, mouth-open, so she firmly closed her lips and tried to her fix her face into something appreciative but not too starstruck.

With all the practice I’ve had with Adrien, I’m pretty sure I’ve got that one down.

A contented sigh escaped Adrien’s father, and with a quick hand, he turned off the projection and the canvas returned to its former off-white, all creativity sterilized by the flip of a switch. Marinette’s eyes could still see the echo of an image, splotchy as her focus blinked back into reality.

“Now, where were we?” Monsieur Agreste came down from the top-level and stood with his back to her, which Marinette found less intimidating, They both faced a wall of Adrien.

“You said you’re a friend of Adrien’s from school - and, oh, that’s right. A gift in thanks? And what did he do that would be so deserving of such a kindness from you?” He turned his head slightly and smiled, laughing just one breath of a laugh, but Marinette felt the tension in her stomach unknot slightly.

She considered how best to respond this time, not wanting to ramble or putter through her sentences like she had been. Honesty felt right, and Adrien was someone with his whole day planned out, so it’s not like she might be sharing anything he wouldn’t already know. Maybe it had been a stroke of good luck with their designer-to-designer moment, but she felt like maybe he respected her… just a tiny bit?

“Well… we crossed paths recently since I work so near to your home… I fell at work a few days ago and messed up my shoulder, and Adrien stayed to help me sort out my mess with the customers. I was willing to pay him, but he declined - so I thought, um, this would at least be a small form of thanks.”

Looking at the bag, Marinette smiled. “He even made a sale. I know it’s probably… not the best idea for him to do something like that, with his fame, so I hope he didn’t get in trouble because of me. But he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Adrien’s father turned, a brow raised. “That... sounds like my stubborn son.”

She laughed lightly. “Stubborn is a good word for him.” They met eyes, and Marinette was relieved to actually see him smiling.

Proudly.

“And again, I really am sorry for just showing up like this, sir. If I had known Adrien was out I would have just dropped this off,” she gestured towards her bag, ducking her head shyly. “I appreciate you letting me wait with you, but I do have to get to work soon.”

Adrien’s father adjusted his glasses and glanced at his watch. “I see. Well, your apology is not necessary Mlle. Dupain-Cheng, but it is a nice gesture. You can leave the… gift with me, and I’ll make sure Adrien receives it once he gets home.”

Beaming, Marinette nodded and stood up, walking out of the pit towards the door. He followed a few steps behind her into the foyer. She put a hand on the door and prepared to open it when he caught her attention.

“By the way,” he said, voice curious. “What was the name again?”

She blinked, admittedly a little hurt. “M-my name? It’s Marinette Dup -- ”

“No, I’m sorry,” Monsieur Agreste stopped her with a hand. “I meant, the name of your place of work. The flower shop.”

“O-oh! I don’t think I said it, my apologies… It’s Sous les feuilles si vert.” She dug in her purse quickly, Tikki pressed against the very bottom. The kwami read her mind and lifted a business card for Marinette to grab. “I, um, imagine you have a florist on hand… but if you ever need anything quickly we are over off Courtier St.!” She nodded fervently as he accepted the card, and Mounsier Agreste studied the piece of cardstock in his hand.

Under leaves so green? An interesting name…” He tucked the card in his breast pocket as Marinette pulled open the door.

“We can’t take credit, that was the name when my parents bought it. The previous owner said it’s from a famous poet… William Blake, I think.”

The man wrinkled his nose. “English. I should have figured.”

Marinette giggled nervously and started out the door, waving. “Yes, my thoughts exactly. Thank you again, sir, for everything!”

His expression was strange, looking caught between amusement and something else she couldn’t identify, and Marinette found couldn’t get around the gate fast enough. Each step was a beat to her mantra, repeating again and again as she made her way to work.

You. Just. Met. Adrien’s. Dad. THE. GABRIEL. AGRESTE. You. Just. Met. Adrien’s. Dad.

THE.

GABRIEL.

AGRESTE.

That had gone far better than she could have imagined - if she had been planning on meeting Gabriel Agreste today. Seeing Adrien and dumping three years’ worth of feelings in his lap, with gifts in tow? Yeah, that part could have gone better.

Still, the whole way to the shop, Marinette felt a spring in her step, a lightness in her chest. The blaring philharmonic that carried her to the mansion had quieted, shifted keys, and now the melody was brighter. It twisted and bloomed, unrefined around the edges and a little off-tempo, but Marinette found that she rather enjoyed it. It felt natural and beautiful and right.

This felt right.

 


 

 

The question came a second time, with a different inflection but a surprising amount of patience on his father’s behalf.

Are you in a relationship with Marinette Dupain-Cheng?”

Adrien had half a mind to wonder what he looked like at that moment, because he was pretty sure his face would have made for a good laugh for Nino. Alya, too. Heck, even probably Marinette would get a kick out of his scrunched lips, drawn brow but concerningly wide eyes. It was a mixture of shock and embarrassment and a stupid amount of pride. That emotion definitely doesn’t belong there, mixed in with the others. Adrien was at least self-aware enough to recognize that, but he didn’t question it, either. That’s love for you.

“I’m not...” Adrien managed, meeting his father’s gaze. “But... I... want to be.”

Across the table-desk-runway, his father’s face remained passive, but a curious finger tapped his pointed chin.

“I see. Why didn’t you tell me?”

Adrien was wondering if this was a joke and some washed up celebrity was going to pop up and shout “You been PUNK’D!” in his face. Then again, that was even less likely a thing his father would agree to... So, somehow, this conversation was really, actually happening.

Struggling to find the words, Adrien leaned over his knees and rested his elbows on his leg. “I… I didn’t even think you knew who Marinette was. It’s all still sort of… new… I’m just sort of admitting it to myself, to be honest.”

A beat of silence passed, and he heard his dad release a long sigh. The clipped sound of dress shoes on cold floors were like short little needles, pricking his ears until the swishing of fabric told him that his father was sitting beside him.

“I’m sorry, Adrien.” His voice was gentler than Adrien was used to, and the blond glanced at him. Glasses off, his father looked uncharacteristically pensive - regretful, almost. “You’re not wrong. I didn’t know her name until this morning, and I feel… I’m not sure how I feel, actually.”

Adrien blinked, too surprised to react verbally, just watching his father return the glasses to his face and lean back, crossing one leg over his knee and looking at the ceiling.

“I know you probably don’t want to talk about it, but I at least hope you know that you can talk to me about anything.” With a little grin, he glimpsed towards his son. “Even about girls, believe it or not.”

Adrien leaned back too, folding his hands in his lap. His fumbling thumbs seemed much more interesting all of the sudden, and it certainly didn’t have anything to do with the redness he felt rush across his cheeks.

“Father,” he stopped to clear his throat, surprised by how choked he sounded. “I, um, thank you. I… I know that. I guess I just haven’t figured out a lot of this myself yet. I only just discovered that she has feelings for me, so I’m trying to make sense of it… I don’t want to freak her out by coming on too strong, but I hate not having my phone. She’s… she’s sort of amazing, Dad.” He laughed through the stress, halting momentarily to gaze down the length of the room. A portrait of molten gold, beautiful as the woman portrayed there, made Adrien smile. Words were coming easier, and it felt like his Mom was listening, too. He imagined she would approve - but then, how could she not? Marinette was perfect.

“Her parents are bakers, and she works at a flower shop around the corner. That’s… that’s where I was, actually, when I lied to Nathalie a few days ago. I really was with Nino and his girlfriend Alya, but I wanted to see her and I just sort of got caught up. Sometimes I can’t even remember my own name when she’s talking about something, she gets really…” Adrien paused, trying to use his hands to explain. It didn’t even occur to him that he was rambling.

“Animated? I don’t know. I can’t figure her out, and that’s the best part about her. And… well, I didn’t want to tell you because… um, I don’t know. She’s really kind, Father, but I don’t know if she’s… uhh, who you would expect me to date,” Pursing his lips momentarily, Adrien turned back to face the man seated next to him.

“But I think you might like her if you met her. She’s interested in design, so you would even have something to talk about.”

At this point, Adrien was pretty sure it could have started raining akumas in the room and he wouldn’t have been surprised. A very large part of him still wasn't convinced this conversation was really even happening.

Adrien was startled a second time, and it was by a sound so foreign that could do little else but stare.

His father was laughing.

Really laughing. Covering-his-face-with-a-hand laughing. Shaking-and-covering-his-stomach laughing.

Laughing.

Adrien was torn between confusion, indigination, and shock just at hearing the sound come from his own father. Still, his lips turned up and let out a laugh or two himself; it was an infectious sound.

Eventually, through some breathy chuckles, his father shook his head and stood, turning towards the door. “I didn’t realize you felt so strongly for her, son. I am... happy for you, but I wish you would have let me finish.”

Adrien frowned. “Finish… finish what?”

Only then did he notice the bag sitting by the door, and Adrien balked. It was brown paper, stamped with a familiar logo across the front.

“Didn’t you wonder how I knew about your interest in Mlle. Dupain-Cheng?”

Adrien just opened his mouth and closed it again, utterly baffled. Did his Dad go to the bakery? Or the flower shop? Had he gone through his text messages? But that wouldn’t give him away - he hardly texted Marinette. Adrien had just sort of assumed Nathalie had told his father about this morning, but he had already figured that wouldn’t have made sense for his assistant to do.

“These are for you. They were delivered this morning, in-person.”

“In… person?” Adrien accepted the bag and pulled out tissue paper, his hands shaking with disbelief and unbridled excitement.

A small piece of stationary was the first thing he could find, tucked into the silky face of a dozen tiny petals.

 

绣球花”

For your help.

 

Love,

Marinette

 

He blinked at the Chinese. “Hydrangeas.”

Chapter Text

“Of course, son. You don’t need my permission, but yes. You can ask her on a date.”

Adrien paced, mind and heart racing, undercutting each other in a triathlon of possibilities. He could do this. Sure, her voice might be a sweet sigh and the way her hair danced around her shoulders whenever she laughed might be hypnotic, but he’s known her for years. This was Marinette, just, Marinette. Why did it feel like he was battling the world’s hardest akuma?

A text felt cheap. A call might be appropriate, but she’s working. Marinette came to the house this morning, so the least he could do was see her in person.

Should he go now? Would that seem too eager?

Who was he kidding - he was beyond eager.

With a quick fix of his hair in the mirror, Adrien said a silent prayer of thanks for his good genes and prepared to leave the house.

Jacket? Check.

Cell phone? Check.

Kwami? ...Begrudging check.

Marinette’s note? Check.

As his eyes swept his room a final time, his focus came to rest on the green apron on the back of his desk chair. Adrien smiled, and he thought about bringing it, but he knew he wouldn’t have much time. If nothing else, he would keep it as a reminder for the soft memories of roses and laughter he had made with her in just the past few days. Even if Marinette rejected him, he would never return this apron.

A quick promise to Nathalie was all it took to get him out the door, partially so she didn’t have much time to ask questions. Adrien was to be in the car, on his way to some nameless socialite event at 1:45 PM.

Adrien glanced at his watch. Just shy of one in the afternoon, and above, the Sunday sky was bright with rippling clouds of cotton. The day itself was mild, but Paris was ever-alive with branching color and invigorating solar energy, and Adrien allowed it to be his guide through the streets. Passersby seemed ebullient, the buzz of traffic was a harpsichord that gave him a beat to match, and even Plagg’s weight within his jacket provided him a sort of comfort.

Still, even with a picturesque city and his recent exceptional string of good fortune, Adrien was nervous.

He’d been nervous before, of course. He’d come to class late, almost been found when he was about to detransform, and even gotten into a few shouting matches with his father. Those were each anxiety-inducing in their own right, bringers of different kinds of stress - sometimes worry, sometimes fear, sometimes anger.

This was different.

Most of the time, when Adrien was nervous, he wasn’t fighting a smile or trying not to laugh. Right now, he was so enthusiastic he was trying not to skip. He imagined that would make a great headline.

Local model Adrien Agreste spotted leaping down Parisian sidewalks. Has he lost his mind? Cont. on page 6.

The flower shop was only ten minutes away at a normal pace, but this distance was killing him.

He could have asked his driver to take him, but that felt too ineffective. Five minutes of waiting and five minutes of driving - at least if he was moving his legs, it felt like he might get there a little sooner.

Still, he couldn’t walk fast enough.

A distraction - that’s what he needed. Adrien dug out his cell phone and smiled, thankful his Dad had allowed him to have it back a day early. Their conversation had been bizarre for more reasons than he could count, but, for whatever reason, his father was uncharacteristically enthusiastic when it came to Marinette.

Then again, so was he.

Distraction. Right.

Adrien glanced down at his phone, and with a mad dash of clicking and typing, he found himself at a strange but not unpleasant part of the Internet he never imagined himself visiting; just another mystifying experience he owed to Marinette. Walking and reading, Adrien’s gaze flickered up frequently so as not to run into anyone or to wander through the street without a cross signal.

“Hydrangea shrubs are admired for their soft colorations and have a lustrous history, most notably in Asian countries. In Japan, lore suggests that the pink-red variety of hydrangeas were the flower of choice gifted from a noble prince to a peasant girl in apology for unrequited love. White hydrangeas often symbolism boastfulness and narcissism. Contemporarily, they’ve come to be associated with apology or to turn down a suitor’s advances.”

Adrien pursed his lips, thinking of the plant he had left on his desk. He had only lingered long enough for Plagg to finish his cheese bread before bolting from the house.

“Father actually met Marinette today, while we were out. Apparently she came by to bring me -- oh, here, by the way.” Adrien rifled around in the bag that Marinette had left for him and placed a third piece of cheese bread on his desk. The kwami’s eyes sparkled, and he flung himself onto the pastry.

“Oh, beautiful, beautiful bread,” Plagg cooed, before sinking his teeth into the outer crust.

Adrien’s mood was too bright to bother with disgust, so he continued.

“She brought me this, too.” He reached into the brown paper again and pulled out a small porcelain planter with her note, setting the former beside his keyboard and gripping the stationary in his hands.

As he recalled, the hydrangea that Marinette had given him had two bulbous spheres comprised of small blossoms, but beside the general shape, his seemed nothing like those suggested by his quick Google search.

First of all, his was purple, and everything about it to him seemed soft. An organic dusk yielding to constant night, the petals were pale towards the center, almost white, but the color turned gradient from lavender to midnight amaranthine as it spread further from the stem. A cascade of shades, each whole bulb was perhaps a little larger than a snowball, but the twin purple orbs were in fact a construct of dozens of petals, stacked up and out from one another.

The flowers were breathtaking, and gentle, and interesting. Adrien had thought so the first time he recalled seeing the plant in the flower shop, each bushel a watercolor spectrum of pinks and blues, purples and whites. Each set was cool and vibrant against deep green leaves, tiny petals joining to create something greater.

Adrien sucked his teeth and decided to fish for the note in his pocket. He read it again, and then a second time for good measure.

 

绣球花

For your help

 

Love,

Marinette

 

Lingered over the curving strokes just above her name, Adrien had to remind himself to breathe as he waited at a crosswalk. He decided to refine his search.

“The purple hydrangea is typically believed to be associated with a desire to understand another, deeply…”

He was glad Plagg couldn’t see his face right now, because the more he read, the more he felt himself turn crimson.

“In Chinese culture, the hydrangea is more broadly identified as one associated with love and gratitude. Sometimes in the romantic context, the flower represents indebtedness, and when given as a gift is a demonstration of appreciation for someone. This could be in response to a specific incident, such as thanking someone for their help after losing a loved one, or for a general expression of gratitude for knowing another person.”

A small voice interrupted his reading, and Adrien bowed his head slightly to better hear.

“Are we almost there?”

That gave Adrien pause, and put his phone away. He could see the sign of the shop down the street, swinging idly in the breeze.

Quietly, he hissed back. “Why do you want to see her so badly? I thought you hated… um, this stuff.” He was going to say “romance,” but that seemed too bold for how he felt at the moment.

Plagg adjusted in his pocket. “I do, but she’s been doing me a lot of favors. And sure, you can’t tell her thanks from me specifically, but be sure to pass on my best. Getting you out of the house, no more pining over Ladybug, and that cheese bread…”

At that, Adrien had to snort. He was outside the shop now, so he stood a little ways off from the building so Marinette might not see him talking to his jacket.

“Yeah, sure,” Adrien tried to sound pseudo-annoyed, but his voice still had an anxious edge. “I’ll be sure to slip in the conversation that my magical kwami really appreciates her kindness and generosity. I’m sure it will be real casual.”

“Hey,” Plagg poked his head out slightly and shrugged. “She’s got me down to a science, without even trying. Cheese bread everytime you guys swoon over each other? Girl’s definitely got the Plagg Seal of Approval.”

“I don’t recall asking your approval,” Adrien noted, raising a brow.

“Exactly. You didn’t even need to ask for it! You’re welcome,” responded his kwami smugly. “So are we going, or are you just going to sit here and try to peek at her through the windows?” Adrien just shook his head and closed the front of his jacket, forcing Plagg to retreat to his pocket.

Okay. You can do this. He wished his internal voice sounded more confident, but there wasn’t much he could do about it now.

Clearing his throat, Adrien put one hand in his jacket, holding Marinette’s note and running his thumb across it. In his other, he gripped the door handle with clammy fingers.

A bell sounded, and he spotted her.

Well, the back of her.

Marinette was with a customer, a woman about Nathalie’s age, and she was showing her some bouquets. A confident voice called out to him, from over her shoulder.

“Hello, welcome! Be right with you.”

Adrien smiled, and though his pulse raced furiously beneath his skin, it was like the stress was wicked away once he stepped inside.

Of course, the place was everything he remembered it to be. There were rows of greens above and beyond - some sort of ivy snaked its way up the supporting beams, and they winked through the light as chartreuse stained glass, turning shadows to strange patterns and organic shapes along the ground. Each display was bright beneath the midday sun, and Adrien set a course to the hydrangeas.

There was a half-row filled by hydrangea bushes, pre-potted but so near to each other one would hardly notice they weren’t one massive work of art. Sentinels of green dotted by lush pinks, rich blues, soft purples and crisp whites, each color was a patch in a woven quilt of wilderness. They were luminous, and reminded him vaguely of the far-off stars he rarely got to see at night.

He smiled dreamily at the colorful consortium when he heard Marinette’s voice again.

She sounded much pitchier than before. “A-Adrien? What a surprise!”

“Hi,” he turned and waved, feeling incredibly lame. She had paused halfway around the counter, holding a cumbersome order for the woman in her short arms. Adrien nodded down at the six or seven bouquets and half-shrugged.

“Um, no rush…”

Actually, I only have about fifteen minutes to try to confess my absolute adoration of you. But, you know, it’s fine.

“O-oh!” Marinette blinked at her arms, apparently forgetting that she was in the middle of a sale, and laughed awkwardly. Adrien observed her for a moment, amazed by how her cheeks glowed pink while she fell back into task.

Adrien took his phone out, pretending to do something - anything - so he might not just kiss her the moment they were alone. He needed to at least pretend to act normal.

Remember, Chat Noir knows she likes you, not you. Got to calm down…

His fingers moved reflexively, and he was texting Nino before he knew it.

 

Adrien (1:14 PM):

Nino help me

 

He stared at the screen, hoping to see that wonderful “...” appear, but it didn’t.

The bell chimed again, and he heard the tiniest, purest sound in the world.

Ah,” Marinette sighed gently as she turned around, so Adrien had no choice but to return his phone to his pocket and face her.

A few footsteps, and she was standing next to him. Her attention remained forward, looking at the hydrangeas.

“So you got my… um, gift?” Her cheeks darkened, and Adrien loved to watch the color bloom.

“I did.” Adrien cleared his throat slightly, pulling the note out of his pocket. “Hopefully my Dad wasn’t unbearable. He’s not exactly, uh, talkative.”

Marinette blinked a few times and looked towards him, head tilted curiously. “Oh, really? He… It was actually really easy talking to him.” Her voice turned excited, and that familiar shimmer of conviction glimmered in her eyes. “We got on about fashion and he asked about my job and stuff - I was actually surprised, you make him sound like a tyrant!”

“Oh, he can be,” Adrien responded darkly, but he was smiling. He tried to imagine his Dad and Marinette just… hanging out. It was more hilarious than it should have been.

“I’m painting a mental picture of you two spending time together now, and for some reason it just keeps turning into you guys playing Wii bowling.”

Marinette covered her mouth with a hand and giggled, and Adrien felt like his heart might squeeze out of his chest. The sound was prettier than any music he could imagine.

“Yep, you got it exactly,” Marinette replied, trying to sound serious. “Sorry to break it to you this way, but you didn’t make the team.”

Adrien snapped his fingers. “Dang, all those hours of practice... wasted.”

She shrugged and spun on her heel, walking towards the counter. “Oh well. Better luck next season.”

“Unbelievable,” Adrien sighed, shaking his head as he followed her to the counter.

Marinette ignored him pointedly, humming to herself while looking at some sort of business-esque notebook, and Adrien was content on just admiring her quietly for a moment.

She crossed out several lines of numbers and names, and he assumed it was some sort of delivery log.

“Oh,” Adrien tapped his chin, and Marinette glanced in his direction. “How did that wedding go with the… uh, Declairs, was it?”

She looked up, brow drawn together. “Oh, yeah… it was fine, I suppose. With the rush of Mother’s Day customers alongside the wedding, it was sort of a lot to do but…”

Her voice tapered off, and Adrien frowned when her expression turned vacant. What was she thinking about?

“I’m sorry I showed up at your house unannounced, I hope that wasn’t weird. I never… I should have texted you, but Nino seemed to think you might have gotten your phone taken away.”

At that, Adrien took the incriminating piece of technology out of his pocket and set it on the counter. “He was right, I just got it back this morning. And, um, don’t apologize. I was so… um, surprised, annnnnnd happy when I got home and Father showed me your gift.”

He could feel Plagg jostle in his pocket, almost encouraging, so Adrien tried to remind himself to relax.

“Thank you, for crushing my shot at the Wii bowling championship,” his grin widened. “But especially for the flowers. They were lovely.”

Marinette looked at him with a dreamy, innocent gaze for a moment before shaking her head. She glanced over her shoulder and commented, “Um, do you want to come… in the back? I’ve got some orders to take care of, and we can sit down.” Her voice almost sounded nervous.

The invitation surprised him, if only because Marinette started to blush fiercely before he had the chance to respond.

“I - I mean, only if you planned on staying around! If you, um, just wanted - the hydrangeas, they need moderate water and I’m pretty sure I have a cheat-sheet around here you can have... “ Without pausing for air, she began to busy her hands with all sorts of papers and turned her back to him.

Adrien’s stomach twisted, but not unpleasantly. He knew Marinette at least liked him a moderate amount, enough to talk so kindly about him to Chat Noir, so why had he been nervous? It had never occurred to him before, but was Marinette just as nervous - if not more - to see him?

...Probably?

That actually helped to steady him slightly, so he tried to fake some confidence and to not sound like an idiot.

“I would really lilac-k that” Adrien admitted, and her nonplussed-yet-irritated reaction was grin worthy. Marinette’s blue eyes were wide and sensitive, angled upwards to meet his own. “But I can’t stay, I only have a few minutes before I have to leaf.”

Even when she was annoyed, Adrien found the endless blues of her scowl too beautiful and he simply could not tear his gaze away.

Instead of trying to play it cool, his heart fell from his mouth. “I wish I could, though. I… like spending time with you, Mari.”

A beat of silence passed, quiet in the small house thriving with life, and then she smiled. It was sincere, and kind, and radiating with everything he adored about her.

Marinette grinned cheekily. “Maybe another thyme, then… I hope I didn’t take you away from anything important.”

All he could do was smile back at her. “Nothing I can’t be a little late for. But, um… I did want to talk to you. About something, um, important?”

God.

Oh, god.

Oh god, oh god, oh god.

Was he really about to do this? Marinette was looking up at him, and the purity of her curiosity, wide and searching behind her gaze, was about enough to make him just lean over and crash her lips against his. Words were so difficult, but he respected her too much to kiss her blindly.

Just as he opened his mouth to speak, Marinette did too.

“Adrien, I --”

“Listen, Marinette --”

They blinked at each other, faces blank, before they both started laughing heartily. Plagg twitched in his pocket, somehow wordlessly hurling insults at him, but Adrien didn’t mind.

It was silly, wasn’t it? All the sudden he couldn’t talk to her, and yesterday it hadn’t been an issue.

She held up a hand over the counter once their giggles subsided. “After you.”

Adrien put on his best disapproving pout. “Oh, no, after you. The reigning champion of Wii bowling has that right.”

“But you’re my guest, and you have somewhere to be.” She challenged, smiling devilishly.

“But you’re a lady, and I’m interrupting your work.” He argued. They were both leaning over the counter now, arms crossed in defiance.

Adrien loved falling so easily into jokes with her; no wonder love had been the same.

Marinette held her ground. “I insist.”

Adrien bit his lip, trying to hide a smile. “I insisted first.”

Laughing through a scowl, her tone was dripping with exasperation. “Adrien.

Marinette.” He rolled his eyes, trying to mimic her disapproval.

They stared at each other for a long pause, and her breath smelled like strawberries and sugar.

Wait.

When had they gotten so close?

It took him a moment for their proximity to register, and as he blinked down at the small amount of space between them, his attention found her lips.

Wow. He was so done for.

They looked even softer up close, parted only slightly in what was an amused grin. When he tried to force himself to look at her eyes instead, he gulped to find she was staring at him. Inches away. So near he could count her freckles. If he had longer, he just might have.

Adrien’s phone buzzed, and they practically jumped apart at the harsh vibration against the counter.

They both glanced at it, and Nino’s name appeared on the screen. Adrien swiftly silenced the call and put his phone away, but not before looking at the time.

It had just turned 1:35.

He had to go, and Marinette must have noticed, because she smiled sadly up at him.

“I guess that’s your cue?” She asked, tucking her hands into the front pocket of her apron.

“Yeah…”

Adrien gulped, and they stared at each other again, eyes searching for the answer to an unspoken question.

She would… probably say yes. So why was asking so difficult?

“Marinette.” Adrien coughed, unwilling to let his voice crack.

“...Um, yes?”

“I… know you’re always busy, but if you were… willing, sometime, I’d really like to spend time with you outside of the shop.”

“Oh, well,” she smiled softly. “You and Nino and Alya are supposed to plan our next hang out, and I’m not allowed to refuse, right?”

“Ummm…” Adrien hadn’t expected that. She misunderstood him, and his phone was ringing again. Probably Nathalie, he guessed.

This time, he ignored her call. He wasn’t leaving until he did this right.

“No, Mari,” he chuckled awkwardly and rubbed the back of his neck. “I meant, like, maybe, a… maybe I could take you on a date?”

Adrien was actually very glad she deadpanned, because if she answered he surely would not have been able to hear her. His heart was deafening in his ears, and his face felt very warm.

“I-I mean, not that I want you to feel like you have to! Not like Alya and Nino’s suggestion - you can refuse, if you want. Not that I want you to do that either! Just, um, you know… if you don’t think it would be weird, we could go out… sometime…?”

It took a lot of self-control not to silence Plagg with a smack, as his evident but quiet laughter stirred in his pocket. He should’ve left the ungrateful little kwami at home.

Adrien inhaled slowly, trying to find his wits. “Well… you can think about it… I’ve got my phone now, so, you know… let me know?”

He turned around and tried to calmly stumble to the exit, eternally thankful that no one else was there to see him make an utter fool of himself.

“W-Wait!” Marinette’s voice was more of a squeak at that point, but he spun around faster than he would have thought possible.

“I-I’m sorry, I just -- you want to… go on a date… with me?” She was pink from ear to ear, and she sounded breathless.

Adrien blinked a few times and nodded, surprised that he had enough sense left to perform basic motor functions. “Yes. But only if you want to.”

She drifted around the counter with a dazed expression, and for a moment Adrien thought she might be light-headed. Her eyes were unfocused and wider than he’d ever seen, but her lips were turned up into the most radiant smile.

“I would love to. I would really, really love to.”

There were fireworks in his heart, flowers in his soul, and a cat in his pocket. Somehow, somehow, he had luck on his side right now.

Adrien couldn’t keep relief from his voice. Sheepish, the best he could manage was one word.

Really?”

“I… yes, really.” Marinette shook her head, smiling wildly all the while.

“Well… I’ll text you,” Adrien suggested. “And we can figure out a time. Is that okay?”

Marinette bounced on her toes, and her words were like magic. “That would be perfect.”

Quickly and with as little awkwardness as possible, Adrien said goodbye and fled the scene like all of Paris depended on it. Occasionally, Paris did depend on him, but the only thing that needed saving right now was his heart if he didn’t get his blood pressure under control. A cardiatric episode or blood clot was going to manifest soon if he didn’t get ahold of himself.

Once he found his breath, Adrien felt Plagg adjust in his pocket and poke his head out - thankfully, there was no one around.

His kwami was entirely smug. “Not bad, kid. Say, do you think you’ll switch your ring to your left hand for the wedding?”

Adrien was too happy to care about his teasing. “Sure, but only if you admit you’re happy for me.”

“Not a chance,” Plagg crossed his arms and vanished into his jacket once again.

His smile didn’t leave his face, even when he retrieved his phone and called Nathalie.

“Hi, Nathalie!” He said, beaming at every stranger as he walked down the sidewalk.

“Um, hello,” she said, apparently a bit blindsided by his greeting. “I called a moment ago, you are -- ”

Adrien didn’t need for her to finish. “It’s nearly 1:45 and I’m not home. I’ll be there in less than five minutes!”

The line went silent for a moment, but she eventually gave a half-laugh. “Very well. See you in five minutes.”

“Less than,” Adrien corrected.

She hung up, and he pulled the phone away from his face in amusement. If Marinette had found a way to get on his father’s good side, then she could probably charm even Nathalie.

The return to the mansion was much faster and taken up by much bouncier steps. Was the sun brighter because of the rising afternoon, or was that merely a projection of his elation? It didn’t matter, anyways. What mattered was the breathtaking blue backdrop to their heliocentric world, and it was Marinette’s eyes, and her voice, and a strange melody in his ear that filled him with hope. It was open and fresh, like the greenhouse had spilled out into the concrete jungle of Paris and wrapped itself around her spirit, and every weed peeking up in the cement and every bush or planter hanging by a window was an echo of not only what he had just left, but what he still had to look forward to.

The car was already waiting for him once he walked up to the gate, and as Adrien settled into the backseat, he recalled ignoring more than one phone call.

He pulled out his mobile and scrolled through to Nino’s contact, but opted to text him.

 

Adrien (1:46 PM):

Sorry bro, I’m in the car with GRZ now so I can’t talk. What’s up?

 

Not thirty seconds passed before his phone buzzed, almost angrily.

 

Nino (1:46 PM):

Are you serious? *You* JUST texted *me* for help? Are you OK??

 

Adrien bit his lip as he reread the message. It wasn’t Nino’s fault he had turned into a senseless idiot in fifteen minutes, and Nino was his best friend. He at least owed him a reasonable response.

 

Adrien (1:48 PM):

OK, I’m sorry. I texted you without thinking but I do need your help. It’s about Marinette - can I call you later?

 

He leaned his head back and held his phone to his chest, trying to picture his calendar in his head and to figure out when he might be able to see her. Nino replied after a minute or so.

 

Nino (1:52 PM):

Does this have anything to do with you asking her out?

 

Adrien’s eyes went wide, and he felt himself blush. How could he possibly know that? How?!

 

Adrien (1:52 PM):

Umm… maybe?

 

He barely hit send before there was a reply.

 

Nino (1:53 PM):

HAH nice dude! I knew it! alya owes me $10. Call me when you’re free and we’ll talk about it!!!

 


 

Marinette reclined in her bedroom chaise and squeezed a pillow to her chest, and Alya sat cross-legged on the floor. Her friend looked annoyed, which would have been surprising given the absolutely wonderfully fantastic news Marinette had just delivered, but apparently, there was some underground romantic gambling going on.

“What do you mean you owe Nino $10?! You were betting on this?” The bluenette blushed even harder when Alya scoffed.

“Um, duh? And I’m happy for you - I mean it! Just, I know he’s going to be so smug the next time I see him…” She growled, but shook her head and fixed her face into a proud smile. Marinette felt at least a little better when Alya sat up on her knees and wrapped her in a hug, squeezing tightly.

“Well,” Alya leaned back, and her expression turned serious. “We have to plan the perfect first date for you, girl. This is the one I’ll give a speech about at your guys’ wedding, so it has to be memorable.”

Alya!” Marinette threw the pillow at her, but the reporter blocked it with her arm.

Marinette,” Alya repeated her tone, standing and putting a hand at your hip. “Has Mama Alya ever done wrong by you before? I told you Adrien was into you from the way he acted the other day. Nino told me they had a big talk about you over breakfast. And then the kiss on your cheek? Like c’mon.”

While Alya had a point, Marinette just crossed her arms and pouted. “Well… whatever! It’s one date! If I blow things out of proportion he might think I’m way too interested, you know?”

Her friend snorted and walked to the nearest poster of Adrien, plastered up against the rosy walls. “You? Too interested? I couldn’t even imagine.”

Marinette groaned and sank back into the cushions.

Nooooo, Alya,” she grabbed her pigtails in stress and tugged them. “This is serious! What if I say something stupid? What if he realizes this was a big mistake? What if there’s paparazzi and they make a big deal of things? There’s so many ways things could go wrong!”

Now she was genuinely starting to panic, and the inhales felt sharp and cold against her windpipe.Their friendship could be ruined, and all it took was a poorly timed joke or for him to wake up and realize how out of her league he was. What if the building catches fire? Or maybe they go out to eat and he gets food poisoning?

“Marinette!” Alya snapped her fingers in front of her face, and she cringed away.

“Calm down, girl. Breathe with me.” Much gentler than before, Alya spoke softly and rubbed encouraging circles on her back.

“With me, now, one, two, three… and out. Good. And one more time, one, two, three…”

Marinette went through the motions with Alya, trying to calm down. She had just never expected, after years, for her pining to finally pay off.

“I was… I was so freaked out over thinking of asking him out, I never actually imagined he would say yes. I never thought this far ahead.” With a sigh, she smiled weakly at Alya. Her friend looked sympathetic and returned the gesture.

“It’ll be fine, Mari. I was just teasing - you don’t have to do anything fancy with him. Let’s brainstorm and narrow it down, okay?”

Marinette bit her lip and nodded, watching Alya pace the room and type away notes into her phone to comprise a list.

“Dinner and a movie?” Alya suggested.

Marinette wrinkled her nose. “...Maybe? Feels really formal, though.”

Her friend hummed seriously and adjusted her glasses. “What about an activity? Like walking around the park?”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so, I don’t want to get all sweaty; and it has to be something in the evening because of work.”

“Good point,” her friend sighed and came to Marinette’s window, looking into the night contemplatively.

“You could… hmm, do something indoors, maybe? Wouldn’t want you guys out too late. Unless it’s brief...”

Marinette clutched another pillow to her chest, curling up against the back of the chaise while Alya continued to chatter away. They went on like this for another twenty minutes, Alya throwing out ideas while Marinette hesitantly shot them down. If she had any hopes of a second date, this one really did have to be perfect.

Despite the waves of stress, she was actually trying not to smile - again, and again, and again she replayed that afternoon in her mind. Adrien asked her out. He seemed nervous. If this was a dream, which she was certain it was, she was fine staying in it forever.

“Oh! Oh, I’ve got it!” Alya slammed a fist into her open palm, and the sudden exclamation made Marinette blink.

“You guys should go to a movie - so it’s not too formal and you don’t have to talk too much, and then go find Andre and get some ice cream. It’s long overdue, and that way, it’s not as restrictive as getting dinner. “

She chewed her lip as Alya smiled, evidently proud of her clever plan. It was pretty good, Marinette had to admit - a movie seemed nice and quiet, and if she could get into the story she might even be able to relax by the time it was over. Andre’s ice cream was delicious, and she thought it could be romantic to share it with him and walk around for a short while. If Marinette couldn’t think of anything to talk about, they could chat about the movie and the quality of the ice cream.

There was one problem, though.

Marinette scowled. “It’s perfect, Ayla, but what if we can’t find Andre? You know he moves around every night…”

Ayla smirked and fixed her glasses. “I was hoping you might say that. You are talking to one of the most famous amateur reporters in all of Paris, you know. I have connections.”

“Connections?” Marinette furrowed her brow, trying to imagine what sort of insider information she could have on an ice cream salesman.

“You let me handle Andre, okay? I’ll text you during the movie where you guys can find him. You just have to focus on Adrien.”

If Alya could assure her that Andre wasn’t going to be an issue, then there was no denying the plan. It was sort of perfect, and having some sort of structure to work with made her feel less frazzled. This way, she could plan what she might wear, what movie they might see, what sort of things they could talk about. It wasn’t a nebulous “date with Adrien Agreste.” This was a night with someone she cared about, really cared about, and watching a movie and getting ice cream.

“...Okay. Okay!” Marinette nodded and flung her hugging-pillow aside, standing resolutely. “A movie, and then ice cream at Andre’s. I can do that.”

“You most definitely can, my sweet summer child, and you will swoop in and capture blondie’s heart in the process.”

Marinette gulped, but smiled fiercely. “Yes. Yes, that’s… that’s what I’ll do. Now I just have to find a day that’ll work…”

Scanning her bedroom, Marinette spotted her cell phone facedown on the cushions she had previously occupied. She crawled back into the comfort of her little loveseat and picked up her phone, prepared to open her calendar.

Instead, she yelped and threw the device across he room.

“Whoa, whoa,” Alya held up her hands, thankful she didn’t get caught in the crossfire. “What’s happening?”

Marinette just pointed at her phone like it insulted her mother, glass orbs of shock taking place of her eyes. Dubious, the reporter raised a brow and recovered her phone.

 

Adrien (7:05 PM):

Hey!

 

Alya started to laugh.

Don’t laugh at me…” Marinette moaned into her hands, trying to hide her blush. Her friend sighed and moved beside her, holding her phone.

“C’mon, Mari, we practiced talking to him plenty, and now you’ve mastered doing it in person. There’s no way you can’t handle a few text messages, right? And now we know he’s interested!”

Marinette wrinkled her nose and begrudgingly snatched her phone back, still trying to hide her face still behind the pillows.

“Okay… should I just say hi, or something more than that?” She stared down at the letters, trying to remember any words besides “I love you.” It wasn’t working very well.

Alya nodded reassuringly, and her tone remained patient. “Well, do you want to just have a conversation with him, or do you want to firmly talk about the date? You can steer the conversation depending on your reply.”

Sucking her teeth, Marinette nodded slowly. She didn’t have a day in mind yet for their date, so unless he brought it up, they could just talk about anything, right?

 

Marinette (7:07 PM):

Hi :) How are you?

 

She held out the phone for her friend to examine, and Alya nodded. “Perfect. See? You got this, girl. He likes you. Just be yourself and you’ll be fine.”

Marinette nodded appreciatively, feeling better every minute with Alya’s encouragement.

“Ugh, thank you so much,” she replied, trying to untense her shoulders. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Alya shook her head, smiling. “Don’t mention it. Now,” she paused to crack her knuckles. “While you and lover boy chat it up - “ (“Alya! Stop it with that!”) “ - I want to talk about our next hang out. Nino and I were discussing it the other day and we’ve got a pretty good idea.”

Marinette squinted distrustfully, not liking the mischievous tone coloring her friend’s voice.

“And what might that be?”

The brunette smiled, fluttering her lashes innocently. “Well, there is this really cool event going on next weekend. It’s a one-day-only kind of thing, and it’s Saturday, which is perfect because you can sleep in the next day before work!”

Eyes turned to ever-more suspicious slits, Marinette commented on Alya’s suggestion. “That didn’t answer my original question. What is it?”

Alya bit her tongue and smiled. “Okay, okay. So there’s a reception at Le Grand Paris. It starts at like 4 PM but it’s a come-and-go sort of thing. I thought it was just another upper-class schmoozy event, so even though my mom said she could get an in for me, I wasn’t going to go. Buuuuuuut, when I asked her more about it, apparently it’s kicking off the La Nuit des musées and it would be perfect for us! It’s an all-night thing, so we could go and get fancy for the reception and then -- Marinette, are you even listening?”

She was smiling and nodding along, but didn’t look up at the call of her name. Instead, the girl’s attention was glued to her phone.

 

Adrien (7:10 PM):

I’m great! Nino has been… harassing me all day. How about you?

 

Alya’s voice was matter-of-fact. “Marinette, I should have told you sooner, but I’m pregnant.”

“Yes, yes, that’s great Alya…”

 

Marinette (7:11 PM):

You too?! Alya is here now and I feel like “harassing” is just about as accurate as it can get. Other than that, though, I’m doing A-OK.

 

“And the baby isn’t Nino’s. I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’m so glad to have a friend like you who will listen and support me every step of the way.”

Marinette heard Nino’s name so she waved it off. “How nice…”

 

Adrien (7:12 PM):

If you’re busy, I can leaf you alone...

 

Marinette (7:13 PM):

You’re incorrigible.

 

Adrien (7:13 PM):

Thank you, I try my best. :D

 

LOOK, IT’S ADRIEN!” Alya shouted, pointing at the street below.

“Huh?! Where, why?” She shot up and leapt towards the window. The bespeckled girl snatched Marinette’s phone and stuck it in the back of her jeans pocket.

“Aye!” She huffed, cheeks turning red. “G-Give that back!”

Draping an arm over her shoulder, Alya clicked her tongue. “Marinette, Marinette, Marinette… You’ll have all the time in the world to talk to Adrien on your date, at least let me finish, okay?”

Studying her thumbs, Marinette suddenly felt rather guilty. “Sorry, Alya. Just… excited.”

“It’s okay,” her friend gave her a knowing smirk, but didn’t return her cell phone until she finished re-explaining her idea for Saturday.

It took a few minutes, but it passed quickly Alya’s animated explanation and inherent optimism. Marinette frowned, though, not sure she liked the idea of the the reception. “So there’s a few problems… One, while the La Nuit des musées sounds fun, going to a bunch of museums in the night, but… the reception at Le Grand Paris? I know we’d see Chloe and I’m not sure...”

Alya shrugged. “Well, may I remind you, we’re doing it whether or not you want to. That was the deal, remember?”

Grimacing, Marinette rolled her eyes. “Then why did you even tell me in the first place?”

“Because I’m a good friend! I wouldn’t drag you somewhere without giving you adequate time to prepare yourself. Gotta look hot for that new bae.” She winked, and Marinette hurled another pillow at her. This time she got her square in the face, and they both paused before bursting into laughter.

Clutching her stomach, Marinette’s felt her shoulders start to tense. She leaned back into the chaise again, thoughtful.

“Well, okay, but that brings up point number two. What if… what if Adrien doesn’t have a good time on our date? If it’s before Saturday… he might, you know, not want to see me…” Her tone grew listless, and Marinette studied the stitching of her pajama shirt absently to avoid Alya’s eyes.

Her friend took a moment to respond, coming to sit on the floor beside the chaise again. When Marinette eventually caught her eye, Alya looked surprisingly stern.

“Listen, Marinette, I know you’re worried about this. But even if that happened, which I don’t think it would, but even if - Adrien is a good guy and a good friend. If, by some miracle, he didn’t want to go on a second date, don’t you think he would still want to be friends with you?”

She continued to glowered at her knees, obstinate. It was just hard to imagine what a post-date-but-ultimately-rejected version of herself would be, but any versions of herself didn’t seem very pleasant.

Alya wasn’t finished, though.

“Think about it this way,” she sighed and scooted closer, drawing Marinette’s attention. “You were worried all this time about making a move because you didn’t want to jeopardize the friendship you had with Adrien, right? If he cares about you, then he clearly would feel the same way. You’re friends first, and I don’t think he would want to lose that, no matter what.”

Slowly, Marinette gulped and squeezed her eyes closed. “You’re -- I’m sorry. You’re right, I’m just nervous and stuff… but okay. We’ll do La Nuit des musées either way, okay?”

Alya adjusted to sit on her knees and pulled Marinette into a hug, which she returned appreciatively.

“Just, one more thing, okay?” Marinette said as they pulled away, and Alya gave her a good-humored roll of the eye.

“Shoot,” the reporter challenged.

“Okay, just, make sure with Adrien he wants to do this too before you and Nino sign him up? All three of you have to agree to submitting me to this torture before I completely agree.”

“Deal.” Alya beamed, standing up and stretching her arms above her head.

“Alright my friend, I should head home before it gets much later. If anything happens with blondie, you’re to text or call me immediately. Got it?” A sassy hand punctuated Alya’s statement, and Marinette nodded.

“Thanks again for coming on such short notice,” Marinette offered as she led her from the house.

“No problem, girl. You may not agree with my methods sometimes, but I’ve always got your back.”

They hugged and Alya returned her phone before heading home, and Marinette just sighed contently. This was the closest to nirvana she’s ever come, so she was glad to savor a moment of peace before trudging back to her room.

Marinette had worried that Adrien might have texted her again, concerned that she just stopped responding so suddenly, but that hadn’t been the case. Inversely, she was also a little disappointed that he hadn’t been demanding her attention. Maybe he wasn’t that interested? But he might have just been giving her time to reply.

 

Marinette (7:22 PM):

Sorry, I was saying goodbye to Alya.

 

No sooner did she send the message was he typing a reply, and the “...” on her screen filled her tummy with butterflies. Adrien was waiting for her to respond, but he wasn’t going to text her obsessively if she didn’t. It was a strange level of respect, and his manners were as infallible as ever, even over text.

 

Adrien (7:22 PM):

You shouldn’t be sorry, it gave me enough time to look up what “incorrigible” meant. I’m still taking it as a compliment.

 

Tikki greeted her once she closed the door, and they both shared a knowing look.

“Marinette!” Her kwami spun in the air. “This is all so exciting, I’m happy for you!”

“Thanks, Tikki,” she beamed in response, changing for bed quickly and crawling beneath the covers with her phone inches from her nose.

 

Marinette (7:24 PM):

Of course you would. *That’s* what makes you incorrigible.

 

The little kwami sidled up in the crook of Marinette’s shoulder, reading and giggling in time with their messages. For two solid hours, she just sat in bed with Tikki snuggled up beside her, chosen and kwami chatting occasionally on how to respond but otherwise just laughing while Marinette blushed brightly beneath a darkening sky. A few times, Marinette’s eyes began to droop but they would flutter open excitedly when she heard the buzz between her fingers. Never had she been so attached to her cell phone, and Adrien was, as always, the perfect gentleman.

The conversation was always friendly without turning inappropriate (Marinette had heard the rumors of “texting” with someone in a romantic way), and the only thing that earned her disapproval was his gratuitous use of puns. Even Chat Noir was never this bad, but perhaps the impact was just greater when reading his poor attempts at humor.

 

Adrien (9:41 PM):

I can’t believe you haven’t seen Up. As a fellow Disney fan, you’re really letting me down.

 

Marinette (9:41 PM):

Pfff. It’s not like I have time to watch movies very often, thanks a lot.

 

Adrien: (9:42 PM):

Why not watch them at work when things are slow?

 

Marinette (9:43 PM):

Work - “slow?” that’s your best joke yet! No but really, if im not with a customer im usually doing deliveries, or working on my designs. There’s some saying about no rest for the wicked… or something. Just no rest, ever, more like it.

 

Adrien (9:43 PM):

I’m not keeping you up, am I?

 

Marinette bit her lip, considering. She really should go to bed if she wanted to try to get to work on time in the morning, but the conversation was going so well…

“You should say good night,” Tikki added sympathetically as they both looked at her phone. With a sigh, Marinette nodded and began to type a reply.

 

Marinette (9:44 PM):

You’re not, but that does remind me that I should get to bed soon. Work in the morning... Sorry :(

 

Adrien (9:45 PM):

Don’t apologize. I should probably get to sleep too.

 

Smiling, she exhaled slowly deeply, comforted by his simple words. Just twelve hours ago, she was trying to talk herself up to go to his home, and now, here she was. Texting him into the night, with plans for their first date in the works. This is the most exhilarated she’s ever felt, and considering she’s jumped from the top of the Eiffel Tower before, that was really saying something.

But then her phone buzzed, and all of the excitement was replaced by heart-pounding fear.

This time, it wasn’t a text.

He was calling her.

“Well, answer it!” Tikki commanded, but Marinette shook her head mutely.

The kwami sighed and gave her chosen a pointed look before flying towards the screen, placing a firm paw against the answer button.

“You’ll thank me later!”

 

“TIK -- ” She started, but a very muffled sounding Adrien interrupted her.

 

“Um, hello?”

Marinette scowled and shot her kwami a betrayed look, but the red presence just shrugged.

“H-hi, Adrien. Sorry… I thought I saw a bug.” That earned an eye roll from Tikki, who floated away into Marinette’s pillows to give the girl some semblance of privacy.

“Oh, it’s no problem.” He paused and chuckled, sounding a little nervous. “Sorry I called you out of the blue. I um… I just wanted to talk about our… date… before I said good night. It felt easier to just talk on the phone. Is that okay?”

Marinette beamed, and she pulled at her comforter. “O-of course!”

Adrien asked her preference, hesitant. “Soo… did you have anything in mind that you might want to do? I’m happy with anything you might want.”

Quietly, Marinette did a victory “yes” and pumped her fist. She’d have to buy Alya coffee sometime for preparing her for this conversation.

“Yes! Actually, if you want, we could go see a movie and try to find Andre somewhere? I don’t know if you’ve… ever had his ice cream, but it’s really good!” Marinette sounded a little more strained than she might have liked, but she managed not to stutter.

Adrien, by comparison, sounded thrilled. “Really? That would be great! I’ve had Andre’s, once, but it’s been at least a year or two now… Are there any movies out in particular you would want to watch?”

Crap. She hadn’t thought that far ahead.

“Uhhh… not, not really. I picked the activity, why don’t you pick the movie?”

There was a pause, but he ended up laughing. “Fair enough. We can wait til we get there to see what’s showing. And worst case, we can always call a Hail Mary.”

Marinette pursed her lips, feeling more relaxed as they continued to chat. “Two things - one, sure. But two, what the heck is a Hail Mary?”

“Oh, right,” he snickered, and Marinette blushed slightly. “A Hail Mary is a term from American football. My TV has international channels, so I’ve picked up on some terminology from the states.”

“Huh. That’s… neat. But you still didn’t explain what it meant.”

Humming, Marinette could hear the smile in his voice. “Right, right. It’s like… to change something unexpectedly. Like, if I was on my way to school, I could call a ‘Hail Mary’ and be like, No! Take me to the Dupain-Cheng bakery! I require croissants!”

Marinette giggled, probably loud enough to wake her parents, and leaned back into her pillows.

Adrien’s voice became more enthusiastic. “Actually, that might just be a Hail Marinette.”

“Oh?” She raised a brow, though he couldn’t see it. “And what would that be? Instead of changing plans to something else, you just fall over instead?”

“Marinette!” He sounded indignant that she would suggest such a thing.

Teasing, she challenged, “Tell me I’m wrong.”

There was a pause, but they both started to laugh at the shared, undeniable acknowledgement that yes, anything that was trademarked Marinette would have to be related inevitably falling over.

As their laughter quieted, Marinette added, “Well, I think I got it, that was very... informative. And dorky.”

His voice acquired a bit of an edge, though he tried to be teasing. “Dorkiness aside, you’re still going to let me take you on this date?”

“Absolutely,” she said a little faster than was appropriate, but he didn’t seem to mind.

“This is like, the best day of my life. Even if you just insulted me.”

“I wasn’t an insult! You’re dorky, but in like a cute way,” Marinette replied quickly, but not before turning beet red when she realized the words that had just passed through her lips. Even Tikki’s giggle was audible somewhere behind her head.

Adrien, however, sounded playfully smug. “I suppose that balances it out, doesn’t it? Insult followed by a compliment?”

“Hardly,” Marinette snorted, glad he wasn’t preying on her social awkwardness. “It’s not like every girl in Paris doesn’t think the same thing. You’re literally a model, or did you forget?”

“Now it feels like you’re insulting my intelligence, Mari,” he sighed, but Marinette could tell he was trying not to laugh. His voice went up ever so slightly, and if she was in person, she imagined he would raise his eyebrows before adding some sort of smart response.

“But there’s really only one girl in Paris whose opinion I’m interested in, and it sounds like she thinks I’m pretty cute, but also maybe a little dense.”

“Hmm,” Marinette tapped her chin. Was this… was Adrien openly flirting with her? It felt like it, and her pulse quickened at the temptation to flirt back. “Well, whoever she is, she must be awfully lucky. I can’t imagine anyone thinking you’re dense, but… you definitely are cute.”

Adrien laughed, the sound bright and pure.

“Oh, I don’t know, right now I’m feeling like I’m the lucky one.”

Through a yawn, Marinette chuckled and sighed. “Weren’t we supposed to talk about some sort of date?”

“Why yes, I believe we were.” He sounded amused. “Then Hail Marinette’s got involved and it was all downhill from there.”

Marinette rolled over in bed comfortably. She could fall asleep to the sound of his voice, just content to stay like this forever. “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

“So, um,” Adrien coughed before continuing. “Was there a day this week that would work for you? I can make most weekdays work, but I’m busy Friday and Saturday. Sunday is also fine.”

She pursed her lips, trying to think of her work schedule for the week - not that her days or hours ever changed formally, but she often would stay late or show up early if there was a change in delivery or to accommodate an occasion like the DiMaggio’s wedding.

“I think… Tuesday could work. I can’t do tomorrow because I really need to reboot the shop after Mother’s Day, and there’s some other boring stuff I have to do. Ordering and stocking, that kind of thing… Um, if that doesn’t work…”

“Tuesday would be perfect,” Adrien offered immediately, and Marinette blushed at how eager he sounded. She didn’t know if he had decidedly lost his marbles, but right now, she wasn’t about to complain.

“Okay,” she let out a low exhale, trying to keep the shaking from her voice. “Tuesday it is. I get out of work at 6:00… so could we maybe say 6:30?”

Never had she heard Adrien so happy before, and it made her tummy flutter. “I genuinely can’t wait.”

“Well… See you Tuesday, then. 6:30.”

“6:30,” he agreed. “Oh, and, Mari - one more thing before you go?”

Sleepily, she replied. “Mmm?”

“I… just wanted to thank you again for the hydrangeas. I read about them online some more, and it’s really interesting stuff. I appreciate them.”

Marinette blinked a few times, feeling a metaphorical cool splash of water rouse her from her dreariness. Incidentally, the water came in the form of very hot, very flushed cheeks, and Marinette had to lick her lips to get some moisture back in her mouth.

“O-oh, well… Well I’m glad you liked them. They’re one of my favorites… and their history is interesting too. Above all, a flower of gratitude.”

Adrien spoke quietly, as if in agreement. “Hydrangea macrophylla. Sometimes of thanks, sometimes of forgiveness, and sometimes of love.

“T-that’s right…” She nodded shyly, though he couldn’t see it.

“I think it’s my favorite flower of them all, Mari. I love them. So thank you.” He didn’t sound at all ashamed to admit such a thing, and Marinette could feel her heart thumping fiercely in against her ribs. Adrien was handsome and smart and kind, but he was so much more than that. Marinette had to bite her tongue from saying it out loud, but dear heaven above, did she love him. She loved him so much that it hurt.

“Well,” he sighed, sounding happy. “Thanks again, and I’ll look forward to Tuesday. Good night, Marinette.”

Careful to keep the quiver from her voice, Marinette swallowed the nerves in her throat and tried to sound just as happy. “Thank you, Adrien. See you Tuesday. Sleep well.”

And just like that, the line went quiet. She had a planned, scheduled, serious date with Adrien Agreste. Adrien Agreste, the model, sure, but Adrien Agreste, her trusted, valued friend. He loved hydrangeas, and maybe someday, he would love her, too.

Gently, Tikki’s voice jostled Marinette’s shocked silence. “I’m so, so happy for you, Marinette! I knew you could do it. Now, get some sleep. Adrien and your job will be waiting for your when you get up in the morning.”

“Right, Tikki. Thanks…” She mumbled, smiling and sinking into the mattress. Sleep came easily, and even in her dreams, Marinette found herself happier than she’s ever remembered.

 

Bonus Scene:

 

Slowly, Marinette dragged herself into consciousness. She had just had the most wonderful dream that Adrien had asked her out on a date, and Alya had stayed with her for hours to be supportive. It was sweet, ending with them texting until she fell asleep, but the dream ended.

She yawned and stretched, trying to dig around for her blaring alarm. It took several moments of tangling and untangling in her pillows and blankets, but she eventually found the damned thing and silenced the sound.

“G’morning, Tikki…” Marinette rubbed the sleep from her eyes, glaring at the sunshine above. It should be illegal to be that bright this early, but then, this was the sun she was internally grumbling about. It’s not like she could do anything about it.

“Good morning, Marinette!” Her kwami appeared, mewling a little yawn of her own. The tips of her antenna bounced joyously as she floated a few inches away.
“Ready for another day of work?”

“... I would almost rather fight an akuma, frankly.” Marinette replied, shimming her bottom towards the edge of her loft bed so she could start preparing for the day.

Tikki placed a tiny hand at her tiny hip, the embodiment of disapproval. “Marientte!”

She chuckled and began to brush out her hair. “I said almost, didn’t I?”

Through pursed lips, her kwami couldn’t argue with that, so she left Marinette to start her day.

Showering and eating breakfast went too quickly, and the coffee wasn’t as hot as she liked it by the time Marinette left the house. Still, Tikki’s impressively positive mood was helping her regain some focus as day continued to break over Paris.

“Are you going to talk to Adrien today?”

Marinette nearly choked on her beverage, looking down at the opening in her bag in horror. “And why on Earth would I do that?”

Head tilted to one side, Tikki seemed confused. “I thought you were planning on your date for tomorrow?”

The gears in her head groaned to a stop, and Marinette froze in the middle of the sidewalk. A gentleman passing by nearly ran into her.

Date.
Tomorrow.

Adrien?

“W-wait, Tikki, you’re not telling me… I had a dream! A dream last night! That’s what you’re talking about, right?!”

The kwami snickered lightly and shook her head, but kept her body low in Marinette’s bag.

“I know I’m pretty powerful, Marinette, but have I ever been able to visit your dreams before?”

“T-that means… Adrien… and I…?”

Tikki nodded, bemused.

And thankfully, some people on the street were kind enough to help her, because she pulled a Hail Marinette and fell over, flat on her face.

Chapter Text

Marinette had never enjoyed her work so completely.

Sure, it was hard and laborious as ever, but she could practically feel the happiness seeping into her pores with the light of the sun. Every breath came easy, every customer seemed pleasant, each order was seamless, and all of her plants smiled brightly back at her. Her brash Banks’ roses were a magnet of attention, lustrous rubies beneath a cloudless sky. Subtly even seemed a quiet grace in the form of her painter’s paradise of hydrangeas or by her terracotta beheld boxwoods. Within, Marinette’s heart was a hummingbird, and the greenhouse seeped with the lush overgrowth of peaceful fullness.

It felt like she had forgotten how to frown.

Her phone had been buzzing all day, and Adrien’s name was a frequent one that came across the screen. In fairness, he hadn’t been the one to text her originally; their group text was blowing up with Alya’s planning, only to be derailed almost immediately by Nino and Adrien. As it happened, Marinette didn’t a bit. Heck, her phone could fall into a bag of topsoil and be crushed by the delivery truck, and she was certain her mood still would not be hampered.

With respect to the conversation, Marinette wasn’t able to contribute much. She was constantly busy with the demands of her job, but she appreciated that her friends didn’t fault her for her radio silence. It was simple and nice, to peek at the screen occasionally when a customer headed out the door or between restocking the shelves. Alya had been the one to initiate the four-way chat today by sending a picture of the Louve from the street - why she was around that part of town, Marinette hadn’t a clue - and pushing the La Nuit des musées idea onto all of them, but since then the conversation had degraded to mostly dumb humor and well-meaning goading between the boys.

Alya was by no means absent, though. She and Nino poked plenty of fun at the both of them for their date plans tomorrow night. Adrien had been quick to try to shut it down (for what he said was Marinette’s sake, to not make her feel uncomfortable) but they were persistent. Still, through dodging plentiful innuendos and frequent sarcasm, Marinette thought Adrien seemed rather excited to talk about it.

Proud, even.

That thought sent her running towards the back with rose-tinted cheeks more times than she was willing to admit.

The reporter-to-be eventually looped them back to a proper topic, about spending that Saturday night at the La Nuit des musées. It was an annual event in Paris that only happened one night of the year where all of the big museums remained open from dusk ‘til dawn. There was a modest upfront charge for a wristband that allowed unlimited access to all of the participating venues. Any of the Paris museums worth their salt were included on the list, so it would have felt foolish if she were to not go: the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, the Centre Pompidou, the Arts and Metiers Museum, the Decorative Arts Museum, and the Palais de la Découverte were all possibilities.

Marinette was excited by the prospect of attending, although that would be with a post-date Adrien... so the possibilities for what that night might turn into was like dividing by zero. At least until Tuesday passed, Marinette could whip between gooseflesh and stomach cramps at the possibilities for Saturday night quicker than she could sew a seam.

Between watering planters and wrapping bouquets, Marinette noticed an uncharacteristically serious text from Adrien directed towards a tag-team of Alya and Nino insisting he give them a firm answer on La Nuit.

 

Adrien (1:56 PM):

Um, idk if I can. I want to, but Nathalie says there’s something on my schedule I don’t think I can get out of.

 

And now that it was on her mind, she did recall Adrien saying he wasn’t going to be available on Saturday. It explained why he kept getting off-topic, probably trying to avoid disappointing everyone. Marinette couldn’t blame him for that, even if she was saddened to think on it. She would probably still attend if Alya and Nino wanted to, since it was a one-night-opportunity, but she would definitely skip out on the reception and deal with the minor annoyance of third-wheeling.

After another thirty minutes, Marinette ate her lunch in the back office while going over her next purchase order. Tikki played the part of sympathetic audience.

“Ugh, these prices… How’s a girl supposed to eat?” She said, taking an entirely ironic bit from the lunch Maman had prepared for her. It was some sort of curried potatoes and rice creation.

Tikki frowned and settled into her shoulder, nibbling on her favorite variety of macron.

“Well, at least the need to order plenty means you’re doing good business, right?”

Marinette sighed and retrieved the “company” checkbook (it was just her parents, linked to the business account with their bank) and wrote out a figure with so many 0’s she actually had to double-check to make sure she hadn’t made an error.

“Yeah, I suppose… Maybe it’s a seasonal thing, but all of this?” Marinette pointed down at the catalog, finger tracing plastic planters and floral wire. “It’s annoying that they would inflate the price of necessities because they know we need them.”

Tikki giggled and adjusted her weight on Marinette’s shoulder. “Maybe Hawkmoth akumatized the factory workers. If there’s no flowers left in the city, what will draw ladybugs to Paris?”

The girl shook her head and chuckled. “Why didn’t I see it before? The answer was so obvious, Tikki!”

They shared a laugh and Marinette took another bite of her food, sealing the envelope and writing down the purchasing figure in the books. Hopefully this was the just the height of seasonal pricing, because they were barely breaking even with these sort of margins.

Just as she finished her food and took a long drink from a water bottle, the bell at the front chimed. Marinette could only check the messages on her phone and couldn’t get much utility from the device otherwise during business hours, so she opted to leave it with Tikki who could pass the time watching videos.

Marinette wiped her hands quickly on her apron and walked through the front of the store. A young gentleman, well-dressed and a few years her senior, had walked in looking very nervous. He eyed an assortment of bouquets wearily, and Marinette had to suppress the urge to laugh.

Mo would get a kick out of this.

If a man came to the store alone, Mo had warned her of three things.

When M&M is at its end, when I go, you’ll need to be wary on your own! ...Yes, Marinette, I just rhymed, you can stop laughing now. I am but a poet who doesn’t even know it!”

Even in present day, Marinette rolled her eyes. Typical Mo.

“Young men - and nay, even some young women - will need your help with these purchases. They know nothing of the language of flowers, and they’ll be so blindsided by romance they won’t have the forethought to study up before coming to the store. If they are not purchasing for an apology or a date, then they may have a lustful eye for the unsuspecting female clerk, working the store alone. Don’t be afraid to use those muscles of yours to kick some sense into them, if you have to.”

Mo said he had an eye for that type, which Marinette frankly found to be a little ridiculous, but he would always insist on “helping” those clients so they might not make some sort of unwanted advance on her. It was actually very sweet how protective the old man had been, but she usually though he had a tendency for the dramatic.

Grinning, the bluenette strode across the counter and called his attention. “Bonjour. Can I help you?”

His face was conventionally handsome, a strong jaw with some dark five o’clock shadow that made him look a bit more mature. Glasses and brown eyes, darting and anxious, looked up at Marinette’s greeting.

“Oh, bonjour, Mlle. Um... actually, yeah, if you don’t mind. I’m not sure...” The customer turned his attention back towards the wide variety of bouquets Marinette had prepared, and she felt a little smug at having just finished restocking. It was a bit impressive to look at, especially for someone like this.

Marinette nodded and placed a hand at her hip, joining his study of the display. “Rather you did something wrong, or you’re aiming for a date. Right?”

There was a pause, and the man laughed in relief. “Wow, you’re good. Yeah, I… I’m trying to ‘impress’ someone.”

Marinette nodded, tapping her chin and keeping her eyes forward. That narrowed the possible list of appropriate bouquets, although it depended on what type of impression he was hoping to make.

“Well, if it’s a date,” Marinette mused, taking a step towards a cacophony of crimson, scarlet and ruby red buds that were easy to admire. “You might consider something classic. Roses are popular, of course, but…”

She gestured to another, softer and slightly fuller arrangement. “If you want something a little different, Hummingbird flowers are always a reliable, pretty pick.”

Marinette brushed the star shaped petals of the palest pink with her fingers, a delicate bunch accented by Baby’s Breath and White Diamond Limonium.

Roses were cheap to grow and they could sell them at a high mark-up, just by way of the demand. Fiscally, it probably would have made better sense to stick to upselling the former recommendation, but Marinette just will herself to make a sale based off money alone. There was soul within each stem, and some blossoms simply needed additional advertisement for people to appreciate their personalities.

“Hummingbirds?” The man croaked, and Marinette just nodded patiently.

“No, Hummingbird flowers. They’re technically called bouvardia. They’re simple, reall-- ”

The bell at the door interrupted her, so she quickly called a greeting before continuing.

Bonjour! Just a moment, please! Sorry, but yes - bouvardia are really simple to care for, and they will keep for weeks. Just pop them in any vase and change the water every few days. They’re supposed to represent enthusiasm, and they have a…”

Her voice fizzled out, because a ringing in her ears didn’t stop. The bell was going off continuously, and it had picked up a rhythm.

Marinette turned to face the door, having caught a child playing with the bell to elicit such a sound before, but it turned out the chime was coming from someone much less predictable than a child.

“C-Chat Noir! Bonjour,” Marinette bowed her head, surprised to see him, and the customer turned with wide eyes.

Clasping his hands together, the young man bounced on his toes. “Wow! I-it’s… you! I’m a huge fan!”

The black cat, always one for a show, performed a theatrical bow while his tail swished around the middle aisle. “Ah, it’s always a pleasure to meet a fan! And in the most charming spot in all of Paris, no less.”

The gentleman beside Marinette practically floated over to Chat, and he vigorously took the heroes hand and shook. “I hate to ask - I’m sure you get this all the time, but could I get a selfie with you? My boyfriend wouldn’t believe me if I didn’t show him a photo!”

“Of course,” Chat accepted the man’s phone and they leaned in for a picture. “I actually happen to photograph rather well.”

Just after they snapped the shot, Chat caught Marinette’s eye, and the smug blond had the nerve to wink. Out of reflex, her head fell back on her shoulders, and she had to keep herself from hissing at him in annoyance.

“Yes, hello, Chat Noir. If you’re here for a purchase, I’d be happy to help you once I’m finished with this gentleman.”

“W-What?” The man clutched his phone to his chest, hugging the device like it was a lifeline. “No, please! Chat Noir, you go first. My thing isn’t important, it can wait!”

Chat Noir shook his head and smiled. As he opened his mouth to speak, however, the bell to the door rang again and Marinette thought seriously about throwing her hands up and quitting.

She fixed her face into a smile, certain that it was not convincing, and faced the door. “Bonjo-- …?”

There was no one there. Had the person stepped in and left immediately? It… had had happened before, though it struck her as odd.

Whatever the case, she could not complain. Chat’s presence alone certain to bring a tide of business crashing down Courtier St., so she needed to wrap things up.

Marinette stepped firmly towards the center of the store and gestured to young man who had begun texting furiously into his phone. “I’m sorry, sir, but I insist. Chat Noir is a hero of Paris, but in this store, he’s also a customer. You were here first, and I’ll assist him once we’ve made a choice for you.”

Behind the young man’s glasses, he blinked repeatedly and looked between the hero and Marinette like she had just started speaking Yiddish. It wasn’t until Chat nodded him to go that she was able to finish the sale, and thankfully, it had been quick thereafter. He seemed so starstruck that Marinette didn’t even have the chance to finish her explanation of Hummingbird flowers before he hastily accepted and passed her a shiny credit card.

“Wow, who would’ve thought? I’m here for flowers and bam! Chat Noir. This is such an amazing day!” He whispered across the counter to Marinette, who just smiled politely and passed him his receipt and requested a signature.

It really shouldn’t have struck her as a a surprise, as Chat Noir came frequently, but Marinette had gotten used to seeing him in the evening after the past week. Him coming here during the day while she drowned in work seemed comparatively frustrating, but Marinette kept her voice kind all the way until the man left the store (only after he stopped to shake Chat Noir’s hand two more times, of course).

Even so, Marinette had nothing but positivity to offer today, grinning at the alley cat who had folded his hands neatly behind his back.

“Hi, Marinette.” Chat said once they were alone, and she raised a brow at him. The cat must’ve hit his head or was actively hiding something, because the look he was giving her was filled with unusual admiration.

“Hello, minou,” Marinette smiled as she returned to the counter. Chat respectfully remained on the other side, though he did walk rather close behind her.

Sticking her tongue out, Marinette broke through his intense stare when they both laughed. “What brings you by today?”

“Ah, right meow? I was simply in the neighborhood and thought you might want some company of the kitten variety.” He smiled and wiggled his eyebrows, and Marinette just slapped a palm into her face.

With a good-humored sigh, she picked up some papers and began to make a few notes. “I’m so flattered, Chat, you have no idea. How could I ever thank you?”

“Oh I’ve got a few ideas, Puur-incess. Especially now that I know you sneak boys into your room. His voice was riddled with suggestiveness, but it was clearly sarcastic. Marinette just shook her head and giggled.

Chat seemed to notice her exuberance and commented, “Well, isn’t your cat-titude just meow-valous today? Even my puns seem ineffective!”

Marinette just exhaled brightly and met his gaze. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I happen to be in a very great mood.”

“Oh? Do tell!” The black-suited hero leaned his elbows on the counter, coming closer in interest.

Her face flushed, but she did not look away. “Well, that friend I was telling you about… They came back, and…”

She stopped mid-sentence, interrupted yet again by the ever-present bell that called her attention, and Chat straightened when she glanced over his shoulder.

There was no one there.

Again?” Marinette pursed her lips in annoyance, walking around the counter and coming to the door.

Chat stayed a pace behind her, watching her examination of the doorknob. “Is something wrong?”

“I think there’s something broken… with the… um…”

Marinette’s voice trailed off, but not, for once, due to lack of the right words or a sputtering confidence. Instead, her attention had been caught by some unusual activity beyond the glass walls. Instead of a typical flow of passing couples, groups of friends, or parents and their children, the predictable midday ambiance of Paris had been unsettled.

“Something’s happening,” Marinette whispered, voice suddenly urgent. Chat scowled and moved right up to the window, standing so close she could feel the smooth exterior of his suit as he looked into the road.

Indeed, people were no longer passing along peacefully, a steady tide of leisure down the sidewalks. No, the current had picked up, and a wind was blowing ever East, loud and panicked. People were screaming, and running, and clutching their loved ones.

Chat clenched his jaw. “An akuma.”

Marinette tried for a playful smirk. “I suppose it was inevitable, wasn’t it?”

He pursed his lips, and the witty joke that Marinette expected didn’t come. Instead, Chat Noir turned to her and put a hand on each of her shoulders.

“Go hide, Princess.” The sharpness of his tone surprised her. “Please.”

“Umm…” she felt his hands squeeze her slightly. “O-okay, Chat Noir. Be careful.”

The promise of her safety must have been enough to undo whatever had rattled him, because his smile turned huge and he stepped away, bowing low.

“But of course, I’m paw-sitive things will be just f-el-ine.”

Marinette rolled her eyes while the cat hopped away, the only force of nature moving against the clamor of people fleeing the source of danger.

Wistful, Marinette watched him go, worried again. Was he okay?

“Marinette!” Tikki chimed, flying a few inches in front of her. At what point her kwami had come to the front of the store, the girl had no idea. “Aren’t we going?”

“O-oh, right!” She nodded seriously. “Let me go out the back…”

As quickly as she could manage, Marinette locked the front door and ran through the exit on the southern side of the building. Thankfully, everyone in this part of town had already fled or found refuge indoors, so it seemed safe enough to transform.

Marinette met eyes with her kwami, and the two shared a fierce nod. “Tikki, spots on!

In a flash, a strength flowered from her core as red spandex fit to her like a second skin. Clarity and focus settled in her mind with ease, and with a contented sigh, Ladybug stepped out into the courtyard.

“Alright, let’s do this!” Ladybug said, mostly to get herself to get in the right headspace for a fight. It’s been weeks, and taking to the rooftops with her yo-yo in hand felt invigorating.

Back-tracking slightly so no one might see her depart directly from the flower shop, she ultimately headed towards the center of town. Ladybug made quick work of a few miles when the magical device in her outstretched hand began to buzz.

Finding a building to stop upon, Ladybug flipped open the screen, listening for disturbances or ambushes all the while.

“Chat Noir,” Ladybug nodded severely in greeting into the screen. The black cat grinned sheepishly, and she had to stop herself from laughing.

“Do I even want to know why you’re soaking wet?”

“Well, you see Bugaboo, it all started this morning when I -- “

Mon chaton,” Ladybug said pointedly, raising her eyebrows at him. He shook himself off slightly like a drenched animal, and his hair seemed puffier as a result.

He kept his grin just as wide. “I’m afraid things are a bit fishy down by City Hall.”

“Fishy?”

Chat shrugged. “You’ll see. I’ll keep ‘em distracted for you, Bugaboo.” He sang her nickname and blew her a kiss.

Ladybug merely shook her head, flipping the screen closed. “That cat, sometimes…”

Setting a course towards her partner’s location, the heroine moved as a flash of red along the Parisian skyline. The roads were quiet in their vacancy, and it was always one of the worst parts of battling an akuma. People abandoned the streets and sucked the life from the city itself; it sounded of death and reminded her of absence, neither of which were conditions she yearned after.

Once City Hall was in sight, Ladybug quickly came to understand Chat’s meaning. The nearer she moved to the scene, the more that awful, odorous waves reeking of fish wafted to meet her. Even as a civilian, Ladybug was not the biggest fan of seafood, and this wasn’t the smell of a roasted salmon or freshly prepared sushi. It smelled like of salt and seawater, musky and dark and totally unpleasant. Vaguely, she recalled someone telling her once that olfactory experiences are more poignant than any other sensory memory; Ladybug could only hope that was hyperbolic, because this smell would surely haunt her forever.

“What the…” Ladybug muttered, covering her mouth and nose, trying in vain trying to block some of the oceanic air from making her dizzy. At the cusp of a large building looking over the city square, she looked down into the streets to find a torrent of… money? Coins, bills, and currency of every kind spilled into the streets, so high it covered some smaller buildings entirely. It was like a flood of cash sprang from City Hall and was rushing down the streets, a broken dam that began to submerge the city beneath the weight of wealth.

Baffled, Ladybug wondered aloud (through a compressed, nasally voice). “What kind of akuma is this?”

“Beats me,” answered a familiar call. She turned and spotted Chat Noir, retracting his baton and finding his footing. By the looks of it, he must have just vaulted to the top of the building himself.

“You weren’t kidding when you said it was fishy, mon chaton… ugh, this is terrible.” Ladybug replied, scowling and scanning the world below in vain, searching for some source of the chaos.

“Really?” He seemed amused. “Maybe it’s the whole, cat-like-instincts thing, but I think it’s actually rather nice.”

“Bleh,” Ladybug stuck her tongue out, and her partner snickered at her expense.

Stretching his arms, Chat moved to the buildings’ edge and crouched down. The streets were still filling with money, a sea of metal and paper growing taller in the center of the square and spreading further down each side street.

“Looks like we don’t have anytime to waste, unless we want to be sleeping with the fishies,” he commented, almost sounding annoyed. Ladybug sighed, and they met eyes. She gave the cat an approving smile.

“Well, kitty, this seems like your specialty. It looks like it’s all centralized around City Hall, so we best start there.” Chat’s ears perked, and Ladybug’s grinned widened. “Shall we go akuma fishing?”

Chat stood and spun in a fluid movement, facing her after a full rotation and bowing. “It would be a pleasure, Bugaboo.”

Leading the way, Ladybug swung her yo-yo far and aimed high, not particularly interested in falling into the flood of currency - the smell seemed to come from the rising tides, and frankly, she was glad to have nothing to do with it. The catching wind while she leapt closer to the building actually helped to wick some of the odor from the air surrounding her face, but when she landed deftly on the roof of the building, it grew even worse. The gentle thud of Chat Noir landed beside her, and his voice was immediately alarmed.

“L-Ladybug! Are you okay?” He gripped her shoulders. “Why are you crying?”

She groaned and patted his hold, using the knuckles of her other hand to brush away the sudden tears.

“I’m just fine, thank you for the concern Chat. It’s the smell, my eyes are just watering. Ugh.” Setting her jaw, she tried to indicate finality with her tone, and thankfully Chat Noir drew back.

“Hmm,” Chat tapped his chin and walked to study some of the skylight windows. “If you don’t think you’ll be able to breathe, don’t be afraid to fall back, okay? Maybe we can draw the akuma out away from the, uh,” he paused, looking over the side of the building at the growing pile of cash. “Ocean?”

Ladybug huffed and squared her shoulders. “You might be right, but let’s see if we can’t figure out what’s going on first.” She had to blink through some latent wetness while investigating the glass beside Chat Noir.

“It doesn’t look like there’s - oh, well,” Chat was about to state the obvious - that there wasn’t anyone inside - but his claim would have become immediately false. The door to the mayor’s office burst open, and so far as they could see, all of the inner sanctums of the building remained entirely vacant of money.

Stepping out from the office and cackling wildly, a larger-than-life man stepped through the doorway (just barely fitting) and dragged a large net behind him. In some weird way, Ladybug was reminded of Santa Claus, but only if the jolly man of Christmas carols had jaundice and turned mad.

The man sported a bright, almost insultingly yellow, coat with matching hat and boots that covered almost his entire body. A few inches between the bottom of the coat and the top of the boots exposed gray tattered clothes beneath, and even the man’s face was largely obscured by a bushy grey-white beard. Striking against the his drab appearance, his eyes were gruesome - one, large and blown from glass, matched by a scar from lid to cheek, and the other was gray as an overcast sky. What little of his face was visible and not disfigured appeared papery and tough, and he must have been getting up there in age.

Thrown over his shoulder, adding to the illusion of a deranged Kristopher Kringle, the man gripped a net at least double his size. Large and black woven wire crossed over itself into what must have been some sort of fisherman’s net; it was the only part of his get-up that seemed a clear candidate for the akuma to hide.

Ladybug grimaced when she realized the net was not empty.

“He’s got the mayor,” Chat commented, almost as casually as if he were remarking on the weather. With a glance over the streets, Ladybug noted the rising rate of the strange paper and metal sea, and snapped her fingers.

“Ah. The treasury is in this building. That’s probably where the money is coming from, and I think it’s below ground.”

Chat nodded, already understanding her meaning.

“I’ll stop the flood,” he offered.

She smiled. “And I’ll try to get the net away from ol’ greybeard.”

With a quick nod, she watched Chat dive from the building into the “water” with surprising grace. The sound of his body hitting a conglomerate of metal, however, did not sound at all pleasant.

It probably doesn’t tread like water,” Ladybug yelled down to him through cupped hands. She giggled as Chat massaged his backside, more crawling than swimming towards the bit of the entrance that was still visible.

He called back to her. “That would have been helpful about 10 seconds ago!”

Allowing herself a little laugh, the red heroine readjusted her shoulders and faced the window again. The akumatized victim was shouting something nonsensical to the mayor, who was quivering under the net. She needed to act quickly before things escalated into some sort of hostage situation.

The windows on the roof did not have any visible locking mechanisms, so Ladybug shrugged and kicked through the glass, leaping to the marble tiles effortlessly.

“Let him go!” She demanded as the yellow-coated man turned to face her, and much to her surprise, he dragged the mayor’s weight with his turn.

The moment of recognition came too slow, though, and Mayor Bourgeois slammed into her and knocked her back into a pillar.

“Ladybug!” He cried, seemingly uninjured though he had just been used as a weapon.

Groaning, she blinked a few times and tried to ignore the several tender spots where rock had met her back muscles, and took another, more prepared stance across the hall outside the mayor’s office.

A different approach, she held her yo-yo at the ready. “What do you want?”

“Fair trade in the state of France!” He shouted automatically, adjusting the net at his shoulder. “And I, the Pêcheur, ain’t going to let some bug get in the way of what the hardworkin’ people of France deserve!”

Ladybug dropped and rolled away from the swing of the net she knew was coming, the threat evident behind his words. Not a moment too soon, as a loud crunching sound left a crater against the wall where she had just been standing. Maybe the net wasn’t hiding the akuma after all? It seemed really careless to swing around the object she needed to destroy so recklessly.

“The people of France don’t want violence, Fisherman, I can assure you that.” Ladybug replied calmly, standing and gripping her yo-yo. If not the net, than what?

The hat? Maybe… It still didn’t feel right, though.

“Oh I don’t know,” he said, cackling and swinging the mayor like a ragdoll. Ladybug winced, glad whatever magic kept Mayor Bourgeois in the net equally seemed to stop him from getting hurt. Still, he was a civilian, so she needed to get him out of here as quickly as possible. With a hasty scan of her surroundings, Ladybug noticed an elevator at one end of the hall.

“The people of France welcomed a revolution filled with violence, or did you forget, Little Miss?”

Backpedaling down the length of the corridor, Ladybug tried to keep Pêcheur far enough away that he would have to release his net to swing it at her, but near enough that he kept in pursuit. Just a little further…

“That’s true, but times have changed, Fisherman!” Ladybug took a threatening posture with her weapon in one hand, her other hand seeking the elevator button. “You can’t expect the people of Paris to--”

She stopped when the lift behind her dinged lightly, and she reared back with her yo-yo ready to send it spiraling around his ankles. In retaliation, Pêcheur roared furiously and whipped his net around, swinging it at her with barbaric force.

Perfect.

Like pretending to throw a dog a bone, she kept a close hold on her yo-yo, leaping over the net as it swept at her. Instead, she flung the trusty weapon at the man’s forearm that had a hold on the mayor. With a cry of pain, he dropped the net just in front of the elevator, and gravity did the rest.

She fell to the earth just inches in front of Mayor Bourgeois and quickly dragged him backwards before the elevator closed.

An angry wallop could be heard against the metal doors, but she had been just fast enough to complete the getaway. Immediately, Ladybug began to unravel a whimpering Mayor Bourgeois.

“Mayor! Are you alright?”

He was shaking, but appeared unharmed. “Y-yes, Ladybug. Thank you! I feel t-terrible about this…”

Ladybug noted a pleasant beep above their heads; they entered on the third floor, and she had her sights on the basement.

“Do you know what happened? Who is Pêcheur?”

Mayor Bourgeois made a face. “Well, he’s a fisherman.”

“... Yes, thank you, Mayor. And?” It was difficult to keep the irritation from her voice as she lifted the last bit of net above his head.

Another beep.

One more floor.

“He came to my office with a proposed bill to reduce the state tariffs on exporting fish, but that is something politically way above my head. I’m just a mayor! When I refused to bring his concern to my compatriots at the Assemblée nationale, he screamed about earning his livelihood at sea and stormed from my office.” The man completed his explanation as Ladybug helped him stand. Once he was steady, she reared an arm high in the air and used her foot as a counterbalance, tearing the net wide.

No butterflies here.

As if on cue, the final ding sounded in time with Ladybug’s sigh and the doors opened.

The horrible, repugnant scent of dead fish flared in her throat, and the mayor covered his mouth to stop from throwing up. A small influx of money spilled around their ankles, but it wasn’t surging as it once had.

“Why, there you are Bugaboo,” Chat called nonchalantly straight across from them, using his bodyweight to keep a large bank-style safe closed. It was clearly giving under the stress of compounding currency within, but his barricade had stayed the madness temporarily.

He shifted when a particularly horrendous metal creaking sound went off behind him. It was clear the door was going to give soon.

“I hate to be a burden, but purr-haps you could lend this poor cat a hand?”

Ladybug helped the mayor wade through the mess to the stairs, and thankfully Chat had mostly cleared a path on his way inside. “Mayor, find any room to hide it. It’s too dangerous in the streets with all of this in the way,” she gestured at the mess at their feet. He quickly nodded and thanked her again before sputtering and slipping his way up the stairs.

In a flash, Ladybug flew across the remainder of the room and, with their  combined strength, managed to better stabilize the door.

“Okay, minou, got any ideas? Where’s the money even coming from?”

“Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that,” he said, the strain clear in his voice. “It doesn’t seem to be coming from anywhere. It’s just seeping through the ceiling in there. Like rain, almost.”

“Rain?” Ladybug glanced down. “And you were wet earlier, weren’t you?”

Chat scowled. “It wasn’t my fault, I was helping someone in a car that got turned over and some people running by were soaking wet.”

She frowned, brow drawn together as she looked at her feet. “Maybe this isn’t just like water. Maybe it is water, Chat. That explains why its able to sort of swish and move on its own, and there’s no way he could have an endless supply --”

The cat yelped as the door started to give a bit, and he hastily replied. “Yes, sure, great - your logic is amazing and you’re amazing, blah blah, but maybe we should get out of here?

“Ugh,” Ladybug groaned, exerting even more force as the door started to buckle. “We need a plan first. If one of us lets go, the metal won’t hold.”

Ears perked, Chat Noir turned to her with a grin. “Wait a meow-ment! I have an idea! Just hold the door for one second, and um..well, actually...” His smile flickered and faded.

“Well?!” Ladybug shook her head, eyes bulging. “What are you waiting for? What is it!?

“Umm, you’ll have to, uh, spread your… legs” he muttered. Frankly, she didn’t care about boundaries and all that - Chat clearly was not understanding the urgency of the situation.

“Okay! Okay, sure, just do whatever you have to!”

Chat frowned at her for a moment, as if surprised she trusted him so completely, but his focus came back with another groan of the metal.

His tone was hard. “Okay, hold the door.”

Under her breath, Ladybug muttered a quick retort through grit teeth. “Yeah, like I have much of a choice.”

Chat Noir moved directly in front of her, crouched down and drew his weight back. “Cataclysm!

He aimed a hand, miasmatic and deadly, at the spot where the metal barrier met the ground, just between her feet, and the floor began to quake.

With his other arm, Chat wrapped a deft hand around her waist and extended his baton forward into the metal, just as the hinges began to snap, and drove them back into the elevator.

He smashed the button closed the moment they were inside. The door dented under the crushing weight of coins, but they were unscathed.

Ladybug heaved for air, crisp and sharp against her windpipe as they stood in the strangely quiet elevator. Beside her, Chat rubbed the back of his neck anxiously.

“S-Sorry, that was close.” He glanced at their feet, noticing some netting caught in the small collection of coins and paper below. “I take it the akuma wasn’t in the net?”

Still breathless from exertion, she merely shook her head and glanced up at Chat. The moment they met eyes, his ring beeped twice.

“Ah…” he pressed his lips together and eyed his right hand in annoyance. “Well, any ideas?”

“I think…” she began, looking at the ceiling. “I think the guy isn’t going to leave the building. At some point, he’ll demand our miraculous, and we’re already here. More importantly, he said he wants to change the laws, I guess.”

Chat Noir snorted and ran a hand down his face. “They have like, petitions for that, right? Did getting akumatized seem like the most logical solution?”

His ring beeped again.

Ladybug was only half-listening, and she lifted herself up using the wall to support her weight, pushing through the latch in the ceiling. He didn’t need directions to know they were going up, the long way.

Once situated in the dark vertical tunnel, she squinted upwards and addressed Chat’s earlier question. “Yes, but, this man felt wronged, or cheated from what I gathered. He called himself the Pêcheur. The Mayor refused to help him… and he was talking about ‘the hardworking French people’. The smell, the ‘ocean’ of money, his outfit...”

A little more quietly, Chat reached the same conclusion she had earlier. “Ahh… A fisherman who wanted to improve wages or something to that effect, wronged by the Bourgeois. Literally, probably.”

She nodded, to which Chat added, “But what is he hoping to do?”

Another beep.

Ladybug just shook her head as she unsheathed her yo-yo, spinning it before grappling to the floor she had last seen him. “I have no idea, but we’ve got to stop it before things get more out of control. Your ‘second basement’ bought us some time, but Paris is going to flood if we don’t do something.

“It’s almost like the city is under-funded, am I right, Bugaboo?”

Chat had his baton ready, but Ladybug lifted a hand to stop him.

“You should stay here, you’re about to detransform. I’ll go after Pêcheur, and you recharge. Okay?”

She could tell, even in the low-light, his ears drooped slightly. The hard truth came in the form of his final beep, warning them of only sixty more seconds until he would revert to civilian form.

“I’ve got some food on me, so I’ll be able to catch up with you soon.” Chat offered, and Ladybug gave him a quick two-fingered salute.

“Bug out for now, mon chaton.”

 


 

 

The sound of hastily typing thumbs and a gorging kwami were the only things to break the silence for several minutes.

It was a little unnerving, sitting cross-legged at the bottom of a dark elevator shaft, waiting patiently for time to catch up to need. It was some sort of poetic pseudo-marketplace dealing in minutes and cheese, patience and fortune. Still, the quiet was peaceful, but it stirred a fear in his stomach.

Was Ladybug okay?

And another, newer worry found dominion beside that familiar fear.

Was Marinette okay?

Digitally speaking, things had spiraled out of control. Providing live updates to the Ladyblog, Alya was wading the sea (and probably earning herself some serious bruises along the way) while Nino had texted the group in clear panic, trying to get her to move inside or at least seek higher ground.

Marinette had not messaged any of them, which was disconcerting.

Adrien pulled up the blog in spite of himself, knowing his compliance was sort of encouraging Alya’s dangerous behavior, but it was an undeniably useful source of information when away from the throes of the fight.

The livestream was turning from selfie mode to photoview, and he cringed at the quick glimpse of Alya sauntering waist-deep towards the center of the city.

“Alright Ladybloggers, looks like there’s a change of scenery going on. Ladybug just appeared outside the building, and by the looks of it, no Chat Noir in sight.”

Scowling, Adrien and Plagg met eyes.

“The man calling himself Pêcheur,” Alya continued, oblivious to mutual annoyance of her audience in the elevator shaft. “Seems to be able to manipulate money, and he’s using the change to -- whoooaa,” Alya wavered and nearly dropped her camera, and the broadcast jostled disorientingly.

“We are in deep water now, folks, and that’s not a Chat Noir signature pun,” she shouted, and true to her word, the semi-calm mountains of cash had turned back to a freshet of angry ocean, literal water pouring into the city streets and sweeping Alya out and away with the deluge. His “second basement” must have bottomed out.

Adrien’s heart went out to Nino; at least Marinette had enough sense to stay inside.

“Okay folks, we need to seek higher ground. We couldn’t get close enough to hear the akuma’s threats, but there’s no denying one thing: he can control the water, and it can change to… well, change, apparently, by his whim. Stay safe everyone!”

She stopped the livestream, and Adrien couldn’t decide if it was appropriate to laugh or sigh. The girl was about as brave as Ladybug herself, but without the supersuit. In another life, she would have made a great superhero.

“Alright kid,” Plagg chewed his last piece of camambert and swallowed. “I’m ready when you are!”

Adrien stood quickly, his gaze fierce.

Plagg, claws out!

As easily as breathing, black leather encased his right arm and branched to his left, down his torso and hugging his body. Running a hand across his hair, familiar ears fit to his blond tresses and Chat Noir shook the familiar resurgence of power through his muscles.

“Round two.” He declared quietly, readying his baton to vault through the building, after Ladybug and the akuma.

Chat managed to trace after without issue, following the sounds of battle raging above his head. A clear hole had shattered a glass window, and the jagged edges offered droplets of water near the middle of the hallway. Unable to cling against their own gravity, the droplets turned to metal with a tiny shing each time another drop loosened and hit the marble floors.

Hmm. So LB and Alya were right. He turns water to money.

“But where is he even getting the water?” Chat wondered aloud, glaring at the ceiling.

A rush of red flew backwards across his line of sight, propelled by a gush of liquid that sounded hard and metallic upon impact.

He watched the Fisherman saunter forward, after what had clearly been an injured Ladybug. Chat waited just until the man crossed over the opening before vaulting himself on the roof.

“Hey now!” Chat taunted, twirling his baton upon landing. “Don’t you know that fish keep their money at the riverbank, Mounseir Pêcheur?”

Grinning, he paused to leap away from a second crashing wave of bills, rolling and landing on one knee. “C’mon, if you’re a Fisherman, surely you can catch me?”

Another rush of money snapped in his direction from over the side of the building, near enough that Chat felt the light tickle of passing air besides his ear.

The more Chat baited, the more the man fumed and rage, and the blond hero rather enjoyed watching the Fisherman’s face turn red beneath his yellow suit. It was clear, unbridled fury, and it was turning him reckless.

“Why are so crabby, anyways?” Chat mewled in time with the rising tides, the sound rapturous as metal smashed into concrete and plaster walls. Coins rained from above with the jostling movements, flying upwards only to smack against the top of his head. Chat hissed, more in annoyance than in pain.

Still, the Fisherman looked too ensorcelled to do much else than storm senselessly after the black cat. Not a single intelligible word passed through the man’s cracked lips, and of course, Chat Noir was never one to pass up a joke.

“What, cat got your tongue?”

In a furious roar, Pêcheur raised his arms high in the air and the sea moved with him, punching a hole straight through the roof with brute force.

Chat barely managed to backflip away from the assault, but it seemed Pêcheur had been hoping for that. He had driven Chat rather close to the edge of City Hall’s rooftop, and the hero barely managed to stay upright, thanking Plagg for his enhanced reflexes. Below, choppy tides and dangerous currents called up to him in a manmade monsoon.

“Heh, well, looks like you, uh, caught me?” Chat shrugged, and blessed be, Ladybug had regained her wits and he watched as the string of her yo-yo snaked around the Fisherman’s ankle just as he reared up for another attack.

A fierce shout garnered Chat’s attention while the man went sprawling.

“The akuma are the papers in his coat! It’s in his front pocket!”

Nimbly, Chat prowled forward and rolled the man over with his foot, ducking down to follow Ladybug’s directive. As he did, a massive shadow cast along the roof at his back, winking the sun out of existence. His ears were pitched to two sounds: one, of rustling paper and rising winds, and the other, a voice.

“Chat Noir! Look out!

He had only time to cover his face before much more than just the sun was eclipsed - his whole body was smashed by waves of pain. Every muscle twisted and flared against sharp edges of coins and paper, crushing him beneath sheer weight alone. It was like getting smacked by a metal mallet, over every inch of his body, all at once.

Lucky Charm!”

Oh thank god, Chat thought through grit teeth. It was disorienting, a rush of sensations that were fueled mostly by discomfort, shoving and dragging by invisible hands. The force of the hit had knocked him clean off the roof, and it was clear that the man was trying to drown him in a sea of greed.

A much different, sudden flare of pain made Chat wince, but this was neither a compression of coin or the twisting of substance pelting into his body again and again. It wasn’t the same light paper cuts that marked his cheeks and nose. This was tight and sharp, like someone was trying to pop his shoulder out of place.

Before he knew what was up from down, Chat Noir was airborne again.

He blinked several times, even more confused by his surroundings. The first thing he noticed was he had been freed of his alloy-bound tomb. The world was inverted, the fringe that usually rested along his face hanging down and away from his forehead, brushing into his sort-of-but-not-really cat ears. A definitely upside down and cute red heroine frowned at him- or was she grinning? - and raised an eyebrow in bemused appraisal.

“Hello, mon chaton,” teased Ladybug. “Can I borrow your baton?”

“Oh I suppose, it’s not like I’m using it, given that I’m just hanging around,” he grinned, though not without clenching his jaw through some of the latent soreness from his earlier battery. Chat reached for the trusted tool at his lower back and offered it to her.

Ladybug rolled her eyes and accepted his baton, only to let him go and crumple on the roof of what he figured to be a tall neighboring building. She had rigged some sort of pulley to bring him out of the crushing sea with her yo-yo and a large antenna. In her other hand, she held a comically huge polka-dot cutout of the mayor.

By now, the “water” had completely covered most of the square, and City Hall was immersed.

“Hmm, and where did our fishy friend go?” Chat asked as he rubbed the strain from his arms and shoulders.

Beside him, Ladybug pursed her lips while tieing one end of his baton and her yo-yo together, keeping the disc of her weapon dangling from the end. “He’s under the, uh, money somewhere. But I thought we might go back to our original plan.”

Chat watched her movements with interest, and Ladybug tested out his baton, extending it slowly.

“Oh? And what’s that?”

She smiled widely. “I thought we could try akuma fishing.”

And with no problem at all, she cast out their weapons into a makeshift fishing pole, far into the square with the cut-out of the mayor secured to one end. Her yo-yo stuck out above the choppy waves, a red sinker in the middle of a brown, silver and bronze mess of wealth.

Several seconds passed of silence, and Chat eventually offered, “Just like that?”

“Yep. Now we wait,” Ladybug offered simply, and Chat frowned when her earrings beeped.

“You sure about this?” He crossed his arms nervously, eyes scanning a jingling ocean.

That caused her to laugh, and it was a bubbly, infectious sound. Chat smiled.

“Of course, mon chaton. My lucky charm has never failed us before.”

“Well,” he shuffled his feet before deciding to sit down onto the roof beside her, boots almost grazing the top of the bristling body of money below. “I guess that’s true. This was a strange akuma, LB.”

After a pause, Ladybug replied. “Yes. It definitely was. I feel bad for the old man, he really seemed to just want a better life for himself and other fishermen.”

Another beep.

“I don’t think anyone can fault him that,” Chat responded, and they both fell quiet and watched the chaos start to calm. He must be close and spotted the bait.

Ladybug was going to change back in just another few minutes, and still the akuma hadn’t appeared. Even if they did manage to defeat it in time, it was sort of a shame. It had been awhile since he’d seen his partner, and Chat admittedly missed her company. Ladybug was one of his best friends, and… well, given the nature of their relationship, he felt like he should tell her about his recent interest in someone else. It’s not like it mattered really, but he loved Ladybug in the sort of way you would only with someone you’ve nearly died for, and who has nearly died for you.

With the recent luck he’s had as Adrien, Chat felt it was the sort of good news he could share with her and that she might want to know about. Even if he wouldn’t be able to refer to Marinette by name, it was something so new and pure that made him happy it was almost like lying to not talk about her. A lie of omission, almost.

Again, Ladybug’s earrings beeped, and Chat fidgeted uncomfortably.  “So… how are you?”

She blinked down at him, brow drawn together. “What?”

Rubbing his neck, Chat clarified. “Well, you know, it’s been a little while and…”

A horrible grinding sound caused them both to jump, and Chat sprang to his feet while Ladybug returned her focus forward. The baton was starting to bend under a sudden weight, and a swishing release of Ladybug’s “line” began zipping loudly over the water.

“This is it!” She said, but the sudden intensity of Pêcheur’s grip at the other end was starting to pull her over the building’s edge. Without a second thought, Chat situated himself behind her and wrapped his arms around the baton as well, using their combined strength and weight to doubleback against the line, and he cringed at the sound of beeping just beneath his head.

“Ladybug! You only two minutes left!” He managed, grinding his molars.

“It’s okay. I’ve got this,” she spoke confidently, and quick tug his baton began to retract in, dragging the akuma’s weight along with it.

Of course, just as Ladybug said, the rest was simple. Pêcheur’s body had gotten tied up in the wire of her yo-yo, unable to escape though he thrashed like a fish just caught from the ocean. Quicker than they ever had before, Chat leapt up, snatched the akuma and threw it down to his partner, and she quickly ripped the papers to shreds.

Ladybug bid the luminescent, glowing akuma farewell, and stayed only long enough to offer Chat her fist.

Pound it!” She smiled before, in perfect Ladybug fashion, bugging out in the other direction.

Sighing contently, he watched her go from the rooftops, looking down into the center of Paris with satisfaction. Another successful battle, and Chat watched as the people began to return to their wares, ducking out from buildings hesitantly.

With some gentle reassurances, Chat helped escort the akumatized victim to the medical professionals, and he caught the tailend of a conversation between the man and Mayor Bourgeois.

“I really do apologize, Monseiur Naser. I’ll at least see if I can take it to my colleagues, but I do not know how much power I will have.”

“T-thank you, Mayor. I appreciate you even trying to make a change.”

Chat sighed and removed himself as politely as possible from the crowds, trying to disengage from the probes about Ladybug’s whereabouts or his take on the recent dry spell of akumas. Of course, he did his best to answer vaguely but kindly, and thanks to Ladybug’s power any of the pain or soreness from his body had been wicked away.

Paris had been defended, but that didn’t mean he felt his job was done. Chat still had someone waiting for him, halfway across town, but what had been intended as a short break between shooting for the new Gabriel ad had been totally sucked up in the attack. Once again, responsibility got in the way of seeing Marinette, and it had only been so fleeting. Chat did not want to jeopardize the recent headway he had made with his relationship with his father, so he was resigned to return to his civilian life.

Chat Noir took to the sky and his feet only touched the tops of buildings long enough to propel him into the air again, preferring the open wind to the chains of gravity that would return him to himself soon.

Carefully, he slipped into an alley behind the studio he was expected in and spoke three familiar words.

“Plagg, claws in.”

Adrien held his palms out carefully, and his black kwami settled himself comfortably against his chosen’s fingers. Unfortunately, Adrien had only brought cheese enough for one detransformation, and Plagg knew as much.

Grumbling, the kwami curled in on himself, much like the creature that gave Chat Noir his namesake. “If ya can gets me something with some cheese in it, I’ll forgive you... this time.”

Adrien smiled. “There’s a snack table in the back. It’s not camembert, but I’m pretty sure they have some cheeses.”

At that, Plagg mustered enough energy to float into the front pocket of Adrien’s jacket, urging him on towards the dressing rooms.

Adrien stopped in the middle of the hallway, spotting some floral arrangement with a flower he actually recognized. It was part of one of the “sets” for the shoot, he assumed, as it was complex and larger than life. This had been the first time he had been able to utilize Marinette’s lessons in all things floral outside of the shop, and the recognition caused his heart to skip a beat.

He wasn’t sure what came over him, and Plagg certainly did not understand why Adrien felt the urge to stop in the middle of his Holy Grail quest with cheese at the helm, but in a quick motion the blond had his phone in his hands and was snapping a picture of the flowers.

 

Adrien (3:01 PM):

I’m at a shoot today. I saw these and I thought of you. :)

 

The only disappointing thing was that he knew it wasn’t a Dupain-Cheng product - those were easy to spot. With each delivery he had seen Marinette prepare, rather as Chat Noir or as Adrien, he always noticed the tag she would attached to the outside somewhere with care; a handwritten note thanking each customer for their business.

“I’m dying, Adrien,” Plagg called dramatically, turning over inside his jacket. “I’ll never be able to help you fight another akuma again, or sneak into your girlfriend’s room late at night.”

Hastily, the teen shoved his phone back in his jeans and made a beeline for the snack table, shoving enough cheese into his jacket to satiate a fully grown human.

Adrien took off his coat in the dressing room and left Plagg to his disturbing feasting rituals, staying only long enough to grab his phone and take it out to the set with him.

 

Marinette (3:08 PM):

What a coincidence!! I just sold some of those earlier today! They’re (bouvardia) Hummingbird flowers. Sorta like those latanas you sold the other day. :D

 

Marinette (3:08 PM)

Although Mme. Kleinstein probably would’ve bought anything from you with those freakin puns.

 

He grinned, walking down the hall. Adrien wasted no time writing back, stopping just shy of the shooting area so he could finish his message.

 

Adrien (3:09 PM):

That was the best sale the store has ever made and you know it! I gtg, we’re about to start again - but I thought they were pretty and knew you would appreciate them.

 

“Aye! There you are!” The photographer called, snapping her fingers aggressively halfway across the room.

“S-Sorry,” Adrien stammered as he slipped his phone into his jeans, but the woman simply glared suspiciously before turning her attention back to fixing her camera.

Around the studio, clusters of people moved around in preparation. Set designers, wardrobe, make-up, photographers and aids, Nathalie, magazine editors and people with clipboards all fluttered about, busying themselves with this-or-that. You wouldn’t even know the whole city hadn’t been under siege not twenty minutes ago.

Adrien hadn’t much time to think about it before he was swept up in the din, being shuffled back into his next outfit and having hands poking and prodding around his body. It felt annoyingly like the sensation of getting smashed by a tidal wave of change, just a little less sharp.

Still, he was thankful that most of his shots today were ones requiring happy poses. With recent events, that posture came naturally and his smile felt less forced. The photographers commented on his unusually but refreshingly chipper attitude, and he could only blush when Nathalie mentioned off-handedly that he had a date tomorrow night.

It was true, and it’s not like he was ashamed of it.

Between shots, different people would whisper to him about it, and he tried to just brush it off with the same answer.

“I’m excited! Just a little nervous.”

For whatever reason, it turned out that had been the wrong thing for Adrien to say. Several of the adults took his honesty as an opportunity to grant him all sorts of unsolicited advice and to offer tips from their wide experiences dating.

Adrien knew most of these people moderately well - business acquaintances, he would probably label them. Some were comfortable enough to be on a first-name basis, but it wasn’t without an arm’s-length of familiarity between them, so discussing something so personal with people like this was… strange, definitely. But more than that, it was nice. Everyone was clearly excited for him, asking all sorts of questions about Marinette and their plans, how they met and how he asked her out. The photographer, Lila, audibly “aww’d” when he told her about her employment as (practical) sole proprietor of the flower shop.

By the time the next break came, an hour had passed and Adrien felt like he had just finished having the most bizzare group therapy session imaginable. Between the overwhelming positivity of the people around the studio and their decidedly bizarre interest in his love life, he strode to his dressing room to check on Plagg when another model spotted him.

“Oh, hi, Macey.” Adrien stopped and nodded politely. She was a brunette with a dark complexion, taller than his father probably, and he knew she was about five years older than he was. They had done dozens of shoots together for the Gabriel line, and she tended to treat him like a younger brother. While Macey wasn’t quite a friend, she was at least always polite and easy to talk to.

“So A,” she said, hand at her hip. “Tell me about Marinette.”

A rush of blood flooded his cheeks, and the woman laughed. She gestured for them to continue down the hall, which gave him a chance to clear his throat.

“Well, she’s in my class at school - I’m not sure how much you heard out there…?”

She brushed him off. “I want to hear it all again. From the top.”

The explanation felt practically rehearsed after talking to so many people about Marinette recently, so it only took a few minutes to re-explain his friendship and admiration for the dark-haired miracle in his life.

They were standing outside Adrien’s dressing room by the time Adrien finished.

“So you like her. Marinette.”

“Um,” Adrien blinked. Had she even been listening? Wasn’t that much obvious? “Yes. A-a lot, actually.”

“As in, maybe-one-day-a-serious-relationship?”

He nodded firmly, omitting the comment that popped into his head about the possibility they might already be in a relationship if not for his own obliviousness.

Lowering her voice, Macey glanced down the hall.

“Well, then, I’m really happy for you, A. Really.” She smiled, as Adrien was clearly confused. “But take it from me - be careful with the press, especially early on. I lost a lot of good guys to the stress brought on by the paparazzi.”

Ah. Right. That… actually made a lot of sense.

“I guess I didn’t really think about that, I’m just so used to it...” He admitted, tapping his chin.

Macey closed her eyes and nodded, satirically serious. “The burden of fame, my friend. I know it’ll be fine, but I couldn’t not say something. It really sucks if a story gets out of hand, you know?”

Adrien thanked her, and Macey left him to his room. As he entered, he found Plagg snoozing beneath his jacket, so Adrien looked around for his cellphone.

Crap.

He left it in his jeans, which were still over in wardrobe.

Sighing, he sat at the mirror and considered Macey’s advice. It was reminiscent of a rumor that had gotten out about him and Marinette once, and in retrospect, it was funny to think about it now. Someone had taken a photo of them at the park beside her house, under rather embarrassing circumstances if he recalled correctly, and the photo went viral with claims of a secret relationship. At the time, Marinette had taken the gossip in stride and insisted it wasn’t an issue, and like most tabloid fodder, it died out rather quickly since no one in the Agreste circle acknowledged the photos.

A photo or two was innocent enough, so they had no problem dismissing the public speculation surrounding their friendship. But now? If he and Marinette continued to spend more time together (a thought which made him grin in spite of himself), the winds would likely stir the rumor mill all over again.

The irony of all of this was not lost on him.

Adrien had grown up under the constant scrutiny associated with fame, bulbs flashing and shouts commandeering his attention just walking down the sidewalk. The press knew no boundaries, demanding answers on anything and everything ranging from French politics, to the disappearance of his mother, to his take on Chat Noir and Ladybug. Incidentally, when he first wore his miraculous, admiring fans had already been second nature at that point.

Would Marinette be okay with the publicity?

…Maybe?

She was sort of shy, but fierce when she wanted to be. It’s not like you had to be an extrovert to deal with photographers - look at his father, for example.

Still, Adrien didn’t want to upset her or make her uncomfortable. Especially as he’s gotten older and come to, um, understand romance in a more adult context, he could imagine plenty of horrible headlines that could really start them off on unfortunate footing. It’s not like footing was something something Marinette was exactly known for...

“Plagg - I got a question for you.” Adrien pondered, glancing over at the clock. They’ll need him again in another five minutes.

“Adrien, I swear to the stars,” his kwami mumbled. “If Paris isn’t on fire, I’ll cataclysm you.”

The teen smirked, though took a few steps back for good measure. “Can you even do that?”

Do you really want to find out?” Plagg replied darkly, but lifted his head and met his stare with a half-lidded glare.

“Nope.” Adrien help up his hands. “Actually, I think I just figured out my answer. Go back to sleep, grumpy.”

His kwami did not need telling twice, and his head lowered beneath Adrien’s jacket again. Tiny snores came almost immediately.

Rolling his eyes, Adrien headed out the door and made his way back to the front of the studio. Despite Plagg’s bad attitude, he actually had answered Adrien’s question. All he had to do was ask for the kwami’s attention, and Plagg’s reaction was answer enough to know how the conversation would go.

Why not just do the same thing with Marinette? Not everything had to be a riddle or require a complicated plan. Adrien respected her too much to make assumptions on what she might feel.

By the time he was in front of the camera again, Adrien’s mood was bright again. Some of the set workers still occasionally whispered questions to him about Marinette, which made him blush more than once (each time, the photographer or makeup artist would yell in annoyance. Red cheeks were good for a winter ad, not one with floral backdrops). Aside from those interruptions, the remainder of the shoot passed without issue.

They were all dismissed just a bit few minutes after six, but by the time Adrien had finished changing and washing his face, he wasn’t in the car until quarter-til seven. Sinking comfortably into the seat, he finally sought out his phone. He had fifteen texts from the group chat, and from a separate, private conversation.

 

Marinette (3:11 PM):

Thanks for sharing, that was really sweet. And np - good luck!

 

You would think he would be tired of smiling after a photoshoot, but then, he was also lucky enough to have something to look forward to afterwards.

Thinking through a response, Adrien studied the streets as the car rolled by. Vermillion streaks of maroon velvet had begun to explode across the sky, rippling outwards against a swirling miasma of night that began to overtake Paris. Softening, the day was mending beneath the horizon as night came to reign again. It was both dark and luminous, all at once, reminding him of Marinette’s hair as it bounced down the sidewalk.

No, wait.

That was just her, walking home.

“Oh!” He blurted, shooting upright.

Nathalie jumped, and she turned to him sharply. “What is it? Are you alright?”

Adrien blushed, still staring at the window. They were stopped at a light, so Marinette just floated off towards the bakery, towards her home.

“Umm…” He glanced at Nathalie, who was staring at him with hard eyes, and his bodyguard, who was completely not reacting at all.

“Y-yes, I’m fine! It’s just, Marinette is right outside. Could we offer her a ride home?”

The two in the front met eyes, his father’s secretary pursing her lips, and they both glanced at the time on the dash.

“...Pull over,” Nathalie commanded, and the driver did just that at the first chance.

Adrien hastily thanked them and practically flung himself onto the sidewalk, running to catch up with her.

“Marinette! Mari!” Adrien called, speeding past a few alarmed pedestrians. Perhaps she had been examining her cellphone from within her purse, because her pigtails shot up at the call of her name, and she turned around.

“H-hey!” He greeted, stopping and panting in front of her from the sudden sprint. Marinette blinked, nonplussed, and shook her head.

“Adrien? What are you…?” She clasped her bag shut, but smiled as she spoke his name.

He tried to smile back, still slightly bent forward from his exertion. “I was just driving home from the photoshoot… we were stopped at the light,” he jerked over his thumb in the general direction of the car, and Marinette peered over his shoulder. “And I saw you walking. Did you just get out of work?”

Marinette covered her mouth to laugh lightly, and nodded. “Yes, and earlier than I hoped. That akuma scared away a lot of my customers.”

“Oh. Sure.” He rubbed his hands together anxiously, not sure what to say to that.

Silence came thereafter, but it wasn’t awkward. Marinette was just radiant, both physically and by way of her presence alone. She seemed to diffuse happiness into the air itself, and Adrien drank it all in.

It was almost too much when her cheeks turned pink.

Adrien cleared his throat and gestured behind him. “Did you want a ride home? We could take you.”

Marinette’s mouth fell open slightly, surprised. “O-oh, really? I would… I would love that, actually, if you’re sure it’s no trouble.”

He laughed and started to guide them back to the car. “Nah, it’s fine. You’re the only one who attracts trouble, after all.”

Adrien leaned down and grabbed the door, opening it for her. Marinette scrunched her nose, always acting sort of flustered when he would try to behave chivalrously.

Quietly, before stepping in, her blue eyes sparkled. “Should I start calling you trouble, then?”

Marinette closed the door for herself, smiling proudly at what was probably his stunned expression. He was still working through the joke by the time she was buckled in, and he had to scramble around street-side to get in, blushing and grinning at her all the while.

Beside the goofy glimpses they shared on the way back to the bakery, sticking their tongues out or winking dramatically, trying to fight the urge to laugh, the actual conversation remained perfectly cordial. Marinette asked Nathalie how she was doing, and apologized for her mother’s insistence the other day (Adrien guessed she heard it all second-hand from Sabine and Tom once she got home), and she and Adrien spoke about their days.

Well, besides the whole turning into Chat Noir and protecting Paris for almost two hours. He decided to leave that part out.

Towards the end of the ride, Marinette began to bounce lightly against the lush seats, brightening as she retrieved her cell phone. “Your text was really nice, b-by the way. I love Bouvardia, they’re the flower of enthusiasm!”

“I’m glad,” Adrien responded with a smile “I like how enthusiastic you get when you talk about all flowers, so this is like, enthusiasm about enthusiasm.”

“Meta-enthusiasm,” Marinette closed her eyes and nodded solemnly, peeking through a lid and catching his eye. They both grinned and snickered quietly.

“Yeah,” he said with a small, contented sigh as he gazed at the streets. They were very near to her house now. “I always think of you when I see flowers anymore. I hope that’s not weird,”

he tagged on the last part hastily, hoping she didn’t see the color fill his cheeks.

“The shop is like, one of my favorite places in the city.”

Marinette’s smile reached her eyes, and she too was looking out the window. The lights of street lamps that hit her face in a sort of constant flutter. It made her look almost angelic.

“Mine, too,” she commented, voice soft.

They pulled to a stop just outside of the bakery, and he could see Tom inside with a broom, sweeping the front of the store.

“Well…” Marinette said, rubbing her hands on her jeans. She looked nervous, which only made her even more adorable.

Adrien turned to her and tried for some confidence, very aware of the adults in the car and her father fifteen feet away in the building. “I’ll see you tomorrow, after you get off of work?”

Ducking her head, Marinette nodded vigoriously and started to get out the door. She paused halfway through and looked back inside the car.

“Thank you, Adrien, for taking me home. And thank you, Mme. Sancoeur and, um, Adrien’s driver.”

“You’re welcome,” Nathalie said, keeping her eyes forward.

Adrien scooted down the seat slightly, leaning towards her. If only he could tell her how beautiful she looked right now, hair framing her face and eyes wide, turned up in kindness.

“Can I... call you again tonight?” He managed shyly.

Adrien lost a bit of his will power when she beamed at him, causing her freckles dancing under the light of the moon. He reached for her hand resting on the open door and, as gently as he could, kissed her knuckles. Glancing up, Adrien hoped the action spoke the word he was too embarrassed to say aloud.

Please?

Her own gaze looked only surprised, but if he didn’t know better, her skin had darkened from the gesture. A tiny bit smug, Adrien thought she looked much less offended than when Monseiur Delcair kissed her hand a week ago.

“I- I, yes. Yes.” She nodded and gave his fingers a light squeeze before pulling away. “I would like you very much. I-I mean, I would like that very much! I’m, I’ll… uh, see you!” Quickly, she waved and tagged on a squeaky “‘Bye!”

The door closed firmly and he watched her scurry up to the door, nearly colliding with the frame on her way inside.

Night proper had settled across Paris, dark and enigmatic, yet the city of love had never seemed so bright. Adrien felt like he was dreaming already, and he when he arrived home after mercifully little questioning from Nathalie, he had never wanted to sleep so readily. The next day, he would take Marinette on their first date, and the hours could not pass fast enough.

Chapter Text

Lying in bed, Adrien stirred  from an immersive sleep, filled by hazy dreams of warm cheeks and silky, raven hair, delicate fingers and hungry kisses. He groaned, rolling over slightly beneath the sheets; it should be illegal for a dream that lovely to be cut short.

Even so, as he blinked away the dreary bonds of fantasy that kept him a mile into his mattress, Adrien woke rather easily.

Lately, sleep was refreshing, but it was also a distant, cheap substitute for reality.

Everything was more vivid these days, his smiles and his laughs purer, his steps and temperament lighter. Marinette was filling up everything he had, everything he knew, like a viscous liquid that crept into the crevices of his world and rid each one of any memory that once stung with absence. His relationship with his father was already improving. He felt like he could be more honest with Nino, and they had talked via text or by phone almost every night this week about his… “situation.” Adrien had learned to appreciate coffee, what his own favorite flower was, and that an unbelievable amount of thought goes into planning a wedding, down to the fabric a bride chooses to accent her bouquet.

Stretching, the blond sighed contently as he sat up from the mattress and spotted his kwami, still sleeping just a few inches away. The eighth hour of morning was just slipping away, day brightening by degrees beneath an overcast sky. They didn’t have anywhere to be for nine hours... (and two minutes, thirty-eight seconds, not that he was counting), so Adrien began his day quietly to let his kwami sleep in.

He was certain Plagg would never admit it, but the green-eyed, camembert-loving little nuisance clearly liked Marinette too. He had been less irritable since Adrien had started spending time with her, and though there was likely some cheese-bread-bribery involved in Plagg’s evaluation, it was nice that his kwami supported his decisions. The longer they went between visits to the shop, the more Plagg slipped into his typical dyspeptic self - maybe the black cat just enjoyed the opportunity to slip out of Adrien’s jacket and hide in the bushes? Maybe he had a soft spot for flowers? That would make sense, because, as it turned out, so did Adrien.

The shop was a temple, and he was a worshipper unworthy of its delicacy. From floor to glass ceiling, the air emitted subtle, warming sensibilities in the shape of vines, petals, and a peculiar girl in a green apron. It made his heart flutter against his ribs to even imagine her, sitting in her stool and weaving a floral tiara like a mark of wild royalty. In those walls, Marinette was a princess of the metropolitan boscage, abloom with vibrancy despite the perimeter of concrete jungle. Anyone fortunate enough to wander into her wilderness was bestowed good graces by her kingdom, an unsolicited blessing to all the people of France.

Adrien couldn’t stop thinking about her, and she wasn’t even here.

How had Plagg put it again?

Girls got me down to a science, without even trying.

Yep. That was it.

Sure, in an academic context, Marinette’s performance last year in science class was, um… less than stellar . But in the complex balances and bonds of relationships? She was a master scientist, precise in her measurements and methodology. Marinette knew exactly how to love and tend to something while it grows, and blooms, and thrives.

Too bad Francious-DuPont didn’t offer plant pathology, Adrien thought with a shameless smile; Marinette would ruin the curve for the whole class.

Floating through his morning routine, the teen showered, dressed, and headed down to breakfast. While a predictably bland meal waited for him at the bottom of the stairs, he had no trouble finding ways to get excited. His withdrawal symptoms had him strung out, craving anything that might pass the time sooner, so he might see her again, hear her voice, admire the softness of her cheeks and the way her voice tinkled like a crisp bell on a wintery morning, sharp against the pillows of snow.

Adrien bit into his toast and tasted sunshine flavored by flora and loam, swallowing to the comforting thought of her.

He had barely been able to contain the desire until now, and knowing they would be together, just the two of them (well, and probably his kwami) with an evening charged by romance would be too much. Adrien knew he would not be able to deny himself anymore; tonight, he was going to kiss her.

Breakfast slowed while he thought about that prospect in particular, falling through the fantasies and questions and curiosities. He imagined their warm, languid breaths mingling together, but how might her lips tremble with his? Would she be excited, or nervous? Passionate and hungry? Gently, or fiercely, would she press back against his own advances?

Adrien gulped when he felt his phone buzz, realizing he finished eating several minutes ago.

 

Nino (9:54 AM):

Sup bro? Ready for tonight?

 

To say he was ready would be an understatement, and Adrien chuckled at how hopeless he had become.

 

Adrien (9:55 AM):

Yes, I think so. Thanks for having my back with this, btw. How are you?

 

His heart was in a far worse place than it had ever been with Ladybug. While the masked, elusive woman would always have a special spot in his heart as his first love, the way he felt with Marinette was different. The girl turned to a puddle of nerves when they spoke, which only made her more adorable when she shot bashful glimpses in his direction. If he smiled, her cheeks warmed, and the color was flattering against the piquant depths of her eyes.

There was a new, exciting part of this too, and it came in the form of a memory.

It was a feeling that had gone out the door not soon after his mother, flitting from his repertoire of fixed smiles and polite postulations that he’d learn to perfect over the years. Adrien had grown so used to simplex relationships that reciprocity was nearly a foreign concept, almost forgotten, but Marinette brought it back.

She made him feel wanted , for who he was.

Not what he was - model, wealthy, superhero, or a foot in the door to fashion. But who he was - Adrien. Just another guy she went to school with, who had been lucky enough to become friends with Nino, and then the girls by association. He, beneath it all, had some semblance of the life of any other normal teenager. He liked video games and fencing, he could eat sweets by the armful and he had an objectively perfect sense of humor. She had treated all parts of him - those that she saw through his civilian self or his inner-cat - with only respect and kindness.

Marinette made him feel wanted and appreciated, and it made him want to return the feeling. He wanted her to love him, he wanted her to fall in love with him.

As Chat, when they spent time together, everything was forcefully separated by degrees. He could never be too direct with his friendship while he was masked for the sake of her safety, lest Hawkmoth or someone else learned of their bond and treat her as a target. But even so, she demonstrated an unbelievable amount of care and sensitivity towards him beneath their ever-mirthful banter.

When Adrien’s phone buzzed again, he nearly dropped it from his daydreaming.

 

Nino (10:04 AM):

np man, I’m excited for you too! Plus Alya won’t stop on it. I’m starting to think she ships you guys more than she ships us. Lol

 

Adrien grinned at his phone and stood from the kitchen table, marching the ingrained path to his bedroom and typing a response.

 

Adrien (10:05 AM):

lol that sounds like Alya… Did you still want to get together for lunch tomorrow?

 

At the landing, the blond paused and returned to his messages with Marinette from the previous night. Their conversation cut-off abruptly when he called her, but reading back, he still found himself grinning a Chesire smile

 

Marinette (Yesterday, 8:31 PM):

Sorry I got caught up w/ some design thing - did you still want to talk? I’m free now.

 

The memories were so fresh, but strangely untethered to time and space even with the timestamp. They had gone to bed way later than either of them intended, and their conversation had been light and natural. Marinette laughed at his “dumb” jokes while Adrien defended his pride, and they talked about everything from Mecha Strike to piano, favorite holidays to the last time she redecorated her room. Minutes became hours, and his desire to be the one to elicit another laugh from her, to hear that euphoric music bubble at her lips in the form of an adorable giggle, was insatiable.

Adrien had noticed something the longer they spoke. If she laughed especially hard, Marinette would release the smallest, most delightful little exhale afterwards, and it undid any attempts he had of acting nonchalant everytime. It was a precious observation, just a tiny sigh of vulnerability, and it was more of those minute details he yearned for.

Nino texted him again, and the vibration roused him. He realized he had been inanely standing outside his bedroom, thumbing through his messages instead of entering his room like a normal human being.

It was borderline unfair, that the delight that came by a cheeky smile and pink lips had basically stripped him of nearly seventeen-years of common sense. Then again, nothing about Marinette was common, and nothing about how madly he wanted to see her was sensible.

Unfair, maybe, but Adrien was happy to accept this fate.

He entered the room and spotted Plagg, now awake, laying completely prone and staring at the ceiling from atop his camembert hiding place. Upon Adrien’s arrival, the kwami didn’t even bother to look in his direction.

“Breakfast cheese is the best cheese,” Plagg yawned, his lazy statement somehow sounding like a greeting.

Adrien rolled his eyes and strode towards his desk, sitting but not interested with his computer.

 

Nino (10:08 AM):

Yaaaaaaassssss! But ill have to push back for like 1:30 instead. Working on some set stuff for my show on friday.

 

Nino (10:09 AM):

but seriously - tonight? Im free basically the whole time so if you wanna talk post-date lemme know! You’ll kill it bro.

 

Adrien wrinkled his nose, but smiled as he constructed a response.

 

Adrien (10:09 AM):

I hope I don’t - if our first date ends with me killing her, then I have to imagine I’m doing something wrong.

 

The joke seemed sufficient to stave off Nino’s questions, but it didn’t exactly rid Adrien of his own anxieties. This would be his first real date. He was a bit older than his peers to start dating - Alya and Nino got together, what, a year and a half ago? Ivan and Mylene have been together for longer, and Rose and Juleka revealed they’d been together for almost as long a few months ago, and those were just the people with established relationships. How many of his friends probably “dated around?”

Adrien bit his lip at the very teenage-worries that crept up to rattle his nerves a little further. It’s not like he was a sex-starved, hormone-driven mess of a high schooler, but the sort of “unspoken but known” truth that people around him were having sex and he hadn’t even gone on a date yet was… unnerving? Embarrassing? Strange, and uncomfortable to think about? All of the above?

As far as he knew, Marinette hadn’t dated anyone.

Adrien felt some comfort in that, his palms a little less clammy at the idea of slipping his fingers around her own, knowing she was just as green to this unnavigated world as he was.

Whatever expression had situated onto his face must have been amusing, because the silence broke with an abrupt cackle as a spot of black flashed across the room.

Plagg laughed at him, rather pointedly, and Adrien scowled.

What ?”

The kwami flew around him and landed at the nape of the blond’s neck, lolling backwards so his head hung over Adrien’s shoulder.

“You’ve got that look again, and it’s just my new favorite.”

Adrien pursed his lips. “For my guardian or guide or whatever, I feel like you bully me an awful lot.”

As if reiterating that same point, Adrien’s kwami poked his neck and added, “Maybe, but I know when you’re all up in your brain getting worked up over something dumb. Someone’s got to keep you grounded around here. ”

“Is that a pun?” He swatted at the presence below his ear. “Cause I’ve been grounded plenty thanks to you.”

Plagg scoffed and batted a hand. “Oh stop , would you just relax? You’re just lovesick and nervous about your date with your new girlfriend .”

Adrien swallowed, surprised by the arid desert that had replaced his throat. It was almost funny that a week ago, Plagg using that slang to refer to Marinette would have made Adrien roll his eyes or defensively fluster for an answer. Now, the teen didn’t mind at all. In fact, he blushed at the suggestion, but smiled dreamily at the possibilities attached to the label.

Another vibration in his hand captured his attention, and Adrien’s gaze flickered down to evaluate Nino’s response.

It wasn’t Nino.

Adrien shot up to standing so fast he gave himself a bit of headrush, and Plagg flinched backwards and almost rolled off his back.

“Ay!” The kwami protested in annoyance.

“Ah,” Adrien grimaced. “Sorry, Plagg. Just - Marinette um... “

Cat eyes narrowed up at him, but his kwami simply scrunched his nose and forced down whatever whining readied itself at his lips.

“Whatever, as long as you don’t keep me up all night tonight…” He grumbled, waving a hand.

Wearing a sheepish grin, Adrien glanced down at his phone and sat back at his desk (just standing in the middle of his room felt a little weird).

 

Marinette (10:12 AM):

Welp, i overslept *and* i have some really wonderful bags under my eyes. Blaming both of these on you, im afraid.

 

Marinette (10:12 AM):

… but I would be lying if I said I was sorry about it. See you tonight at 6:30…. “Anything.” :s

 

Adrien pursed his lips, considering a response. He wanted to feel guilty, but much like Marinette said, he wasn’t at all sorry for keeping her up. (Okay, maybe a little , but it had been so worth it). He slipped into the memories of their conversation from yesterday.

 

 


 

 

Propped up against the headboard, Adrien curled up on beneath his comforter with a pillow in his lap. He cleared his throat, twice, and studied the face of his phone. With a low exhale, he moved the device to his ear, and the ringing felt like it went on and on and on.

“Hello,” Marinette’s cheery voice answered, and he relaxed immediately. She was so easy to get worked up about if he postulated for too long, but just the smallest piece of her - a picture, her voice, even just reading her name pop up on his phone was enough to melt the tension right off him.

Adrien greeted her comfortably. “Hi, Mari. What’s the ‘design thing’ I interrupted?”

“Design…? Oh, no,” she laughed mirthlessly. “It’s just a gown I’ve been working on, but I’d much rather be talking to you.”

He felt his heart-rate pick up, and it was clear by Marinette’s reaction she hadn’t intended to be so brash this early in the conversation.

“I-I mean, talking to you is a way better way to pass the time than agonizing over this dumb thing.”

“Oh? And what’s dumb about it?” Adrien questioned. She always talked so fondly of the opportunity to have a needle in her hand, so her statement came as a surprise.

There was a pause, and Marinette’s voice was softer than before. “It’s just, I’m tired of it. I’ve been working on this for so long and it never seems to be right. Has that ever happened to you?”

“Mmm…” Adrien hummed, trying to imagine what she was doing right now. He was probably more frustrated than he had a right to be that he couldn’t picture it. Was she laying in bed? Standing on her balcony, or sitting at her desk?

Continuing to sit in silence might seem suspect, if not a little creepy when he considered what was occupying his thoughts, so Adrien coughed and tried to come up with a reasonable answer. “I… yeah, I think so. I’m not much of the creative type, though. But I’m sure you’re being hyperbolic. You’re an excellent designer from what I’ve seen, Mari.”

“Wel-well, thank you. I was the winner of that bowler contest, if you recall.” She giggled, and it sounded a little nervous. Somehow it only made her cuter, and Adrien was glad he had the chance to talk to her on the phone a little more before their date. Just listening to her laugh brought a suspicious rush of scarlet to his cheeks.

“Well, technically,” he challenged, a mischievous grin spreading. “I believe Chloe won, and you took the win right out from under her nose.”

That only made Marinette giggle harder.

God , he could listen to that sound forever. She just sounded so happy when she laughed.

“Yeah, that’s exactly how it happened. You know me, always sneaking in and stealing the win.”

He made his voice incredibly offended, though the curve of his lips would have given him away. “I know, right? First, the bowler hat, then Max’s video game tournament, and then you even took Wii bowling from me . You’re a monster.”

“Hey!” She remarked, and he could hear the smile in her voice. “It’s not my fault I have a natural talent for weird things, but I’m a total mess when it comes to literally everything else. Walking, talking, homework… that’s all blah. But you put a wiimote in my hand and bam . Hole in one.”

Adrien snorted, absently lifting a hand to scratch Plagg’s head. A tiny purr followed.

“That’s the wrong sport, Marinette.”

“See? Conversations… not exactly my speciality.”

He chuckled and shook his head, more than a little regretful he failed to ask her out sooner. They might be having this conversation snuggled in his blanket together, where he could see her smile instead of having to imagine it.

“You know, besides fencing and basketball, I’m really not even into sports.” He mused. “Yet, here we are. I’m beginning to think we don’t have anything else in common. Quick, tell me about your day!”

Marinette didn’t respond at first, and Adrien felt just the lightest echo of worry that he had made her doubtful. Of course they had more in common than that, but he knew if he started down that road he might lose his will and just sneak out to see her again. She was both magnetic and enigmatic, and it was like the more he knew about her, the less he felt he really knew her, and wanted to know even more. Marinette had become his favorite riddle, and if he tried to number the ways he’d fallen hard for her, he’d be up all night.

A crisp, kind voice interrupted his idle admirations, and he blinked as he struggled to pay attention. “It was… really lovely, actually. A little hectic because of the akuma, though. I didn’t make a lot of sales, but… that was still good. It gave me time to get the store in order so I’ll be, um, ready to leave in time… for, ah, tomorrow?”

Adrien wondered if she could hear his heartbeat in her ear, a quiet tremor of excitement rising at the mention of their date. He could certainly hear it in his own.

“I’m glad,” he said, trying to keep his voice even. “I’m really happy you made time for this. For our date, I mean. This conversation, too.”

The voice that answered was saccharine and forgiving, a whisper of sincerity that turned his throat dry.

“I’m really looking forward to it, Adrien.”

Was that his name? He forgot for a moment. It sounded so different coming from Marinette.

Before he could respond, a snicker came on the line followed by a quip. “Oh, right. I was supposed to start calling you Trouble .”

Adrien laughed, wiggling his toes under the blanket and curling closer in on himself. Whatever this attitude Marinette had developed when they talked now was just… just... so endearing .

It was like the dark-haired girl had chosen him to share a secret with, and she was slowly and thoughtfully revealing more each time they spoke. The changes were subtle, and if Adrien didn’t have the blessing-and-curse of a double-life, he wouldn’t have been able to appreciate how much it meant to see the two sides of her come together.

Even better, when Marinette acted like this, Adrien knew she was flirting with him. The dynamic was different now, not just amusement or compassion, but sort of hesitant and temptatious, a small invitation to see if this was okay. The thought excited him that she wanted to flirt with him.

You can call me anything,” he flirted right back. “ But I can’t say I minded when you called me cute yesterday.”

She flustered a bit, and Adrien felt a small swell of pride.

“I’ll, um remember… that.”

It reminded him of when Nino had taught him how to play poker, and he had just raised her bet.

Once Marinette regained her wits, however, Adrien could not say he would have expected her to call his wager.

“Alright, Anything ,” her voice dripped with triumph. “I’ll be sure to update your contact in my phone.”

Adrien laughed outright, surprised and pleased by the simple joke.

It was unbelievable to him that his kwami was the image misfortune, because he felt like the most fortunate person in the world.

 

 


 

 

Plagg smacked Adrien with his tail, a sting lashing his cheek.

His hand defended his face, and though it didn’t really hurt, it was more of an affront than anything. “ Ouch! What is wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with me ?” Plagg parroted in a whisper. “The assistant lady is at your door, you nimrod. She’s been knocking for a minute straight!”

Adrien’s eyes grew wide with surprise, and true to his kwami’s word, a rapt brush of knuckles tapped on the other side of his door.

“C-coming!” He called, scrambling to standing up while Plagg flew away to hide. Almost stumbling to get to the door, Adrien shook his head and tried to focus.

“H-hi, Nathalie, what can I do for you?”

Beyond the frame, to so-name woman stood poised, her hand still curved to a fist in midair as she halted her knocking. Nathalie raised a brow, looking over his conspicuous smile with a doubtful one of her own, but refocused her attention to the tablet in her hands.

“Your father is requesting you in his office,” she chirped dutifully, and Adrien tried to hide his grimace. While things were less tense between the two, he wasn’t particularly thrilled by any opportunity for them to argue again. Status quo was working just fine, and anything else threatened to ruin that.

“Sure, thank you -- ” He began, starting into the hallway and closing the door behind him. Nathalie took a step back, but she continued to flick through what was probably his schedule.

“Oh,” Adrien paused, tapping his chin. “I just remembered. I am supposed to see Nino tomorrow for lunch?”

Nathalie’s eyes narrowed ever-so-slightly, but she nodded without looking up.

“He texted me and asked if we could push it back to… 1:30?” Adrien half-asked, half-informed his father’s assistant of the change in plans, double-checking his messages to be sure of the time.

The woman’s lips pressed together thinly, and her hands flew along the keys as she made adjustments.

“That is acceptable,” she eventually said. “You have a photoshoot and interview tomorrow afternoon, and you are expected to be there at four, so just be finished and ready to leave from Monsieur Lahiffe’s house at 3:30 PM.”

Adrien smiled, always glad when Nathalie could be accomodating for sake of his friends. It was sort of distant, but he imagined the woman cared in her own strange way, and he followed a pace behind her as she led the way down the stairs to the foyer.

“Before I release you, there are some things on your agenda for today. First,” Nathalie cleared her throat. “Your date with Mlle. Dupain-cheng is at 6:30 PM this evening, so your car will be ready at 6:00 PM promptly.”

“That’s great,” he replied honestly, hoping the pink tinge to his cheeks wasn’t obvious. It was getting easier to speak about Marinette to other people after the proverbial verbal assault he faced at the photoshoot yesterday, but it was all still a little awkward for him.

Adrien began to turn when they reached the bottom step, eyeing the grand doors to his father’s office wearily. Nathalie, apparently, was not finished, and the words that followed were sharp, reverberating off the cold marble walls.

“And you have an appointment at Le Grand Paris with Mlle. Bourgeois today. Once you are finished with your father, we will head to the hotel.”

Processing that, Adrien furrowed his brow.

“Wait, what? I didn’t know I was supposed to see Chloe today.”

He wasn’t mad, not exactly. Just surprised.

While the blonde girl was not particularly fond of Nino, Alya, and especially Marinette, Adrien still valued her friendship. It was one forged from time rather than commonality as they grew older, but there were certain things he could only relate to with her - growing up with money, under scrutiny, and raised by some of the most famous men in Paris. They still saw each other outside of school occasionally, and he really didn’t mind if the conversation stayed clear of his friends, but Adrien at least expected her to text him first.

“She gave your mobile a call on Saturday,” Nathalie paused, and understanding rushed to greet him. So Chloe did reach out to him, but it was while he didn’t have his phone. It was a little disconcerting to think of Nathalie or his father answering it on his behalf, but that was a conversation for another time. “Your father gathered it had been long enough since you saw your friend, so he arranged for the meeting.”

“Umm… okay, yeah, that’s fine. If one of you would just let me know ahead of time next time, I would appreciate it.”

The woman gave him an amused look, but did not comment. She had in fact let him know on Sunday, but he had been so wrapped up in the excitement with his new “friend”  that she assumed he had forgotten.

She would let it go, just this once.

“Certainly. Now, your father is waiting,” she gestured towards the door, and Adrien affixed an award-winning smile and followed his marching orders. The crisp notes of Nathalie’s heels could be heard rescinding in the other direction, and Adrien cleared his throat before knocking.

“Father?” Adrien spoke carefully, pushing open the double doors slowly and peeking around.

As expected, the man was glaring down at his designscape, studying something on the screen with reverent attention.

“You wanted to see me?”

His gaze flickering up for a moment, Adrien felt himself pale a bit under the intensity. Clearly his father was angry about something, but the focus he had dedicated to the screen instead of his son at least suggested he was not angry with him.

Hopefully...

“Yes, come sit,” beckoned an even voice, and Adrien tried maintain his cool while he shut the door and did as his father bid.

Once seated in the pit around the runway, Adrien took a slow breath and stared at the wall vacantly, trying to remind himself he had only a few more hours until he would see Marinette for their date. Surely he could survive an hour or so with Chloe and whatever this conversation was about to be, Adrien reassured himself.

Though his palpitating heart was a disconcerting milieu to his internal voice, and the mixture of the two did not add up to a very convincing pep-talk. After a few minutes, Adrien started to squirm.

Finally, after a lifetime of anxiety compounded in only a few minutes, his blond hairs popped up to the sharp click of his father’s dress shoes against stone tiles. The sound was a pinch to his nerves, and Adrien unknowingly started to bounce his leg as his father approached.

“Let’s discuss your plans with Mlle. Dupain-Cheng,” his father instructed, taking the seat across the pit and crossing his legs. The man squinted at Adrien’s jittering thigh, and the boy placed a hand on his knee in an effort to stop the bouncing.

Adrien agreed, not exactly sure what he was getting himself into. “Yes, Father?”

Pursed lips appraised him for a moment, and his father adjusted his glasses.

“I want you to cancel them.”

A silence followed, but it was loud as a raging overture. Adrien gripped his knuckles so tightly the skin drew taut, turning white in his sudden anger. He was angry, of course, but he felt more disappointment than anything; he knew something had to go wrong. No way things were working so well in his favor - it was just building up his anticipation so the fall might be twice as hard.

Across from him, Adrien’s father raised a hand and a brow simultaneously. “Let me finish. It’s not what you think.”

Seething, Adrien spat a few words. “Go on, then.”

His father’s jaw clenched, the disapproval clear in the lines of his face. “Don’t get an attitude, son. I said it’s not what you think.”

Adrien just pressed his lips together to keep from saying something else that would surely land him in trouble, so he was resigned to simply lean back and await the lecture.

Sighing, his father met his son’s hardened stare. “Assuming you don’t have a secret life you’ve been keeping from me, you haven’t dated.”

The man tilted his head to one side, smiling slightly when Adrien choked. Surely, his comment was intended as a joke, but Adrien could only hope his father didn’t read into his caustic reaction.

Managing a weak nod, Adrien tried to pay attention as his father continued.

“I want you to enjoy yourself, but I would be lying if I wasn’t worried. She seems… like a good match for you, and clearly you’re excited. As long as you’re happy, I would support your decision if you choose to pursue a relationship with Mlle. Dup -- er, with Marinette .”

That made Adrien redden unexpectedly. It was hard to tell what was more surprising, that his father was being so straightforward, or by the his earlier demand to cancel his date and then his sudden contradictory suggestion.

Adjusting his posture, the stern man continued. “I know you have an evening planned - was it dinner and a movie?”

Adrien considered correcting him - a movie, yes, but dinner, no - but decided to keep his face blank.

“Well, while I wish it wasn’t so, there will be press involved eventually. I don’t expect you to go out with a hood on. That would be unfair to you, and to her. If you are genuinely interested in this girl, I want you to be able to pursue her honestly and openly.”

There was a waver in his father’s typically severe voice, and Adrien eyed him carefully. Looking away instead of forward, he was gazing the portrait at the end of the room. Adrien’s focus followed, coming to rest on the picture as well. His mother was perpetually smiling down at the both of them, her features captured as a sepia phantom beneath flecks of gold. She was obscured, separated from the corporal by burning questions that would probably haunt them both forever.

Sighing, Adrien bit his lip and looked back to his father. He had been thinking about this a lot himself, remembering what Macey had said to him at the photoshoot.

“I thought you said you would let me go on this date. We talked about this all already - and I’ve already told Marinette we’re going out…” Adrien inhaled, refusing to let his voice crack, and continued. “With all due respect Father, I’m going to see her tonight whether or not you’ll allow it.”

A familiar sneer crossed his father’s expression, but Adrien did not back down.

“Of course I’m not forbidding you from seeing her. All I’m asking is you cancel your movie and dinner. Invite her here for dinner, or see if there isn’t something you can do out of the public eye. You could even see if you could rent out a restaurant instead, I don’t mind the bill.” His father’s lip twitched slightly as Adrien’s own mouth had dropped to a comically perfect ‘o’.

Standing, Adrien’s father strode around the pit. His voice softened as he sat beside the teen, placing a hand on the boy’s knee. “Fame is a burden and a gift, son. I... met your mother before our celebrity, but you’ve been born into this. I know you want for it all to be... normal , with your public schooling and your friends, but a relationship is going to be very different. I won’t be able stop the press from making outlandish stories from nothing.” He paused, and Adrien watched him quietly.

“I imagine somewhere more private for your first date might be best. I don’t want you to have to hide anything, especially not because of me, but I also don’t want your chances at... happiness with this girl to be stricken by our name.” His father gulped and drew his hand back, folding it neatly with his other into his lap.

Adrien was decidedly speechless, stomach twisting into intricate knots as he absorbed the words in silence. Macey’s suggestion yesterday had left him with some worries, but Adrien had just figured he would deal with it when he had to. That his father was so concerned that he offered to buy out an entire restaurant for them? That he seem genuinely worried about his ability to have a decent chance with Marinette? That he brought up his mother at all?

This was rather a very elaborate and cruel joke, or an episode of the Twilight Zone: Agreste Edition, because... what the heck was going on ?

“... Dad?” Adrien said eventually, not really sure what else to say, but his father did look up at Adrien’s call.

A beat of empty observation passed, both considering the other in an oddly comfortable silence. Adrien didn’t really feel like speaking, and it seemed his father had said everything he wanted to say.

“I... ” Adrien began, breaking the stare as he leaned over his knees, tracing patterns in the marble with his mind’s eye. “... thank you? I mean, yeah… thanks.”

Clearing his throat, the teen tried to figure out something else to say. “Well… you know, I guess I’ve thought about it too. I don’t want reporters to track her down or demand questions from her… I really, really do like her. I don’t want to mess this up.”

His father’s expression turned strange, a cross between a frustrating scowl and a knowing flash of pride. “Your mother received threats, you know.”

That gave Adrien pause, and his attention flickered back towards the painting on the wall. They hardly ever spoke about Mom, but then, who was he to question the chance to remember her outside the confines of his own memories?

Slowly, he ventured a line of questioning. “I never thought about… what did you guys do?”

Beside him, his father appeared thoughtful with a hand at his chin. “ I didn’t really do anything, though I might have wanted to. Your mother handled herself rather well.”

Adrien snorted unexpectedly, the image of his mother wacking a reporter or a crazed fan with an umbrella coming to mind. She had been a model and an actress in her own right, but neither were famous when they met.

His father wore only a bemused smile and got up, but did not ask what was funny. For some reason, Adrien thought he might already know.

“Well,” Adrien said, leaning back and smiling down at his lap. “I guess I’ll talk to her and see what she would like to do. The plans were her idea, so I’d rather not make the decision for both of us, and I had been planning on asking her about… that whole paparazzi part of this anyways. I’m not sure what else we’ll do, but...”

Now standing on the other side of the runway, his father glanced at his watch. “Yes, that’s acceptable. You’re supposed to see Mlle. Bourgeois shortly, so just let myself or Nathalie know when you decide what you intend to do.”

Adrien rose to his feet, scowling slightly. He had almost forgotten about seeing Chloe, which would cut into his time to figure out something else to do with Marinette if she allowed it.

As he bid his father farewell, the fashion icon called his attention a final time.

“Adrien?”

His name sounded strange coming from his father’s mouth - they rarely addressed each other so informally. Adrien turned on his heel, a foot from the door.

The man had already stepped back up to his work station, peering at his screen, but he directed his voice towards his son. “Your interests in Mlle. Dupain-Cheng are your own, so you are free to do as you please. But…  if you would at least keep me updated, I would like to know how things are... going.”

A smile came to his lips, so wide that it actually hurt. “Y-yes, definitely! Thanks… thanks again, Father.”

“You’re welcome.” He replied simply, hands already moving over the designscape again, indicating Adrien’s dismissal.

Stepping out of the office, Adrien felt slightly dazed by the dip in adrenaline he didn’t realize his heart was compensating. The hush of stone shuddered behind him, grounding his awareness slightly into the foyer, but he was feeling shaken by the conversation. Not in a bad way, necessarily, but it had just been entirely not what he expected. His stomach felt twisted, but his heart fuller, and Adrien barely noticed that Nathalie was beckoning to him.

The woman was already standing by the front door, opened wide to a breezy morning. What had begun as overcast skies lined by pewter clouds had grown to smoky billows, a dark preview of another summer storm.

Adrien frowned when the woman called his name and began to wave her hand out the front. “Adrien, let’s go. The car is waiting, and I’d like to beat the rain if we can.”

“R-right,” he cleared his throat. “Let me just grab a jacket.”

Leaping the stairs, Adrien flew into his room and whispered heatedly for his kwami.

Plagg, c’mon! We gotta go .”

A narrowed pair of green eyes peeked out of his camembert cabinet while Adrien grabbed his olive, rain-resistant jacket from his wardrobe.

“Only if I can bring a snack.” Plagg countered, already hauling two sizable chunks of cheese through the air as Adrien fixed his collar. The blond had only time to roll his eyes before exiting his room again, not bothering with verbal consent as Plagg had already claimed a spot within the layers of fabric.

The drive was slow, for which Adrien was thankful. He needed some time to collect his thoughts after a conversation like the one he had just shared with his father, switching gears to mentally preparing himself for Chloe’s… um, temperament.

Adrien sighed longingly as he thought about yesterday, stopped at a light when he spotted ebony pigtails moving down a familiar street. Marinette had been sitting only a foot away, and one of her delicate hands, stained by dark soil up to her wrists, had been resting on the center console. He could have easily locked their fingers together had he not been so captivated by her animated storytelling or the entirely general distraction of her presence.

Tonight. He tried to remind himself, and glanced at his phone to check the time. It was almost 11:30.

Unsure of how long Chloe might want to hang out, Adrien figured this was the best opportunity he had to contact Marinette.

 

Adrien (11:29 AM):

I’m looking forward to it too! But I did want to ask you about the plans… maybe we could do something besides movie + ice cream? It’s a long story.

 

He had to imagine she wasn’t terribly busy, noting the first few drops of rain spattering the windows like tears of relief, dripping from the clouds that strained with their mass. At some point during their phone call, she had mentioned rain kept window-shopping customers at bay, which seemed reasonable. Only loyal or intentional shoppers would brave the weather for a day-trip to a flower shop.

(Well, a loyal shopper, an intentional shopper, or Chat Noir. He’d gone to the shop many times when it was raining if he didn’t feel like heading home, ever-tempted by the opportunity to tease and bicker with his Princess.)

 

Marinette (11:31 AM):

Super busy atm - but thats np! You pick and just let me know. I gtg.

 

The text was so simple, yet the reassurances coursed through him like a stimulant straight into his veins. Adrien felt himself relax in the backseat just by seeing her name flicker across his screen again, but he still felt a twinge of guilt while he tucked his device away. His suspicions in relation to the weather had been wrong, and he hoped she would be okay there by herself for the next several hours.

Adrien rested his eyes, a watery Paris streaming by outside. Of course she would be fine. Marinette had turned down Monsieur Declair right in front of him, and who knows how many men before that. She opened the store in the morning and closed it in the evening, managing everything alone and with an impressive show of grace and knowledge at every turn. The shoulder injury had been more his, Nino’s and Alya’s fault in surprising her, and it was almost alarming how easily she could haul massive planters around without batting an eye.

Still, still , in spite of all that, Adrien worried for her, just because he wanted to worry.

Marinette wasn’t his to worry about.

Not yet, anyways.

It seemed silly, and he knew if he verbalized it to anyone it might sound downright insane, but just having some tiny bit of right to worry for her felt nice. If she would be okay by herself, if other people might think to themselves, “Wow, I wish I could take her on a date,” if she would be lonely during the slow hours or if she missed him a little bit. Adrien knew he missed her, more than a little bit, and again he tried to imagine what she might be doing. Making a sale, chattering happily through tales of taxonomy? Or maybe she would be building a bouquet with nimble hands, analyzing every piece of the creation like it was the symbol of posterity for whoever might purchase it. Then again, she might be heaving a watering can high above her to offer respite to dried roots and withering flowers…

No sooner did Adrien decide he would stay in his daydreams all day, soothed to the soft splash of rain against the side of the car, did Nathalie announce their arrival.

“You can call when ready. We will be in the neighborhood. For sake of your date...” The woman paused and glanced at the clock. “Please be no later than 5 PM.”

“Sure,” he agreed, baffled by the idea of spending five solid hours with Chloe. Even having been friends as long as they had, the idea of spending five hours with almost anyone sounded exhausting.

“I’m guessing it’ll be closer to two.”

The doors unlocked and Adrien bid them farewell, throwing up his hood as he marched into the front doors of Le Grand Paris hotel.

He nodded at the doorman, needing no formal introduction for his arrival, and quickly walked through the rotating golden doors.

Flicking some rain from his hair, Adrien blinked at the blinding light as he removed his hood.

Le Grand Paris sparkled, a sun in its own universe. A model of opulence, the foyer was as magnificent and excessive as ever. Ceilings, walls, and faces painted golden, the furniture of the lobby varied between tones of somber maroon and rich purple, embodying the essence of aristocracy. Where his home was cold and subdued, this place stifled the senses with bright, bold decor that, in his totally unprofessional opinion, was almost gaudy.

More than ever, Adrien was craving the perennial, refreshing air of the greenhouse; truly, it was the only place in Paris he felt like he could breathe normally. Everything else was too much or too little. He’s fallen into the Goldilocks complex, he mused, and Marinette was his in-between.

Idly running a hand over the velvet face of a couch to his right, Adrien’s attention snapped up at the call of a familiar voice.

Adrikins!

A whip of blonde hair smacked his face a moment later, Chloe throwing her arms around him in one of her characteristic bulldozing hug. She squeezed him around the shoulders, so Adrien exhaled and hugged her back.

“Hey, Chlo’,” he greeted as they stepped apart. “How are you?”

She examined her nails while her other hand rested at her hip, smiling while she answered. “I’m great, actually. Really great! I’ve been so busy since school let out, but I’m really glad you found some time to catch up.”

Adrien grinned easily, resting his own hands in his coat pockets. “Me, too,” he began honestly. “I feel like it’s only been a few weeks and everything is already so different.”

“Oh?” She quirked a brow in his direction.

Adrien felt himself pink slightly and looked at the furniture he had previously been admiring. Maybe jumping into the topic that burned his throat could wait until they got out of the lobby.

“Y-yeah. Nathalie mentioned you wanted to do lunch?”

The blonde eyed him dubiously, but chose to dismiss the flicker of curiosity that flashed across her expression. Instead, she pulled out her cell phone and began to march towards the elevators.

“Yes,” she paused to make sure he was following, and resumed texting in time with her words. “Daddy’s letting us have Le Bar for lunch today; there aren’t any events scheduled or anything, so it’s no big deal.”

“Got it,” he said as they stepped into the elevator.

Adrien pressed the button for Mezzanine since Chloe was preoccupied with her phone, a little relieved to hear their destination. The storm outside was intensifying, accented by rumbling claps of thunder; seeking a restaurant outside the hotel seemed like a foolish undertaking.

Le Bar was housed just above Chloe’s room, and it offered a marvelous view of Paris in all directions. It was a frequent choice of theirs for dining if it was just the two of them, and Adrien enjoyed the privacy. Unless reserved for an occasion, the restaurant did not allow reporters and the price of the menu kept away most other Parisians.

Adrien recognized that it was sort of awful and pretentious for him to think that way, but it didn’t make it less true. By way of necessity, the extravagance of Le Bar exluded most fans and cameras, and it was a nice opportunity to relax without the nagging fear of being recognized and swamped by the media or by well-meaning but admittedly creepy women, often much older than he was.

A blessing and a curse , his father had said. These sorts of moments reminded him why.

Chloe’s signature yellow sweater was tied round her waist today, which he guessed was her outward expression of distaste for the humid weather. Adrien still wore his jacket, unphased.

They spoke in polite pleasantries while the host brought them to a table (Chloe’s favorite along the Western side of the building). Save for a group of Chinese men in suits discussing something quietly halfway across the room, there was no one else in Le Bar today. Adrien caught an occasional piece of their conversation in Mandarin, but otherwise, they were as good as alone.

“So,” Adrien began while Chloe took a long sip from her Pellegrino. “What’s new with you? You said you’ve been busy?”

“Oh yes,” she nodded seriously, setting down her glass. “Daddy’s been giving me some projects, and the reception on Saturday is my baby. I’ve been working myself crazy over it.”

Adrien arched a brow.  “Oh… really?”

He knew Chloe was starting to take on more responsibility with her the hotel, and as far as he could tell, she actually rather enjoyed the “party-planning” aspect of things. Still, to hear her sigh and talk about “work” was… weird.

The blonde took her phone out and glanced at it, only to quickly tuck it away a few moments later. “Yes. And, don’t mind that,” she gestured towards the pocket containing her cellphone. “I’ve got Jean on the line about some atrocious selections someone made for Saturday. I feel like I have to do everything myself with this party.”

“Don’t worry about it, I’m waiting on a few messages myself,” Adrien replied, hand subconsciously going to rest on his jean pocket. “What’s Saturday?”

Chloe scowled at him while taking another drink. “What do you mean ‘what’s Saturday’? It’s La Nuit des musées ! Duh, you’re coming, aren’t you?”

“Riiiiight,” Adrien responded, adopting a scowl of his own. “Nino and Aly… er, Nino mentioned that to me too. Nathalie said I had something already on my calendar.”

“Uh,” she crossed her arms. “O f course you already have something on your calendar. It’s this . You agreed to it months ago.”

He pursed his lips, now trying to remember. Had he mentioned what he wanted to do with Nino and the girls when asking Nathalie about his schedule? Adrien reached for his phone and flicked through to his schedule

...Apparently, he must not have mentioned it, because Chloe was absolutely right. A big block of time was set aside on Saturday, coded yellow - in his calendar, that usually meant another “social outing” arranged by his father. Adrien was more than a little embarrassed that he didn’t put two-and-two together, but then, he supposed this was also good news. Now he definitely could go with Nino and the girls; he just never expected to already have the time set already aside in his agenda.

“Huh. Yep, I guess I will be there,” Adrien shrugged and put his phone away, noting a little sadly that he hadn’t gotten any new messages while he did so.

“Well, good . I at least want someone I know to appreciate all the hard-work I’ve put into this.” Chloe pouted, and Adrien just smirked and shook his head when the waiter appeared.

Bonjour , Mlle. Bourgeois, Monsieur Agreste. What can I get for you?”

“Usual for me,” Chloe snapped her menu closed, and Adrien wondered why she even opened it.

“Um… something light for me, maybe just a coffee? Cream and sugar, please.”

The man nodded and dashed back to the kitchen.

“Just coffee?” Chloe narrowed her eyes in suspicion. “You better be eating right, Adrikins. I heard the rumors about modeling.”

“Trust me, I’ve been eating plenty.” He bit his lip, trying to fight a smile. Marinette and her parents had basically provided free food to him almost everyday as of late. “And I’ve gotten a taste for coffee recently, thank you very much.”

Judging by the face she made, Chloe could tell there was more than he was letting on.

She vocalized her suspicions as the waiter reappeared with his coffee. “So what, then? Have some big fancy date you need to be hungry for later?”

Chloe’s probably-innocent quip had been so spot on that Adrien nearly choked on the first sip of his drink.

Needless to say, if that hadn’t given him away, then the incriminating crimson that bloomed from beneath his collar would have certainly done the trick. Adrien felt his coat along the back chair sashay slightly, and he imagined Plagg was having himself a good laugh.

Whaaaaat? ” She gaped, both hands gripping the table. “You do have a date! Adrien, why didn’t you say so?!”

“Ahh,” he rubbed his neck, trying to will away the embarrassment. “You know, it’s… just supposed to be low-key. I didn’t want to make a big deal of it.”

“But this is your first, first date, right?” She leaned forward, more excited than he would have expected her to be.

Bashful, he merely nodded.

“Then it is a big deal!”

Adrien chuckled a bit and cleared his throat. “I-I guess it is?”

“So, do I know them? How did you meet? Tell me everything.” Chloe’s voice was demanding, and this was the part Adrien knew was going to be a little more difficult.

“Ah… Yes, you do know her.”

Her lips thinned. “ Well ? How do I know her? She better be up to standard.”

Scratching his cheek, Adrien let out a low sigh. There was a whole consortium of ways he could imagine Chloe reacting - a blank stare, an annoyed scowl, an aggravated lecture. Hostility of some sort was basically a given, so Adrien was absolutely prepared to defend Marinette if he had to. He didn’t mind Chloe, but he wasn’t going to sit by and let her insult Marinette if she reacted deleteriously.

Adrien tried for patience, but his underlying excitement unraveled into a mess of gushing words.

“She’s not just ‘up to standard’, Chlo’. She’s… smart, charming, and so, so pretty - I feel really lucky to even have a chance to take her on a date. So please, don’t freak out? It’s Marinette.”

...

The girl blinked a few times, face comically blank.

“... Oh.” That seemed the extent of what Chloe could manage as far as a verbal response.

“And listen,” Adrien leaned forward, feeling his nerves start to untether under her scrutinizing gaze. “I know you and Marinette never really got along very well… or, at all, really. But she’s been an important person in my life since I started school, and it would mean a lot if you just… tried to be happy for me? I mean, I don’t even know if she’d want to date me or be my g-girlfriend,” he cringed, hating that he stuttered saying the world outloud. “Since tonight’s our first date and all. But I think I have a chance, and I… I just want this to work. I really, really want it to work. So… yeah.”

Clearing his throat, Adrien adopted some facade of confidence and forced himself to meet Chloe’s hardened stare. He brow was drawn together, and the way her focus flickered over his face seemed to suggest she was thinking very hard about something.

Eventually, she formulated a response.

“You like… Marinette.” It was slow and deliberate, like she was trying to test the words on her tongue before believing them.

Adrien sucked on his teeth, annoyed. Was that much not obvious?

“Yes. I do.”

After a tense thirty-seconds, the waiter appeared with Chloe’s meal. They both bristled slightly to mind their manners with the server, but once he scurried away, Chloe’s eyes had turned to dangerous slits, and the way she clicked her tongue seemed venomous.

That being said, when she spoke again, her voice was surprisingly flat.

“Okay.... Okay . Well… good for you, I guess.”

It could have been taken as sarcasm, but it didn’t sound like it to him. Chloe simply picked up a fork and began to eat, and Adrien watched her carefully while he sipped his coffee.

“You’ll give her a chance?” He said, trying to measure her reaction. After she finished chewing, her tone was just as brisk and judgemental and as perfectly-Chloe as ever.

“I mean - ugh, sure . If you really like her then I can’t do anything about that. I think you could do way, way better, but…” She shrugged and returned to her meal.

Adrien glowed, savoring the warmth of his drink with another sip.

“Well… thanks, then, Chlo’. I appreciate it.”

The girl grimaced but just focused on her food, and their quiet was interrupted shortly by her long-awaited text from Jean regarding the reception for Saturday.

For the remainder of their meal, Adrien mostly listened as their conversation returned to the La Nuit, Chloe’s current list of annoyances, and the akuma attack on her father. They didn’t comment any further on his date with Marinette, and he was somewhat grateful. He wasn’t in much of a mood to talk, but if given a chance, he knew he wouldn’t be able to help but rhapsodize on about her if asked.

 

 


 

 

Marinette’s timing had always been a bit off.

Whether it was attendance for class, setting her alarm, knowing what to say or when to say it, or even just trying to sync up the clocks in the bedroom, she just could never get things quite right. Always walking up and descending escalator, she was never as on top of things like she wished to be.

That being said, Marinette still tried her best, though fate always tended to be on the side of Father Time.

At least, in the confines of her greenhouse, she could always rely on Mother Nature.

It was Tuesday.

Tuesday evening.

Thirty-two minutes past six, to be exact.

Her date with Adrien started exactly one-hundred and twenty seconds ago, and she had no idea.

The skies that evening were carved from obsidian, hard and flat for the expanse of the skyline. The majority of the rain stopped about an hour ago, but the whole of Paris seemed lulled to sleep by the aria of droplets that rang out through the day. Everything was quieter, softer, and darker for the rain.

Bent over a sea of pallid lilies and creamy orchids, Marinette sighed and readjusted the cramp settling between her shoulder blades, rubbing away beads of sweat along her cheek only to replace them by smudges of dirt from her toiled fingers. Her apron tickled her neck, hair secured in a bun around the collar of her favorite jumper.

For an evening on the cusp of summer, it was chilly. Marinette had misjudged the weather and taken out several plants for a “streetside” display when she opened the shop that morning. Her intention had been with a hope to attract some passersby before the storms moved in, a little bristled by her recent review of their “books.” The business was barely in-the-black, and that made her nervous.

Even so, the heavy clouds, seemingly wrought from iron with their weight and might, had other plans for her plants. Marinette was pelted by sheets of rain in the trips outside early in the afternoon, dragging back in as much as she could as fast as she could, not wanting any of the sweat, blood and tears she had soaked into her plants to be wasted by the ravaging winds.

From that point on, Marinette had deemed her hair as a lost cause and put it up as neatly she could. She managed a good spirit through it all, amused by the idea of coins falling on her head instead of rain. Fighting akumas had given her a strange source of context.

The precipitation really hadn’t slowed until the day was almost over, and the dreary weather was apparent even in her private world. The shop felt damp and heavy, none of her heliotropic plants rising to follow the arc of the sun; there was no light to guide the way on a day like this. Had the skies not been so cast by a charcoal impressionist, Marinette might have noticed how late it had gotten or the fact that she hadn’t even begun to close the store yet.

Saying goodbye to Alya at 5:30 should have been the final nail in her proverbial coffin, but Marinette remained blissfully unaware of her own impending fate. An order to accompany a much more literal coffin came just after midday, and with the funeral order any pretense of preparedness had been dashed. Arraignments, and subsequent arrangements, had taken her attention, and she tried to throw herself into work so she might not have to think too deeply about death.

Doubled over, Marinette began to carve some sort of path around the back office (every surface was basically covered by planters and stands and pots for the funeral). Straightening to take a deep breath, her attention came to rest on her familiar travel mug.

For all that Alya was - outgoing, supportive, friendly and perhaps a tad pushy - she was ultimately a caring person and a valued friend. Marinette smiled fondly at her favorite mug, recalling the rush of pleasant surprise when Alya brought her a surprise second burst of caffeine, extra-large-and-extra-sweet, in the form of a spare thermos. The brunette claimed to have carried it all the way from her parent’s bakery. She had even gone so far as to pour the liquid reassurance back into Marinette’s regular cup from the morning, creating the ultimate illusion of comfort and support.

Marinette walked over and gripped the subdued steel exterior, flexing her fingers around the comforting weight of the drink before taking a vigorous swig. She found a foothold of confidence in the stifling heat of cream and bitterness, returning to the memories of that afternoon.

 

 


 

 

Alya stood with a proud smile on her face, arms crossed as Marinette took a meek step out of the bathroom. “You’re going to do great , girl,” the brunette said, resting a hand on each shoulder. “Adrien isn’t going to know what hit him - and let’s be honest. You look damn hot in that outfit.”

“Alya!” Marinette whined, covering her face with her hands. “I don’t know if I can do this…”

“Sure you can,” her friend said, throwing an arm over Marinette’s shoulder and strolling towards the front of the store. Thank goodness there were no customers at the moment.

“Just remember to breathe and be yourself. Even if that’s stuttering-blushy Marinette. Because frankly, if you keep blushing like that it’s only going to make your skirt pop even more.”

At that, the dark-haired girl all but pushed the reporter out of the shop, stomach flipping all the while. “OKAY-BYE-AYLA-THANKS-FOR-YOUR-HELP!”

Once the bell stopped ringing, Marinette’s shoulders slumped. A sympathetic Tikki, camouflaged in her Banks’ roses, flew down to appraise her charge.

“Alya’s right, Marinette.” She smiled gently. “You look very pretty, and I’m sure Adrien will be impressed. But that doesn’t matter, anyways - the important thing is that you have a good time!”

Chewing her lip, Marinette sulked as she collected what was essentially the last of her Easter lilies and returned to the back of the shop.

Tikki stayed a step beside her as she set down the plants, marching straight back to the bathroom; she was more than ready to change back into sensible clothes. Alya had demanded to see a preview of Marinette’s date outfit, and it had earned her the “Alya Hotness Stamp of Approval.” The thought was both flattering and horrifying.

“Gahh, I just wish I knew what we were doing now.” Marinette wrung her hands, and Tikki frowned. “What if I’m too dressed up? Not dressed up enough? Maybe I should keep this on, just in case.”

“You should wait until your done with work, Marinette. It would be a shame to get dirt on your special outfit,” her kwami offered gently.

Marinette stuck her tongue out in frustration, but she knew Tikki to be right. In the back, the dark-haired girl had prepared an extra bag to store her change of clothes, along with makeup, deodorant and some other back-up supplies.

Spotting her reflection in the exterior glass windows, Marinette fidgeted with her appearance, considering herself. Would Adrien find her bare legs to be too daring?

The passing thought only made Marinette feel more nervous.

Attuned to her concerns, Tikki giggled at her chosen through their reflections. “I know I’m biased, but I think red is a great color on you.”

That made Marinette smile, and she entered the bathroom. She freshened up briefly, taking only five minutes to change back into her work clothes (and to apply some deodorant) before carefully packing away the clothes again.

The skirt had been a daring pop of ruby, and it brushed along Marinette’s pale thighs til about an inch above the knee. The fabric was light and moved with her, sheer but thoughtfully constructed in layers so as to maintain some modesty. She intended to pair it with a cozy sleeved shirt, horizontal stripes of classic black and white that were loose but comfortable against her skin.

For the time being, Marinette returned to her responsibilities, ladened by her work uniform and topped by her favorite jumper in the softest shade of pink. She had brought the extra layer originally to help ward off the morning chill, and right now it felt like a comfort blanket that she feared to take off.

With a quiet exhale, she slipped the apron back over her head and tied it firmly round her waist.

 

 


 

 

“Marinette?”

Tikki was flying an inch from her nose, and the girl flinched in recognition. She had been leaning against the desk, staring down at her coffee in silence for several minutes.

“Are you okay?”

Marinette offered her kwami a strained smile “Yeah... thanks, Tikki. I know it’s just nerves… I just am so worried I’m going to do something wrong and blow it.”

“Oh, Marinette,” Tikki sighed, floating over and settling on the desk. “Don’t talk like that. Even if something were to go badly, which I know it won’t, you know Adrien is just excited to spend time with you .”

“Right,” Marinette replied, sounding not-at-all convinced. She took another drink from Alya’s support in the flavor of almond syrup and caffeine, stopping to shake out her ebony mane. Marinette began brushing through the tresses with her fingers, spilling her concerns to a quiet audience of sympathetic flowers and a patient kwami.

“I just wish I wasn’t so nervous. It’s like I’ve taken one step forward and fifty-thousand steps back. I’m… oh, no, w-what if he tries to kiss me?! Oh Tikki, I’m so doomed .”

Marinette’s cheeks flared scarlet by the end, so bright she could have passed for Ladybug.

Tikki merely shook her head. “Well, do you want Adrien to kiss you?”

Eyes blew wide, Marinette gulped painfully but managed a tiny nod.

“Then why are you saying it like it’s a bad thing?”

Marinette ducked her head and fiddled with the thick sweater, too afraid to check the time. If it was close to 6:00, she might lose her lunch; if she had to wait much longer, she might pass out.

“I don’t know, I don’t know! I just… w-what if… what if I’m bad at it? A-at kissing, I mean.”

A shameful lump lodged in her throat, and Marinette tried to hide her face in the collar of her jumper. On Tikki’s part, it was difficult not to laugh at the dark halo of raven hair peeking through the neck of the light pink sweater, but that would be hurtful and that was not at all the little red being’s intention.

Tikki measured each word carefully, her eyes bright with reassuring pride. “You’re a special, beautiful human being, Marinette. Inside and out. And Adrien is a kind person, but even more, he’s your friend. I think the only reason he wouldn’t enjoy himself is if you don’t enjoy yourself. A kiss is supposed to be special only because you want it to be; if you decide that’s not something you’re ready for, you don’t have to kiss him.”

Swallowing roughly, but feeling a little better, Marinette could still feel her heart lodged in her throat. The only way to breathe again would be to get it out at this point.

“Thanks, Tikki.” She exhaled slowly. “This is just… sort of unreal? I’ve loved him for so long, it’s hard to try to imagine what tomorrow will look like. I’ve dreamed of today, and now it’s here, and I feel both somehow completely under and over-prepared for it.”

Tikki followed her as she moved around the room, but Marinette paused when bluebell eyes locked with her own. She exhaled her fears, and managed to inhale some small amount of courage.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset or anything. I’m actually really happy, I promise.” She offered, and Tikki seemed to relax at the honesty coloring her chosen’s tone.

Marinette studied her hands, still cupped around the dark exterior of her thermos.

Really, she was happy. Incredibly happy. So happy, in fact, that it hurt, and her stomach had started to churn at the thought that, by the time the day was over, she would have gone on a date with Adrien.

“I just… don’t want to disappoint him.”

Adrien’s texts throughout the day had been increasingly cryptic, and it was starting to make her worries multiple. First there had been a change in plans, then the suspicious questions, and now just silence . Marinette’s pulse surged with uncertainty, trying to riddle through what he could be planning.

Still, she smiled dreamily. “I don’t think he’s ever had a girlfriend before, and I’ve not really dated anyone… I don’t know how any of this works, but I guess neither does he?”

Gazing up, chosen and kwami wore matching grins, and Marinette added, “I’m just… I’m going to stick to what we agreed on. Like fighting an akuma. A plan.”

Tikki bowed her head and smiled. “I know you can do it, Marinette. Remember, just be thoughtful, and I’ll be with you every step of the way!”

Marinette’s smile dimpled and she shut her eyes, taking a few steady breaths before replying.

“Thanks, Tikki. You always know just what to say.”

When her eyes opened, it was to the hackneyed call of a bell at the front door, calling for her attention. Marinette looped her hair elastic along her wrist, and stretched while calling around the corner.

“I’ll be right there - just one second, please!”

Tikki disappeared with a wink, and Marinette awkwardly high-stepped her way around the garden of white silken petals.

Bonjour , my apologies…. ap-ap-ap…” Her brain stopped working, a record catching at the end of an oldie, and she mouthed the same sound over and over at the sight across from her.

A crown of platinum hair stood out like a sun breaking the dawn against a dark backdrop, night having settled outside. Green eyes and a confused expression were all pointed in her direction, but both succumbed to a smile so beautiful it made her breath hitch.

Adrien had his phone in one hand, presumably about to call her, but he quickly tucked it away when their eyes met.

Marinette felt her knees go weak and her mouth gaped in shock, so she firmly closed her lips and tried to present her warmest smile, cursing madly at herself internally.

You… you… you idiot! How did you lose track of time! What is the matter with you, you klutzy, luckiest-unluckiest, lovesick stupid girl?!

Tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear, Marinette crossed the counter. “H-hi, Adrien,” she greeted meekly, trying not to stare. He’s mastered the look of “nice-but-not-too-nice,” dressed in perfectly fitting jeans and a nice, clearly Gabriel-brand shirt over a plain shirt. The neck dipped slightly, exposing a line of his collarbone that drew her eye. Marinette was finding it very difficult to remember a single word of French.

“Hi, Marinette. I hope I’m not, uh, interrupting? Did work get very busy?” He spoke carefully and glanced at his watch.

Damn this beautiful, well-mannered boy. Of course he would try to absolve her of any of the guilt she was absolutely due to have.

“I… um, I’m sorry,” Marinette took a step forward, keeping her voice low and head lower. She could feel her cheeks burning in shame. “I just got lost of time track - I mean, uh, I lost track of time.”

When he didn’t respond, she blurted, “Someone died.”

“Oh, my god, I’m so sorry.” He took another step closer, immediately sympathetic. “I wish I had known - were they someone you were close to?”

Marinette snapped her eyes to his face. Her tongue felt felt slow and encumbered - how was she supposed to respond to that? Why in the world was he blushing?

“N-no! No!” She waved her hands, practically yelling. He blinked in surprise.

“I… ugh, okay. Let me start over.”

A long, slow inhale followed, and Marinette closed her eyes. Across her tongue, a dance of musky humid air and the taste of flowers mingled together, a remind of the primordial presence she had grown here. Besides the quiet patrons of petals, it was just Adrien here. Adrien, her long-time crush, but more importantly, Adrien her long-time friend .

And the exhale.

When Marinette opened her eyes, she already could tell her cheeks bloomed with the color of embarrassment, but her contemplative action had the intended grounding effect. She was able to meet his gaze a little easier, and the bemused, pure smile that waited for her carried her through what was a very necessary explanation.

“I’m sorry, Adrien” she said, wearing a shy smile. “Time got away from me today. The person who died - I mean, there was an order for a funeral . It wasn’t someone I knew personally, but… yeah. I guess I probably shouldn’t have started out by talking about death. Nothing like jumping right into the heavy stuff?” Marinette finished with an awkward laugh.

To her surprise and greater relief, Adrien chuckled, and she joined in with a growing giggle of her own. The whole ridiculousness of the situation caught up with her, and the respite helped her to unwind.

“I like to think I’m pretty creative when it comes to jokes,” Adrien said with a grin. “But not a lot that have to do with death that wouldn’t be in poor taste. You’ve effectively silenced my funny-bone for the moment, Marinette.”

Her stomach fell through the floor when he said her name; it sounded so much sweeter coming from his tongue.

Coughing, she tried to meet his eye. “ Well , I want to say that’s something to be proud of, but this whole conversation has turned really macabre. Speaking of,” she tapped her chin. “I can wrap this up really quickly, if you can just give me a few minutes. Do you mind coming to the back with me?”

At that, Adrien raised a brow but nodded, and Marinette lingered at the front to lock the door and flip the sign to closed. She acted without much thought, and when she flipped the overhead light off the room became shockingly dark.

“Oh,” Adrien breathed quietly, clearly a little surprised. Illumination poured through the opening to the back of the store, outlining his broad shoulders and slightly tousled hair in shadow. Marinette, unable to see his face, tried for boldness and reached for one of his hands to lead him through the darkness.

A soft pressure ran through her fingers, and his fingers intertwined with hers easily. In the pewter light, shadows cast by a small forest, she was glad he couldn’t see her smile.

“C’mon,” she said gently, tugging him a step behind her towards the brightness across the room

It was a short walk - hardly even worth the hand holding - but reason was out the many windows now. This was unchartered territory, a sea with no compass, with only instincts and emotion to guide her.

Marinette didn’t drop his hand when they walked through the back, and she felt a little smug by the way his mouth fell open. “ This ,” she raised her other hand. “Is what I’ve been working on. The only thing that brings more people together than a wedding is a funeral.”

“Mari,” his voice seemed breathless, and she felt her grip turn to putty in his hand. “This is amazing. You did all of this today ?”

Shyly, she nodded, and forced herself to release his hand. She really needed to finish this if they wanted to get any further than the door.

“Thanks, let me...” Marinette began to carefully scoot something around, clearing a path to the chaise so he might be able to sit down. For a designated employee lounger, it seemed like Chat and Adrien used it more than anyone else.

He was quick on the uptake and began to help her shift the two larger displays out of the way, and their close proximity caught up to her more than once.

After another minute, they had divided the white ocean to create something resembling a walkway, at least maneuverable enough so that Adrien could get to the chaise and Marinette her desk. Almost immediately, she sank into the chair and pulled some papers forward, the ink bleeding through another day the shop held her here.

“Twenty Phalaenopsis blumes,” she murmured, brow creased. “And every last Easter Lily I have. Meh.”

“I love these,” Adrien commented off-handedly, and Marinette looked up to see him leaning over one of the orchids.

She smiled and turned back to her work. “Oh, me too. Orchids are probably my second or third favorite of all flowers.”

“Really?” The suggestion seemed to amuse him. Marinette merely nodded and kept her head forward, trying to use this as some approximation of what sort of inventory she was going to need. A lot more Easter lilies, clearly, but her orchid stock was actually probably okay. A regular order of them should do her fine, but she would be sure to change her preference to white.

“One of the things I love most about this job,” Marinette offered after a moment of silence, feeling guilty to make him wait for her. The least she could do was try to keep up some conversation. “Is the way people never act the way we expect them too.”

Adrien’s tone was quiet. “Oh? What do you mean?”

“All of this… these whites are so pretty, so pure, you know?” She lifted her shoulders and gazed around the office momentarily, stopping to meet Adrien’s curious gaze. “When I think of funerals, it’s all black and sadness. It’s almost hard to imagine human beings associating Phalaenopsis blumes - the orchids - or Easter lillies with death, but here we are.”

The blond smiled, and the purity of the gesture put each lilly and orchid to shame.

“I’ve never been to a funeral, but I think I can imagine,” he said, voice so soft it was like silk wrapped around her skin, and she was glad for her sweater at the moment or else he might have noticed her sudden gooseflesh.

“Yeah… it’s something about the color. Other colors mean, you know, love and romance and never ending happiness. Blah blah blah,” she waved a hand, and he smiled at her. “But when it’s soft, gentle like these - this white - it means something totally different. Sympathy. It’s sort of beautiful, don’t you think?”

“...Yes.” He responded after a pause. “It is beautiful.”

Marinette blushed and lowered her head, completing the bare minimum work she needed to so as not to come in tomorrow to an utter nightmare. After another few minutes she pushed away carefully from the old mahogany desk, spinning to face him.

“Your hair looks really nice like that,” Adrien offered when it was clear she had finished. Beaming, Marinette murmured a thanks. She had forgotten taking it out of her bun, and now the waves were loose around her shoulders.

“You really… you, uh, don’t look half-bad yourself?” Marinette felt a rush of confidence when he laughed, so she tried for a casual voice and asked a question.

“So, what is this mystery date you’re taking me on?” Risking a flicker of attention to his face, her heart swelled to see his lips turned up in an unbearably cute smile.

“Ah, right,” he rubbed the back of his neck. “Mystery might be putting it a little strongly. That makes it sound like I planned something elaborate. It was more of a… Hail Marinette than anything.”

She snorted. “Please tell me you didn’t cancel our plans just to accommodate a joke.”

He grinned widely, and there was a flash of mischief in his eyes. “Oh, I wish. But, eh, I said earlier it was sort of a long story. Guess it’s better we discuss it now.” The choice of words should’ve been cause for concern, but Adrien’s voice was calm and reassuring. Marinette couldn’t stop herself from smiling back at him, and crossed her arms.

“Okay, then, what’s the stitch?” She asked, eyes lingering over the mass of deliveries next to the desk. Adrien followed her gaze, and his furrowed brow looked curious.

“First of all, there’s one very important thing I need to know. Was that a Kim Possible reference?”

“Um, of course?” Marinette could feel the second-dosage of caffeine starting to prick her brain, turning her typically reasonable mind to a hyper, giddy mess. Great.

Adrien laughed, eyes sparkling as he leaned over his knees. “Wow. You are something else.”

“Pfft, don’t even. Kim Possible was a great show.” She stuck out her tongue defiantly.

Across from her, he blinked a few times and reached for his phone. Curiously, Marinette scooted a little closer and tried to see what he was doing, but stopped when he turned up the volume.

“There’s a reason I always keep my phone on silent,” he commented. The room was still for a moment until she heard it - Adrien played his text tone.

Doop-doop, da-doop .

“Oh my god,” she placed a hand over her face, giggling madly when the realization hit her. “You really are a dork.”

The blond bit his lip through a smile, tucking his phone back into his jeans. “I thought you were the one who just initiated a conversation saying what’s the stitch ?”

“I did,” Marinette agreed between chuckles, trying calm herself. “But I also happen to want to be a designer, so I get a free pass to use ‘stitch’ conversationally.”

Adrien laughed and shook his head. “Unbelievable.”

Beaming at her tiny victory - of what, she wasn’t even sure - Marinette felt her cheeks pink when he met her eyes. For someone who spent most hours of the day within the walls of a green wonderland, his eyes made it all look like a cerulean afterthought.

“So…” she tried to keep the waver from her voice, and Adrien smiled when she coughed slightly. “What’s the plan? I assume you didn’t want to talk about Kim Possible all night?

Adrien tapped his chin. “As tempting as that sounds, I think we should try to stick to something at least reminiscent of a date. Any ideas?”

Marinette smirked. “I’ve never dated before, so your guess is as good as mine.”

“Well…” he began slowly, keeping his attention to his fumbling thumbs. If she didn’t know any better, the ravenette thought he looked a little sad, and it made her chest ache.

“I guess… honesty is the best policy. So, yeah, today I had a talk with my dad about - um, us .” Marinette tried to keep her gaze steady, nodding politely. That seemed to help him gather his thoughts, and his expression turned impish.

“And I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’m actually sort of famous,” his smile widened when Marinette rolled her eyes. “So basically, I thought the movies and ice cream would be low-key enough so the press might not, you know, harass us? But my father seemed to think that was a bad idea, and, I guess I’d rather play it safe than sorry. I was hoping we could do something more private. If that’s okay?”

By the end, her brow came together, and Marinette thought about his concerns seriously.

It made a lot of sense. In fact, a tiny, terribly petty part of Marinette’s brain had already accounted for the fact that reporters might see her with Adrien, and she sort of felt exhilarated by the idea of being photographed with him on an actual date (not like that whole fiasco a few years ago when his bodyguard was akumatized). The romantic fantasy of dodging the paparazzi with him, trying to hide their faces while photographed was just that, though - a fantasy. The longer she thought on it, and the more thoroughly she studied the dip in his brow, the serious downturn in his lips, and the hardness in her eyes, Marinette recognized it was just a pipe-dream waiting to become a pipe-bomb. Sure, the imagination of holding hands or gripping to his arm while some camera person yelled questions at them seemed a bit endearing, it was also something that Adrien had to deal with every single day. If anything, it meant that he was taking this rather seriously to take steps to avoid that, and the thought made her heart flutter furiously against her ribs.

Marinette smiled and focused her attention to his face, forming words slowly. “That… is just fine, Adrien. I don’t mind going out with you, like, in public. Like, with the cameras, I-I wouldn’t be angry being, um, ‘spotted’ with you. Isn’t that what you famous people say?”

His natural smile returned, and it spurred her to continue. “But I wasn’t married to the idea of the movies or ice cream anyways. It was… Alya’s idea, to be honest. We can do anything you want, and I’d be happy.”

Ducking her head, Marinette was surprised to hear his weight adjust on the lounger, the sound of shifting fabric indicating he was moving. Adrien came to kneel in front of her in the desk chair, occupying the small amount of space in a meadow of emerald and ivory. The lines of his face were etched from the most benevolent watercolors, soft and sensitive as he appraised her carefully.

“Speaking of being spotted ,” he began, brushing a tender hand across her cheek. “You have dirt on your face.”

Marinette’s felt her eyes widen, every nerve abnormally responsive to the caress of his fingers as he rubbed the smudge from her pores with a light pressure.

Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.

Marinette.exe has stopped working.

Adrien was leaning terribly close, and his presence was intoxicating. She drank in every detail of him, complexion warm and soft, lips pressed in a line of focus as he studied her cheek, blond hair pushed away from his sparkling eyes. His breath reminded her of eucalyptus leaves and sunshine, and she could feel his light exhales brush her fringe along her forehead. Careful and surprisingly gentle, his thumb stroked comforting patterns along her cheekbones, and she was certain he could feel them grow warmer by the second under his touch.

Marinette could hear Tikki in her mind, the kwami’s voice steady and reassuring.

Remember, just be thoughtful.

Right. She needed to unwind herself from him, but god if it wasn’t hard.

Offering a coy smile, Marinette tilted her head slightly to catch his eye. When their gazes met, Adrien blushed the color of roses, and he smiled sheepishly while drawing his hand back.

How easy it was to get caught up in each other, Marinette mused. She even dared to question - to hope - did he adore touching her face as much as she wished he would continue?

An affectionate smirk played at Adrien’s lips - god , if he wasn’t so handsome -  and he leaned back on his knees.

“S-sorry,” he mumbled. “I think I got most of it.”

She touched her hand to her face, the skin beneath ablaze with warmth. “Thanks…”

Trying to focus on anything but his face, Marinette settled on the one of the fixtures of lillies to his back, and it was easier to string together words again as she studied the familiar waterfall of powdery petals, simple smiles of cream beneath their window-paned twilight, occupied only between two nervous sets of eyes and a wistful expanse of silence.

“Anyways…” Marinette cleared her throat. “I’m done here now, so maybe we can finally get around to, I don’t know, something date-y?”

Adrien bit his tongue, smiling. “Date-y, huh. Well…” he started to stand up, careful not to knock into any of her meticulously prepared arrangements. “Are you hungry?”

Her hands went to her belly at the mention of food. “Always.”

Amused, he offered a hand to help her stand, and she was probably a little too eager to accept. He didn’t let go of her, collapsing their fingers together, and the action was thrilling. “Well, then we’d better get you some food. Can you wait here while I get the car?”

She smiled and gave him a mute nod.

Adrien squeezed her hand and smiled. “I’ll be right back,” he managed a swift salute and was out the front door before she could do much but blink.

On cue, Tikki flew out of nowhere and squeezed Marinette’s cheek.

“Wow! That was really romantic, Marinette.” She giggled happily as the bluenette just blinked dreamily, covering her heart with both hands.

“You should finish closing up the store so you can go when he gets back! I’ll be in your bag…” The kwami zipped away, and the flutter of air as Tikki brushed by her ear was slightly rousing.

“Okay… okay .” Untying her apron, Marinette threw it over the back of her chair and pulled the pink sweater over her head hurriedly.

Practically sprinting around the store, the girl hastily closed up everything else she could without making too much of a mess. She locked the register and brought the cash to the back, turned off the last of the lights. Of course, she would have preferred Adrien not seen her at all in her her sweaty work clothes and dirty jeans, but this opportunity actually worked to her advantage. With impressive speed, Marinette was shimming into her second change of clothes, packing away her worn work ensemble into her bag. She shared a quick, desperate glance with Tikki before resuming her mad dash around the shop.

She used the few moments she had to freshen herself up and pop a mint into her mouth, disturbed by the possibility that Adrien had suffered through her coffee breath, and paused at the exterior glass windows again. Alya had brought her a fire-engine red beret, a practical icon in the world of French fashion, and she affixed it to her hair perfectly off-centered.

For a moment, she looked every part the classic Parisian young woman, but the thought was fleeting as Marinette remembered a certain blond was waiting for her.

She scurried out the front, readying her keys to lock the door behind her. Adrien was already there, standing under the front awning and looking up at the billowing night sky quietly while she finished up. As the bell chimed, he turned and visibly brightened at her reappearance.

“I hope you don’t mind that I changed,” Marinette said absently as she locked the door, gesturing towards her outfit. “I know you waited long enough, but I figured I could at least pretend to clean myself up...”

By the time she spun back to face him, she caught him very pointedly, um, looking over her outfit. It was hard to say who blushed more at being caught, and they both smiled and looked away. Alya’s voice echoed in her head -

If you keep blushing like that, it’ll just make your skirt pop even more.

Adrien cleared his throat, still looking away. “N-Not at all - I think you look, really, wow? You know? Beautiful. For a florist, you sure floor- ed me.” They met eyes and he winked, clearly enjoying the chagrin that replaced her shy smile.

In a fluid motion, Adrien stepped forward her and wrapped an arm around her waist. They both paused when the sudden movement elicited a squeak from Marinette’s lips, and the blond seemed prepared to step away out of fear of invading her personal space. Instead, Marinette fumbled to cling to his jacket, trying to wordlessly reaffirm that, not only was this okay, but she wanted him to know that his touch was welcome.

“I s-should hit you for that joke,” Marinette teased, and Adrien grinned shamelessly.

“But it’s true! You look so pretty, it’s made me dai-zy.”

“Ugh,” she groaned, dropping her head while he enjoyed a warm giggle.

Under her breath, she muttered, “How can someone so cute have such a bad sense of humor?”

“What’s that?” He cooed in her ear, and Marinette’s hairs stood on end. “Did you call me cute again?”

She could practically taste his cologne on her tongue as they started walking down the street, and Marinette tried to keep her focus on the familiar silver sedan parked a little ways from the store. If she didn’t, she probably wouldn’t have been able to stop herself from collapsing further into him, to run her hands over his chest or grab his collar and capture his lips with ravenous kisses. That would probably come on a teensy bit strong, she wagered.

Marinette noticed Adrien bobbing his head, lips pursed in her periphery. He appeared to be in the middle of some sort of internal debate.

“Hmm,” Adrien hummed, stopping outside the car. The vehicle was running, and through the tinted windows Marinette could see his driver in the front seat.

“Something on your mind?” She offered, quirking a brow up at him. “If it’s another pun, you can just take me home right now.”

“Actually, yes to the something, no to the pun,” he mused, leaning down to get the door for her. “Since our plans changed, should you notify your parents? I don’t want them thinking I abducted you.”

Probably louder than was appropriate, Marinette erupted into laughter. Without thinking, she slipped a candid remark. “Oh, please. My Mom’s about ready to start planning our wedding.”

“Oh?” Adrien’s face spread into a wicked grin. “Does that mean I’ve already got your mother’s approval?”

Mortified, Marinette flustered and reached for the door, pushing his hand aside to let herself in so she wouldn’t have to answer. She grumbled to herself while putting on the seatbelt, cursing that annoyingly handsome, knowing grin he sported while he joined her in the back seat.

Quietly, she leaned over to him while his driver locked the doors and put the car in gear. “You still haven’t told me where we’re going.”

“Maybe I wanted to surprise you,” he responded coyly, having the audacity to wink at her for the second time tonight. It made her heart flutter, a net capturing her voice in her throat.

Damn, damn, damn this adorable boy.

Petulantly, Marinette crossed her arms in the backseat and ignored him for the rest of the car ride. When she did chance to glance in his direction, he had his phone out and was texting with a scowl on his face. If she looked for too long, his attention would snap over to her and she could tell he was going to say something, but she simply pointed her chin a bit higher and turned back to the window.

If he was going to submit her to horrible jokes for the whole night, then she was going to treat him to some silence.

After about ten minutes of driving, Adrien made a casual announcement. “Okay, we’re almost there.”

Marinette studied their surroundings, sucking her teeth. She had some choice questions the boy beside her, and she almost wondered if he was doing this to get on her nerves.

They were still in the same neighborhood, driving aimlessly. They’d even passed the flower shop again. The dark streets of Paris swept by under muted lamp-light, subdued in an evanescent haze. The energy that usually brought civilians to the streets was banished, and the world felt very empty but for the two of them (and, well, their driver).

Once they circled the street for a third time, Marinette had begun to fidget. She couldn’t suppress her burning curiosity, so she picked at her skirt and whispered in his direction.

“C’mon, what’s this about?”

Instead of answering right away, Adrien leaned all the way across the seat and whispered in her ear, causing her face to burst with color. His voice was surprisingly husky, and it knocked her heart into an irregular rhythm of the most lovely palpitations. She made a mental note to schedule an appointment with a cardiologist once this was all over.

He countered her question with a question of his own.

“Close your eyes?”

Swallowing, Marinette complied wordlessly. Just barely, she managed a few words through her dry throat. “I’m guessing no peeking?”

This was insanity. That’s what it was. Adrien had reached out and took her hand, and began rubbing circles into her skin. She shivered visibly, and Adrien hummed a quiet agreement.

“No peeking,” he repeated, and she could hear the smile behind his voice.

After another few minutes that felt like the entirety of this unforgiving mortal coil called life, Marinette felt his hand draw away, and she had to fight not to open her eyes.

“Okay, can you keep your eyes closed? I’ll come around and let you out.”

“If this is some convoluted attempt at chivalry…” She warned, tone playful as she bit her lip. Adrien snickered quietly, and Marinette heard him get out of the car, closing it firmly behind him.

Feeling a little awkward, she whispered to the driver. “Thanks, um, for doing this.”

She didn’t expect a response, so it was a surprise when she heard a grunt of acknowledgment. It was sort of nice, and it was definitely one of the first times he’s ever made an intelligible noise that she could recall.

Before she could do much else but smile, she felt a brush of cool night time air brush her face, and the door was opening.

A soft, strong grip found her hand, and she blushed furiously when she realized he was unbuckling her seatbelt, leaning entirely in her personal space. Marinette had to hold her breath to keep from shrieking, sighing, and squeaking all at once.

“Okay, here we go,” he said evenly after the belt was relieved from her pelvis and shoulder, and Adrien gave her plenty of support while getting out of the car.

“You know as well as I do that I can barely walk with my eyes open, Anything .” Marinette pointed out, gripping to his arm with both hands and squeezing her eyes together. “So take this as me trusting you with my life.”

“I’m honored,” Adrien answered. “We’re about there, but keep your eyes closed .”

Marinette wrinkled her nose but did as she was bid, and an old story jogged her memory while they walked.

“When I was in the third grade,” she mused softly. “I went to a summer camp where we went on field trips all around Paris. I imagine your parents didn’t allow anything like that?”

“Not even a little bit,” he replied, and Marinette detected a bit of tension in his mannerisms. She dared herself to brush a little closer to him before continuing.

“Well, maybe that’s for the best. This story doesn’t have a happy ending.” She scoffed. “I don’t even remember where we were going, but on our way back to the bus I closed my eyes and let my camp friend guide me back. One thing led to another, and I ran into a telephone pole and got a horrible nose bleed.”

Marinette scowled when she heard Adrien start to laugh, but she pushed on. “It was terrible! One moment, I’m walking with my friend and then bam, literally. Blood everywhere in front of all the other kids, counselors, everybody . I think Nino was there - I bet he might even remember. All I really remember was the blood and crying a lot.”

“Aww, Mari,” he said, voice a mask of sympathy. She could hear him trying to keep from laughing, and the notion made her giggle lightly herself.

“So… you know, take it as a compliment! After Paige Curtis jacked up my nose in the third grade, I don’t trust many people to guide me like this.”

As she finished her story, they stopped walking. Marinette felt him step away and the absence left her colder than she anticipated in a catching breeze, shuddering and flattening out her skirt anxiously.

A lot of things happened at once, leading to Marinette opening her eyes without express permission. That being said, Adrien appeared ready to give the cue anyways, and his eyes sparkled in the dark as her expression morphed to one of shock.

His voice was soft, and features animated.

“Um, surprise?”

A loud bell, and a creaky, familiar door.

Candles, flickering little orange lights everywhere.

Glass reflections of dark juniper leaves, constellations of rainbow petals dotting the canvas of her flower shop, awash with marigold shadows that flickered with the flames.

“What… the…?” Marinette mouthed, walking forward with her mouth hanging open. She couldn’t even care to close it at that moment - what had he done ?

She struggled, looking up and around before resting her eyes on a shy, smiling blond as he closed the door behind her.

Never had the bell sounded so bright, tinkling in her ear like a childhood secret. Marinette swallowed uselessly, eyes coming to rest on a simple folding table in the very center of the store.

A big cooler was on the floor, along with a large laptop and a stack of assorted DVDs.

Adrien rubbed his hands together, evidently nervous that she had nothing to say.

“W-well, you know, I felt bad that we had to switch up the original plans… so I thought I could bring the movies and ice cream to you, since we couldn’t go out because of me?”

Marinette just stared, wide-eyed as he took a hesitant step closer. A tiny part of her brain wondered what the heck her face could have looked like, but the rest of her attention was torn between studying his expression and trying to puzzle together how he could’ve pulled this off.

She was entirely surprised, of course by the picturesque scene he built especially for her, but even more so by his reaction .

Marinette had never seen Adrien like this - not even when he asked her out. The searching, almost worried look in his emerald eyes, wide and sensitive, and the way they studied her face for a hint of disappointment; the way his hands fumbled to reach for her own when she continued to say nothing, linking their fingers together with clammy palms; his glowing cheeks, twinged pink and orange beneath the lights he had somehow so carefully organized around the shop.

If she didn’t feel about ready to pass out, Marinette would have kissed him right then and there.

She wanted to, desperately, but her body was stuck just like that.

Adrien, apparently, was only growing more nervous. He started to ramble, and Marinette just watched the way his lips moved, mesmerized by how soft they looked.

“I-I know, you know, work is probably the last place you want to spend your free time, but… I thought it would be private enough, and I can only imagine you’re sick of it here, but it’s my favorite place in the whole city, Marinette. Anytime I come here my day is ten times better, because I get to see you. I h-hope… I hope this isn’t all too weird for you?”

Bowing his head, Marinette followed his gaze. He was staring at their hands, but when he spoke again, his focus was on her face. The glimmer of his eyes peered out from beneath his blonde fringe, obscuring his face ever-so-slightly.

“Are you… surprised?”

“Surprise is…” Marinette licked her lips, trying to keep her voice from cracking. “Definitely one word for it.”

His posture straightened slightly, emboldened by her encouraging words. “Would ‘pleasantly surprised’ be a possible substitute?”

“... Let’s just say, being a florist, you have successfully floor -ed me.” Marinette smiled and dropped his hands, but only to wrap her arms around his middle and hug him carefully, troubled by how absolutely inadequate the gesture felt to convey how much she appreciated his surprise.

He froze for a moment while she hugged him, but he wrapped his arms around her after a pause and she could feel him smiling into her shoulder. It gave her chills to feel his jaw brush along her bit of exposed skin, and Marinette was starting to regret not kissing him.

Still, she sighed comfortably. “Thank you, Adrien. This is really beautiful.”

He didn’t say anything as they seperated slowly, but he was wearing an amused look on his face.

“What’s that look for?” He questioned, and Marinette realized she was squinting over his shoulder at the flickering orange lights.

Bemused, she moved around him to confirm her suspicions. “These are… LED candles, aren’t they?”

Adrien blushed slightly. “Yeah… I thought actual flame inside a place filled with plants was probably a little hazardous.”

She giggled at that, and he shot her a look.

“I didn’t want to be playing with fire .”

“Adrien, why?” She groaned, slumping her shoulders. “We were having a moment!”

“I made the moment better,” the blond argued, standing up a little straighter. “Come on, let’s sit. The ice cream won’t stay forever.”

Marinette let him pull out her chair, although not before sticking her tongue out at him. At that, Adrien beamed and sat down, situating his own folding chair right beside her (as opposed to across the table).

“Ice cream is a rarity for me,” he commented as he pulled forward the plastic cooler. “So I just sort of bought anything that sounded good, and grabbed some spoons. I figured we could share?”

Marinette peered in the insulated plastic contraption and had to bite down at the urge to laugh, managing a stifled little snicker instead. It was your standard beach or party cooler, and it was packed from top to bottom with probably twenty different flavors of pint-sized ice creams.

“A man with manners, yet he eats from the container…” Marinette noted, looking slyly in his direction. Adrien shrugged and offered her a spoon.

“What can I say, I’m a man of mystery.”

That ,” Marinette said severely, trying to hide a smile. “Is the most honest thing you’ve ever said.”

“That seems to imply I’m a liar. Do I deceive you often, Mari?” He teased back, setting out six flavors to start and grabbing the pile of DVDs.

Marinette was smiling so widely it was starting to hurt, but she didn’t care. “I can’t even count the ways.”

He snorted. “You’re unbelievable sometimes.”

In lieu of a response, Marinette popped the first scoop of the night into her mouth. “Mmm, ‘ooo goo’th.”

“Gooth?” He raised a brow, and Marinette punched him on the arm with her spoon-hand, cheeks filled with cinnamon bun flavored ice cream.

“‘On’th mathe ‘un of me!”

Adrien heeded her mumbled warning, biting his tongue to keep from laughing. Instead, he gestured down towards the movies.

“Okay, so, what’ll it be? I called the Hail Marinette, so I figure the least I could do is let you pick the movie.”

Marinette narrowed her eyes in the low-light, leaning forward to better read the names.

“These…” She paused, checking the selection a second time just to make sure. “These are all Disney movies.”
“I like Disney movies,” he stated matter-of-factly, and the cheeky grin he gave her made her heart beat a little faster. Awareness washed over her, her skin turned hyperaware of his proximity - arms practically on top of each other, their legs were touching under the table. There wasn’t an inch between their chairs, and Marinette was almost sorry it wasn’t one long seat… but she was getting ahead of herself.

Marinette coughed. “I like Disney movies too, but I haven’t heard of half of these. Oh, but you’ve got Studio Ghibli…”

Working on opening a tub of frozen dessert of the banana chocolate variety, Adrien nodded seriously. “Of course; Disney Japan. Miyazaki is a genius.”

She pursed her lips, biting down on the urge to confess her love to him right then and there. Why did he have to be perfect in every conceivable way?

Movies, Marinette. Not “marry me and have my children.”

“How about Castle in the Sky? I haven’t seen that one in ages.”

Adrien’s eyes sparkled, clearly thrilled by the suggestion. “One of my favorites.”

As he worked on setting up the movie, and Marinette used the opportunity to snatch the ice cream he had chosen and seize the first bite.

“You are pure evil, I swear,” Adrien muttered, the smile at his lips betraying any real anger. Marinette just hummed merrily, demonstrating with unnecessary enthusiasm how absolutely incomparable it was to savor the first bite.

“I’ll get you for that,” he swore. Marinette used the little rush of victory to muster a wink, turning her attention to the opening credits.

Studio Ghibli films were infamously long for animated features, but the time passed easily. Adrien, true to his word, waited for Marinette to crack open the next flavor and stole back the first bite, grinning triumphantly when she pouted. After another couple flavors and passing around the containers, Marinette declared she needed a break from the richness and Adrien packed the ice cream away; they had barely dented the haul he had brought, but she would be lying if she didn’t admit to enjoying the opportunity to sample. It was like the window-shopping of the dessert-world, and growing up in a bakery, it was nice to be on the other side of the glass for a change.

Once their melting distractions had been stored away, both blond and bluenette were sucked right into the movie. The soundtrack was a marvel and the animations were beautiful and dynamic, emblematic of just about every creation marked by the Studio Ghibli seal, and the plot was more compelling than Marinette remembered. Perhaps it was a product of nuance, appreciating film differently as you aged, or from the the unsung irony that she, like Sheeta, had a magical artifact that gave her inexplicable powers. In either case, Marinette was pulled right in, empathetic to the girl’s capture, identifying with her struggle to resign her power in exchange for Pazu’s safety.

Thank goodness Chat Noir had never been captured; she wasn’t sure what she would do.

More than once, Marinette found herself more of an audience to Adrien than the movie. His eyes lit up as Pazu orchestrated his plan with the Dola pirates, he scowled in time with Sheeta’s ongoing struggle, and he admired the beauty of Laputa once they discovered the magical island.

Occasionally, he would make a passing comment about the film in the form of an curious bit of obscure knowledge only a true fan might know.

“Oh, and that - the ‘aetherium.’ That’s something they added for the dub. I think it’s originally called volcite, or volucite… something like that,” he murmured, flickering his attention from the screen to her face. Marinette had been clearly caught staring, and it made her blush furiously.

As the ending neared, Marinette took a slow breath and tried to force some courage. Her hand slid from the table and sought out Adrien’s (he had both hands folded under his chin, rapt attention directed towards the screen). At the gentle introduction of her fingers, he blinked and glanced in her direction, wearing a small smile. She tried to return it steadily, and instead of accepting her offer directly, he cupped her fingers delicately between his hands and brought her hand to his lips, whispering secrets into her skin.

“I almost cried when I first watched this. I thought Pazu and Sheeta died.”

Marinette felt herself pink, the sensation of his warm breath dancing along her wrist, and he tugged her hand slightly to draw her closer. The chairs made it a little awkward, but she ended up propping her elbow on the arm rest while Adrien cupped her hand in both his own, brushing his lips over the valley of her knuckles absently. It was hard to tell if he was doing it on purpose or if he had been that deeply pulled into the movie, but Marinette was totally unable to focus on anything but the hypnotic pattern of his breathing, cresting over and between her fingers.

At some point, she closed her eyes and nearly fell asleep to the sensation; she didn’t even notice the movie ended until he said her name.

“Marinette?”

She flinched so suddenly that her knee smacked the table, and a slew of florist’s curses followed.

Mother of flowers, ” the girl spat, gripping her knee and hissing. “Damned daffodils, Lazy freakin ’ Susans.”

Adrien’s voice was amused, but he placed a delicate hand on her injury. “How do you go without breaking your arms and legs everyday?”

“It’s…” she peeked through her lids, gulping at the sight of his hand on her exposed skin, all of her nerve-endings on fire. “An art, I think.”

“It sure is.” Adrien murmured, moving his hand away. Marinette’s skin burned where he touched her, aching for the electricity she felt flow through his fingertips.

Standing, Adrien put back together his DVDs and closed the lid of his laptop, stacking everything carefully. A black duffle bag appeared from beneath the table, and he grinned sheepishly.

“I’m not going to let this ice cream go to waste,” he said as he stored away the cooler. “Maybe you can come over and help me finish it sometime.”

Marinette had begun to stand, but froze halfway through the motions. Adrien seemed to catch himself, and when their eyes met she admired the rosy tint that colored his cheeks.

“I mean, if you… if you’d want to do something like this again. I had a lot of fun, though I am sorry it wasn’t Andre’s ice cream.”

Adopting a soft smile, Marinette stopped him in his tidying up by placing a hand over his.

“I would… I would love that, Adrien. I don’t have really anything to go on - except that one time we dressed up in disguises and went to the movies,” she paused and smiled when he made a face. “But I can say confidently that this was the best date ever. Thank you.”

Chairs pushed out, they stood in a darkened room, quiet but for their breathing. Marinette was angled towards him, and he was mostly facing the table, one hand on the DVDs, another hesitating over the plastic surface with her own trembling fingers. A shotgun in the silence, Marinette heard him gulp more than she noticed the action, her own attention drowning in the viridescent depths of his keen, bright eyes. The flicker of false-candle light followed his features as he turned to face her properly, and she watched as his attention flickered from her eyes to her lips.

Marinette could feel the hunger in his stare, and it caused a maelstrom in her stomach of her unfamiliar, wanton curiosity.

Adrien’s gaze went back to her eyes, and Marinette felt weak beneath his mesmerizing stare. His nose was close enough that she felt the light brush of skin against her own, and his presence was like pure adrenaline coursing through her veins.

“Marinette?” He breathed, and she could barely hear him over the raging storm of her pulse, pounding in her eardrums.

“Can I kiss you?”

The best she could manage was a tiny nod, and her lashes fluttered closed when the inches grew to centimeters, and millimeters, and then air was forgotten, a memory of something to be savored between their tongues.

Careful and sweet, his lips were soft and warmer than she could have ever imagined. Marinette was drunk on his taste, sweet like ice cream but hot like a summer breeze. She grabbed his collar and pulled just so, trying to express how much she wanted this. It made her heart explode like fireworks on Bastille’s Day, illuminating her spirit with sensations that were somehow both new and yet familiar.

She had never kissed anyone - save for Chat Noir, once, under very exacting circumstances - and this was entirely different. Not a duty, but a request, his lips were a guide and the hands that cupped her cheeks - when did those get there, anyway? - were an invitation.

It was very difficult to pull away, and her tongue felt greedy. It wanted to taste his mouth entirely, to explore and probe how his breath tasted. She wanted to let her hands roam, to explore more than just his collar, but Marinette’s lungs reminded her that she needed air.

When they pulled away, she was practically gasping. Her skin was flushed ruby, and he appeared to be in much the same state.

Once she felt her voice crawl out from their forgotten cavern, Marinette managed a small, lame reaction.

“Wow. So that’s what that’s like.”

He grinned smugly, clearly pleased with himself, and started to pack up the remainder of the table. “Wow, indeed.”

Adrien folding the table in half and it collapsed relatively easily, and Marinette started to gather each of the fake candles.

The silence was… maybe a little awkward, but mostly because it was sparked by electricity that Marinette had never known before. It told her to go back, to kiss him again with twice as much fervor, to give into her baser instincts, but her brain remained stubborn and focused.

A mantra helped.

Candle, grab, flip the switch. Candle, grab, flip the switch. Candle, grab, flip the switch .

By the time the shop was completely restored to the way Marinette had left it, she hesitated in handing him the final candle.

“Is something wrong?” He asked, lowering his hand when she clutched the plastic thing to her chest.

“N-no,” Marinette said, ducking her head. Her shoes were somehow much more interesting than his face right now, especially since every part of muscle memory was telling her to pay attention to his lips again. “I just… I was wondering if I could keep one? This was special, so… I’d like to remember it.”

Adrien’s feet entered the frame, and Marinette quivered like a leaf in a dry breeze.

“Of course,” he answered gently, lifting her chin with a hand. The lustful hunger that had crept into his eyes earlier was replaced by his usual gentleness, and he smiled so beautifully Marinette hiccuped.

Like a true gentleman, he didn’t comment on the sound for sake of her dignity. Instead, he stepped around her and held open the door, the bell tinkling above their heads.

“Let me take you home,” he offered, and Marinette nodded briskly and scurried after him, locking the door in the damp Paris air.

The ride home was quiet, Marinette’s hands a jittery reflection of her internal catastrophe. They tapped, danced, pinched and flexed along her skirt and the center console, the need to text Alya or cheer to Tikki or splash water on her face all useless in the silent confines of the sedan.

By the time they idled in front of the bakery, Adrien flashed her a grin and spoke for the first time since leaving the shop.

“Can I get the door for you?”

He usually didn’t ask - he rather insisted, or acted petulant when she refused. His tone hinted at something deeper, and it was just like when he asked to kiss her. For once, Marinette agreed.

Rolling her eyes, she replied with pseudo-exasperation. “ Fine .”

Beaming, Adrien let himself out and walked around, opening the door for her and offering a hand. Marinette could see the lights on upstairs, but the base of the bakery was merificully dark. She half-expected her parents to be standing in the store with signs and t-shirts ready, welcoming him into the family.

“Sooo…” Adrien began, rubbing the back of his neck not at all casually as they reached the front door. “About that offer to come have some ice cream again…”

Marinette snickered and covered her mouth with a hand. For once, she didn’t care about how silly she might sound. She didn’t care about being too eager or blushy or awkward.

Adrien had kissed her - he had asked if he could - and right now, she was on cloud-nine.

“Yes, you absolute dork. We can go out again, anytime.”

Blond brow’s raised, he leaned forward with an eager smile. “Really? You mean it? Er, does that… are you saying you’ll be my girlfriend? N-not that you have to be, we could just go on another date sometime. I just really enjoyed tonight, and… you know, I would love if you would be my girlfriend.”

Marinette smiled and crossed her arms. “Seriously, Adrien, if I was any more obvious, I’d have to hit you over the head with a sign that says, ‘ YES! DATE ME ALREADY!’”

At that, he laughed and the sound was pure euphoria.

Without hesitation this time, one of his hands went to her face and his other found her hand, pulling her close and pressing their lips together. This kiss was a little rougher, a sort of eager enthusiasm not muddled by hunger or questions or hesitation. It was just as delicious, but temptation was replaced by unbridled happiness. She could feel him smile through the kiss, and it made it that much sweeter when he pulled away, breathless.

Adrien’s smile reached his eyes, and the streetlamps cast tiny shadows in his dimples. “I hope you know, you’re signing up for lots more puns. And no take-backsies.”

“Take-backsies? Seriously ?”

“Yep.”

Marinette pursed her lips and stepped back, appraising him seriously. “How bad are we talking with the puns?”

Adrien, bouncing on his heels, studied the Dupain-Cheng Bakery sign above her head.

“Crumb on, you donut really want to tempt fate, do you?”

Marinette put her hand on the door, refusing to let out the laugh that bubbled to her lips.

“Go home before I call take-backsies anyways.”

 


 

 

Bonus Scene: Earlier that day...

 

 

“And don’t forget to tell your parents!” Tikki called as she disappeared into the folds of Marinette’s overly-large tote bag.

“Ahh…” The girl groaned, facepalming. Marinette had definitely been avoiding the subject with her parents, not wanting to make a big deal of things, but since she wasn’t going to be home for dinner there was no hiding it any longer.

Setting her jaw, Marinette descended the stairs and tried to appear casual as she entered the bakery. Maman was in the back, washing her hands, and Marinette could hear her father’s voice mingle with those of customers, carried from the front of the store.

“Good morning, honey,” greeted her mother. Marinette smiled and opened her mouth to reply, but firmly closed it again when she felt herself blush.

The silence caught her mother’s attention, so the woman furrowed a brow and turned to her daughter. “Marinette? Are you alright?”

She sucked her teeth reluctantly, which only further enticed her mother’s curiosity. The woman dried her hands and moved in front of her daughter, placing a hand on each shoulder.

“Alright, spill it. What’s happening?” The woman’s voice remained soft but firm, and Marinette tried to delay the inevitable by sipping her beverage again.

She was vaguely aware of the sashaying at her shoulder strap; Tikki’s encouragement needed no words to speak volumes.

“Maman,” she began, voice unusually husky. Marinette cleared her throat. “I won’t be home for dinner tonight. I’m… going out.”

“Oh,” the woman smiled warmly and dropped her accusatory stance, moving to a cooling rack of croissants and splaying them out platter, playfully swatting her daughter’s hand when she moved to steal one. Marinette blew a raspberry and her mother laughed, but not before shoving  another buttery, fluffy pastry back to her daughter.

Marinette chewed happily, and her mother just kept her focus on the task at hand.

“Well, don’t be too late. I’d like to have you back by, say, 9?”

“That sounds great,” Marinette hummed the words through satisfied bites, and her mother began packing together some additional pastries in a brown paper bag.

“And what are you kids doing tonight? Going over to Alya’s?”

Marinette licked her lips, her mouth feeling rather dry. “Um, no, actually.”

Just - just say it! Get it over with.

Her mother tilted her head curiously, and Marinette managed to bulldoze on.

“I’m going to the movies. With Adrien. On a… on a date.”

At that, her mother paused and looked up, meeting her daughter’s gaze with humor in her eyes. “Adrien, from school?”

Marinette bit her lip and nodded, but was surprised when her mother’s face spread into the most dazzling smile. “Well, why didn’t you say so? It’s about time! Why don’t you extend your curfew ‘til… 10:30?”

“W-wait, what?” Marinette blinked, surprised her mother was so lenient.

The woman simply shook her head and laughed lightly, handing the bag of treats to her daughter.

“A mother knows these things, sweetie. And this is great for me, if you waited until next month it would be me instead of your father doing laundry for the next three weeks.”

Probably loud enough that every Parisian in a ten-mile radius heard, Marinette howled at her mother.

YOU WERE BETTING ON THIS?! WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH MY LIFE?”

Her mother patted her back soothingly, and rested her head along Marinette’s arm. “He seems like a nice boy, Marinette. Just be careful and don’t be afraid to set boundaries. And if you guys run out of things to do with the disappointing turn in the weather, you’re welcome to come back here for a while.”

At that, Marinette released a good-humored groan and patted her mother’s head. “Thanks, Maman. And yes, Adrien is nice… I’m, heh, I’m actually a little nervous.”

She ducked her head, as if the action would hide her disquiet from her mother; the woman seemed to know all.

She wrapped her daughter in a quick hug, and Marinette felt some tension in her muscles fade.

“You’ll do great, I just know it. You’ve grown up to be so smart, and confident, and beautiful. So don’t worry, dear. And if it helps, your father and I already approve… so, you know. Go get ‘em!”

Maman!” Marinette ran a hand down her face, in part to hide her rosy cheeks but mostly from exasperation.

The woman leaned a little closer, dismissing her daughter’s irritation, and whispered.

And if you can find a way to sneak in a kissing session, your father will be doing the laundry for two months straight! I’m rooting for you!”

The shriek that came from her mouth could not be aptly described as human.

Chapter Text

Marinette?

She could still hear Adrien’s voice, low and hesitant. The sound was heat lightning, strange and glowing in the absence of rain, but the energy alone brought light to the world, so electric that the it dragged goosebumps down her skin.

Can I kiss you?

Oh, the differences a day could make.

Marinette woke well before her alarm, which was, needless to say, a rarity in the Dupain-Cheng household. The curse of her job had her typically set to be blarred into awareness at precisely 9 AM, but that morning, Marinette blinked at the easy miracle of sunshine that tickled her face just after 6:30 AM. The lazy weight of rain from the day before had sunk into her bones, making her sleep dreamless and heavy. Toying with the idea of going back to bed, Marinette rolled over and squeezed her eyes against the brightness amplified by her skylight. The longer she waited, the more memories from the previous night rushed to greet her and the more futile any attempt at sleep became.

Blond hair, kneeling in a river of creamy orchids and sympathetic lilies; slow, warm hands brushing the dirt from her cheek. Exhales tickling her wrist and twisting around her fingers, causing her hair to stand on end. The first kiss, soft and exciting, mingling uncertainties between their lips in the most intoxicating way imaginable; then there was the second, this time lighter and more brilliant than the sun that ached behind her lids, a perfect smile brushing against her jaw with thrilling pressure.

The memories were electrifying, and Marinette deemed any echo of sleep a lost cause when her lips began to tremble with absence, hungry for the kisses she half-believed she dreamt.

She was in a relationship with Adrien Agreste.

They kissed.

Twice.

It had just been about 9 hours, but Marinette still never came down from the high. If she hadn’t pinched herself a dozen times last night, called Alya, squealed with Tikki and informed her parents of her change of relationship status (much to her mother’s pleasure and her father’s chagrin - he wasn’t looking forward to doing the laundry for two months), she wouldn’t have believed it.

Even with that, she almost still didn’t believe it, but there was a tiny battery-powered candle sitting beside her computer monitor that argued otherwise.

Once her stomach grumbled, partially from the waves of fluttery nostalgia but mostly from hunger, she rolled out of bed and began her day. Her parents were already opening the store - a baker’s hours always started early and ended late - so she was able to get ready more-or-less in peace.

Marinette flipped on the news while enjoying some perfectly tanned toast, gripping her phone incessantly in case of a text message from her - her…

“Boyfriend.” She needed to say the word, to make sure the reality of it could roll off her tongue. It sounded rather pleasant, so she tried it again.

“Boyfriend.”

Yes, that wasn’t so bad.

Boyfriend.

It was sort of nice, actually.

Boy-friend.”

Adrien was a boy, but not “just a friend.” Not anymore, Marinette thought smugly.

She wanted to try it again, just one more time.

Boyfriend.”

“This is getting a little weird,” Tikki admitted, and the sudden appearance of her kwami caused Marinette to start. She almost fell straight off the couch.

The kwami had materialized silently, descending from Marinette’s room who-knows-when. The unexpected audience to her babbling was more than enough cause to blush.

“H-hi, Tikki, sorry…” Marinette mumbled, shoving the remainder of her toast in her mouth before she said anything else that would make her seem even creepier.

Little red features smiled up at her, plopping beside the girl on the couch.

“No, no, Marinette. I mean, this - the news.”

Blinking, Marinette’s features fell to a scowl as she refocused her attention to the screen. She hadn’t even noticed the proverbial sideshow happening in front of her, wrapped up as she was in her… um, verbal experimentation, but when did face the television... well, the longer she watched, the stranger things got.

The local meteorologist must have lost a bet, or Marinette decided she had lost her mind.
Why else would the young man on her television be dressed up in an inflatable sun costume, dancing in front a green screen?
“Yep, it’s hot, hot, hot out there, folks. A recorder breaker! Be careful and stay hydrated.”

Tikki had started to giggle rather pointedly, and Marinette joined in.

At first, she had to assume it was just the news station’s attempt at humor. Honestly, it was in such poor taste that she bet Adrien would have just loved it. Maybe there would be a YouTube clip she would be able to find by the time she got to work, she mused. After all, she had free reign to text him whenever she wanted to; they were together now.

That thought had her cupping both of her own cheeks in an attempt to stop from blushing.

At half-past eight, she stepped outside to brave the early morning heat, and Marinette was a little chagrined to find that the weatherman had not been joking. The heat was absolutely unbearable. If the warning had come from anyone else, she might have been more inclined to believe it.

The clouds from the previous stormy day had come back for their vengeance, descending from the atmosphere with thick and latent humidity. It clung to everything - her skin, her hair, the sidewalk and the fanfare of people who rushed by in their morning activities. Fog and haze blanketed the city in the early hours of the morning, and Marinette almost felt bad for wasting a shower to wash her hair. The back of her neck, collar, and forehead were slick with sweat almost immediately upon stepping outside, and even her coffee lost some appeal with the sticky moisture permeating the air.

To have worn a sweater on her way in the day before felt like a joke, and now climate change was throwing a pie in her face to really hammer-home the punch line. Well, that is, if the metaphorical pie was made of very literal droplets of sweat, bagged eyes, and frizzy hair.

Still, the pie was sweet and tasted of banana chocolate ice cream; Marinette’s complaints through the morning heat were scarce.

She chattered happily with Tikki the whole way, an extra large haul of sweets in her hands. Tucked in the wax-paper bag, her kwami chomped away merrily at macarons and meringues while Marinette wove around pedestrians with the world’s goofiest grin on her face.

Alya would be coming by a little after lunch today, and her parents were agreeable to her suggestion to bring her best friend some extra pastries to share. Maman, Papa, and a infamously fox reporter-to-be all vehemently denied having anything to do with Adrien mysteriously getting into the flower shop last night, even though her parents had the only other set of keys in the whole city and Alya had conspicuously just come from her house under the pretense of bringing her good-luck-coffee. Unless Adrien was a master cat burglar by night, could pick old locks and be in two places at the same time, the whole lot of them were all in cahoots and had sworn one another to silence.

Marinette scowled the thought with a good-humor about her, coming to a halt upon reaching the store. She bent to set her coffee on the ground while scrounging for her keys. Usually, Tikki would offer some aid if she was tucked in Marinette’s purse, but the kwami’s attention was taken by more sugary concerns.

After a moment’s fumbling, she managed her way inside and pushed through the door. The familiar first inhale tingled her senses as she breathed in the waves of flora and inexplicable heat - who knew sunshine had a flavor of its own? The beating rays above her head had even called out her crowd of insects, and she spotted an occasional pill bug nestled in the soil of her planters mixed with the quiet harmony of buzzing of honeybees. Marinette loved their company on days like this, all quiet but for their toiling honeyed labor, stopping to kiss the tops of her many blossoms that crowded the shelves.

She had always considered the shop to be a calming oasis in her life and in the bustling metropolis that was Paris, a natural wonderland she could seek refuge in away from the demands of the rest of the world. Now, though, everything felt even more miraculous, reflections of romance that and reminded her of dimples, emerald eyes, and sweet words of music to her ears at every turn.

Marinette took another deep breath, feeling refreshed despite the waves of heat, and set herself to task with the help of muscle memory, and the store was prepared before she knew it. Lights on, cash counted for the register, new stocks placed out where she could, Marinette was ready to open for business as the morning yielded to the ninth hour. To open then would be a waste, though, as it would be silly to expect anyone to come in outside of posted hours, so she instead retreated to the back of the store and began to prepare the funeral flowers for pick-up.

Greeted by the ghostly meadow of funeral arrangements, Marinette sighed a little sadly. She knew gifting people in the wake of death must have been a poor excuse for the memories fostered by the one lost to death, but memories of people like Madam Kleinstein gave her hope. Mournings, like mornings, were celebrations, a farewell and an ode all at once; she greeted the sun for another day, the never-ending march of time a reminder to the days lived by those we lost.

She felt herself smiling through the work as she arranged each trumpet of white petals by size and variety for her pick-up girls in the afternoon. The soam that stained her hands felt soft and warm with life, and while Marinette knew creation to be a tedious task, she knew it helped return things to a semblance of normality.

Taking a seat at the desk, Marinette pulled out some stationary from a drawer and crafted a few quick notes for the orders, offering her sympathy, thanks, and what were hopefully reassuring words during the difficult time faced by the family.

All in all, the thoughtful work carried her for about twenty minutes, and at the half-hour Marinette checked her phone. She didn’t expect Adrien to be awake yet or to text her by any means, but he was and he did.

 

Adrien “Anything” Agreste (9:12 AM):

Marinette! What did the German Chocolate Cake say to the baker?

 

Marinette had half a mind to text back “I’m breaking up with you,” but it was risky. He might think she was serious, and that was definitely not what she wanted. She was resigned to indulge him, but not without some teasing of her own.

 

Marinette (9:31 AM):

Hmm… I hope it’s not a joke about “getting in the oven,” because Madam Kleinstein would be very disappointed in you.

 

Adrien “Anything” Agreste (9:32 AM):

Omg Mari. No!!

 

Adrien “Anything Agreste (9:32 AM):

it was supposed to be “gluten morgen” but now you made it dark

 

Wearing a satisfied smirk, Marinette put her phone away again. She heard Tikki rustle around inside her bag of sweets, and she was just about to unravel the bag and search for a tasty treat of her own when the bell at the front of the store called out to her.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Marinette raised her voice, patting her already soiled hands on the edge of her apron. “We’re not... open… yet?” As she turned the corner to the front of the store, her polite greeting turned to confusion.

A woman wearing a pencil-skirt-suit-combo that was a little too tight stood framed in the doorway, and her getup was accessoried by horned-rimmed glittery red glasses and black pumps. Flanking her left and right, two men decked out in service uniforms stood ramrod straight, chins pointed dutifully forward. The lot of them occupied the space in front of the door with judgmental eyes casting over her pots and plants, and it left Marinette with a curled lip of distaste.

She knew this woman, though the men were faceless to her. It was the event coordinator from Le Grand Paris who stopped in last week.

Keeping her tone brisk, Marinette swept the hair from her eyes and repeated her original salutation. “I’m sorry, we usually don’t open for another half-hour. Is there something I can help you with?”

Curtly, the woman stepped in Marinette’s direction.

“I would like to place an order for this Saturday.”

If the raven-haired girl didn’t know better, she’d think the woman was trying to intimidate her. Years defending Paris had toughened her up, though - it was going to take a lot, lot more than a bad attitude to get under her skin.

“Okay…” Marinette began slowly, strolling behind the counter and recovering her clipboard. “Again, I hope you don’t mind I wasn’t quite ready; we aren’t technically open yet…” She flipped through to a fresh page for invoices. “Okay. So, is this for Le Grand Paris, or a personal request?”

Pursing her lips, the woman motioned for the men to follow her all the way to the counter. Their presence practically exuded lucre, so Marinette had a pretty good idea this was something for the hotel.

“Le Grand Paris’ usual supplier is unable to accomodate the volume of our request,” the woman began stiffly. Marinette wrinkled her nose; she didn’t care for the lingering scent of tobacco that flitted from the woman’s breath. “We need seventy additional arrangements of the following.”

A tablet was shoved into Marinette’s hands before she could do much but blink, and the soft metal was supple luxury against her fingers compared to the tough plastic clipboard in her other hand. The tech was probably more expensive than anything she owned, and it was a little disconcerting that this woman just plopped it into her grip without so much as a second thought.

Eyeing the list, Marinette raised a brow. “Umm, I’m sorry, did you say seventy? We have all of these, but...”

“Is there a problem?” The woman interrupted. Marinette flickered her attention up from the detailed instructions, not appreciating the smug expression fixed behind the woman’s glasses. Glasses continued. “As I recall, your website says any speciality orders can be accommodated within three days notice. ‘Guaranteed’ as, I understand it?”

“With all due respect, Madam,” Marinette replied flatly, setting the tablet across the counter and pushing it back towards her. “That guarantee is implied to be, well… you know, within reason? We would be glad to help with the reception, but our business is small. It would be impossible for us to match the quantity you’ve requested with a week’s notice, let alone our three day promise.”

The tablet remained squarely between them, a careful list of demands for Marinette’s time and attention.

Across the counter, the woman raised both brows.

“You’re refusing our business? We are happy to pay a rush fee.” Her tone was troubling - why did she almost sound happy about that?

Marinette responded dryly. “Well, I um - I don’t know if refusing is the right word… We’d be happy to contribute, but could we maybe coordinate a more reasonably sized request?”

“Most guarantees don’t usually include bargaining,” the woman pointed out, narrowing her eyes and scooping the tablet from the glass display case. “For sake of consistency, we will have to decline. The more florists we enlist, the more we will have to coordinate -- deliveries, purchase orders…” She sighed and locked the tablet, turning and striding towards the front door. “It’s unfortunate - but what am I saying? You’re in the business, you know how difficult keeping track of it all is. You understand.”

At that, she had to force down an annoyed hiss that grumbled in her throat. The woman was clearly up to something, and the false politeness that lavished her words only made it more suspect. Torn between relief and anger, Marinette watched the group take a few steps toward the door, clenching and unclenching her fists. To lose a sale that large was literally rather costly, but it’s not like her family needed Le Grand Paris’ business. Heck, Marinette didn’t even want their business - everything tasted bitterly like a scheme if it came from the Bourgeois family.

Kill them with kindness.

That was Mo’s advice when dealing with… less than pleasant customers.

She affixed her face into a sympathetic smile and walked around the counter, waving.

“Yes, I am so sorry we won’t be able to help. Please give our regards to the Le Grand staff and we wish you the best of luck.”

What was doubtlessly a condescending comment from the woman was silenced by the loud ringing of the bell, and Marinette’s grin widened as the hotel’s entourage disappeared into the daytime. Once they were gone, though, her smile flickered and faded to a downturn at her lips, and Marinette firmly tucked her hands in the front pocket of her apron. She turned her back to the door and stared blankly at the register, her own mind registered an annoyed, tempestuous storm. With difficulty, Marinette tried to consciously stop the uncomfortable squirming in her stomach, not enjoying the unpleasant taste each mannerism of the entourage had left on her tongue.

Most irritating, it all made her feel guilty.

It’s not her fault the woman had made an unreasonable request. Maman and Papa would have said the same thing if they had been in her position - no way they could complete an order like that in just a few days. Marinette tried to tell herself that she was just being realistic.

The mantra of reassurances sounded entirely forced, and a pit started to form in her stomach.

Marinette knew for a fact that there was a very real reception on Saturday at the hotel for Le Nuit, and she had already firmly decided not to attend since Adrien would not be going. It wasn’t exactly her sort of soirée anyways, but knowing green eyes and blond hair would be conspicuously absent from the evening made it all the less appealing…

What if she worked through the day on Saturday? Up until meeting with Nino and Alya for the actual museum hopping?

If she stayed late everyday, she could probably finish all the orders…

“No, no,” Marinette shook her head and ran a hand down her face. The doubts had rooted her in the center of the store, staring blankly at the back wall.

This was silly.

She was just getting herself worked up over nothing.

Figuring a conversation would clear her head, Marinette assumed Tikki had heard the whole dialogue carry from the front, so she decided a vent session would help unwind her nerves.

Marinette pulled out her bun and began running her fingers through her hair, starting to comb the layers in comfort as she turned around.

“Okay, tell me I’m not being crazy… That was seriously -- aHhAHHHH!”

Marinette screeched and leapt backwards, almost tumbling over the counter in surprise. Blinking beyond the glass windows, a pair of green eyes appraised her, looking much more amused than they had any right for frightening her.

For her part, Marinette could do little more than huff irritably, hands busied with covering her heart in a wasted attempt to stop the erratic thumping that pulsed against her ribs.

It’s not like Chat Noir was necessarily a scary person, though his lame attempts at humor could err on the side of horrifying; it was just the surprise of seeing his his sincere smile that caused her heart to flutter and breath to hitch, not made better by the fact that she was sweaty and tense from the conversation.

Needless to say, Marinette was not used to having so many visitors before the store opened. She dropped her hands a brushed the tangled waves of her short mane from her face and puttered quickly to the front door, wrenching it open to a cacophony of city sounds.

“What in the world,” she breathed, feeling a smile find her lips despite herself. “Are you doing here?”

Chat slid right through the front door, the bell at his neck ringing in time with the one above their heads. Thankfully, no one seemed to have spotted the hero slink inside, else Marinette might have a crowd of fans to deal with atop of all of this morning’s strangeness.

Wearing a crooked smile, Chat Noir bowed. “I didn’t know I needed a formal reason to visit the prettiest girl in all of Paris.”

Marinette snorted, very aware of the knotted-frizzy-mop of hair that clung to her shoulders and the line of sweat that kissed her brow.

Chuckling, she turned away and walked towards the back, the invitation for him to follow implied. “Very funny, minou.”

The hero scowled but kept up her pace. “I would never joke at your expense, Purr-incess.”

“Well, then the girl you’re looking for is probably in some air conditioned room somewhere,” Marinette called over her shoulder, and Chat merely scoffed and claimed his usual place on her chaise while she took the chair at her desk.

Rubbing her temples, Marinette squeezed her eyes closed. Too much was happening, and she was starting to give herself a headache.

“So, how are you today?” She managed, still repeating the therapeutic motions. She made no attempt to keep the haggard quality from her voice.

“Well...” her partner began, eyeing her carefully. “I’m excellent, actually. But now I feel rather bad for scaring you. Has something happened? If it’s a boy, just give me the word and I’ll gladly throttle him for you.”

Giggling, Marinette dropped her hands in her lap and met the cat’s gaze. He was pawing at the fabric in a frustratingly cute way, and she some of her earlier annoyances evaporated.

“I don’t need you defending my honor, minou, though that reminds me…” Marinette paused, clearing her throat. “I do have some… boy-related news to share with you.”

He adjusted his weight, flaxen hairs dancing along his forehead and casting tiny shadows over his face. “Have you been sneaking other boys in your room, purr-haps?”

Marinette shook her head. “Now I’m not telling you anything.”

Chat’s grinned turned impish, and she swore his green eyes danced in the sunlight. “Oh, come on! Are you trying to kill this poor cat with curiosity?”

Rolling her eyes, Marinette didn’t realize how much she missed Chat until he was here, beaming at her stupidly; his light-hearted attitude was a welcome reprieve from stressful days she’s had. Even all of the recent reasons she had to be down-right thrilled had brought some anxieties, so it was nice to simply sit here with a familiar, happy face.

As Marinette, her relationship with Chat had always been friendly, if not a little more flirtatious than she would have liked, so she hummed in amusement at the thought of how he might react to the news.

“Sooooo…?” His tail flicked around, animating his playful interest. Thankfully he didn’t knock into any of her displays for the funeral, though it would have been a good excuse for her to start keeping a spray bottle around. The prospect of threatening him with harmless water whenever he got on her nerves was almost hilarious.

Biting her lip through a smile, Marinette coughed. “Right, so… I, umm…”

“I’m dating someone now. I have a... boyfriend.” She almost laughed at the word now, recalling how silly she must have sounded that morning when Tikki found her on the couch. A little more confidently, she added, “So, you know, if you see me out and about with… ah, with Adrien Agreste, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t ‘throttle’ him.”

“Adrien Agreste? Hmm…” Chat Noir hummed momentarily, taping his chin. Marinette thought his tail looked even more spirited, and his ears even perkier than usual - probably the silly boy trying to come up with some clever new ways to tease her.

When he did respond, Marinette felt herself redden.

“That’s the one who’s pictures are all over your room, isn’t it? So the model did catch your eye,” he said through a spreading smile.

Ah. Right.

She had almost forgotten Chat had seen her embarrassing display of posters in her bedroom. Still, she smiled so big that her cheeks hurt, entirely unashamed and too happy to care.

“Yes, actually. Yes. He’s handsome - like, stupidly so - but...  Well, after you visited the other day, I decided I was going to tell him how I felt but... things just sort of fell into place. I was going to tell him myself, probably… eventually… it was driving me insane not letting him know, you know?” They exchange a smirk, and Chat urged her to continue. “I just couldn’t believe it when he asked me out… I thought I was going to explode.” Marinette dropped her face in her hands to muffle a giggle, the memories of a million feelings - shock, excitement, disbelief and amazement, to name a few - all swirled together into a magical harmony of happiness when Adrien had come to see her on Sunday, only to be compounded further by the memories of yesterday. The whole experience had been like a dream, and repeating it outloud made it almost sound unreal.

If she hadn’t memorized the feeling of their lips crashing together, she might have convinced herself it was a very visceral dream; but even her loveliest fantasies could never have imagined how wonderful his kisses could taste.

When she looked up, Chat was leaning back with his arms crossed. An ever-characteristic, teasing grin lined his features.

“Well, Princess, that is paw-sitively excellent news. Though I’m glad you didn’t actually explode, that could have been cat-astrophic.” His smile widened when Marinette blew a raspberry at him. “But! Do let me know if this boy ever wrongs you. I’ll gladly throw him from the top of the Eiffel Tower if you want.”

“Chat Noir!” Marinette swatted a hand in his direction, giggling. “Don’t say things like that! You’re a hero. You can’t use your powers to roughen up civilians.”

“I can if they hurt you, Mari,” he winked, sounding entirely sauve. Marinette just rolled her eyes. “So I expect reports on this Agreste guy. Only the best for a Princess.”

A well-humored sigh passed through her. “Fine, mon chaton, though I’m certain nothing bad like that could happen. He’s amazing, and his puns are actually good.”

Where she expected Chat to react in offense at her jab, he instead beamed gloriously.

“What a lucky guy. He’s got the Princess and the jokes. Now who will care for this poor stray, if he’s got your heart?” Chat whined, yawning and rolling over slightly in the chair. His pose caught Marinette by surprise, like an adonis of old - arm propped up to support his head on one side, the rest of his body stretched long and covered tightly by layers of leather. Immediately, Marinette felt herself pink when she realized what she was doing, more than a little embarrassed by the rather suggestive look he was giving her.

As if to call out her mortification, Chat slyly added, “I’m sure he thinks you’re the cat’s meow.”

Marinette crumpled up an old order that had been collecting dust on the desk and threw it right at his stupid face.

Chat rubbed his nose. “Hey! It’s felonious assault to harm a superhero!”

“Aww,” Marinette put her hands under her chin and faked a pout. “Does kitty have a papercut?”

Chat’s pout morphed into a flirtatious smirk almost immediately. “Yes! I do! Right here, in fact.” He paused at pointed at his utterly unharmed lower lip. “Maybe you’ll kiss it and make it all better?”

Chaton!” Marinette said, voice indignant through a laugh. “I just finished telling you I have a boyfriend! You can’t say things like that.”

“But Princess,” his voice turned to a whine again. Chat turned over, propping his chin up between his hands and fluttering his lashes. “You know I can’t help it - you’re just so purr-tty! And besides, the whole thing out of my control; it’s all explained by the core principles of Cat Physics.” He sang the last part, and Marinette just leaned her head back on her shoulders, neck resting on the top of the desk chair.

Staring at the ceiling and feeling utterly exasperated, Marinette took the bait. “I know I’m going to regret this, but what in the name of mille-feuille is cat physics?”

“Why, I’m glad you asked, Marinette.” The black-suited hero sat up in the chaise, legs turned over the edge to face her. She could tell he was trying to maintain a straight face, but the occasional twitch along his lips betrayed his dumb little smiles.

“There are three c-laws to Cat Physics, but only one that applies here,” he began, holding up three sharpened nails to demonstrate. Marinette raised her brows, and Chat needed no invitation to continue.

“Today’s lesson will cover the main properties of Cat Inertia, of course! So, the theory goes, a cat will not move, or stop its given path, unless acted upon by an outside force. In my case, my mental energy has been trapped in a perpetual loop, captured by the wit of a teasing, charming girl,” he stopped to wink, and Marinette just snorted. “Though occasionally the feeling is only strengthened by the smell of croissants. Sometimes, a dastardly akuma attack will throw off my direction, but those are less important. So, it’s not my fault. Really, if you’re looking for someone to blame, it’s the universe.”

Marinette could only laugh at the proud look he wore; Chat was evidently pleased with what she deemed to be entirely silly logic. She had half a mind to ask if he have this joke in his back pocket the whole time, or if he really came up with this stuff off the top of his head.

Sighing, the bluenette made an attempt to play along. “Well, of course, then. I’ve been a fool, what in the world was I thinking, imagining you could act like a normal human being when his friends get in relationships. Curse you, universe!” She shook a fist at the ceiling.

Chat laughed openly, cheeks flushing from the joke, and Marinette felt herself smiling.

Glancing in his direction, her gaze flickered at the wall behind his head, and her expression turned apologetic when she spotted the clock.

“Well, kitty, for as great a morning this has been, I think we’ll have to end it there.” She stood up and threw her hair up in a fluid movement, not bothering to capture all of the small strays that danced around the nape of her neck. Speaking while securing the mess with a hair elastic, she stuck her tongue out at him; he was staring at her with wide-eyes and his mouth hanging open. “If you want to stay, you’ll be signing yourself up to a day of hot, manual labor, so I’d suggest you go before it’s too late.”

Instead of replying with the smart aleck response like she expected, Chat just continued studying her, eyes rather conspicuously going up and down the length of her apron. His ears were pointed straight up, and the whole moment was starting to make her feel a little self-conscious.

A light blush dusting her cheeks, Marinette tried to keep her tone light. “C-Cmon, Chat.”

After all, she’d been caught staring at him in much the same fashion before - they were just teenagers with the weight of the world on their shoulders, it’s not like either could be faulted for occasionally zoning out a little too pointedly. It was almost bound to happen given the amount of time they spent together.

Crossing the length of the office, Marinette put her index finger under his chin and forcing his hanging-mouth closed with an audible little pop.

“You’ll catch flies like that.”

At her touch, Chat blinked and leaned backwards, managing a very dorky smile. Marinette rolled her eyes and motioned for him to follow, leading the way around the front of the store and stopping at the counter to scoop up her clipboard.

By the time she reached the door, Marinette found herself feeling considerably better than when she first let him in. Sending a smile in his direction, she hesitated with her fingers round the handle.

“Alright Chat Noir, it’s time for you to go meow.”

Visibly enthused, the black-masked hero leaned a little closer, and Marinette felt his tail tickle her exposed ankles. “Oh? And will you tell your boyfriend that you still use my puns?”

Chat!” Marinette elbowed him in the ribs.You are unbelievable, I swear.”

“Don’t I know it,” he replied with another freakin’ wink, and Marinette wrung her hands at his obstinacy, ushering him to leave.

He paused half-way through the door framet, brow drawn together in an unusually severe look. Marinette was just about question what was wrong when he spoke, rubbing his chin.

“By the way, you never did say what was bothering you… If it’s not your new boy toy, I do at least hope you’re alright?”

“Oh,” Marinette paused. For all of the her partner’s flirtations, he was always genuinely concerned about her, as Ladybug or Marinette. It was one of the things she appreciated most about him.

Tone a little gentler, she picked at the dirt in her nails. “Right, yeah, I almost forgot. But, no, I’m fine. I was just dealing with some goons from Le Grand Paris before you showed up. Who comes by before business hours and orders seventy arrangements? Seventy!”

His head tilted. “That… sounds like a lot? I don’t really have a frame of reference…”

Marinette pursed her lips, recalling the conversation with the caustic woman from earlier. “Yes. And they tried to hold our ‘three day guarantee’ over my head, like I was a bad person for refusing their business. I’d probably work myself to death if I accepted, so forget that.”

Chat’s eyes narrowed, which Marinette thought to be sort of an odd reaction. He appeared as if he was thinking extremely hard about something, and just as she was about to wave a hand in front of his spaced-out expression, he blinked a few times and shot her a sheepish grin.

“Well, sounds like you scared ‘em off. But if you ever need some reinforcement of the cat variety,” he shimmed his shoulders, almost dancing in the doorway like a fool, and Marinette giggled while pushing him out the door.

“Good bye, Chat Noir.”

“Let me know if you ever want another Physics lesson!” He called, shooting her a salute while reaching for his baton. He was gone in a flash of dark leather against a bright Parisian backdrop, taking his silly self to the rooftops no doubt.

Marinette sighed and shook her head, but made no attempts to mask her smile. Chat Noir, for all he was, always knew just how to put her in a good mood; he was about as bright (and unbearable) as the sunshine overhead, and Marinette was already feeling exhausted from both.

She decided to fetch herself a bottle of water from the back.

Tikki caught her eye now that Chat disappeared, fluttering down from Mo’s Wandering Jew.

“You know,” she mused at Marinette’s shoulder. “If Chat Noir’s behavior ever gets to be too much, you could always consider taking… pun-itive action.”

They paused, making eye contact of vast skies to teeming seas, only for Marinette to collapse dramatically over the face of the desk.

Noooo,” she groaned, ignoring her kwami’s incessant giggling. “Not you too, Tikki. I can barely stand the boys as it is.”

Beaming, red antena tickled her nose as Tikki hugged her cheek. “Oh Marinette, you don’t have to put on a brave face for me. I know you like Chat Noir’s and Adrien’s jokes!”

“I don’t think so,” the girl argued with a derisive smile, standing up properly and glaring at the sun overhead. “Tolerating Adrien and Chat and enjoying their jokes are very different.”

I hope you know, you’re signing up for lots more puns.  And no take-backsies.

Let me know if you ever want another Physics lesson!

“Dorks,” she muttered under her breath.

Taking a sip from her water, Marinette eyed the remainder of her 24-pack dubiously. It was going to be a scorcher today (if the crazy meteorologist from that morning served as any indication), so she decidedly heaved the 20-odd bottles in their plastic prison up from their hiding place in the back office and brought them out to the front of the store. People and plants weren’t so different, after all, and they were all going to need plenty of water on a day like today.

Marinette was glad to have shooed away Chat Noir when she did. Just as she situated a dozen of the bottles in a spare wire basket top of the counter, her first customer came in. The conversation and sales were easy, and if Marinette didn’t have money or a credit card in one hand, she was heaving her watering can to-and-fro to sustain her flowers. At one point, teetering over her soft shield ferns and offering the greedy roots almost an entire watering can of respite, three customers came in all at once. Marinette made a mental note to look into the cost of having a revolving door installed as a substitute for the traditional front door; such an entrance would be better suited for her shop with the incredible volume of customers she dealt with that day.

Familiar faces were plentiful, and Marinette felt like each little piece of chatter was austere and pure. Brielle came through for another modish selection, a gaggle of predictable teenagers snatched up her flower crowns, and many other regulars frequented the shop and caught her ear as the minutes turned to hours.

Just before noon came the appearance of another regular, by the name of Old Man Bitty.

Well, Marinette didn’t actually know his name - he was a longtime friend of Mo’s, and the shopkeep had introduced the graying man with what she learned to be his long-time nickname - and he wasn’t by any means a regular old man. Still, Marinette called him Monsieur Bitty, and she was happy to see the familiar curmudgeon putter through her door.

Marinette had taken a moment to catch her breath and was resting in her stool behind the counter when the bell announced his arrival. She looked up and smiled immediately, surprised to see him with a younger woman at his arm. (Younger relative to him; she was probably at least ten years older than Marinette).

“Oh, Monsieur Bitty!” The dark-haired girl leapt down from her seat, surprised and pleased by the appearance of the old man. “I’m surprised you made it down here in this heat. And, I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve met,” Marinette added politely, dusting off her hands as she came around the counter to meet the pair.

The woman didn’t have the chance to answer, though her short curls rolled in time with her eyes.

Bitty spoke on her behalf. “Nice to see you, M. But don’t get attached to this one. My daughter only comes to the city once every decade.”

“Wow, thanks, Dad.” She met eyes with Marinette and smirked. “I’m Heather, and I like to think I come at least twice a decade, thank you.”

Marinette covered her mouth with the tips of her fingers, laughing lightly. “Well, welcome back to Paris, then. I’m --”

“Marinette,” the woman answered automatically. “Sorry. I feel like I know you already - from the times Dad and Mo have talked about you. It even feels a little weird using your name, they just call you…”

“M?” Marinette suggested, earning her a warm smile and a nod.

“M.” She agreed.

Heather pursed her lips when Bitty bowled past the both of them, muttering about women and chit-chat, heading towards her larger planters with a purpose.

“So,” Marinette cleared her throat. “You knew Mo?”

“You could say that,” Heather answered after a moment, reaching for the bag at her hip. Marinette moved a bit closer at the woman’s beckoning, and she watched as a wallet appeared in her hands. Matter-of-factly, she angled a pocket-photo in Marinette’s direction. “My wedding.”

Studying the picture, Marinette felt her face break into a smile - Heather, several years younger, was pinned to perfection in a cream-colored gown with a dark-skinned gentleman at her hip. Pointing, but careful not to touch the surface of the picture, Marinette wagered a guess. “Your husband?”

“Yep,” she answered in time with a nod, and Marinette shook her head and handed back the picture. The real stars of the portrait were neither the bride or groom, but a pair of old men pulling their mouths open and sticking their tongues at the camera, eyes-crossed and noses turned up in a hilariously unbecoming scene.

“That…. seems like Mo,” Marinette stated, and Heather nodded with comical severity.

“They basically fought to walk me down the aisle. It was a nightmare for Josh - my husband - because he basically inherited two fathers-in-laws.” She shrugged and put her wallet away, Marinette giggling all the while.

They began to move away from the door, following after Bitty.

Marinette, a little wistful, shot a glance at the woman. “I’m sorry if you came by to see Mo... It’s weird to think he’s been gone for a month.”

“Oh yeah,” the woman swatted a hand. “Josh and I got Dad a webcam, so they keep in touch. The real fun was getting Dad set up with his own Skype account. That was a trip.”

Marinette watched Bitty as he inspected each of her eucalyptus plants with intense scrutiny, trying to imagine. Mo was… not exactly proficient with modern technology, so the mental image brought a laugh to her lips.

“So what brings you to the store, Monsieur Bitty?” Marinette asked as Heather pulled out her cell phone.

“Nothing really,” his daughter answered. “We were just taking on the town, ce la vie, all that jazz.”

Bitty turned and shuffled to them, a finger pointed at Heather. “Jazz is a curse to music, how dare you bring that up in my presence!”

“Oh my god, Dad,” the woman shook her head, and the springy curls bounced in time with her actions. “You can’t be angry at everything all the time.”

Marinette had to suppress a bark of laughter when he winked at her and muttered, “Well, I can certainly try.”

Another few customers came in while the father-daughter duo shopped, so Marinette left them to their peace to help the other clients. A mother-of-the-bride appeared and took much of her attention, and they set up an appointment for next week to do a bridal consultation.

Just as she bid the woman farewell, Heather and Bitty appeared at the counter.

“So, did you all settle on anything?”

Bitty eyed her suspiciously. “I don’t settle, M. I only buy the best.”

“Of course, Monsieur Bitty,” she answered promptly, pretending to salute him like a general. The man smiled and nodded approvingly.

Heather leaned across the counter, whispering definitely-loud-enough so he could hear. “Don’t encourage him, for my sake.”

Marinette just laughed and scratched her cheek, her attention flickering over their shoulder when the bell rang.

She squeaked in surprise, and both daughter and father turned in interest. A warm complexion, brightened by a glowing smile and accented by green eyes and blond hairs waved politely. “Hello,” Adrien greeted, one-hand behind his back.

A light breeze followed him in with a draft through the door,, tousling Marinette’s already disheveled their hair and causing the vines overhead to sway carelessly.

Always a gentlemen, he quietly gestured to the pair in front of her and turned away, pretending to browse. “Take your time.”

Marinette felt light of head, surprised and flustered by Adrien’s unexpected visit. Her face reddened, voice hitched, and all of her pores were even sweatier for it. She hadn’t seen him since he kissed her goodbye last night, and to have to deal with customers with him in the store was suddenly much more difficult than it should have been. Her very-messy bun, perspiring face, and dirty apron felt much more prevalent than they had a few seconds ago, and since when did her hands start shaking?

Mercifully, Heather cleared her throat and Marinette blinked back into focus.

“Anyways, M, I think Dad wants two of the Weeping figs.”

“I can speak for myself, thank you,” Monsieur Bitty shook off his daughter’s arm and met Marinette’s gaze. “I…” He cleared his throat. “Would like two of the Ficus bejamina.”

Confused, the dark-haired girl looked between the two.

“Umm… Those are the same thing. Two ficuses, right?”

At that, Heather narrowed her eyes and breathed a few exasperated words. “Now you know why I moved to Nice.”

Unable to help herself, she giggled with bubbly waves of laughter as the father-daughter pair began to bicker. Their company was almost pleasant enough to distract her from a perfectly coiffed head of hair bouncing around the aisles, nestled atop a broad set of shoulders, with a face quirked up in a smile so adorable it should be considered a crime and --

“If it’s not any trouble,” Heather eventually said, breaking away from her conversation with her father and wearing an irritated scowl. “We’d like to take them with us rather that delivery. I think I could handle helping you get them to the car -- ”

Monsieur Bitty perked up immediately. “I don’t need you all fussing over me, kiddo, you can’t -- ”

Dad,” the woman pleaded, running a hand down her face. “You can’t even beat mom in an arm wrestling match. Let us handle this.”

The man was stubborn. “It’s not my fault your mother is freakishly strong.”

“Maybe you’re freakishly weak,” Heather suggested, and her father spun on his heel so fast Marinette was amazed he didn’t fall over.

Marinette’s eyes flickered back and forth, feeling a little awkward but mostly amused by their argument, and she wordlessly accepted payment through the spat (Bitty always paid in exact change).

“You can’t be lifting these things, Heath’! You’re pregnant, and I ain’t -- ”

A third, unexpected voice entered the arena, and all eyes turned to the new challenger.

“I could help.”

Adrien had approached the counter, the spiraling conversation easily audible in every corner of the store. It was only the four of them in the moderately-sized green house, and the pair had been making no effort to keep their voices down. A hand raised meekly to his chest, palm facing out like he was waiting to be called on by a teacher, Adrien offered himself as a tribute with a sheepish smile.

Heather looked pointedly from the blond to Marinette, brows raised. Before she could comment, Adrien held up his other hand up to display a fisted river of green fabric.

“I, um,  work here… seasonally,” he coughed, unravelling an apron. Marinette blinked in surprise - it was the same one he had given him last week to thank him for his help. “I could help load up your car while Mari watches the store.”

That seemed to seal the deal for Bitty.

“Well, now that’s great, M. You didn’t say you hired new help.”

“Uhh…” She deadpanned, distracted by the sight of Adrien lifting the apron over his head, dazed by the smile he wore while tying it round his waist. The addition to his usual ensemble made his chartreuse eyes pop even more than usual, and when they flickered up to meet her, she felt herself pink.

“Guess it’s about time though,” the man continued as he walked up to Adrien, appraising the blond with his ever-critical eye. “Need more people in here with Mo gone. It’s tough work, and you ain’t a superhero, M.”

“Ahhhhhh, eehhhh, yeah, hah, yeah...” Marinette laughed awkwardly, swallowing at the desert in her windpipe while the old man directed Adrien to the plants he had picked out. Marinette scrambled to grab for one of the bottles of water she had left out for her customers.

“Dad’s great,” Heather sighed, placing a hand on her stomach; she must be newly pregnant, Marinette assumed, because she wasn’t showing. “But sometimes he’s a headache.”

Marinette just hummed noncommittally, thoughtful for a moment. “Did he mention why he picked ficus?”

She missed the confused expression on Heather’s face, as her eyes were following the peek of gold that hovered above the rows all the way to the Eastern wall. A tropical tree like a Ficus seemed an appropriate selection under this sort of oppressive heat, and Marinette wiped her brow in vain.

“No, I don’t think so. Just a houseplant.”

Mumbling, mostly to herself, she tried to remember the lore that Mo had taught her. “Mmm… there’s a nice history to the Weeping fig. Lots of cultural stories.”

Once the men were out the store - Marinette using all of her mental effort not to stare at Adrien’s muscles, tensed beneath the weight and size of the plants Bitty had chosen - Heather posed a question.

“Isn’t that... Adrien Agreste?”

Marinette inhaled so sharply she started to hack, and the woman watched seemed amused as the girl’s face turned beet red.

“So it is him. I thought he looked familiar…” She put a hand at her hip and eyed Marinette seriously. “I hope you didn’t just hire him for his good looks.”

Laughing too loud and too forcefully, Marinette crossed her arms, uncrossed them, crossed them again, and ultimately settled on sticking her hands in the front pockets of her apron.

“N-nope! Definitely… definitely didn’t do that. I did not hire him…” She stumbled through the lie. “F-for that. Didn’t… nope, didn’t do that at all.”

Heather seemed to find the whole situation humorous, judging by the tiny smile she wore.

“Well… if you didn’t, then I suppose it wouldn’t make any sense to mention that he was staring at you since he walked in.”

Marinette’s skin turned from pale to pink and back to pale quicker than she could have transformed to Ladybug.

“Maybe he was the one who took the job with an ulterior motive,” Heather continued to muse, smiling in Marinette’s direction. The girl simply stared blankly back at her, too embarrassed to perform whatever motor functions she should be doing to keep up some imitation of sanity.

After a brief goodbye, (very brief on Marinette’s part, in the form of a squeaky “‘Bye!”) Monsieur Bitty and Heather boarded a large truck parked a few spaces down along the street, and Adrien re-entered the front of the store.

“Wow, it’s hot out,” he said, running a forearm across his perfect forehead. Even glistening with sweat, his face was frustratingly handsome.

Marinette had nothing to say. She did open her mouth, but she quickly closed it again - turned half-way through the door, the bottom of Adrien’s shirt lifted ever so-slightly above the top of his jeans when he raised his arm, exposing a slit of bare skin, and she felt that familiar hunger she recalled from the first time they kissed.

He quirked a brow at her when she didn’t respond. “Marinette?”

Marinette who?

Abs.

Adrien smirked, and if he noticed her ogling, he mercifully did not comment. Instead, the young model merely smiled fondly with cheeks aglow beneath the bright sky, the color of roses ghosting his complexion.

Feeling lame, and frankly too surprised to do much else, Marinette blurted the first thing that she could think of.

“I - wow, why are you… what are you doing here?”

Adrien’s grin widened by degrees, and he promptly crossed the length of the store and invited himself around the counter. Marinette hadn’t reclaimed enough of her wits to argue against it, and with his apron and self-declaration of employment, he at least looked like he belonged there.

“Well… I, um,” he began shyly, scratching his cheek. He was so close, and Marinette’s lungs practically protested with each inhale of his presence.

In lieu of a verbal answer, Adrien leaned down carefully and kissed her. Lips fierce and warm, his hands moved to her cheeks and pulled her face just a bit closer, and Marinette melted against his touch. Her own enthusiasm, addicted as she was to this new and wonderful feeling, twisted her lips between a wanton pucker and a cheeky smile against him.

The moment was brief, but the action left her entirely breathless. Between the heat of the room and the warmth of the kiss, Marinette was going to pass out if she didn’t get herself under control.

Instead of pulling their faces apart, Adrien drew back only his chin and leaned his forehead against hers. Marinette should have been bothered by how sweaty she knew her brow bone to be, or worried that a customer could walk in at any moment, or thoroughly confused by what the heck he was doing here, but the infuriatingly adorable grin that played at his lips - only an inch away - was far too distracting.

His voice was timid, and it made her hairs stand on end. “I’m sorry, I know… I shouldn’t just show up like this, but, I just really wanted to see you again.”

Of course, in typical Adrien Agreste fashion, he had to proceed to ruin the moment. “Plus, I thought of a joke about our tu-lips kissing, and I had to tell you immediately.”

You’re terrible.” Marinette groaned through a smile, pushing him away. “You came all the way here for that?”

“No,” he answered matter-of-factly, fixing his apron. She tried not to notice how cute he looked with it on, or the fact that his cheeks were stained pink. “I came here mostly to invite you to dinner tonight, but I couldn’t pass up the chance. Who else will I ever get to use that joke on?”

She wanted to be annoyed, she really did, but he was already a step ahead of her, wearing apologetic eyes. Marinette just released a tiny sigh.

“Well… fine, okay. I’m surprised you want to go out again so soon…”

Clearing his throat, Adrien looked a little embarrassed. “Well, you don’t have to accept if you don’t want to, but I promised my father I would keep him updated about… well, us. I told him about, er, you agreeing to be my girlfriend, and he said he wanted you to come by tonight for dinner.”

“Your dad invited me?” Marinette tilted her head, a hand poking into her cheek. “Well… I mean, I would love to have dinner with you guys. I’ll have to ask my parents, but it’ll probably be fine.”

Adrien’s features lit up, and he took one of her hands eagerly between both his own. “Really? I didn’t even have to bribe you with ice cream. And yes, I was prepared to do so.”

She narrowed her eyes at him, as he seem entirely too pleased with himself.

“Say…” Marinette began, tapping her chin. “If you were here just to invite me to dinner, why did you bring back that apron?”

Her attention flickered down to the loop of green fabric round his neck, and Adrien appraised himself with a grimace.

“Oh. Right.”

“Busted?” She offered jokingly, and Adrien grinned.

“Okay, okay, maybe…” He took a little step closer, and considering they were only a foot or so apart, the shrinking proximity elicited a sharp inhale of surprise from her lips.

Maybe I’m also guilty of just wanting to spend some time with the pretty florist around the corner. I don’t have anything to do until I’m  meeting up with Nino in a little while,” His fingers brushed some hair from her eyes, and Marinette felt her skin turn to fire beneath his touch. “And I thought, maybe, if I offered to help you with work, then you wouldn’t have any excuse to send me away.”

She scrunched up her nose, only to keep herself from smiling and giving away how absolutely elated she was to hear his adorable confession. That he wanted to spend so much time with her was thrilling, and she could feel her tummy erupted with enough butterflies that even Hawkmoth wouldn’t be able to tame them all.

But, Marinette, as the manager-in-lieu-of-actual-management, had to keep up some appear of professionalism.

Chewing her inner lip, she decided to call his bluff.

“So… you want to work, do you?”

Adrien tilted his head to the side. “That’s what I said, isn’t it?”

She snatched one of the remaining water bottles from the counter and tossed it at him. “Then you better hydrate, cause I wouldn’t my first ‘employee’ to pass out on his first day.”

 

-

 

Adrien was bouncing.

Metaphorically, but literally, too.

His excitement came in the sound of the fabric of the chaise brushing against his jeans as he went up-down-up-down-up-down like a fighting  game combo.

Marinette had accepted his offer for dinner, so he would get to see her after work (even if it was under the promise of having dinner with this father), and now she agreed to give him a pass to spend some more of the morning with her.

Plagg was convinced he had a problem.

“That’s twice, already. First as Chat Noir, now you’re going there again as Adrien? It’s been like, two hours since you’ve seen her, kid. Get a grip.”

There were worse things to be addicted to than a beautiful, soft-spoken, kind-hearted girl, so Adrien didn’t mind.

This time, Adrien tried to do his best to always keep his eyes on her face - he reveled in the moments he could catch her blushing, or to see the smile just before she started to laugh. At one point, she had started to busy herself with deliveries, and Marinette tossed him her clipboard.

“Alright,” she began, and he could just hear the smile in her voice. “You’ve got the apron and you’re in the special, reserved-access employee area, so what do you say - you read me the things on the list while I work on the orders?”

Adrien scowled as the words processed, eyes training over the scribbles in his hands, but his face blossomed into a smile after a few moments.

“But of course,” he responded, sitting up a little straighter with the list in his lap. “Do I start here…?”

“Wherever the last unchecked order is,” Marinette waved a hand at him. “I think it should be a pair of corsages.”

“Right,” Adrien cleared his throat. “You wrote - roses, BB’s blush, CJ, Y/Y/W, W/W/Y.”

Marinette nodded seriously. “That’s perfect,” she declared, marching through the front and bustling around.

When she returned, she had small, odd-looking scissors sticking out of her apron pocket and a variety of flowers in her hands.

“You realize no one would ever understand what this says except for you?” Adrien indicated the clipboard as she started to twist and weave, using her apron and lap as a workbench.

Head bent low, Marinette’s voice was focused. “Yep. Can’t have someone coming in here and stealing my secrets.”

Snickering, Adrien pursued the list and saw much of the same, with lots of scribbles lining the margins. Invoices stuck out at weird angles between thoroughly itemized lists, and Adrien found himself reading over her most recent notes for a wedding.

“So much goes into this stuff…” He murmured, and Marinette didn’t respond at first. Assuming she was just wrapped up in the task at hand, he tried to uncode Marinette’s extensive cipher. The irony of the moment wasn’t lost to him, as the experience felt very much like talking to Marinette about anything - he could never quite figure her out, and that just left him wanting to puzzle through her secrets even more.

When she looked up, her gaze was light. “Thanks for your help with Old Man Bitty, by the way.”

“Bitty?” Adrien’s brow furrowed for a moment, but he smirked in understanding and let out a small laugh. “Oh, the man and his daughter. It wasn’t a problem; it’s sort of nice to have something to do that doesn’t involve sitting in my room or in front of a camera.”

“Yeah?” Marinette’s expression softened, and her complexion looked powdery and delicate.

Adrien took a drink of the water bottle she’d given him, using the chance to recover his voice.

“Yeah. I’m sure it’s one of those, ‘grass is greener’ scenarios - and yes, Marinette, that was a pun,” he grinned at her predictable chagrin, and continued. “But even if it’s work, it’s sort of nice to do something… hmm, productive, I guess.”

The girl nodded slowly, the first corsage coming together in tones of parchment and honey, creams and clouds. Adrien had to admire how quickly her deft hands worked; it was similar to watching her sew a few nights ago.

“I suppose that makes sense - Mo used to say some junk about the flowers bloom best when fed by sweat rather than from the rain. Which is gross, but I guess there’s something poetic about that. There are some reasons I do love this job, though the back pain and copious sweating I could do without.”

Laughing, Adrien reveled in the sparkle that flashed in her eyes when she looked up momentarily.

“So then, what’s your favorite part of the job?”

“Hmm, now there’s a question...” she mused, stopping to hold up the nearly-finished corsage.

“Wow, that looks great,” Adrien remarked truthfully, but Marinette wrinkled her nose.

“Thanks… actually, could you do me a favor?” Brilliant blue eyes peeked at him through long, dark lashes, managing to look both enticing and shy at the same time.

Adrien barely managed a nod.

“Hold out your hand?” She asked.

Wordlessly, he complied, and gentle fingers wrapped themselves around his wrist and forearm, and she began to use the end of his arm to measure the strap that would secure the flowers in place.

He was having a difficult time focusing on the conversation, but Marinette picked it up anyways.

“Do you know what floriography is?”

Adrien took a little longer than he usually would to answer, gazing at Marinette’s pale hands brush against his.

“Ummm… I don’t, but if the name is a clue, I’m guessing it’s about speaking through flowers?”

They glanced at each other, and he was thankful for the stillness in the store - no customers or phones ringing. For a few, blissful moments, there was silence. Just him and Marinette, and the world was quiet and beautiful, just like her. A few inches apart, Adrien admired the color that flowed through her cheeks, deciding he could watch it forever. He adored knowing that he was the one who elicited that reaction from her.

And as quickly as it occurred, the moment passed. Marinette smiled and glanced back down at her work.

“Yes - the language of flowers. It’s a sort of umbrella-term for all the symbolism out there - like how I told you about the Wandering Jew,” her attention flickered above their heads, and Adrien gazed at the sinewy vines in time with her explanation. “Or the Banks’ roses. All flowers, plants, herbs… even some vegetables and fruits, according to floriography, they all have a story. I’m sure I read too much into all of the lore, but it makes me feel like I’m part of their story when I sell them something - if it symbolisms greed or love, hostility or forgiveness… or sympathy.” She glanced at the carefully arranged pile of lilies and orchids that she had moved next to the door. Adrien had to assume it was part of the pick-up process.

Matter-of-factly, she finished her work on the corsage and plucked it off his wrist. “My favorite part isn’t exactly the flowers or the customers or the backdrop. I mean, all of that’s nice, but it’s the stories that I really love.”

The sincerity with which she spoke brought a smile to his lips, and Adrien felt he rather agreed. His favorite part of this place was listening to her recount legends and stories, gifts carried through seeds and roots, left behind by time.

“Tell me a story, then,” he offered jokingly when she rolled away in her chair, and Marinette giggled.

“Once upon a time…” she began teasingly. But, honestly? Adrien was content to listen to anything she might have to say, so he just waited patiently for her to continue.

Scowling adorably, Marinette folded her hands in her lap before starting the second corsage, focusing her attention instead on crafting a story.

“Hmm… okay, there were once two young men. They were really different - in some ways, you might even call them opposites. But, they were best friends, for years and years, they did everything together.” She grinned as Adrien pulled his knees up beneath his chin, wrapped in the tale as he was like a child.

“And they both grew a little, learned a lot, and stayed close through it all. Even after having families and moving away and growing up, they never forgot each other, never tired of each other. And one day, one of them came back to the town where they first became friends, and visited the old friend’s house. Instead of his friend, he found something else. There was a store, and inside it was a modestly priced, simple talisman inscribed with a few words: ‘Peace and Growth, for you always, my friend.’”

Marinette started working on the second corsage, the same palette but with the colors of the petals inverted.

“It wasn’t the same thing as seeing their friend again, but in some ways, it was better. Unexpected, like striking oil or digging up treasure. The man left with the talisman, and everytime he sees it, he’s reminded of the friend he made and the memories they made together. The man came for new memories, and left with old ones, all for the price of a simple stone. The end.”

Adrien blinked deliberately once it was over. He was, of course, surprised that Marinette had indulged him, but even more he was amazed by how naturally the story came to her.

“Wow, Mari. That was really beautiful. Did you make that up?”

“Eh,” the girl shrugged, always humble. “I can’t take much credit for it. If you substitute the talisman for the two Ficus trees you hauled out to Old Man Bitty’s truck, then it’s really just the story of him and Mo’s friendship… with a little creative license from your’s truly,” she finished with a proud little grin.

He still needed a minute to process.

“Wait - that was…?”

“Mohamed, the old owner, and Bitty’s story. The talisman serves as a nice example, or like a handwritten letter, because inscriptions are great and are blatantly obvious. Like hitting someone over the head with a sign that says ‘Just date me already!’” She raised her eyebrows, and her expression combined with the reference made him laugh. She had said something similar when he asked her to be his girlfriend.

“Flowers do the same, but they just speak a more subtle language than French or English or Arabic. There’s intention in the act of buying, choosing, giving, sharing flowers, just like anything else… That’s what I love most about this job.”

More confidently this time, Marinette moved closer to put the finishing touches on her corsage. “Hand, please,” she asked with a grin.

Adrien happily obliged, watching her hands quietly and using the opportunity to tease out her story. The young woman and Bitty mentioned the store’s previous owner while he helped them load the Ficus trees in the car, and Adrien had been left with the impression they weren’t usual customers. He would never have imagined such a touching backstory could be hidden in the loamy soil that offered stability to the roots, or that the drooping green and gray leaves were actually keepers of a friendship older than he was.

Incidentally, Marinette must have been following a similar train of thought, as she addressed his silent curiosities.

“Yeah… so, Old Man Bitty acts tough, but I think he’s a sweetheart beneath it all. I find it hard to believe it was an accident that he picked out a Ficus on a whim. And even if he did, it’s sort of nice to imagine, isn’t it?”

Adrien felt his lip twitch, a smile spread as Marinette’s fingers danced around his forearm, tickling light strokes as she measured and repositioned the corsage.

“It is. I can’t even remember the last time someone told me a story,” Adrien commented off-handedly, leaning forward a tiny bit. The familiar scent of cookies and chocolate was intoxicating, especially strong as Marinette had her head bowed between them. “I guess it was when my Mom was still around.”

The words were out before he caught himself, and both of them realized his faux pas. Marinette’s diligent fingers paused momentarily, and Adrien’s posture turned a bit more rigid.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. Marinette let him stay if he was going to work, not suck all the happiness out of the room with a dumb remark.

When she looked up, her brow was drawn. “Why are you sorry? I’d…” she hesitated, and her voice was soft. “I’d like to learn more about your mother sometime, she must have been an incredible woman from the way you talk about her.”

They were both quiet for a moment, and Adrien hated the tension. It was clearly on him to say something, to accept or decline her offer to talk about his mother, but he really just didn’t know what to say. It’s not like he couldn’t talk about her, or that he might even want to, but the offer was so foreign he just didn’t know where to start.

As it happened, the burden of breaking the silence fell to neither of them when the door at the front of the shop rang out, and they pair practically flew apart in the small office. For as tense as it had grown, it only made their private break feel even more intimate when Adrien realized how close they had been sitting the whole time.

Marinette coughed and stood up “W-well, customers’a’waitin,” she motioned for him to join her, and Adrien popped up from the lounger to follow her to the front.

Bonjour,” Marinette greeted, stepping up to the register. Adrien lingered behind slightly, always watchful for cameras. The customers were two young men, probably near their age, so he could only cross his fingers that they weren’t like Wayhem.

“Let me - er, us,” she glanced at him. “Let us know if you need any help.”

Adrien relaxed when they half-waved and strode down an aisle. Beside him, Marinette bent under the counter and pulled out some plastic bottles of water from a small cabinet.

“Can you put these in the wire basket?” She asked, holding up two at a time, and Adrien was quick to do as he was bid.

Once they restocked her little bin of waters - which, he noted, was just such a Marinette thing to do - the head of ebony hair turned to him again.

A little quieter, she asked, “Anyways… what time were you supposed to meet Nino again? Alya is supposed to be coming by for lunch, too.”

“Ahh…” The blond smacked his forehead, checking his watch. “In about twenty minutes. Maybe I can see if he and Alya want to both come here again? I could get used to Pizza Wednesdays.”

Marinette covered the giggles that leapt from her lips. “You’ve been ‘working here’ for about an hour, and you’re already establishing a lunch pattern?”

He smiled easily. “Sure am.”

“And will Nathalie be glad to hear you’re changing your plans all the time?”

His grin grew wider. “Sure won’t.”

Marinette rolled her eyes, but she was beaming, and the sight was austere happiness.

“...Fine. You can ask them if they want to come by, but I’m not closing the store this time and we have to eat inside, okay?”

“That’s fair,” Adrien agreed, slipping around the corner to retrieve his cell-phone from his pocket.

A few texts later, a suspiciously easy-to-convince Alya and Nino, a patient but resigned agreement from Nathalie, and he peeked his head around the corner to share the good news. His breath caught.

Marinette was seated at her stool, astute and professional as ever, with a small and delighted smile gracing her lips. Her pale skin, almost translucent beneath the sunlight, and charcoal-colored fingers, clung to by dirt and toil, stood in stark contrast to the bright pops of color that juggled between her hands, the beginning of a Fauvist dreamscape coming to life under her fingers. She was the foreground, and the rest of the gentle winsome world faded out to a green memory behind her, framing her like the loveliest portrait.

It almost seemed wrong to disturb her, for her to be at such peace, but Adrien had been indulgent all day. He was going to be greedy again.

Marinette,” he whispered, calling her to come to the back. She looked at him, and then away with a frown, quickly hopping up and meeting him at the frame between the halves of her store.

“Why are you whispering?” She whispered, ironically. “Is everything okay?”

“Um, yes,” he looked over her head to make sure the customers were still browsing, and when he determined the coast to be clear, he leaned down close.

“I just wanted you to know that you look adorable. And that I really want to kiss you again.”

She flushed in that same shade of rosy pink, and her mouth fell open a tiny bit in surprise. Swiftly, before the chance was lost, he ghosted his lips over her own sugar-spun ones, inhaling the sweet taste of confections and confidence that radiated from her warm lips against his. He could not speak floriography, but he hoped that she might perceive the secret language he tried to speak without words, how much he wanted to be brash and young and stupid with nobody but her.

He didn’t know if the message was received, but when he pulled back (and let out a tiny sigh of relief that the young men hadn’t spotted them), her dimples and blush at least penned a response of mutual excitement. Breathless, he smiled and laughed a tiny bit, not because anything was funny, but just because he was so stupidly happy there wasn’t much else he could do.

 


 

Bonus Scene:

 

Plagg narrowed his eyes, listening to Adrien and Marinette’s conversation across the office while munching on a piece of croissant. It wasn’t nearly as good as the cheese bread, but he was hungry so this would have to do.

Well, he was trying to listen to them, but he found his attention continually being pulled to a soft humming at his ear.

A red antena occasionally bounced in front of him, and that only made it more distracting.

Indeed, the black kwami didn’t even realize his charge left the room until a voice roused him.

“Maybe I was worrying for nothing,” Tikki said quietly when they left to address the customer situation. “I love seeing them so happy together.”

“Uggggggggggggggh,” he replied, rolling over on his back and throwing an arm over his face. “I don’t, they’re so in love that it’s sickening.”

Giggling, Tikki quipped, “I know you don’t mean that.”

Plagg lowered his defense in the shape of a tiny arm, green eyes squinting at her. “You know nothing!”

She floated beside him, a brow raised at his impressive lethargy. “I know you don’t have to be so dramatic all the time. It’s a good thing you didn’t get matched with Marinette; you’d be pretty unstable together.”

“Pfft,” he swatted a paw at her, averting his eyes from her own pretty blue ones. “I’ve got plenty of instability in my life, thanks. Adrien’s is rather too bright and excited, or down in the dumps.”

“Maybe you’re the unstable one,” Tikki suggested, and Plagg hissed.

Beaming and snickering, the red kwami poked his stomach. “Oh Plagg, you’re adorable.”

He jumped, floating back into some shrubbery. Indignant, he tried to will the creeping green from spreading along his whiskers. “H-Hey! I’m a fearsome, powerful god. I control the power of destruction! Don’t call me adorable!”

Tikki shrugged. “You can be terribly powerful and adorable at the same time.

“NO,” he whisper-shouted, just in case the kids heard them. “YOU CAN’T.”

Appearing hurt, Tikki placed a little red paw over her heart. “So you’re saying I’m not adorable?”

“I -- ” he stopped, eyes wide.

“Or,” her tone turned deadly, and she narrowed her eyes at him. “Are you calling me weak?”

Damn this stupid, stupid cute kwami.

Damn her.

“I - I, um, well, c’cmon Tikki,” he held up two hands, knowing when he’s been bested. “Don’t be like that. You know you’re the… cutest kwami out there.”

He bit down on his tongue, probably drawing blood, when he noticed her scarlet complexion turn dark ruby.

Oh god she’s so cute.

Why, Master Fu?

WHY?

Tikki, looking entirely smug, bid him to hold on. She reappeared after a moment, struggling with her chosen’s over-sized mobile.

Grateful for a distraction, he cleared his throat. “What if that rings while we’re in here? Won’t we be found?”

She was already pressing buttons in the screen, and Plagg felt a tiny bit jealous. Adrien never let him play on his phone.

“No, Marinette knows I’m hiding here - she doesn’t know you are. She won’t come expose me, so we’ll both be fine.”

Unconvinced, Plagg replied, “Won’t Adrien be suspicious that the girl stores her phone in the dirt?”

At that, Tikki let out a tiny, frustratingly adorable snort, and queued up a video. She turned the volume low, so they both moved close to the screen to watch.

“I love Adrien,” she said as it buffered. “I really do. But do you think he’s observant enough to catch something like that?”

“... You’ve got a point.” Plagg conceeded, and his attention was drawn to the name of the video for the first time. “Paris Weather Man Loses A Bet, or Loses His Mind?”

A red face turned to him severely, paw pressing his mouth shut. “Shh, it’s funny! You’ll like it, I promise.”

Plagg’s face turned warm and he nodded, redirecting his attention forward. Even if it wasn’t funny, he was going to love it either way.

 

 

Bonus Scene 2:

 

“Okay…” Alya stopped pacing, brought her hands together as if in prayer, and exhaled deeply through her nostrils. “We got this.”

“We won’t if you keep yapping and Marinette spots us,” Nino said, shushing her. “There they go! Once they turn the corner...”

“Aww,” Rose cooed beside him, and she grabbed one of Juleka’s arms. “Isn’t that so romantic?”

The dark-haired girl smiled and kissed the top of her girlfriend’s wavy blonde hairs, but remained quiet.

Ivan and Nino met eyes, and the boys nodded in unison.

“Go time,” he said, mimicking spy motions. “Remember - Alya on ice cream, Rose and Juleka on candles, Ivan and Mylene work on setting up the table.”

A brush of dark skin bummed into his hip, and Alya’s voice was the epitome of sarcasm. “And what are you going to do, 007?”

“Me?” Nino scoffed, standing up and adjusting his glasses. “I will supervise.”

“Like hell you will,” she replied, taking his hat and tucking it over her own hair. Nino had to gulp, hating how sexy she looked with it on. Now was not the time for that. “You’ll keep watch, or I’ll take your glasses too.”

“Are you so blind you need double prescriptions?” He tilted his head, waiting for the sassy remark.

It didn’t come.

Mylene politely jumped in before Alya could respond. “We should go now; if we wait til they’re done, the ice cream will all be melted.”

Smiling, Ivan nodded and squeezed her shoulder while Alya and Nino rolled their eyes simultaneously.

Clearing his throat, the self-declared leader fixed his glasses and stood up a little straighter. “Fine. Are you all ready?”

“Um, Rose and Juleka are already inside,” Alya pointed over his shoulder, and Nino practically yelped.

“Ah - shit, shit, well let’s go!” He was running across the street, not even bothering to look for passing cars, and jumped through the front of the store.

Gasping for air, partially for the theatrics, but mostly from the sprinting, he lifted his arms at their incredulous expressions. “Why didn’t you wait for my signal?”

Ivan and Mylene filed in behind him, quietly setting to work on the table while Alya hauled in Adrien’s black duffle bag and cooler.

“Um,” Juleka scratched her chin, reaching on her tiptoes to place one of the flickering lights high in Marinette’s bushes. “What was the signal?”

Rose jumped in before Nino could respond, intimidating his spy hand gestures from earlier. “I thought this was the signal?”

“No, no,” he sighed, shaking his head. “The signal was supposed to be, we put our hands together and say, Glaciator 2: Attack of the Loam? And then we all head over together?”

“Then what was this?” Rose repeated the hand motions again, and Nino scowled.

“That was… I don’t know, me being awesome?”

“Nino,” Alya called his name flatly. “Shut up and watch the door, will you?”

Scoffing, he turned on his heel but moved towards the front, facing the glass windows when his phone buzzed.

 

Adrien (7:32 PM):

Thanks again for your help dude. I’m sort of freaking out right now tbh.

 

He smiled and chuckled to himself, accomplishing zero percent of what his girlfriend instructed while he penned a response.

 

Nino (7:33 PM):

Np, bro, you got this! We are all rooting for you! Glaciator 2: Attack of the Loam is A-Go. We’ll be done in 5.

 

Adrien (7:33 PM):

That name.

 

Adrien (7:34 PM):

It’s legendary.

 

“Alright, we’re good. Let’s move out!” Mylene clapped her hands together while Ivan helped her stand, and the group gathered in front of the door.

Pouting, Nino crossed his arms. “I thought I was the leader…”

Alya threw an arm around his shoulder and squeezed. “Aww, you’re the ‘best-friend’! You know, you putter around and act annoying, but you’re a crucial source of moral support for the team and for Adrien. You did good, bud.”

“I feel even worse now, thanks,” he responded, and they all laughed briefly at his expense.

“Say, leader, did Adrien say when they were going to stop the car?” Rose put a hand at her hip.

Juleka answered, looking around Ivan’s broad shoulders.

“I can see them coming up to the door right now.”

“Okay… OPERATION GET THE HELL OUT STARTS NOW, LET’S GO, LET’S GO,” Nino whisper-screamed frantically, directing everyone through the office and and out the backdoor. He barely managed to stumble onto the terrace when he heard the front door swing open, and everyone hastily filed out after him.

Slowly, so slowly, he began to creak the door shut, his heart pounding a mile-a-minute while the others watched in mute horror.

From within, Nino heard the occasional catch in his best friend’s voice, sounding a little more frantic than usual.

I-I know, you know, work is probably …”

“… whole city, Marinette.”

“Surprised?

After a century, the door fully closed with a satisfying click. It was like a gunshot in the tense silence, but Marinette and Adrien didn’t seem to hear a thing.

“That… was too close.” Mylene gripped her forehead, panic and subsequent relief shaking each one of them.

That’s why I’m the leader,” Nino dusted himself off, making no attempt to sound humble.

Well, at least, not until he turned to Alya, and then came Glaciator 3: Revenge of the Angry-Girlfriend.

Chapter Text

Adrien felt, admittedly, a little bit strange.

Standing in his room with each corner dusted, polished, and achingly quiet, the place begged for the stasis to be broken. Not a sound stirred - not even the guttural gnashing of a kwami inhaling camembert, yet beyond his door there was an unusual bustle of activity.

Generally speaking, Adrien preferred for his room to have a bit of a lived in look; everything felt a little less hollow and empty if he asked the attendants to keep his bed a little unmade, or if he didn’t hang up a towel after a shower just so. Right now, though, he was the one actively scanning every surface for signs of disorder, ready to right any wrong.

He couldn’t recall any girls ever being in his room before, save Ladybug once or twice, but that had been during akuma attacks so it’s not like she had been admiring his DVD collection or cuddling with him on the couch.

At the very least, Adrien could say with certainty he’d never had his girlfriend over to the house, ever. He was only coming up on 24-hours of having a girlfriend, period.

So all of this felt… strange, definitely.

But it wasn’t bad.

“Are you ready yet?” Plagg called eventually, hovering down from the bookshelves and sporting a predictable scowl.

Adrien watched as the little kwami combed through his whiskers, and one of his tiny ears kept twitching. The behavior seemed conspicuous, considering Adrien had just been doing very much the same sort of grooming before getting dressed in fresh clothes.

“Wait a minute…”  The blond narrowed his eyes, and Plagg froze. “Are you... fancying up for Marinette?”

“Pff. No.” The kwami rolled his eyes and turned away, only making Adrien more suspicious. “That’s stupid, kid. It’s not like your girlfriend is coming to see me. Cat’s gotta look good for his own sake, thank you.”

Adrien hummed skeptically, but decided to return to the task at hand. The ebony nuisance in his life had been increasingly excited every time they went to see Marinette, and it was starting to seem rather conspicuous. Maybe it was just the tempting offers of cheese bread and croissants?.

Bouncing around his room, the tap of Adrien’s hard-bottomed shoes rang off each wall. He took time to inspect every surface, adjust and readjust the arrangement of things he had on his desk, and repositioned his desk chair to be perfectly squared up to the monitor.

Really, it was all perfect, so seeking mistakes was a wasted effort. It was just a deliberate use of time that distracted him while waiting for Marinette to arrive. Part of him wishes he thought to offer to pick her up, but the opportunity was gone.

So now… waiting.

Glancing at the wardrobe, Adrien pressed his lips together and approached the full-length mirror. In the Agreste home, formal was normal, and vice versa. He never really knew that wearing “day clothes” until the moment before he went to bed was unusual until he started visiting Nino’s, Alya’s and Marinette’s houses. There, he was free to walk around on plush carpets with or, when he felt especially daring, without socks; the concept seemed so foreign to him in the beginning.

That being said, his attire didn’t bother him - a soft, simple white shirt and a slate-colored overshirt, paired with a plain pair of navy slacks. He selected one of his pairs of well-worn dark shoes, deciding against any that seemed too dressy or that would need breaking in.

Comfort was a must.

He had plenty of support for their first date. Between the help of Alya, Nino and the others in pulling off the Attack of the Loam, his father’s surprising approval of Marinette, Chloe’s reluctant agreement to be nice, and knowing he was going to have several hours of resigned privacy with her had all worked wonders in boosting his confidence.

And, of course, there was the small encouragement he’d gotten from Marinette herself, considering she had confided in Chat Noir that she had some romantic interest in his civilian form. To use his superhero side to gain an advantage in pursuing her seemed a little unfair, like using a stimulant in a sporting event, but he couldn’t say he regretted it. One touch of their lips together had been enough to dash any harboring guilt.

And, all-in-all, the date had gone better than he could have hoped. Adrien couldn’t keep his enthusiasm contained, and when she agreed so promptly to go out with him again, he seriously considered cheering.

Yes, you absolute dork. We can go out again, anytime.

Her words undermined his typical faculties and reduced him to a twisted bunch of nerves. The mess that fell from his mouth came more in the way of reactionary instinct than rational thought, blurting his desire to have her as his girlfriend. Adrien hadn’t intended to ask her to be in a relationship so soon, but miraculously, she agreed.

Did she think he seemed adorably inexperienced, or like a anxious mess? Had he asked her too soon? It had only been one date, though they’d spent hours and hours together in the past week alone; that’s to say nothing of the past three years. How long do people in relationships usually ‘date’ before they were considered ‘dating?’ Why hadn’t he thought to ask Nino for tips on the quintessential final element to any date, the “walk her to the front door” moment? Why wasn’t there a manual for this? Had he seemed too eager? She didn’t feel pressured to agree, right?

Alas, there was no guidebook, no easy instruction kit. He couldn’t pick up “101 Ways to Ease Through Awkward Social Interactions” at the library, and there was no magical deity of romance or young love to pray to that might appear to him in a vision from the sky to answer his questions and grant him sage wisdom on new love or family dysfunction. The closest thing he had to that was a turephilic kwami, who was, at present, floating crossed-legged near his desk with an expression of irritation.

The jittery, fierce happiness that spurred Adrien on yesterday since been replaced by titular worries of the evening ahead.

First of all, they weren’t going to be alone, and he had only a few hours to prepare.

They were having dinner with his father.

He, his father, and his girlfriend, sitting around the dining table together.

The most uncomfortable iteration of the Last Supper came to mind, but he quickly shook away the inane thought.

Second was the prospect of dinner it self. Adrien hardly ever ate with company, let alone the aberrant match that was Marinette’s soft-spoken kindness and his Father’s critical, cutting commentary. What should they talk about? He could only hope the two would find enough common ground in fabrics and fashion to carry them through the evening.

Unwittingly, Adrien had begun to pace his room, the metronomic clap of shoes on tile providing a backbeat to his mounting anxiety. Plagg said something and the blond glanced up, but Adrien didn’t quite catch it.

When their gazes met, a random train of thought popped into his head. The kinds of question you never think of until you’re living through the moment. “Did you want to come in my pocket down to dinner?”

Raising a brow, Plagg tilted his head. “Why would I do that?”

“Er… you usually do? Most of the time it’s just you and me, though.”

“Oh.” Plagg tapped a black paw to his whiskers. “I guess I do, don’t I? Uhh…nah. You got this.”

“Something is up with you,” Adrien squinted his eyes at the black cat, who merely pointed his chin and looked away.

Adrien waged a finger at him. “Whatever you’re hiding, I’ll find out eventually!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” his kwami insisted, flying away.

“Adrien?” A voice beckoned not a moment later, in time with three rapt knocks.

He did a final check of himself in the mirror, took a deep breath, and walked towards the door.

“Yes, Nathalie?” He answered politely, already knowing what she was going to say. Marinette was here, probably looking so lovely he’d forget how to speak. She could show up in her dirty work jeans and he still would swallow his tongue.

Just gotta relax.

It’s only dinner.

When he opened the door, he was greeted by his father’s assistant’s typically perfected posture and a small smile, but bowed besider her was head of black hair, half-pinned back to keep the tresses from her face.

“Mme. Dupain-Cheng is here,” stated the lean woman, stepping aside to present his guest. Every ounce of confidence he had as Chat Noir evaporated into a dizzying headrush when she peeked up from beneath long lashes, looking as flushed and as he was nervous. How do people on television or in Disney movies sweep girls off their feet so easily? Adrien could barely manage not to stare.

“W-welcome,” he cleared his throat, trying to focus on the woman between them who was scrolling through her tablet absently. “Thank you, Nathalie.”

“Yes. The chefs are saying dinner will be ready in about fifteen minutes, so come down soon.”

At that, she promptly turned and left them alone, her heels receding in the otherwise clipped silence.

Marinette looked more beautiful than he could have imagined - she was more than that, her whole appearance was scenic. A mid-length skirt skimmed her calves, pleated and pastel pink, making her look more sophisticated than her usual capris or work jeans; her torso was wrapped in a seamless array of breathable cotton, accented at the seams with white lace that complemented her porcelain skin like a subtly harmony to his favorite song. The top floated over her skin and stopped just as the skirt reached her waist, extending up and hugging her collarbone snugly. The neckline kept close to her neck, exposing most of her shoulders, though his attention was drawn mostly towards the careful embroidery in the center of the bodice. A sprig of hand-woven flowers, dyed in tones of subdued greens and gradiants of pink, comprised in needlepoint, brought the ensemble together.

Where she looked hauntingly alluring yesterday night in cuts of crimson and black and white stripes, today she seemed dreamy and pastoral.

“Is it… too much?” Marinette glanced up, brushing her skirt and picking at invisible loose strings. Blue eyes dodged away from his when Adrien met her gaze.

A little more quietly, she added,  “I didn’t know how… fancy to get. Sorry.”

“S-Sorry?” Adrien swallowed hard on his throat. He extended a hand, a careful and shaky invitation to step forward. She cracked a tiny smile and accepted.

The blond was already smiling, apparently, because his cheeks were starting to hurt. “How could you apologize? You look so… so pretty, Marinette. Did you embroider that yourself? It’s really amazing.”

Cheeks matching her skirt, she giggled and entered his room, eyes scanning the tall ceilings and giving him the chance to breathe. “T-Thank you! And, yes, I did. You look really nice, too.”

His heart swelled at the compliment, though he tried vehemently to seem casual.

“Thanks, just some of my Dad’s clothes. I mean - not my Dad’s clothes, but Gabriel brand.”

Marinette wandered over to the arcade machines, but paused to tilt her head in his direction. She wore a confused smirk.

“I… just tried to imagine you wearing your Dad’s… suit. The one he always wears.”

Adrien snorted, brightened by softness of her voice when she laughed. Somehow, it both filled him with happiness and anxiety, but it was enough to give him some foothold of confidence. “Ascots aren’t exactly my thing, I’m afraid.” He moved beside her and gestured to the classic systems. “I know you like Mecha Strike, but what’s your take on the current ‘retro craze’?”

“They’re great, of course. Though I’m not nearly as skilled as dodging barrels and saving princesses as I am at whooping giant robot butt.” Marinette said, poking one of her cheeks with a finger.

“I’d ask if you wanna play, but dinner’s soon and these are designed for one-player.” He rubbed his chin. “We could play some video games after dinner? I’ve got… uh, a lot.”

“Oh?” She seemed curious, so he gestured for her follow. They promptly ascended his twisted staircase and he brought her around to the bookshelf beside his rock-climbing wall. Divided by console and sorted alphabetically, he waved a hand at the hundreds of games he’d accumulated over the years.

Holy brioche…” Marinette muttered, craning her neck to take it all in. Beside her, Adrien permitted himself to feel just a tiny bit proud of his collection, glancing at her wide-eyed wonder.

“The systems are downstairs in one of my closets, so, you know, we can pick out a few and play them after dinner. Whatever sounds good.”

Mutely, she nodded her head and moved to the ladder and squinted up at a certain section. Adrien followed her gaze.

“Nintendo 64? I don’t know why, but I took you for a Playstation girl.”

Already a few steps up, she murmured. “Actually, I mostly played computer games. I didn’t get to play Nintendo much growing up, I’ve tried a bunch of emulators, but they’re always a little sketchy… It would be so cool to play some of the originals. Like… Mario Party! Yes. You have it!”

“Pff, of course,” he said, amused by her enthusiasm. “I have them all, sort of out of habit really. I almost never played those.” Marinette snatched the cartridge from the shelf, handing it down to him. Adrien started a pile on the corner of an eye-level shelf for games to bring down later.

Humming as she selected a few more games, he mused to himself. “You know, growing up with just Chloe to play with, we didn’t spend a lot of time on video games.” He paused when Marinette laughed.

“Yeah, I know - you must be very surprised to learn that Chloe wasn’t a gamer.”

“I can hardly contain my shock.” She chirped back sarcastically, scanning the shelves. Adrien was about level with her calves, and tried not to focus on the bit of skin her skirt left exposed down to her honey-colored ballet flats.

He said the first thing he could think of to distract himself. “But - y-yeah. I mostly played single-player games, campaigns or adventure mode or whatever. Sometimes I would play games with my Mom. She liked them, or at least, pretended to since I did. She could even get Father to play them with us occasionally - but a lot of Nintendo’s stuff is designed with groups in mind.”

Marinette responded thoughtfully. “Hmm… I suppose it’s not much of a Mario party if it’s just… Mario.”

Biting his lip, Adrien knew this was uncharted conversational territory. Without compass or guide, he didn’t really know where to go when it came to talking about his parents.

Marinette, thankfully, took the task of navigation upon herself. “What character did you like to play as? In Mario Party, I mean.”

His brow arched, her hands still fluttering over the cartridges at her level.

“Hmm… that’s a good question. I always liked green, so mostly Yoshi, or sometimes Luigi.”

“Good,” she responded, and he could hear the smile in her voice. “I wanted to be Princess Peach, and I was prepared to fight you if I had to.”

Wearing a grin, he raised his hands in defense. “She’s all yours, Princess!”

Marinette stopped her searching, and Adrien’s eyes went wide.

Ooh. No, no, no.

His Chat side peeked out by accident, and Adrien blushed and stuttered to make up his mistake. “P-P-Princess… Peach! Yes. She, Princess Peach, is all yours. She was my Mom’s favorite too.”

Marinette’s brow had furrowed momentarily, but she seemed convinced by his explanation, and Adrien exhaled a small amount of panic.

“Okay, I think I’ve looked enough,” she said, starting back down the ladder. A shoe clattered to the ground in her descent, followed by a shrill squeak and a much louder clatter of skin and arms smacking into each other.

Marinette missed a step when her shoe came off, slipping back and crashing right into Adrien; cat-like reflexes can only get one so far with a girl as clumsy as Marinette.

By some small miracle, he didn’t get thrown over the railing, though his current posture was plenty uncomfortable. Leaning back over the glass ledge, the edge of the bannister pressed painfully up against his spine, Marinette’s body weight was basically crushing him further into it. The best he could do in the way of catching her was keep her head from smacking back into the railing or collapsing straight onto the floor. Her now slightly-tousled hair and exposed upper-back from the cut of her bodice were pressed up against him and she had half-bent and gripped her hands on his thighs in support to keep from hitting the floor.

Her perfume greeted him, rising from her silky smooth hair and bare shoulders. From this angle, he could basically feel every inch of her body pressed up against him, and he was aware of it in - ahem -  more ways than one.

Chuckling weakly, Adrien forced himself to put a safe, chaste distance between them. It was more difficult than it should have been, rather enjoying the way her hair tickled his chin as she scrambled to standing. It was easy to admire the smooth skin of her collarbone, or to appreciate the warmth that radiated from her body. It was like the world’s best, most beautiful blanket.

“Ooookay, up you go,” he said, supporting her from beneath her elbows and resting a delicate hand on her back. Her skin turned prickly under his touch, and it was stupidly thrilling.

You haven’t even made it to dinner yet and you can’t keep it together.

Exhaling slowly, Adrien affixed his face into a mask of sympathy and concern. “Mari? Are you okay? Are you hurt at all?”

She blinked several times, looking at her own hands numbly, and he started to fear maybe she had hit her head when she broke out into a smile. Wide, glittering, and plenty embarrassed.

“No - no I’m fine. Thank you, Adrien. I’m sorry I fell on you.”

“Better me than the floor,” he said, chuckling and sighing in relief. She joined him for a spirited giggle, both laughing until they were breathless and dizzy. Maybe that was just the intoxicating effect of being with her, though - Adrien almost always felt light-of-head around her anymore.

By the time they were both properly righted - skin tinted pink from the euphoric giggles that swept up both of them - and standing on their own, Adrien retrieved the stack of games Marinette had selected and led the way back to his ground floor.

“Okay, just the Nintendo 64 for tonight?” He noted the very distinct shape of all of the games, and she nodded.

“If… if that’s okay. I, um,” she fumbled with her thumbs, and Adrien thought it was adorable. “I figured we could… play different systems another time. You know, since we’re, um, together now…?”

She peeked at him, and Adrien positively beamed, walking across the coffee table and wrapping his fingers in her own.

“I’d love that. We’ll play our way through all of them.”

Eyes sparkling, a blue more vivid than any sea, she looked like the human iteration of the most tranquil night across France. Soft skin, a gentle smile, an exuberant mood, and dark, rich hair like a painted, starless sky.

Slowly, Adrien focused on his composure, inhaling through his mouth and letting out the air through his nostrils. “Ahh… right, so just to warn you - my Dad can sometimes be… um, abrasive. He’s sort of polite to the extreme, but if he says anything that hurts or offends you, don’t be afraid to say something - even if it’s just a signal to me or something. The last thing I want is for you to be uncomfortable.”

Marinette nodded a few times and scurried behind him out of his room, Adrien catching the eye of a jerkish kwami across the room as he closed the door. Plagg was sticking his face out of the camembert cabinet, puckering his lips and making his whiskers dance in the mocking display.

When he turned back to his - his girlfriend (it was still impossible to believe) - she was wearing a cute smirk and had a hand at her hip.

Marinette’s voice was low. “I did survive over an hour on Sunday with just me and him, or did you forget?”

“I didn’t, not exactly,” he grinned and led them down the stairs. “I’m just still not convinced it happened. A very thorough prank, perhaps.”

She snickered and rolled her eyes, the way she always does, and he loved it.

“I can barely walk in a straight line - you seriously think I could cook something like that up?”

“I don’t know,” he murmured as they approached the dining room, peeking his head in. His father was sitting at the head of the table, speaking quietly with the chef. The food in the room smelled heavenly, and oddly out of place. “You continue to surprise me, Mari.”

She pinked slightly, and Adrien pulled her into the room with a smile on his face. His Father stood up when he noticed them, and the chef gave a hasty farewell.

“Father,” Adrien said, palm feeling a little sweaty against Marinette’s. She untangled their fingers to take a bold step forward, positively radiant while she did so.

Bonsoir, Monsieur Agreste,” Marinette greeted brightly, bowing her head politely. Adrien studied his father’s expression, hardly believing the small smile he saw there. “Thank you so much for allowing me over for dinner tonight. It’s an honor, sir.”

Posture rigid and hands folded behind his back, his father stepped away from the table slightly to greet them. “That is a kind of you to say, Mme. Dupain-Cheng. Or, would you prefer just Marinette?”

Adrien respected how composed she managed to be before Father, especially when his attention flickered down; her hands were shaking.

“Marinette is perfect, sir. Thank you.”

Feeling his heart squeeze slightly, Adrien couldn’t pass the chance to half-tease, half-compliment her. He sidled up beside her again, wrapping a careful arm around her waist and met her startled stare with a cheeky smirk.

“Marinette is perfect. You’re definitely onto something there.”

She turned the color of her Banks’ roses and ducked her head, and Adrien’s attention returned to his father. Aside from a raised brow, his expression appeared only amused.

This is so weird. Adrien thought, wrinkling his nose. But good.

“Well, if you are ready to eat…” His father gestured for them to sit, and Adrien almost turned back to the other end of the table for his usual spot. Marinette was too quick, though, and she started to sit down two seats from his father. The middle spot was clearly intended for him.

Settling into the chair, Adrien pursed his lips and looked down at their plates. Everything was, of course, perfect. The table had been perfectly prepared for a classic four-course meal, and it almost made him want to roll his eyes - he’d have to remember to mention to Marinette this was not a typical dining experience at the Agreste house.

It was sort of sweet, though, as he examined the varieties laid out for the first course. Each serving was small, from the Tapenade Noir a la Figue and Pissaladiers to the Brandade de Morue au Gratin. The fact that his father had gone through the trouble to entertain Marinette - to make such a gesture of meeting his girlfriend, formally? It brought an appreciative smile to his lips.

Scratching his cheek, Adrien popped a tart in his mouth and thought about something to talk about.

“So… did Marinette mention to you that she makes clothes?” He asked his father, and he could see Marinette fidget in his periphery. She hastily shoved some of the potatoes in her mouth.

Raising both brows, his father looked at Marinette and then back to Adrien. “Well, no, not exactly. Though I figured as much - she was most helpful the other day with a design of mine.”

“Oh yeah?” Adrien turned to Marinette, whose gaze flickered up to him helplessly. She looked so cute when she was embarrassed, he found her hand under the table and squeezed it in reassurance.

“She made the outfit she’s wearing right now. Isn’t is incredible?” He grinned at her, at least having enough mercy to blush.

Adrien!” She hissed, turning even redder. “It’s - it’s not much, really. Just something I threw together, heh, since I work with flowers all day. Not really original. Nope. I’m sure you get inspiration from much more interesting things.”

His father smirked and ate quietly, watching them carry on like he wasn’t even there.

“Don’t be modest, Mari. You’re really talented.”

“I… I just dabble! That’s all. R-really.”

“Let’s be honest,” Adrien said, turning slightly to better face her. She was pouting, cheeks stuffed with figs and bread. “Do you just dabble in anything? You’re basically an expert in flowers, baking, and fashion, and you could ruin just about anyone’s self-confidence playing Mecha Strike.”

Adriennn...” She covered her face with her hands, voice squeaky. All he could do was laugh, feeling a little guilty for flustering her, but he couldn’t help gushing about her.

“How did you get interested in fashion, Marinette?” His father cut in, and Adrien practically flew back in his chair. He had almost forgotten his Dad was beside him.

She lowered her hands, still red as a tomato, and reached for her cup of water.

“I… um… I’m not sure, actually. I’ve always liked drawing and designing,” she began slowly, and Adrien used the chance to catch up on his appetizers.

“When I started to pay more attention to how other people dressed, I sort of just… decided to teach myself to sew. I didn’t like the way other clothes fit me. I’m sort of on the short side, like my mother, so anything that fit me looked too childish while everyone else started to grow, I guess, and anything I liked was too big.” She hummed momentarily, chewing a tart. “So I decided to make things I knew I would be comfortable in, and reflected me best.”

“That’s very utilitarian of you,” his father commented. Marinette blinked, apparently unsure if that was a compliment or not.

Adrien decided then to jump in. “What’s your favorite thing to design?”

They both answered, which surprised him.

“Dresses.”

A pause, and the chef came out to switch their course for the main course. Adrien hardly paid attention while the plates changed, too interesting in the curious turn in conversation.

“And why is that, Marinette?”

“Uhh…” she cleared her throat. “Well… I’m not sure, actually. Probably because they’re the hardest to design; it’s extra rewarding when you get it right.”

“Hmm. I find menswear more challenging, personally,” his father mused, rubbing his chin. “But I do see your point. To me, a gown is a perfect canvas - the rules are only that it must be a single item to be worn, but otherwise, there are no limitations.”

“It’s the definitely the thing I have to try the hardest to be creative with,” Marinette replied with a furrowed brow, nodding. “The fact that it’s so flexible is what I find challenging about it.”

They both ruminated on that while stopping to eat some of their meal, and Adrien felt much more relaxed for how easily the conversation was flowing. Of course, Marinette was so sweet - it was hard to resist a charming, intellectual conversation with her, but it was still bizarre to see it have an effect on his characteristically stoic father.

Adrien caught her eye as she dabbed her lips with a napkin, so he decided to shoot her a wink. Marinette scrunched her nose up in response, her wordless disapproval downright adorable.

“So, if I am remembering correctly,” his father said after a pause. “You both met in Mme. Bustier’s class, at Francios Du-Pont Academy?”

“Yes,” Adrien said, tilting his head. “Although we sort of got off on the wrong foot.”

His father seemed surprised. “Oh, and how’s that?”

Adrien deferred to Marinette to answer. “Well…”

She got his meaning, chewing her food and swallowing. “Yeah, it was kind of my fault. I thought, because he was friends with Chloe, he was trying to pull a prank on me. So I sort of gave him the cold shoulder, but I realized I was being unfair to him.” Scowling, she glanced over to the blond. “I still am sorry about that, by the way.”

“Don’t be,” Adrien shook his head. “I could see why Chloe’s association might have not painted me in the best of light.”

Marinette smiled kindly, the gesture reaching her eyes.

“Well, I am glad to hear you reconsidered your assessment of my son. He was very nervous when he expressed interest in taking you out for a date.”

Almost kicking the table, Adrien turned an impressive shade of scarlet. “F-Father! Please.”

Marinette giggled at his distress, hiding a wide smile behind her fingers.

Despite his plea, his father didn’t hold back. Instead, he tucked both hands under his chin and leaned back slightly in his chair.

“Now son,” his father said, chuckling. “There are a few crucial things I am responsible for as a father. Embarrassing you in front of your girlfriend is one of them. I’ve had stories saved in my back-pocket for years.”

Practically bouncing in her seat, Marinette’s hair danced around her shoulders. “Oh, I’d love to hear a story!”

Noooooo…” Adrien groaned, and now he was the one to cover his face with his hands. “Why did I agree to this?”

Slyly, Marinette took one of his hands and patted it gently. “There, there. It’s only fair after all of the puns I’ve suffered because of you.”

The remainder of the meal passed with more cheer than Adrien could have imagined, Marinette being positively tickled by his chagrin. Several of the stories recounted his mother, a few of which Adrien had forgotten himself. A small part of him was feeling grumpy for being the butt of the joke, but the overall mood was too infectious, and to see his father smirk and laugh occasionally was a refreshing change. Adrien, resigned to his fate, let himself enjoy the food and tease along until dessert was served.

Marinette sighed after a particularly airy wave of laughter. “Aww, so you and Chloe would play dress up?”

She put her hand on his shoulder and rested her chin there, pseudo-pitying him.

Adrien pointed his own chin forward while their plates were taken away so dessert could be brought out, fighting to hide a smile. She looked so pretty, perched on his arm like that.

Yes, as a matter-of-fact. I mentioned Chloe didn’t like video games, and growing up in a literal fashion house granted a great opportunity for fun when it comes to clothes. Mother would encourage it, if I recall?” He partially asked the question to his father, who sighed and nodded, looking absently at the chandelier.

“Oh yes. If your mother wasn’t modeling the clothes, she was putting them on you. Large boas, daring furs, expensive heels - anything and everything you wanted to put on, she would let you pick it out and model it on the runway in my office.”

Marinette bit her tongue and tried not to laugh, though it was in vain, and he felt himself redden slightly. Trying to brush off the embarrassment, Adrien remarked, “Well, I suppose I can make anything look good.”

“Definitely,” she replied with a dreamy smile, leaning probably a little closer than was appropriate with his father present, and they broke apart when the chef re-emerged from the kitchen.

“Well,” he announced, clapping his hands. “We had only planned for the Crème brûlée, but since Mme. Dupain-Cheng was so kind to bring Pain au chocolat, the kitchen is pleased to serve both this evening.”

“Thank you, that will be all,” his father replied briskly, and the man bowed and brought out the two choices. Each looked picturesque, like the sort of desserts one might see on a classic French cookbook, and Adrien was glad to have eaten light on the earlier courses.

“I didn’t know you brought anything,” Adrien directed the comment to Marinette as he snatched up the Pain au chocolat almost the moment it was presented on a humble gray platter. It seemed out of place from the rest of the meal’s china, so he assumed it belonged to the bakery.

“Maman and Papa insisted,” she replied shyly, tapping the top of her Crème brûlée with a spoon. It granted her a very hard, satisfying knock in return before cracking. “And really, it’s the least I could do. I didn’t expect such a meal. Thank you, Monsieur Agreste, Adrien.”

Trembling fingers patted around the edge of his chair, clamping down when they found his hand. Adrien rubbed the back of her knuckles with his thumb.

“It’s a pleasure having you, Marinette.” His father answered.

“Oh, this is so good,” Adrien spoke with his mouth halfway full, and two sets of eyes rolled at him.

“Manners, son.”

Hastily chewing, he managed a sheepish grin towards his father. “If you try the Pain au chocolat, you’d know it defies etiquette.” He cleared his throat. “But Father is right - I’m glad you agreed to come over, Mari. This has been so nice.”

Even though she ducked her head, hair partially obscuring the soft features of her face, he could still see the rosy hue that colored her cheeks. She was too beautiful to bare, and his grip on her hand tightened only slightly - a protective, loving sort of grasp.

You’re mine.

All mine.

She squeezed back.

His father had selected one of the Dupain-Cheng treats, and Adrien pursed his lips suspiciously. He had half a mind to point his finger and ask what this man had done with his real father.

After a slow, thoughtful bite, the man impersonating his father offered his compliments. “Your parents make an excellence Pain au chocolat, Marinette. Please give them our thanks.”

“I’ll be sure to pass it along the kind words,” Marinette offered warmly, practically buzzing in her seat as she savored the carefully prepared burnt cream. “They are always so touched to hear things like that.”

“Of course.”

Adrien ate another of the Dupain-Cheng desserts, preferring the light fluffy dough to a rich cream, and Marinette sighed happily when she sat back in her chair.

Releasing a low exhale of his own, Adrien’s father stood, indicating dinner officially over. “So, are you doing anything else this evening, or should we have a car come around to take you home?”

“We were going to play some video games,” Adrien offered, and Marinette nodded. “If… if that’s alright.”

“I don’t see why not,” he commented, leading them into the foyer. Marinette politely excused herself, seeking the bathroom, so he was left alone with his father in the hallway.

“Just be sure to have her returned home in time for her curfew.”

“That’s 10:30.” The blond glanced at his watch out of habit. It was just passed eight in the evening.

“I can let Nathalie know that you’ll need the car by 10:15.”

Before Adrien could thank his father, the man grimaced.

“Adrien?” His voice was off, and he studied the stairs like they insulted his designs. “She is a… very sweet girl. I’m, er, happy for you.”

Suddenly, Adrien found his thumbs very interesting, but managed a respectful response. “... I’m glad you think so. She’s really special to me, so… thanks for taking the time to meet her.”

“Your mother would have really liked her, I think.” The man added wistfully, and Adrien’s thought he sounded strained. He wasn’t exactly surprised; they had talked about her a lot tonight, probably more than they had since she disappeared.

Adrien bit his lip, hiding a grin. “You think so?”

His father’s response was decisive. “I know so.”

For what felt like the first time, the two men met eyes and shared a real, knowing smile. It was heavy, and appreciative, and tired. It was filled by absence and regret, unasked questions with untenable answers. Tonight, though, the tension felt a little less like shackles and a little more like hope. Like forgiveness, and apologies, and a handshake or a hug. It was just a look, but it felt like more than that.

A beat later, a lively pair of blue eyes re-emerged from a hallway, carried by the sound of her soft-bottomed shoes tapping against stone marble. Adrien’s father turned promptly towards her as she peered around the doorway, and his voice returned to its usual even tone.

“I have some work to return to, so I’m afraid I won’t see you out this evening. Nathalie and Adrien will see that you get home safely. Do take care, my dear.”

Stuttering, she bowed. “Y-yes, of course. Thank you! It was a pleasure. An honor, really, sir.”

Adrien wore a bemused smile as the two interacted, thinking he could get used to this side of his father, and certain he would never tire of Marinette’s blush when she flustered.

Again, his father glanced in his direction, holding his gaze for only a moment. He nodded towards his son and receded quickly into his office.

“Phew,” Adrien exhaled, not realizing he had been holding his breath until Marinette was in front of him. He should have taken a larger inhale, because the way she peered up at him took the air right back out of him.

“Ready to lose?” She smirked, and Adrien raised a brow.

“It seems it’s time to get the Party started?”

She deflated. “Take me home.”

“Mari!” He laughed, but she maintained a straight face, marching up the stairs towards his room. Adrien felt his stomach flutter as she walked away, the back of her blouse cut to expose a large part of her back. Gulping, he trailed after her, feeling a thrilling sense of nerves when she smiled smartly down at him.

 


 

 

“Agh,” Marinette muttered, her tongue sticking out in frustration as the results rolled in.

She hates losing. She really, really hates losing.

Especially to someone like Adrien, or Chat Noir, or Nino -- those that she could think of offhandedly. The kind of people who rubbed it in her face that she lost. The kind of people who got freakin’ smug when she lost. Oh, boy, did she hate that.

So during the closing ceremony, it was that much more thrilling when Toad announced that she, in fact, had won. Princess Peach managed to win by a slim margin of exactly three more coins than Yoshi. There was no way of keeping score of the bonus Stars until the end, and they had tied in everything else that was measurable. It was sort of incredible how evenly matched they were, flat out bulldozing the computer players in the process (to be fair, they left their difficulty on easy since she had never played and it had been so long since Adrien had either).

“Oh. Oh!” She had already put down her controller in defeat, which was probably for the best, because she leapt up from the couch with such force she probably would have ripped the Nintendo from the T.V.

Adrien groaned and leaned into the arm-rest of the couch. “Damn you. Hooooowwwwwwww?”

Marinette couldn’t help her excitement, always relishing victory (it was a quality you almost had to have being a superhero), but she at least kept the gloating to a minimum.

She sat back down and took one of his hands in her own, pressing her lips to it softly. “I’m sorry, Adrien. If it’s any consolation, I really thought you won.”

Peeking at her, though his face was still mostly in the sympathetic comfort of the couch cushion, he responded, “I’m not consoled.”

“What can I do?” She teased, still holding his hand; normally she’d be way too bashful to dare something so bold, but she was too overcome with the waves of triumph to bother.

“I feel like I need a win, or I’ll never get out of my mood.”

Pursing her lips, she smiled devilishly and turned his hand over, closing his fingers into a fist.

“Thumb war?” She challenged.

Smiling, Adrien chuckled and sat up, locking their hands together. “Thumb war.”

They both adjusted slightly on the couch, Marinette having kicked off her shoes over an hour ago. Adrien had joined her, wiggling his toes through dark socks, looking adorably foolish.

Positioning her skirt in front of her knees and crossing her legs carefully, Marinette watched as Adrien crossed his left leg over his right to better face her. They sat so close their knees touched, but Marinette refused to let herself be distracted.

“Ready?” He smirked.

“Ready. But I’m not just going to let you win. You have to earn it.”

In unison, while trying not to laugh, they started their tiny wrestling match.

“One, two, three, four…”

“I declare a thumb war!”

Adrien had a clear advantage, she soon learned, and began to regret her suggestion. While her thumb was thinner, it was also shorter, so it was harder to gain leverage against the back of his thumb. She almost had him at one point, but he faked her out and quickly captured her beneath him.

Marinette knew she wouldn’t be able to win, and in fairness, she should have been okay with that. Adrien said he wanted to beat her, but that’s simply not how she operates. After all, she’s Ladybug - it’s not like she could just… give up! Surely Paris would forgive her if she cheated just a little to win, right?

She shot out her other hand and brought it to the side of his abdomen, scratching and tickling him with her nails. Adrien began to laugh immediately, and tried to swat her hand away, but she used his distraction to her advantage and quickly claimed her victory.

“Hah!” She leaned back, laughing as the confusion and subsequent realization washed over him. Adrien scowled, one hand still touched his ribs where she tickled him.

“Oh, Mari, I wish you hadn’t done that.” His voice was deadly serious, and Marinette raised both brows.

Playing innocent, she cupped her hands together and pressed them to her cheek. “Oh, and why’s that?”

“Because it is now my right to tickle you.”

Before she could so much as breathe a word of protest, Adrien launched himself at her and his hands tasered her rib cage, though the startling sensation of his touch did even worse damage to her heart. Marinette was pretty sure she’d need to invest in a pacemaker to fix the steady arrhythmia that had her blood working overtime, pumping erratically, nonstop, since Sunday.

She tried to kick and squirm and tickle him back, but the effort was futile. The thumb war should have told her this was going to be a bad idea, because much like their hands, he was simply bigger than she was - maybe not stronger, (although, her hyperventilating lungs argued, he does have some pretty amazing muscles) but size definitely mattered in a tickle fight.

“S-Stop!” She said through a flurry of laughter, her face twisted up to a smile with cheeks so red she probably could have passed for Ladybug if she had worn something more form fitting.

“I’m afraid you lost the right when you cheated, Mari,” he said through his own laughter, unable to keep the giddy grin off his own face.

Nooooo!” She squealed, hands frantically batting his away. “I’mSorryI’mSorryI’mSorry!”

Adrien sighed contently, wearing a smile that radiated with victory. “That’s better.”

Her lungs ached from the waves of giggles, and he was in much the same state, but instead of catching her breath she felt the last of her spirit leave her body.

Adrien was on top of her.

On his couch.

In his room.

She flustered to get up, and Adrien apparently caught on to their compromising position and almost fell back off the couch in his attempt to release her.

“Sorry,” he said, scratching his neck nervously. “I got a little carried away.”

She sighed and closed her eyes, covering her heart with a hand in a conscious effort to slow the frantic beating.

“Don’t be…” she mumbled, taking in another deep breath. “I probably deserved that.”

Her eyes fluttered open when she heard Adrien shift slightly on the couch, and he turned to look at her with sincere, sparkling eyes.

“Did I tell you that you looked really beautiful in that outfit? I probably did, but it’s worth saying again.”

Marinette covered a cheek with a hand, suddenly timid. With Adrien, it was like a pendulum between her shyness and her self-confidence; she wasn’t insecure because she thought poorly of herself, but rather, she felt humbled by the attention he gave her.

“Thanks. That… means a lot. It’s supposed to be a peony, but it ended up looking more like a rose.” She glanced down, tracing a line down the needlework she had worked a long time on, sort of frustrated with the end result. It had been a project she created during the winter months, a daydream of what Summer could bring. Marinette had never imagined it could be this good.

When she managed a glance up at him, he was impossibly close. Their noses almost touched, but he kept his eyes on hers.

A whisper. “It’s lovely, Mari. Really suits you.”

Marinette felt a timorous smile spread on her face, and she nodded, not sure what else to say.

She turned her face to his, this time letting their noses touch. His warmth was practically spreading through to her, his cheeks ablaze with a lustful color. In truth, Marinette had to imagine her’s looked much the same, and her flush only deepened when she tasted a tiny inhale of his cologne.

Hesitant, Marinette fluttered her eyes closed and leaned forward, seeking the soft reprieve of a kiss. She wanted to be the one to initiate it this time, wishing she had the sort of brash confidence he had the times before, but to her it still felt so new that there was still need of an invitation. A silent request, a nervous but passionate interest, to be reciprocated by him.

Adrien released a tiny sigh, a sound of pure happiness, and it spurred her to erase the distance and seek his lips with a confused mix of delicacy and urgency. When she found them, they were forgiving and the sensation of honey running over her mouth clouded her mind. She tried to keep a focus, count off the ingredients to her favorite cookie recipe, picture her disheveled clipboard at the shop, remind herself of the thrill of capturing an akuma, but the pressure of him so close zapped it all from her memory. It was just him, and his taste, and the wonderful smell of him flooding her senses.

A small part of Marinette’s mind wanted to deepen the kiss - okay, maybe more than a small part. A very loud, very clear part of her brain was demanding to understand his tongue by way of interrogation, to push herself against his impossibly toned torso, to indulge in every fantasy she’d dreamed up over the past three years. Pining was hard, and now that she’d taken the first step into the swirling emerald pool, it was like trying to force the rain to stop during a thunderstorm, or to resist the sunrise at dawn.

She deserved this, right?

She waited long enough, and some forces of nature simply cannot be stopped.

A languid, almost inaudible gasp fell from him when Marinette swiped her tongue against his lower lip, and the sensation of their breathing mingling together made her hairs stand on end.

Who needed food? Marinette would gladly sustain herself on nothing but his lips for the rest of her life if given the choice.

Adrien brushed some of the hair from her shoulder, moving his hand to her jawline, holding her carefully while she explored his neck with her fingers, crawling her hands up to his hair and digging into the soft blond waves. While the wanton sensation was intense, Marinette lavished every moment, even the most subtle ones. A tiny dance of his lashes across her cheek, the clumsy, inexperienced knocking of their teeth, the soft brush of fabric each time they moved on the couch. She would never forget the quiet hilarity of the Mario Party victory music playing in the background as Princess Peach was showered with confetti.

After perhaps a full minute, Adrien finally pulled away, and Marinette nearly groaned in protest but managed to punch down the urge. This was only their second date and she was hardly able to control herself, so with a quick internal beratement, the girl found her forgotten strength of will tossed aside with her shoes.

“Um,” she said after they stared at each other for several seconds, quietly gasping for breath as her heart thumped madly against his ribcage. Her skin felt hot and sensitive from the suddenly intimate moment. “I… er, you want to keep playing?”

“Hmm?” Adrien replied, blinking a few times and following her gaze to the television. “Oh. Right. Uh… let’s see what time it is…”

The blond reached for his cell phone and laughed abruptly, so Marinette leaned over curiously. She could see Alya’s name on the screen, and it was about to turn 10.

“It’s later than I thought,” he said, clearing his throat.

“Oh, my phone has been in my bag all night…” She murmured as he flicked through the messages, adjusting the screen so Marinette could read along with him in the group chat.

 

Nino (7:31 PM):

Now remember kids, your mother and I are trusting you to spend the evening responsibly. Don’t do anything Father Nino wouldn’t do!

 

Alya (7:33 PM):

That’s not really setting a great precedent, considering…. You know what? Nvm.

 

Laughing, Marinette covered her face with a hand. “Oh my god, they’re the worst.”

“They really are,” Adrien agreed, continuing to scroll.

 

Nino (7:40 PM):

Okay but really now I’m having second thoughts. Double-dates would be nice and all, but what about bro time? Who is going to keep me company while I play pokemon go???

 

Alya (7:42 PM):

because people actually still play that. Keep up with the times why don’t cha.

 

Nino (7:43 PM):

For your information, Adrien does - tell her, dude!

 

“It’s true,” he nodded gravely. “Although not as much compared to when it first came out. Nino keeps me going when he finds a good catch somewhere in town.”

“God, you’re lame,” Marinette commented. He laughed and continued to read.

 

Alya (7:56 PM):

Looks like your “bro” has vanished into the arms of a sexy young female. Sorry babe.

 

Flushing, Marinette shielded her eyes.  “Oh my god, I can’t stand her sometimes!”

Adrien nudged her with his hip on the couch. “I can’t say she’s wrong…”

Adrien!” She squeaked, blushing even harder.

 

Nino (8:01 PM):

Why must I suffer for you to be happy?

 

Alya (8:02 PM):

Are you talking to me or Adrien?

 

Nino (8:02 PM):

I’m actually talking to Nette, TYVM. gosh not everything is about you

 

Alya (8:04 PM):

k

 

Nino (8:06 PM):

I’VE MADE A TERRIBLE MISTAKE

 

Absently, Marinette’s hand went to her throat while they continued to read through Nino’s angst, tracing the places he had touched her like they had been licked by flames. Much the same, the tips of her fingers burned, thinking of how warm and soft he felt in her grasp had been. She risked a glance at him while he penned a response, wondering what he would do if she repeated the action, or if he felt the same tingle beneath his skin when she touched him.

“Poor Nino,” he frowned. “You might want to back me up on this to appease the both of them.”

Brows raised, that dark-hair girl stood and sought her phone in her purse, set down on Adrien’s desk, but froze.

Tikki was gone.

“Mmp!” Marinette squeaked, digging around frantically. “Oh no, oh no, oh no,” she pulled out everything, horrified at the thought of her kwami disappearing. What if something terrible happened? This wasn’t like the shop or her room, where her red companion could hide but reappear easily. This was Adrien’s house, and who knows where she could be.

“Marinette? What’s going on?” A blond head of hair stood, looking concerned. “Did you lose your phone?”

“What?” She shook her head, forgetting herself. “Oh - oh! N-no… hah. No no… Just… thought I did. It’s here. I’m sure glad I didn’t lose it though!” Marinette was almost shouting, and she cringed.

Adrien moved closer, looking at her carefully. “Are you sure you’re okay? The car isn’t going to be ready until 10:15, but if you’d like to go home early...”

“No! I- I mean, n-no. I think, um, the food isn’t settling in my stomach well. Excuse me…” She averted his eyes, scurrying off to the bathroom with a very real pit in her stomach. If her kwami had been near enough, she only prayed that she’d be followed into the bathroom by a flash of red.

Inadvertently, she stepped through the door and caught sight of her appearance, and she was a little surprised. Her skirt and blouse had remained neat and pressed, but the half-pinned back locks that framed her face were a lost cause. The tickle war had done her in, and she quickly began to unpin her hair, trying to keep herself from shouting for Tikki at the top of her lungs.

By the time she completed taking her hair down and brushing it out with her fingers, Marinette nearly shrieked when her kwami appeared through the ceiling.

G-g-ah…” Again, the girl clutched her heart, too overcome with relief to bother with much else than a swift hug of her kwami against her cheek.

Quietly, Marinette whispered, “Oh my god, Tikki. Don’t scare me like that! Where were you?!”

“Oh, you know… around?” A red face scrunched up at her, and Marinette felt her lips grow thinner.

Around? Just around in Adrien’s house? What if someone saw you!? What if I left and you weren’t back!”

“Shh, Marinette, it’s okay.” Tikki looked apologetic, and touched a paw to her lips as her voice began to grow in volume. “Take a deep breath, and I promise, you don’t need to worry. I… thought I saw a little pest, but it turned out to be nothing. I was only gone a moment, and an inopportune one at that. I’m very sorry.”

Unprecedented tears started to well in her eyes, but she gave Tikki another loving squeeze against her cheek. “I’m… I’m just glad you’re okay. I got really freaked out!”

“Don’t worry! It’s all fine now. Just go ahead and finish your date. If you can distract Adrien, I’ll fly back to your purse immediately. Okay?”

Gulping down courage she didn’t have, Marinette nodded once. “Okay.”

With a quick light tap-tap against both of her cheeks, shaking the nerves from her bones, Marinette grasped the handle and re-entered Adrien’s room.

It took her a moment to spot him, a ninety-degree angle from the bathroom, standing in the corner at the windowsill, and he turned at the sound of the door opening.

“Hey, are you feeling better?” Adrien said with a small, concerned smile. Marinette nodded shyly and approached when he gestured for her to come nearer.

“Oh!” She breathed when he stepped aside slightly. “The hydrangeas. They look beautiful.”

And so they did. Smoky darkness framed them from the evening beyond, the moon providing a perfect soft source of illumination to their amaranthine petals. This pair in particular had been some of her favorites of all the ones she grew, loving how full and round the bulbs had come with the spring yield. In full bloom, she couldn’t have imagined a better choice to represent her feelings for him.

“Yes. Beautiful.”

The tone he used struck her as odd, and when Marinette looked over at him, her knees nearly gave way. Intense and curious, Adrien’s gaze studied her with an admiring sort of security.

The pop of green seemed deeply happy, while stirring with the mystery and mischief of his goofy and kind-hearted side, and it filled her with an ache of love so intense she felt the words of sweet confession start to form on her tongue. Thankfully, there was no air in her lungs to support to syllables, so they died as they inched up her vocal chords.

Three years of unrequited, or, at least, misunderstood feelings, clamped down hard on her heart bitterly, and yet, Marinette knew she would do it again. Every lifetime, if she had to. Again and again. She would have waited forever for him to look at her like that, and three years had been long, and slow, but in the gentle curve that tempered his eyes when he smiled at her, because of her, she knew it had made each second worth it.

He broke her stupor, gesturing below her chin. “Why did you choose the peony?”

“The… peony…? Oh. Right.” She traced the outline of the flower, feeling a tint of pink stain her cheeks. “I actually picked it… well because of you. I made it in the winter, but I-I’ve… I really liked you, Adrien. For a long time. Years. Since the day you gave me that umbrella, actually.” Marinette squeezed an arm across her chest, unable to stop the sudden avowal from spilling off her tongue. “Peonies are supposed to be a mark of good luck, and when I made this, I hoped one day… well, maybe we’d be here. Together? I guess it worked?” She chuckled from embarrassment, averting her eyes.

Adrien didn’t say anything, and she grew increasingly nervous. “T-there’s legends and stuff! Some people say it’s from a Greek legend about medicine, and another about a nymph… both end with someone getting turned into a peony though, to protect them and to embody their spirits. And, nowadays, you know, a bush of peonies that thrives is supposed to be a sign of good fortune! And - and, um, i-if your peonies wither and don’t survive through summer, it’s a sign of bad tidings. Unlucky. Unlucky.”

Too bad it’s impossible to throttle yourself, Marinette thought as her brain continued to fill an anxious silence with even more anxious words. She shouldn’t have admitted how long she wanted this - it made her seem desperate, didn’t it? A clingy, useless thing, like ivy, latching to life and refusing to let go.

“Annnnnd, you know, I figured since I sew, I could make my own peony. Avoid the risk of growing them. One that would never wither. A chance for luck. ‘A Needlepoint Peony’, get it? If it’s big and bold, and never fades, it could let me be happy, right? Even though I’m not superstitious - how stupid! What am I saying? What was the question?”

Marinette forcibly covered her mouth with a hand, trying to stop the verbal flood.

Brow furrowed, the blond simply stared at her in mute silence. What was he thinking? That was too much. This was all too much, wasn’t it?

Marinette shivered when he touched her cheek.

“Marinette... ” He started to speak, but she thought a flicker of frustration colored his tone. Instead, Adrien pulled her closer and ghosted his lips over hers - the gesture was much more delicate this time. A bee buzzing over a flower, the rush of feeling was almost enough to make her cry at how long she’d wanted this, how happy she was to be here, to show him and shower him in the love she had to give. Instead, their lips pulled apart, and sweet emotion tickled her throat with the taste of sunshine and spearmint.

“I’m sorry you waited so long. I’m - I’m so glad you did. But I don’t think it’s the peony; it’s just you.” He laughed a bit at her dazed expression, squishing their foreheads together. “It’s you. Lucky. Pretty. Smart. I’m just stupid for not noticing sooner.”

Leaning away, Adrien stood up slightly and pressed a gentle kiss into her forehead.

“Thank you for giving me a chance.”

A rapt knocking broke them out of the moment, and Nathalie spoke through the door. “Adrien. The car is prepared for Marinette.”

The pair blinked a few times, words processing a little slower as reality returned from their private moment. After a slow breath, Adrien smiled.

“Let’s get you home.”

Marinette could only nod and let herself be led from his house, grabbing her purse and floating down the stairs. She was unable to do more than share a few warm glances with him when they sat down in the car.

Marinette felt so happy that it actually hurt when the door shut, like finishing the chapter of a great story; why did it have to end? Anything she could do to savor the last moments before they said good night were worth it, and when they settled in the backseat, she eagerly took his hand.

“We should do something this weekend.” She stated, failing to sound casual with the pitchy tone of her voice. Adrien didn’t seem to mind.

“I’d love that - oh! That reminds me!” He blinked a few times, little green twinkles in the dark interior as they rolled past darkened Parisian streets. “I actually - well, it’s a long story. Basically, I got my schedule messed up, and I realized I can go the reception on Saturday. The one for the museums, for Le Nuit. Go with me, please?”

Marinette balked, staring at him. Was he serious?

“...What? But, we’d… well, you know,” she cleared her throat, aware of the two adults occupying the front seat. “People would see us together. Are you sure? Maybe you should talk to your Dad… And isn’t at Le Grande Paris? Chloe’s not exactly my ‘BFF,’ you know.”

The blond leaned over the center console, voice low. The whisper in her ear sent a current of electricity down her spine. “I’ll talk to my Dad if it’ll make you feel better, but I want to go out with you. I want people to know. I want everyone to know.” Drawing back, Marinette released a breath she didn’t know she was holding.

He repeated his earlier invitation. “Please, go with me?”

“I- O-of course. Of course I’ll go.” She beamed, wondering when her alarm for school was going to wake her from this amazing dream; there’s no way it was real. Any minute now, she guessed.

The minutes passed, and no alarm interrupted them. They pulled up to the bakery, and Marinette scoffed irritably. Her parents were framed in the doorway, waving at them in the car.

“The welcoming committee is here this time,” she pointed out, and Adrien laughed as he sprang from the car, racing to get her door.

As she rolled her eyes, he quipped, “Rye is that a problem?

Marinette decided to ignore that. “Thank you, Madam Sancoeur. And, um, Monsieur... Driver.”

Bonsoir, Marinette,” Nathalie answered as Adrien shut the door.

Marinette tried to seem perfectly grumpy as they approached, which wasn’t entirely difficult when Adrien made another joke, urging her to “crumb on.”

“Hi, Maman, Papa,” Marinette said as she pushed open the door to the bakery, and the Dupain-Cheng’s stood with bouncing heels and excited smiles, spotting Adrien’s hand on her lower back.

“Good evening, Madam Cheng, Monsieur Dupain,” Adrien greeted formally, bowing slightly. The movement was interrupted when her father captured them both in a hug, strong enough to lift them both from the ground. Maman barely managed to not get caught in the flurry.

“There’s my girl! And so happy to see you, son,” her father beamed at Adrien when they both were returned to solid ground.

Her mother grasped her husband’s arm, leaning into him dreamily. “Look at the happy couple! You both look so cute together. And about time, too!”

Red crept Marinette’s neck, burying her freckles in a fury of distress. “Maman! Stop it!

Adrien chuckled and smirked and her chagrin, and she thought about forcing him out the door.

“I can’t stand you - all of you!” Marinette groaned, putting her face in her hands.

“Now now, sweetie,” her father consoled her with a less crushing embrace. “Your mother and I are just excited for you and Adrien. All we wanted for you is a sweet, nice gentleman, and you found him. Can you blame us?”

Clearing his throat, Adrien sounded a little off. “W-well, thank you, Monsieur Dupain. That’s such a nice thing to say. I’m really happy you’re so accepting of me.”

Marinette peeked at the boy from comforting spot against her Papa’s chest, eyeing her mother suspiciously as the woman took his hand and patted it with her other. “You’re a sweet boy, and we trust you. Please, come over anytime for dinner or to a… what do the kids say, ‘Netflix binge?’ That.”

Marinette considered drowning herself with the gardening hose tomorrow when she got to work.

Maman, you can’t say things like that! There’s a-a-a connotation to that, and it’s inappropriate! Adrien, I’m so sorry!”

The woman was unphased, merely shrugging. “Adrien, thank you for making sure Marinette got home safely. You take care, and if you ever want to stop in, we’re always happy to have you.”

“Our little girl’s first boyfriend!” Her father sighed, squeezing a struggling Marinette into him. His large stomach was making it impossible to breathe, and when she finally resurfaced, some of her hair got squashed into her mouth.

“Pff -” she said, spitting it out and untangling herself from her parents, pushing them towards the back of the store.

“Okay, thanks, bye!”

Marinette could barely look him in the eye. “I am so sorry about that. Please ignore them.”

“It’s okay,” Adrien reassured her, walking across the store to meet her. She peeked up at him and he was smiling, his halo of blonde hair almost making him look angelic. “I thought it was sweet. Your parents are always so nice.”

Nice is one word for it…” she grumbled, crossing her arms.

Adrien laughed and shook his head, wrapping the petulant girl in his arms. “I had a great time tonight,” he whispered.

Marinette gulped, and dropped her arms from their childish pouting position. She wrapped them around his middle, nuzzling softly into his shoulder.

“I did, too…” biting her lip, she confessed a burning question. “We’ll see each other Saturday, but… maybe we could try sooner? I-I really like spending time with you.”

Pulling apart, his features lit up, brilliant and pure. “Absolutely. I’ll figure out my schedule and we can do something. Even if it’s just spending time at the flower shop - I guess I’m not such a bad employee after all!”

“Don’t get too big for your loafers, Buster Brown,” Marinette warned, putting a hand at her hip. Instead of a silly response, Adrien peeled with sudden laughter.

“That was a fantastic pun, Mari. Well done.”

Squinting, she had to process his meaning.

Don’t get too big for your loaf-ers, Buster Brown.

Rubbing her temples, Marinette’s voice was sour. “This is how I die. A slow, subtle descent to madness.”

Adrien kissed her forehead once again and the bitterness fell right off of her.

Quick and sweet, his presence was so close, everywhere in her senses, and he murmured to her softly. “Good night, Mari. I’ll see you soon.”

“I- o-okay. T-thanks again for... tonight. For everything.” She stuttered through a response, feeling like the wind had just been knocked out of her. Adrien swiftly disappeared into the night, and Marinette, thoroughly dazed, listened to the bell at the door, his dismissal, fade away into a quiet peace.

 

 


 

Bonus Scene:

 

“This way, come on,” Plagg phased through the ceiling wall, and Tikki was about ready to throttle him.

She shot a quick whisper at him when she caught up, breathing in the scent of fresh air.

“Where are we going, Plagg?”

They had been floating around all evening, mostly in the upper corners of Adrien’s room, and Plagg seemed not at all himself. The kwami’s tail twitched occasionally, he smiled too frequently, and Tikki suspected he was up to something.

“Almost there. Just be patient – geez. Drama queen.”

Inhaling sharply, Tikki’s antenna twitched. “What did you just say to me?

“N-Nothing! Nothing at all!” Plagg’s eyes went wide and he phased through yet another wall, much to her dismay. They had only gone up a floor and through one room, but she hadn’t been able to warn Marinette of her departure, and that made her nervous.

“We had all night – why would you wait until the last fifteen minutes before Marinette has to go home to… Plagg, are you even listening to me?”

The kwami’s ear’s twitched a few feet in front of her, and he turned midair. Tikki quietly noted their surroundings; it seemed like an old music room, and the air was musty with dust. Dark particles flew around them, oddly pretty under the streaming light of the lunar light from the tall windows. It was like floating in an ocean of dark stars, and the look of apology Plagg gave her made her blush.

“I-I’m sorry, Tikki. I had a surprise for you, but I kept getting nervous and backing out of it! But, ugh, I hate this stupid emotional crap. We’ll make it quick, just, cm’here…” He grumbled the last part over his shoulder. Taken aback, Tikki blinked and sneezed at some dust, but sped across the room to catch up with him.

Plagg sat on a rather modest-looking box in the corner of the room, set squarely in the center of an extravagant dresser. The dark wood reflected some white-blue illumination from the windows, and it cast the black cat in an oddly somber light.

Gentler than before, Tikki lowered herself next to him. “What is this place?”

“I’m not entirely sure,” he answered slowly, rubbing a paw along the box. “I think it was important to Adrien’s mom, cause her name is written all over this stuff. Pianos and violins and junk, though it’s all terribly out of tune.”

“Like you’d know how to carry a tune,” she nudged him. “I’ve heard your singing.”

“I happen to be a fantastic singer, thank you,” he grinned. “Ask Adrien. I sang him a ballad about camembert once, and even he said it was fantastic.”

The red kwami giggled, “Suuuuure.”

They sat for a moment in silence, and Tikki admired the room. It was probably the size of Adrien’s ground-floor, wide with tall ceilings. Most of the services were covered in sheets, probably to keep the dust off, and it made her a little sad to think about.

Abruptly, she sneezed with the swishing of Plagg’s tail kicking up some of the dust.

“It’s pretty in here,” she remarked as she shook the dust from her head. “But it’s sort of making me feel sick. Should we go back?”

A tiny tint of green peeked up through his whiskers, and Tikki blinked. “What?”

“There’s one more thing – okay? Don’t laugh.”

“I won’t,” she answered honestly, a little amused by his behavior.

He took a deep breath and floated up, gesturing for her to follow. Plagg then carefully creaked open the lid of the box, and a gentle little music began to play. Perhaps a piano, crisp little notes of a sweet melody rang out in the silent room, and a ballerina danced inside the box.

“A music box?” Tikki questioned, scowling down at the display in confusion. When she looked up, Plagg was smoothing out his whiskers, and he cleared his throat.

“Sure, whatever. It plays, and I can’t figure out anything else in this room. So are you going to dance with me, or not?”

Scarlet rushed to her already crimson cheeks, and Tikki’s blue eyes grew even wider. “Dance?”

“Dance.” He repeated, floating up to her and taking her paws in his. His over-confident voice deceived his drawn brow, the frown of his lips.

The best she could do was smile warmly and resist the urge to sneeze, floating a bit closer.

It wasn’t like the sort of tangos or slow dances humans entertained, complicated by steps and disproportionate bodies. They just held hands, paw to paw, and twirled in the dusty sea, dark twinkles sparkling around them in a soft light of night.

The balance had never been so secure.

 

Chapter Text

Adrien probably should go back to sleep.

It was early - really early.

It was so early that the sky was still pitched in the tones of forgiving purple and forgotten ebony, the cusp of dawn still weak in the rising daytime.

Sleeping sounded nice, but he lay awake in a dark room with a head full of thoughts.

For the second morning in a row, he had woken up without need of an alarm or the knock of Nathalie at his door, and both nights previous he had gone to bed far later than he should have.

Unlike yesterday, though, Adrien didn’t even have the excuse of early morning sunlight, glaring accusingly across his face.

Rolling over in a his valley of dark sheets, Adrien pulled his phone towards him and checked the time.

“Five o’ one,” he grumbled quietly, head heavy with lost sleep. Still, the lids of his eyes refused to droop with satisfaction, every inch of his mattress suddenly feeling uncomfortable and restrictive. It was too warm in the room, and the blankets felt like a cavern of dreams sacrificed in vain to another morning.

Rolling over, Adrien’s attention was drawn to the windows at the end of the room, where the daubs of black night still streaked the sky, and it looked inviting.

With no sound in the room but the light hum of a sleeping kwami, the teen could just barely hear the workers in the house begin their daily service. It came in waves, a tapping pair of shoes or a closing door, and once, he heard someone sneeze. Birds began to sing, and the quiet distractions added to the steady rise of awareness that woke his brain, creeping up further with each passing minute.

After several minutes of just existing - the bare minimum - Adrien realized his room had grown entirely still.

He shifted his head back on the pillows, gazing up through his fringe. A droopy pair of green eyes shined down at him, blinking slow.

“‘Morning, Plagg,” Adrien yawned as he sat up in bed. A much smaller mewl of sleepiness followed, and the kwami rubbed his eyes.

“Sup,” replied his companion, shifting on the pillows as Adrien stood up and crossed the room, unlocking a few of the windows along the wall. Plagg watched him, and Adrien could feel her curious green eyes follow his movements; it was unusual for them to go out in the morning unless beckoned by the demands of an akuma, but right now, the cool promise of a sleeping Paris seemed a welcome reprieve.

“Plagg?” He called, brows raised. Without complaint, the black presence floated up from the sheets.

Claws out.”

Immediately, his skin felt lighter, the sweat that dried to the back of his neck caught the morning breeze and his skin erupted into oddly enjoyable gooseflesh beneath supple leather that straddled his skin. It was the feeling of being alive, and lately, he reveled in every minute he had.

Chat Noir took to the rooftops, stopping not far from his home, just high enough that passersby would not notice but near enough that he could watch the city come to life.

Cloudless sun and temperate weather was forecasted for the day ahead, which, especially after yesterday’s unbearable heat, Chat was grateful for. Legs dangling from the roof, he hummed along to the quiet overture of day switching shifts with the night. Early commuters, people on bicycles, dog-walkers following their pooches to-and-fro, and traffic began to buzz with the call of careers, cashing in their early morning dues.

Soon, he guessed, Marinette would join them in the listless symphony of work. Anxious to see her, Chat wondered if he might get to work with her again today; it was a fun partnership, much like that he had with Ladybug. Feeling a bit selfish, the black-suited hero even toyed with the idea of leaping over to her balcony right this moment, but he didn’t want wake her unfairly.

Princesses need sleep, he thought with a wry smile.

So, for the time being, Chat was content to watch the city from the sidelines. That didn’t mean he had to be entirely without company.

Murmuring a few quick words, he dropped his transformation.

“That was fast,” Plagg commented as he fluttered down to Adrien’s knee, perched over the side of the building.

The blond shrugged. “Thought you’d like to join me.”

“We are literally one being as Chat Noir, you know,” his kwami replied in false exasperation. “I see the same things you do.”

“I know that,” Adrien huffed, scratching Plagg on top of a head to calm his morning grumpiness. “But I feel weird talking to myself outloud to talk to you. I thought this seemed less weird.”

Plagg grumbled a small “... whatever,” and curled more comfortably onto Adrien’s pajamas, apparently enjoying the petting too much to come up with a more clever rebuke.

After a few moments, the teen lobbed a question at the kwami. It was heavy, one that had been weighing on his mind for a few days.

“What do you think about telling Marinette I’m Chat Noir?”

Plagg peered up at his charge, thoughtful while he considered his response.

It’s not like he could say he was surprised.

In truth, Plagg wanted Adrien to just admit it to the girl, so he and Tikki could spend their time together more easily, to just get the silly love square they were trapped in over with. A being old as time, though, he knew that was selfish and irresponsible - and that was coming from him, not to mention what Tikki would say. She was the responsible one in their little kwami world.

They had to figure out some choices on their own, but he also wouldn’t outright lie to his charge.

Slowly, he construed an answer. “Hmm… well, I think it’s dumb, and you’re dumb for thinking it.”

Adrien snorted derisively and rolled his eyes. “I was being serious, you know.”

“So was I, but I also wasn’t finished,” his kwami answered with a clipped tone.

“Oh. Well, go on then,” Adrien prompted.

Vaguely, the teen made a note that Plagg’s tail was flickering in an odd pattern, but otherwise, his expression was unreadable.

“I think it’s dumb, but I understand why you might want to tell her. It’s hard to keep secrets from the people you care about. Thinking with that heart of yours instead of your brain, as you do, it’s not a surprise you’d be want to do something dumb. The real problem isn’t what you want, though.”

Adrien already understood the meaning of his kwami’s words. Pressing his lips together, he finished the explanation. “... It’s about her safety.”

“Right.” Plagg frowned and rolled over onto his back, looking much the cat as he did so.

“That sucks,” the blond pointed out.

“Yeah,” his kwami agreed with a small shrug. “So even though you’re stupid, I think you’re just the right amount of stupid that you won’t do anything stupid.”

Wow, Plagg, thanks. You’re such a big help.”.

Plagg rolled over and yawned. “I know, I’m the best.”

The pair grew quiet for a time, Plagg cozying up into a ball of black fur and lulling into an easy sleep, but Adrien was still feeling very awake. His mind was abuzz like the rising Paris day, still tinted in black from each horizon, but with some tonal shades of color beginning to sprout from the East.

Adrien recovered his phone from the pocket of his pajamas, doing his best not to disturb Plagg. He was intending to use the chance to Google some lore about flora, maybe impress Marinette with a “oh-so-natural” story about some obscure plant in the shop, and she would stare blankly with those pretty blue eyes.

“Wow, Adrien, I’m so impressed. You’re so handsome and intelligent, I’m just so lucky!” She might say. Maybe.

In reply, he might brush it off like she does, each time she impresses him. “Heh, well, it’s just a fact I picked up on the side. Nothing too impressive, really.”

The silly daydream played out for a minute, but Adrien nearly dropped his phone in surprise when he noticed the very same girl’s name on his screen.

Marinette had left him a voicemail, only a few minutes after he turned to Chat Noir; as his alter ego, all of his civilian wares (aside from his ring) were inaccessible.

Frowning, he lifted the device to his ear.

It crackled for a moment, there was a light swishing noise, and then it went out again.

“Hmm,” Adrien frowned at his phone. “Maybe she rolled over her phone in her sleep?”

Eliciting a very non-manly yelp, the phone started ringing again and he nearly thrashed Plagg off his lap in the process.

“AH-HEY! What gives?!” The kwami screeched, rubbing his cheek where Adrien’s knee had made contact with his face.

“S-Sorry! Mari’s calling me…” Scowling, he cleared his throat and accepted the call.

“Hi, Mari. What are you doing up so --”

Again, he was greeted by a loud crackling sound, and Adrien pulled the phone away in irritation.

He tried again. “Marinette? Can you hear me?”

A little distant, Adrien caught what sounded like a conversation. The first voice was forcefully feminine, and oddly pitched. “ --n’t you worry. You can rest easy knowing.... Paris brats ...to your rescue.”

Marinette’s voice was much louder, and much closer. “Planifcateur, you can’t do this! Snatching up local shopkeeps who weren’t able to help you - it’s not right!”

“Please,” said another voice, not quite as clear as Marinette’s, but closer than the first. Adrien thought it seemed familiar, too. “We are all trying our best to meet the needs of your -- ”

Silence!

That he heard loud-and-clear.

If everything was proper, and neat, and ordered… have happened! My job… problem. Now...”

A weird clicking sound punctuated her speech.

Marinette cut in. “Madam Cesair-!”

Let’s stay on schedule!

The line went dead.

He blinked a few times, the feeling of cold water splashing his face and leaving him out to hypothermic danger, skin paling with the slow sense of recognition. Plagg’s own eyes had gone wide - apparently, his sensitive hearing made it easy for him to pick up on the message. Staring from the phone to his kwami, then the phone again, he felt confusion and concern course through him in the form of furious adrenaline.

“Hawkmoth,” Plagg said, almost spitting the word.

Ignoring the lump forming in this throat, Adrien did not hesitate. Now was not the time for that.

Plagg, claws out.”

For a being without wings, Chat Noir flew across the city, leaping in the cool morning air of Paris with more pressure mounting in his chest than he’s ever known. His heart moved at a pace that would put the fastest runner of the Schneider Electric to shame. It was like someone had decided to excavate his chest cavity from the inside, and it only pushed him faster and faster over the rooftops.

He reached for his baton and tried to call Ladybug.

No answer.

Frustrated, he growled and put the device away. He was already upon the roof of Marinette’s terreanial paradise, and the place seemed empty without her. The absence of the life within, fueled by the love of a black-haired Nightingale, sucked the personality and light right from the walls. A lamp run out from oil, the place was vacant in more ways than one.

This wasn’t like the last akuma attack, a stranger with a familiar target. His - her - Marinette was in danger, and Alya’s mother, and possibly others, too.

Glaring at the glass, Chat’s reflection glared right back. The call was a serendipitous clue as to the context of the situation, but it was also terribly stress-inducing. He assumed Marinette must’ve just tried to call anyone she could without putting herself in danger, probably to notify the police.

Luckily, or not, Chat Noir was not the police.

So what did he know? Chat reviewed what little information he had.

Planifcateur, the Planner, had an interest in Marinette and Alya’s Mom. Specifically, using them as hostages to lure out himself and Ladybug. There was some sort of problem with Planifcateur’s job, probably related to her getting akumatized…

A stirring wind ruffled his hair and tickled his ears, and Chat Noir heard a buzzing sound grow nearer and nearer. His attention flickered above, spotting a familiar TVi helicopter.

“Well, that’s helpful,” he half-smirked, but his heart wasn’t really in it. There wasn’t anyone around to hear his comment or offer a witty remark.

Chat set off into the dewy mist, ill met by moonlight. The evanescent glow of a new moon provided little in the way of illumination - not that he needed it with scoptic senses - but the omen of dark skies didn’t help his growing trepidation.

It only took a few blocks of following after the news helicopter to establish a sense of the akuma’s path. Most attacks concentrated around the school, the Eiffel Tower, the television station, City Hall, or Le Grande Paris for one reason or another. Tonight, as Chat leapt closer towards a specific edge of town, he grew increasingly uncomfortable at the sight of a hotel he’d had lunch in just the day previous.

Marinette had mentioned that morning about sending away some “goons” from the store, claiming they worked at Le Grande Paris. Something about being unreasonable, and the encounter ended with her refusing their business. Given the rest of the evidence available - Madam Cesaire worked at the hotel, and the growing volume of sirens over the steady, rhythmic pounding of the city below as he neared the location - it was all likely related.

Wait…

Something about that wasn’t right.

During an akuma attack, depending on how recently the plot began to unravel, Paris was in one of two states: total catastrophic panic, people running and screaming from ground zero, or eerie, bone-chilling silence. The stacco thumping of marching feet on pavement was as unusual as it was troubling.

Chat paused in his pursuit, scowling into one of the main drags that would guide him right to the hotel, and the sight was almost beautiful, but even more, it was disturbing. An otherwordly sea of stars in the sprawling Mâcon countryside, a hundred, no, maybe a thousand? A thousand tiny lights twinkled in the hands of civilians. From apartments, houses, businesses and even stopped cars, people streamed into the roads and sidewalks, meandering in unison. All of them were, in some manner, gripping technology in their hands. By the looks of, mostly cell phones and personal tablets were secured close to each person’s chest, absorbing their attention by way of a crisp white-blue light that reflected eerily back at each person’s face, clouding their eyes.

“I’ve heard of technology addiction, but this…” Chat murmured. Reaching for his baton again, he tried to contact Ladybug (thankfully, the fundamentals of computer engineering didn’t seem apply to magical items, as the light of his baton remained acid green).

Still, no answer, and the thought brought a grimace to his lips. He could only hope she was being delayed and hadn’t happened to be on her cell phone when this mess started.

A quick inhale of night air steadied him, and Chat flashed across the Parisian skyline towards Le Grande Paris with a mixture of fear and purpose driving his sprint.

The black-suited hero had been doing this long enough to know that sometimes, it was best to wait for Ladybug, and others, it was best to gather information on the scene. His partner’s lack of response was not reassuring, and without knowing what Planifcateur had planned for the hostages, he knew there was really only one option. There was no time to waste.

“... Marinette,” he whispered through grit teeth, leaping a bit faster. Within minutes, the lights of the hotel were visible, a beacon through the morning.

His heavy boots thumped against the stone roof, landing across from Le Grande Paris. The place was a portrait of bustling activity, and he scowled at a loud, shrill laugh at the end of the street.

A massive television screen flickered to life, though none of the people mindlessly going to-and-fro so much as glanced at. The image on the screen suggested it wasn’t intended for them anyways.

Wearing a sneer, a biting tone called out across Paris. “Ladybug and Chat Noir!”

Nadja Chamack, wearing a grin he’d seen on models a dozen time - a strained, fake, forced smile - stood on the left side of the screen, and on the right must have been the Planner.

Her body was a swirl of red and crisp, bright white. Draped in a luxurious scarlet pants-suit, her attire was a level of business-professional that would have impressed even his father. Along her nose, an over-exaggerate pair of ruby-red glasses swooped out almost a foot on each side from her temples. From head-to-toe, the woman was decked out in all sorts of technology that shimmered in the darkness. A bluetooth headset, a slim tablet in her hands, some sort of sophisticated, technological watch on her wrist. Electronics under her touch were replaced by LED machinations into glowing monstrosities of power, and Chat could only guess which one might contain the akuma.

“You have an appointment in the basement of Le Grande Paris with me. The only acceptable forms of ID are your Miraculous! I’d suggest you don’t be late…”

She stepped off-screen, and Chat clenched his jaw. Tied up on a large pouf was one Chloe Bourgeois, scowling at the camera.

“I don’t --” she started to say, but Chat didn’t even hear her. Around the room, at least a dozen people marched around stiffly to the tune of the same hypnotism that drew in all the civilians below.

One of those individuals happened to have dark, messy hair.

Marinette was scowling - and damned be if it wasn’t adorable - at a large array of flowers and plants already occupying pots. He couldn’t imagine they were from the flower shop, as the place seemed in pristine (though empty) condition when he left the scene a few minutes earlier. She was one of the only people stationary, sitting cross-legged on the ground, hands ever-busy with the task she’d been set to.

Ah.

Now it clicked.

Everyone was working, and by the looks of it, working hard. Sweeping, cooking, driving, brewing coffee, and, in Marinette’s case, pruning and plucking at petals without any of her usual enthusiasm.

The Planner was putting everyone to work - tireless, back-breaking work. She waved a wicked goodbye into the camera, replacing it with a large digital timer.

5 00

4 49

4 48

4 47

“Five minutes?” Chat groaned, rolling his head back. A little more quietly, he glared at his baton. “LB where are you?”

Without back-up, he felt very much a kitten walking into the Canine’s Den, but what choice did he have? The Planner didn’t elaborate on what she intended to do with Chloe or the others, but the threat behind her words needed no explanation. Someone was going to get hurt.

Grumbling, he leapt down to street level, his scowl flickering at the doorman. The man gave Chat a polite smile and gestured for him to continue, but with a conspicuous vacancy in his eyes - replaced by the same radiant white glow of the Planner’’s electronics.

No one made any move to capture him or harass him for his miraculous; indeed, if he didn’t know better, no one even noticed him. Everyone seemed content to be distracted by their work, a bustle of life in the lobby that had no time for his distractions, apparently.

Chat strode to the stairs, forgoing the elevator, and quickly descended to the basement.

The level was designed to split into an octangular set of hallways, each of the eight walls in the central service areas extending to different sections for the staff - cleaning and laundry, deliveries and postal service, etc. A shadow of the glamour of the rest of the hotel, everything was still painfully polished and posh, but without the same level of detail. No velvet furniture or glittering chandelier here.

In the center of the basement atrium that connected the many hallways was a familiar picture - Chloe, being berated by the akumatized victim, tied up and her expression flashing between anger and annoyance. From Chat’s perspective at his little window in the stairwell, he couldn’t see Marinette, but none of the other workers seemed to be harmed. Alya’s mom shuffled past at one point, encumbered by a massive container of vegetables, and her expression suggested she was in pain. Judging by the size of the bin, Chat could only guess the weight was something close to Ivan’s body mass, and she was hauling it across the room and out a set of doors.

A resounding crash erupted off to one-side, drawing the eyes of few - Chat, Chloe, and Planifcateur all turned to the sound.

The Planner marched down one of the hallways, pursuing the sound. “What is this racket? Bringing disorder to my perfect schedule?”

Seizing his chance, Chat swiftly slipped through the door and looked around.

Chat N--!” Chloe, began, but he silenced her with a succinct “shh!”

Hissing quietly, he opened the doorway to the hotel. “Everyone, listen, I’ll get you out but you have to hurry - whatever you do, don’t look… at…” His voice trailed off when he noticed no one was paying attention to him, bustling around without so much as batting an eye.

Except one person, who was positively beaming.

Chat slinked across the length of the room and almost threw himself into Marinette.

Mari.” Chat managed to speak her name, a desperate question answered by her hug. She was okay, and her voice was a sigh of sweet relief.

“Hi, Chat,” she whispered back. “Everyone’s been - er, I don’t know exactly. Brainwashed. I think it has something to do with their technology…”

He hardly heard her, just nodding into her shoulder and relishing her perfume and soft arms. A million worries itched his throat in the form of unspoken questions. Are you okay? What happened? How did you get here? Are those your pajamas? Why aren’t you a mindless working-zombie like everyone else? Who cares - hey, I’m Adrien, and I was so worried - did you mean to call me earlier? How did you manage that? Can I kiss you again? Just to make sure you’re really okay?

They hadn’t the time for any of his words, though, as the sound of crisp heels clicked towards them. Flinching, Chat hurriedly helped Marinette to stand. “Okay. I don’t know if I can get them all to follow... but, let me at least get you and Chloe out of here…”

Marinette pulled a face. “Chloe should be plenty to disrupt her plan - she’s the one Planifcateur wants.”

The blonde swung her ponytail around and hmmp’d rather pointedly, but did not disagree. Chat pulled Marinette by the wrist towards the stairs, letting her lead the way while he stopped to scoop up a hampered Chloe. Quiet and quick, they climbed the stairwell to a bustling hotel of hypnotized workers, buzzing around to tend to their duties. It made bounding towards the glittering front doors easy enough - that is, until they reached them.

“Hold on!” A heavy-set man stepped in front of them, clad in a dark uniform that offered his name  - Rémy - but his eyes were cast in alabaster by the technological hypnotism.

Chloe barked an order before Chat or Marinette could react. “Rémy, stand aside. You’re to keep unwanted guests from entering or leaving the premise, but I can go as I please, thank-you-very-much.” His gaze flickered over Chat and Chloe, eyes narrowed and nodded, but grabbed Marinette by the wrist and dragged her to one side, and she cried out in his iron grip. “Mme. Bourgeious and Chat Noir may go. But you don’t have a visitation pass.”

A cataclysmic urge bubbled at Chat’s throat, coming out instead as a growl. Struggling to put Chloe down with her bound limbs, he scowled in concern when he heard Marinette speak-up.

The girl cleared her throat, using her free hand to pat her shoulder-strap clutch. “Sir? I do have a pass, it’s in my purse.”

Squinting distrustfully, Rémy reluctantly released his hold but hovered over her, calling her bluff, duty bound to do his job by the akuma’s magic. Marinette whipped her arm back to her chest and massaged her wrist with her other hand. The blonds met eyes, and Chloe shook her head - don’t look at me.

Chat was prepared to intervene - no way Marinette’s claim was true - but something about her confident smirk made the cat swallow his tongue.

Rémy did not leave and inch of personal space as the dark-haired girl fumbled with her purse, opening the clasp and digging around.

“Here we go,” she said evenly, and in a quick flash of pale skin, she brought out her hand, balled into a fist, and made direct contact with the man’s jaw. With a sickening crack of his teeth gnashing together, the doorman collapsed backwards, sprawling on the floor.

Chat’s felt his own jaw go slack, blinking stupidly.

I’m going to marry this girl, I swear.

“W-what did you do to Rémy?!” Chloe squirmed in Chat’s grip, metaphorically floored at how easily Marinette had very literally floored her doorman.

“What I had to,” she stated with a shrug, as if she hadn’t just single-handedly knocked out a man twice her size and her age, turning briskly to head out into the Paris streets.

Chloe’s lip twisted back, curling with displeasure. “Well? Are we going or what?”

“Uhh…” Chat gulped, feeling a little flustered, and sauntered after his unfreakin’ believable girlfriend. “Right…”

 


 

Sighing, Marinette rubbed her sore knuckles, spotting Chat and Chloe emerge from the building. She had taken refuge around the corner of the first-floor cafe patio, separated from the street by an ornate metal fence. Really, it didn’t do much in the way of “cover,” but none of the people mulling about seemed interested in her. They were all too consumed with their work.

With a wry smile, she felt like she knew the feeling.

With little time before Planifcateur would noticee Chloe was gone, she waved a hand for them to join her. With his night vision, Chat had no problem spotting her, but even then it was hardly necessary. The square was plenty bright with the slightest peak of daylight starting to creep upon the horizon, enhanced by the many businesses that were open much earlier than appropriate for a Thursday morning.

“I’m so glad you’re alright,” Chat whispered as he fell into a crouch beside her, still holding Chloe bridal style with bound hands and feet, and his ears were drooping from stress.

Marinette gave him a sympathetic smile and opened her mouth, but she was promptly interrupted.

“I mean, of course I’m fine, that stupid coordinator wouldn’t dare touch a hair on my head.” Chloe pointed her chin forward, and Marinette rolled her eyes.

Chat merely grimaced. “That brings up a good point, but we should get out of the streets. Come on,” he turned around and offered Marinette his back. “Piggy-back?”

“Pfft,” she chuckled but did not protest, awkwardly climbing astride his hips and locking her arms around his neck while doing her best not to touch Chloe at risk of Bourgeois cooties.

Impressively, Chat managed to get to a roof with only a little fumbling, using a few awnings and balconies to help along the way. Considering he was carrying two young women, the cat had kept his balanced impressively well.

“Okay,” he began once he deemed they were high enough and far enough from the hotel. “Tell me as much as you know.”

Marinette frowned when she slid from his back, watching him pull out his baton and try to call Ladybug. She had agreed to flee the streets with him because he would have insisted anyways, but that presented a different problem to her now. How was she supposed to get away from them?

Chloe, naturally, decided it prudent that she speak first. Chat set her down carefully and worked on her bonds while she explained her half the story.

“Well, I needed a status report of my reception orders, so I summoned the staff to give a full rundown in my room.”

“Why so early?” Marinette grumbled, feeling the ache of lost sleep weighing down her bagged eyes.

Chloe scoffed. “If you knew what kind of work went into planning something like this, Marinette, then you’d understand. I’ve been up before 5 AM everyday this week. Someone’s got to keep those oafs in line.”

It took most of her self-control not to laugh at that - like Chloe understood the first thing about real responsibility. Chat seemed to be taking in her explanation seriously, so Marinette did her best to maintain some semblance of composure.

“And the Planner was one of your employees, I take it?” Chat asked, sounding about as exasperated as she felt.

Chloe seemed a little irritated but accepted his hand when he offered to to help her stand.

“Yes. Madam Pomeroy. She’s my coordinator, and I just - I didn’t mean to make her so upset, but I was upset! I’ve got a lot of pressure on me for this to go well, okay?” The blonde crossed her arms and ducked her head, looking predictably petulant in a canary yellow set of sleepwear.

“So what did you do?” Marinette asked, not impolitely. She knew Chloe wasn’t always intentionally hurtful.

“I - well, she said we weren’t going to have enough food or flowers, and those are two of the most important things when trying to make a good impression. Potential donors could be attending the reception - not that you’d know that,” she sneered slightly at Marinette, but Chat stepped between them.

“And?” He prompted.

“And I said if she didn’t get it together, I would fire her by the end of the day,” Chloe finished flatly.

Before either of them could continue the increasingly derivative conversation, Marinette offered her two-cents, partially in an attempt to get away from Chat so she could transform.

“Well, I was on my balcony, because I couldn’t sleep and I was grabbed by her and brought to the hotel. When I got there, Madam Cesaire and the others hadn’t been… uh, hypnotized, I guess? She went on this spiel about how we wronged her, how it was our fault she failed,” Marinette paused to glare at Chloe. “But anyways, I think the whole hypnotized thing has to do with looking at your technology - phone, tablet, whatever. Anything that has a calendar, I think. And she can do it with her own tech, too - if she flashes the screen at you, you’ll become a ‘worker’ too.”

Marinette frowned, recalling when Planifcateur appeared behind her on her balcony, blocking the skylight. By some miracle, she had, by coincidence, brought her purse outside so she hadn’t been separated from Tikki, and when she tried to talk the woman down, Madam Pomeroy pulled out her tablet and tried to ensorcell her into the manacles of her mind-control, but the woman stopped abruptly. She could have sworn Hawkmoth was speaking with the woman for the way she muttered, but it wasn’t clear about what. Marinette used the chance to pretend she had been put under her spell anyways, so she might find out more about the woman’s plans…

It was scary when she got to the hotel, though. Unlike when Mme. Bustier had been akumatized, these wanderers were not exactly mindless - seeking the reprieve of kisses - but everyone was all but turned to robots. No emotion, no register of familiarity when she walked into the basement, nothing. The whole thing had been plain creepy.

Chat pursed his lips, taping his claws along one arm. “Got it. I need to go back, but I want you both to stay safe. Can you stay here?”

His request, she could tell, was mostly intended for her. It was sweet how Chat worried for her, but that wasn’t a promise she’d be able to keep.

“Uhh… sure,” she lied, shuffling her slippers along the gravely rooftop.

Chloe seemed less than enthused. “Ugh, fine, but I’m not staying out here. It’s gross and dirty.”

“Oh my ganache, just go Chat Noir. We’ll go through that door and hide in the building.” She gestured towards the rooftop entrance, presumably opening to a stairwell, while shoving the cat towards the edge of the building. At present, Marinette was thoroughly done wasting time with Chloe’s complaining.

He seemed a little reluctant, and he turned back to her at the ledge. To her surprise, Chat wrapped her in a hug, holding her tightly.

“Please be careful, Mari. Hide. She’ll come looking for you both.”

“I will, now go. Paris needs you, silly cat.” She tried to sound reassuring so he might leave with some confidence, and his ears perked slightly.

In a flash of black, her partner was leaping back to the hotel, so she made quick work of ditching Chloe.

“Let’s go,” she grumbled slightly, marching towards the door, Chloe grimacing but quiet in her compliance.

She indicated Chloe to go first, and promptly slammed the door once the blonde was inside.

“Oh no, there’s tech zombies climbing up the building!” Marinette cried in false fear. “Hide, Chloe, you’re the one they want! I’m sure Ladybug and Chat Noir will save the day…” She let her facade fade out, listening to the door. After a pause, the sound of clipped of footsteps could be heard descending the stairs.

Marinette touched a hand to her heart and breathed a large, heavy sigh of relief.

Before her lungs were emptied, Tikki was out of her bag, and her usually bubbly gaze was  hardened by the familiar call of duty.

“Ready?” She said with a stern brow, and Marinette merely nodded.

Tikki, spots on!

Greeted by a rush of pink light, red spandex flowed outward from her earrings to her toes, from her heart to her hands, and with a relieved intake of breath, Ladybug stood, looking out over Paris.

Thankfully, Chat hadn’t taken them terribly far away from the scene so the heroine managed to make excellent time, swinging to the hotel in mere minutes.

Screaming welcomed her to the square. Angry, lurid shouting, and the shrieks intensified each time Chat bounced around the street, over cars, off of lamp posts, behind mail dropboxes. It was a little unnerving to see so many civilians milling about during a fight, but they weren’t really paying either party much mind. A mailman stooped over Chat Noir to work on the postal bin, which comically interrupted her partner’s personal space, but otherwise none of the diligent “workers” were involved.

Where did you take her!?” Planifcateur howled, continually trying to catch Chat Noir’s gaze in the face of her tablet, her voice amplified unnaturally by the bluetooth at her ear like a microphone.

“Ugh.” Ladybug dropped down to the pavement, opting for a bold introduction to give Chat Noir a chance to regain his wits.

Planifcateur! Stop this madness!”

A little smug, Ladybug noted the adored look Chat shot her when she appeared, but the reception from Planner was less than warming.

Releasing a maddened cackle, she pulled back her tablet and turned it instead on herself.

The device glowed a deep red under her touch, and began to vibrate violently like an alarm clock.

“Aghh,” Ladybug moved to cover her ears, the chime going off all around them, ringing sharply from the electronic devices held by every civilian who had fallen victim to her hypnotism. Chat had just leapt beside her, but he buckled under the sound, probably having it worse for his sensitive feline-hearing.

After a painful ten-seconds of mind-numbing buzzing, reverberations echoing down each Parisian street, all of the civilians halted their industrious tasks. Eyes burnt crimson, they turned in unison towards the pair of heroes across the length of street and began marching, faces wicked and twisted.

“Ahh, LB, I was starting to think you were leaving meow-t to fend for myself,” Chat sighed and stood properly, backing up slightly as the workers began to advance on them.

Ladybug scoffed and shook her head. “Is now really the time for that, Chat?”

“There’s never a bad time to lion the mood,” he said, shimmying his shoulders up against her. They stood back to back, yo-yo and baton ready respectively.

“That wasn’t even good,” she remarked, laughing despite her claim. “Let’s get to higher ground, shall we?”

Without further ado, Ladybug lassoed herself to the nearest awning, at least to free them of the encroaching crowd. Chat touched down beside her only a moment later, and he looked uncharacteristically severe.

“We can’t hurt civilians,” he noted, using his baton to gently nudge some of them down as they started to climb the sides of buildings. “So we should focus on Planifcateur… I think the akuma is in her main tablet, by the way.”

Humming her agreement, Ladybug narrowed her eyes while gazing over the crowded streets.

“Where did she go…?”

It was difficult to tell with the hordes of brainwashed, now hostile, people swarming the streets, but there was no clear sign of the akumatized victim anywhere. Had she gone back to the hotel, to seek cover and let the people of Paris do her dirty work?

Sounds a lot like Hawkmoth, Ladybug thought grimly.

“Marinette!” Chat blanched, looking sickly pale beneath the suit, and Ladybug had much the same reaction.

“W-What?! H-h-how did…” She stuttered, windpipe unable to process his claim. How did he know it was her? What had given her away?

“What?” Chat shook his head, running an anxious hand through his hair and bringing back his baton. “She must have gone after Marinette… er, mostly probably Chloe Bourgeois - uh, civilians, I rescued before you got here. She’s really furious with Chloe for threatening to fire her, and I don’t know, probably wants to throw her from the Eiffel Tower or something. Doesn’t it usually come to that?”

“Bite your tongue, chaton,” Ladybug laughed and nudged him, feeling gravity return to her temporarily suspended reality. He hadn’t been addressing her as Marinette, but rather, answering her question. “If she’s after Chloe, then there’s no time to waste.”

A quick flick of her wrist, and Ladybug had secured her yo-yo around a far away building antenna, propelling herself back the direction she came. Chat swung ahead of her, taking the lead.

Oh right. I’m not supposed to know where ‘Marinette’ is.

Acting a little aloof once they landed, Chat Noir’s ears were perked for any suspicious sounds.

“They’re inside.”

“Thanks, genius,” Ladybug strode over to the blasted open door, smirking.

Chat seemed too on edge to acknowledge her teasing. “How should we do this? Do we just try to corner her in the building, or should we lure her out? There’s at least two non-brainwashed people here, maybe away would be safer?”

“No, this will be the best use of time, I think. The civilians should be okay if they’re hidden, but right now the building should be empty of workers. If we bring her out, more people will inevitably get involved and make things complicated.”

Scrunching his nose, Chat reluctantly agreed and followed her down the stairs, both listening intently for any sounds that would give her away.

It didn’t take very long, only going down two floors when a blood-chilling scream came from a hallway. Chat wrapped his claws around the door handle, ready to leap onto the scene, but Ladybug stilled him with a hand.

“How about we make plan to fight the Planner, first?” She offered, and at that, Chat seemed to relax marginally. He seemed more stressed than usual, Ladybug noted, but assumed that was out of fear for ‘Marinette’. As her civilian self, the two had become good friends, so it was probably a little unnerving to not know if she was safe.

A guilty little pang went off in her stomach, but there wasn’t much to do about that now.

Lucky Charm!

Twirling her weapon with familiar intention, Ladybug scowled in concentration while the magic coursed through her fingertips, trailing out through the weapon in a quick flash of pink light.

“Keep Chloe safe, and I’ll...” A red-and-black polka-dotted plunger dropped into her hands. “Uh…”

For the first time all evening, Chat Noir laughed, and it was a sound that brought a smile to her lips. Familiar, reassuring, she didn’t realize how much she needed to hear it until he was covering his mouth to keep quiet, shaking with giggles in the cramped space of the stairwell.

“What in the name of cats are you going to do with that?” He managed through his snickering, and Ladybug felt herself flush a bit.

“I have absolutely no idea. But I’ll figure it out, we should go while we still can,” Ladybug nodded firmly, and Chat threw open the door.

The stairs opened to a long, almost cynical-looking hallway. Vague grey walls and rough charcoal carpeting stretched far and narrow into a series of doorways, lit by ineffective fluorescent bulbs. It was almost reminiscent of a hotel or a dingy apartment building, if not for one door, busted off the hinges and hanging obnoxiously out from the wall. It might have seemed the perfect setting for a horror movie.

That wasn’t exactly reassuring, and it was uncomfortably quiet. Still, with the grounding presence of her partner beside her, Ladybug did not fear.

She led the way down the hall, inanely holding the plunger like a sword, and they turned the corner expectantly.

It was quiet for a moment, a blue-tonal office with modern accents and sleek glass windows stretching across the far wall. One was smashed, with shards littering the floor in the pretty warm reflection of the sunrise. Through it, a breeze carried with it sinister words.

“Now Mme. Bourgeious,” rang a toxic voice from outside. “You will see what it’s like to work hard for once in your life! I hope you’re not afraid of heights.”

“Let’s go,” Ladybug said, voice quiet and severe, and carefully stepped over the glass and out the window.

It opened to a very thin terrace that wrapped along the building, and standing on a lift used for window cleaning, the Planner was poised with a shaking blonde gripped by two burly men on each arm. Presumably, they had been the cleaners occupying the lift before it got a little more crowded, and their eyes had the same glazed-over, empty white stare that the civilians had at street-level.

Without hesitating, Ladybug leapt to the lift and stood on the railing, gripping the suspension wires to steady herself. The whole platform began to shake and sway lazily, at least thirteen stories from the streets below, earning another hair-raising shriek from Chloe.

“End of the line, Planifcateur. Let Chloe go!” She declared, fearless despite the uneven footing.

The red-suited woman laughed and thumbed through her tablet, musing. “I’ll see if I can pencil that in - I think I might be able to, if you hand over your miraculous.”

She could feel her partner’s presence on the terrace just behind her, and he mewled an ever-Chat-like response. “While your checking your schedule, think you could work in a quick fight?”

Before her goaded response came, Chat’s baton flickered through the opening at their feet - Ladybug, still perched on the railing of the lift, was untouched - and swept it over four sets of feet, sending them all sprawling.

Seizing her chance, Ladybug dropped down and threw Chloe over her shoulder, not even bothering to check her aim, and she heard the girl plop safely into Chat’s arms.

A hand wrenched her down a moment later, and the Planifcateur was furiously irate, her tablet turned hypnotic white once again. She tried to turn it the heroine’s face, but Ladybug closed her eyes and struggled against the hands of the workers.

While the chaos of too many hands and too many voices struggled in the swinging lift, it was the instability of the whole circus act that had her worried. Even as Ladybug, she nor her three attacks would be much good against a thirteen story drop into cement, and the listless swaying of thin wires, strained by what surely exceeded the weight capacity of the metal lift, was enough to make anyone’s stomach turn ill.

In the chaos, they wrenched the plunger from her hands, and stripped her of her yo-yo. Restrained, Ladybug struggled while another hand moved to her face.

Her earrings beeped.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to live by a routine, sweet Ladybug?” Planifcateur lulled over her, and Ladybug flinched away as someone tried to pry open her eyes. “You would never be late, never disappoint anyone, never step out of line. Imagine how much easier it could be. The weight of the Paris, no longer on your shoulders!”

“Ghhhhh,” she growled, lips pressed together in her struggle. The hand came back again, and seeing no other way, Ladybug promptly bit the fingers that inched nearer to her mask.

“Yaow!” She heard, rather than saw, Planifcateur flinch backwards, followed promptly by a disturbing, squishing, sucking, suctioning sound.

Chat Noir’s voice entered the mix. “Got’cha! Usually LB handles this but…”

Ladybug’s eyes fluttered open in time with the second beep of her earrings, somewhat in surprise but mostly emboldened by the sound of her partner’s confident voice, peering down the length of her body best she could. Chat was perched on his baton, suspended from a notch in the buildings edge, and in his hands he had the plunger, with the Planner’s tablet suctioned to the end of it, and her yo-yo clasped in the other.

Looking much the cat who swallowed the canary, he smacked the tablet into the side of the building, and the front of it shattered with a satisfying crunch.

No!” Planner screamed, reaching uselessly over the ledge at her broken eletronic. Ladybug felt the hands that gripped her to the floor of the lift loosen, and she watched the men blink away the clouds of white that distorted their vision.

“Heads up!” Chat yelled, tossing her weapon over the lift, and she easily snatched it in her fingers. The moment the weapon was returned to her grasp, a familiar mixture of duty and power rushed through her veins.

Flipping dexterously over Planifcateur’s head, Ladybug landed back on the ledge, grabbed the plunger from Chat’s outstretched hand, and quickly cleansed the akuma before it fluttered off.

“Bye, bye, little butterfly,” she waved with a comfortable sigh. As Madam Pomeroy shook her head in confusion, Ladybug tossed the plunger high into the air.

Miraculous Ladybug!

Sure as the sunrise that finally brightened the Parisian skyline, all returned to normal, workers halted abruptly in their erroneous responsibilities, the lift, the men, and Madam Pomeroy all materialized back inside the building, glass now repaired, and Chat turned to her with an award-winning smile.

Pound it!” They declared another victory in unison, and Ladybug’s earrings blinked for the second time.

“Ah, gotta bug out,” she said swiftly, preparing to swing off. “Til next time, chaton!”

Quick as the wind, Ladybug bolted from the scene, the air whipping her fringe from her face. Once the hustle-and-bustle of the akuma attack was out of earshot, she found an alley in time with the fourth and final beep before she lost her transformation.

“Tikki, spots off.” Ladybug exhaled with a strained sense of relief. In her place, Marinette leaned against the bricks in the damp alleyway, catching a spent kwami in her cupped hands.

“Great work, Tikki,” she declared with a tired smile, and her kwami returned the gesture.

“If you feel up for it, you might want to head back to that building,” Tikki suggested with a tiny yawn. “Chat Noir might be worried about you-you.”

“Oh, right,” she hastily opened her bag. “Okay, in you go. Sorry I don’t have any cookies, I’ll stop somewhere on the way home.”

“Thank you,” Tikki blinked blearily up at her charge, and Marinette gave her a little nuzzle with her finger before shutting the bag.

At a light jog, Marinette wound around a few blocks and caught sight of the building, now surrounded by the predictable bustle of police cars and emergency vehicles. News cameras were everywhere, the mayor was making a statement with Chloe tucked safely under his arm, and there was no Chat Noir to be seen.

That brought a worried frown to her lips, and Marinette tried to approach the entrance.

“Whoa, whoa, sorry miss,” claimed a familiar security officer. It was Monsieur Raincomprix. “Can’t go in here; it’s a crime scene at the moment.”

She grimaced. “Oh, c’mon, Ladybug fixed everything - there’s no danger in there!”

“Just standard procedure,” he stated with a set jaw. “Please, stand as--”

Marinette!” The voice came from above, and Monsieur Raincomprix looked up with enough time to shield himself reflexively.

Not that Chat Noir was going to hit the man, necessarily, but the hero certainly did loom a little protectively over her when he landed beside them.

Swiftly, he made to hug her, but spotted the press scurrying over to them immediately. Chat bowed instead.

“It looks like I showed up just in time, we wouldn’t want you knocking out two grown men in one morning, would we?” Chat wore a cheeky smile, but he lowered his voice. “Don’t go scaring me like that, Princess. I was so worried when I couldn’t find you.”

Marinette raised her brows high along her head, biting her tongue to keep from smiling. “I didn’t take you for a scaredy cat.”

He sighed dreamily. “Oh Mari, if you ever tire of that Agreste guy, please, call me.”

“Yeah, right. Don’t hold your breath, minou,” she stuck out her tongue, and they both shared a quick laugh before Chat was entirely engulfed by the cameras. Marinette managed to catch Alya’s Ladyblogger eye and waved, walking off before anyone could question her.

By the time she reoriented herself, Marinette was on the outskirts of the din, near the the medical vehicles. Most victims of Hawkmoth’s cruelty at least suffered from shock, if not some variety of stress-induced anxiety, after being akumatized, so the EMTs usually came prepared with heart monitors and some sort of mouth tube that was supposed to help regulate breathing.

A lone Madam Pomeroy sat in the back of an ambulance, doors open wide and legs dangling over the edge, breathing steadily into the breathing apparatus. One man and one woman in uniforms stood nearby, the former filing some sort of report while the other chatted with Mayor Bourgeois over Chloe’s well-being.

“Hey there,” Marinette greeted, hesitantly smiling at the woman. Her gaze flickered up at her, then away, laden by guilt.

Frowning, the teen moved a little closer, bowing her head. “I just, um… I wanted to apologize. About the other day.”

That decidedly got her attention, and Madam Pomeroy’s eyes went wide behind her glittery glasses. Marinette squinted when they caught the light, but continued.

“I didn’t know how important the flowers were to your plans, and I’m sorry that it caused you so much grief. I was a little unfair because I knew you worked for the hotel and…” She wrinkled her nose, shooting a glance over towards the Bourgeoises. “I guess I wasn’t being a very good business person. So, I’m sorry.”

The woman looked decidedly dumbstruck by Marinette’s self-admonishment, and her breathing regulator seemed even more necessary.

“If you’re still looking for the flowers, though, I’d be happy to try to make it up to you. If you’d still like to do business, that is - I probably can’t do all seventy orders, but I’d be glad to pitch in.”

“I… ” Madam Pomeroy lowered the balloon from her lips, eyes darkened with shame. “You are very kind, Mme. I’m the one who should be sorry; I let me stress get the best of me, and then I just snapped and…”

Marinette held up a hand, wearing her warmest smile. “That’s okay. Anyone could be a villain on their worst days - the important thing is breaking the cycle. So…” she dug in her purse, and Tikki gave her an encouraging little nod. The girl handed Madam Pomeroy a business card, but only after scribbling her personal number on the back.

“Call anytime, or text me. My cell’s on the other side, and we’ll do our best to fulfill the orders. Okay?”

The woman accepted with a quizzical look, but her expressions eventually turned to one of gratitude.

“Well… thank you,” she paused, squinting at her name on the back, written above her mobile number. “Marinette.”

Bowing and starting in the other direction, she bid the woman farewell. “You’re welcome. Take care, and don’t work too hard!”

Turning the corner from the early-morning madness, she released a low sigh and gazed at the blue skies beginning to peak out through the stained sunrise. It was probably already 7, she guessed, and it would probably be a loss to actually stop to get Tikki food rather than just heading home. Her kwami was undoubtedly tired, but the time it would take to find a shop that was up-and-running properly after the confusion of the akuma would take longer than just returning to the comfort of the bakery. Besides, she knew Tikki preferred sugar of the non-processed variety when possible, so Papa’s cookies seemed a better option anyways.

Unfortunately, she wasn’t very near to home. It would be quickest to wait for a bus, if things had totally returned to normal operating procedures, but that was hindered by the same problem that came from the shops along the drag. It wasn’t clear if the buses would run on schedule, so Marinette opted to walk instead, only a tad self-conscious to be strolling down the street in her pajamas; it was like the mayor declared Dress-Down Thursday, for almost everyone was in the same disheveled, bed-headed, bagged-eyed state that she was in.

The worries over her trek back to the bakery turned out to be for naught, interrupted by a voice by the time she reached the end of the block.

Mari! Wait up!

She faltered, surprised by the trill that danced up her spine, and spun on the spot.

“Adrien?” Marinette sounded bemused, not as embarrassed as she should have been. It’s not like this was the first time he’d seen her in pajamas, recalling when they were running from Gorillaz. Compared to last time, her hair might not have been brushed, but she also wasn’t wearing a ridiculous disguise, so she was already a leg-up. “What are you -- oh!”

The blond caught up to her and almost knocked her over with the force of his hug, wrapping her so tightly in his arms that it felt like the wind had been forced from her lungs. Then again, Marinette was almost always breathless around him anyways.

“A-Adrien, what’s going on? What are you doing out here?” She squeezed back, reveling in his warmth, partially surprised but mostly overjoyed to see him. Honestly, she should have been more concerned about the fact that they were very publicly embracing in the middle of a Parisian sidewalk in their pajamas, but his pounding heart and haggard, but notably relieved, breathing was more invigorating a way to wake-up than any cup of coffee.

Stepping apart, his hands moved to her face, one brushing a bit of her hair away and the other holding her cheek. Marinette felt her skin redden under his touch.

“Oh, um… yeah, I guess, the same thing as you?” He grinned, wide and silly, gesturing towards his unusually casual clothing. A simple black t-shirt paired with full-length bottoms made of light, breathable cotton, the blue and gray pinstripes only made him look impossibly taller. “I, uh, guess I was ‘working on’ something. Maybe modeling? I don’t know, I just remember ‘coming to’ and the Ladyblog said that you were one of the primary people targeted by the akuma. I can’t believe I managed to find you after all of that, geez, I was so worried,” he shook his head and chuckled, the sound making her knees wobble.

Beaming, Marinette moved her hand to his, still cupping her furiously red face. “Thank you, I’m sorry you worried. I’m glad you’re okay, too.”

His attention moved to her fingers, resting over his own, and he raised a brow.

“What happened here?” Adrien took her hand in his, examining her bruised knuckles with amusement. “Did you hurt yourself during the attack?”

“...Ahh,” Marinette averted her eyes, very aware that he was holding her hand very close to his lips. “Hah, haha, yeah, sort of. I might have… punched someone…?”

At that, his smile was so bright, dimpled and brilliant, Marinette couldn’t help but turn bashful and draw her hand back.

“It’s not like I wanted to! I had to - it was this whole thing with Chloe and Chat Noir… ugh, believe me, it’s not that interesting of a story.” She ran a hand down her face, not particularly proud of the fact that she flattened a grown man in front of them, but it wasn’t like she had much of a choice at the time.

“Please, Mari, tell me everything. I’ll walk you home?” He took her arm and began down the sidewalk, hardly giving her time to process before they were on their way. Marinette had half-a-mind to ask if he’d had coffee this morning for how animated he was, but that was impossible given the context.

“W-wait, what about your schedule? Won’t Nathalie be upset?”

At that, Adrien paused and pursed his lips. They were still at the end of the block, and to their immediate left was an obnoxious round sign for the most recent Gabriel line, with his face plastered directly in the center. Beside it, there was a trash can, and Adrien promptly walked over and dropped his phone into it.

Marinette balked, and he just gave a little shrug. “Oops. Guess it was lost during the akuma attack.”

He caught her eye and shot her a silly wink, so she shook her head and fought a smile.

Shyly, she mumbled, “W-well, okay,” and Adrien resumed guiding her home.

Well, he was supposed to be watching where they were going, but he had eyes only for her, laughing along to her story, each chuckle pellucid like a soft soprano. That she had so captivated his attention was making her increasingly bouncy, adding ferverant details to the night’s antics as they went down the sidewalks, talking probably too loud to hear herself over her thundering heartbeat. It seemed so loud, Marinette was certain he could hear it too.

At a comfortable pace, she recounted everything that happened up until shoving Chloe through the door at the top of the building and turning into Ladybug, and Adrien was full of questions the whole way. What did she think of Chat Noir? Why did she think she didn’t get ‘hypnotized’? Where did the woman gather them? Each time, Marinette did her best to be honest and laugh and smile along with him, a little dazed that all of this was happening. The lack of sleep, rush of morning adrenaline from her superhero duties, and final comfortable lull of being walked home by Adrien, Adrien Agreste, Adrien her boyfriend… It was a little too much.

She always imagined the first time she woke up at the crack of dawn with Adrien beside her, both in pajamas, might not have been quite like this. (Her imagination usually included, um, fewer clothes.) Still, having this time to just talk with him early in the morning, both tired and almost slap-happy from a restless night, was better than she could have ever asked for. It was special and strangely intimate, though the streets were still full of confused people trying to return to their normal lives.

As they neared the school, the bakery just coming into view, a few young women and a pair of men stopped them.

“O-oh my god! Are you Adrien Agreste?” A redhead gushed, her friends seeming embarrassed but curious. The men were almost more excited than the the first girl, and Marinette could tell they both were wearing similar pajamas to the boy at her arm - presumably, Gabriel brand.

Adrien chuckled and scratched his neck, stopping so as not to be rude. “Uh, heh, yep.”

“Oh my - wow! Wow, I’m a huge fan,” one of the men said. She suspected he was also of some Asian descent, but his skin tone and eye shape suggested south-eastern Asia - maybe Vietnamese?

“Me, too. This is unreal!” The redhead was almost bouncing, and Marinette did her best not to interrupt. She slipped her arm out of Adrien’s and took a tiny step back, letting his fans have their moment.

“Could we, er, get a selfie with you? Please?! It would mean so much to me!” The girl asked, and at that, her friends no longer seemed ashamed. They all more-or-less layered on the request, with plentiful please’s, sounding just about pitiful.

Frowning, Adrien glanced towards her way. Marinette offered him a timid smile and nodded for him to go ahead.

“Well… sure, yeah. No problem.” Adrien adopted his familiar “model face,” and seeing it now actually made her feel a little sad. It wasn’t the Chesire, goofy grin she’d come to expect from him anymore. It was just small and a little too perfect to be right.

“Agh, there’s too many of us! Justin, back up - ”

“Stop it Danya,” another shoved slightly, and Adrien looked increasingly uncomfortable as the friends argued, trying to all squeeze into frame.

Marinette pursed her lips and stepped forward, hand outstretched. “I can take the picture for you.”

The gaggle seemed surprised but certainly pleased, and one of them handed her an iPhone. Adrien smiled gratefully, and Marinette quickly snapped a few photos.

“There,” she passed back the phone, all of them looking over shoulders to get a better view.

“Aw man, my eyes were closed in that one - oh, but that’s good,”

“Thank you again, Monsieur Agreste!”

“Yes, thank you!”

“Take care, Monsieur Adrien,” the redhead said with a rather suggestive wink, and Marinette sucked her teeth a little irritably. The girl reminded her too much of Lila for it not to leave a bitter taste in her mouth, but she tried to remind herself of her own advice to Madam Pomeroy not an hour earlier.

The important thing is breaking the cycle.

Adrien and Marinette quickly sped off after that, neither speaking for a few awkward seconds while they distanced themselves from the group.

“Sorry,” he blurted suddenly, eyes on the pavement. They were passing the school, so the bakery was only a few dozen steps away.

Marinette slowed her pace. “Why are you sorry?”

“That - they, er, I didn’t mean to interrupt your story. And then that girl at the end…” His lips twisted down, and the ebony-haired girl stopped and squeezed his arm.

Feeling unusually gutsy, Marinette cleared her throat and met his gaze seriously. “Don’t say that - they were just excited to see you. I know I would be, if I wasn’t lucky enough to be here with you myself. And...” she touched a finger to his lips, as if silencing him. “You’re too cute to frown. Smile?”

Without telling twice, he did as she bid, and Marinette could feel his breath exhale onto her finger as his lips parted into the smile that she loved.

He interrupted her quiet admiration with a gentle kiss against her finger. “Thanks. You’re pretty cute yourself, especially with bedhead.”

Now it was Marinette’s turn to frown, but it was tough to keep the smirk from returning. “Gee, thanks.”

“I was serious!” He said, falling back into stride towards her house.

The girl could only chuckle and shake her head, though her laughter quickly faded when she spotted her parents in the front window.

“Ah… Maman and Papa were probably worried sick…”

“I don’t blame them,” he admitted, looking at her out of the corner of his eye. “I was nearly worried sick myself.”

“I’m sorry,” she said honestly. “I feel bad about all of this.”

Adrien sighed slowly, coming up to the front door and stopping momentarily. “Don’t be. You’re just precious to them, and to me.”

Without a care that her mother and father were watching, not even ten feet away and separated only by glass, he leaned down and brought their lips together, slow and soft, and Marinette felt herself sigh into him, lavishing the warmth that flowed through him. It was brief, a ray of sunshine through the cloudy skies, but she wondered if he could taste the love on her lips, the feelings she tried so desperately to share each time their noses bumped, each inhale of him she was granted like a gift from above.

Breathless, they pulled apart, and Marinette’s body felt strained from his absence. Just a moment of his closeness was enough to addict her to the sensation, and if not for her mother’s staring, she might have just ravaged his lips again right then and there.

Instead, the girl flickered her attention toward the bakery and tried to appear shy for the sake of her mother, but the woman didn’t seemed interested in modesty. Instead, her mother was smiling, nodding, and giving her the largest thumbs-up she’d ever seen.

Uggggggggggh,” Marinette dropped her head, and Adrien laughed when he realized why. He gave her mother a thumbs-up in return, and Marinette nearly shoved him.

Instead, resigned, she invited him inside.

“G’morning,” Marinette yawned as she pushed open the bakery door, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. The smell of leavened bread and saccharine sweets soothed her exasperation almost immediately, attuning her senses to feelings of home. More than setting off pangs of hunger in her stomach, she felt the long night catch up to her, and her body begged for sleep.

“Oh honey,” her mother replied, coming to the door to greet them and swiftly wrapping her daughter in a hug. “I’m so glad you’re alright. I’m sorry you got pulled into the chaos too, Adrien. We’re all sort of a mess, aren’t we?”

After giving her daughter a kiss on the cheek, Sabine took a step back and gestured towards her wrap-style pajamas, reminiscent of a cheongsam, covered by one her many aprons.

Adrien smiled politely. “Oh, I’m just glad Marinette’s okay. This is probably the first time I’ve ever been out of the house in my pajamas. It’s sort of fun, isn’t it?”

“Fun isn’t exactly the word I’d use,” Marinette commented quietly, shooting him a good-humored grimace. “But did you want to stay and have breakfast? You’re here in your pajamas, it almost seems necessary.”

“That’s an excellent idea, but” her mother frowned, tapping her chin. “Our whole day is sort of thrown off with this akuma business, so we’re running behind on everything. Maybe you’d rather go out to that cafe around the corner?”

Her mother sent them both a not-so-subtle wink.

“Oh,” Adrien’s fingers fumbled between them, seeking her hand, so she helped him find it with electric fingers. “Well, if you’re sure, I would love that. How about it, Mari? My treat, pun-intended, of course.”

Her father piped up from the back, and Marinette could hear the sound of the oven opening; he must be working on the morning loaves. “Thatta boy! I knew I had a good feeling about this one, Mari!”

Chagrined, Marinette buried her face into Adrien’s arm, twisting to still hold his hand. “Papa…

Her mother and that stupid head of blond hair seemed amused by her displeasure, sharing a hearty bout of laughter, but all of her irritation vanished when she felt a soft kiss against the top of her head.

Rebooting from her short-circuited system, Marinette quickly bid her parents goodbye (snatching a few day-old cookies and shoving them in her bag for Tikki) and began dragging Adrien down the street, back into the refreshing Paris air.

“They’re unbelievable, I swear. Sorry.” She avoiding his eyes, too embarrassed by the way they acted to do much else.

Adrien gave her fingers a squeeze. “That’s okay. Now you know how I felt yesterday at dinner.”

Scrunching her nose, Marinette couldn’t argue with that, but her pink cheeks did not fade until they made it to the cafe.

“So why’d your parents recommend this place?” He gazed at the sign. “Hang-Over-Easy? Oh my god, it’s a… a pun. This is the most beautiful gift I’ve ever received.”

She snorted and led him inside. “Well, they’re a twenty-four hour place, bar by night and breakfast by day. Maman probably figured the akuma wouldn’t mess with their routine.”

Adrien hummed a response, more concerned with his study of the eclectic bar-but-sort-of-cafe. The walls were bright yellow and boldly outlined in black, each surface decorated with varying degrees of egg-themed paraphernalia. It seemed especially funny juxtaposed beside the bar, stocked as it was with plenty of alcohol - after an early morning akuma attack, there were already a few patrons sipping on drinks.

Marinette left him to it for a moment, trying to catch the eye of the hostess.

“Um, a two-person table, please.”

The woman nodded. “Inside or out?”

“Oh,” she frowned, and turned to Adrien. “Do you have a preference?”

Blond locks shook across his forehead, so perfectly messy that it really wasn’t fair.

Swallowing her urge to shower him with a hundred kisses, Marinette sent a strained smile to the hostess. “Outside, please.”

They were led to a table, and it was certainly a treat to see everyone in Paris walking around in their early-morning wares (aside from the occasional person who had bothered to change - Adrien and Marinette agreed that those people were ‘no fun’). It seemed like most citizens were considering a productive day’s work to be a loss, and Marinette was feeling a little indulgent herself. How nice it would be to just skip out on the shop today, to spend the whole day lazing around with Adrien like this…

“Oh, Mari,” he sat up a little excitedly. “What’re these?”

“Hmm?” She blinked, following his gaze to a modest plant in the center of the little table. Bushy like a shrub, she frowned down at the yellow planter.

The flowers were tiny and few, radiant white against the deep green foilage. The small petals crossed over one another, sort of twisted to resemble a miniature vortex.

“I’m… I’m actually not sure. Maybe a Pinwheel Flower? They go by a dozen different names though - East Indian Rosebay, Coffee Rose, Crepe Gardenia... ”

Before Adrien had the chance to comment, their waiter appeared. A large, grizzly man with a kind smile and bushy gray beard, his nameplate read “Jean.”

“How’re you folks doing today?” He greeted warmly, not bothering with a pad and pen.

Adrien flashed a smile, and Marinette was pretty sure her heart stopped beating. “Absolutely great, thank you. I’ll have a coffee, please.”

“T-t-Two.” Marinette stuttered when their attention turned towards her. She felt dimwitted, forgetting herself so easily. Maybe she should have asked the EMTs for one of those breathing apparatuses they had given Madam Pomeroy.

“Cream or sugar?”

“Both please, and do you have crepes?” Adrien asked, and the man nodded. “Let’s get two of those, as well. Whatever flavor you recommend.”

Raising a brow, Marinette licked her dry lips as Jean walked away. “I thought you didn’t drink coffee?”

His cheer was irresistible, and he wore a lopsided smile. “I’ve taken a liking to it lately. And, if this is a Coffee Rose... or ‘Crepe Gardenia’, or whatever,” he pointed at the flower on the table. “I just thought, when are we ever going to get to have breakfast with a flower literally named after breakfast foods? I thought it might just be fate.”

“Fate,” she repeated, testing the word on her tongue before turning a reserved shade of pink. “I guess... it might be.”

Somehow, after years of falling for Adrien, and more than a few times actually falling over Adrien, things were finally, finally falling into place. He seemed almost as giddy around her as she him… just, with better coordination and manners. The curse that had rooted her Summer break to a halt, the job that had sentenced her to hard labor for crimes she didn’t commit, seemed to have been forgiving after all.

Marinette had him, all to herself (to Nino’s chagrin, if yesterday’s texts were any indication).

He and Alya had been instrumental to this, too, and she was abundantly thankful to her friends. Their patience with her and persistence with him had finally made sense of a stupidly confusing puzzle, sorting through the mess to find the corner pieces and wait for them to fill in the middle.

Adrien leaned forward a bit across the table. “Marinette? Are you okay?”

She would never tire of the way her name sounded from his lips. It only made her heart thump harder against her ribs.

“Yep. Just trying to remember the lore to these… I don’t remember much, since Mo never grew them. All I really remember is they’re nocturnal.”

“Nocturnal?” Adrien blinked, brow furrowing over the pot.

“Sort of. That type of flower - apocynaceae - bloom brightest during the night, and they’re supposed to smell really lovely. The sun drains them, and they don’t do super well during those hours. It might be early enough that you can still smell them... I guess it makes sense to have at a 24/7 place,” she mused, looking around the open-style patio that led into the bar.

Adrien, cued by her explanation, leaned forward and inhaled a few inches above the buds.

“Oh wow,” he remarked with a dreamy smile. “These do smell really great. C’mhere.”

Her hand had been resting on the table, and he gently tugged it forward so she would come nearer. The sudden proximity, divided simply by a small flower, made her blush even harder.

She caught his eye, and neither of them seemed at all interest in their conversation anymore.

“You’re pretty,” he said, quiet and sincere. Marinette’s lashes fluttered when his breath danced across her cheeks.

“And you’re silly,” she murmured with a teasing smirk.

Adrien squinted at her, and he looked about to say something when Jean reappeared with their coffee.

“Alright two cups -- whoa, sorry, I hope I didn’t interrupt anything!” He chuckled when they both flew apart, the sound a little uncomfortable.

Marinette, probably three octaves too high, answered. “Nope! Just fine thanks!

The waiter left them their drinks and swiftly disappeared, the whole time Adrien fighting off waves of laughter.

What?” She demanded, reaching for the cream.

Green eyes appraising her, he merely shook his head. “I just can’t believe you can go from fearlessly knocking someone out with your bare fist to being so cute and blushy like that. I can’t believe I get to date you.”

Marinette spilled some cream on her lap, startled as she was by his statement, and he didn’t let up while passing her a napkin.

“And not to mention how you are adorably clumsy. Gosh, you’re something, Mari.”

At that moment, she was definitely something reminiscent of a young Parisian woman, having breakfast in her pajamas, melted into a puddle of adoration and nerves. She was something, alright, something totally overcome with how in love she was with this boy.

Chapter Text

After a sleepless night, a hearty breakfast, two cups of coffee, and a walk around Paris - all before 10 AM - Marinette couldn’t say her brain was quite up to working speed. As in, literal, “it’s time to go to work, now,” working-speed. Caffeine and exhaustion made for a strange cocktail, turning her hands shaky and mind heavy, yielding a slow and stupid mantra instead of coherent thoughts.

Late, late, late, late, late.

So the chant went, a single word of guilt and anxiety on repeat in the dark-haired girl’s head like a card stuck in the spoke of someone’s bicycle. Marinette entertained the mental image of taking a baseball bat to the imagined bike, and beating it into nonexistence.

Late, late, late, late, late.

Yet, here she was, late again, with no baseball bat, and no bike to take it out on.

“I wish we could at least drop you off at work,” Adrien remarked, holding both her hands in his. He had to go straight to a photoshoot, and parked outside the bakery was the familiar silver sedan than chauffeured him around Paris.

Marinette curled her fingers against his knuckles, amazed by their warmth, soft and perfect as they were. She was a young adult now; she knew she should pull away. She should say goodbye, get to work, quit stalling, and focus. But boy, was it hard to do when a literal model was smiling at you, inches away, looking criminally adorable in a pair of designer pajamas. His lips in particular looked awfully tempting right then.

“Um, I… I wish you could, too,” she managed with a low voice, ducking her head. His gaze, more brilliant and green than any topiary, was too much for her at the moment.

Adrien seemed just as reluctant to go. “I had fun this morning.”

“I did, too,” she agreed, smiling at their shoes. Too tired to care, Marinette had decided just to wear her pajamas to work, like everybody else in Paris that day, though she did change into her tennis shoes. The blond had dark slippers of his own, and they stood toe-to-toe, her soles meeting his.

“You know, throwing your phone away probably wasn’t your best idea,” Marinette offered, the mantra insistent that she start her day properly. The backbeat of her heart disagreed. “How am I going to get ahold of you?”

His mouth became unsteady, lopsided and thoughtful. If she didn’t know any better, his attitude turned a bit embarrassed.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Adrien admitted, features eventually returning to his usual, goofy grin. “I’m sure I have an extra that Nathalie can get set up. I’ll probably get back to it in just a few hours - and maybe it’s for the best? This way, I can actually pretend to be focused at my shoot, you know, not thinking about you constantly.”

Marinette felt herself pink, oddly relieved by his tiny confession. It was nice to know she wasn’t the only one whose productivity suffered.

From the street, Nathalie rolled down the window and cleared her throat rather pointedly. Adrien rolled his eyes and Marinette let out a small giggle.

She tried her best to not to sound too disappointed. “Well... you better go.”

“Yeah…” he mumbled, watching her carefully. “Have a good day, Mari.”

Barely resisting the urge to tilt her head up, tempted though she was, she opted for a bit of honesty instead.

“I already have, thanks to you.”

Adrien’s grin widened, so much that his dimples teased for her attention, but responsibility finally rang true. Marinette stepped away, plenty sorry to see him go.

By the time she finally, finally waved him off, she slipped back into the bakery to say farewell to her parents.

Popping her head into the back, Marinette spotted the pair of them, both elbow-deep in dough and already pasted head-to-toe with flour.

“How was breakfast? Should we expect to start seeing Adrien everyday? I can make breakfast for four, you know,” Her mother asked teasingly after Marinette kissed her cheek, and the girl bit her lip to keep from smiling. There was no way to force down the blush, though.

“It was great, thanks for the suggestion… as for the breakfast bit, maybe not,” Marinette laughed heartily. “Though, that does remind me, the only firm plans we have are Saturday night, but Adrien said he was going to look at his schedule and let me know about today and Friday.”

“What’s Saturday?” Her father inquired, keeping his attention on the bread that needed baking.

She adjusted her shoulder strap purse. “Oh, I guess I didn’t… Sorry, Maman, Papa. I meant to tell you sooner; it just slipped my mind.”

The pair exchanged a quick look, smirking, when her mother quipped, “I can’t imagine what might have been occupying your thoughts.”

Marinette chose to ignore that. “Alya and Nino invited us to go to La Nuit des musées, I hope that’s okay? It goes kind of late…”

Maman made a face. “How late is ‘late’?”

Scooting around the counter to her father, knowing he was usually more sympathetic to her social obligations, Marinette leaned into his side before answering.

“Welllllll… all night? I won’t stay out the whole time, of course!” She added the latter part hastily when her mother’s face grew into a suspicious scowl. “The museums stay open for the whole night, and there’s lots of food stands and trucks that come out and even some street artists perform - so I’ve heard, at least… We were going to go after I get off at 6:00, and probably stay out until… I actually don’t know. However late you’ll let me?”

Marinette made a dramatic demonstration of pouting, eyes wide and searching up at her Papa.

“Oh… well, I don’t know, dear…” He shot a hesitant look at his wife, chuckling uncomfortably. “Adrien will be with you? And Alya and Nino?”

She nodded vigorously, and her mother’s interjection surprised her. “Well, sweetie, you’re sixteen, not a child anymore. And you’ve got to start making some adult choices… So how late do you think is appropriate for you to stay out?”

Marinette blinked deliberately, standing up from her shameless pity party. “Oh… huh. Well...”

This wasn’t something she was used to, so it was hard to measure a reasonable request. Maman’s statement on “making adult choices” seemed like a hint at ‘not-too-late’, but she was being given some liberty here. Though, her parents didn’t know the half of the “adult choices” she had to make on a weekly basis when it came to the fate of Paris.

Perhaps don’t bring that part up, her inner-Marinette chimed in. The voice sounded an awful lot like Tikki, she noted.

“What about… okay, yeah, how about, can I be home at one in the morning? I know - that sounds late! But, if I stay with my friends the whole time? I’m thinking, I won’t leave the shop until probably 7:00, since Saturdays are always busy. Then there’s travel time and I’ve got to change - there’s this stupid fancy reception party at Le Grande Paris, so by the time we actually get out on the town it will probably be 10:00. I don’t want to have to run from museum to museum, it’d be nice to take our time so…” Her voice faded off when neither of them reacted, but for a small dip in her mother’s brow.

She didn’t realize how fast her heart had started beating, suddenly nervous that she had asked too much. Responsibility was hard.

“Hmm…” Her mother eventually hummed, wiping her hands on her apron; Marinette noticed with a small flush of pride that it was the one she had made her for Mother’s Day. “I think one will be okay, but only with a few ground rules.”

“I agree,” her father piped up immediately before getting back to work. He seemed relieved to delegate the details of teenaged-daughter-rearing to his wife.

The woman beckoned Marinette to follow her towards the front of the store, offering to walk her out.

“You have to stay with Alya, Nino and Adrien the entire time, especially after 10 PM. A pretty girl walking alone at night is asking for trouble. Okay?”

“Yes,” Marinette muttered, her stomach churning a little uncomfortably by the insinuation. It was a troubling truth to living in any city.

“And you keep your phone with you all night. You call us if anything happens, or you want to come home early. You can even invite them back to the house for awhile if the museums aren’t all they’re cut out to be. I’d rather the four of you be up half the night in the safety of the house rather than sticking around downtown just for the sake of spending time together. Got it?”

By now, Marinette was standing in the doorway, the increasing bustle of Paris to her back calling her out to another day’s work.

“Got it, Maman. Was there anything else?”

The woman smiled at her daughter, squeezing each of her shoulders. “Well, one more thing. If you can, have your friends stop by before heading off to the fancy party. I’d like pictures! Plus, I need to see Adrien’s face when he sees you. Do you know what you’ll wear to the reception?”

“Wearing…? OH.” Marinette shot up, ramrod straight, so suddenly her mother flinched. In a flash of white-and-pink pajamas, the girl ran back through the house, panicking verbally while she went. “Gahhhh! I hadn’t even thought of that!”

Once safely back in her room, with a teensy bit of time to spare with waking so early, Marinette grabbed the sides of her head in panic. “Oh crap oh crap oh crap! What am I going to do?” She directed the question at Tikki, who had flown back out of her bag.

The kwami looked thoughtful, forehead creasing. “Hmm… Do you have anything you’ve been working on? One of your new designs?”

Marinette scrambled over to her sketchbook, flickering through it uselessly. “Ughhh… If I don’t start it today, I’ll never finish it in time. I don’t have anything working but… I could do this, or maybe this one?” She pointed down at the book, gesturing two gowns she had been doodling as things to include in her portfolio. Never in her dreams would she have imagined actually wearing one of these rather couture dresses.

Tikki perched herself on a shaking shoulder, resting a paw against Marinette’s neck in comfort. “Well, I really like them both. Maybe pick which one you expect to be easier? Or faster, at least?”

That suggestion helped calm the quiver in her chest, but only slightly. “Ughhh… I don’t know, I don’t know! I hate deciding things under pressure!”

“Take a breath, Marinette!” Her kwami instructed dutifully, hovering forward to meet her chosen face-to-face. “You act under pressure constantly when you save Paris! Why not bring your sketchbook with you, take some time today to think about it, and we can stop by the fabric store on our way home?”

Gaze flickering between the two designs, Marinette heeded her kwami’s ever-rational advice and took a slow, deep inhale. The room tasted of pollen and fresh bread, wafting and mingling in the breeze from her window.

Upon the exhale, she closed her eyes and nodded firmly. “Right. Right, okay. Thanks, Tikki.”

The kwami smiled brightly. “No need to thank me - I know you can do this.”

“You’re the best,” Marinette replied with a little laugh, switching out her usual small shoulder-strap bag for her easy tote, large enough to fit her sketch book and other must’s for work.

Not wasting the time to linger with her parents again, Marinette sprinted down the stairs and out the door, calling a half-thought farewell over her shoulder. She thought Maman might have yelled after her, but there wasn’t time for that now.

When stopped at a crosswalk, Marinette hunched over and heaved for breath, both hands gripping her knees.

Phew. I think we’ll make it, by like, 15 after Tikki,” she whispered between gasps at her bag. A spirited little giggle answered her, but nothing else - which was probably for the best, as a young gentleman was eyeing her strangely. Most people don’t talk to their purses, Marinette remembered, and chuckled awkwardly. Walking with the crowds, if not a little faster than most, she decided to use the chance to visualize the dresses she had planned.

One was the hydrangea-inspired gown she had been working on over-and-over-and-over. She hadn’t been satisfied with any of the iterations, but only because she wanted it to be perfect. It descended to the floor in a gentle gradient of purple and lavender, deep hues of indigo around the sweetheart bodice. It would play nicely with her eyes and skin tone, but it was hard to know if it was the right choice with the difficulty she’d been having. She hadn’t even settled on a figure yet.

The other was a sleeved-fitted thing, probably too risque for her to ever even imagine pulling off. Black lace accented by almost gaussian cuts of fabric, the sleeves dangled from the shoulders easily, while a peplum burst of skirt jutted out from the bottom, stopping mid-calf. It was more scandalous than she cared to think of, but there was something sort of... alluring about that, too. Even admitting that to herself brought a tint of pink to her cheeks, but it was true, wasn’t it? She had someone to show off for now, after all, didn’t she? And wouldn’t it be nice to rub it in Chloe’s arrogant little nose, just a bit, to show up with Adrien in something… something sexy?

A movie reel began to flicker on in Marinette’s brain, a Cinderella moment of her appearing at the top of a large, golden wrought set of stairs, guests quieting at her arrival. The ballroom might still, her hair done up, and different flashes of the dresses dancing over her skin. In each one, a beautiful blond boy stood at the first step of the stairs, amazed by her, smiling. She would take his arm, and he’d lean close and whisper something affection and dorky... It was the best kind of daydream, and Marinette sighed longingly while she crossed the street.

Without a crossing signal.

A car beeped accusingly, screeching to a loud halt just a foot in front of her. Marinette’s eyes went wide in surprise and fear, and an arm shot out to wretch her back onto the sidewalk.

Marinette spilled into her savior, flustered and terribly embarrassed. “Oh, my god, I’m so sorry!”

The girl looked about her age, if not a little older for the height difference. She had long hair of a familiar tone of dark navy, pulled back and divided into two sections.

Shaking her head, her young woman held up her hands. “N-no problem! Happens to me all the time, heh… just, be careful…”

Marinette bowed in thanks, not able to say much else before they were both bustled away with the crowds.

“She looked really familiar…” Marinette scowled thoughtfully, tapping her chin. A few pedestrians gave her sour looks for causing a scene, so she just dipped her head and marched on.

Needless to say, Tikki had been acutely aware of the whole fiasco, and scolded her promptly once they made it to the store a few minutes later.

“Marinette!” She cried, flying from her bag as the girl flipped on the lights. “Pay attention! Being Adrien’s girlfriend isn’t going to do you a lot of good if you get hit by a car!”

At that, the raven-haired girl locked eyes with her kwami, sky to ocean blues caught at the edge of the horizon. She looked away in shame.

“Sorry, Tikki… I know, I know...” Marinette sighed, placing a hand over her heart. “I got distracted… I need to get ahold of myself. What do normal people in relationships do?”

The kwami let out a tired sounding exhale and floated after her as they moved towards the back of the store. “Not die, for starters.”

“I’ll be more careful, I promise.” She rubbed one arm with the other, self-conscious at making such a clueless mistake. There’d be no dresses to worry over, flowers to tend to, or Adrien to kiss if she died from recklessness.

As she predicted, they had made it only about fifteen minutes late (okay, maybe 17 minutes, but hey - not bad), and there was no irate customers waiting to be served at the door. As quick as she could, Marinette squashed the thoughts of blond hair and busy gowns from her brain for awhile, opening the shop with as much focus her sleep-deprived brain could muster.

After preparing the till, Marinette stepped around the office and put her apron comically over her pajamas, taking the chance to breathe before any customers began to trickle in; with an early-morning akuma, business would be unpredictable. Tikki had found a cozy spot on her desk, try to catch up on sleep. Marinette kicked up her feet, already ready for the world’s longest nap.

From her pocket, her phone buzzed twice. A text message.

She hardly had the motivation to check who texted her, but she did it anyways. The shifting in her chair roused her kwami, and blue eyes blinked blearily up towards her.

“Sorry, Tikki,” Marinette said with a small smile. “Looks like Alya texted us.”

 

Alya (11:46 AM):

Girl. TELL ME YOU SAW THIS.

 

Immediately, the previous text was followed by an embedded video, and Marinette flipped it on with mild curiosity. With a slow yawn, Tikki floated to the girl’s shoulder and settled against her neck, watching the video with heavy lids.

Both shared a knowing smirk once it loaded - it was the face of the same local meteorologist from the day before who had, for whatever reason, been made to dress up as a sun. They both expected it to be the very same video, probably just meant to give her a chuckle, but as he raddled on it soon became clear that this was from today.

Marinette watched him forecast, vaguely amused, throwing around the term “hot and heavy” like it was his job. She had to admit, for the strangeness of this man, he certainly did know how to make a memorable story; Marinette decided she rather liked his eccentric style of reporting.

That is, until she realized the man was not reporting on the weather.

“Yes, you heard it here folks… Adrien Agreste, local model and son of famed designer Gabriel Agreste, is off the market. Who is the mystery girl? What’s the story behind their hot and heavy romance? We’ll be digging deep into the story at the top of the hour.”

Tikki screwed up her face in disapproval, mirroring Marinette’s own. “Why would they be talking about this with the weather?”

Dazed, Marinette just mouthed the words.

“Hot and… heavy?” She blushed furiously, nearly dropping the phone. “OH MY GOD. My parents will see this! Oh, oh no… Madam Kleinstein, and Bitty, and oh my god my grandma IS GOING TO SEE THIS. Ms. Bustier! CHAT NOIR WILL SEE THIS. Oh, oh, oh, oh no.

Her kwami was already in her face, covering the screen of her phone to stop her from playing it again. For all Marinette was, she was predictably neurotic.

“Marinette, wait! Just relax, remember, you and Adrien agreed this was what you wanted? You are going to go to that reception together tomorrow and let it be known that you were together anyways!”

“B-b-but Tikki!” She cried, tossing her phone aside and letting her head drop. “This isn’t what I had in mind! I was going to be prettied up in a gown or something, not sitting at a bar in my pajamas! Oh god, I was still wearing my Chat Noir slippers… If he sees the story I’ll never hear the end of it.”

Her kwami made a face, something like humor, but dampened by pity.

“And this angle!” Marinette continued, clawing for her phone in anguish. “It looks like we’re - we’re making out or something?! In public - ugh, no, why is this happening to me?!

“At least Adrien looks happy?” Tikki pointed out, and Marinette glowered down at the screen. The photograph had been snapped while they dined outside, just before their coffees first showed up. They had been leaning in close - to smell the flowers, of course, and for no other reason - and with the photo taken from behind her shoulder, her face was barely discernible, especially besides Adrien’s very famous one.

A little hummingbird rang against her ribs, trying to accept Tikki’s positive view. It was true, at least - he did look happy… smiling, eyes turned up at the corners, so close they really could have been kissing…

“Oh my god, I just - I didn’t even have a chance to tell anyone myself! I can’t handle this, Tikki, why?”

With a stern set of the kwami’s lips, she flew inches from Marinette’s nose.

“You can, Marinette. You’ll survive today, and tomorrow, and the next day. You’ll get to look pretty tomorrow with Adrien at the party, and believe me when I say - don’t even worry about Chat Noir. I’m sure he’d only be happy for you. Your family, closest friends, and Adrien’s father all were able to find out privately, surely that has to count for something?”

Feeling petulant, the girl stuck out her lower lip and looked away. “I... I guess…”

“Exactly! Now tie your apron and let’s get to work.”

Marinette still pouted, though she felt a bit better. She made a mental note to swear off that news channel for the rest of time, though.

Just as she tied to loop round her waist, green fabric shifting against her soft pajamas, her phone went off again.

This was a phone call, and a number she didn’t recognize… but, it could be Adrien trying to get ahold of her from a different phone, perhaps?

Hesitantly, she answered.

Bonjour, Marinette speaking.”

“Um, hello,” began a female voice, but it stopped to cough.

She brightened immediately in recognition. “Madam Pomeroy? Is that you?”

“Ahh… yes, I… well, I wanted to thank you, for earlier,” she began slowly, and Marinette felt herself smile. “And… well, I had a meeting with Mme. Bourgeois. She and I agreed it best that I just get right back to work - which I’m glad for, actually. Makes me feel a little less… weird. After this morning, I mean. Normal?”

“I’m glad,” Marinette answered truthfully, looking around the corner when the bell rang, and she waved in greeting towards the young woman. Thankfully, it was a customer she recognized, and she gestured with a finger that she’d help her in a moment.

“So did you want to still place that order?”

Madam Pomeroy’s voice seemed a little steadier, more her usual brisk-self. “I do. But… well, this is the difficult part.”

“Why’s that?” Marinette pursed her lips, making eye contact with Tikki. Her kwami watched her, suspicion narrowing her gaze.

“Mme. Bourgeois is not... ah, one to go back on her word, I’m afraid. She said if she makes an exception for me, she’d have to do it for everyone on the staff and…” Madam Pomeroy paused, letting out a long sigh. “What I’m trying to say is, Mme. Bourgeois indicated that if I do not have the volume of her original order - the seventy she requested - by the end of the day Saturday, that her original, er, claim still stands. Mme. insisted she was being kind, in fact - by giving me a second chance.”

With each word, the girl felt her expression deepen, first a frown, then a grimace, finishing as a full scowl.

“So you’ll lose your job if you don’t complete all seventy orders in time for the party?” Marinette said flatly.

“...Yes. And I would never want to ask this of you, as I know this isn’t what you had in mind, but I really didn’t know who else to turn to. I know you said you’d try your best and…”

Marinette did not let her finish, feeling rather annoyed, but not with Madam. Anyone who had to answer directly to Chloe must have been plenty miserable without her own displeasure added to the pile; the least she could do was help lessen their burden.

“Alright, that sounds great!” She chirped unnaturally, wincing at her own cracked voice. “Just let me grab my clipboard, hold on for a second…” Marinette put the receiver to her ear and scurried around the wall, snatching the pad from the counter. Tikki wore a not-so-subtle frown, pointed directly at her.

Clearing her throat, Marinette ignored her kwami and clicked her pen. “Okay, I’m ready.”

“Er, yes,” Madam Pomeroy seemed surprised, but understood her meaning and began to read off the list, stopping occasionally to roll off a specification on variety, size, and colors of the arrangements they had planned.

After several minutes, Marinette shook out her hand, sore from scribbling so many notes. “Okay. I think I’ve got it all. Anything else, Madam?”

The line was quiet for a moment, and when the coordinator answered, she sounded strangely pitched. “N-no. I don’t think so. But, I do want to… to thank you, Marinette. You don’t know how much this means to me.”

“Of course,” Marinette said with a light bit of laughter. “I was the one who insisted. And this is still a business deal, so it’s not like I’m not getting anything out of this. We’ll do our best to make things perfect for the party, okay?”

She was definitely crazy for agreeing to this, but her heart felt full as the words fell from her lips.

“Okay,” the voice on the line agreed, warmer than Marinette had ever heard it.

They said their farewells, and a tiny part of her brain considered whacking the rest of it with a shovel.

Seventy orders with four days was a fool’s errand, and that had been her claim yesterday. Seventy orders with three days? She was certainly mad… but, Madam Pomeroy took her job seriously, and so did she. This was a great chance to make some much-needed profit, even if the entire task was impossible, and she couldn’t not try to help the woman keep her job. The only real downside was having to work, by extension, for Chloe. It felt unjust, slaving the rest of the week away because of the Bourgeois family’s stupid party.

About half-way through the call, Marinette realized a sad detail about her concession to help the woman; she had agreed to attend the very same event with Adrien, Alya, and Nino. A fancy-dress-up-schmoozy-ordeal, she hadn’t been excited at first about the event, but hope annoyingly crept in and took root in her stomach after Adrien had been so sweet in asking her to be his date, literally. How could she have said no? The boy was so adorable it hurt to even think about declining, but now, she definitely wouldn’t have time to go. Marinette hadn’t a dress to wear - even before, it would have been a challenge to finish any of her sketches - without the added work. It wasn’t like she exactly had plenty of free time.

If she was lucky, she might have a chance to say hi to them when she dropped off the flowers, but even that seemed a stretch.

Those worries would have to wait, she thought with a distressed shake of her mane. The loose plait wasn’t managing well, and a number of strands stuck to her face and neck. With only enough time to catch her breath and wipe her brow, Marinette was back at the counter helping a familiar face.

Brielle, her favorite lifestyle blogger (and the only one she knew), had been waiting for her to end the call.

Sporting a warm smile, hoping the bags under her eyes were not too obvious, Marinette nodded in the way of greeting. “Hey there, Brielle. My apologies, I was taking a… really large order. How did your Veronicas work out?”

“They were perfect, of course,” the girl said, pulling her phone out of her daring leather jacket. She paired it with a dramatic yellow tulle skirt and suede forest-green pumps. “You always know just what I need, M.”

“Heh,” Marinette scratched her cheek, bashful. “Well, you know, gotta keep up what Mo started. So what are you in the market for today?”

“Hmm…” The girl looked down at the device in her hands, and Marinette felt herself frown involuntarily. After the morning’s akuma attack, it was a little disconcerting to see people back to using their technology, but she tried not to pass judgement.

The young woman began to slide through her photo gallery, leaning over the counter to share her screen. “I got a new light fixture in my kitchen, and I really was thinking I wanted something to pop against the monochrome, you know? Maybe…”

They chattered for short while, Brielle angsting over the difficulty of capturing so much essence in just a few photographs. Marinette didn’t really understand it, personally, but she tried her best to be supportive.

“Well… if you don’t want to do red two posts in a row, you could try ‘bold’ in a different kind of way? Maybe something like, hmm, oh! I know. Come with me,” Adjusting her apron slightly, she stepped around the counter and motioned for Brielle to follow her, which the girl did without a second thought. Marinette found it was sweet that she put so much stock in her opinion.

After a moment, she came to a halt at her modest selection of Shasta Daisies - they were pretty and plain, and usually they tended to sell best as crowns rather than bouquets, so Marinette didn’t often prepare arrangements with them.

For the purpose of Brielle’s kitchen, though…

“I think these could look great in a simple pot - maybe porcelain, if you have it,” she suggested, leaning down to pick off a few fallen leaves. “I know you said ‘bold’, but I think there’s something nice about these - they’re sort of reserved looking, but the little touch of yellow, with the white that matches the kitchen, I think could look really sharp, if that makes sense?”

“Uh,” Brielle clasped her hands together, bouncing on her heels (literally - who wore heels to pick out flowers? Marinette had to admire her moxie). “That makes complete sense, duh! I love it. Love it, love it, love it. I think I have a planter that would work, too, so could I just take them as-is?” She bent down to look at the palette and the plastic divisions. She ‘boxed off’ with her hands the portion she wanted to purchase.

Without skipping a beat, Marinette scooped up Brielle’s selection and hauled it off towards the register, her client staying a few steps behind.

“... Wait a minute.” Brielle stopped abruptly, and when Marinette turned around, she was surprised to see her jaw hanging open, hands scrambling for her phone.

“Oh my god, M! It’s you! You’re the one they were talking about! How - what? I can’t believe it!” She practically squealed, running towards the counter, all mention of daisies forgotten.

Justifiably confused, Marinette leaned back with a skeptical notch in her brow.

“What do you mean…? From the akuma attack? I was, um, involved, yeah…” She tried to sound dismissive, never happy to draw any attention to akuma attacks at risk of outing her identity.

“Aku-- oh, that?” The girl batted a hand. “No, no - this gossip, girl. You’re the mystery girl! The one dating Adrien Agreste? Oh my god, what is he like? Well done,” she tagged on the last part with a encouraging thumbs-up.

Marinette’s eyes widened  in sudden embarrassment. It was a little weird to be identified like that, she had to admit, and not good-weird, like Chat Noir’s sense of humor. Bad-weird, like root rot, or finding mold under a loaf of bread. The mention of Adrien crossed some intangible line of professional and personal, and it felt like Brielle had gone from occupying one to the other.

“Umm… w-well, yes, Adrien and I are --”

“He is so handsome. Have you met Gabriel? What are they like? Do they really live alone in that huge house?”

Marinette pursed her lips, feeling increasingly uncomfortable with her line of questioning. She had been witness to more than a few fans fawning over Adrien when they were together, as friends and even since their romance had begun to bloom, but this seemed much different out of that context. He wasn’t there to share in the awkwardness or to lighten the stone in her stomach with his encouraging smiles.

“I… I, yes, he and Monsieur Agreste are both very kind.” Marinette cleared her throat and gestured to the daisies between them. “But they both also appreciate their privacy, so if you don’t mind…”

Blinking, Brielle seemed to have forgotten the whole point of her visit and she staggered slightly in realization.

“O-oh gosh, M, I’m so sorry. So, so sorry - I must have just seemed to rude - just, forget about it. It’s just… so unexpected! I’m happy for you and… yes, let’s just, complete the sale.”

They chattered for a moment longer on the daisies - Brielle gushing on Marinette’s brilliance, and slipping in a few extra apologies - and the ebony-haired girl did her best to accept her compliments politely while also getting her out the door. Seventy orders, or however many she could finish, weren’t going to prepare themselves.

“Yes - yes of course, feel free to tag us! Foursquare, or whatever.” Marinette sent her a well-meaning wave, and once the girl was around the corner, she let out a heavy breath.

“Too much work, too little sleep,” she grumbled, dragging her feet back towards the office and grabbing her clipboard on the way.

The words unwittingly prophetic, Marinette worked tirelessly for the remainder of the morning hours, mercifully undisturbed thereafter. It was sort of a stroke of luck, honestly, that business lulled until the middle of the day. Back and forth, Marinette went between the front of the store, gathering materials and piling them in the back, sitting down and working on cutting, pruning, filling, spraying, wrapping and tying a ribbon of silk around each completed order. Filler flowers weren’t specified, for which she was grateful, the only directive being they needed to be green leaves, or small white bulbs to accent, on certain varieties.

Half-way through her seventh arrangement, (Tikki cheering her along “you’re 1/10th of the way there!”) Marinette was summoned to the front of the store to help a new wave of customers. The break was necessary, definitely, as her back was already beginning to ache and she had pricked her hands a number of times - of course, leave it to Chloe to go heavy on the traditional red roses, thorny as they were pretty.

The midday sun was already plenty hot, but within the walls of the greenhouse, beneath windowed ceilings, she couldn’t say she was unhappy. Compared to yesterday, this was a blackberry winter; each interaction with her customers easy, each smile on her face natural. Laughter fresh as the flowers themselves, Marinette guided two young couples and an older woman for about an hour’s time, and with each inhale of oxidized air came a tiny welcome break all its own.

Still tired, but oddly refreshed, Marinette stretched her arms out over her head as the bell at the door jingled to a stop. Business always seemed like this - come, and go.

Now, they went, and she had a task to return to.

Plucking up her pruning shears, she settled back into the office chair and resumed working on the seventh order, a bulbous insanity of blood red roses that were admittedly beautiful.

She began to take off the excess leaves when her cell phone began ringing, and she groaned. It was facedown on the desk, so Tikki spared her and flipped it over, reading her the screen.

“It’s Alya,” the kwami suggested with a cheery tone, and Marinette lips turned down slightly.

“I’ll have to call her back, I just don’t have the time with this… What time is it, by the way?” She spoke over the buzz against of social calls against professional dues.

Her kwami hummed for a moment and fiddled with the buttons. “It just turned from 12:47 to 12:48,” Tikki answered.

“Well… at least we’re making good time,” she allowed herself a quick smile and wiped the sweat from her brow, returning to her crouch over the roses.

Simple Garden Roses, as the name suggested, were simple. Elegant, but… kind of plain, if Marinette was honest, especially Chloe’s order. No fillers. No lush green to make the background pop, no Baby’s Breath to add depth to the ruby petals. This was the exact reason she preferred Banks’ Roses to the traditional variety - they weren’t uniform, but wild and large and untamed. Imperfect, and by extension, all the more beautiful for it.

Marinette finished the count for her current arrangement, one of the largest in the order - two dozen, pruned and plucked to perfection, misted with a dew of water to help them keep for the next few days. Tikki collected some of the fallen petals Marinette left strewn on the ground and crafted herself a tiny, silky couch, and they both shared a giggle.

Their light laughter was interrupted by a buzz on the desk.

“It looks like Alya is texting you,” her kwami offered, tone awfully reminiscent of disapproval.

Keeping her focus on the flowers, Marinette hummed to indicate she was listening. “Mmm?”

“She said… ‘Nino is out preparing for a set the rest of the day - did you want me to bring over lunch? Girl time,’ and then she sent a bunch of smiley faces.” Tikki read off the text, doing a hilariously poor impression of Alya’s voice.

“Pfft,” Marinette used her wrist to scratch her nose, laughing. “Can you text her back for me? Just say something like ‘no, thank you though, super busy with a big rush order?’ And maybe tag in that I won’t be able to go with them on Saturday…”

Tikki’s antenna drooped. “I thought you might have decided that when you were on the phone. I’m sorry, Marinette.”

“It’s okay,” she said, forehead creasing as she began to begin the next pot of roses, the second of the largest arrangements. “I’m more sorry for Madam Pomeroy, having to deal with Chloe. It’s not fair to her that her job is on the line because Chloe has ridiculous standards.”

Her kwami started to say something, but her voice was disrupted by a shrill squeak.

Marinette raised a brow in Tikki’s direction, following her gaze to rest on her left hand. With dirt running from her fingers in the form of burgundy droplets, Marinette was surprised to see blood emerging from her palm, mixing with soil to create a strangely murky wound.

“Marinette! Oh, oh no - are you okay?!” Tikki leapt up immediately, flying down to her chosen with a rib of anxiety in her voice.

“Oh, huh?” She blinked twice and looked up. “Oh, yeah. I’m okay.”

Strangely calm, Marinette grimaced down at the long, thin slice across the ridges of her hand. Honestly, it was more of an abrupt stillness than a flash of pain like one might expect, vacant of any sensation but for the viscuses dribble of blood, warmly leaking from her palm. In the grip of her other hand, she pointed the shears away from herself.

“It doesn’t hurt,” Marinette commented vaguely, zoning out a bit as she watched a particularly thick bit drip unceremoniously to her feet, making a tiny splash up to her ankles.

Her kwami seemed seriously concerned. “That could get infected, you should wash it and wrap it immediately.”

She sucked her teeth, eyes narrowed. “Yes, I guess I should…”

At that, Marinette dragged herself to her feet and back towards the bathroom, trying to keep from getting blood all over her flowers. When Mo had told her that toiling would cost her blood, sweat, and tears, she had never expected him to be so literal.

It took several minutes to quell the bleeding, and even when she successfully wrapped it in some bandages, a stain of red blossomed across the delicate gauze almost immediately.

Sighing, she scowled down at her mistake and felt a wave of frustration tense her muscles, all the way down to her stained fingertips. Usually, black and red were two of her favorite colors together, but right now their symbolism tasted a bit too much like her mistakes.

Marinette swallowed at the bitterness building in her throat, returning to work on the arrangements, else time would continue to get away from her.

After another fews hours, and another few arrangements (between Tikki’s constant worrying and insistence that she takes a break), Marinette had gotten up twice to change the bandage on her hand. Each time it was very necessary, as the cut was not deep but long, essentially splitting her entire palm on the diagonal bias, and while she constantly worked with her hands, the gash was irritated from her constant movements.

In the middle of wrapping the third round of bandages, as the sun started to creep westward along the sky, the bell rang. She guessed it was nearing four in the evening, but she hardly cared - she’d be here long after the moon came out.

Be with you in just a moment! My apologies!” Marinette called over her shoulders, which slumped almost immediately.

She tried not to focus on the disappointment, but it wasn’t easy. She wasn’t going to the party with Adrien, or out with her friends at all. Her back hurt, her brow was sweaty, and her pajamas were now stained with some small amounts of blood. The interruptions were making any attempt of helping Madam Pomeroy keep her job even more impossible, and a creeping feel of defeat wound its way around her heart, pulling it down through the floor.

“Marinette?” A voice called, and it was much closer than it should have been for a customer.

Releasing a tiny huff of air in surprise, and used her uninjured hand to wipe at the moisture that budded at the corner of her eyes, unprecedented tears springing to her cheeks.

“H-hang on a moment!”

She took a few steadying breaths and turned around, opening the door with haste.

“Alya? What are you doing here?”

The reporter beamed, gripping a large paper bag with a local cafe’s logo plastered on the front. “Oh, you know, just surprising my --” Alya paused, her journalistic-eye missing nothing. “What happened to you?

“Ahh…” Marinette covered the fresh bandages defensively with her other hand, hugely embarrassed as she watched Alya piece things together. Her stained shears, blood on the floor, flowers and tools littered carelessly over every surface. A wad of used bandages hung from the bin beside her desk, and Marinette kicked herself for not cleaning up better while she worked.

“You know, just, um, a little worker’s accident. No biggie!” She swatted her injured hand at the girl, wincing when a little drop of red flew off her wrist and right onto Alya’s tanktop.

Her friend was not amused.

“You’re going to make it worse, here, sit your butt down and tell me everything.”

 


 

Chat Noir peeked through his baton, several buildings away, watching Marinette sit back down to work. Alya had just left, and she stretched her arms out before settling back in her chair.

Of course, Chat didn’t need to use his scope to see her, as his enhanced vision could spot her brilliant navy hair and sharp green apron from half-a-city away. The hero merely wanted to use the scope on his weapon, just so he could see her better.

It was half-past four, and he was feeling a bit guilty. Nathalie had made no progress on his phone, but thankfully, he hadn’t been grounded for his thoughtless behavior that morning. In fairness, Chat would have thrown away his phone a million times if he could just replay breakfast again and again and again.

Whispering to himself, really more so to address Plagg, the hero muttered a quick, “No, this isn’t creepy, okay?”

Marinette, he observed, was fiercely focused, seated in the center of the office with several dozen arrangements surrounding her, each huge and beautiful. Scarlet tones of rich roses, soft white petals of another kind he did not know, and so much green it was breathtaking. If he didn’t know better, Chat might have have thought there was another funeral, but she had told him that usually those flowers were strictly white. A nymph of nature, she was breathtaking within her iridescent meadow. He noted she had taken her shoes off, which struck him as odd, but maybe the bare floor felt nice against her toes.

With eyes on her, Chat’s mind went elsewhere. He was busy trying to decide if he should appear as Adrien or Chat Noir.

On the one hand, as Chat Noir, he would get the chance to thank her properly for her help in the early hours of the morning with the akuma and for getting Chloe away from Planificateur. Even better, he could flirt with her until it drove her crazy. It was one of his favorite things to do, watching her lip quiver when she tried not to smile, pretending to be annoyed with him… but, if he did appear as Chat Noir, he would have to keep his claws to himself. He wouldn’t be able to drown himself in her kisses like he wanted to. He hadn't gotten to kiss her, not once the entire day - there were always people, or akumas, or his mask in the way when he wanted to ravage her lips the most...

Yep. That decided it.

He was definitely going as Adrien.

Leaping over to the back of the shop, he landed quietly near the courtyard and moved against a wall of the alley. He took the chance to look up and down the backstreet to ensure no sneaky eyes were observing him.

Feeling much more excited than normal to be returning to his civilian form, Chat Noir lightly cleared of his throat and muttered, “Plagg, claws in.”

Even his kwami seemed in good spirits.

With a smirk, Adrien quickly brushed his hair to the side and caught Plagg in his hands.

“Okay, just meet me outside when I leave - I don’t like having to try to yell for your attention when you disappear doing… whatever it is you do. Flirting with the bees, or something.”

Plagg’s had opened his mouth to reply but started to cough, rather incriminatingly if he was to judge.

Laughing, Adrien merely shook his head and let his kwami hack. “I swear, I don’t get you.”

“I could say the same for you,” the black cat managed as his breathing returned to normal. Adrien merely rolled his eyes and held open the front of his shirt, and Plagg quickly nuzzled himself against Adrien’s chest, cozying in a few inches from his heart.

Urgency setting his pace, the teen made his way around the sidewalk and onto Courtier St., clearing the few businesses that separated him from his favorite place in all of Paris. He tried to avoid eyes with anyone passing by, lest he be slowed down for a picture or a handshake - not that he was ungrateful, but Adrien assumed he would come off as rude in his haste to get away from whoever he might encounter. He was simply too excited to see Marinette to manage a proper conversation with anyone but her.

Thankfully, he made it to the front door undisturbed, but he blinked in surprise.

It was locked.

On the front glass, a small handwritten sign read: Closed Thursday. Our apologies! Beside it, a tiny rain cloud was frowning, droplets of water descending half-way down the page.

Pursing his lips, he felt slightly concerned. He knew Marinette was here…

Adrien knocked on the door, and he heard the bell ring slightly on the inside. Marinette did not appear at first, and he was going to knock again when a bouncy ponytail popped out from behind the wall.

Her expression turned from haggard to excited in a flash, smiling brighter than any star he’d ever seen. Suddenly, he felt very nervous to see her, his heart turned to a flustery erratic thing in his chest.

She crossed the store quickly and undid the lock.

“I hope I’m not interrupting the busy florist,” he said with a sly smile when she opened the door.

Marinette looked radiant, pale skin dewey beneath the sinking sun. “Don’t be silly - do you want to come in?”

As if he wasn’t eager enough, he practically leapt through the door and closed it behind them, hitting the locking mechanism for her. Obviously, he hadn’t expected the shop to have closed early, but the look of pure cheer on her face was like an early birthday present.

Marinette made a beeline for the back of the store, and he followed behind her; presumably, if she was to be spotted in the front of the store with a sign reading closed, it might not reflect well on the business. Plagg took the opportunity to slip away, doing who-knows-what.

“I hope I didn’t interrupt you,” he began apologetically as they crossed into the office. “I felt bad we weren’t able to take you in this morning, so I thought I would at least check in…”

Wearing a huge smile, Marinette shook her head and tucked her hands into the front pocket of her apron. “Of course not! I could not be happier to see you, actually. It’s been a really long day.”

“Oh?” He felt a little less tense, moving towards the chaise while she sat down in her chair. “Did something happen? There’s a lot going on back here…” He gestured around the dozens of flowers and arrangements, some unpotted, some tied to perfection with a lustrous ribbon. All states of disarray were represented in the back of the store, and he noted the floors seemed a bit wet beneath his sneakers.

“Well, Alya just left, for starters. We actually weren’t very busy with customers but…” Her voice trailed off, brow furrowed.

“Mari?” He leaned forward slightly, trying to catch her eye. They seemed unusually foggy, clouds obscuring the bright blues beneath. “Are you okay?”

“Mmm… just need some… water, I think,” Marinette mumbled, rising from her chair.

Not a moment later, she released a tiny sigh and her weight shifted lazily, all of her weight sloping backwards as she reeled, blanching and slipping backwards, nearly slamming her head into the desk. Adrien, by way of his honed reflexes, managed to leap up and catch her, but only barely.

Pace jumping from zero to sixty, his more heroic instincts kicked in and her scooped her into his arms, like he had so many times as Chat Noir, and immediately moved her to the chaise.

If Adrien thought he’d been scared that morning, on the other line of a terrible phone call… that was nothing compared to this. She wasn’t just pale, but ghostly, and the dark circles beneath her eyes seemed sallow and much more noticeable when prone, gravity a terrible curse against her. Adrien, panicked, loomed close to her face and tried to rouse her.

“M-Mari? Are you okay? Can you hear me?”

A raspy catch of air slipped out through her lips, but she did not stir.

Did she faint? She didn’t appear to be sleeping, but he could tell she was breathing.

“Of all the wrong times to not have a cell phone,” he muttered, trying to distract from the strangled quality of his voice with witty commentary. It wasn’t working.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when Plagg spoke into his ear. “Whoa, kid, what’d you do to her?”

“G-Geez, Plagg! You can’t be out - what if she wakes up?”

Frowning, the kwami turned on him. “That shouldn’t be your main concern right now.”

“Well - well, what do I do?!”

A black brow notched high, he turned around and stared at the wall. Adrien about smacked him for how helpful he was being.

“Water.” Plagg stated after a moment, his whiskers twitching. “She’s dehydrated. It’s under the desk.”

A flurry of limbs and shaking hands, Adrien fumbled to unscrew one of the plastic containers and gently parted her lips with one thumb.

His kwami watched carefully, turning between them and the wall repeatedly - it was as if he seemed oddly disgusted to watch, and Adrien huffed a little when he spilled some of the drink on her chest.

Don’t look down - don’t be that guy, not right now.

Before he could do much else, thanking his lucky stars, pretty blue eyes fluttered open to look at him. Plagg quickly made himself scarce, and Adrien heaved with relief.

“Mmm… Adrien?” Marinette murmured, blinking through heavy lids. With a little giggle, her eyes focused on his face. “What’cha doing?”

The laugh that sprang to her lips was quivery and bright, a return, and he thought his lungs might collapse in relief when she said his name. Against his better judgement to give her proper breathing room, Adrien flung himself at her and squeezed her tightly, sighing into her collarbone. Rattled, he whispered into her skin. “Never do that to me again. You nearly scared me to death.”

“Oh? I did?” She hugged him back with surprising strength, and he laughed when they pulled apart again.

Marinette was all giddy smiles, looking utterly adorable, though noticeably paler than normal. Still, she was beautiful enough to reduce him to a senseless mess.

Letting out a low exhale, Adrien handed her the bottle of water he still had in his hand and sat up, taking the spot next to her on the chaise.

“Drink,” he instructed.

With a silly sounding slir, she agreed. “Mm’kay.”

Adrien just chuckled while she greedily imbibed the entire bottle.

For as rapidly as his heart shot into his throat, it still had not fully come down even as she wiped the last bit of water from her lips. She was still shaking, and Adrien, feeling plenty strained himself, adjusted on the couch so he could lean back. Marinette sat at the edge, still looking a little vacant, studying her trembling fingers.

Nervously, Adrien sat forward and his shifting weight got her attention. His tongue still was not ready to try to form sentences yet, and his heart would not calm down. With as careful hands he could manage, Adrien tried to pull Marinette back with him and wrapped his arms around her waist, and much to his heart’s mercy, she melted against him once she was fully tucked into his chest. He never imagined cuddling for the first time would be quite like this, but her whole body was soft and incredibly warm, and she smelled bracingly of chocolate and sunshine, so he had no complaints.

Marinette needed to get an assistant, that much was clear. Two days in the past week she had hurt herself working, and he was only lucky enough to have been there both times.

“Lucky, or unlucky,” he murmured, pressing a kiss into her hair.

Marinette rubbed her eyes, repeating her earlier question. “What’cha doing here again?”

“Oh, nothing,” he mused. “Just visiting my favorite florist.”

“Did I see Alya…?” She turned her head up slowly, eyes starting to focus a little more. “Wait, am I dreaming?”

Adrien had to bite his lip to keep from laughing - it wasn’t fair - how could anyone be this cute?

Feeling a little emboldened by her return to awareness, he grinned. “Do you often dream about me?”

He could catch the pink rise up to her cheeks, and more and more she seemed to regain her wits. A shaking hand lifted between them, and for the first time, he noticed her bandages.

“What happened? Are you okay?”

She scrunched her nose. “Meh, a lot of orders… It’s sort of a long story.”

“I like stories,” Adrien reminded her, wondering if she could tell how worried he sounded. She looked at him for a moment, expression blank, only to look away again.

Marinette leaned up, turning so her legs were over the side of the lounger, and he suddenly felt very absent without her there, pressed up against his heart.

“Alya barely cut me any slack, and then you showed up and I made a fool of myself… I’ll never be able to finish all of this,” she said slowly, holding her head in her hands. Adrien thought she might have sniffled.

Dismayed by how quickly she turned to self-inflicted guilt, Adrien shifted to face her properly. “Marinette, please, take a deep breath. You didn’t make a fool of yourself at all, and I’m sure if Alya was being hard on you it was only because she was worried. I don’t blame her - I’m worried. You’re hurt,” he paused, slowly pulling her bandaged hand down so she would look at him. With a small smile, he kissed the top of the gauze along her fingers. “You can’t work yourself so hard. Have you eaten since this morning?”

Glaring at the floor, Marinette’s lips grew thinner. “N-no.”

“Then you need to eat first. Work second, or third, or fourth. You need to take care of yourself,” he swiftly grabbed the paper bag that he had seen Alya leave with her off the desk and brought it over.

With a lighter tone, he added, “And, I just got you to agree to date me! Don’t end up in the hospital, please? First the akuma and now this - you’re killing me.”

She smirked and half-laughed. The curve of her lips was beyond beautiful, but it was fleeting.

“Actually, speaking of the akuma…” Marinette sighed, fumbling with the paperbag. “That’s what all this is about. It’s complicated, but basically, Madam Pomeroy - the woman from the hotel? She’s going to lose her job if she doesn’t have the seventy orders of flowers that Chloe asked for by the time the party starts on Saturday. I agreed to help her, cause, I couldn’t just let her get fired, you know?”

Adrien frowned. “But that’s a lot, isn’t it? How many have you done so far?”

Voice sour, she looked over his shoulder. “I think… 11? Maybe 12. But anyways, I won’t be able to go with you… I don’t have a dress, and I’ll be working around the clock until then. That’s why I had to close - Alya insisted, since I’m slowed down even more with this.” She waved her injured hand with pointed annoyance.

“W-wait, you’re worried about the party?” His forehead creased. “Mari, that’s not important - I hardly want to go, it’s just something I have to do. Don’t feel bad about that.”

Stubborn as ever, she just lowered he gaze and mumbled a tiny “sorry.”

She used the back of her hand to wipe her nose, and Adrien watched a tear escape down her cheek. With a small sigh, he brushed it away.

His hand lingered there, and Marinette peered up with wide, shy eyes. The little spots of brown that danced around her nose were especially charming, sitting this close to her, like a constellation that wore at his curiosity. He wanted to memorize them all, trace them with his fingers, and kiss each one of them. At the moment, her lips were especially pink against sallow skin, and he barely remembered how to breathe

“...Adrien?” Marinette mumbled, and he realized with a small start that he was staring. So in a totally, not at all lame fashion, he blurted the first thing that came to mind.

“Did you know your freckles are really cute?”

Wow. Nice. Real, real nice.

Plagg was probably around somewhere, and Adrien felt especially chagrined.

Marinette didn’t seem to mind. Where his hand still rested, her skin turned the prettiest shade of pink, her freckles ducking under the color as if too shy to bare the compliment. Even worse, her lips turned up to a smile.

“You’re sweet,” she replied. “Thank you.”

Her tone seemed strange, almost dismissive. It was like she didn’t believe him, and that was a little unsettling. Adrien leaned closer, numbering the few freckles that still stained her cheeks.

“I don’t know about that,” he said, sounding much braver than he felt. “But I am a terrible liar. So believe me when I say I’m just being honest.”

any strength of mind Adrien had left evaporated. The sound, the bounce of her adorable ponytail, the bubbly life came to her eyes when she said his name - it all tugged at his heartstrings, pulling him forward. He had no trouble complying with her siren’s call, closing the few inches left between them.

Softly, he pressed his lips into her, adoring the feeling of her smile spreading beneath him. Marinette seemed almost nervous, careful in her return of pressure; she tasted of coffee and sugared strawberries, reminding him of their sweet, unusual breakfast from hours earlier. Along that vein, Adrien re-lived it, and everything they’d ever shared, needing to only be triggered by the slightest touch of her, a familiarity of a pale complexion and pretty freckles or the tickle of their noses bumping together. His heart nearly stopped when she sighed into him, kissing him back.

Feeling heady, Adrien managed to pull himself away, but only an inch.

All he could really think about was how amazing she felt, but she needed to eat. She needed to drink more water, and to feel better, and to not work so hard. Adrien needed to be responsible, to give her the space she needed, to stop being selfish.

“I love kissing you,” Marinette mumbled.

Responsibility?

Forget that.

He may have wanted to help her, but right then, he couldn’t even help himself.

Adrien tilted her chin up and, if he had any will left, it vanished when her mouth turned up to a tiny smile, the bow of her upper-lip curving like a piece of art.

He’d had enough waiting, and being careful, and worrying. He’d worried too much in the past day for her safety to be sorry. Done with the selfless heroics, right then, Adrien was just fine being a little selfish.

Their lips met with newfound urgency, and he needed her like he needed air, happy to breathe her in instead. He couldn’t keep from smiling, but he couldn’t find himself wanting to stop anyways. Hesitantly, his tongue swept across her lower-lip, and she let out a tiny gasp that sent a thrill through him. It took forceful effort for him not to groan, but he didn’t have to look far for a distraction.

When had his own hands started to shake? He couldn’t tell. Adrien steadied them by moving one to her hair and the other more securely along her cheek. If anything, his enthusiasm was only matched when her hands twisted into his hair, much like it had on the couch in his room a few days ago, and he never wanted to give her room to breathe again. Adrien promised he’d be her oxygen for the rest of time, never wanting to be further than an inch apart.

If her breath had tasted sweet, the flick of her tongue along his was pure sugar. Reverent, Adrien tried to worship her lips like he so worshiped her, exploring her mouth with such force he might bruise her lips. A little pang went off in his stomach, a little disturbed by how much he liked that idea.

Now it was his turn to feel a little faint.

AYE!

A voice exploded, shattering their heated embrace, followed by a loud banging. Needless to say, they both jumped in alarm, but thankfully the snappy tone was one they both recognized.

MARI! OPEN UP!”

“Alya?” He questioned, breathing heavily.

Marinette blinked a few times, looking red as the roses to her back. (Adrien permitted himself the tiniest bit of smugness at that).

“She didn’t say she was going to come back,” she said with raspy inhales, starting to stand.

“No - you stay here,” Adrien commanded as she made for the door, voice serious. “You still need to eat.”

“But -”

He stopped her, feeling a bit bad for interrupting, but Marinette was notoriously stubborn.

“No but’s. It’s just Alya - I’ll let her in, you eat.”

Before she had the chance to protest, he walked out the front and spotted Alya whose brows shot up in surprise. Her shock was quickly replaced by conceit, and the look she gave him was awfully suggestive.

“Well hello blondie,” she said when he opened the door. “You’re looking a little flushed. I’m guessing Mari is here? Does she at least have her clothes on?”

Adrien sputtered, though he was spared needing to think of an appropriate response to her totally inappropriate insinuation.

Marinette had that part covered, screaming from the back of the store.

ALYA NO!

She laughed, marching inside. “I’m kidding!

Confused, Adrien shut the door and locked it behind her, following the reporter-to-be towards the office.

Thankfully, Marinette had started eating, her cheeks puffed up with a large bite of a sandwich.

Alya turned her attention on him once the three of them were all gathered in the back of the store, and Adrien felt a little bit cornered. “Marinette is already super busy, lover-boy, so if you aren’t here to help with this mess than you needa’ get out.”

“Of course I’m here to help, if I can,” Adrien responded promptly, not exactly sure what she was getting at. Marinette rolled her eyes, so he shot her a huge grin. “Especially if Mari’s bitten off more than she can chew.”

At that, the girls groaned in unison at his joke, and Alya facepalmed. “I don’t understand how Nino stands you.”

“For the same reason Mari ‘stands me’?” He suggested, putting a hand to his chest in mock-hurt.

The reporter snorted and shook her head, reaching for her purse. “The bromance is strong with this one.”

“Pfft, how so?” Tilting his head, Adrien settled down at Marinette’s desk chair in defiance.

Alya notched a brow, peering above her glasses. “So, what you mean to say, then, is if Nino and Marinette tolerate you for the same reasons, then Nino is absolutely head-over-heels for you, talks about you all the time, and daydreams about your --”

“ALYA STOP!” Marinette choked, and both Adrien and Alya had to laugh a little at her expense.

Tapping his chin, he glanced over at her, adoring how pretty she looked while blushing.

“I don’t know, I would sort of like to hear the end of that,” he admitted, but raised his hands to demonstrate his surrender. “But tell me more about this work we’ll be doing?”

Alya sat beside Marinette on the chaise, giving her a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.

“Well, since we both happen to be friends with Marinette --”

More than friends,” Adrien interrupted, absolutely proud to make that correction. Alya smirked, shot a look at a pink-faced Marinette, and continued.

“Sure. Since I’m Marinette’s best friend and you’re her boyfriend now, I thought we could round up the troops and get them to help. I’ve already gotten ahold of basically everyone from school - Rose, Juleka, Alix, Kim and Nathaniel. Nino is MIA, I’m afraid. I’m still waiting on replies from Max and Ivan. I’d try Mylene, but she never checks her phon --”

Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Marinette swallowed roughly, scowling over at Alya. “This isn’t what you said you’d do - I thought you were going to check with my mom and she or Papa would decide what to do?”

The brunette shrugged, pulling out her phone.

“I did - I consulted with Mama Alya, and if you’re going to try to tell me that a dozen hands would be less helpful than just one set of your parents, who are already bogged down in work, then I’m afraid you’d be lying. And you know how I feel about liars.”

Marinette frowned. “... You don’t like liars.”

“No, I don’t,” she bulldozed on. “So here’s what’s going to happen. You’re going to sit there and tell us all what to do, and you can supervise but if you touch so much as one petal I’ll ground you.”

“But Alya… on such short notice, there’s no way - I still can’t pay anyone, the shop just doesn’t have the money. And I’m not even going to be able to keep my promise about Saturday night… it just won’t work.”

Adrien took the chance to weigh in. “I think it’s a great idea. And it’s a beautiful day outside, so some of us could work in the courtyard and some of us could work inside!”

“Exactly!” Alya nodded approvingly. “See, even blondie’s got it. Sorry Mari, but you made a promise to us and Nino and you’re going to see it through whether or not you like it.”

“Alya, please…” The bluenette began, voice low, but she was interrupted by a knocking at the front door.

“That’s probably Rose and Juleka. Adrien, grab however many aprons you can find. We’re going to need them.”

At that, the reporter went right to the front door and left them in the back room, matter-of-fact.

“I wish you wouldn’t encourage this,” Marinette said miserably once Alya was out of earshot.

Adrien, already moving to the cabinet where he knew the extra aprons to be, just smiled. “I know, but you know Alya won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. ”

He had only enough time to pull out the pile and sit down next to Marinette as she nibbled at her food when their classmates began to file into the office.

“Hi! Oh my gosh, look how cute you look together!” Rose tittered the moment she appeared in the door, practically jumping in her enthusiasm, Juleka a step behind her. The taller girl waved with a smile.

Adrien passed them both an apron, grinning in earnest. “Hey, guys.”

“Ugh, I guess you saw the news story...” Marinette covered her eyes with a hand, and the two girls looked at each other.

“Story?” Juleka repeated.

“The one about Adrien and I… um…” She bristled, focusing intently on her food with a scowl creasing her forehead.

Rather happy to help Marinette get to the point, Adrien turned and kissed her cheek. She squeaked, and they all laughed a bit. Unashamed, he wrapped a hand round her waist.

“I saw the story this morning. Sorry about that,” he murmured while Alya reappeared with Kim, taking the attention off them for greetings. “I hope you weren’t too upset. I thought it was sort of a cute picture, though.”

Marinette rested her head against his shoulder, and the tiny, affectionate touch sent a tingle through his muscles.

“I-I, I just - I wasn’t upset or anything! Just surprised. I was still in my pajamas,” she let out a little laugh, and gestured at her lap. “I guess I still am though.”

“These are facts,” he remarked with a chuckle of his own, glad to hear her in better spirits.

Kim moved forward to take an apron from the pair, grinning huge while he approached.

“This! This is what I’m talking about! About time, man,” he offered Adrien a fist-bump of approval, and the blond smiled and gladly accepted. Marinette, still tucked into his side, shyed a little closer to him; Adrien had no complaints.

“You probably about blew Chloe’s lid when she found out.”

“Actually,” he glanced down at Marinette. “She was… um, surprisingly okay with it. It was nice.”

Really?” A certain reporter chimed in, lowering her glasses in disbelief. “I would have paid to see that conversation.”

Rose cleared her throat carefully. “Maybe we could talk while we work?”

“Oh.” Alya returned her glasses to her nose, refocused on a shrinking Marinette. “Right. Nathaniel and and Max should be here soon, and I think Alix will be coming later. So for now, put us to work, girl.”

“Um… well, first, you guys are sure, like, sure-sure you want to do this? It could be hours, at least past dinner, and I don’t have any food to tide us over. I’m really sorry…”

Adrien straightened a little, pulling Marinette up with him. “I’m in. Nathalie can deal with me skipping dinner.”

“Us, too. We were going out for pizza anyways,” Juleka added with a tiny curve of her lips, resting a hand on Rose’s shoulder.

Alya didn’t even bother with a response, and Kim shot Marinette a finger-gun. “Show me how to botany, Mari.”

“Well…” the dark-haired girl smiled at her lap, rubbing her bandaged hand. “Okay. Okay! I will really owe you guys one, but let’s get to work. The sooner the better, so we can go home at a decent time.”

Adrien stood and took her bandaged fingers carefully in his own. “We’d be happy to lend a hand anytime.”

“Ugh.” Alya and Marinette shared a look, but Kim gave him an approving nod and Rose and Juleka giggled.

Wasting no time, they quickly lined up shoulder-to-shoulder, military style, and Marinette adopted the role of drill sergeant. Adrien may have slipped in a quick joke about receiving their marching orders.

Seventy orders, indeed, Marinette read them off her clipboard. On her own, she had completed almost fourteen (apparently, she was adding the finishing touches to the last one when a certain black-suited hero began spying on her). That left them with 56 more to go, and with their untrained hands, it seemed pretty daunting.

Marinette had enough confidence for all of them, though.

“Juleka, Adrien, you’ll be on pruning. As a guitar and piano player, you’ve got nimble fingers, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for you. Just be careful of thorns.”

Adrien nodded, and Marinette dropped a pair of shears into his hands. With a surprisingly heated tone, she raised a brow at him. “Think you can handle that?”

He gulped, feeling a little flush. She might be a head shorter, but in command, Marinette was a force to be reckoned with.

Wow. How can she be so amazing? It’s not even fair.

Keep it together, idiot. There are people around.

But, geez… her lips...

A pleased smile adorned those very same lips, and Adrien almost reached out to drag her mouth to his again, hardly able to control himself. Just as the impulse made his limbs tingle, Marinette turned on her heel and marched towards Juleka, delivering a second pair of shears.

Adrien released a breath he hadn’t known to be holding; he was pretty sure he’d do anything she asked if she did it with that tone.

God, I’m so screwed.

“Kim and Rose, it would make the most sense for you both to work on potting and arranging, and I can help you -- er, mostly,” Marinette scratched her chin when Alya looked ready to throw something.

Rose nodded with a tiny “hmmp!” and Kim saluted.

“And then there’s you,” Marinette smirked, stopping before her best friend. She put a hand on each shoulder, and Alya wore a matching crooked-grin.

“Since you’ve forced my hand, you’ve got the hardest job of all.”

“Nice pun,” Adrien whispered to Rose beside him, who snickered quietly.

Unphased, Alya just raised a brow. “Which is?”

Marinette’s grin widened. “Everything else.”

Taking a step back, she went to the desk and arranged a mismatched pile to demonstrate her point. In it, she pointed to ribbons, a tape measure, a spray bottle, pen and paper, labels, and finished it off by tossing her clipboard on top of the pile.

“Fine by me,” the brunette stated, crossing her arms. “You’re just lucky I love you.”

And so they set to work.

Hours, and hours of work.

Adrien quickly found a newfound appreciation for the responsibility, and pride, Marinette took in her job. His hands were pricked a few times in the beginning, but she was swift in correcting his lingering fingers and demonstrated how to be decisive in his movements to avoid the thorns.

(He may have even poked himself once or twice on purpose, just to get her to come back and guide his hands with hers, but who’s to say?) It didn’t take long for his shoulders to feel a little cramped, and even with the sinking sun, he started to sweat with the manual labor.

Alya had to keep her commentary to a minimum, too busy with Marinette at her shoulder. She cycled constantly from the front to the back, carrying new planters and refilling the spray bottle and collecting odds and ends of ribbons the florist had stored about in a hundred corners - one of those organization systems that would only make sense to her.

Juleka made for a good partner, Adrien decided by the end of the first hour, as she was quiet and focused. Rose and Kim talked and joked, subsequently not working very fast, which actually turned out for the best. Even with their combined diligence, Juleka and Adrien were slow pruners compared to Marinette, especially when the girl had such exacting standards, and needed the extra time to finish the flowers for them to arrange. Marinette did not allow them to pass on a single petal until it was up to mark with what she deemed representative of the store.

That didn’t mean they didn’t have a little fun - usually at Marinette’s expense. Across the office, Kim and Rose’s conversations, usually fueled by Alya, went to poking and prodding the topic of his and Marinette’s new relationship, and it helped to lighten the air when their meticulous martinet returned to their - his - flustery Marinette.

As the first hour rounded down, the sun beginning it’s nightly retreat, Max and Nathaniel arrived together.

“Well, hello everyone,” Max greeted when Alya lead them to the back, the groups breaking for a minute to welcome them. Kim nearly knocked Marinette over when crossing by the desk to give out hugs, and Alya deemed it clear that the office had become too crowded for everyone to stay in the back of the store.

After some hasty reorganization, Adrien found himself being dragged to the side by Alya as Max took over her job as coordinator. She was being reassigned to work with Kim and Rose, and Nathaniel was going to join himself and Juleka.

“Listen, Adrien,” she whispered, swinging an arm over his shoulder. “I know you want to stay and keep undressing Marinette with your eyes -”

He turned redder than Ladybug’s suit, beginning to stutter a defense, but she didn’t hesitate.

“But I think maybe it’s time for you to head home.”

Genuinely surprised, he swallowed down the embarrassment and returned to the point. “What? Why?”

The brunette pursed her lips and looked up, studying the setting sun as they all began to return to task, now half-outside, half-inside.

“Everyone here has permission or doesn’t have anything else they have to do, but… you know, it would really suck