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The Love of a Cat

Chapter Text

Marinette pulled her cloak closer in a vain attempt to block the biting chill of the wind. She clutched the empty bread basket, holding it tightly as she picked up her pace. Her deliveries were done, thankfully. She was half frozen and ready to get home.

Another blast of icy air brought a waft of smoke with it. Marinette crinkled her nose against the thick smell. She was a baker’s daughter; she was used to the smell of fire and flames, but the stench of war was not something she ever wanted to grow accustomed to.

No one knew the full extent of why the war began. Rumors claimed that a king of the kingdom north of their own wanted to take over their land. Then the rumors deviated into a million different speculations as to why. But the why didn’t matter. What mattered was that they were at war, sad as that was.

The wind picked up, howling as it tore through the streets. It sent Marinette shivering, tugging her cloak tighter. That chilling wind could only mean an oncoming storm. Snow, likely, considering winter was right around the corner.

A hoarse cough filled the air, calling the young woman’s attention. Marinette turned to the sound, spying the village cripple sitting huddled in an alley. He was a kind man, a helpful man, just not one that could do hard labor. His worn-thin jacket was pressed against his small frame, as if that could block out the cold.

Marinette was always known for her kind heart, and she couldn’t help her urge to do something. She fingered her cloak before taking it off, doing her best to refrain from shivering in the process, and walked over to the gray-haired man. “Mister Fu.”

The small man looked up to her, and his smile grew wide enough to reach his eyes. “Miss Marinette. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

With a smile, she offered the cloak to him. “Here. It’s far too cold out right now.”

Mister Fu frowned. “But what about you?”

“I’ll be all right. I was on my way home, and I have another cloak.” She lied, but she had enough money to go buy the fabric for another. Mister Fu had nothing. The choice was simple.

He smiled appreciatively before taking the cloak. “Miss, you have done so very much for me. You and your family over time.”

“You have pulled your fair share.”

He shook his head. “No, I don’t believe I have. You have given me more bread than is worth my services.”

“But you can’t put a price on saving my papa’s life,” she countered.

 Mister Fu smiled then pulled the cloak around himself. “I know very well you do not have a cloak at home nor is your house very close. You have given me more than I have given to you. So please, allow me to even my debt.”

“Really, there’s no need.”

“Yes, Miss Marinette,” he interrupted. “There very much is.” With that, he pulled a small octagonal box out of his trousers’ pocket and presented it to her.

Marinette looked at the pretty box, black with ornate red decoration, before pushing it back to him. “Mister Fu, I cannot take that.”

He simply put the box into her hand and closed her fingers around it. “Yes, you can. I insist. You above everyone else in the village deserve this. A gift for a gift,” he said, motioning to the box, then her cloak.

“But my cloak isn’t even worth—”

“Marinette.”

His eyes were firm, his grasp on her hands steady. And Marinette realized that he was not going to let her refuse. “All right,” she relented. “If you insist. Thank you.”

“No,” he said, pulling the cloak around him tighter. “Thank you.”

She nodded, said her goodbye, then began on her way again. But not before a blast of chilling air blew straight past her winter shirt and to her skin. No matter how hard she tried to fight it, it sent her shivering. She wrapped her arms around herself, rubbing her arms as gooseflesh rose up on her skin. Her teeth began chattering, but she clenched her jaw shut to prevent it. She wished she had her cloak, but shook her thoughts away. She had a home. Mister Fu did not. He needed that cloak far more than she did.

The sound of horse hooves drummed up behind her. She slid farther over on the pathway out of habit, waiting for the rider to pass by. Instead, the rider slowed beside her. “Miss?”

 She looked up to see a young man with gold hair and a kind smile tugging his own cloak off to extend to her.

It took her likely far too long to realize who this man was.

“Your royal highness.” Immediately, she dipped to curtsy.

“No, no. Please, miss, none of that.” He slid off his now-still horse, touching the ground as the girl looked up to him.

He held out his hand, nervousness now on his face instead of the smile. “Please, rise, miss.”

She did as asked, not daring to touch him despite his extended hand.

His smile returning, he extended the cloak to her. “Here. As a replacement for the one you gave the old man.”

She shook her head. “No, your highness. I couldn’t possibly—”

“Please,” he said, not taking no for an answer as he slipped the dark cloak over her shoulders. “I insist.”

Marinette was at a complete loss for words as she felt the heavy fabric drape over her shoulders.

“I like repaying kindness when I see it,” was all he said.

“Then please,” she said, grabbing at the cloak from her shoulders, “Give this to Mister Fu. It’s far warmer than mine. He saved my father once, so—”

“Then I will take care of him,” the prince promised, sliding the cloak back up over her and holding it closed so she couldn’t take it off. “Keep this. You are shivering and it’s far too cold for anyone, nevertheless a lovely young lady, to be out without a cloak.”

She blushed, all the while chastising herself for doing so. Her eyes sank to the ground because she couldn’t keep looking at his gorgeous green eyes that were so gentle and caring. “Then I thank you so very much for your kindness, your highness. I don’t deserve it.”

“On the contrary. I very much believe you do.” He smiled—not that she saw—and let his hands fall away. She raised her head only to see him mounting his white steed. “Good day, miss…” he trailed off, searching for her name.

“Marinette. Marinette Dupain.”

“Marinette.” She tried to stay steady at the reverent way he said her name, but she, admittedly, got a bit weak-kneed. “Pleasure to meet you. But for now, I must bid you good day.”

“The pleasure has been mine, your highness.”

With a nod and a smile that would forever burn its way into her memory, he left back down the road.

She further adjusted the long cloak around her, feeling warm from head to toe, but how much of that was the cloak and how much of that was her being an infatuated young girl was difficult to discern. She pulled the cloak upwards so that the hem of the wonderfully thick material didn’t touch the ground. She’d surely treasure it for as long as it lasted, and that meant ensuring she took care that it didn’t rub against the ground. After all, she had just been gifted by none other than the crown prince.

Giggling giddily, she forced herself to walk home faster. Oh, she felt so stupid, but it seemed every rumor that she ever heard about his looks were true. He was so handsome, and he happened to have a kind and sincere heart. Surely, no one could blame her for her infatuation.

Surely not.


Prince Adrien snuck one last glance at the pretty young lady walking down the road. Such a kind heart, refusing the gift of a prince so that he might give it to a homeless man. He admired that; he really did.

He felt the cold nip at him now that he didn’t have his cloak, but he saw the way she was shivering. He had another one to replace it and could buy ten more later. It was hardly a loss for him. Not like hers had been.

True selflessness. He hadn’t seen that in far too long.

He stopped his horse by the man who was now wrapped in her cloak. Adrien dismounted his horse, looking down to the man that was smiling up at him.

“That was a very generous thing for you to do to.”

“She was the generous one,” Adrien returned.

The man chuckled. “She very much is. Her and her family.”

Fondly, he glanced down the road, but she was only a speck in the distance now. “She mentioned that you did something to for her father.”

“Ah, yes. Mr. Dupain. Very generous man. Would offer me a bit of work in his bakery in exchange for some bread. He grew very ill two years ago. Broke his arm and grew sick because the town doctor didn’t set it properly. I know healing very well and was able to help them in return for what they’ve done for me.”

Adrien frowned. “If you are skilled as you let on, then how can you not find work?”

The man pulled out his cane, but Adrien was quicker and helped the man stand up. He grinned in thanks before pointing to the leg that was twisted at an awkward angle. “I was a skilled healer, but people today have bitter hearts. They seem to forget that a healer occasionally needs a healer too.”

Adrien looked down at the man’s leg, wondering just how he could—

“Now, I know what you’re thinking, young man. I appreciate you thinking of a job for me, but I know I could find something near the battlefield up north. That is where you and your squadron are headed, no?” The man used his cane to gesture at the boarding house across the street.

Adrien didn’t turn. “Yes. We are going to assist our troops.”

The man nodded. “Then you are going to need all the luck you can get. It is brutal up there. The man held out a little box for him. Black, octagonal, red design painted on top. “In return for your kindness to Marinette.”

“Sir, I will not take anything from you.”

The man’s smile widened. “Then I tell you what. In exchange for some coins so that I may buy a trip back to the southern part of the kingdom, where I was born and raised as a boy, I will give you this box and the lucky charm inside of it. Would that be agreeable?”

“I’ll give you the coin to do so. I will not take—”

“And I will not take your coin without knowing I did something for you. Take this. For luck.”

Adrien looked at the box, taking it in exchange for far more than it was worth. The man seemed to know that, but thankfully didn’t question the determined look of the prince. “Thank you, young man. You are a fine prince, and will turn into a good king. And I do not say that because of what you gave me, but because of the heart behind it. You are deserving of your lucky charm.” The man’s eyes seemed to twinkle in amusement.

“Thank you, sir. I’m honored at your praise.”

 “I wish you the best of luck on the battle field. It wouldn’t do if your kingdom lost such a fine prince.” The man stroked his little beard. “By the way, do you know why we are at war?”

The prince shook his head. “Not for certain, but I think the king believes that we have something that belongs to him. He’s willing to take us over to find these items.”

The man nodded solemnly. “Then I hope for your sake that he never gets his hands on them, no matter how the war turns out.”

“I hope the war gets called off before then.”

“Yes, I hope so, too. Now, you best get back to your squadron. They seem impatient for you to return.”

Adrien nodded. “Thank you, sir. I wish you a good day and safe travels.”

“You will need it more than I,” he returned.

Adrien didn’t doubt that. With a nod, Adrien left back to his group.

“What took you?” One of his men asked.

“I was busy attending to my duties as a prince,” Adrien answered curtly.

“Helping old men?” another man jabbed.

“The pretty lady I could see,” said yet another, “make anyone a good night.”

The approving whoops in the group were quickly silenced by an angry prince.

“Next man to make a crass comment like that will be stripped of his knighthood and drafted to the front line as a solider. Am I clear?”

The silence was overwhelming.

“Good. Now mount up and move out.”

The men did as asked before falling in line behind the prince. The chatter among them was quiet and exclusive, not that Adrien minded. He was barely acquaintances with these men his father had gathered. Furthermore, he was used to being left out, and considering what the men were likely chattering about, he almost preferred being left alone.

For not the first time, he wished Nino could have accompanied him, but Adrien refused to let him tag along with his broken leg. Nino could heal and join them when he was ready.

In his silence leading the troop, Adrien pulled out the little box gifted to him. His lucky charm. Opening it, his eyes widened at the brilliant black metal ring embedded with emerald chips.

It seemed that he paid what fine jewelry like this was worth.

He slipped it on his finger, finding it happened to fit perfectly. Maybe it would be lucky, or maybe it was a just a myth. Either way, considering the war they were riding into, Adrien would take all the luck he could get.

Chapter Text

“Are you certain you can handle it?”

Marinette rested her hands on her hips while regarding her papa with a fond smile. “I’m eighteen, Papa. I’ve told you ten times already that I can handle this. And it’s not like you won’t be right there.”

Her papa sighed, rubbing his tired eyes with one large hand.

“Papa,” Marinette said reassuringly, “I’m eighteen. Maman needs her rest if she’s going to get better. I will be there to help you man the baker’s table. That’s all.”

“Yes, but—”

“It’s a party hosted by Duke Bourgeois,” she continued, “attended by a mass of noblemen and high-class knights. I am a baker’s daughter with a small dowry that pales in comparison to the ones offered by any of the beautiful noblewomen that will be in attendance. No matter how beautiful you believe me to be, I hardly am a temptation to a man. Furthermore, you trust me to make deliveries all the time. Just like then, I’ll be fine at this party, Papa.”

Her father seemed to relax at this, his large stature shrinking slightly in surrender. “All right.”

Marinette withheld her squeal of excitement.

“But I have to ask,” he said, “how long have you been rehearsing that little speech.”

Marinette smiled sheepishly. “About four days. Alya helped.”

Her father simply chuckled.

“Now come on, Papa. The party is tonight and you have quite a bit of baking to do.”

You just volunteered to help,” he teased, tapping her nose fondly. “So we have quite a bit of baking to do.”

Marinette giggled. “All right. Let’s get started.”

For the next several hours, she assisted her father in baking while simultaneously running the store front as well. For everyone’s best interest, Papa and Marinette had banished Maman to her room until she recovered fully from her bout of sickness. Surely within the next day or two, she’d be back up and running the shop.

Eventually, everyone was served, the shop was closed, and the baked goods were ready to be delivered to the party. The only thing left was for the two bakers themselves to get ready.

Marinette rushed up to her room in order to dress her uniform. It was a rather dull and boring outfit, nothing more than an off-white blouse and brown skirt. Nothing compared to the wonderful designs royalty would be wearing. If she could, she would dream at sewing such masterpieces. Alas, there were so many girls aiming to be seamstresses, and as the only daughter of a baker, she was in a good position to inherit her family’s business. She would make clothes for herself, family, and friends only. She supposed there was nothing wrong with that. She was better off than most.

She finished her ensemble with a white half-apron to cover her skirt, brushing away the imaginary wrinkles. Finally, she walked over to her small vanity to examine herself in the mirror before tying her hair back with a plain white ribbon. She would forgo her normal pigtails in favor of something that looked more mature. She was about to call it good when she caught sight of the small box that Mister Fu had given to her at the beginning of winter. She flipped the box open to spot the earrings inside. Ruby chips, two that looked very similar, lay in a black metal that she hadn’t been able to discern. They were beautiful, nevertheless, and reminded her of a couple of ladybugs.

On a whim, she put them on. When she had shown them to her Maman several months ago, the older woman had grinned and told her that without a shadow of a doubt they were lucky. Maman had an instinct for these things, so Marinette believed her. And considering Marinette’s poor luck, a bit of good luck would be welcome.

Besides, it not like anyone would notice them anyway. Her hair was already escaping its ponytail and covering her ears.

She met her Papa downstairs. He was looking spotless in his own off-white shirt and brown trousers. “Ah, there’s my daughter. Looking as lucky as ever.” He tapped her earlobe. “Ready to go, little ladybug?”

Marinette grinned at her nickname. For as unlucky and clumsy as she was, her parents were convinced she was good luck to everyone around her. “Let’s go, Papa.”

Time seemed to fly by. It seemed like barely an hour had passed by the time the duo had arrived and arranged their goods at a table, but Marinette was certain more time had passed than that.

“The guests will be arriving soon.”

Marinette turned towards the voice, her surprise soon turning to excitement. “Alya.”

The two girls shared a quick hug. “What are you doing here, girl? I didn’t know you were coming.”

“Maman is still sick,” Marinette simply answered.

Alya hummed. “Then give her my best regards. Hopefully, it won’t linger much longer.”

“I don’t think it will. But let’s talk about you. Are you serving tonight?” Marinette inquired, taking in Alya’s attire.

The brunette nodded. “I am. With so many male servants gone to war or recovering from it, the staff tonight will be all female.”

Marinette nodded solemnly.

An older man soon marched into the ballroom filled with bustling servants, clapping his hands together urgently. “Attention. The guests are set to arrive any moment. Places, places.”

Alya sighed. “Forgive me, but I better do as Mr. Damocles asks. I’m under enough scrutiny as it is after getting in a stand-off against Chloe earlier.”

“Why does that not surprise me?”

Alya gave Marinette a playful whack on the shoulder before heading off to her position.

“I expect details,” Marinette hissed after her friend.

“Later,” Alya promised.

Within the hour, the entire ballroom was buzzing with people. Servants flittered about, handing out food and drink. Marinette herself took trays of goods around, a smile on her face as she offered the goodies to partygoers.

Chloe Bourgeois, daughter of the duke, had turned her nose up at the pastries, but her companion, a man with rich brown hair pulled back into a queue, smiled as he took one of the pastries. “Surely your father wouldn’t have employed them if their goods weren’t beyond the standard,” he told the blonde woman.

She just let out a huff as he took a bite of the pastry. Immediately, his eyes closed as he hummed in delight. “And I was quite right. Try one, my dear.”

Chloe looked at the pastries, then aimed a glare of disdain at Marinette. “I think not. How else am I to keep my figure?”

“Your lovely figure can stand a single pastry,” the man teased, looking the blonde up and down in a way that made Marinette squirm.

“Ha,” Chloe let out a mirthless chuckle. However, she seemed to play along with his games, angling herself so as to draw attention to her hips. “No, thank you. Another drink would be preferable.” With that, she sauntered off, likely in hopes the man would follow.

He didn’t. Instead, he watched with a bit of interest before turning his attention back to the pastries Marinette held. He took another. “These are wonderful.”

“Thank you, my lord,” Marinette said, noting the way he was dressed. Considering the purple of his vest, he had to be a lord of some station, not a knight. “It was my father who made them.”

He smiled approvingly, but his eyes seemed to devour her face. “Tell him he is exceptional at his craft.”

“I will. Thank you.”

She continued on her rounds, happily shuffling away from the man who seemed to be looking at her with too much interest for her liking. And maybe she was staring too much at him because she nearly ran into another man.

“I’m so sorry,” she quickly apologized, stumbling backwards and nearly dropping her platter.

Thank goodness he caught her just in time. Gloved hands grabbed hold of her shoulders, setting her upright once again. “Careful where you step,” he said.

Marinette was about to reply, but any words died in her throat. Looking up at the man, all she could see were piercing green eyes surrounded by a black mask. Unruly blonde hair fanned over his forehead…

But were those cat ears pinned to his head?

“Forgive me,” Marinette said, finally finding her voice again.

“No trouble,” he said easily, brushing imaginary dust off his shoulder. “But seeing as you’re having trouble with that platter, I suppose I should help make it lighter for you.” His green eyes dazzled as he plucked some pastries from the platter, holding two in one hand while he used the other to raise a third to his mouth.

He hummed in delight. “I’m surprised these aren’t gone already. They are delicious.”

“Thank you…my lord,” she said, noting his formal attire.

With a tip of his chin and his green eyes still twinkling, he marched off past her. She spared him a curious glance before finishing her round.

Alya caught her just as she made it back to the table. “Hey, I need to bring some more food up from the kitchen. Come with me to help?”

Marinette glanced at her father, who signaled his approval with a tilt of his head. She turned back to her best friend. “All right.”

They quickly slipped down a servants’ corridor, and it didn’t take long for them to start talking. “Alya, help me out. You know most of the partygoers, correct?”

“Yes, from either previous visits or reputation.”

“So…the man with Chloe? With the purple vest and brown hair?”

“The one who Chloe is trying to seduce?”

Marinette nodded, shivering in disgust.

“Lord Barbot. An earl with a large fortune.”

That explained quite a bit.

“But as you clearly know, a shady character.”

“Clearly,” Marinette agreed. “What about the man with the cat ears? Do you know who I’m talking about?”

Alya nodded in exasperation. “Oh, yes. He’s hard to miss. Lord Noir: a viscount, I believe, in the south part of the kingdom. I’ll respect him because he actually went to serve in the war. Sadly, he came back not right in the head.” Alya swirled her finger at her temple to emphasize her point.

“Poor guy.”

“Unlucky, too. Nicknamed Chat Noir by most because the story goes he went to war as part of a large group, thirty to seventy depending on who you ask, and he was the only one to make it back.”

Marinette’s eyes widened. “I’d call him very lucky.”

“I suppose. But calamity has fallen on nearly every servant in his house as well as the few people who dare to enter. Baron Lahiffe, for instance, got a broken leg as well as severely ill after a single visit. Then there was a knight, one that happened to save Chat Noir’s life, who ended up beaten and is still recovering from some sort of stab wound. And we won’t mention the fact this same man sustained a broken arm and head injury when he saved Chat Noir the first time. The man is a walking curse.”

Marinette cringed. “Then why was he invited?”

Alya pursed her lips in thought. “I believe he’s the second cousin once removed to the king? Or prince? Or something like that. Basically, he’s in line.”

“So why wasn’t Chloe all over him? With the prince still missing at war…” Marinette froze there. It was tragic to think that the kind, handsome young man that had gifted her his cloak that winter night was gone. She couldn’t believe it. Didn’t want to believe it. Not him. He was far too good a man for something bad like that to happen.

“Because while her father invited him in hopes that she would try to capture him, she’s too worried about his bad luck. She won’t go near him. Lord Barbot is the next best thing, in her mind.”

“Alya,” a deep voice called.

The girls turned around to see Mr. Damocles standing there. “Please, come with me a moment. I need your assistance.”

“Yes, sir,” Alya said. She tapped Marinette’s shoulder in silent query of if it was all right. With a smile, Marinette tapped her elbow back. She’d be fine. She knew her way to the kitchen.

Alya returned her smile before following the head servant away.

Marinette continued her journey down the hall, turning right. She followed the hallway down, taking a left

And ending up not where she should be.

She frowned. It was a left, right? Or was it right?

Wonderful, now she was lost.

“Looking for somewhere?”

Marinette whipped around to see Lord Barbot standing there. Composing herself and standing straight and confident, she answered, “Yes, the kitchen. I took a right when I should have taken a left and was on my way. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”

She tried to walk past him, but he blocked her way. “What sort of gentleman would I be if I didn’t escort a lovely young lady—”

“The kitchen is two hallways away,” Marinette interrupted him. “Surely I can make it on my own.”

“I insist,” he pressed, further blocking her path from her.

An uncomfortable feeling built up in her gut, but she didn’t have much of a choice it seemed. “If you insist.”

Finally, he smiled and let her pass. She shuffled quickly down the hallway, but he kept up with her quick pace. “You have some very pretty earrings.”

“Thank you,” she absently said, trying to find the correct turn for the kitchen.

“Family heirlooms, I presume?”

Marinette didn’t know how to answer, so she simply agreed.

“Isn’t the kitchen that way?” he said, pointing to the hallway at her left.

She glanced down the hallway he pointed to, but didn’t recognize it. Frankly, she didn’t recognize where she was at all.

“No, it’s not. I must have taken a wrong turn.” She flipped around, only to come face to face with Lord Barbot’s chest. “Excuse me,” she curtly said, shifting to move past him.

“Come now, no need to be so formal,” he said, not moving from his spot blocking her pathway.

Her heart was pounding nervously. This was bad. Very, very bad. “I have a job to do, my lord,” she quipped, pretending she wasn’t intimidated by his very presence. “I need to get back to the kitchen.”

He didn’t seem to hear a word she said. Instead, he was far more interested in examining her earrings. She took a step back from him when he reached up towards her ears.

“Excuse me, sir,” she ground out, looking for any way to get past him in the narrow hallway.

“I must say your earrings fascinate me. And attached to such a beautiful young woman…” he reached for her once again.

Only for her to bat his hand away with a sharp slap. “Keep your hands off me.”

His eyes took on a terrifying gleam. In a quick movement, he reached out to grab her hand, only for her to slip from his poor grasp and land a punch up in his jaw. While he stumbled, she bolted. She didn’t quite know where she was going, nor did she care, just as long as it was away from him.

She barely made it to the end of the hallway before she felt her skirt snag on something. She was forced to a halt, only for her skirt to be yanked backward. She spun around as she stumbled, falling right into the arms of Lord Barbot.

“Feisty, aren’t we?” he growled, gripping her tight.

“Let go of me!” Marinette shouted. She stomped on his feet to no avail. He didn’t even flinch.

She struggled in his grasp, but he clung tightly to the screaming girl. She finally got him in the groin. Not hard, just enough to surprise him. She slipped from his grasp, running down the hallway and taking a breath to scream.

Only for his hand to grab her mouth and his other to wrap around her torso, just under her chest, and squeeze so tightly the air flew out of her. The most that came out was a strangled cry.

His hand curled tighter around her mouth while the arm around her torso came upwards, his fingers digging into her side as he pulled her back against him. Her heart raced faster as his face came right by her ear. “I can take care of feisty women.”

Chapter Text

Where’d the rat slink off to, now?

Adrien had followed Theo down into the servants’ area. There weren’t many people Adrien hated, but Theo made the top of that short list. Adrien knew he and Theo disagreed on a lot of things—the current war, for instance—but the havoc Theo had been wreaking on Adrien’s life since he returned from the warfront was past the limits of unacceptable. He hadn’t the chance to corner him before, which was why he was doing it now.

Except he lost track of him.

A scream rent the air, and all thoughts of Theo vanished. He rushed down the hallway where he heard the sound. “Let go of me!” someone cried. A voice distinctly female.

Adrien’s heart began racing faster as he demanded more of himself. Those words out of a woman’s mouth were never good. Never when it sounded panicked and desperate.

Then all was quiet. And he had two options ahead of him.

Which one. Which one. Which one.

“Come on,” he whispered to the air, flipping his gaze back and forth between the two hallways. “Give me something.”

Heeeellllp!” came the shrill scream.

Adrien bolted to the right, then spun left upon hearing the sound of a door banging open, then slamming shut, only to find himself in a hallway full of shut doors.

“No! No! Stop!” came the teary voice. Adrien rushed forward, throwing open every door he could to find where the woman was.

Finally, the last door he threw open revealed the disturbing scene of a man holding a woman to the ground, hoisting her skirts up high enough to reveal her pantaloon-clad thighs.

Adrien didn’t think as he leapt at the man, knocking him away from the woman and pinning him to the ground.

Theo.

Adrien’s grip around the earl’s neck tightened. “You piece of—”

Theo’s fist shot up to collide with Adrien’s chin before he could finish the sentence. Suddenly, it was a fight for life as the two men battled it out in the small servant’s room. Things broke. The walls shook. Theo had his hands at Adrien’s neck, and Adrien never let go of Theo’s. Air was becoming hard to get, but Adrien wasn’t surrendering first. He was going to scrape together every ounce of strength he had to pound Theo into the ground.

“What is going on in here?” a booming voice shouted, demanding attention.

The collar of his shirt was suddenly grabbed and yanked. Adrien stumbled to regain balance as he was ripped off of Theo and practically tossed aside. When Adrien steadied himself, he found Mr. Damocles—at least that was what Adrien believed this man’s name to be—now stood between them, his eyes raging fire.

“Which one of you,” he growled, low and fierce, “is going to take responsibility for her?”

Adrien looked where the man was pointing, and his heart nearly shattered. It wasn’t just any woman there. It was the sweet, selfless girl who he had crossed last winter. The girl who had given him hope that there was still kindness in his kingdom. The girl whose smile and bright blue eyes had somehow burned their way into his memory and resurfaced in his dreams at night.

Now, she was kneeling on the floor, her skirt still quirked up to reveal her leg, her blouse ripped open, her hair out of its ponytail and frayed over her shaking shoulders. Her arms were crossed over her chest to conserve as much modesty as she had left while tears trails glimmered down her red cheeks.

Adrien swore Theo would pay for this.

A gasp called all attention to the doorframe where a large man in fine clothing stood. However, considering the way his lips were pursed tightly in shock, it wasn’t him who made the sound. A girl, one with brown hair and servant’s clothes, suddenly ran past the man to the shaking girl on the floor, wrapping her in a protective, covering embrace.

“I demand explanation!” Duke Bourgeois shouted. “What happened here?”

“I was just about to ask that question myself,” Mr. Damocles said, staring down the two young men. “Though it seems fairly obvious what happened, why don’t one of you explain it for us.”

Adrien stood still. He wanted to rat Theo out, tell him exactly what happened, but he knew Theo. Theo wouldn’t go down without a fight. Theo would accuse him of whatever he accused Theo of. A shouting match between the two men was not something Marinette needed right now. So, he kept quiet, all while shooting a scathing glare at Theo.

“I won’t stand for this in my household,” the duke said after half a minute of silence. “Nor will I let this matter go unsettled. If that were my own daughter there, I would demand a marriage to salvage whatever reputation she had left. Therefore, I think it in this girl’s best interest that happens in this case as well. So, which one of you is going to take responsibility of this girl?”

Adrien fought to keep a straight face, but his heart was racing. He looked at the scowl in the duke’s face before sparing a glance at Marinette and her friend. The girl aimed a disgusted glare at the mayor, yet even under that expression, she seemed to know that was a reasonable course of action. Adrien then turned his attention towards the girl in her arms. She was only choking on tears now, no longer sobbing. He doubted she even heard the mayor.

“I’ll take responsibility for this poor girl,” Theo spoke up, his voice smooth as ever.

“No,” Adrien countered, immediately snapping back to the conversation. “I will.”

The duke and Mr. Damocles looked between the two men, now each more confused than before.

“Sirs.”

All the men turned towards the brunette on the floor. “Please, allow me to get my friend out of here. Let me get her cleaned up and make sure she’s all right. Then when she is ready, she can explain everything.”

Mr. Damocles’ expression softened. “Get her out of here. Take her to your room. She can stay as long as she needs.”

The girl nodded before slowly coaxing Marinette up off the ground and guiding her away.

Once the two girls were out of the room, Mr. Damocles shut the door. The duke wasted no time launching into a tirade. “I demand answers, and I demand them now.”

“I was the one that saved her from this bastard.”

Adrien stared at his accuser in anger. “Liar!”

“Why were you down here in the first place?” Theo shouted. “You had no reason to be.”

“And I suppose you did.”

“Lord Barbot. Lord Noir.” The duke did not look pleased. “One account at a time.”

“I heard her screaming,” Theo stated. “I came to her rescue before this man could ruin her. I knew he was bad luck, but I never knew he was a scoundrel.”

Adrien scowled at him. “My counter-argument will sound a whole lot like yours.”

“Yet all you do is accuse me of lying. Unless you had something to hide, you would have given your case already.”

Adrien didn’t know what disgusted him more: Theo, or the fact the other two men looked inclined to believe him. “We’ll ask the girl then,” Mr. Damocles said. “Once she’s settled, she’ll tell us exactly what happened.”

“But that still doesn’t solve the issue of her reputation,” Duke Bourgeois argued. “No one is leaving this room until we have a solution for which one of you is going to marry her.”

“I will.” Theo stated.

“Ask her.”

All three men turned to look at Adrien.

“Ask her,” he repeated. “If you, my good duke, demand she marries one of us for her own reputation then I don’t see why she shouldn’t get a say in this matter.”

Mr. Damocles studied him. The look on his face shifted from curiosity to speculation. Adrien didn’t miss the disapproving glance he shot at Theo.

Well, it was comforting to know he at least had one man on his side.

The duke seemed oblivious, though. He was far too busy thinking on the Adrien’s suggestion. “You serve a good point, Lord Noir. Very well. If both of you are willing to step up to the task, then that will be our solution. Mr. Damocles, will you please go inform the girl’s father? Send someone else to man that table.”

“Yes, your grace.”

With that, the duke dismissed everyone. The door opened, revealing about ten different people standing there.

“What are you all doing standing about?” Mr. Damocles shouted. “Get back to work!”

The servants wasted no time fleeing the scene.

Adrien sighed, shutting his eyes but resisting the urge to hang his head and rub the tiredness away. This would not bode well.

Mr. Damocles looked stoic as ever as he went towards the party again. The duke looked pale but held himself together as he always did.

And Theo never left the man’s side.

Smart rat.

Adrien was the last to leave the room, only to pause. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a little white ribbon on the floor. Her ribbon, the one that had tied her hair back. He plucked it off the ground and wrapped it carefully around his fingers before slipping it neatly into his pocket. He’d find the right time to return it. But right now, he thought it most prudent to find the girl’s father. Without a shadow of a doubt, Marinette would choose him, and he needed to reassure the man that he would take precious care of his daughter.

However, when he saw the substantial-sized man that stormed after Mr. Damocles, he decided he could wait until the man’s righteous anger died down a bit before approaching him.

After all, he couldn’t protect Marinette if her father wrung his neck first.

Chapter Text

“Feeling better?” Alya cooed, still holding her friend in her arms.

Marinette nodded against her shoulder. Alya had done her best to settle and comfort her. After pulling Marinette up off the floor and coddling her all the way to Alya’s room, the first thing Alya did was give Marinette a new blouse. While a bit too big for her, it wasn’t ripped open. Never had Marinette felt so exposed in her life, having a man drag her to the floor, her back slamming against the ground, feeling her blouse give under his aggressive hands as she struggled fruitlessly against him. And then how he had shoved up her skirts and grabbed her leg…

She almost burst into tears again.

She had been so close. So terrifyingly close. She was so, so thankful that someone had attacked her attacker before his hands had undressed her any further.

Marinette burrowed deeper into the blanket Alya had wrapped her in, as if that could give her the privacy she was stripped of. As if that could conserve her modesty. As if it could block the fact she had nearly gotten—

She took a shaky breath.

Alya was right there to rub soothing hands over her back. “You’re safe now. Don’t worry. You’ll be all right. Everything is going to be all right.”

Right now, she would pretend it would be, but she had heard the duke. She knew she would have to marry one of those men. She just hoped her savior, whoever he was, was a good man.

A frantic knocking sounded at the door. “Alya,” a man said, one that sounded like Mr. Damocles. “Alya, may we come in?”

“Yes.”

The door burst open, and her father was by her side in an instant. “Marinette.”

“Papa.” She let go of Alya to fly into her father’s all-encasing embrace.

“Oh, sweetheart.” He squeezed her tight, and Marinette finally felt safe.

Tears started dripping down her cheeks again. She wasn’t sobbing this time, but she couldn’t keep the tears at bay any longer.

“Did…did that man…?”

She shook his head against his shoulder. “No, Papa,” she managed.

His whole body relaxed at that. “Thank God.” He rubbed her back before guiding her chin upwards to meet her eyes. “We’re going home.”

She wasn’t going to argue. Not when she just wanted to go home and hide away forever. “Okay.”

“We can continue this tomorrow,” Mr. Damocles spoke up. “Once she’s settled and this has all died down.”

“Thank you, sir,” Mr. Dupain replied.

“We can sneak you out the back,” Mr. Damocles continued. “Alya surely can manage your table for the rest of the evening.”

Alya nodded, hearing the command to leave. “Of course, sir.” She got up off her bed, patting Marinette on the shoulder before taking her leave.

With the help of Mr. Damocles, Marinette and her papa slipped out the back servants’ door to their awaiting horse and cart. They barely made it off Duke Bourgeois’ property before her father asked, “Who was it?”

Marinette cringed. Her gaze fell straight into her lap and tears started forming.

“Marinette,” her papa pleaded. “Please, sweetheart.”

She sniffed as the tears started up again. Her voice came out in barely a squeak. “Lord Barbot.”

“Lord Barbot?”

Marinette nodded.

She felt her papa wrap a large arm around her, encasing her in safety. “Thank you, sweetheart. Thank you for telling me.”

She sniffed, before burying herself in his bulky side and relishing his embrace as tears spilled down her face. “I don’t want to marry Lord Barbot, Papa,” she blubbered. “I can’t marry him.”

“Hey, hey.” He pulled the horses to a stop, then pushed Marinette just far enough away to meet her gaze in the moonlight. “Listen to me. I promise that won’t happen. Even if we have to move far away to escape any rumors, we will. I swear to you, honey, I will not let you marry that man.”

Marinette’s tears slowed at her papa’s comforting words. “But…but the duke said I have to marry someone.”

“Then we’ll get away from this. You don’t have to marry anyone,” he quickly promised. “We’ll pick up and move. It will be okay. I promise. All right?”

Marinette managed a nod. “All right, Papa.”

He smiled at her before pulling her close again and pressing a kiss onto the crown of her head. “I love you so much.”

“I love you, too, Papa.”

It didn’t seem much longer before they arrived home. Immediately, Papa shooed her upstairs to bed immediately. She didn’t say a word, just trudged upstairs and fell into bed where she was too tired to even cry herself to sleep.

And in the morning, she would barely remember any of that.

She made it into the kitchen, feeling half-dead. Her father was the first to greet her, engulfing her in a hug upon the sight of her. “Good morning, sweetheart,” he greeted softly.

“Hello, Papa.” She wasn’t sure if she wanted to call the morning “good.”

He hummed, the deep sound rumbling in his chest.

When he let Marinette slip through his arms, she was then held by her mother. No words were exchanged between the embracing women, but no words were needed. Maman patted Marinette’s cheek in that reassuring motherly fashion, and Marinette’s teary smile was hopeful that, just maybe, everything would be all right.

Never was she so thankful that it was Sunday, that the shop had a reason to be closed and that today could just be a day of rest and recuperation. That there would be no “carry on as normal” today. That there wouldn’t be customers to tend to or goods to bake. 

Until a persistent knocking sounded through the house. Her papa grumbled as he made his way to the door. Curious herself, Marinette peeked out from the kitchen doorway to see who their guest was. It was difficult to see past her papa, but there was no mistaking that the man wore fine clothes. Then he spoke, and his voice gave him away.

Papa invited Duke Bourgeois in, as was an automatic response to seeing royalty. The tall man stepped inside, bringing with him an anxious aura that didn’t sit well with Marinette.

“I apologize for interrupting your day of rest, but the issue at hand is pressing.”

“I understand that, your grace—“

“Fact is,” the duke continued, not caring that he interrupted Mr. Dupain, “that rumors have already engrossed my household that both Lord Barbot and Lord Noir were caught with your daughter in a compromised position. More false rumors state that one of them had…relations with her. She is expected to marry one of them.”

Marinette’s brow screwed upwards. Lord Noir was her savior? The man in cat ears?

“Seeing as no such thing happened,” her father spoke clearly and firmly, “my daughter will not marry either of them.”

“The damage is done,” the duke affirmed. “She is ruined, and you’ll be ruined too if she doesn’t marry. And fact is, since there were witnesses to the scene, there is proof that puts not only your daughter, but Lord Noir and Lord Barbot in poor light. She isn’t the only one at stake here.”

“She was forced into this position unwillingly. I have no issue with Lord Barbot or Lord Noir’s marred reputations. My daughter is all I care about, considering she is the one that very nearly got raped by Lord Barbot last night.”

Marinette threw her hands over her mouth to keep in any sound that might escape her. Her father was being blunt, fighting off against a duke for her. Watching his mouth for the sake of her ears wasn’t exactly top priority at the moment; she knew that. But it wasn’t easy listening to that blunt fact, though. Especially since she had been the one to live it.

Her mother, who had long since joined her in her eavesdropping, now placed comforting hands on her daughter’s arm. The silence that stretched longer and longer between the two men grew tenser by the second.

“Then, pray tell,” the duke spoke haughtily, “what do you believe is best for your daughter?”

“That she stay as far away from either of those two men as possible,” her father rebutted, “until this all dies down. The town’s people will forget, but if she marries either man, then she will be marked permanently for a rumor that isn’t true.”

“And if she doesn’t marry,” the duke retorted, “then the rumors will always be circulating about how your daughter had an affair with a man but didn’t do the proper thing. It will always be in the upper circle, considering those two men consist of the wealthiest high-class bachelor and the most notorious Chat Noir.”

Strained silence once again rent the room. Neither one would back down, Marinette could tell. There wasn’t going to be any resolution.

Until a second knock came from the door. The tense silence dispersed in the best way. Marinette peeked around the corner once again, watching the two men turn their backs to her as they faced the door. Her father opened the door—

To reveal Lord Noir.

“Good day, Duke Bourgeois, Mr. Dupain,” he greeted formally. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“No,” Mr. Dupain assured. “Not at all. Won’t you come in?”

Lord Noir entered, his face still baring the mask. However, the cat ears were gone. Thankfully, he didn’t seem completely insane.

“I’ve come in hopes to talk privately with you.” With that, his eyes immediately shot to where Marinette was looking around the corner. She gasped softly as she retreated out of sight.

“Marinette. Sabine.”

The two women appeared in response to the head of their household.

“Please, go upstairs.”

Sabine nodded, then guided her daughter up the stairs into Marinette’s room.

Marinette didn’t struggle against her mother. However, before she complied, she stole one last glance at the masked man in her house, noting how soft and sympathetic his brilliant green eyes were.

Once the two women reached Marinette’s room, her mother shut the door behind her.

“Papa’s not going to be able to talk his way out of this, is he?”

Her maman looked at her, her face full of sympathy, and Marinette knew she had her answer.

“Marinette, listen to me,” she said softly, taking her daughter’s hands in her own. “Your father and I love you very much, and I know for a fact he is going to do everything is his power to ensure that you are taken care of. He will fight tooth and nail for you. You know that. But some things are out of our control.”

The unspoken words sounded loudly in the silence. “I know, Maman. I know.”

Her mother squeezed her hands. “You’re a very brave girl, you know that?”

Marinette tried not to cry as she nodded her assent.

“That’s my girl.” Maman wiped away the tears that Marinette started to shed before leading her to sit on the edge of her bed. They sat in the silence, Marinette leaning against her mother’s shoulder while her maman held her.

It seemed like an eternity before her papa knocked on the bedroom door and called them back downstairs. With one last hug from Maman, Marinette made her way down. Her papa stood in the main room, his shoulder slumped and eyes sad. Marinette knew that didn’t bode well for her, but all she could think about was how her heart was breaking for her father.

She glanced at the other man in the room. The duke must have taken his leave, but Lord Noir remained.

When she turned back to her papa, a look that Marinette read easily passed between them. “I’m to marry Lord Noir, am I?”

“Marinette,” her papa said. “If I could stop it, I would. Unfortunately, I can’t. It’s the best thing for you, right now.”

“I’ve given your father my word that I will treat you right,” Lord Noir spoke up. “With the utmost respect you deserve. You’ll be taken very good care of, always having more than enough. Lastly, I promise you’ll be safe with me. I don’t say any of those words lightly. I hope you know that.”

Marinette wasn’t the best at reading people, but considering the softness in his eyes and the reverence in his tone, she believed him. Her voice seemed to fail her, so the best she could muster was responding with a nod.

He gave her an apologetic smile, one she didn’t quite catch, before he reached into his pocket and held out for her the retracted item. Her ribbon. The one Theo had pulled out last night. In all the turmoil, she hadn’t realized she lost it.

“A peace offering.”

She glanced back up at him, silently taking in his gentle expression. He further pushed the ribbon her way, indicating that she take it.

Her eyes darting between his gentle gaze and the ribbon he held loosely in his hand, she reached for it. When she managed to grab hold of it despite her shaking hand, he let go, pulling his hand back and letting the ribbon trail though his fingers.

She pulled the ribbon to her chest, forcing her eyes up to meet his gaze once again. He held it for a few seconds before giving her a kind smile. “I think I best leave now. Tomorrow morning, we will marry privately, then I will take you back to my home in the south portion of the kingdom.”

Marinette bit her lip, but nodded.

He bowed to her. “I will see you tomorrow, my lady.” With that, her papa walked him out.

Leaving Marinette standing in the center of the room, clutching her ribbon. And feeling numb to all of it.

Chapter Text

Marinette would not cry. She would. Not. Cry. She had made it through the private wedding without crying. She had packed all her things without crying. She had allowed her husband—oh, goodness, her husband—to assist her into his carriage without crying.

But watching her home disappear out the carriage window while her parents waved goodbye was going to be the death of her.

She bit her lip. She would not cry. She would not…

A white handkerchief appeared in her blurring vision. She snatched it from the air and held it against her face as everything suddenly bubbled up and out. Her sobs sounded like hiccups as she choked on them, and the handkerchief caught every last one of her tears.

A gentle hand landed on her shoulder, which only served to worsen her tears. It reminded her that she was married. She had gotten married. By force, by propriety, to a man above her station that she hardly knew a thing about. She was now a Lady. A viscountess.

She was also a wife, which implied all sorts of things she wasn’t ready for.

She didn’t know how long she sobbed, her head buried in the handkerchief, but she finally cried herself dry. Eventually, she pulled her face away from the cloth, noticing immediately that the window drapery next to her had gotten pulled shut. In fact, all of the carriage window draperies had, which made the carriage rather dark.  

The hand left her shoulder, then two of the drapes on the windows across from her were pulled open. Light illuminated the carriage once again, allowing her to see Lord Noir, or Adrien Noir as she learned at their wedding. She found it odd he happened to share a name with the prince, especially since it wasn’t all that common of a name.

“I…um…thought you would appreciate some privacy,” he said, motioning to her still shut window.

She glanced at the drapery, studying it until her mind started functioning again. “Thank you,” she managed, her voice hoarse from crying.

“I know you’ve been through a lot,” he consoled. “I know this is still a lot to take in. And I’m so sorry that you had to go through this. The best I can say right now is that I will take good care of you. I promise.”

Marinette looked at him as he repeated that sentiment for the third time. She studied him, taking in his expression; the honesty in his eyes, the gentleness of his smile. She swallowed, trying to keep herself together. “I…I suppose I never did thank you,” she shyly said, her fingers nervously wringing the wet kerchief. “For saving me.”

His eyes darkened, but his gaze wasn’t aimed at her. He looked to be boring a hole in the ground. “I wish I had never needed to save you in the first place. Theo Barbot is a lot of things I don’t approve of, but I didn’t think he would sink so low. I’m sorry you were the unfortunate victim. It never should have happened.”

“Still,” she repeated, her voice a near whisper, “I’m glad you were there.”

He looked back up to her, his green eyes vibrant against his ever-present black-mask. His gentle smile made him seem less intimidating. “I’m glad I was there, too.”

Marinette’s eyes widened at the surprise of his statement. She immediately felt her face heat up and promptly looked away.  Eager to busy herself with anything other than his warm expression, she opened the covering on her window, pretending that the scenery outside was interesting.

Throughout the entirety of their three-day trip down to his land, Lord Noir, thankfully, didn’t ever force conversation. He would occasionally ask her a question or two, which she would always answer to be polite, but he never forced more than that. It was as though he could sense she didn’t want to talk, and Marinette appreciated that.

Whenever they stopped for the night, they never housed at a boarding house or with royalty. Instead, Marinette was more than happy to sleep on the plush benches inside the carriage while Lord Noir…

Well, she wasn’t quite sure what he did, but he knew he never stayed in the carriage with her; something she was not objecting to. On the second night, she caught sight of him sitting contently on top of the carriage and staring up at the stars while the carriage driver—Plagg was his name—lay on a sleeping mat and the horses munched on grass nearby. When Marinette asked him about it, he jokingly claimed cats were nocturnal creatures and didn’t sleep much at night. She noted he didn’t sleep during the day either but never commented.

He was a strange man, Marinette quickly realized. He seemed to know of his reputation as Chat Noir and instead of running from it, embraced it. One day, when she got the courage, she would ask why he wore those cat ears. The mask was a bit easier to justify away, like he wanted his identity to remain secret. He seemed like the kind of man who valued privacy and secrets. Surely he’d take it off when they arrived at his home. The cat ears, though…

She was torn between laughing at them and worrying that she married an insane person.

“We’re here.”

Marinette put down her embroidery project to look out the window, only to gasp at the size of the house. The large, gray stone structure was covered with green ivy. There were at least a dozen large windows in the front of the house along several smaller ones. A dirt circle cut through the green grass that surrounded the house and led up to the large front door. Flowers that lined both the pathway and bordered the house were in bloom, adding a sprinkling of color to the already lovely green surroundings.

“What do you think of it, my lady?”

Marinette looked at Lord Noir, who looked rather proud of himself, his green eyes dazzling with mirth. “It’s lovely,” she said approvingly.

“I’m glad you think so,” he said. “Wait until you see the inside.”

The carriage soon stopped in front of the house, and before Lord Noir could reach it, the door opened to reveal a large, muscular man in a dull red tunic. Marinette could easily pick out a few discolored scars etched across his face, including one around his eye, but his bright smile seemed to soften his rugged appearance.

“Kim, my friend,” Lord Noir greeted, hopping out of the carriage and patting the man on the shoulder in greeting. “How has everything been here?”

“Splendidly quiet,” he replied. “Thankfully, we didn’t—”

“Kim,” Lord Noir interrupted before he could finish his sentence. Marinette had heard enough, however, to be curious as to what Kim had meant to say. Lord Noir extended a hand to her to assist her from the carriage. She took his offered assistance, stepping out of the carriage and effectively surprising the tall man. The dubious glance Kim shot at Lord Noir didn’t slip her notice.

“Kim,” Lord Noir proudly stated, motioning fully to her. For the first time, she felt self-conscious, seeing as she was in peasant attire in the presence of two high-class men. “Meet the new Lady Noir.”

He bowed to her, hesitating only slightly before he did. “M-my lady. It is a pleasure to meet you.”

Lord Noir then turned to her. “Meet Sir Kim, the man who saved my life on two separate occasions.”

Marinette looked the man up and down, struggling to find her voice. “Pleasure to meet you as well, Sir Kim,” she eventually managed.

Lord Noir then turned back to the larger man. “If you wouldn’t mind helping Plagg unload the luggage, I want to show Lady Noir around the house.”

“Of course,” he assured. “And welcome to Hall Noir, my lady.”

She wasn’t sure how comforted she was that her new home was titled Black Hall.  Still, she forced a smile. “Thank you.”

“Shall we?” Lord Noir said. He slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow, patting it reassuringly.

The action surprised Marinette, who had forgotten that she hadn’t let go of his hand in the first place. She cleared her throat, fighting her blush. She should have answered verbally, but the most she could do was nod.

As always, he responded with that kind grin of his before taking her inside.

The interior was just as spectacular as the exterior. Vibrant colors made the house feel warm and inviting, but all Marinette could think of was how this house wasn’t home. Lord Noir seemed to realize this, speeding up the tour just for the sake of finishing. He ended at the bedrooms, pointing out his before showing her hers.

“You can redecorate it however you please,” he said from their spot outside the door to her new room. “Just say the word, and it will be done.”

Marinette nodded absently.

Lord Noir seemed to notice but didn’t comment. “Go on and rest a while. I know you had a long journey. A bath is getting started as we speak. I’m sure it will make you feel better to wash up after our trip.”

She gave him a somewhat forced smile. “Thank you.”

Patting her hand gently, he removed it from his elbow, then brought it up to his lips to press a tender kiss on her knuckles, just as he did at their wedding in lieu of a traditional kiss on her lips.

Yet again, it felt strange. Not quite intimate, not quite chaste. She wasn’t sure whether it should send her running, or if she should roll her eyes at the common practice.

When he let her hand go, she tried not to pull back too quickly so as not to be rude but was fairly certain she failed. Still, he didn’t show that it bothered him. With a bow, he took his leave.

Marinette walked into her room. She barely spared it a once over before determining that it would need to be changed. Mostly, it was white and plain. Her things, two small bags and two larger crates in total, were residing in a corner, not yet put away. Then her gaze landed on a door on the side of her room. Immediately, her heart started beating faster. Of course the rooms would be adjoining. She knew that. This was the suite for the lady of the house.

She just wasn’t ready for being… well… a wife.

Her bit her bottom lip. They hadn’t had their wedding night yet, and Marinette hadn’t given it much thought till now. Would he call her into his room, or would he come into hers?

Either option left her nervously shaking.

A woman appeared from the open doorway in her room, the one she had yet to look into yet. “Ah, the new Lady Noir.” The woman curtsied. “I am Ms. Mendeleiev. I’ve been assigned as your lady’s maid.”

Marinette’s brow screwed upwards. Lady’s maid? The more she thought about it, the more she realized she should be surprised. She was a high-class lady now. She would have to get used to these things, she supposed. A strange new world where servants did most of the work that she herself would be doing at home.

The older woman had a fairly strict expression as she motioned inside the room she had exited. “I’ve set up a bath for you. I’m certain you’ll find it pleasing after your journey.”

Marinette once again looked surprised. She had a private bathroom, apparently. She supposed that was normal for royalty. “Thank you. I’m sure it will.”

Later on, as she was soaking in the wonderfully warm water, Ms. Mendeleiev sorted through her things to find something suitable for her to wear. All the while, she commented on how none of her things would do and how Marinette would need a whole new wardrobe.

Marinette eventually tuned the woman out, finding herself growing disheartened at her rant. She was born as a baker’s daughter. She came from the middle-class. A well-off family, yes, but not high-class. Everything she owned was practical, not showy. She wasn’t trained in music or dance. She wasn’t cultured like high-bred ladies were. She was practical. She could cook and clean and sew. She was told by many how lucky any man would be to marry her. How good of a wife she would become.

Marinette sank deeper into the water, exhaustion hitting her harder and harder with each passing moment. However, with the monotonous sound of Ms. Mendeleiev’s voice in the background, she couldn’t help but think how inadequate she was. As she bit her lip to hold back tears, all she could wonder was how on earth she was going to adjust to her new life.

Chapter Text

Adrien wasn’t surprised to see Kim standing impatiently in his study when he walked in. Neither was he surprised at the way Kim’s expression clearly demanded explanation. What was a surprise was seeing Nino there wearing the same expression.

Adrien looked at his best friend with a quirked brow. “I thought you were going back home.”

“I thought you were single.”

Touché.

His two friends pointed to his chair in silent command that he sit down and start explaining.

“You know, I don’t even think I heard her name,” Nino commented as Adrien rounded the desk to his chair.

“Marinette. Marinette Dupain.”

Nino’s brow screwed up in thought. “Mari—”

“Wait,” Kim interrupted. “Is this the same girl you told me about on the battlefield?”

Adrien nodded.

Kim’s grin was cattish. “You’re right; she is pretty.”

The glare Adrien gave to Kim was wuthering.

“But weren’t you engaged to marry the princess of the other kingdom?” Nino asked. “Your father isn’t going to be happy about it.”

“Well, I wasn’t happy when he ignored all my protests. It wasn’t going to finish the war, and he knew it.”

“Sure,” Kim said, leaning over Adrien’s desk. “But I highly doubt you set out to marry this g—ahh!”

Nino was by his side, holding him up in an instant while Adrien shot up out of his chair to steady his friend. “Nino, get the chair.”

“Buddy, you got to take it easy,” Nino said, placing the indicated chair behind Kim. “That was one heck of a beating you took not all that long ago.”

“I’m fine,” he said, awkwardly taking a seat.

“Says the guy with the stab wound,” Nino quipped.

“It’s healing. The stitches just got taken out, so it’s still a bit tender,” Kim defended.

“You’re lucky it wasn’t your torso,” Adrien added.

“You’re lucky it wasn’t you.”

Adrien cringed. He knew that beating was for him, and Kim, being the selfless and devoted man he was, took it in Adrien’s stead. “That still doesn’t negate the fact you should have had back-up that day.”

“The man hell-bent and determined to kill you. I didn’t have time to get back-up.”

“I was two doors away!” Nino cried. “Shouting distance! You’re lucky I got there when I did, or that man would have had your head.”

“Enough,” Adrien interrupted before their quarrel could grow any worse. “We’re all lucky. Let’s leave it at that.”

Nino huffed. “This time. But what happens when Theo tries again? Because you know he will.”

Adrien tapped his fingers irritatedly on the desk.

“He has, hasn’t he?” Nino deadpanned.

“What does he even want with you?” Kim interjected.

Adrien felt the ring under his glove, his new nervous habit. “I don’t know.”

Nino sighed tiredly. Kim rolled his eyes in exasperation.

Adrien shrugged. “Sorry.” He felt bad for his friends. He really did. He wasn’t the kind of man who liked seeing them harassed and tormented, but he had to be thankful that they stuck by his side when everyone else at the house had left. The house that used to employ seventeen now employed three. Most of his peers wanted to cut ties to Chat Noir. Even his own father seemed to think he was bad luck, one of the reasons he had been sent here in the first place. That, and to privately recover from battle.

“Then let’s get back to the reason I’m here,” Nino eventually spoke up. “The girl. Your new wife. What do you even know about her?”

“Theo tried to rape her.”

His bluntness sent both his friends straight over the edge. “What?”

Adrien just nodded. “At the party, I tailed Theo when he snuck down into the servants’ quarters. Except I lost him. I only found him again when I heard a woman screaming.”

Nino’s hands scrunched into tight fists while Kim looked downright murderous.

“I saved her, thankfully. But I was caught by Duke Bourgeois’ head servant. That left her with two options: marry Theo or marry me.”

“Well, not that hard of a decision.” Nino sarcastically quipped.

Kim just huffed in agreement.

“Does your dad know about it?”

“No,” Adrien answered. He was not looking forward to that conversation. In all likelihood, he was going to hold that off as long as possible.

“Does she know you’re the prince?” Kim asked.

Adrien remained silent.

Nino quickly turned exasperated. “Please, at the very least, tell me you didn’t get married in those stupid cat ears.”

“They aren’t stupid,” Adrien retorted. “They’re hilariously punny.”

Nino leveled him a flat look.

“Don’t worry, I did take them off for the wedding.”

“But not the mask?”

The silence spoke plenty loud.

Buddy,” Nino groaned while Kim sniggered. “You are digging your own hole.”

“Just…let me go about this my own way. She’s already scared enough as it is. She nearly got raped, then she’s forced to marry a man she doesn’t want to in order to save her reputation. She got torn away from her parents—whom she obviously adores as much as they adore her—and now she thinks home is here. I’ve already informed her that she’s not going to get to go back any time soon because the rumors are so large right now. Somehow, against all odds, her father agreed with me on that point because neither one of us want to see her hurt by gossip that is currently circulating the peasant class as well as the high-class. I’m already going to have to teach her to be the ‘proper lady’ society expects her to be. I don’t need to thrust the weight of the fact she’s my princess on her. I’ll tell her soon; I have to. But this…this is a lot on her already. Let it sink in slowly. Or, as slowly as possible.”

Nino and Kim regarded him seriously before nodding in agreement. “You’re right,” Nino relented. “It’s probably easier for now. No telling how she’s going to react later, though.”

“In the meantime,” Adrien continued. “Please don’t mention any of this to her. Don’t mention anything about me being a prince. Don’t mention anything about the king. And most of all, don’t mention anything about the chaos Theo has been causing here. You can mention my reputation as Chat Noir. You can use that excuse if need be. But nothing that will potentially upset her. All right?”

“Understood,” the two men said together.

“Good. Anything else I need to catch you two up on?”

Nino shook his head. “No. But there’s something I should inform you of.”

Adrien raised a brow at him. “And that is?”

“That you need to ready my usual room because there is no way I’m leaving now.”

And this was one of the reasons he and Nino were friends. “I’ll tell Tikki to do that right away.”


 

Marinette did not come down for dinner. That was perfectly fine considering he told Ms. Mendeleiev to give her the option. It allowed him to talk with his friends about the possibility of more trouble and hash out the details of what to do if something extreme were to happen. It also gave them a bit of time to debate what to do about Theo.

Kim wanted to hang him. Nino seconded the notion. Adrien was hard-pressed not to third it.

“We have to find out what he wants and why,” he reasoned. “Then we’ll revisit that possibility.”

His friends relented. Reluctantly.

Eventually, they all parted for the night, each retreating off to their own rooms. Adrien was hesitant to go into his. He wouldn’t sleep. He knew it. Maybe he’d go stargazing. Maybe he’d retreat to his study and read. Or maybe he’d try to sleep. Maybe he was just tired enough to try.

The resulting gasp when he opened his door caught all his attention. He looked up to see Marinette standing there, her hair down around her shoulders, her arms crossed protectively in front of her while her white night gown swished around her legs. But the worst of it was that she looked like a scared rabbit backed into corner.

It all clicked in his mind when she shot a glance at the bed before taking a half-step away and returning her fear-filled gaze to him.

He shut the door behind him. “Marinette,” he inquired gently, hoping she’d realize he wasn’t upset or angry at her. “What brings you in here?”

She shifted uncomfortably. “It’s…um…we haven’t had…” her voice grew so very quiet. “The…wedding night.”

“I know,” he said, slowly making his way to her.

Not that she fully noticed with the way her gaze was glued to the floor. In fact, he was certain she didn’t even hear him. “And Ms. Mendeleiev said that…that it was better form if the wife…I mean, for the wife… to be waiting for…for her husband in his room.”

She flinched when she realized just how close he’d gotten, taking two steps back before hanging her head in shame. It broke his heart to see her so scared. So scared of him. “Marinette,” he spoke softly. “I will not force anything on you. I married you to get you away from that. You never have to be scared of me. I will never force myself on you. Never. Didn’t I promise you that?”

Her gorgeous blue gaze fluttered up to him, lidded by dark lashes and the sheen of tears. He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “I’ll say it again: I promise that I will never demand anything from you that you aren’t willing to give, especially that.”

With that said, he reached out his hand in between them, hoping she would take it. Hesitantly, she looked at it, giving him a couple similar glances before she hesitantly reached out to place a hand into his awaiting one.

His smile grew as he pulled her back to the door that connected their rooms. He opened it for her before motioning for her to go through. “I promised your father I would take care of you. I gave my word, and I don’t go back on my word. All I ask is for the chance to prove to you that I will keep that promise.”

Marinette blinked a couple times, her dark lashes glimmering as a tear broke loose and rolled down her cheek.

He desperately wanted to wipe it away, but he had to be cautious of his contact with her. She was scared of him. Of how he might handle her. Right now, the hand she had placed in his was contact enough, and she barely trusted him with that. “This house is now your house, as well,” he said. “You may go anywhere you please and avoid any room you don’t want to be in. Furthermore, you are the lady of this house. The servants don’t get to tell you where you have to go. So I don’t want to see you back in my room unless you wish to be here. All right, my lady?”

Adrien was happy to see the fear slowly fade from her eyes. It never went completely, but rest of her unshed tears started to dissipate. It was a start. “All right,” she agreed.

He rubbed his thumb over her knuckles. “Good. One last thing before you leave for the night: it is my desire that we could, at the very least, become friends, but don’t feel pressured into anything. I know this is a lot to take in. I’m sorry this had to be thrust upon you. Just know that when you’re ready, I would like to try to create a friendship.”

In the candlelight, her eyes seemed to glow. Especially since those brilliant blue orbs were no longer half-covered by her eyelashes or full with tears. Now they looked…surprised. Intrigued. Curious. “All right,” she said once again.

He gave her a smile. A real, large smile that he could feel was genuine. He resisted the urge to kiss her knuckles and instead settled for squeezing her hand before releasing it. “I wish you a good night.”

She curled her hand back up against her chest but didn’t quite drop her gaze from his just yet. “You too.” With that, she hastily retreated back into her room, shutting her door behind her.

Adrien quietly shut his door, then leaned back against it when he felt the energy drain from his legs.

Well, there went any possibility of sleep coming tonight.

At least he had something to do: reassign Marinette’s lady’s maid.

Chapter Text

Marinette’s head felt foggy and heavy when she woke. If it was possible to burry herself in the sheets and hide forever, she would without second thought. However, the urgent need to use the privy forced her out of bed far earlier than she would have liked.

Once that was done, she collapsed back into bed for a while longer, staring up at the white ceiling. Her bed, she noted. With only her in it. Last night, Ms. Mendeleiev had scolded her to go into her husband’s room, to wait like a good wife would.

And Lord Noir sent her back. Back to her own room. Without him.

That was one blessing, she supposed. He seemed to be earnest in his intent to not lay with her. She would try to take them as truth, but she didn’t want to jump to any conclusions prematurely. Only time would tell.

Eventually, she forced herself up, prepared to get ready for the day when her eyes caught sight of the rope hanging from the wall. She had forgotten that she was a proper lady now which meant she was in a different station with different protocols and expectations. One of those being that a proper lady has a lady’s maid to help her. Ms. Mendeleiev had told her that firmly enough last night.

Reluctantly, she pulled the rope then waited for her strict maid to come up. Only, when the door opened, a smiling red-haired woman appeared instead. “Good morning,” she greeted, her voice light and cheery. “I’m Tikki. I’ll be your new lady’s maid.”

Marinette looked at the woman, blinking a few times in surprise. “Pardon?”

Tikki nodded. “Ms. Mendeleiev is the head of the household, so really, it is more efficient to have me be your lady’s maid. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, not at all,” Marinette assured, already feeling more secure with this younger woman than with the older woman from last night.

Tikki’s smile was bright as the sun. “Well then, I suppose you rang for a reason. Let’s get you ready, shall we? And then you can go enjoy a nice breakfast with the others.”

Marinette’s brow scrunched up. “Others?”

“Oh, silly me, I forgot you weren’t told. It was a bit of a surprise, but Baron Lahiffe came last night and said he was going to stay a while. And then Sir Kim is a more or less a permanent resident here. Between you and me,” she said, getting closer to Marinette, “he was dishonored by his family, but since he saved the viscount’s life in battle, Lord Noir wanted to repay that debt and give him a place to live until he proves himself worthy to return home. However, you heard none of that from me, understand?”

Marinette nodded in promise.

“Good. Now let’s find something suitable for you.”

A frown grew across Marinette’s face while her gaze hit the duvet cover. “I’m afraid I don’t have anything suitable. You…must not have heard—”

“That you are a baker’s daughter?” Tikki finished, spinning out of Marinette’s wardrobe for just a moment before returning to rifle through her clothes. “Yes, I heard everything about you from Plagg. Don’t look so down about it. You have nothing to be ashamed of. And you must have something suitable. From what I can tell, you have fine clothes.”

“But nothing suitable for a lady.”

“That will be remedied later. For now, there’s nothing wrong with what you have.” Tikki pulled out a light gray blouse from the closet, inspecting it once over before setting it out. “They are very well made, from the looks of it.”

“I made them myself.”

Tikki spun around back to Marinette, looking pleasantly surprised. “Did you now? Then you are very talented.”

For the first time in days, Marinette felt herself truly smile.

“You have such a pretty smile!” Tikki exclaimed. Marinette looked bashfully up at the maid, her smile still growing. “Maybe we’ll get to see it more frequently, hmm? Now, let’s get going so you can make a splash down in the dining hall at breakfast. There’s nothing like a lady that will get those boys to stop their jabbering non-sense and straighten up.” Tikki pulled out a skirt that had a dull red tone to it. “This will do. It’s a nice color. Red clay?”

Recalling the way her hands were stained red for days, Marinette hid her hands in the sheets as a slight blush tinted her cheeks. “Yes.”

“Clearly, you know quite a bit. Self-taught?”

“I pick up what I can here and there.”

“Good for you. It’s a good skill to have.”

Marinette’s smile stayed all the while she got dressed. Tikki was a warm presence and a very welcome distraction.

“So you made your wardrobe. Do you enjoy sewing?”

“More than anything,” Marinette answered. “I wanted to be a seamstress, but with my parents running a successful bakery, I knew I would work there with them until I married. I sewed for them and some of my friends, but that is all.”

Tikki hummed thoughtfully. “Well, I think you would have been very successful as a seamstress if the quality of your wardrobe is any indication. And I should know since I used to be one myself.”

Eyebrows raising, Marinette turned to Tikki. “Did you really?”

“I did. My first job was working for a duchess. Then I ended up working for the queen.”

Marinette gasped. “Really?”

Tikki nodded excitedly. “She was one of the nicest people. I only got to make one dress for her, but she did love it.”

Marinette could only gape at Tikki. She had been lucky enough to work for the queen? “How did you end up here, then?”

Tikki’s smile faded, and she actually turned a bit sheepish. Her hands curled together under her lowered chin as a nice blush took over her cheeks. “Well…you see…I fell in love with this really wonderful young man. We are very good friends. Very close. But he doesn’t realize I harbor feelings for him. I moved because I didn’t want to be far from him.”

“That’s so precious,” Marinette assured.

“I’m glad you think so. I thought I was crazy.”

Marinette shook her head. “No, not if he’s worth it.”

Tikki sighed, rolling her eyes up to the ceiling. “It might be worth it if he noticed me in that way.”

Marinette couldn’t help but giggle at Tikki’s sarcasm. “Surely one day he’ll wizen up enough to see you.”

“I hope so,” Tikki said dreamily before snapping herself out of it. “Now, enough about me. Let’s focus on you and getting you to breakfast.”

After brushing out her hair to tame her sleep-tangled locks, Marinette tied them back with a ribbon. It was only after some prompting from Tikki that she admitted that she loved her hair in twin tails but thought it was rather childish for a lady.

This brought some loving chastisement from Tikki. “Wear your hair how you love it. No one can tell the lady of the house what to do. Especially when you look as cute as you do.”

Marinette smiled, pink tinting her cheeks as she finished tying her white ribbons into bows. “Thank you, Tikki.”

“Of course. Now, do you remember where the dining hall is, or do you need me to show you?”

“Knowing me, I probably forgot.”

Tikki waved a hand dismissively. “That’s all right. You’ll learn the house like the back of your hand in no time at all. Come on, I’ll show you.”

Tikki flitted down the hallways with ease while Marinette followed by her side, trying to study the pathway from her room to the dining hall. She also was trying to absorb living in such a large house, one large enough to have a dining hall. The home she grew up in was larger than most, yet even then they ate at a table situated in the corner of the kitchen.

“And here we are,” Tikki said quietly outside the open door. “They’ll be waiting in there for you.”

Marinette tried to quell the fluttering ladybugs in her stomach that threatened to make her sick. She forced on a smile. “Thank you, Tikki. I appreciate it.”

With a reassuring smile and a motherly pat on the cheek, Tikki turned and left.

Taking a deep breath with hopes to fortify herself, Marinette walked into the dining hall and was immediately greeted with the sight of three men standing at attention for her. She tried not to duck from embarrassment.

“Good morning, Marinette,” Lord Noir greeted first off, his voice gentle and kind.  Yet, he still wore his mask and cat ears.

Marinette tried to hide her confusion. He was at home. There was no reason to wear them, right?

“So glad you chose to join us this morning. Please, take a seat.” He motioned to the seat at his right, the one next to a man she had never met before.

“Oh, yes, I forgot,” he suddenly seemed to realize. “Marinette, this is my very good friend, Baron Nino Lahiffe.”

“But please, my lady,” the man interrupted. “You may call me Nino. I won’t have the wife of my closest companion call me anything but.”

Lord Noir sent him an approving look.

“Nino it is, then,” Marinette said. “It’s very nice to meet you.”

His broad, white smile stood out against his darker skin. “Likewise.”

“And it is lovely seeing you again, my lady,” Kim spoke up. “Glad you could join us.”

“And nice seeing you, Sir Kim,” she managed.

“Kim,” he replied. He then motioned to all of them. “We are informal here, seeing as we’re all good friends. I’m certain you’ll fit in in no time.”

Marinette wasn’t so sure about that. Yet, somewhere in the depths of her skirts, her fingers were hopefully crossed.


Thirteen was apparently a lucky number because that was how many cracks at his cat ears that it took for Marinette to crack a smile. Every jest at his expense was worth it. Sure, she hadn’t said all that much since joining them for breakfast, but she was smiling as Nino finally told the right joke.

Actually, it was more a jab at his sanity, but minor detail.

Kim joined on board, making a comment about the unlucky black cat.

In hopes to get Marinette’s smile to widen, Adrien playfully shot back, “Yes, says the man who thrives of the luck this black cat brought him.”

Nino sniggered louder as Kim shot him a glare. Adrien inwardly cheered at his success when Marinette discretely covered her growing grin. He wished she didn’t because she had a lovely smile that made her blue eyes glitter like a starry night, but a hidden smile was better than no smile at all.

“Do you see what kind of harassment I must put up with?” Adrien said, leaning over towards Marinette and ensuring the sarcasm in his voice was clearly audible. “It is absurd. I open my house to my so-called friends and they do nothing but mock me.”

“Says the man in cat ears.”

All went silent as Marinette’s smile vanished and eyes widened upon realizing what had just slipped from her mouth. “I’m sorry!” she squeaked. “I didn’t—”

But her words were quickly drowned out by the sudden howling of his two best friends.

Adrien’s sudden surprise gave way to a beaming grin, which seemed to put Marinette at ease. “Oh, no!” he mockingly said, dramatically leaning back in his chair with his hands over his heart. “My wife has turned against me, whatever will I do?”

“Praise God that He gave you a wife that wouldn’t tolerate your whining.”

Kim laughed louder at Nino’s crack. Adrien couldn’t even muster a grin and instead gave his former best friend a deadpan look.

At least Marinette was smiling again. Her smile looked a whole lot nicer than his friend’s smug look.

Breakfast eventually finished, and Marinette was the first to excuse herself from the table.

“I think that went quite well,” Kim commented, still looking a bit smug.

Adrien hummed. “I think you two were a bit over dramatic.”

“Hey,” Nino retorted. “You said that you wanted her to feel comfortable. Maybe to even smile. And we got the girl to smile.”

As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he would. “I didn’t think you two were going to make fun of me.”

“Well, like she said,” Kim commented. “You’re the one wearing cat ears.”

Adrien just rolled his eyes at that. He excused himself from the table with the intent of heading to his study, only to have the fortune to run into Tikki. He should have assigned her as Marinette’s lady’s maid in the first place, but Ms. Mendeleiev was more experienced as well as known for teaching high-class women. He should have gone with his instinct instead of listening to his head. “Tikki.”

The red-haired woman grinned. “Good morning, my lord. I’m guessing you want a report on this morning.”

Adrien smiled. Her ability to know his mind was uncanny. “Yes. How was Marinette this morning? And how did—”

“Marinette is lovely. She’s a dear, really,” Tikki gushed. “And we hit it off well. She’s just a bit shy. I have a feeling she’ll open up given enough time.”

“Well, apparently, she has considering she chose to come down this morning instead of stay up in her room.” Something he was very glad about.

“Of course, she just needed a bit of convincing,” Tikki assured him with a bright grin before growing more serious. “Now, about her impending wardrobe.”

“Oh, yes,” Adrien recalled. “I would put it in your hands, but I know you’re busy.”

“Actually,” Tikki started, “I think she’s more than up to the task of creating her own things.”

At this, Adrien eyed Tikki skeptically.

“Trust me, my lord,” she said. “You should have seen her light up like a sunrise when she told me she created her entire current wardrobe. As you know, I know good work when I see it. She’s more than up to the task.”

Adrien hummed, his brow knitting together hesitantly. “I’m not sure—”

“She told me she wanted to be a seamstress,” Tikki interrupted. “And I think she really could have been a good one. She knows how to manage fabric; I can tell. I can also tell this makes her happy. I think it would be for the best if she got the opportunity to make her wardrobe. I’ll be her watchful eye and teacher, but let her do this. It will make her happy, keep her mind occupied, and give her something to do while she warms up to this place.”

Adrien wanted to remain firm in his previous decision, but with Tikki opposing him… “All right, I’ll make you a deal,” he relented. “One dress. Prove all that to me, and I’ll let her make her wardrobe.”

Tikki’s smile was sunshine. “She’ll be halfway through before you relent. Mark my words.”

Knowing Tikki, she was likely right. Still, he wanted her to prove it before admitting his defeat. He was a push-over, but not that big of one.

At least, that was always what he told himself.

Chapter Text

Dear Maman and Papa,

It feels as though I left forever ago, but I have only been here a week. I miss you very much. I want to come home, but I know I cannot. It feels very odd to be known as Lady Noir. I do not feel like I deserve that title, nor do I feel like it fits. While most girls would be thrilled to marry a viscount, I would be more than happy to give that up to come home to you.

It is so strange. Nothing is the same. I do not have to wake early to assist you with chores. Instead, I have a lady’s maid to help me ready in the morning as well as teach me how to be a proper lady. Can you imagine your clumsy daughter who used to trip over the loose threads of her skirt becoming a proper lady? It is going about that well. My lady’s maid, Tikki, is very kind and has the patience of a saint. I’m not sure how she puts up with me sometimes when all I want to do is give up and go home. I will not lie, I have cried several times, but Tikki is always there to calm me and pat my head and reassure me, like you always do. You would like her very much.

The one thing that keeps me happy is sewing. When Tikki learned I loved sewing, she petitioned Lord Noir to allow me to sew my own wardrobe. She said it took some convincing, but he allowed me to sew one dress in order to critique so that he could decide if I got to sew any more. While it saddens me that the clothes I had sewn are no longer good enough for my new station, Tikki is always there with a smile and encouragement. She had the utmost confidence that Lord Noir would allow me to sew my entire wardrobe, and that I simply needed to prove my skills to him. To say I was nervous was an understatement.

When she brought me the most beautiful pink fabric, I was so excited that I spent most of the day as well as a good portion of the night creating and sewing the gown. I finished it in two days, and while it is the most beautiful thing I have ever created, I feel strange wearing it. It is too high class, and I am almost afraid that I will ruin it, but it is pink and covered with white lace and I love it. Tikki tells me I look like a true princess in it. That compliment scares me more than flatters me because it is the truth. I do look beautiful in it, but I feel like an imposter.

Just yesterday, Lord Noir told me that I was allowed to create the rest of my wardrobe seeing as I did such a fantastic job with my pink dress. Tikki promised to bring me the best fabric she could find. I wanted to go pick out the fabric myself, but Lord Noir didn’t want me to leave the house just yet. Tikki seconded the idea, saying that I should adapt to my home first before I take a tour of the town. I know their true reasoning, though. I heard Lord Noir’s Valet, Plagg, talk about the rumors circulating though the town. I know they want to keep me here at Hall Noir for my protection and safety. After hearing that, the little bit of courage that I had mustered to fight them on the subject disappeared. I just want to stay inside and hide away. It’s the second best option to coming home to you.

Despite what Tikki says, this place is not home to me. I cannot it any conscious call it home. I know one day I’ll have to face that fact, but for now, this it just a house. A large house that I still get lost in. It has three separate seating rooms, a dining hall, several bedrooms, and a library. My own room is large and far too white for my liking, but I have a private bathing room with a huge bathtub and even my own balcony. It gives a nice view of the gardens in the back of the house. Lord Noir told me that I can decorate my room however I wish, but I have not figured out what I want, and I am still slightly nervous to ask.

Lord Noir is a strange man, to say the least. I will put your mind at ease and assure you that Lord Noir has been nothing but a gentleman to me. However, he still wears the mask and these fabric cat ears pinned to his head. I do not know why, nor do I have the courage to ask as of yet. One of these days, I will, but not for a while.

Also, I know you may be wondering why I still refer to him as Lord Noir while he is my husband. Frankly, it does not feel right. He has tried to convince me to call him his given name, but I do not feel comfortable doing so. I think it bothers him that I call him by his title, but he tries not to show it. Instead, he has been spending the past week attempting to make me feel comfortable around him. He has mocked himself in order to get me to smile. He has tried to start conversations with me, however short and vague they may be. He has, and still is, giving his best. I will give credit where credit is due. However, he still feels like a stranger to me.

Furthermore, I wish for you to know that while he is my husband, he seems determined not to lay with me. It is a comfort. The first night here, when my first lady’s maid who was not Tikki sent me into his room, he sent me back, giving me his word. He told me that as of now, he wished to be friends. I want to try, and I have been, but this is all so overwhelming that I feel like I am shutting him out more than anything. He’s a kind and good man, but I am still nervous around him. Is it all right to be? I don’t know. By law, he is my husband. Thinking about this all just makes me confused and scared.

I miss you. I miss seeing you. I miss your hugs and kisses. I miss your wisdom. I wish you were here with me to help me through this. I am so confused and conflicted. Unfortunately, the best I can say to you now is that I love you very much, and that I hope that I will see you again soon.

Love, your daughter, Marinette.

She reread the letter, wiping away the tears in her eyes before they could fall and mar the very pretty paper she had been given to write on. She realized belatedly that she forgot to tell them about Baron Lahiffe and Sir Kim, but she supposed that could wait until the next letter. She honestly didn’t want to rewrite it, not after the two hours she spent composing this one.

She folded it and sealed it with some red wax and her own seal. She removed the metal stamp, observing the loopy swirls left in the wax. L.N. Lady Noir. When Lord Noir had given it to her, he said it was his mother’s seal. He also told her she was allowed to commission a new one if she wished. Marinette had assured him that this one was fine, to which he responded to tell him if she ever changed her mind. She hated that he was spending so much on her. He always offered to change something, to get her something new, to replace things. Frankly, no matter how much she wished to, she was just thankful for what she did have. She would be content for now. She would prioritize the things she truly wished to be different, such as her room being painted. Then maybe different curtains. She would quilt her own bed cover; she had a new pattern she wished to try. She was still deciding if the seal was one of those things she truly wished to replace or not. She was leaning towards yes, but wanted to make certain before asking. She wouldn’t try to be a burden or demanding.

Wiping the remnant of tears off her face, she stood from her seat. She wanted to find Tikki or maybe Plagg and ask them to mail the letter right away. Quickly checking her appearance in her floor length mirror and practicing a smile that would hopefully hide the redness of her eyes, she headed out the door.

There were not many people here. Just Tikki, Plagg, and Ms. Mendeleiev. Lord Noir commented a couple times—never to her specifically, but that she overheard—that if he could find more good people, he would hire them, but no one wanted to work for Chat Noir. It made her slightly nervous to be married to the man that seemingly was cut off of society. Was she worse off for marrying this man?

She tried not to think about it too much.

After wandering the house once over yet finding no one, she tried again. Only to stop when she heard a voice in the library. She turned and walked back to the door she had just passed. Inside, Lord Noir lay on the couch, sleeping apparently. Not wanting to wake him, Marinette nearly took her leave when his whole body flinched. That’s when she noticed his eyes were not just shut but scrunched together. His hands clenched and unclenched, his breathing was rapid and short. “No,” he mumbled. “No. No.”

Marinette leaned forward, half-way frozen in the doorway as she realized he was having a nightmare.

“No,” he huffed, his entire body flinching and heaving. “Stop.”

Suddenly, arm shot forward, and he nearly fell off the couch.

Shocked, Marinette backtracked, hiding outside the door frame, away from view.

She listened for any sign that he had gone back to sleep. Instead, his breathing had changed. Hard and heavy. “Just a dream,” he mumbled. “Just another dream.”

Marinette’s soft heart hurt for him. Was this not his first bad nightmare? Was that why he said another dream?

She heard him shifting, likely to get up, and Marinette began panicking. She should leave. Not let on that she had seen him. 

She barely made it down the hallway when Marinette heard him call out for her. She turned around to see him standing just outside the library. She gave him her forced smile as she approached him. “Hello,” she said shyly. “Um… I’ve been looking for someone to…uh…send out this letter for me.” She raised her letter for him to see.

He gave her a partial smile. “Is it for your parents?”

Marinette felt her cheeks warm as she nodded.

He extended his gloved hand. As Marinette looked at them, she realized she forgot to put that in her letter, too. He always wore those leather gloves. “I’ll have that personally sent off for you.”

“Are you certain?”

He nodded, one of his cat ears coming loose and falling at a slight angle. “Nino is getting stir crazy. He needs something to do.” He looked over her head to something beyond her and raised his voice. “He won’t mind traveling north to personally deliver a letter to my wife’s parents.”

Marinette heard a sigh behind her. “Apparently, it would be my honor.”

With a smug grin, Lord Noir held out her letter for the baron to take.

Nino carefully took the letter and tucked it in his vest. “I’ll go pack for the trip,” he assured her, giving her a smile before turning back to his friend. “By the way, your cat ear’s crooked.

Marinette smiled at the deadpan look the grumpy cat shot his best friend.

Nino thought it was funny as well. “Don’t kill me yet, my friend. You still need me to deliver this,” he said, carefully patting the letter in his vest.

“You’re lucky about that, or else I would have.” It had to be the fifth time this week that Lord Noir disowned Nino as a friend, but Marinette could see the two were closer than brothers.

Nino then turned to shoot a wink at Marinette. “It seems you’re my good luck charm, milady.”

Marinette blushed at that. “My parents always told me I was, despite me having the luck of a black cat.”

Lord Noir grinned at that. “Then maybe we can balance out each other’s luck, hmm?”

Her cheeks burned, and maybe her heart started beating a bit faster in nervousness, but she had learned that he was a tease. She knew she could handle him. She could handle her papa with his terrible puns and jokes. This man had proved himself not to be much different. “We’ll have to see about that, milord. We’ll see.”

Chapter Text

As Marinette looked up at the full moon from her balcony, she thought about her parents. They had to have gotten the letter today, that is, as long as Nino didn’t have any setbacks. Maybe they were rereading the letter she had sent for the third time today, or maybe they were responding to her. She hoped so. She desperately wanted to know how they were coping without her.

She pulled her cloak around her as a cool night breeze blew by. Actually, it wasn’t her cloak, but the prince’s. The one she had received early winter. The one she prized heavily. Who wouldn’t? He was the prince. He had bestowed a gift upon her, and no matter how small, she would treasure it for as long as it lasted.

She snuggled deeper into the warm fabric. The soft fabric. It was so very fine, nothing she could afford herself. But it was so snuggly and made her oh-so-happy. She sighed as she shifted deeper into the chill-blocking fabric.

“What has you smiling so?”

Marinette swore she leapt several feet in the air when it was more likely just a few inches. She whipped around towards the voice, looking over at Lord Noir’s balcony next to hers only to find it empty.

“Up here.”

Up? Marinette raised her head, and her eyes widened when she saw the black-cloaked figure on the roof. “Lord Noir? What are you doing up there?”

“You can get the best view of the stars,” he answered easily. “Would you like to join me?”

Marinette’s brow screwed upwards in confusion and uncertainty. “I’m not sure. Is it safe?”

“I do it all the time and haven’t had issue with it.”

Marinette stared at him a little longer, debating, but it seemed he was tired of waiting because he came over to the roof above her balcony, sitting down on the edge so that he didn’t have to yell at her across the way. “It’s a lovely night. A bit chilly but nice all the same.”

“I suppose so,” Marinette replied, tightening her grip on the cloak. She glanced up at the sky riddled with stars. “Do you always spend your night stargazing?”

“Most,” he replied.

“You must enjoy it then?”

“It reminds me of my mother.”

Any response died in her throat. Actually, died may not be an appropriate word as of now. “She…she passed on?”

Lord Noir nodded his response. “I miss her.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Thank you.” He then extended a hand to her. “Come up and join me?”

Marinette looked at the extended hand. An offering. One she was tempted to take. She wanted to make an effort in this friendship he wanted. He was kind and likable. And he was her husband to whom she was bonded with permanently. She didn’t want to hate him. “How,” she started, looking at his hand far out of her reach, “how do I get up there?”

He walked over to the section of roof just above the railing of her balcony. “Step up on the railing. I’ll help you up.”

Warily, she eyed the railing. Did he not know how clumsy she was?

“I’ll catch you,” he said as if sensing her hesitation. “Don’t worry.”

Deciding to take the chance, she stepped over to the railing near the roof. He was on his knees, his hand outstretched so she could reach it. All she had to do was step on the sturdy wood railing. With his hand in her sights, she hitched up her skirts so as to step up on the rail, using it to launch herself in the air and reach for his hand.

He easily caught it and used his grip on her to assist her in fully standing on the railing. Once she was steady, he let go of her hand to grab her torso and pull her up on the roof with him. She gasped at the suddenness of it but managed to grab his shoulders and curl her legs up so he could set her down beside him.

His hands didn’t linger any longer than necessary, letting her go as soon as she was securely on the roof. However, they did hover beside her to grab her if she slid.

Her heart beating fast, she shifted so she was sitting comfortably. Only once she was settled did Lord Noir relax and eye the stars again.

Marinette sat in the quiet, looking up at the stars. Uncountable, some brighter than the rest, some tinged with color. All against a midnight blue while a partial moon the color of the daytime sky glowed over the land.

Another breeze blew past, but it felt lighter than before. Only then did she realize that Lord Noir had placed himself between her and the wind. Did he do that on purpose, or was it coincidental?

She curled up in her cloak, finding it brought a measure of comfort against more than just the cool night air. “Aren’t you cold?” she asked.

He shook his head, his blonde hair ruffling as he did. “No. Not really, but the cold doesn’t bother me much. You?”

“I’m all right. My cloak is thick enough.”

He gave her a smile. Even in the moonlight, she could tell it was forced. “It’s all right to ask for things, you know,” he said. “I am a wealthy man. I can afford to grant you your heart’s desires. You seem like a practical girl, and so I understand if you’re afraid to ask for those things. But please, at least let me grant you your needs. If this cloak is too thin, tell me.”

She could hear the plea in his voice. Raw and open. He wanted her to feel safe enough to ask him. It put a small smile on her face. “Really,” she assured. “This cloak is the thickest and warmest cloak I have. I’m warm right now. I’m simply sensitive to cold.”

“Then I’ll make sure you have plenty of thick clothing,” he promised. “I won’t have you going cold.”

Marinette’s gaze fell from his. His eyes seemed to glow green and burned with a fiery intensity that backed his promise. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. And when you’re ready to tell me how you want your room to be changed, you can tell me. Nothing will be too big to grant you.”

She felt her cheeks warm despite the cool breeze.

“And the letter seal as well,” he continued. She could now hear the smile in his tone. “When you’re ready and have a design, I’ll get it commissioned. All right?”

“Why do you care so much?”

While not what she meant to say, at all—she actually felt her cheeks heat up twice-fold—it was a question she wanted to know the answer to. She forced herself to meet his gaze.

He looked at her with a gentle smile that was warm enough to counter the cool spring air. “Because you are my wife. No matter if that means a marriage of convenience, demand, or love, that means I take care of you. I vowed it already. I do not go back on my word.”

“But…I mean…” Marinette stuttered out. “You…I know you, Nino, and Kim have been putting on a show for me, trying to include me, trying to make me feel comfortable. Why go through all that?”

“Because no matter how you came to be my wife, you are my wife,” he responded. “I want you to feel comfortable around me. I don’t want to be living with someone yet not know them. I want you to feel like you can trust me. Like I said that first night you came, I want to be friends, and I will do everything I can to be a friend to you.”

Marinette let those words sink in, slowly at first. Then all at once, she could feel the truth pouring from them. A smile rose on her lips, reaching her eyes in a way it hadn’t in weeks. “You know, there are men who claim they marry for love, yet don’t possess half the heart I see in you.”

She watched his eyes widen, and she felt her cheeks flair with heat. Still, she forced herself to press on. “I want to be friends, too.” All though her voice was now barely a whisper, she knew he had heard her.

A large smile split his face. “Maybe we can make it work, then?”

Her smile didn’t falter. “Maybe.”

A new kind of silence slipped between them as they stared up at the stars. It only lasted a short while before it was broken by Marinette yawning.

“It’s late,” Lord Noir said. “You should go to sleep.”

“So should you,” she quickly returned.

If she didn’t know any better, his smile was slightly rueful. “I will after you.”

Dumbly, she nodded. “Um…” she realized, looking at the roof tiles under her. “How do I get down?”

Lord Noir slid down the roof before expertly hopping off of it and landing on the railing below. He extended his arms to her, beckoning her closer. She shuffled over to him, steadying her hands on his shoulders while he grabbed her waist and lowered her to the railing that he balanced effortlessly on. He then held her hand for her balance while she hopped off the railing and back onto the steady surface of her balcony.

“Thank you.”

His response was a warm smile and a kiss on her knuckles. “Good night, my lady.”

She retracted her hand from his. “Good night.”

She watched as he easily hopped back on the roof, then jumped straight off onto his balcony. With a shake of her head, Marinette retreated to her room that was warmed by the fire. She relished being out of the cold.

But she realized that, honestly, she wouldn’t have minded being out there a moment longer with him, either.

Chapter Text

 Marinette stared once again over the insane array of dishes, silverware, and who-knows-what-else all set up on the table in front of her. Tikki—patient as ever, bless her heart—was once again going over the proper dinnerware, its place on a table, its timing in a meal, and how to hold said item. It was after staring at the fourth different spoon for the third time that Marinette grew hopelessly overwhelmed.

Tikki sighed and replaced the spoon on the table before reaching over to rest a comforting hand on Marinette’s shoulder while the girl fought the urge to cry into her hands.

At least there were three kinds of napkins for her to cry her tears into. She just didn’t know which one to use.

“The lesson looks like it’s going well.”

“Plagg!”

Marinette looked through her fingers to see the smirking butler. Tall, thin, and snarky, Marinette had a hard time believing that this was the man Tikki moved for. Hopefully, she got to see some redeeming qualities soon, or else she would have to have a discussion with Tikki about quality men.

“I hate to interrupt it,” Plagg continued, sarcastic as ever. “Shame I have to, but Marinette is needed at the front of the house.”

“Where?” Marinette asked, removing her hands from her face and trying to regain her composure. The front of the house could mean any of three different rooms, the foyer, or either of the two hallways at the front of the house.

“You’ll know. You’ll hear the bickering,” Plagg replied, a hint exasperated.

Bickering? What were the men bickering about that she was needed? With a sigh, Marinette stood from her seat, happy to get away from the table. She spared a glance at Tikki.

She waved a hand dismissively. “We’ll call the lesson ended for today. Plagg will lead you while I clean this up.”

Marinette frowned at the table full of dishes. She hated leaving all the work to Tikki, but before she could even open her mouth to offer to help, Tikki gave her a gentle shove forward. “Go on.”

With a sigh, Marinette relented and followed Plagg. Sure enough, she could soon hear the squabble, but one voice was distinctly female. A guest?

Marinette’s heart picked up its pace. She didn’t know how to accept a guest into the house yet. Tikki had touched the topic once or twice, but they hadn’t gotten that far in her training yet.

“I’m not hot-headed.”

“I beg to differ.”

“Then clearly, you never dropped everything to help a friend.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about and you know it.”

“Then please, elaborate.”

“Oh, really? You need me to elaborate? Says the girl who told me at least five times on the way over how I don’t need to explain anything to her?”

The woman growled, clearly being the loser of that fight.

“How they managed not to kill each other this far is miraculous,” Plagg grumbled from her side.

Now curious because she swore she knew that voice, Marinette peeked around the corner of the hallway into the main foyer. Only for her face to split into a grin at the sight of a very-put-out brunette. “Alya!”

The girl looked up. Instantaneously, a smile replaced any hint of previous exasperation. “Marinette!”

Marinette braced for the impact of her friend as Alya ran to her. Admittedly, the smaller girl was running towards her friend, too. They collided, nearly toppling to the floor in the process. But they held themselves up and embraced in a tight hug. “Girl, I’ve missed you so much!”

“I’ve missed you, too. Everyone, really.”

“Well, I’m here now,” Alya excitedly replied.

Someone cleared their throat. Marinette straightened, mostly because it was a sudden reminder that maybe this behavior wasn’t appropriate for the lady of the house. Pulling away from Alya, who looked like she had come to a similar conclusion, Marinette glanced behind her to see Lord Noir standing there.

Alya caught a glimpse of him, too, and immediately dipped into a curtsy. “My lord.”

Marinette wasn’t quite sure what to do in this situation, silently looking at Lord Noir’s face for some guidance or a hint. During another rooftop talk last night, he had assured her that she was doing well in etiquette lessons and that she should stop fretting so much about them. He also assured her that he would always assist her should the need arise. Well, a need had risen.

And he just smiled softly at her, glancing to Alya, then her.

Introductions. Right. She could do that.

“This is Alya Cesaire,” Marinette said, walking over to Lord Noir’s side. “She is my best friend. We grew up together.” She then turned to Alya. “Alya, this is Lord Noir.” She then glanced around the room. Continue introductions. Right. “Then behind you, you’ve meet Lord Lahiffe, my…uh…husband’s best friend. Then, we have Plagg, the main butler. And Sir Kim, another good friend of Lord Noir,” she added upon seeing a familiar red tunic-ed man walk into the fray.

“It is a pleasure to meet you,” Lord Noir said.

“The pleasure is mine,” Alya politely replied.

“What brings you?” Lord Noir continued, much to Marinette’s relief. She wasn’t sure how to direct the conversation. “Visiting my wife?”

“And bringing her a letter from her parents,” she added.

Marinette lit up like a sunrise at the mention of a reply. She would be excited to read it, even though she had the feeling it might involve needing a handkerchief or two.

“Very good,” Lord Noir said, smiling down at Marinette before turning back to Alya. “And you will be staying around for a while?”

At this Nino scoffed. Marinette was hard-pressed to miss the sour look on his face or the way Alya steeled herself. “Actually, sir, I hope to stay much longer. I have heard that you are in need of employees, and I have recently lost my job as a maid for Duke Bourgeois. I wish to put in an application for work, sir.”

At first, Marinette was shocked. How could have Alya, one of the most respectable and hard-working persons she knew, have lost her job? Then it turned to anger because Chloe likely had something to do with it. Then hope filled her because if Alya was able to stay here…

“Do you have a reference? I make it a habit not to hire people without them.”

Marinette caught the smirk on Nino’s face as well as the disappointment on Alya’s. “Unfortunately, sir, I do not.”

Marinette’s eyes widened. She glanced up at Lord Noir, waiting for the catch, waiting for him to say that it didn’t matter and he’d hire her anyway. But neither happened. Instead, he was looking down at her, a brow raised questioningly. That’s when it hit her. She was the catch.

“I can give Alya a reference,” she spoke up. “She’s hardworking and able to handle anything. She’s the oldest of six, so even prior to working as a maid in the Bourgeois household, she was working hard, and she’s determined enough to prove that no task is too big for her. She’s not one to turn tail and run when things are difficult. Furthermore, she’s able to handle secrecy very well. Anything she happens to hear or discover will stay with her. And she stands firm in her word and stances. She’s not a push-over. She’s steady, reliable, and dependable. You won’t find many workers like her.”

When she finished, Lord Noir was looking down at her with pride. “That’s quite a recommendation.” He glanced back up at Alya, who was standing tall with a slight smile aimed at Marinette’s direction. “I’ll have to think about it. For the meantime, you two can visit. Show Alya around. If she is to work here, she’ll have to know the house anyways.”

With a smile, Marinette reached out to touch his arm. “Thank you.”

He patted her hand before she could pull away. “Of course.” He then turned to take his leave. “Nino, compose yourself. You look ridiculous.”

Marinette stole a glance at the man, who looked like he had just sustained a slap from his friend. It took him a moment to break out of his trance and high-tail it after his friend.

With a studious gaze, Alya watched the two men walk away. “He seems…interesting.”

“Very much so,” Marinette agreed.

Her friend then leaned in close. “Is it true?” she whispered. “That he hasn’t forced you to lay with him?”

Marinette nodded. “He’s…he’s actually very kind.”

Bewildered by Marinette’s tone, Alya looked at her friend then to where Lord Noir disappeared to. “Well, girl, for your sake, I really hope he is even more than he appears to be.”


 

“Buddy, are you kidding me?” Nino said to Adrien once the two were out of ear-shot. “She’s obnoxious and—”

“I remember her.” Adrien interrupted. “I didn’t officially meet her, but our paths did cross. She pulled Marinette away when Theo and I were getting lectured by Mr. Damocles and Duke Bourgeois.”

Sufficiently silenced, Nino couldn’t do much more than gape.

“I can tell they are close. I don’t want Alya to go for Marinette’s sake. Having another girl around for her would only be a benefit.”

“Then why bother with the whole ‘reference’ thing? I know that’s some deeply ingrained habit, and a good one at that, but if you wanted the girl around for Marinette—"

"I wanted..." he started before the words seemingly died on his tongue. “I wanted to see her defend Alya. I...I wanted to give her a chance to see if she would stand up to me.” Adrien felt his shoulders slump forward. “She’s still nervous around me.”

“Buddy,” Nino cajoled, “it’s not like you two were married under the best of circumstances. And still, look at how far she’s come. I’m not surprised that she’s still nervous around you—”

“She won’t even call me by my name,” Adrien said. That was what really was bothering him. “And did you hear how she introduced me as her husband? Like she was ashamed.”

Nino sighed, struggling as he tried to figure out how to calm his friend. “Just give it time. It’s only been a couple of weeks. She might need years. Not everyone can form instant friendships like us, or you and Kim.”

Adrien was reluctant to agree, but he supposed he would have to. It just hurt that the girl who wasn’t scared of him before was nervous around him now. The girl that wasn’t afraid to give her cloak to a stranger or fight with the Prince of Paris over who should be wearing his cloak—the cloak that he was thrilled to know she kept and loved—was still nervous around him. The Prince of Paris downgraded to a Viscount and damned with bad luck.

It was hardly a wonder, but Adrien hated swallowing bitter pills like that.

“Work on spending time with her,” Nino suggested, pulling Adrien out of his self-pity. “Take her out for a ride around the grounds. If you’re with her, she’ll be fine. And she hasn’t seen the grounds yet. Getting out of the house will be good for her. And you. You spend too much time inside.”

Adrien wanted to argue that he had good reason for it, but Nino wouldn’t buy it. He never did. So Adrien mulled it over a moment before agreeing. “Fine. You’re right.”

“As usual.”

“Don’t push it.”

Nino’s smirk didn’t dissipate until they were walking past Adrien’s office. Nino nudged his friend, pointing towards the door.

Adrien’s good mood fell as he walked into the room and shut the door behind him. “I don’t like that look.”

“I delivered the letter as soon as I got there. Her parents are pretty nice, by the way. Lucky you considering the size of her dad.”

Adrien knew that to be true. Especially since his first impression of the man was him storming down the hallways after learning the bad news about his daughter. Adrien counted himself lucky that he had found favor with his father-in-law.

“As I waited for them to write a reply, I walked around trying to catch the latest gossip and whatnot. Let me tell you, that town is pretty loose-lipped. Besides hearing about twenty different versions of the baker’s daughter marrying you, there’s a couple about the war.”

“Tell me all of them.”

“Best I can tell is that the King of France is obsessed with finding something that he thinks your father has. I heard one rumor from a soldier at a tavern that the king hired assassins to invade the land and whoever got the items for him would marry his daughter.”

“How would you gage his sanity?”

“The soldier or the king?”

“Soldier.”

“Well, drunk off his rocker likely in an attempt to forget what he was talking about in the first place. My guess was he’s not making it up.”

Pushing past the pity in his heart for the soldier, Adrien forced himself to focus. Throughout his brief stint on the battlefield, he heard a lot of rumors. In fact, he’d like to say he learned more from rumors than he had from the spies. Adrien would like to think that he learned how to pick out the truths from the falsehoods for the most part. “If I have to guess, I’d agree with that. Considering the assassin that tried to kill me not all that long ago.”

“Yeah, but we learned Theo gave him those orders, not the king. Besides, why would one of those assassins go after you? No one knows that Viscount Noir is actually the Prince of Paris. We work hard to make sure of that.”

“Yes, but most people are aware that Viscount Noir is in line for the throne. One of the assassins could have believed I knew something about what the king was looking for.”

Nino thought about it before shrugging. “I don’t think so, but you won’t let me rule it out completely.”

Nino was right about that.

“But that isn’t the worst of your problems right now.”

A ball of lead settled in the pit of Adrien’s gut. “No?”

“I spent some time in the high-class circle when I was there. They can’t stop talking about your recent marriage either, especially one Chloe Bourgeois and her honorable father. But she’s more bemoaning the fact that she hadn’t heard from Lord Barbot in weeks. In fact, no one has. Supposedly, he just up and vanished.”

Adrien sighed, growing sicker by the moment. “Well, that’s just wonderful.”

Nino grunted. “I’ve paid off a few people to keep me posted.”

“Who?”

“Lady Juleka, Sir Ivan, and that portrait painter, Nathaniel.”

“Good choices. Remind me later to reimburse you.”

“Trust me, I will.”

“Anything else I should know about.”

Nino’s frown deepened.

Which didn’t bode well for Adrien. “Well?”

“Well,” Nino continued slowly. “I also heard from Chloe that they were leaving that night to go to a small party your father was throwing. And with it being a only a two-day trip to the castle—”

“My father already knows about my marriage,” Adrien finished, rubbing his suddenly tired eyes. He wanted to wait to tell his father. Wanted to give Marinette time to prepare to handle this. Wanted to postpone the inevitable backlash he was going to get for his marriage to a common girl. Instead, his father was going to learn about it from Chloe Bourgeois.

This was not going to end well for him.

Chapter Text

Theo’s footsteps echoed like thunder as he strolled down the dark corridor. Night was falling, meaning the torches would soon have to be lit in order to see in the stone castle. Surely they would be by the time Theo had finished meeting with the king. He approached two large double doors at the end of the hallway and firmly rapped his knuckles against one of them.

Slowly, the door opened, revealing a tall, brown-haired man. Theo smirked straight at him. “Jalil.”

The man sneered back. “Theo.”

Theo raised a taunting brow at him, wondering with amusement how long this stand-off would last.

A decent time, it seemed. “King Hawkmoth has been expecting you,” Jalil finally ground out.

Theo smirked. “Practicing defiance again, are we?”

Jalil snorted in disgust but gave no other answer.

Theo tsked him. “Would be a shame if your sister got in trouble for tha—”

“You leave her out of this,” Jalil growled, his eyes piercing Theo with a glare.

Theo made a show of thinking it over. “All right. This time. But remember our little conversation for next time I arrive, hmm?”

Leaving the sneering servant in his wake, Theo marched onwards and forwards, past the king’s chair and to the door hidden behind the curtains that framed the dais. The door that led up to the main tower.

Four rounds of stairs led him to the top where a man in deep purple stood leaning on his cane as he gazed out the large window that was a quarter the size of the circle room.

“Was Jalil giving you trouble again?”

“Why you bother keeping him around is my question, sire,” Theo replied.

“Because it amuses me.”

Theo huffed, a small smile on his face. “Enjoying trying to break him are you?”

“He will snap,” the man spoke confidently. “Just give him time.”

“I’d say try to break the sister first. Then you’ll have him.”

“Hmm. Interesting concept.” The man finally turned around to face Theo. “One I could see working. It does very much seem to bother him when she’s punished.”

“So you haven’t been trying to break her? Or have you?”

His thin face stretched into a look of disdain at the mere mention of the girl. “She’s a little spitfire, that one. Stronger than the brother. She won’t break easily.”

“Line up your best men,” Theo suggested amusedly, “then go down the row and see how long she lasts. My guess is it will only take three.”

Hawkmoth chuckled. “I don’t always approve of your methods, but sometimes one must think outside the box. I’ll take that into consideration. But that’s not the reason you’re here.”

Theo’s expression fell.

And so did Hawkmoth’s. “No progress made yet, then?”

“Some,” he tried to appease. “I’ve located both jewels.”

Hawkmoth smirked. “Hmm. You’ve crossed the earrings, then?”

On a very lovely pair of ears, Theo might add. “I have.”

“But you haven’t retrieved them?”

Theo bit the inside of his cheek. “They’ve fallen into…difficult hands.”

“A challenge, then.” Hawkmoth tapped the end of his cane on the ground a few times. “Very well. It will force you to prove yourself. I’ve heard that you get what you want all too easily.”

Theo reined in his urge to scowl.

“Running a kingdom isn’t easy, you know,” Hawkmoth continued. “Nor is obtaining one. Do you know how long I worked and how patiently I waited for this kingdom to fall into my hands?”

“Ten years?” Theo recalled.

“Yes,” he said. “Ten years of hard work. But now, I see the fruits of my labors. And no one will take it from me. If I am to assure that my legacy continues, the man who marries my niece must prove to have the same gumption I have. He must prove that he’s willing to go to whatever lengths necessary. And if you want to run the kingdom, you must prove that you won’t back down from any challenge put before you. Understand?”

“Completely,” Theo assured.

“Good.” With that, Hawkmoth turned back to the window, ending the conversation. In the distance, beyond the walls, the village could be seen, and beyond that, the smoky sky caused by the war. One orchestrated by Hawkmoth’s own hand.

Theo eyed the man skeptically. The jewels were hardly worth the mess. They were just jewels. Ancient jewels, sure. Ones deeply ingrained in the history of the kingdoms even. The Earrings of the Kingdom of Paris. The Ring of Kingdom of France. The purest gems inside the rarest metal. Pricy and valuable? Yes. Worth a war? Not in Theo’s eyes.

Actually, the war might not even be over the gems as Theo assumed it to be. The only one who knew what this war was about was Hawkmoth, and he wasn’t explaining his reasoning. Not that Theo cared for that. What Theo did care for was their bargain, and that it was upheld. Bring the gems to Hawkmoth, and Theo inherited the Kingdom of France. He’d happily take that. And he didn’t have to soil his hands with war or murder. Not by his hand, at least.

He exited the tower and passed Jalil cleaning the room while he was walking out of it. Pathetic, really. Did Hawkmoth really think he could break a man like that? Over time, maybe. Maybe that was Hawkmoth’s style. Theo preferred to break someone in one fell swoop. A couple firm beatings, at most. Jalil was hearty and determined, but as Hawkmoth pointed out, he drew strength from his sister, and Theo suspected that she drew strength from her brother as well. It was a delicate balance that could be tossed to chaos in short order. Theo felt a grin grow across his face. Yes, Jalil would be fun to break because simply because Theo wouldn’t even have to touch him. He could watch the man shatter before his eyes with minimal effort.

“I thought I recognized the horse in front.”

Theo smirked at the voice, then turned to meet the gaze of a brunette in a vibrant orange gown, one that dipped low in the front and trained long in the back. “Lila. Lovely seeing you again, my dear.”

She smiled coyly. “You left far too soon for my liking last time. Are you staying a while?”

“I don’t know,” he responded, playing into her game. “The battle line is difficult to cross. I have to wait carefully for the right time.”

Lila pouted. “I don’t like the sounds of that.” She sauntered up to him, her gown trailing behind her, pulling on the floor and accentuating her swaying hips. She slipped her hands around his arm. “Walk with me. What did my uncle have to say?”

Theo glanced down at her hands, the way they curled around his bicep and never ceased to stop feeling him up, even if it was to make slow circles on his arm. “He was at least pleased that I found the earrings.”

Lila scoffed. “It’s madness. All he wants is those gems to impress a woman long dead.”

“Yes, the love of his life,” Theo recalled. “Never told me who it was, though. She’s deceased?”

Her olive green eyes looked up at him from under thick lashes. “I’d be willing to tell you more if you stayed a while for me to do so.”

He had to give it to her, she knew what she wanted and how to get it. Maybe that was one of the reasons that made her fun. It wasn’t a chase, it was a game. Who got more, who gave more. Maybe that what why he liked this so much, what drew him to her specifically. It was so much more stimulating than other conquests. And she was so much more entertaining. “Then maybe,” he drawled out, “I’ll have to stick around a while.”

“I like the sound of that.”

They turned a corner in the hallway, and Theo saw a girl on her knees dunking a scrub brush into a wooden pail of soapy water. Now that was who he wanted to see. Little Alix, pink hair pulled into a scruffy mess, her dress tattered, and an obvious bruise on her eye. It seems Hawkmoth was trying to break her after all. But Theo also saw the fire in her eyes as she scrubbed the floor, meaning that whatever that man was doing wasn’t working.

As he and Lila walked past, he watched her spit on the floor in front of her, discretely enough for only someone watching her to see it. Lila didn’t pay the girl any attention, but Theo hadn’t taken his gaze off her. To further insult him, she shot him a smug look, daring him to do something about it.

With his heel, he flicked her entire bucket of dirty soap water in her direction. She gasped as the water soaked the entire bottom half of her dress and splashed up to her face.

Theo smirked at the appalled girl before spitting on the floor before her. Two could play at this game.

But the girl just had to steal the fun out of his victory. She stood and bowed before them. “Forgive me,” she said, the edge to her voice giving away her irritation. “It seemed I made a mess. Excuse me while I get a mop to clean it up.” With that, she turned and left, her dress still dripping but her chin held high.

“Wretch,” Lila mumbled, just loud enough in the empty hallway that Alix undoubtedly had to have heard it.

Theo couldn’t help but agree. That girl needed a lesson. And if he had to break her himself, so be it. That hoyden wouldn’t last once. He’d make sure of it.

Chapter Text

Adrien laid on the roof of the house, his eyes shut against the stars. They weren’t pulling him tonight. Not when he had so many worries on his mind. Theo be damned, his father was undoubtedly coming and that shot more fear into Adrien than he cared to admit. He only had so much time before his father made an appearance, and he still had to prepare Marinette to meet him.

And then there was that wonderful thing of actually having to tell Marinette that he was actually the Prince of Paris.

He groaned, rubbing his eyes against the exhaustion that brought on.

“Lord Noir?”

Marinette’s melodic voice floated up to him. He forced himself to sit upright and was greeted with the sight of Marinette looking up towards his section of roof.

“Is everything all right?” she asked.

He huffed, not wanting to say no but not wanting to lie either.

After waiting for an answer that didn’t come, she walked over to the section of railing that met the wall. “Can I come up with you?”

The answer to that would always be yes. Adrien rose from his spot and walked over to where Marinette stood. He reached down, extending a hand for her so she could use it for balance as she leaped up upon the thick railing. Then, as always, he’d pull her up and set her beside him before they scooched back away from the edge of the roof.

Once on the roof, Marinette settled herself beside him. First, the skirt of her dress. This one was a light blue that complimented her eyes. He had to admit she was doing a wonderful job on the dresses. Fit for a queen. Or, more appropriately, a princess. Then Marinette adjusted the cloak—his cloak, he reminded himself with some pride—around her shoulders before sighing in contentment.

He smiled at her. She was just so precious.

“You never answered my question,” Marinette broke in. “I’m assuming that means no? That something is wrong?”

Adrien gave a half-grin, half-grimace. “Yes.”

Marinette sank deeper into the cloak. “Does it,” she stuttered out quietly. Guiltily. “Does it have something to do with me?”

“No!” Adrien quickly answered. “No. At least…not like that.”

“But still a problem with me.” Her voice was so self-depreciating, it was like an arrow to his heart.

“No,” he assured. “No. Nothing is wrong with you. Nothing at all. It’s…it’s my father.”

Marinette’s brow furrowed. “What’s wrong? Is he all right?”

Adrien sighed. How to put this? How to put this…? “He’s fine. He’s…he’s heard that we married. At least, I’m assuming he has. And if I know him, he’s not going to be happy about it.” And that was the understatement of the century.

“Because I’m not of your station.”

It broke his heart that she was so conscious of her class. Embarrassed by the fact that she was born a baker’s daughter. She had been well-off. She had been one of the best of the eligible young maidens in her village. She had good status, a good family, and was well on her way to having a bright and happy future. And then Theo had to ruin it for her. Cause her to be thrown into a world where she was no longer one of the highest, but the lowest.

“I knew it,” Marinette whispered, taking his silence the wrong way. “I knew you would regret this. I should have denied your proposal. Saved you from all this.”

He swore his heart stopped right there. “No. Marinette—”

“You won’t say it,” she continued over him. “You’re too considerate for that, but I knew you would regret this. I knew it would come back to haunt you. I’m sorry for ruining your future.” She started sliding forward to the edge of the roof, ready to leave him. But he wasn’t ready for her to go. Not in the slightest.

“Marinette.” He reached forward and snatched her wrist, preventing her from going any further. “Please, will you look at me?”

She did, mostly because she had no other choice, unless she wanted to stay in a stand-off all night because there was no way he was letting her go until he said his piece.

He took a breath to fortify himself against the tears shimmering in her eyes and the raw hurt beyond that. It was killing him slowly. “I. Do not. Regret you.” He paused to let those words sink in while he pieced together his next sentence. “I don’t regret marrying you. I don’t regret having you here. I don’t regret calling you my wife. And I don’t think it will be possible for me to regret you.”

A tear escaped. “You may not now, but you will.” She sniffed and swiped at the tear. “I know that you’re in line for the crown. With the prince still lost at war…” her voice trailed off and she clutched the cloak tighter around her shoulders. “There’s a very real possibility you’ll be stepping up to take that role. You need someone to stand by your side and be your equal. And that’s not me.”

It suddenly got a whole lot harder for him to breathe. He should tell her right now. Be honest with her. Say “I’m here.” Say “I’m the prince. He’s not lost. You married him.”

But he couldn’t. The words sat on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn’t force them out any further. Slowly, he thought that maybe that was for the best. Because here he was trying to get her to just stay and that alone might be enough to send her running.

“So while we may become good friends,” Marinette continued. “While we can pretend that is all we have to be, we cannot ignore the fact that I am you wife. That whatever station you advance to, I will always be sorely unprepared for. And sorely undeserving of.”

When his grip loosened in shock, Marinette ripped herself free from his grasp. Acting on instinct, he grabbed her by the waist and pulled her back up to his side. Maybe he was a bit too rough, maybe he was a bit too desperate, but it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was the way she squealed out in fear and struggled against him, her breath coming hard and fast while her blue eyes were wide as a doe’s.

He backed away, trying to give her space, only for her to scoot away from him. It was like a vice to his chest. Nice going, idiot, he mentally scolded.

She swallowed, then took a deep breath before resituating herself on the roof.

“I’m sorry,” he finally said. Took you long enough. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I…I just wanted you to stay.”

“No, I…I know,” Marinette responded, her voice wavering slightly as she forced another breath. “It just caught me off-guard.”

“I’m sorry,” he repeated.

She nodded in understanding but settled the cloak around her shoulders as if she was uncomfortable.             

Adrien just wanted to make it right. Maybe that’s why his mouth wouldn’t stop moving. “I just wanted you to stay. I couldn’t let you believe…I couldn’t let you walk away believing that you were a burden to me. Because you aren’t.”

She shifted but still didn’t move any closer to him, and he didn’t dare move closer to her. “Then…what am I to you?” she asked. “A friend? A wife? Because I can’t say I’m either of those things.”

Now, when he actually needed to speak, he couldn’t. He started mentally kicking himself over and over and over. “I don’t know yet,” he finally said. “And I think it’s too early to call what we have anything other than strange.”

“I can agree with that,” Marinette easily responded. “This is just…I still don’t know how to respond to it or what to make of it.”

“Nor do I,” Adrien agreed.

“I know you want to be friends,” Marinette continued. “I want to be friends. But that doesn’t negate the fact that…that we’re married. We can pretend we aren’t as much as we want, but then we’re just skirting the reality. This letter from your father, his obvious disapproval of me…it just furthers the fact that I’ll never be what you need. I’m no lady.”

“That’s a lie,” Adrien interrupted.

“Really?” Marinette scoffed. “What makes you believe that? Because all I see is a girl who is nearly too scared to face her husband to even stand up for her best friend. I see someone who can’t tell the difference between dinnerware, a girl who trips over her own feet at times. I’m not even comfortable calling my husband by his first name. What kind of wife does that? What kind of friend does that?” Her voice grew more frantic as her rant continued, and soon those tear trails on her cheeks glistened brighter. “I’m still unable to fully wrap my head around the fact that I’m a wife and that I have a husband that I should be taking care of and that I want to take care of yet I’m so awkward and I can’t be what he needs and I don’t know how to be a lady because I’m just a baker’s daughter and I’m not cut out for this life and I miss my parents and…and…I just don’t know anything anymore.”

With that, Marinette burst into a flurry of hysterical tears.

Personal space be damned, Adrien was by her side in a heartbeat. He wrapped her up in his embrace, like he could possibly protect her from the world. If he could protect her from her thoughts, he would. Unfortunately, as it would seem, he couldn’t do anything more than hold her, then to pull her into his lap and hold the sobbing girl in his arms as best he could. And while his heart broke into about twenty little pieces for her, he counted it a personal victory that she didn’t try to weasel away. That, in fact, she buried her head into his shoulder and grabbed hold of him. The only thing that was keeping his heart together and not letting it dissolve into a shattered mess was the small yet comforting fact that she found comfort in this. In him.

Eventually, her breathing evened out. Her sputtering sobs died away. All that was left was her in his embrace. “Better?” he whispered.

He felt her nod against his chest.

“Good. Now you can listen to me.” He shifted her away from his chest just enough so that she would look into his eyes. And if he subconsciously wiped her cheeks, then she didn’t react to it. “No matter what you say, no matter what you believe, you are Lady Noir. You are a viscountess. By blood or marriage does not matter. That is who you are.

“But I hardly act—”

“You are doing well in etiquette lessons,” he interrupted. “Extremely well. I watch as you put in all the effort you have to learning, and that determination is more than a handful of high-class ladies have collectively. And just today, I saw you stand up to me for your friend. You may have been scared or nervous but the point is that you still did it. And boldly. You are more than you realize. I can see it. And that woman is the true Lady Noir.”

Marinette stared at him wide-eyed and shocked. At least her eyes weren’t shimmering with unshed tears anymore.

“And as for being in line for the crown,” Adrien continued. “That won’t be for a while. A long while, likely, meaning that you’ll have plenty of time to learn and grow comfortable as Lady Noir.”

Marinette huffed. “At the rate I’m going, I’ll finally figure out how to be a lady only just in time for me to learn how to be a princess. That’s a hard enough task for a lady nevertheless a baker’s daughter.”

“I thought we established you are Lady Noir,” Adrien calmly countered. “And as for becoming queen, my lady, I’ll have you know that the last queen…” he reached down to tap the roof, “grew up right here.”

Marinette looked down as if she could see the house through the roof. “You mean…”

“The last queen was a Lady Noir? Yes.”

Her eyes turned back to him, shining in wonder, and he could see the gears turning in her mind as she let everything sink in.

He grinned at her. “If the last Lady Noir could learn to be a queen, then surely this Lady Noir can learn how to be one as well.”

She looked hesitant. “But…I can barely get a handle on being Lady Noir in the first place.”

“You’ve barely been Lady Noir for two months,” Adrien assured her. “Think of this as equal to the previous Lady Noir learning to be the queen. Except if or when you tackle that challenge, it will be easier than this because you went through it before.”

She stared at him for the longest time, the silence stretching taught between them. “So,” she said, her voice still quiet and shy. “Is this really…are you really all right with me being your wife?”

Yes,” he stressed. “Yes, I am. So please, stop worrying about it. The only reason that it made me nervous tonight was because I don’t know how my father would react. He isn’t going to be happy with me for choosing you, but the fact is that I did choose you and he’s going to have to adapt to that. I’m…also nervous how he’s going to react to the likelihood of him hearing the entire story from Chloe Bourgeois before hearing it from me.”

Marinette grimaced. “Oh.”

Adrien nodded. “I have the feeling it’s not going to end well for me. But no matter what happens, or more importantly, no matter what my father says, I need you to know that you are Lady Noir. That I am happy with you. That this is something we tackle together. And if you have any concerns, come to me with them, all right?”

She looked up at him. Really looked up at him, long and hard, like she could see through the mask. “All right.”

He could feel himself smile. And with it, the stress in his body drained away and suddenly, surprisingly, he was exhausted.

“Lord Noir?”

“Hmm?” He hummed, disappointed at the name.

“Can I stay here?” she asked, her hands finding a place to rest on his chest.

Well, he supposed the name could get addressed later. “Of course.”

He happily helped her snuggle against him, moving for her comfort over his until she settled happily in his embrace. “You said your mother…she liked the stars?”

“Yes. We used to come out on summer nights and lay in the field and she’d point out the constellations for me.”

“Can you show me your favorite?”

He felt his heart flutter. The night might not be so bad after all. “Of course, my lady.”

Chapter Text

Marinette was shocked she woke as early as she did, especially considering how late she and Lord Noir stayed out last night. It was likely midnight by the time he sent her to her room to get some sleep. And that was only after she convinced him to let her stay wrapped up in his arms for another hour.

Marinette felt herself blush at the thought. As she had admitted to Alya yesterday, she was warming up to him. It scared her a bit, but she was beginning to envision a life with him. He was a good man, but the more time she spent with him, the more rooftop talks they had, the more she observed him, the more she realized precisely how good of a man he was.

And upon hearing this the other day, Alya had promptly grew excited for her friend.

“You were very lucky, you know.”

“I do know,” Marinette had agreed.

“Do you…” Alya had then asked. “Do you think you’ll ever… have a relationship with him?”

Marinette had been nervous to admit, even to her best friend, that yes, she might. Sometime in the distant future, maybe. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to have a relationship with her husband. To…to raise a family with him.

Even now, her cheeks still got hot thinking about that. But she was beginning to see the relationship. Beginning to see herself as a wife. As his wife. And he was her husband. Somehow, last night, things had cleared and now she was beginning to settle into this role she found herself in.

And it was okay. Everything would be okay.

Marinette glanced down at her nightstand where she could see her parents’ letter. She had read it three times already. Practically knew it by heart. They missed her. It felt odd not to have her there. They wished it never happened, but they hoped that she really did marry a good man.

I am not surprised to hear that he has not laid with you. Papa had written. When he came that first day to propose marriage, he promised me that it would only be a marriage of convenience. One of expectation. He promised me he would take the utmost care of you, swore you would be well protected, well cared for, and that he would respect your boundaries. What stood out to me most was the way he swore he would never force himself on you. You know I am a decent judge of character, and I believed he very much meant what he said. So your letter describing his relationship towards you only proves what he promised me. I am very happy to hear that, Marinette. It reassures me that while you are far away, you are truly safe and well.

And then came Maman’s handwriting where she obviously stole the letter from Papa and began writing herself.

My daughter, I wish I could be there to walk you through this relationship with your husband. I feel as though I am failing as a mother in that sense, so I will do my best to give you all the advice I can. For right now, daughter, what I can say is that the man you married is your husband, and it would behoove you to, at the very least, strive to make peace with him. He is clearly trying to extend an olive branch to you. Return it. It is all right to be nervous, but time and effort will change that.

Her mother’s words were a comfort. It was even more of a comfort that her mother promised to give all the advice she possibly could regarding whatever stage of the relationship she was at with Lord Noir. Bless her maman’s heart, because Marinette knew she would need it. But she also knew Maman was right. She did have to extend the olive branch to him. She did have to give in this relationship, more than she was doing now.

As she stared out the window, last night flooded her mind. Of how nervous Lord Noir was about his father making an appearance. Light of morning always cast a different perspective, which was how she found the new determination to strive to be better. For him. Give him as little to be nervous about as possible. To do her best to not just play the part but to become the kind of woman he needed her to be. The kind of woman he would be proud to be married to.

The knock on her door drew her back to reality. Tikki entered. “Good morning.”

“Good morning, Tikki,” Marinette said, turning around on her bed. “What is the lesson for today?”

Tikki’s expression contorted in confusion. “Pardon?”

“What is the lesson for today?” she repeated. “There likely isn’t much time left before Lord Noir’s father comes to visit, and I have to be as presentable as possible by then.”

The maid’s gaze eventually softened. “Oh, Marinette,” she cooed. “Don’t stress about that. You are wonderful just the way you are.”

“I know that,” Marinette assured. “It’s not me being presentable that is the problem. I…” her voice grew weak as she suddenly found herself nervous and somewhat embarrassed to admit it aloud. “I just want to be the best I can be for him,” she said, her voice soft. “So that he will be proud to present me.”

“He will already be proud,” she assured.

“Yes, but he needs more from me than what I’m giving,” Marinette said, baring her raw heart. “He needs me to be a true lady. He needs me to be a good wife. And he deserves that from me.”

Tikki stared at Marinette for a moment in surprise. Then a soft smile grew on her face as she lovingly took Marinette’s cheeks in her hands. “You are a wonderful woman. He is very lucky to have found you.”

Marinette was certain her cheeks were glowing red. Tikki’s knowing grin only confirmed it. “Then let’s get you ready for the day, shall we?”

Half an hour later, Marinette found herself at an empty breakfast table. Strange, considering that the men were usually still around by this time in the morning, chatting and whatnot.

“They left not all that long ago.”

Marinette grinned as she turned to face Alya, the newest maid in the manor.

The brunette put a plate full of hot food in front of Marinette. “Lord Noir received the mail and retreated to his study, or so I assume that’s where he is. Sir Kim went on a ride. He looked rather melancholy today.”

“And Nino?”

Alya’s eyes grew sharp. “Lord Lahiffe is…around.

Marinette sniggered under her breath. “Someone got off on the wrong foot.”

“He’s an arrogant know-it-all who always has to be right,” Alya snapped.

Marinette snorted.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that you are jumping to conclusions again.”

“I am not!”

“Yes you are. Because I’ve been living with him for weeks longer than you have and I know the kind of man he is.”

Alya’s nose crinkled in irritation.

“What did he even do to earn your wrath anyway?”

Alya growled. “He insulted my intelligence and insinuated that I couldn’t take care of myself.”

Marinette quirked a brow. “How?”

“When we met, he told me that pretty young maidens shouldn’t be sneaking around at dusk in the merchant district. Can you believe him? Do you know how many nights I’ve walked around down there when fetching something for Chloe?”

Marinette resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “I have no comment.”

“Thank you,” Alya said, exasperated. “I’m glad you see my side.”

Marinette shoved a bite of her breakfast in her mouth before she could retort, yes, Alya, it’s your side I’m seeing.

“As much as I’d like to talk, Ms. Mendeleiev had me running around to do this, that, and the next thing. Training, I suppose.”

“We’ll talk later. And if I don’t want to wait that long, I’ll just say I’m the lady of the house.”

Alya grinned at Marinette, then patted her friend’s shoulder. “I’m glad to see you nearly back to yourself, girl.”

Marinette smiled back. “Thanks, Alya.”

With that, Alya walked off to do her chores, leaving Marinette alone at the table. It was half way through her breakfast that she realized that this was the first time alone in this large dining hall. The men were always in here with her. She suddenly grew thankful for all the effort they put in to engage her. Being the only one at a table large enough for twenty was a dwarfing feeling.

She finished her meal quickly, ready to get on with her lessons for the day even though Tikki said they wouldn’t start until after she finished her chores. Marinette supposed she could start in on her next dress. One that she could possibly finish before Lord Noir’s father came. One she could wear and look more than just presentable.

She mentally went over the fabric that Tikki had bought for her. The one that stood out was the deep red bolt. It was a bold color that would look good on her. And it would match her earrin—

Her thoughts slammed to a screeching halt. The earrings. Her so-called lucky ones. Ones that had attracted unwanted attention and gotten her into this situation in the first place.

She still had them, but had yet to wear them again. And she wasn’t ready to wear those unlucky gems again just yet.

She forced herself up from the table and made her way to her room. Only to jump into the air when a tremendous crash sounded through the hallway. Owl-eyed, she blinked several times in the direction of the crash before forcing herself to move again, though slower than before. She glanced inside every open door, looking for whatever had caused the noise, stopping when she caught sight of Lord Noir standing in what looked to be his office.

His hands were covering his head, grabbing at his hair, causing his ever-present cat ears to poke out at odd angles. His shoulders were tight and rigid as he stood facing the window, his back to Marinette. With a tight breath, his hands flew from his hair, his head tilted back, and his shoulders drooped past normal to look defeated.

Marinette glanced over his office, only then catching the mess that was the floor. It looked like several things had been shoved off the desk if the shattered pieces of pottery and scattered sheets of paper were anything to go by. The only thing on the desk now was a single sheet of paper, perfectly centered on the desk.

Lord Noir collapsed back in his chair, sinking into it as if he just wanted to disappear. He then turned back to the paper on the desk. Past the mask, his green eyes looked dull, weak. Hurt.

Marinette instinctively took a step forward before realizing that this was his private office, and that maybe he just wanted to be alone. But she didn’t want to leave him. Not like this.

She knocked against the wooden door frame to draw his attention.

“Marinette,” he shot upright in the chair, shock evident in his wide eyes and embarrassment clear on his cheeks.

“Is everything all right?” she asked gently.

He sank in his chair again, his surprise dying down. “No,” he answered. “No, it’s not.”

“May I come in?”

Lord Noir almost looked offended. “Of course,” he answered quickly. “Come in. Come in.”

She did, careful to step around the shards of pottery as she made her way to his side.

“Excuse the mess,” Lord Noir sheepishly said.

“What happened?” Marinette asked.

His eyes fell to the letter. With a sigh, he tapped it. “It’s from my father.”

Marinette shut her eyes to fortify herself. She knew this wasn’t going to end well. “And?”

“The letter says that he heard the rumors from Chloe Bourgeois that I married a peasant girl.” He sighed. “And that I should distance myself from these toxic rumors best I can.”

Her eyes shot open in shock. “He doesn’t believe them?”

“He says in the letter that he raised me better than that and that there would be no conceivable way that I would do such a thing. He’s worried that the rumors will destroy my reputation and that I should make appearances to prove that the rumors are false.” His fingers anxiously rapped against the table. “He also says this is precisely why I should find a real wife and quickly, then proceeded to list off his top candidates.”

Marinette’s heart strained at the pain laced in his voice under his anger. She didn’t even have to read the letter to see how careless Lord Noir’s father was. But what hurt the most was the way this obviously hurt her husband. Probably far more than he was even letting on.

She wasn’t fully sure of what to do. Maybe that’s why she felt awkward sliding her hands around his upper arms and resting her chin on his shoulder, a gesture she’d watched her mother do to her father when he was tired or stressed. She felt Lord Noir tense under her touch, but soon both of them eased into the position. Marinette gently rubbed her hands over his shoulders, down his upper arms, then to his shoulders again, the way Maman would when she tried to get Papa to relax. It seemed to work for a while, but all too soon, he was reaching for that paper.

Her hand shot out instinctively, forcing him to keep the paper he didn’t need to read down on the table. Only then did she realize that her skin wasn’t touching leather.

Looking down, she noticed that he wasn’t wearing his gloves. The black leather ones he always wore. Suddenly, his shoulders tensed again. One glance at his tight expression proved that he wasn’t comfortable with this. With her touch on bare skin.

She wouldn’t keep him in torture. Slowly, she pulled her hand away. Only to reveal the scars. Jagged lines, some white, some pink, were scattered across his skin. A token from war, no doubt. But then she saw the rings around his wrists.

Curiosity got the better of her. Carefully, she pulled back his shirt sleeve to reveal the full extent of the raw, red ring around his wrist.

“Metal burns.”

Marinette startled at his voice, turning to see his expression. One of hurt and exhaustion. He then lifted his other hand into view, allowing her to see a matching mark on his other wrist.

“I won’t make you talk about it,” she assured.

He paused, his shoulders tight. But when they eased, he answered, “I was captured. I had metal bands that were wrapped around my wrists. A week of wearing them in wet conditions rubbed my skin bleeding raw.”

“I’m sorry.” Marinette wrapped her hand around his wrist now, her other hand squeezing his shoulder. “I’m sorry you had to suffer through that.”

His free hand came up to rest on her hand on his shoulder. He pried her hand away, only to hold it tight. Marinette let him steal all the comfort she could give.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

“For what?”

“For being here.”

She tightened her grip on him. “Of course.”

They stayed like that for a while before Marinette caught a glimpse of the paper again, the one she was fairly certain that he was eyeing. “What are you going to do about your father?”

He sighed, defeated. “I’ll have to tell him eventually.”

She nodded. “Soon,” she agreed. “But not today.” She moved her hand from his wrist to the paper. Folding it carefully back up, she slid the letter off to the side of his empty desk.

She felt Lord Noir relax.

“For now,” she continued, “Maybe you should go rest. You look tired.”

He shook his head at that. “I’m too anxious. I won’t get any sleep.”

“All right,” she relented. She slipped away from his grasp, leaving him looking disappointed. Still, he held her gaze as she looked him over, taking in his disheveled appearance, crooked cat ears, and tired eyes. “But you should really find something better to do than sit in here all day. Ask someone to clean this up and walk away. Go clear your head.”

He looked over his desk to the mess on the floor beyond. “You’re right,” he relented, standing up from his seat. Then he looked back at her. He looked like he wanted to say something, but clearly decided against it. Shutting his eyes, he turned towards the door.

“Wait,” Marinette called out before he could take another step. She slipped around the desk to stand in front of him, reaching up to pull out the lopsided cat ear. A blush coated his cheeks as she reached up to straighten out his hair, then replace the leather ear so it stood upright on his head.

When she pulled out the second one, she grew increasingly aware of the intimacy of her actions, from how close she stood to him to how near their faces were to how tenderly her hand ran through his soft hair. “We can’t have the mysterious Chat Noir walking around with his ears down, right?” she said, her voice breathy and soft.

Suddenly her eyes were locked on to his green ones, and her heart decided to pick up its pace. She was conscious of every movement as she arranged the pins in his hair so the ear would stand upright.

Even as she finished placing the pin, she couldn’t quite find the ability to move away. The most she could do was slowly pull her fingers from his golden locks and stand back on her heels.

“Would,” he started slowly, seemingly unable to remove his eyes from hers. “Would you join me…for a walk?”

Marinette had to force herself to breathe. To give an answer. “I have lessons,” she finished weakly.

“You’re excelling in them, you can miss an hour or two.”

At this point she could see he was close to begging, his green eyes pleading with her. She didn’t have the heart to say anything but, “I suppose you’re right.”

His eyes dazzled when he smiled. How had she missed that? They glowed like emeralds. Or like the stars he loved so much had conglomerated inside them. He extended his arm to her. “Shall we, my lady?”

She was hesitant to slip her hands around his elbow. He gave her hands a reassuring pat, letting his hand linger on top of hers. As she looked at their combined hands, the first thing she noticed was the ring he wore. Large with emerald chips that weren’t quite as pretty as his eyes but still lovely set inside a near black metal that she couldn’t quite discern. Oddly, a lot like her earrings.

When his hand shifted over hers, she turned her attention back up to him. Only then, when she noticed the slightly nervous smile did she realize she hadn’t answered him. The way she tightened her grip on him was only to reassure him. Or so she told herself. “We shall.”

Chapter Text

She felt she had been making progress. She thought she had. It all went out the window when Lord Noir pulled his leather gloves from his pocket and slid them on before they reached the doorway that lead out to the back gardens.

Marinette frowned. She slid her hand into his leather-clad one, feeling strangely disconnected from him even though her heart raced when his hand tightened around hers.

She looked up at him. His soft smile was welcoming, as if that could replace the warmth lost when he pulled on his gloves. She tried to return the smile, but considering the way the glow in his green eyes dulled, she knew she failed at hiding her disappointment. When he turned away, she felt her heart lurch in an almost guilty way.

“Why do you wear the gloves?”

There. Out in the open. And considering Lord Noir’s reaction, a shocking question.

His expression calmed quickly, but his smile was pained. “Because sunlight worsens scars.”

Her mouth formed a little “oh” in understanding. She faced away as her cheeks grew warm. “I’m sorry for asking,” she whispered.

“No, no,” he assured. “It was a fair question.”

She turned her attention back to him, taking in his assuring expression, his welcoming smile, his kind eyes. “Don’t be afraid to ask them,” he said.

Marinette barely realized that they had stopped and were now facing each other, her hands in both of his. But it felt right. It felt comfortable. She could get used to this. This not-so-odd relationship between them. And maybe…maybe it was strong enough to survive possible embarrassment and intrusion of her next question. “Then,” she began slowly, steadily gaining courage, “can I ask why you wear the mask?”

She hated the pained turn his expression took. Hated the way the green in his eyes dulled so severely. Hated the way he looked like a lost kitten instead of a mysterious cat. “The same reason I wear the gloves.”

As his words sank in, her eyes grew wider. Slowly, her hand slipped from his and found its way toward the edge of the black mask. Only once she realized what she was doing did she pull her hand against her chest.

He gave a flicker of a smile before using his freed hand to point with two fingers to the spot on his right temple and then swiped it across his brow to the crease between. “It was really bad,” he commented. “I want to keep it out of sunlight as much as possible.”

Again, Marinette’s mouth made an “oh” shape as she looked at his mask with new perspective. “And here I thought you wore it to be mysterious.”

His grin was humorless. “Part of it, maybe.”

“And the cat ears?” she asked, looking up at the leather triangles she had readjusted on his head. “Why those?”

“They amuse me,” he answered quickly. Automatically. “They are hilariously punny, don’t you think?”

Marinette frowned. “I think they look rather ridiculous.”

He shrugged it off.

“Do you really only wear them because they call you Chat Noir?” she pried. “Because that isn’t a good enough reason to wear them all the time.”

Bitterness wavered in his smile. Marinette almost missed it. “If I’m to be known as this ‘curse of bad luck,’ this ‘black cat,’ why not show it?”

“But wouldn’t you want to prove others wrong?”

“Why try when they’re all right?”

“You weren’t to me.”

Silence. Dead silence. An event both had been dancing around, never mentioning, despite it being the sole reason they were together.

Eventually, Lord Noir brought her hand up to his lips to place a gentle kiss on her knuckles. “Then you must be a ‘lucky ladybug’,” he said. “Because I know it wasn’t by my luck that I found you.”

Marinette struggled to find words. She forced herself to swallow her nervousness and face the topic that she’d been avidly avoiding. “How did you even find me, anyway?” she asked. “You were up at the party. You would have had no reason to wander around the servants’ quarters.”

“I was hunting Theo,” he answered with a sigh. “I caught sight of him walking into the servant’s corridor and I knew he wasn’t up to any good, so I followed him. I lost him for a moment, but then I heard you…” He bit his lip, then gave her hand a reassuring squeeze as though to dull what his next words would be. “I heard you screaming and knew it could only be one thing. I only hoped that I would get there in time.”

“I’m very thankful you did.”

Once again, Lord Noir placed a kiss on her knuckles before tucking her hand into the crook of his elbow and leading her through the gardens.

Marinette was thankful for the quick drop of topic.

It was only supposed to be an hour, maybe two, but it ended up being nearly three. Part of that time was spent walking around the gardens, him giving her an official tour of the surrounding land while the rest of the time was spent on a little wooden bench under a canopy of ivy in the center of the gardens. Simply put, they couldn’t stop talking. And joking. And laughing.

Marinette couldn’t remember the last time that she had enjoyed herself so much.

It all came to a head when Lord Noir tried and failed to stifle a wide yawn.

“I knew you were tired.”

“I’m fine,” he said, but his eyes were dull and drooping.

“No, you’re not,” Marinette gently argued. “You look exhausted. You should go rest.”

“I’m not tired enough to sleep.”

“Then just go lay down before you fall over.”

“I’m fine.”

Acting more on instinct than thought, she took his jaw in her hands and forced him to look at her. “Go rest,” she said, her voice quiet and gentle and caring. “I’m not saying you need to sleep, just go lay down. You look exhausted, and after getting that letter from your father, you must feel tired. So go relax.”

“But I don’t want to,” he whispered, looking very much like a child begging to stay up.

She gave him a tender smile. “Go. Rest,” she whispered. Then she slid her hands from his cheeks, watching as color came to them. Only then did she feel heat in her own. “I have lessons I need to attend, anyway.”

He looked very put-out at that, his childish expressions bringing a new youth to his features. It was with a start that she never even knew how old her husband was. She only knew she was married to him.

He stood from the wooden bench before extending his hand out to his in polite assistance. Even after she stood, she continued to hold on. “One last question before I let you go?”

“Anything,” he answered, his stance shifting like he could plant himself to the ground.

“Is it sad that I don’t know the age of my husband?”

He chuckled dryly. “I turned twenty the week before I married you.”

She didn’t know if it soothed her or startled her at how close in age she was to him. “Some birthday gift,” Marinette quipped with the intent of being humorous, but he didn’t take it that way.

Instead, the way he looked at her made ladybugs swirl uncomfortably in her stomach. “I think more than I realize.”

Marinette fought to keep her heart under control at the richness of his voice and earnestness of his expression.

With one last kiss to her knuckles, he let her go, and she quickly shuffled away before her heart could brust from her chest and demand she never leave his side.


 

“Why don’t you take a break?” Tikki suggested.

Marinette sighed in relief. The number of charts and lists and journals and maps open in front of her was utterly overwhelming. She couldn’t keep straight who was connected to whom and where everyone came from and what assets they possessed and—

Ugh!

Marinette happily escaped the dining hall. While lessons were usually held in the library, the larger table in the dining hall provided more space for maps and such. Since both of those places were now too overwhelming to visit, she had to find a new hiding spot that was far from both.

As she wandered around, she partly hoped she would run into Alya. Unfortunately, no such luck.

“No.”

She froze at the soft mumble, then took a few steps backward to where the voice came from. Looking in the library, she saw Lord Noir on the couch, fidgeting and fussing. One cat ear was on the floor while the other was barely hanging on his head. “Stop,” he mumbled, flipping over on the couch. “Stop it.” His hands stretched out, then curled back in. Tense. Shaking.

He was having another nightmare.

This time, Marinette couldn’t just watch it happen. She quickly hustled over to his side, and immediately slipped one of her hands into his fussing one. He grabbed on tight, and his face scrunched like it was in pain.

“Shhh,” she soothed, bending over to run a rub a hand over his back. “You’re safe. You’re okay.”

His breath was heavy and stressed. His grip never loosened. But he didn’t wake, either.

“Shhh. Calm down. You’re okay.” She continued making circles on his shoulder blade as she perched on the edge of the couch. There was barely enough for her to sit on, but it was enough. She did everything she could to make him fall back asleep, or, if at worst, she would be there to ease the sting of the nightmare when he woke.

His hand once again tightened on hers before he pulled it close against him. She twisted a bit for her own comfort as she felt her hand be pressed against his chest, feeling his heart beat hard and fast.

“You’re okay. You’re safe,” she continued, her hand moving up to run a soothing hand though his hair, trying to avoid the lone cat ear. But after the third stroke, she ripped the ear from his hair and tossed it aside. The only thing left was the mask, and while she wanted to remove it, thinking it might be more comfortable, she wouldn’t. His scars obviously made him uncomfortable. They might even be what he was dreaming about. She wouldn’t pull the mask away. Not yet.

His grip slowly loosened on her hand, and Marinette continued her ministrations. Her hand never left his hair nor did she stop whispering to him.

And then she watched his entire body relax. His face no longer showed pain or torment. His breathing steadied. His hold on her hand was firm, but no longer was it a death-grip. Marinette took a breath of relief, her hand slipping from his hair to his back and rubbing soothing circles on it.

His breathing deepened, and he sank further into the couch.

“You’re safe now,” she whispered one last time. Gently, carefully, she slipped her hand from his, only to rest it on his arm when he fidgeted. She didn’t stop rubbing his back as she slowly stood up, hoping he would stay quiet and calm.

Then she pulled her hand from his back and took a step away. Her hand still rested on his arm as she took a step back. Only when he remained still dis she remove her hand.

Happy that he managed to conquer the nightmare, she picked up the cat ears that he seemed fond of for some odd reason and placed them on the table beside the couch. With that, she walked out of the room as quietly as she could. At the door frame, she glanced back at him, pleased that he was quiet and calm. She turned to walk away—

Only to run into someone.

A hand covered her mouth before she could let out a gasp. It took a moment to register her assailant’s face, but she eventually recognized it was Plagg. The nervous expression on the butler’s face was out of place from his usual flat look. Only once she settled did he remove his hand from her mouth. With a tilt of his head, he took light hold of her shoulder and pulled her along down the hallway.

Once a good ways away, he turned back to her, a slightly sheepish look on his face. “Sorry,” he apologized quietly. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just didn’t want to take a chance at disturbing him. He never falls back asleep when he has a nightmare. Never.”

Marinette’s heart cinched tightly. She still remembered the first time she saw him struggling, how he calmed himself by saying “just another nightmare.” “How often does he have them?”

Raw hurt swam in Plagg’s green eyes. “Far too often,” he answered. “The kid shouldn’t have gone in the first place. But he’s a good fighter and a great leader and too darn honorable. Claimed he needed to face the battle himself because the war was just too out of hand. I’ll agree with him that the war is ridiculous, but he went and pressed his team hard and far into the battle. They learned more than anyone else ever came close to knowing, and they struck a blow that allowed for a change in the tides, but the damage left to him…”

Plagg shook his head, his voice weak as he spoke. “I still suffer from nightmares from the war between the kingdoms of the east some ten years ago, when I was younger than him. This kid…he’s too young to have this. He shouldn’t have gone in the first place.”

Marinette turned back, glancing down the hallway to spy the door to the library, where her husband lay traumatized by the pit of war. She felt the tears come to her eyes. It wasn’t fair. He didn’t deserve being haunted. Not after he braved what he did.

“Thank you for calming him.”

Marinette turned back to Plagg.

“Really,” he continued. “Because I know just how much sleep that kid gets. It’s not enough.”

“He doesn’t sleep at night, does he?” Marinette suddenly realized. “That’s why he’s always up on the roof, looking at the stars…”

“Like I said, the kid is traumatized. It pains me to see him like that, especially since he’s such a good kid.” He then looked down at Marinette, his green eyes softening. “I’m really glad he has you. You’re good for him.”

Marinette cocked her head, confused. “How?” she asked. “This marriage wasn’t voluntary. We didn’t even know each other before then. Now he’s the one burdened with trying to care for me—”

“I’m not talking about that,” Plagg interrupted. “I’m talking about how lucky he is to have someone who cares enough to help him sleep through the nightmares. The nights are long when you’re haunted by them, but the light of day doesn’t keep you safe, either. It takes far too much from you. I’m glad that he has someone who’s willing to coax him back to sleep. Or, at least, someone willing to stay up with him when the nights become too long.”

With a bow, Plagg turned on his heel and started walking away.

As she watched him, Marinette realized that this man wasn’t whom she thought him to be, and suddenly, he didn’t seem so poor quality anymore. “Tikki could be that distraction for you.”

Plagg stopped, his shoulders tensing. He turned halfway toward her, a pitiful smile on his face. “Tikki is a ray of sunshine,” he said sadly, “and I’m a shadow of what I once was. That woman should stay as far away from me as possible.”

“You don’t think she cares enough?”

“On the contrary; that woman cares more than she should.” He took a partial step back, just enough to face her. “She’s perfect and unmarred. And I would like for her to stay that way. She doesn’t need a man in her life that keeps her up at night needing her assurance. She needs a man who will care for her. Who will give her a home and family and protect her selflessly.”

“Then I don’t think you know Tikki well at all.” Marinette countered.

His eyes narrowed at her, and his sharp glare caused her stomach to churn. “No,” he growled. “That’s the problem. I know Tikki too well. I know she threw away her job at the castle because she was following me. I know she firmly believes that she could be happy with me, no matter how rough I am. Tikki is the most selfless person in the world. Most kindhearted and innocent. She’s done more for me than I could ever repay her for. She deserves nothing short of the very best. And that’s not me. Faster she gets that through her head, the happier I’ll be for her.”

With that, Plagg sharply turned and marched off.

“Don’t you know that love conquers all?”

“I do,” Plagg snapped, not bothering to turn back to face her. “Which is why I hope my love for her out-weighs hers for me. Maybe it will be my wishes for her that are granted.”

He turned a corner, disappearing from sight. And much to her ire, Marinette found that she now respected Plagg more than she had ever thought possible.

Chapter Text

Theo would admit patience had never been his strong point, but he would argue that lately, he had been stretching it to the furthest degree. Especially since a little red-haired spitfire had been pushing it. It was as though she was daring him to do something. To push her past her limits. To try to break her.

Yet, at this rate, the girl was going to end up breaking him before he succeeded in breaking her.

 “Just do it, already,” Lila encouraged. “She’s pressing her luck. My uncle will have to accept the fact that he didn’t crack her first.”

Theo huffed. “I don’t want to step into your uncle’s domain. And right now, that includes the brat.”

“Well, that brat is pressing her luck with you. If my uncle isn’t going to teach her a lesson that she’ll remember, then you clearly need to do something. I won’t stand for more rips in my clothes or being splashed with any more water.”

Theo felt his jaw clench in irritation, remembering all of Alix’s “accidents” over the past few days.

“Furthermore, she pulled one of those little stunts when my uncle and I walked by, and he let her off easy. Either you do something about it, or I’ll have to coerce outside help.”

Theo grit his teeth. He was treading a fine line right now. There was a good reason he had reined himself in this long. Mainly, Hawkmoth was watching him. And Hawkmoth wouldn’t approve of him just tearing the little hellion to pieces without “good reason.”

But…Theo was on the verge of throwing it all to the wind and forcing her into submission.

“I don’t care how you do it,” Lila continued. “Just as long as it gets done. Then, when she’s the one trembling at you, my uncle will see that you do have the ability and tact to hold your own.”

“Yes, but that means I’ll have to stay longer to see it through,” he commented, pulling on his last saving grace. “And the trade wagon leaves at noon.”

“Then you have to stay a little longer,” Lila dismissed. “And the jewelry my uncle is looking for is delayed a couple days upon arrival. So what? He’s waited this long for them, and it wouldn’t matter if you stay a bit longer if it means that Alix and Jalil are turned into the submissive servants they should be. He’d appreciate it, honestly.”

“I have to pack,” was all he said to get away from her and the growing temptation she set before him.

“Then take this with you,” Lila called.

He turned back to see her holding out a piece of paper. His pass on the trade route, he belatedly realized. He turned back to take it from her, trying to keep his distance.

But he should have known better than for Lila not to get close. “I can always rewrite it for later dates,” she purred, her hands traveling up his chest to his shoulders before running down his arms. “Just a thought.”

He smirked. “You do realize the sooner I leave, the quicker I accomplish this and the sooner I come back to you.”

She hummed. “Maybe I just don’t like saying ‘good bye’.”

“But good byes usually come around with a ‘hello’. And I know how much you like those.” He pulled away from her. Thankfully, he was met with no resistance.

“You’re right,” she relented. “I do.”

Shooting her a quick smile, he folded the paper up and put it into his pocket as he marched up to his room. He started tossing his things into his bag, preparing to leave when, lo and behold, in entered the girl that had been pressing her luck for days.

“What do you think you’re doing in here?”

“My job, for one,” she snipped back quickly. “Which I know you’ve been complaining about to King Hawkmoth.”

“He is king,” Theo warned her. “And don’t you forget it.”

“I’ll never forget the way he stabbed my father,” she growled. “Nor will I forget the way his soldiers stormed my home.”

Theo smirked. “Nor should you ever.”

She stared at him, fire rising in her eyes. It was oh-so-tempting to snuff out. “But you know what I won’t forget more than anything?”

Amused, Theo quirked a brow. “What would that be?”

She sneered. “Walking into my room and seeing Lila in it.”

He chuckled. “Well, that room is fit for a princess.”

“Princess, yes. Not a princess and her lover.”

Something snapped inside Theo, his amusement disappearing.

Then Alix’s sneer grew, her expression growing mighty dark, even for her. “But then again, she’s hardly a princess in the first place. More like a strumpet in fine silk.”

Theo took a step forward, then one sideways, facing the girl off. “Best watch your mouth, servant girl.

“I don’t have to listen to anyone below my rank.”

Theo took another step forward, looming over her. Slowly, he watched realization dawn over little Alix’s face. The fear in her eyes was priceless. “Backed into a corner, aren’t we?” he purred, low and triumphantly.

She tried to steel herself, take a step back to gain distance, only for her back to hit a table.

Theo chuckled. Far too easy.

Her hand shot upwards, but he leaned away in time. Before she could pull back, he grabbed her arm and shoved her backwards against the table. Using his grip on her for balance, he used his foot to kick the door shut behind him before the girl could make a sound.

But it quickly became apparent that Alix was the quiet type of girl. One whose first instinct is to stay silent, not to scream.

What a wonderful happenstance.

Before she could even think about screaming, he pressed a hand over her mouth.

And then felt searing pain shoot through his lower region.

He fell. Like a weakling. Like an idiot. He collapsed to the ground taking breath after breath, begging the pain to go away.

Then he was shoved over. The little hellion had taken the time to not only force him to his knees, but knock him over from there. It was nothing short of humiliating.

Somewhere beyond the haze, he could hear the door open.

Get up! He mentally told himself. Get up.

And he did. He managed to do so. Barely able to run after her.

Only to get blindsided by something hard to the head.

“Run, sis!”

The determination in Theo’s veins ran hot as he forced himself to look past the headache and general pain to see the fiery expression of Jalil.

Theo tried to stand, but feel back to his knees.

“You reap what you sow,” Jalil grumbled. “Now you might just know what it feels like to be brought so low.”

Forcing back every bit of pain and dizziness, Theo readied himself to stand and attack.

Only for Jalil to fall unconscious to the ground.

Theo stared at the downed slave in surprise before looking up to the new man standing there.

And to his chagrin, it was none other than Hawkmoth.

“And this,” he started, clearly disappointed but not angry, “is why you need to learn to control your temper.”

Theo could do nothing more than hang his head in shame.

He could hear Hawkmoth’s cane tap the ground. “And you know what I am going to do about it?”

Theo didn’t answer, more out of fear of answering wrong than anything.

“I’m going to do what any good ruler does,” he said. “Make his men clean up their own messes.”

With the point of his cane on Theo’s shoulder, he pushed Theo backward into a kneeling position, forcing the man to look up at him. “So I’m going to allow you to chase after her. I’m going to let you drag her back here. I don’t care what other punishment comes to you. Am I clear?”

Theo nodded.

“Good. Maybe this will teach you not only about your temper, but the value of patience as well.”

Theo glared up at the man who seemed to say that statement with far too much confidence.

The way the man smirked confirmed it. “It was fun, watching her rile you so. You and my niece. Who knew that you would be so affected by a mere serving girl?”

Damn it. It was the only thing running through his head. He’d let himself get played. And he’d been too blind to see it.

“So if I were you,” Hawkmoth finished. “I would stop dallying with my niece and go fetch me the earrings and the ring I desire as well as the girl you owe me. Am I clear?”

Hawkmoth then let out a chuckle as Theo’s expression morphed to one of surprise. “Don’t think I don’t know exactly what goes on in this household, Theo Barbot.”

“And yet you allow it.”

“I do,” Hawkmoth smugly agreed. “It’s not a game I would play. Not a game I would agree to play. But she has a hold on you, doesn’t she? A temptation. She has you wrapped around her fingers with desire and curiosity. And you do everything she says, correct? Things, maybe, I tell her to say? Because maybe that means I get to know everything about you. And I know that no matter what, you’ll bring me what I want. So yes, I let her dally with you without any chastisement form me. Because in the end, I’ll still be the winner. And if you continue to make the right choices, so will you.”

The man in purple marched away, leaving Theo kneeling on the floor in front of an unconscious Jalil. He slowly realized that he didn’t give Hawkmoth nearly as much credit as he should have. Now, he had the challenge of getting back on the man’s good side. Clearly, it wouldn’t be an easy task. Between finding Alix and collecting the gems, he knew it would take time. Which was problematic for him since swiftness was critical.

Firstly, he forced himself off the floor. Enough kneeling. He was a man and would stand like one, even though it still caused discomfort. Standing in the doorway of his room, he supposed the only option was to get the jewelry first. Alix would have to wait.

He reached into his back pocket to pull out his pass. Only for it to be gone.

Snapping, Theo slammed his fist against the door frame.

That thieving little wretch.

Chapter Text

For such a little piece of paper, it caused a large amount of terror.

Adrien stared at the blank sheet of paper. His pen was off to the side, ready for him to pick up and start the letter that he should have written at least a week ago. Much to his displeasure, putting off this letter any longer was not acceptable.

 He glanced over at the only other piece of paper on his desk, hoping to find some inspiration or maybe even motivation to answer it. But all it managed to accomplish was to remind Adrien just how deep his father’s disappointment would be when he read the truth. It was going to be ugly. Fire would likely rain down on his head. It made the task he had to do so much harder. Let his father imagine his son was as perfect as he believed. Let him continue thinking that his son was healing, that the nightmares were fading. Let him believe that the scars were vanishing, that his son was still a flawless prince. Let him believe his son wasn’t an irreparable mess. And for the sake of all that was good, let him believe that his son didn’t volunteer to marry a peasant girl, fully aware of all the consequences.

Adrien just wasn’t ready to handle that.

He sighed heavily, shutting his eyes against the sight of the dreaded paper.

That’s when he felt her. Her hands wrapped around his shoulders, and her chin rested on his right shoulder. She had no idea how much comfort she was. He never had the nerve to tell her that her embrace kept him together when he was on the verge of falling apart.

His right hand reached up to his left shoulder to steal hold of her hand. She let him grasp it tight, squeezing back with comfort of her own.

“Are you writing a letter to your father?” she asked, her voice soft and sweet.

“Trying to,” he said on a sigh.

Her embrace tightened, if only for a second. “I’m proud of you.”

It wasn’t fair. She shouldn’t be allowed to do this to him, to wreck him like she did. Make his heart do strange things and stomach swirl. He itched to push his luck. Turn his head toward hers, press his nose to her cheek, and see what she would do. But he just loved having her here. Having her close. And affectionate. So while all his body desired for him to press a kiss to her lovely, rosy cheek, his mind reminded him that this was something he didn’t want to do too much too early.

He sighed; tired, exhausted, conflicted.

She rubbed his shoulder, a sweet gesture that made it so hard to keep a lid on his affections and so easy to melt into her embrace. “Trying, but failing?”

He forced his mind to go back to the conversation they were having. “Yes.”

She hummed. “Just…tell him.”

He scoffed. “You don’t know my father.”

“He was blunt with you, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Then what’s so wrong with being blunt back?”

“His temper.”

Marinette cringed, and her touch seemed to grow stiff.

“Precisely,” Adrien said, squeezing her hand again. “I don’t want to anger him.”

“From the sounds of it, he’ll be angry no matter what you say.”

And that was why he didn’t want to write the letter in the first place.

She tightened her embrace again. “Just start something,” she suggested. “It doesn’t have to be what you send. Write what you want to say to him. Then revise it a couple times before you send it out.”

He stared at the paper, thinking about all the things he wished to say but couldn’t. How he might phrase everything. How it would sound to his father.

Then all rational thought flew straight out the window when she turned her face towards his ear and whispered, “But to do that, you need to let go of my hand first.”

He could hear her smile, and it was as heart-stopping as the closeness of her lips to his ear. Somehow, he managed to pull himself together before he completely fell apart. He tightened his grip on her hand and turned his face towards hers, his cheek tapping against her nose and sending pleasurable sparks through him. “Maybe I don’t want to.”

Giggling, she pulled away from him just enough for them to be face to face. “Now you’re just stalling.”

“Yes, but I found myself a wonderful distraction.”

The words slipped out before he could rein them back. He tried to keep a smile on his face while he was inwardly cringing and hoped that didn’t send her running.

Thankfully, she didn’t. Instead, she hummed in humor. Her smile grew and her eyes glowed. She tapped his nose once. Twice. Three times.

And his heart skipped that many beats.

“Get to work, kitty.” With that, she slipped away from him, easily pulling her hand from his limp grasp, and began to walk away.

“Marinette,” he called out right before she slipped from his office. He wasn’t ready to let her go just yet.

She paused and turned in the door frame. “Yes?”

Words failed him. He must have sat there looking like an idiot before he could scrounge something together because, apparently, speaking to his wife was getting difficult. “Maybe we can go for another walk around the grounds, later?”

Her smile was sweet enough to send him spinning, and the rosy glow in her cheeks matched the pink of her lips. “Maybe if you get your letter written, I’ll consider it.”

“And maybe I can convince you otherwise?”

Her cheeks turned pinker. Her smile faltered just slightly, but soon came back twice as warm as before.

He had to be careful not to melt under that heat.

“Maybe…if I get a pink room…I’ll consider letting it slide for a day or two.”

It took him a moment to realize what she was asking. “Pink?” he inquired, his mind starting up again after the stun of her finally telling him what she wanted. “You’d like your room painted pink?”

“Please?”

Her voice was so soft and slightly squeaky and the sheepish way she asked just made him want to snuggle the petite girl until she stopped feeling so insecure. “Of course. I’ll get on that immediately. Is there anything else you want to go with it?”

She hesitated.

“Tell me,” he begged. “It’s no trouble. Ever.”

She shook her head. “No, not yet. Nevermind.”

“All right,” he relented. “But don’t be afraid to tell me when you’re ready.”

She looked at him with a warm smile that he could only compare to the feeling of being safe and sound at home. “I won’t.”

And…there went his heart.

She left his office, and he slumped forward onto his desk. It took time for his heart to steady out, then he quickly pulled a new piece of paper out to write a note requesting the services for painting a room. He finished, sealed it with wax, then set it aside to send off.

Now, to start the letter to his father. Or at least the draft of the letter. Either of which he really didn’t want to do.

The door to his office flew open then slammed shut, causing Adrien to nearly fly out of his chair. He resituated himself just as Plagg slammed his hands on the desk.

“Tikki. Is going to be. The death of me.”

Slowly, his words sank in, and Adrien started smirking. “What’s wrong?”

Plagg glowered at him. “She’s…UGH!” His hands shot through his hair, grabbing handfuls and ruffling it.

Adrien chuckled.

“You think it’s funny?”

“Yes.”

Plagg shook his head at Adrien. “Wishing the worst of temptations on me,” he growled under his breath.

“There’s nothing wrong with being attracted to a pretty, sweet, young woman,” Adrien said, well aware of his valet’s crush.

“But it’s not just any pretty, sweet, young woman,” Plagg grumbled as though confessing to the worst of sins.

“Plagg,” Adrien said, trying to be reasonable when all he wanted to do was laugh, “I am still not getting what precisely is so wrong about wanting to settle down with her.”

“And I don’t understand why you are trying to push me to be with a woman like her.

Adrien bit back his wicked smirk. “So you’re saying she’s beneath you?”

Adrien had known Plagg his entire life. Plagg had trained as a knight in the castle. When Plagg came back from the eastern war and became his valet, they grew from acquaintances to inseparable. Never in Adrien’s life time had he seen Plagg’s face so red. “Don’t. Even. Joke. Ever.

Adrien sobered in wake of Plagg’s fiery anger. “Plagg, for the love of all that is good, there is nothing wrong with you wanting Tikki as your own.”

“I can’t be what she needs, and you know it.”

“What I know is you well enough to call your bluff.”

Plagg frowned.

“You’re afraid that you aren’t worthy of her.”

“And I’m not.” Plagg confirmed.

“You’re the valet of a prince. She’s the lady’s maid of a princess. It’s not station you have to worry about,” Adrien said firmly.

“And that’s what she calls me out on, but you know very well I’m beneath her.”

“Says the man who single handedly saved his whole squadron.”

The silence between the two of them grew thick as they touched the topic that they avidly avoided.

“So what’s stopping you from taking her as your wife? From raising four kids in a little house?”

“Five kids in a house with a garden,” Plagg corrected automatically and unintentionally before turning his gaze to his employer. “Adrien, I don’t want to drag her down with me.”

Adrien sighed, staring at Plagg long and hard. “I’m going to say what I say every time,” he answered, calm and serious. “You wouldn’t.”

“I would. I know it.” Plagg responded, already disheartened. He stared at the desk for a moment before raising his green gaze to match Adrien’s. “Don’t you feel like if you could save Marinette from your war-torn mess, you would?”

Adrien was unaccustomed to being the loser of this war. Very much so. He was used to watching Plagg sulk away while he wore a grand smile. He wasn’t used to Plagg taking a knife to his heart and twisting it like a traitor.

Even though, considering the raw look in his eyes, Plagg wasn’t trying to be. “Just a thought.”

With that, Plagg left a whole lot quieter than he came in. And Adrien was left to stew in pain and suffering that had nothing to do with the letter he was supposed to be writing.


 

War. Always war. The bloody battlefield. His dead comrades. The ones he had to leave. Arrows were coming from behind as he ran, his lungs burning and legs stiff. He had to get out. Had to move. Had to escape. Though he usually didn’t.

Then, his mother’s voice came, just as it had the past couple of nightmares. He felt her hand rub his back, just as she did when he was six and ran to her room crying after a nightmare. “It’s okay,” she soothed. “You’re safe. You’re home. It’s just a nightmare.”

He’d turn in attempt to see her, but he never could. Only feel her. And hear her.

“It’s okay. You’re safe.”

And the battlefield faded. Slowly, gradually, he felt her hand move to his hair, soothing it down from the ruffled mess it had become by running in battle. Usually, this was where the dream ended. Where sleep would pull at him and beckon him back under its haze. Except for this time. He just stood in his castle, still feeling the still soothing motions on his back.

“It’s okay,” his mother said, her voice fading. “You’re safe.”

And he was.

He wandered the empty hallway he stood in, the one just outside his bedroom in the castle.

He tensed. The castle. He was in the castle. With Father. And Marinette.

Right? He wouldn’t have just left her. Not with Theo missing. Not with Father ignorant of who she was.

He urged his legs to move faster, propel him down the hallway. “Marinette,” he called out, except he felt like he couldn’t. His lips felt stuck together, his voice was gone. “Marinette,” he tried again, turning the corner of the hallway.

Only to run into Father.

Oh no.

His anger was evident. “I told you to hide.”

Adrien was speechless.

“I told you to hide there until you got better.”

“I am—”

“No,” his father said, reaching out and taking his mask. “You’re not.”

Adrien turned and ran away again. Marinette. Where was Marinette?

He turned down several hallways trying to holler her name, only for the sound to die on his lips. Eventually, he found her. “Marinette.” He reached out for her.

Only for her to step away in shock and horror.

“Marinette,” he called out, reaching toward her. “Marinette, it’s me.”

She looked at him, horrified. “No,” she said. “No.”

He took another step forward, reaching for her hand, managing to grab it tight and hold on. “Marinette.”

“Calm down,” his mother’s voice came to him. “It’s okay. You’re safe.”

No. No, he wasn’t. He was in danger of losing his wife, the woman currently looking at him in horror. The woman currently struggling against him. “No. Let me go. I can’t marry you. I won’t marry you.”

“Marinette,” he cried, his grasp getting tighter. “Stay.”

“Adrien,” his mother’s voice came, growing frantic. “Adrien, calm down.”

“No!” he fussed, squirming away from her touch. “Marinette, wait.”

“No, let me go.” With that, she was running.

“Marinette. Wait!” No. He couldn’t lose her. He tried to run after her, but his legs were stiff and frozen. He couldn’t move. “No! Stay! Marinette!”

“Adrien!” his mother’s voice came again. “Adrien, wake up. Wake up.”

He felt himself shaking. He tried to move to run after Marinette, but he couldn’t. He was stuck. He was going to lose her. He couldn’t lose her.

“You’re a prince, Adrien,” he heard his father say. “She’s worthless.”

“No!” he fought. “NO!”

“Adrien!” He felt someone shove his shoulder. “Wake. Up.”

His eyes shot open, and suddenly, he was gasping for air.

“Adrien.”

He turned to the soft voice, only to find Marinette looking at him with worried, blue eyes. Slowly, he felt her hands leave his shoulders only to cradle his jaw. “You’re okay,” she cooed, her thumbs rubbing soothing circles on his cheeks. “You’re okay.”

But he wasn’t. Not really. He forced himself up despite feeling shaky and unsteady, despite his breaths coming in heavy, ragged bursts. His hands found their way to her soft cheeks, cradling them as tenderly as he could. Gently, he guided her head close enough to rest his forehead on hers. “Don’t leave me,” he finally begged. Raw and open. Hurt and sacred. He felt his eyes begin to burn, and soon, tears were trailing from his eyes. “Please, don’t leave me.”

“Oh, Adrien,” she cooed, her grip on his cheeks getting tighter with reassurance. She tilted her head upwards so that the tips of their noses were touching as well. Her thumbs carefully swiped under his eyes to rid his face of tears. Slowly, his breathing began to even out and his heart began to calm. “I promise,” she said sincerely enough for Adrien to feel her words deep in his chest. “I won’t.”

Chapter Text

Morning had come with a whole new set of fears. Strange since she had been fine last night. She had felt confident comforting Adrien. Furthermore, she had no problem with him reaching for her hand under the dinner table that night. But this morning, she could admit she was scared, mostly because she was encroaching new territory. This was flouting the line of friendship and romance. Egged on by her heart. Held back by uncertainty.

She wished for some guidance.

That’s why she was rereading her parent’s most recent letter for the third time that morning. They were happy for her. Very happy. It seemed the more she told them about Adrien, the more they approved of him. It didn’t matter that he suffered from nightmares, Papa had commended him for going to war in the first place. And as for Maman’s opinion…

Marinette swallowed her fear as she reread her mother’s lines.

Encourage his advances, Marinette. Every little thing. Don’t be afraid to advance some on your own. Pretend as though you are courting, if that helps. I can tell you care deeply for him, and from the sounds of it, he cares deeply for you. I have no doubt you two will grow closer than you ever thought possible.

What scared Marinette was how easy it was to follow Maman’s advice.

Tikki had been kind enough to bring breakfast up for her and offer the advice she could, which had been the same as her mother’s. “I see the way he cares for you,” she had said. “And I see the way you care for him. Have the courage to keep advancing this relationship of yours, and it will grow strong.”

Tikki had taken her leave not long after, something Marinette appreciated considering the way her face had heated up and her stomach had stirred.

Eager to clear her frantic thoughts, she left her room. She wandered the hallways of the increasingly familiar house, hoping that the torrent of thoughts would clear so she could at least make a decision.

“I can take care of myself, Lord Lahiffe.

Marinette froze in place upon hearing the threat. Looking around the corner of the hall, she groaned. They were at it again. Nino and Alya. Oh, those two! She didn’t know what the problem was between them was. She only knew that they fought near every time they passed each other.

“I never said you couldn’t. Your tongue is obviously sharp enough to be a real weapon.”

Furthermore, why they couldn’t just stop was beyond her, along with everyone else in the household. It had been amusing at first, listening to the two of them go at it. Now, Marinette wished they would end their feud.

“Yet, clearly, you’re stupid enough to come back for a lashing.”

“Sure, and you’re stupid enough to swing at an innocent.”

“Innocent?!” Alya sputtered. “The man who insults me on a daily basis?”

“I don’t insult you lest you’re screaming loud enough for the king to hear. Something that wouldn’t happen if you stopped taking everything I say as a personal insult.”

“And not allowing me to go into town on my own despite me proving how capable I am isn’t an insult?”

“You don’t know the town at all. It wasn’t an insult. It was an offer as a guide. One I’m regretting—”

“Then why’d you offer?” Alya snapped.

“Because my best friend is married to your best friend, and I know they’re tired of us fighting!”

Silence. That’s all there was. One that was tense and weighted.

Marinette counted to ten before Nino broke the silence again. “So since you’re instigating this, I’ll grow up and extend the olive branch. Okay?”

She cringed at the bite in Nino’s words, yet she knew them to be true. Alya did seem to start this more often than not. And considering the way Alya’s shoulders slumped as though in shame, she knew it, too.

Then Alya put her hands in the air as though in surrender. “All right,” she said. “You’re right. They don’t deserve that.”

“So can we grow up and at least pretend to be civilized?”

With a sigh, Alya straightened and extended a hand for him. One that Nino took and briefly shook.

“My offer still stands at showing you town,” Nino said, his voice at a reasonable volume now. “It’s not because you aren’t capable of going by yourself but because you don’t know it like I do.”

“Fair enough,” Alya relented. “Let me go get my purse, then we can go.”

“All right. I’ll ready the wagon. Or do you prefer riding?”

“A wagon is fine.”

“Then I’ll be out front.”

“I’ll see you out there.”

With that, the duo left their cordial conversation to part in opposite directions. Marinette couldn’t say that it was the start of a friendship, but she could say it was the end of a feud.

“Quite the pair, those two.”

Marinette jumped in the air. She whipped around to face the voice, only to see a smiling blonde man with cat ears and a mask looking at her. “Maybe,” he said, approaching her, “this means we won’t hear any more screaming matches in the hallways.”

“Maybe,” Marinette agreed. “Would be nice.”

“It would.”

A strange sort of silence settled between them. Anxious, begging to be filled with conversation, yet content and calm.

“You called me ‘Adrien’ yesterday,” he said, breaking the silence, his voice almost fragile. “You finally called me Adrien.”

She looked up at him with a new-found wonder. “Did…did that really mean so much to you?”

His brow scrunched up in nervous confusion. “Did it…yes. Of course, it did. It meant the world to me. Did you really think it wouldn’t?”

Words seemed to fail her. “I… I guess I never thought of it that way.”

The hurt in his eyes was painful to her heart. When his gaze fell away, she felt like she would do anything to have his green eyes look back at her. “Was it hard to think me a person,” he asked, his gaze flitting back up to hers but his face never turning away from the ground, “because of the mask?”

She shook her head. “Not because of the mask. Or the ears, for that matter.” She had to pause, thinking of what exactly it was that put him at such a distance for so long. “It was more because I couldn’t see past the shock,” she finally admitted, a bit shamefully. Her gaze hit the ground as she continued. “I didn’t want to see past my own trauma. I didn’t want to let in an odd stranger. I just wanted to go home.”

“I know how that feels,” he said. She felt more than saw him take a step closer to her. “How you just want to run and hide in a place that had been safe for so long despite knowing you can’t go back.”

“I hardly think you can compare your situation to mine,” she countered. “You’re still haunted by it. It still affects you.”

“And yours doesn’t?”

Marinette bit her lip.

“Trauma is still trauma, my lady. Some is just worse than others.”

“I just don’t want to negate the fact that yours left bigger scars.”

Slowly, she felt his hands wrap around hers and hold them tight. “That means the world to me. To know you care that much.”

“I do,” she assured, shifting her hands so that she could hold his hands, too. A stroke of boldness pushed her to look up at his face again. She had to catch her breath when her gaze caught his. “I’ve come to truly care about you. So much so that it would break my heart to know you married a woman who would be so heartless as to watch you suffer in your sleep and not want to do anything about it.”

His expression softened, and his smile turned bittersweet. “The last person to care for me like that…to be there when I woke from nightmares and stay with me until the worst of my fear passed…was my mother.” He paused, his eyes watering in thought. “She would usually rub my back or scratch my head until I fell back to sleep. Something that Plagg told me that you’ve been doing.”

“Like I said, I couldn’t just let you suffer in your sleep,” she answered easily. Earnestly. She hated watching him writhe and pant as though in pain. She’d taken up sitting by his side and sewing while he slept. The second he’d shift, her project would be forgotten in favor of soothing him back to sleep. While it broke her heart ten times over, she swore to herself she would never fail to do it.

When he smiled, his eyes sparkling and his expression radiating sunshine, her heart melted. “When I started dreaming of my mother coaxing me back to sleep, I thought it was a coincidence. A lucky one considering that I’ve never been able to fall back asleep after a nightmare. Not since the war. Apparently, I’m not the lucky one. I just have a lucky charm who cares.”

“How could I not?” Marinette was surprised those words slipped so easily from her lips. She was only slightly more so when she realized how much she meant it.

Suddenly, his expression was one of pain, and Marinette couldn’t handle being the one to cause it. “Not many people care for Chat Noir, Marinette.”

“Then what do they know?”

His eyes widened.

“They’re idiots for ignoring a man with such a brave spirit and a kind heart.”

Her heart was racing at the way his shock turned to smolder. And was it her imagination, or did his breathing pick up? Subtly, he shook his head in disbelief. “What did I do to deserve you?”

“You put your safety and pride aside to save me.” With that, she squeezed his hands. “Trust me when I say I’m the undeserving one.”

“No,” he said. The fire in his eyes burned hotter, and Marinette’s heart picked up its pace once again when he slipped a hand free to cup her jaw. “I’m the undeserving one.”

She barely had time to register the way he tilted her chin upwards before she let her eyes fall shut. His lips soon met hers in nothing more than a chaste peck. A touch. One all too short.

She reached her hands out to his shoulders to steady herself, but this seemed to encourage him because the next thing she knew, his lips were back on hers, lingering longer than before.

Not that she minded.

Her grip on his shoulders tightened, and his hand moved from her chin to bury in her hair, cradling her head while his free arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her in. She put up no resistance, allowing her hands to slide up to the base of his neck, fingering his soft, golden locks. That’s when a pleasant little sound escaped his throat. One that sent butterflies flying in her stomach and her mind buzzing with pleasure. Then he turned his head and pressed his lips firmly against hers.

On an exhale, she let her body relax completely into the bliss of him. All too soon, he pulled away, much to her displeasure. She whined, wanting his lips back, but she stopped fighting when they found her cheek, her jaw, her ear.

“Adrien,” she whispered on a moan when his lips lingered on a sensitive spot under her ear.

“Marinette,” he purred back.

She hated how easily that turned her knees to nothing.

He pulled away, only to come back so he could touch the tip of his nose on hers and rest their foreheads together. “Darling, I want to make this work between us,” he whispered, his breath rolling across her lips. “I want to pursue more than what we have. And maybe one day, we can truly call ourselves husband and wife.”

It was a nerve-wrecking admission, what he was asking. Something she didn’t think she was ready for. To pursue a romance and eventually consummate their marriage. It scared her even further at how easily her answer rolled off her tongue. “So do I, Adrien. So do I.”

But what scared her the most, she thought belatedly as his lips descended once more upon hers, was just how much she truly meant it.

Chapter Text

“Tikki, I know you’ve been stressed all morning, but that’s no reason to yank my dress tight.”

From the mirror, Marinette could see Tikki blush. “Sorry, Marinette.”

The girl felt relief when the maid began loosening the laces. “What’s bothering you so badly?”

She sighed. “Plagg.”

Marinette cringed. It had been three weeks since Plagg had revealed his love of Tikki to Marinette. It had been twenty days since Marinette told Tikki what she had learned. And it had been nineteen days since Tikki had firmly and adamantly set her cap to pursue the man who refused to pursue her.

Apparently, no progress had been made.

“What’s going on?”

“He’s just…so stubborn.” Considering Tikki just stomped her foot like a child, Marinette knew it had to be bad. “It’s like he won’t even acknowledge me.”

Marinette’s brow furrowed in befuddlement. “Why would that even be? He loves you.”

“I know he does, but he’s denying it.”

Marinette pondered back to her conversation with Plagg. “He was adamant about keeping you away from him; that much I do remember. I think he didn’t believe he was good enough.”

“Which is a lie,” Tikki countered. “He was a brave young man who was resourceful enough to save his entire forty-person squadron from a surprise attack.”

“What?” Marinette whipped around to face Tikki.

The maid nodded. “He did. They didn’t make it out unscathed, but they at least made it out alive.”

Marinette turned forward again so that Tikki could finish tying off the laces. “He was a good soldier, then?”

“One of the best,” Tikki agreed. “He was young, but it was like he was born to do it. It was a shame the war left him so scarred.”

Marinette thought long and hard back on her and Plagg’s conversation. “I think that’s why he doesn’t want to marry you.”

“Hmm?” Tikki cocked her head, confused.

“Yes, I think that’s why,” Marinette said. “He said he wanted to keep himself away from you because he was a ‘shadow of what he once was’.”

Tikki’s eyes turned glassy. “Oh, Plagg. That man!” She took a deep breath. “What am I going to do with him?”

Marinette gave her a sympathetic smile. “You want him in spite of all that?”

“Yes!” Tikki cried. “And—oh, that idiot!—it’s not like I haven’t seen what war-torn men look like.” Tikki wiggled a warning finger at Marinette. “Don’t go believing he can keep me from seeing the horrors. I’ll have you know that I was a nurse during the eastern war, wanting to serve as much as I could. I saw men being brought in half-dead on stretchers, missing limbs and bleeding out. I may not know the horrors of the battlefield, but I know the aftermath.”

Marinette pushed Tikki’s hand from her face. “I should have guessed,” she said. “I don’t doubt you would have signed up to help as quickly as you could have.”

“You bet I did,” Tikki confirmed. “I even helped heal his squadron after they escaped their attack. That was how I met Plagg. He was the worst off of the bunch. He suffered from the worst night terrors, too, poor man.”

“He said something about that. That the nightmares kept him from sleeping, just as they do to Adrien.”

Tikki frowned, her features softening as her immediate anger faded. “No, Marinette,” she corrected. “He has night terrors. They are worse than nightmares because instead of just twitching and shifting, they have no control over their bodies. They walk. They punch. They thrash around. It’s…a bit scary.”

Tikki’s expression crumpled to one far beyond her years. “I had never heard of the condition before I started working at the hospital. As a young nurse with a heart for the hurting, I went beyond the call of duty and comforted the soldiers when they had nightmares. So when I saw him shifting and twitching, I went to calm him. Only, when I did, he lashed out, and I ended up on the floor with a black eye and bloody nose.”

“He hit you?” Marinette gasped.

“It wasn’t on purpose!” Tikki defended. “He wasn’t even awake or conscious. And it was humiliating when he found me crying on the floor when he woke up. Then he was crying because he hurt me, and he thought he was a horrible person, so I had to convince him he wasn’t even though my nose was dripping blood and I was sobbing. Only after I got pulled aside by an older nurse and she patched me up did she tell me about what night terrors were. There was only one other person I saw with such a condition after that, and I made sure to stay far away from him.”

“Oh, Tikki,” Marinette soothed, resting a comforting hand on her shoulder.

That’s probably why he won’t even consider me,” Tikki said, her gaze hitting the floor. “I still remember the way he would look at me after that incident. With guilt and embarrassment. I’m also positive that he didn’t sleep for a day or two after that.”

Marinette could do no more than embrace the teary woman. She could say no more because she now held no doubt why Plagg kept his distance.

Tikki eventually managed to pull herself back together just in time for Alya to enter the room. “Mari,” she said, her tone quick with uncertainty. “You have a guest.”

Her brow furrowed at Alya’s lack of confidence. “Who?”

“You’ll never guess.”

Confused, Marinette followed Alya downstairs to the front of the house and out the front door. Only to stop dead in her tracks when she saw the unmistakable red hair. “Nathaniel!”

He smiled. “Marinette.”

She rushed out to her old friend, arms open. “How are you?”

“I’m well,” he answered, embracing her briefly before setting her back at arm’s length. “And you? Your parents said you were well.”

“I am,” Marinette confirmed. “It’s a lot of strange adjustment, but I’m learning.”

Nathaniel smiled sheepishly. “I did always tell you that you were good enough to be royalty.”

“You did,” Marinette grinned fondly. “Even after I turned down your proposal.”

“I understand why you did, Marinette,” he said. “I traveled too much and was often away for too long. And I know you wanted a family where your husband would always be at your side.”

“It had nothing to do with you as a person,” she assured.

Nathaniel smiled confidently. “I know that, Marinette. But…I’m sure you could imagine my surprise when, not a month later, you end up as the wife of a viscount.”

“It wasn’t exactly easy for me, either,” Marinette responded softly. With a somewhat forced smile, she changed the subject. “But enough of that. What brings you out here? Did you find a job around the area?”

His frown caused a rock to settle heavy in her stomach. “Actually, I came from your parents.” With a tilt of his head, he motioned to his wagon, one that was covered with a tarp. Marinette followed him as he walked to the back. “Just under a week ago, a young woman stumbled upon the bakery, where she immediately collapsed.”

“What?”

Nathaniel nodded. “In one of her feverish rambles, she mentioned a Kim? A knight, it seemed. Your parents remembered you talking about a Sir Kim, so they thought that maybe…” By then, Nathaniel had lifted the tarp to reveal a tiny red-haired girl who looked deathly pale.

“Alya!” Marinette called on instinct. “Tikki!”

The girls were halfway to her before Marinette shouted her next orders. “Ready a room. We have an injured girl here.”

Tikki skidded to a stop and bolted back toward the house. Alya froze, looking at Tikki, then to Marinette for further direction.

“Go find Lord Noir for me, please.” Marinette asked. “I’ll have to explain this to him.”

With a nod, Alya tore off again.

“Thank you for bringing her here,” Marinette said to Nathaniel. “We’ll take care of her.”

“I knew you would. You always had the heart for taking in strays.”

She flashed him a smile before crawling into the back of the wagon to the girl’s side. She pressed the back of her hand to the girl’s forehead. It was nothing short of fire.

“Did my parents do anything to help?” she asked, turning back to Nathaniel.

“They gave me herbs that I tried to get her to drink, but she’s been unconscious for a while.”

Marinette frowned. “Did she say anything else in her ramblings? A name? A place she was from?”

“Not that they told me.”

Well, they hopefully would find that out soon enough. She hopped out of the wagon just in time to see Adrien come out. Not even his ever-present mask could hide his confusion as he hustled toward her.

“Adrien, before you say anything,” Marinette began, feeling brave as she faced off her husband, “know my parents and I did this all the time. We took in many sick and injured because we just wanted to help. Now that I have the ability and means, I want to do what I can to help those in need, and I won’t take no for an—”

“I never said anything, Marinette,” he stopped her, his voice frim yet gentle. “And I’m not going to argue with you when I admire your will to help.”

It was a bit of a shock to hear, but Marinette wasn’t going to stop and wonder her luck when the girl in the back of Nathaniel’s wagon needed her help. “She’s feverish,” Marinette explained as Adrien rounded the wagon. “I’ve already sent Tikki and Alya inside to prepare a room.”

“Good. Where?”

“I don’t know,” she realized. “I’ll go find them.” Without any more delay, Marinette picked up her skirts to run into the house. She flitted around between the most logical of the rooms before finally finding Tikki and Alya making up the bed in the yellow room.

“Tikki. Alya,” Marinette directed, “the girl is feverish. Do we have anything for her?”

“I’ll go gather some things,” Tikki volunteered.

“Thank you.” Without waiting for another answer, Marinette bolted back down the stairs to find Adrien.

She caught sight of him as he marched through the front door, looking rather stern as he carried the girl in his arms. “Kim!” he bellowed loud enough to rumble the house. “Kim!”

Marinette was momentarily rendered speechless at her husband’s ferocity but snapped out of it when he looked at her for an answer. “The yellow room,” she managed. “They’re making up the yellow room.”

“Good.”

Quickly, he stormed passed her. It took a moment for Marinette to pull herself out of her stupor and follow him. “Nathaniel told you about her fevered ramblings, then?”

“Nathaniel didn’t tell me anything. Didn’t need to.”

Next thing Marinette heard was the tromping of feet towards them before she saw Kim round the corner. His features were stoic, but when his gaze landed on the girl in Adrien’s arms, his eyes blew wide. “No no no no no.”

Kim rushed up to Adrien to take the girl from his grasp. “The yellow room,” he directed, laying the girl in Kim’s outstretched arms.

“Alya has probably finished making it up by now,” Marinette hastily added. “And Tikki’s gathering things for her fever.”

“Good,” Kim said, shifting the girl in his arms as though he could cocoon her up. Without further delay, he bolted off at a quick clip towards the designated bedroom.

That’s when Adrien gently tugged at her arm again. “Come on,” he said, leading the way back outside. “I want to learn as much information about where Nathaniel found her as I can.”

Marinette struggled to comprehend his words. Everything was zipping by in the blink of an eye; it was hard to follow. “She stumbled upon my parent’s house,” she spoke up. “Supposedly, she collapsed from her fever immediately. My parents sent her here because she said something about a Kim and they thought she was talking about our Kim.” Marinette then pulled her husband’s arm to stop him for a moment. “Adrien, slow down. What’s going on?”

His expression was still stern, but the longer he looked down at her confusion, the more his features softened. “You have no idea who she is,” he realized.

“I know nothing more than she came with a fever,” Marinette replied.

Adrien took a deep breath. “Marinette, her name is Alix Kubdel. She’s the princess of France.”

Chapter Text

After Nathaniel had been sent away, after Alix had been cared for, after the commotion of the house had calmed down, Adrien knew it was time to settle one last thing: Marinette’s confusion.

He waited until after the early and very quiet dinner to have the conversation with her. He wanted to take her outside, to sit up on the roof and watch the stars with her while she snuggled up against him, then send her off a kiss goodnight, as had become their routine. But he knew the roof was not the best place to have this conversation. Not since this was going to end with him revealing himself.

There was no way around it. He was going to have to tell her how he knew Alix. Furthermore, there was the completed letter to his father sitting on his desk waiting to be sent out, and he knew he couldn’t do that without telling Marinette the truth first. Because having his father, the king of the land, appear—for Adrien knew without a shadow of a doubt that his father would come after he got the letter—only to shock Marinette with the truth was the worst way he could possibly go about this.

He sighed. He really didn’t want to do this. He wanted things to stay the way they were with this trust between them. Unfortunately, Adrien also knew that hiding any longer was cowardly. If he was being brutally honest with himself, he had probably been cowardly for far too long. He didn’t deserve this woman who cared for him as tenderly as she did. He couldn’t keep this secret from her any longer, not from the woman who had come to fully and irrevocably claim his heart. She didn’t deserve it.

“Marinette,” he said once dinner had ended. “Walk with me?”

Her brow furrowed at his tone. “Of course.”

With a nod, he sent off Nino and a distraught Kim. Over the course of dinner, Marinette had asked Kim twice if he was all right, which Adrien knew fully well he wasn’t despite what Kim told Marinette. Frankly, she never looked convinced, either.

“Do you think he’ll be all right? I’ve never seen him so down.” Marinette asked once Kim had left the room.

Adrien sighed. “He’ll be all right once Alix recovers. Probably not until then.”

Marinette sent a pitying look towards the door. “They know each other somehow? If Alix was mumbling about Kim and Kim is distressed over her?”

“Yes, they do,” he solemnly answered. “Kim is originally from the kingdom of France. He trained as a knight in the high court. He was mischievous enough to pull pranks on the princess every once in a while.”

A hint of amusement crossed Marinette’s face. “Sounds like Kim.”

Adrien mirrored her expression. “Yes. Yes, it does. What he didn’t know was the princess was mischievous enough in her own right to pull pranks back. They formed a…strange sort of comradery after that.” His lips then tugged downwards. “It’s not my place to tell the rest. For now, I have other things weighing on my mind tonight.” With that, he politely extended his hand towards her.

She set her hand in his to stand, but then carefully slid her hand out of his to pull off his leather glove. “The sun has nearly set,” she said, slipping her hand back into his once more before giving him a tender smile. “Soon, there won’t be any more sunlight to affect your scars.”

Part of him wanted to argue. To cover up the scars that still proved his imperfection. But the better part of him loved the feel of Marinette’s hand in his own. Loved being able to touch her, and he trusted her enough to be comfortable baring his scars. Maybe that was why he surrendered, offering her his other gloved hand.

The smile she wore as she stole that glove from his fingers squashed any last ounce of fear, and the way she slipped both her hands into both of his sent his heart racing. He raised both hands up to his lips, pressing a kiss firmly onto her knuckles. Her blush was noticeable even in the colored light of sunset. With a smile, he tucked her right hand in the crook of his right elbow, and she happily sided up to him.

He led her down the hallway, debating where in the house best to have this conversation. Maybe the library, where the room was small and peaceful and secluded. Where she could sit upon the couch and he could tell her everything.

She squeezed his arm, calling his attention to her. He wanted to smooth out her tightly knit brow, to remove the frown from her perfectly pink lips, to erase the worry swimming in those gorgeous blue eyes, but he was too nervous himself to offer her fake reassurance.

With a sigh, he began. “I promised you I would tell you how I knew Alix.” He turned into the library and motioned toward the couch. “You might want to take a seat for this story.”

Slowly and uncertainly, she did. She smoothed the skirt of her blue dress, the one he adored because of the way it matched her eyes. She forced her hands to rest on her lap even though he could see how fidgety she was.

Adrien shut the door behind him before he began. “I met her once, a long time ago. We were nothing more than kids at the time, but I still recognized her immediately.”

“The Princess of France,” Marinette interrupted. “You met the Princess of France?”

Adrien nodded.

“You… I guess we, now… do… do we brush shoulders with people that high up?”

Adrien’s gaze softened at her reappearing nervousness. Sometimes, it was very easy to forget she was once a baker’s daughter. That was going to make the revelation of her true status that much more shocking. “Yes, Marinette,” he responded. “We do. And we will continuously.”

He sighed. Now or never. “That’s because I’m not just a viscount.”

Marinette’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“This is my mother’s estate,” he started. “My grandmother passed after childbirth, making my mother an only daughter. My grandfather belatedly realized that he didn’t want the Noir estate to be passed to my mother’s more reckless male cousins. He wanted it and its assets to stay safe and intact. Therefore, he spent a long time securing the estate and naming my mother heiress. My mother, however, married far above her station as a viscount, meaning that this estate sat empty after her father passed.”

Nerves began to overtake him. Belatedly, he realized his own gaze had dropped to the floor. He wasn’t even looking at her anymore. Just continue, he urged himself. Or you’ll never finish.

“I spent five months in the war,” he managed, though he stared at his shoes. “When I came back, I was a mess. My father warned me not to go, but…”

“But you did.”

Adrien saw blue fabric enter his vision. When he looked up, Marinette was standing in front of him, her blue eyes gentle and welcoming. He relaxed the slightest bit. “Yeah. I did. I knew I had to. I felt like it was my job. To go and fight, not to hide away.”

He felt her arms wrap around his torso, her lithe frame pressing against his chest. “And that’s one reason I’m so proud of you,” she said. “Your sense of duty is admirable.”

He took comfort in her, cocooning her up in his arms and pressing his nose to her hair. “I’m glad you think so. Because my father resented me for it.”

“Then shame on him,” she whispered.

He gave her an affectionate squeeze and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “That’s what Plagg always says. Even though he wasn’t happy that I went to war, either.”

“Probably trying to protect you from what he saw,” she commented.

“Undoubtedly,” Adrien agreed. “Still, when I came back and wasn’t able to sleep through the night, he was there to help me. My father, though…” He sighed, shifting so that his forehead rested on top of Marinette’s. “My father hated that I came back ‘imperfect’ or ‘marred’ as he always referred to it. He sent for doctor after doctor to ‘cure’ me. But when all of them failed, he couldn’t stand it and sent me away.”

He felt Marinette’s embrace tighten. “Back here? To your mother’s estate?”

Adrien nodded, her hair ruffling against his. “Back here, to recover, and only come back once I was ‘healed.’”

That’s when he felt her shift again, this time away from him. No. He didn’t want her to leave. He wanted her to stay. Just a while longer because who knew how she was going to regard him in a few moments. A few soft giggles escaped her as she touched his cheek, redirecting his gaze down to her. “I couldn’t even imagine having my father act so cold,” she said, her expression kind and gentle. “That’s not fair to you. You have no faults.”

That tugged on his heartstrings in weird ways, both bitter and sweet. “Hardly, my love.”

“War-torn isn’t a fault of your own. That’s something that can’t be helped.”

“That doesn’t negate the fact I have it.”

“And that doesn’t negate the fact you’re still an incredible man.”

He couldn’t help it. He kissed her. He loved this woman. He loved her heart. Her selflessness. Her boldness. Her sense of justice.

What did he do to deserve her?

She pulled away, much to his dismay, but continued to pepper his cheeks with fleeting kisses. He tried, and succeeded, to sneak in a kiss here and there until he was able to capture her lips again. Holding her tightly, he dipped her backward, relishing the feel of her in his arms. Three, four, five kisses until he forced himself to slow this down because this wasn’t over yet no matter how much he desperately wanted it to be. If he had any luck at all, this would all end well. Unfortunately, not even that ‘lucky ring’ on his finger could counteract the bad luck he seemed to carry with him.

She pulled away first, bringing an end to the kisses. Still, she leaned closer to rest her forehead against his, their noses touching and their heavy breaths intermingled. Her fingers still rested in his hair, brushing his mask. But instead of lingering there, they reached up and toyed with the edges of his cat ears.

“I don’t like these,” she commented. “And I don’t think you do either.”

He bit back his automatic response of them being hilariously punny because she was right. He didn’t. They were his way of hiding. “One can only be called Chat Noir so many times before your only way to cope is to prove them right.”

He felt her hands work into his hair. One after the other, the ears were removed. “Then don’t be Chat Noir any longer. Be Adrien.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of her tossing the ears onto the desk to the side. “Marinette,” he said, bracing himself. “You can take off the mask, too.”

She looked at him curiously, her head tilted in confusion. “What?”

“You can take off the mask,” he repeated. “You need to see who I am.”

Her head tilted even further, her brow quirking more drastically. “You say that like we’ve met before.”

Adrien just continued to stare at her, guilt rising to unbearable levels.

Her features suddenly shifted. “Have we?”

He bit his lip. “Once,” he answered. “Our paths crossed once. I watched your act of selfless kindness right before I went to war. It gave me hope in the people of the kingdom. And I would remember you, time and time again, whenever it got hard. It was nice to have a reminder…of what I was fighting for.”

Her eyes got wide and grew shiny with tears. “What?” She shook her head. “How could that be? I…I…”

“Marinette.”

She stopped her rambling to look up at him. He simply looked down at her, unsure of what he could possibly say at that moment. She swallowed, then her hands moved from their resting spot near his shoulders to the edges of his mask. “Are you sure?”

“I need you to see me.” Of that, he felt certain.

She reached around to the knot in the back of his mask, fingering it uncertainly. It took her a moment to undo it, but she finally managed. In her moment of hesitation before she pulled the mask away, Adrien shut his eyes and loosened his grasp on her.

Coward.

He felt the mask fall from his face, and all was silent. Even with his loose grasp on her sides, he felt her entire body stiffen.

And then she took a knife to his heart when she took a step away. And another. His hands had to release her completely when she took a third.

Reluctantly, he opened his eyes only to see her staring at him, tears in her eyes, frozen stiff.

“Marinette.”

That broke her from her stupor. Her tears fell as she took yet another three steps back. “Oh my word.” The mask slipped from her grasp as her hands went to cover her mouth. She frantically began shaking her head as her face grew redder and the tears more proficient. “This…no. This can’t…”

His heart was already breaking, and she hadn’t even left the room yet. “Marinette, please—”

“You’re the prince.”

He nodded, though it was hard.

“I married…no. No. That’s…that’s not right…”

“You did, Marinette, now please—”

She broke into a crying mess as sobs began to fill the room. “I couldn’t have. I can’t do this. I can’t. I can’t.” Suddenly, she bolted.

If asked later, Adrien would say he had no idea what came over him. How he possibly could have broken from his frozen stupor and reached out to grab her before she ran away, he didn’t know. “Marinette, please, just wait a moment—”

“I can’t do this,” she cried, her blue eyes screwed shut as she refused to look at him. “I can’t. Let me go.”

“What’s so wrong about me?” he begged, his heart already broken on the floor and shattering further as she continuously struggled against his hold.

“Nothing!” she shouted. Her blue eyes suddenly opened to reveal just how red they were. “There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s me. I—”

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” he argued, holding her tighter.

“I’m not talking about that! I’m talking about you being a prince and that I have no right to be your wife. I have no business being your wife. I don’t deserve you.”

Fire lit inside him. “I don’t believe that for a second. You are Lady Noir. My Lady Noir.”

“But don’t you see that’s all I am? I cannot be the wife of a prince when I’m barely able to be the wife of a viscount. I will never be more than that. I can never be more than that. Don’t ask that of me when you need to be more than I could possibly ever be. You…you need to be the leader of the kingdom. You need to be the prince. I can’t be what you need from me.”

“Yes, you can. And you are. You’re my wife.”

“I’m Lady Noir, the wife of Lord Noir. Not the wife of a prince.” Her yes screwed shut again as she shook her head and struggled against him. “Don’t you see that this is your out? You did your good deed: you took me on to save my reputation even though you shouldn’t have because it could have ruined you. I still could ruin you. And I know I would if you took me as your princess. Don’t do that to yourself. You don’t have to deal with this anymore. You’re the prince. So go home! Return to the castle, take your rightful place as king. Leave me here, as Lady Noir, and no one will have to know about your one indiscretion.”

“Now hold on! Who said anything—”

“Don’t try to convince me I’m not. Anyone from the royal class who would stoop so low as to marry a commoner would carry that mark on them permanently. Classes don’t mix for a reason. I will be a scandal, and you’ll be shamed if you even consider claiming me. You’ve done everything you possibly could to care for me, so let me take care of you: leave me alone!”

She shoved his chest. The action caught him off-guard, forcing him to stumble two steps back, but it was enough distance for her to bolt out the door before he could reach her.

Before he could even get his feet to move, before he realized he needed to chase her down and convince her otherwise, she had disappeared. He looked up and down the hallway, wishing to know which went, but he knew it was hopeless. She didn’t want to talk. She wouldn’t want to listen. She didn’t even want him.

Just like his dream. Except this time, no one was here to wake him up. He was doomed to live this nightmare through.

Chapter Text

Marinette spent the next day barricaded in her room. The prince. Oh, she had married the prince.

She nearly started crying again at the thought.

What was her luck? Honestly, just as she thought she could be happy with him. Just as she was beginning to believe she truly could become Lady Noir. That she could be his wife. That they could start a family. And the rug was ripped out from under her as it turned out he was a man she could never have.

A knock resounded at her door. “Marinette,” Alya’s voice rang out, heavy with concern. “Marinette, please open up.”

“Come in, Alya.”

Though the mirror of her vanity, Marinette watched Alya step inside. “What’s wrong?” she asked, shutting the door behind her.

“Who said anything?” Marinette countered.

“You should know better than to think you have to say anything at all.”

Marinette bit her lip to withhold the tears, ones quickly loosed when Alya placed comforting hands on her shoulders. “Tell me, girl.”

A shaky sob escaped her, and Marinette covered her face with her hands before the rest of the tears erupted. Alya bent over to wrap her arms around her best friend, allowing her to just cry it out, no matter how long it took.

“I love him,” Marinette eventually sputtered out. “A-a-and I can’t h-have him.”

More tears poured out of her. Alya did her part as supporting friend, rubbing Marinette’s back in soothing motions. “Why not?” she inquired gently. “Why can’t you have him?”

“He’s the prince.”

At that, Alya stiffened. She put Marinette at arm’s length. “What do you mean?”

Marinette wiped her wet cheeks with her sleeve. “He’s the Prince of Paris, Alya.” She sniffed, then rubbed her cheeks again. “He’s Adrien Agreste.”

Alya’s brow pinched together. “He’s…what? No. The prince is lost at war.”

Marinette frantically shook her head. “He’s not, Alya. He came back. A wreck, but he’s back. His father sent him here to heal. It’s his mother’s estate.”

“Lord Noir…is…”

Marinette nodded.

Realization dawned on Alya’s face. “You’re a princess.”

“That’s the problem!” Marinette cried, her face growing redder. “I can’t be. I’ll ruin him. I’ll be the mockery of the kingdom. Once this gets out to his father, he has every right and all the power to annul the marriage, which he will do to salvage his son. Which leaves me where? His mistress? The most I could ever be, which would still leave him in shambles and make me truly dishonorable. No. He has to disown me in order to save any reputation he has. Let the scandal die with Lord Noir. I’ll bear that burden, but he—” Marinette choked as tears began pouring from her eyes. “I can’t let him do that to himself.”

Alya didn’t know what to do with her crying friend other than hold her and rub her back reassuringly in hopes she’d quiet down. “I…” Alya eventually said, “I want to say that you deserve better than that. That you rightfully deserve to be the princess. But, girl…I hate to say this…but this is one of your wild ideas that might actually have some truth to it.”

Bitter words but true nevertheless.

“It hurts, Alya.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“I love him.”

“I know you do.”

“I wish I didn’t.”

“I don’t think you mean that.”

“I do!” Marinette argued. “It would be easier to let him go.”

Alya had no words to say to that.

“After all this,” she mumbled, bitterly, brokenly, “after all the effort he put in…he saved me from marriage to Theo, from being…” She couldn’t say it. “And then…then he goes and makes me fall in love with him and…and it’s just a game because I…” she sniffed. “I’ll never be able to be his wife.”

“He must love you, though,” Alya argued, desperately wishing to give her friend any sliver of hope. “Otherwise he wouldn’t have wooed you.”

“Don’t say that, Alya,” Marinette begged. “Please, don’t remind me. I just want to forget everything he ever said to me. It only makes it hurt worse.”

Alya sighed, at a loss for what to do. “Tell you what,” she said, a plan hatching in her mind. “We can take a walk through the gardens later today once I’m done with my chores. We’ll get you out of your room, into the sunshine, and just walk or talk or whatever you want to do. All right? I’ll meet you there at three. How does that sound?”

Marinette stared at her friend hesitantly.

“Come on,” Alya coaxed. “You know I’m right.”

It took a while, but Marinette eventually relented. “Okay.”

Alya patted her cheeks affectionately. “That’s my girl. Now, do you want me to bring you up lunch? You skipped breakfast.”

Marinette bit her lip in deliberation. “A little something might be nice.”

“Okay. I’ll be back up in a moment. And don’t forget about our walk.”

“I won’t.” At the very least, that was the one thing she would try to remember.

She purposefully wanted to be late. The very last thing that she wanted was to be alone where Adrien could find her and talk to her. She couldn’t handle that right now. She just couldn’t.

So, at one minute till three, she slipped from her room. She hurried as quickly as possible out to the gardens, careful to peak around every corner and check every hallway as she did. She couldn’t risk being careless and running into him.

At last, she made it out to the gardens, and she seemed to be in the clear. No Adrien in sight.

But no Alya either.

Marinette frowned. Of course her friend would be late the one time she didn’t want to be alone. Alya must have gotten hung up on her chores.

A bit frustrated and a hint nervous, Marinette made her way to the bench hidden among the bushes and flowers. The one covered by ivy, where she and Adrien sat and just talked…

No, she scolded herself. Bad Marinette. Don’t think about him. Don’t think abo—

The sound of footsteps broke her from her thoughts. But they weren’t light like Alya’s footfalls. They were heavy, thick-soled boots coming towards her. She scrunched lower on the bench. Please, not Adrien. Please not him!

“For the record, Alya told me to be here,” the man’s voice said. Not Adrien.

Marinette looked up.

Nino.

She didn’t know if that was better or worse.

He stood beside the ivy canopy, not moving towards the bench to sit even though there was plenty of room.

“Can I help you with something?” Marinette asked, unsure of what to say.

“Just to listen,” he answered. “Adrien came to me yesterday and told me what happened. He’s really shaken from it. And trust me, it takes a quite a bit to shake him like that.”

Marinette’s brow scrunched together as she frowned. “What?”

Nino nodded. “I’ll tell you that I’ve known Adrien for several years now. I know a lot about him, from the weight his promises hold to the depths of his compassion to his ability to bear anything. And I mean anything. So when he comes to me at a loss for words, sitting the foot of my bed most of the night while begging like a lost dog for me to help him out, I know something’s wrong.”

He sighed, shifting to lean against the ivy trellis.

Marinette finally snapped from her stupor to point to the seat beside him. “You can sit, if you’d like.”

Nino shook his head. “I don’t have much more to say.”

“Then don’t let me stop you,” she replied.

He gave her a half-smile before he grew serious again. “When I found out that Adrien had married you, I was shocked to say the least. When Kim and I confronted him and he admitted that he didn’t tell you his true identity, I hounded him for it. But, then he countered me saying that you had gone through so much that he didn’t want to put any more on you. That being Lady Noir so suddenly after what had happened was enough. That telling you would only hurt you in the end. Was he right to think all that?” Nino shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t even know if you should let him off the hook for this. But I do know one thing: he did it because he cared. And he still does care. Very much if the scene in my room last night was any indication.”

“Yes, but this isn’t about him caring about me,” Marinette countered. “It’s about him, and what I’ll do to him if he claims me as his princess. Nino, you can’t let him.”

Nino’s brow quirked. “Why not?”

“Because I’m a baker’s daughter,” she said. She swallowed down as much of her emotion as possible in order to continue. “I’m not royalty. And before you say anything about being Lady Noir…pretending to be a lady is one thing. Pretending to be a princess is a whole other.” She took a breath. She could do this. She could do this… “If he claimed me, his reputation and the kingdom’s reputation would be ruined. He can’t do that. He can’t sacrifice that much for me, no matter how much he cares.”

Nino stared at her long and hard, absorbing her words and mulling them over. “Then I best remind you of one thing about Adrien: his words mean everything to him. Vows are unbreakable in his opinion, as they should be anyway.”

“Then I’ll release him from the vows,” she cried. “I’ll demand it. Please, Nino. Tell him that. Convince him to let me go.”

Nino sighed. “No.”

“No?” Marinette repeated.

“No,” he repeated, his voice soft and kind. “Marinette, I’ll admit that when you came, I had my doubts about you. I thought Adrien’s good soul finally bit him in the end. But I was wrong. And your true selflessness toward my best friend, especially after learning who he is, only heightens my respect for you. So no. I’m not going to convince him of anything you said because he would hate the idea, and frankly, so do I. Not when you’re probably the biggest blessing that got bestowed on him.”

Marinette was left shock still on the bench, her mouth slightly open but no words coming forth.

With that, Nino tilted his hat in respectful parting. “I’ll leave you to think on that.” And then he left.

It took Marinette a good fifteen minutes to pull herself together and retreat back into the house. She felt numb walking back up the stairs. Would no one in this house listen to reason? She had to do this. She had to.

“Right this way,” Alya’s voice echoed down the hall.

“Thank you, miss,” a kind voice replied. A tapping sound echoed down the hallway, like a cane against the hard floor. Curious, Marinette hustled toward the front of the house, peeking out from her hiding spot behind a corner.

She gasped at the sight of the bony, gray-haired man trembling down the hallway. He paused at the audible sound and turned, revealing a smiling face with a gray beard. “Marinette.”

“Mister Fu,” she greeted, coming out to properly greet him.

He turned around, limping on his gimpy leg, relying staunchly on his cane. “Why, what a sight seeing you here. And in such a lovely gown.”

Marinette smiled, pretending she hadn’t just been stressed a mere moment ago. “Thank you.”

His smile widened. “You know what would really make that white gown stand out?” he said, making his way towards her. “A pair of red earrings. Such a stunning color, don’t you think?” With that, he gave her a wink, fully aware of their little secret.

Marinette’s grin turned pained. “Hardly. I only wear lucky objects.”

He rose a single brow. “Really? Red is known to be a very lucky color.”

She shrugged. “I think lucky objects can sometimes be mislabeled.”

Mister Fu seemed to ponder this. “And sometimes,” he said. “I think that maybe one cannot call their luck too early. Sometimes they have to face some hardship in order for their luck to truly be appreciated.”

With that, he chuckled. “But I am not here to talk. I am here to heal.”

“Oh,” Marinette realized. “Were you called for Alix?” Suddenly, her brow furrowed. “I wasn’t even aware you were in the area.”

His eyes gleamed. “A very kind young man bought a ring from me in return for enough money to buy passage to my home here. Emeralds to oppose rubies. A balance, don’t you think?” With that, he winked and turned back towards Alya. “Now, young lady, I believe you were showing me to the injured.”

Alya struggled to hide her confusion. “Of course, sir. This way.”

Chapter Text

Two days. That’s how long it had been since Adrien had revealed himself, and it was how long Marinette had successfully locked herself in her room.

“You can’t keep hiding forever,” a concerned Tikki said.

“I’m just trying to wrap my head around this,” Marinette countered. “I know what I have to do, but I have this feeling…that Adrien is going to ignore common sense and…”

“Deep inside, you want him to, don’t you?”

Marinette shut her eyes to fight against the tears. “I don’t have that right.”

Tikki yanked her dress strings. This time, Marinette knew it was on purpose.

“Now, see here,” she said, leaving the tight laces so she could stand in front of Marinette. “By no doing of your own, you were tossed into this role. But since then, you have overcome every challenge to truly become Lady Noir. If the previous ladies of the house could see you now, they would accept you as one of their own. You are more of a lady than some of the countesses and duchesses out there.”

“But I can’t be a princess!” Marinette shouted. “That’s what I’m saying. What would society say? It’s scandal. Do you know what they would say about Adrien and his family, or me and mine?”

“Do you know what their saying already?” Tikki snapped. A fraction of a second too late, she realized what she had said.

But the damage was done. All color drained from Marinette’s face. “What are they saying?”

Tikki sighed. “You don’t really want to hear—”

“What are they saying?” she demanded.

Tikki looked appropriately abashed. “When Nathaniel came, we got to talk about all the rumors flying around. There are two rumors above all others, and because they’re conflicting, they’re damaging all their own. The great debate is whose child you’re pregnant with: Lord Barbot’s or Lord Noir’s.”

The pain and embarrassment struck her hard, twisting her gut uneasily and squeezing her heart.

“I didn’t want to tell you.”

“No,” Marinette said. “I wanted to know. And now I do.”

Tikki gave her a pitying look. “You’re better than all that. Nathaniel told me he was countering every one, along with your parents and anyone who knew you well, but you know that people who want to gossip will gossip. Just give it more time, and this will all die down.”

“Or it may never,” Marinette mumbled.

She didn’t know if Tikki heard it and chose to ignore it or didn’t catch it at all, but either way, she went back to readjusting the laces on Marinette’s dress.

Afterwards, Marinette dismissed Tikki. Reluctantly, she left. When the door shut, Marinette bit her lip hard to keep from crying. Wishing to be distracted, she dug through the drawers of her vanity, only to be greeted with an unwelcome sight at the first drawer she opened.

A little octagonal box sat directly in the middle of the drawer. She stared at it, the ornate gold decorating on the outside. She knew what lay inside, yet she opened the box to reveal the earrings. Good luck, her mother had said. Good luck. Yet, the last time she wore them, it threw her into a mess. Had you asked her days ago, she would have said it was the best thing to happen to her. Now…they were once again a horror. No amount of time was going to make it better, no matter what Mister Fu said.

Snapping the box shut, she chucked it back into the drawer and slammed it shut. A single sob escaped. No matter how fervently she demanded her tears to stay in, they didn’t listen. She was so tired of crying, but she couldn’t stop.

With a deep breath, she finally pulled herself together. Staring at herself in the mirror, she looked at the red-faced girl staring back at her. Princess. Lady. Baker’s daughter. Who even was she? Because she sure didn’t know.

She shook her head. She needed to find something else to do. Something to take her mind off everything. With her hands shaking in hesitation, she reached for her door, forcing herself to open it. She didn’t know where she would go hide today. All she hoped was that she didn’t run into Adrien.

Thankfully, she didn’t. Instead, she found herself in front the yellow room. She wondered if anyone was with Princess Alix or if she needed anything or was even awake yet. As quietly as she could, Marinette opened the door. Alix lay unmoving on the bed, a wet cloth across her forehead and her red hair fanned across her pillow. The covers only came up to her waist, but Marinette could see that she was no longer in the dirty, brown maid’s dress she had been wearing and instead wore a white nightgown. She was also free of the mud scuffs that were once on her face and hands. Tikki and Alya must have cleaned her up well.

What really caught Marinette’s attention, though, was the figure in the chair right by the headboard. The one slouched over on the bed, asleep, large hand outstretched and holding Alix’s tiny one.

Marinette shut the door behind her before she walked over to Kim. She was hesitant about waking him but wondered how long he had been there. She put a light hand on his shoulder, which instantly caused him to stir. Clearly, he hadn’t been in too deep of a sleep.

He never let go of Alix’s hand as he rubbed his tired face with his free hand. He then looked up at the person who woke him. “Hi, Marinette,” he groggily greeted.

“How long have you been here?”

He grunted. “All night, however long ago that was.”

“A while,” Marinette informed. “Has she woken yet?”

The happiness in his expression was marred with pain. “She did. Last night, after the healer left. She was just awake long enough to drink some herbal tea before falling back asleep. She wasn’t lucid, really.”

Marinette could hear the unspoken statement. “She didn’t recognize you, then?”

Kim shook his head.

“Yet, you still noticed her immediately when she came through the door.” Marinette said, perching carefully on the edge of the bed.

“She hasn’t changed much,” Kim said, reaching up for a lock of her hair. “She has a distinct color. Almost pink in the right light. And she’s still a tiny thing. Makes us such an odd pair.”

Marinette took in Kim’s expression: soft and raw. A stark contrast to his usual confident smirk and mischievous glint in his eye, all thanks to the girl lying unconscious in bed. “Adrien said that you were from France,” she began. “That you grew up as a squire, training to be a knight in the royal court, all while forging a friendship with the princess. But, then he stopped there, saying it wasn’t his right to say.” She looked back at Kim, who had turned away from Alix to look at her. “May I pry and ask what happened? How you came here?”

Kim’s smile was bitter. “Long story.”

“Not like we don’t have time.”

Kim took a moment to mull it over. “I’m the youngest of four brothers. Obviously, this means I’m not going to take over as a duke any time soon. My father was proud, wanting to train his sons at home to become knights, but I was a bit of a troublemaker. I knew I had nothing to lose, so I loved pulling pranks on my older brothers if only to spite them. My father grew tired of my antics and simply gave up on me. He sent me off to the castle to train there. Apparently, the king owed him a favor, so my father rid me from his hands.

“That’s when I met Alix. I’ll maintain she started our rivalry by mocking me, then I pulled a prank on her to get revenge. After that, we were self-proclaimed enemies. However, after a while, we realized we both shared a strong dislike of the royal advisor. Slowly, we became comrades of sorts, only to become inseparable a couple years after that. And that was the problem. Her father didn’t like that she was spending so much time with me. It was too suggestive for a princess to be so often alone and unsupervised with me. He was right to believe it improper; I’ll admit that. Alix would often have to convince her father that there was no remotely suggestive relationship between us, and her father believed it. Until she came of age at sixteen.

“We were caught in the middle of a prank. A particularly deserving culprit, but hiding together in a storage room so as not to get caught was likely not our best thought-out plan. The royal adviser caught us then turned us in to her father. He lied, rolling it on thick about how we were caught in the middle of…well, what her father was worried about. Finally, he suggested that I be beheaded for taking the princesses chastity and she be disowned from the throne.

“Alix tried to argue with her father, but he wasn’t hearing much of it. I had to step up and defend her. I defended her purity, her words, her actions, all while discrediting mine. Finally, in the end, I told him that I would leave the kingdom and never return; that he could discredit me from my family line, strip me of my knighthood, and banish me from the entire kingdom.”

“And he took that?”

Kim shook his head. “Jalil, his son, was there by his side, as always. He knew of Alix and my misadventures, but he also knew me well enough to fight for me against the royal advisor. As it turned out, our little prank had caught the advisor in the middle of a lie, one that turned against him very quickly. I didn’t understand what precisely had been asked or expected of him, but next thing I know, the royal advisor was banished, disowned and discredited. Which only left me.

“The king didn’t punish his daughter, nor did he ruin me the way I had suggested, but he didn’t want me in the castle any longer. He sent me on a two-year traveling mission, and I accepted that gracefully. I had already learned the hard way when not to push my luck.”

“But you didn’t want to leave her,” Marinette observed, hearing the longing in Kim’s voice. “You cared for her too much.”

“Far more than I had right to,” he shamefully admitted. “And Alix wasn’t happy that I was leaving, either. We promised to write, but that was the best I could do. A year in, the letters stopped coming. I wasn’t nervous until after three months of unanswered letters. Four months before I was scheduled to return, we caught wind of the war that was growing worse by the day. My traveling group and I hurried back, only to be greeted with an un-welcoming committee.

“Most of my comrades were killed, but I made it out, thankfully. I was on the run for three months before I made it to Paris. I hid out for a while, formulating a plan to get back to Alix, to get in contact with her. I ended up going to war for Paris with the intention of sneaking off and getting to the castle again. I had told the crew my intentions, and they were all for it. The plan became get as far into the battlefield as possible.”

“It never happened, though, did it,” Marinette asked.

“No. No, it didn’t.”

Marinette cringed in pity. Looking down at his hand intertwined with Alix’s…it was clear that they were close. Very close. And if Kim’s actions since Alix was brought in were any indication, Kim cared for her deeply. Maybe, if he as lucky, she even returned those feelings.

“May I ask one last question?”

Kim nodded.

“How did you meet Adrien?”

He took a deep breath, rubbing he eyes before looking back up at Marinette. “Adrien and I crossed paths on my last-ditch effort to get to France. We spent the night stuck in a ditch waiting for the cross-fire to slow. Not much to do than to talk and burn time.” Kim looked up to Marinette. “He talked about you. Told me he was graced to witness one last act of selflessness before he went to war. Told me of a beautiful girl that he was determined to find after the war ended.”

Marinette’s eyes widened in surprise. “What?”

Kim nodded. “I didn’t know he was the Prince of Paris when he told me. Thought he was just another soldier. I joked around, saying I better be invited to his wedding, which he told me there would never be. He seemed really depressed about it, so I let it go.” A sparkle glinted in Kim’s eye. It didn’t last long, but it was undeniably there. “Imagine my surprise when he brought you home that day. His father wanted him to marry the Princess of France in order to stop the war. Instead, he brings home the girl that made him smile when hell had broken loose on the battlefield.”

Marinette was at a loss for words. Tears glimmered in her eyes, but it was as though she was too shocked to shed them.

Kim’s expression softened so severely he didn’t even look like the rugged knight he was. “Nino told me Adrien finally revealed himself to you, but just as we both knew it would, it backfired on him. So I’m going to say this: for both of your sakes, reconcile. Because…” His expression crumpled as he turned to face Alix again. “You never know what will happen after the last parting of ways.”

One after another, tears dripped down Marinette’s cheeks. She wiped them away, along with her fears. She had to face Adrien, for better or worse, to clear the air between them. Because if Adrien was the one lying there, if they never had the opportunity, it would haunt her.

“Before I go,” she said, calling Kim’s attention again, “can I get you anything? Anything at all?”

He shook his head. “I’m fine, thank you.”

With a smile that she didn’t quite feel but knew that he needed, she patted his shoulder in support before leaving him and his friend alone.

Chapter Text

“Plagg don’t you dare walk away from me!”

Marinette froze at the sound of Tikki’s voice bellowing through the hallways. For someone so sweet, she could be incredibly intimidating.

“Leave me alone, woman!”

“I will not, you pig-headed idiot.”

Marinette carefully stepped up to the corner of the hallway, careful not to make a sound. She peeked around the bend, only to find it empty.

“Yes, you will,” Plagg snapped, “or heaven help me, I will make you.”

“I would love to watch you try.”

“You won’t like when I succeed.”

“Who says you would?”

Marinette padded up to the next corner in the hallway, where their shouting grew louder. This time, when she looked around the corner, she saw Tikki and Plagg in the middle of a stand-off.

“You just don’t want to acknowledge the fact I could walk out of here right now.”

“And I would walk out with you.”

“Tikki, you’re going to be the death of me.”

“Fine, so be it, just as long as I’m by your side when it happens.”

“Why?” Plagg finally shouted. “Why do you insist upon doing this to yourself?”

“You know darn well why,” Tikki countered.

“I do. What I don’t know is how someone as smart as you can make such a stupid choice.”

“It’s not stupid.”

“Really?” Plagg challenged. “Let’s see, you want to be in a relationship with a man who is little more than a wreck, thinking that he’ll be a remotely suitable husband and father to your children when he can barely get himself to sleep at night.”

“You may be rough around the edges, but you aren’t that rough,” Tikki easily countered.

“Then you clearly need to remove the blinders.” Before Tikki could respond, he turned and marched as quickly down the hallway as he could, straight towards Marinette.

Marinette ducked behind the corner, ready to run off.

“Why do you do this to me, Plagg?” Tikki shouted, her voice hinting at tears. “Why do you constantly push me away? I don’t want to hear that it’s because you aren’t good enough. I don’t want to hear that it’s because we wouldn’t work. I don’t want to hear any of the lies you tell me. Will you for once tell me the truth?”

Silence. Marinette couldn’t move a muscle, and from the sounds of it, Plagg had stopped as well. The squeak of his boots as he turned echoed loudly down the halls. “I hurt you once, Tikki,” he answered. “Waking up from one nightmare into another; seeing the one woman in the entire hospital who was unconditionally kind to me, who never said a bad thing to me, who was stubborn enough to care for me when I refused to cooperate, who is the only reason I’m alive because she wouldn’t just let me die, and she was on the floor battered and crying because of me. It killed me that night, to know I was that dangerous. To know that I hurt the one person in the whole world that was worth giving a damn about!”

Shakily, he took a breath. “Tikki, I know you,” he continued, his voice much softer, “and I know me. No matter how unintentional it may be, it’s inevitable that I will hurt you again. And let’s not even think about kids because what if I hurt one of them? I can’t take that, Tikki. I’d honestly rather die on the spot. So that’s it, Tikki. That’s the truth. Whether you want to believe that or not is your choice, but it’s final. So go find another man, Tikki. One who can care for you, who will ensure you stay as lovely and wonderful and big-hearted as you are, who will give you all the kids you ever wanted and protect them with his life. You deserve nothing less than perfection. So stop. pursuing. me.

It was as final as a nail in a coffin. One so tightly shut it couldn’t be reopened. Marinette could feel herself suffocating despite not even able see them. Fanning herself, she tried to kick her mind back into functioning. She needed to return to her room, to be there for Tikki, because this ended very poorly.

“On one condition!” Tikki cried, shattering the silence.

“And what would that be?”

“Deny you ever loved me.”

Marinette’s eyes widened. Leave it to Tikki…

The silence stretched long before Plagg’s defeated voice broke it. “I can’t do that, Tikki.”

“Then I’ll never stop.”

A pause. Marinette dared to peek around the corner again.

“What do you even see in me,” Plagg begged, stepping closer to Tikki, “that is remotely worth pursuing?”

“The heart of a warrior. One honest, brave, and selfless.”

“Tikki…” Plagg whined.

“You don’t have as rough of edges as you claim to, Plagg. I promise.”

“I just can’t hurt you, Tikki,” Plagg brokenly admitted. “I did it once. No matter my feelings, I can’t risk it again.”

“I’m willing to take that risk with you,” she said.

“You shouldn’t have to,” he argued. “You should be with someone who you never have to worry about hurting you. Who will be a good husband to you. Who will love and cherish your heart and soul. Who will be a role model to your children, one that you can point to and say ‘be like him’. I can’t be that, Tikki. I can’t.

Tikki closed the distance between them to take his cheeks in her hands. “Yet here you are, trying to give me up to a man who would never hurt me, even though I know you would do everything in your power to protect me, to care for me, because you love and cherish me so much. I would be proud to point you out to our kids and say ‘be just like him.’ I cannot find anyone better then you, Plagg. Please, don’t make me give you up.”

Slowly, Plagg reached up to grasp her wrists. “I’ve lost this fight, haven’t I?” he asked, his voice so defeated it didn’t even sound like Plagg.

“Even if you didn’t, I wouldn’t let you win.”

He sighed, and Marinette watched his entire body sag as though exhausted. “Then be my bride,” he asked. “If you’re not going to give up, then I’ll stop fighting you. Marry me. Please.”

“Yes, Plagg,” Tikki said, practically bouncing on her toes. “Yes.”

In a second, Plagg grabbed her cheeks and pulled her in for a kiss, one she eagerly returned.

Marinette grinned, thrilled for her friend and Plagg as well. Even though Marinette thought he was a little rougher around the edges than Tikki claimed, he was still a very good man. Tikki was very lucky in that respect, never mind the fact that he was the love of her life and he loved her back. That was a bonus all its own.

Marinette was about to leave the two lovers alone when she caught Plagg turn and push Tikki up against the wall of the hallway. Tikki giggled as he pulled her closer, his arms wrapping tightly around her waist while her hands walked across his shoulders, grabbing his hair and pulling at his clothes.

As uncomfortable as it was, Marinette waited a moment longer, wondering if there was a need to intervene as she watched Plagg’s kisses trail down Tikki’s jaw to her neck.

“Plagg,” she moaned. “We’re going to get caught.”

He grunted. “I doubt it. Even if we were…” He leaned over to her ear, whispering something in it that made her giggle before he continued peppering her in kisses.

By then, Marinette convinced herself that they knew well enough what was acceptable and decided to take her leave. Besides, she had her own battle to wage that couldn’t wait any longer. She began her search for Adrien, starting with the library.

Which was exactly where he was.

“Marinette.” He was up off the couch in a heartbeat, reaching towards her.

She stayed stone still in her position in the doorframe. “Adrien.”

He grasped her shoulders tightly, and even though he was looking down at her with concern, she didn’t have the courage to look anywhere but the floor. “Marinette, my lady, please,” he begged. “I’ve given you time and space to absorb all I’ve told you, but I’m at my wit’s end. I can’t stand this anymore.”

“That’s why I’m here,” she said solemnly, “to talk this out.”

“I firmly stand on the position that there is nothing to talk about,” he stated. “You are my wife.”

“And I still say that you need to let me go.”

“That’s not going to happen,” he firmly objected.

Meet his eyes, coward, Marinette told herself. But when she did, she noticed his face was a lot closer than she thought it was, his piercing green gaze locked on her. It made something in her belly catch fire, one that rose to her cheeks. Keep yourself together. “Be reasonable,” she said. “Please, think about this. I’m a commoner. You’re a prince. You need to marry a woman of your station. Not a woman of my station.”

“Fact of the matter is that I did marry a woman of your station. I married you,” he argued.

“And you were reckless to.”

“Maybe I was, but I can’t bring myself to regret it.”

“You’ll regret it if you introduce me as the princess.”

His grip tightened, along with his voice. “You don’t know that.”

“Nor do you.”

“But I know I won’t.”

Marinette shook her head, her brow knit in bewilderment. “Why are you fighting me on this?”

“Because I made a vow to you,” he said, taking her cheeks in his hands. “I said for better or for worse, I would take you as my wife. And for better or worse, I will.”

Just as Nino had warned her… “Then let me release you from that vow or any other vow you’ve made to me.” She grabbed hold of his wrists determined to remove his hands from her flaming cheeks. “For the sake of the kingdom and for your sake.”

“I won’t accept it,” he combatted, resisting her attempt to push him away. “And if you object to that, I believe you made vows to me as well. And I’m not going to release you from those.”

Her heart twisted in a traitorous way, cheering for her win all the while her mind was crying at its loss. “Adrien—”

“Marinette,” he interrupted, his voice warning. He rubbed comforting circles on her cheeks. “I’m not going to give you up.”

“Please,” she begged, her voice warbling while tears began welling in her eyes. She couldn’t keep fighting him on this. “Reconsider.”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Because I love you.”

That shocked Marinette silent.

“I love you,” he repeated. His expression was soft as he took a partial step closer to her, his face getting closer to hers.

No…no, he couldn’t. “Adrien,” she said, taking a step away and forcefully removing his hands from her cheeks, even if only a couple inches away. “Adrien, this is madness. A prince to marry a serving girl? It makes a wondrous fictional tale, but not much more. Let this marriage fall through. If your father is truly as strict as you say, he would likely annul our union when he hears of it. What if he does worse and completely cuts you off from the throne.”

“Then so be it,” he growled. He yanked her closer, catching her off-guard. “He can take away my right as prince, but he cannot take away my title of Lord Noir. Let me be a viscount all my life, the one crazy enough to stoop as low as to marry a peasant girl. Let the towns talk about me and my sanity. Let them spread whatever rumors they want. Let me live here so long as I. have. you.”

The tears she had somehow managed to hold back finally spilled over. “I can’t let you do that.”

“Why not?” Adrien begged. “Why are you pushing me away? Do you hate me that much?”

“NO!” she shouted. Her heart pounded with fear. One so clear she couldn’t deny it any longer. “No, Adrien. I…I…”

He freed his wrists from her grasp then grabbed hold of her hands. “Marinette,” he said ever-so-softly.

“Your kingdom needs you, Adrien,” she continued to argue even though she didn’t want to. “It needs a man like you who cares to see the problems with his own eyes. Who cares to provide for the needy. Who genuinely wants to be the best leader he can. I don’t know who is in line next, but I know I don’t want them to take over when you are more than fit to rule this land. You have to let me go. For the sake of the kingdom that needs you.”

“And I need you,” he continued, lowering his head in attempt to regain her focus, which had fallen to the floor. “That is a non-negotiable fact. You are my wife. And I will claim you as my wife for as long as we both shall live. That was my vow, and I do not break my vows. Especially not to the woman I love with all of my heart.”

“We can’t always have our heart’s desires,” she choked out despite her heart branding her a traitor for continuing her argument.

“Sometimes, though, they’re well-worth whatever cost you pay to get them.”

She choked on her tears. Once again, Adrien took her cheeks in his hands and lovingly wiped the tears away.

“I don’t want to fight you, Adrien,” she managed, her eyes screwed shut tight and her resolve crumbling with each word. “I can’t keep this up.”

“Then why are you?” he begged, his own voice warbling with emotion.

“Because…because I…I know…” She sniffed, using that pause to collect her thoughts. “I know that you… you’re the prince, and that means I have to let you go.”

In one quick motion, he engulfed her in his embrace, pressing her up against his chest and cocooning her up in his arms. “No,” he said, burying his nose into her hair. “No. I am your husband first and foremost, and that means you have more right to hold on to me than any other person in the world.”

Grabbing fistfuls of his shirt, she sobbed into the fabric. He swayed from foot to foot, rocking her in a soothing motion while he rubbed her back and shushed her gently. Neither one knew how long they stood there before Marinette calmed. She still sniffled, her nose red from crying, and tear trails still shone on her pink cheeks. With the back of his hand, Adrien wiped her cheek, but Marinette caught it before it could fall away. He didn’t pull away, just let her hold on while he continued rocking her back and forth.

She slowly grew aware of the metal ring on his finger. Shifting her hand to get a better view, she examined the ring. The one made of the same black metal that her earrings were made of but with emerald chips set inside of it.

Emeralds to oppose rubies.

With a sigh, Marinette let her eyes drift closed and buried her face into his chest. Mister Fu’s words rang in her mind. He had to have bought the ring from Mister Fu, maybe right after she had persuaded him to help that early winter’s day. But the “when” didn’t matter so much. All Marinette could think about was how his lucky ring had brought him out of war, only for her unlucky earrings to bring chaos into his life. Or were her earrings supposedly lucky and he had the unlucky ring?

Emeralds to oppose rubies.

As she stood there, held in his embrace, absorbing the love that was pouring off him, she thought that maybe neither of them were lucky or unlucky. The lucky ring that brought him back also left him battle scared. The unlucky earrings that had brought unwanted attention on her had led her to being trapped into marriage with the best man that she could never have had otherwise. Maybe, neither object was lucky or unlucky. Maybe, they were just lucky or unlucky, together.

Chapter Text

Adrien lost track of how long he had been holding his wife. He had coaxed her to sit down after she had calmed, and she had settled on his lap, putting his poor heart at ease. Being able to cradle her close after she had actively avoided him for the better part of two days was a balm to the burn that lingered long and painfully.

After Marinette had run, he had searched the house for her, only to run into Alya. She had insisted upon giving Marinette space, assuring him that Marinette would come back, that she just needed time. So, even though every fiber of his being was demanding he chase her down and not rest until she was once again at his side, Adrien had listened to Alya.

Fortunately, Alya had been right. She had come to him, and this time, he had enough wits about him to hold her there, argue every last one of her doubts, and win her over once again. When she had surrendered her fight against him, he had cried tears of joy because she was back, she was his, and she knew what she meant to him. He loved her; desperately, madly, deeply. The thought of losing her, of letting her go, of being forced to separate from her, was enough to scare him into oblivion.

She took a deep, steadying breath, and Adrien laid his cheek on her head in a comforting motion. In her hands, she held the ring that she had stolen from his finger. What exactly she found so fascinating in it, he didn’t know, but he hardly minded. He had other things to occupy his thoughts, such as his wife giving up her determination to force him to give her up. While he understood why she did it, he could see her fear, one he shared. No, it was going to be far from easy introducing Marinette as the Princess of Paris, but for him, it would be worth any trouble.

“Mister Fu gave this to you?” Her voice was soft and hoarse.

It took a moment for him to realize that she was talking about his ring. “Yes. I bought it off of him after we met.”

With a sigh, she reached for his hand to replace the ring on his finger. “He gave me earrings that look similar.”

Despite all air being stolen from his lungs at the feeling of her sliding the ring onto his hand, he managed to keep his head in their conversation. “Emeralds in black metal?”

She adjusted the ring so the gems were perfectly centered on his ring finger. “Rubies but in this same metal.”

“Then how come I’ve never seen you wear them?” he asked, brushing her loose hair back behind her ear then lightly pinching her bare earlobe.

She bit her lip, tucking further into him and resting her hands on his chest above his heart. “Because they’re unlucky.”

He took hold of her hand, giving it a squeeze while pressing it closer against his pounding heart. “I doubt that. My ring was lucky.”

Her blue eyes shut, and a frown marred her lips. “Then my earrings are for sure unlucky.”

“What makes you think that, love?” he whispered, hoping her lovely eyes would once again open.

“Emeralds to oppose rubies. That’s what Mister Fu said.”

A twinge of a grin flickered on Adrien’s lips. “So because he told you that after he gave them to you, you never wore them.”

“No, he didn’t tell me that when he gave them to me,” she corrected, her voice remaining quiet. “He only just told me that when he was here for Alix…which I’m assuming you sent for him?”

“I did,” he replied. “He said that he grew up around here, in the south part of the kingdom, so I sent for him remembering that he was a healer.”

“I hope you paid him well. He’s a very kind man.”

“I did. I promise.”

“Good.” With that, she paused, taking a couple breaths. “As for the earrings,” she continued, “you did see me wear them. Once.”

Adrien thought long and hard. “I can’t recall seeing you wear earrings ever. Why don’t you jog my memory?”

“At Duke Bourgeois’ party.”

His mouth pursed into a thin line.

“Maman said they were lucky,” she continued. “So I wore them for good luck at my first catering event. Only…Lord Barbot took interest in me. Or, so I thought. He was far more interested in my earrings.”

Something stirred deep in his stomach. “Your earrings?”

Marinette nodded. “He was asking me about them. He kept eyeing them. And when I told him off because he was far too forward…that was when he…” She swallowed, and Adrien gave her a comforting squeeze. She took a shaky breath. “He tried to grab my earrings. He caught my blouse instead. I fought against him. And that was when he shoved me up against the door. It gave and we ended up on the floor and…” She shook her head, unable to go on.

But Adrien was already cocooning her up again. “It’s all right. It’s all right. I get the picture. You don’t have to tell me any more.” He then pressed a loving kiss on the crown of her head. “You’re safe now. Safe with me. I’ll make sure you two never cross again. I promise.”

She sniffed, dabbing her nose with the back of her hand before rubbing her wet cheek against his shoulder. “I know,” she said. Her hand fisted in his shirt above his heart and her nose nuzzled against his neck, sending sparks flying through him. “I know.”

He leaned his cheek against her hair. “Marinette.”

“Hmm?”

“I just want you to know that while I would love to go back and erase that event from your life, to have been able to catch Theo sooner so you never would have had to go through such horrors, I am so, so thankful that we ended up together. I love you so much.”

She stiffened, then pushed away from him, causing his heart to plummet. Resting her hands on his shoulders, she resettled herself so that she was sitting more upright, her face level with his. Then, ever-so-carefully, she removed his mask. Her smile never diminished, which only caused his sunken heart to soar. Heat flooded his cheeks when she tenderly took his jaw in her hands. “I love you, too, Adrien.”

Who needed a heart? Because his had gone off on some flight that it would probably never return from. It was as though he was bursting at the seams with joy, and the only remedy he could fathom was a kiss. Reaching up to entangle his fingers into her black locks, he gently pulled her in, pressing his lips against her soft ones again, and again, and again.

She hummed in delight, digging her fingers in his hair and twirling little circles against his scalp. She was going to be the death of him, touching him as she did. Did she not know that her lips alone made it hard to breathe? Add to that her touch with always lit his skin on fire and her lovely, curved form pressing up against his chest…

He was just short of a dead man.

She pulled away, her lips barely a whisper from his. “Did you have any idea how hard it was to fight you?” she whined.

“Then why did you?” he asked, stealing a kiss before and after he spoke. “Why would you even think you needed to?”

“Because I loved you,” she answered, her nose bumping against his. “I couldn’t stand being a burden to you. Not with all you’ve done for me. Not with the way you cared for my well-being. It was time for me to care about you.”

“And you think that running from me was best for me?”

She pulled away, pink flooding her cheeks. “I...you shocked me at first. Only after I had time to think did I realize what trouble a baker’s daughter would cause you. And I didn’t want you to go through it. I didn’t have the right to be selfish.”

Gently, he coaxed her back to him. “Well, I give you every right to be selfish,” he said, sealing that promise with a kiss. “And you’re worth any trouble I’ll have to go through.” Another kiss. “And more.” A third and fourth. “Because you are the most priceless treasure I have ever found.”

She hesitated. “Truly?”

“Yes.” He slanted his head to deepen their kiss, and his heart near gave out at her sigh and the way she sank against him. His hand trailed down her back, tracing her form as the still-functioning part of his mind was suddenly committed to memorizing her.

She shifted again, wrapping her arms around his neck and arching against his touch. And then she pulled away, panting heavily. He grinned at the access he had just been allowed. His lips trailed along her jaw, down to her neck—

“Ahem.”

Adrien whipped around to the voice, only to feel heat rush to his face as he stared at Ms. Mendeleiev looking at them through narrowed eyes.

“I thought you were raised better than that, Master Adrien,” she scolded. “You should know such amorous activities should be done, at the very least, behind closed doors.”

He couldn’t exactly think, but somewhere, as his mind kicked back into motion, he realized that kissing his wife so heatedly—not that he had thought that they would start such a passionate exchange in the first place—probably should not have been done when the door was wide open. “You’re right. Forgive me.”

She hummed again, sensing the dismissal in his tone. “Dinner is ready.”

“Thank you, Ms. Mendeleiev.”

Again, she hummed, then turned and marched off.

He felt Marinette bury against his chest. “Oh my word,” she said, her embarrassed voice muffled by her hands hiding her face. “I can’t believe we were caught in—”

“Nothing inappropriate for a husband and wife,” he finished, fighting the burn in his own cheeks. “Just…nothing that should have been done with the door open.”

Marinette groaned in humiliation, mumbling something inaudible into his chest.

He chuckled, rubbing her back. “Come now,” he said. “Let’s go to dinner, all right?”

When she didn’t respond, he coaxed Marinette from her hiding spot. Goodness, she was adorable with her freckle-coated cheeks so pink. “All right?” he repeated.

Flustered and dazed, she gave him an unsteady smile. “All right.”


After dinner, Plagg asked Adrien to meet in his study. That meant that he was forced to part with Marinette. Yet, as she looked over his shoulder at Plagg, she could only smile. “Go on,” she said. “Plagg needs to talk to you.”

“While you’re probably right, it doesn’t mean that I would rather take a walk with you.”

Her smile was gold. “Trust me,” she whispered, pulling him closer. “Plagg needs to talk to you.”

He quirked a brow. “What do you mean?”

She bit her lip, clearly debating if she should divulge such information. She was far too cute for her own good, or at least the good of Adrien’s heart. Eventually, she shook her head. “You’ll find out soon enough.” But the way her lip found its way back in between her teeth told him she wanted to divulge more. She pulled him in one last time. “But if he doesn’t mention Tikki, call him out on it.”

A wicked smirk slowly crept up on his lips. “Well, now I’m intrigued,” he whispered in her ear before pulling back. “But I believe you aren’t going to elaborate.”

With a smile, she shook her head, black tresses glimmering blue as they shook in the low light.

“I could have guessed such.” With great reluctance, he released his wife only after pressing a lingering kiss upon her knuckles.

“You’ll find out soon enough.” She patted his cheek affectionately before she left.

Heaving a sigh, he turned to face Plagg, who looked far too smug for his own good.

“What?” Adrien challenged.

Plagg shook his head. “Nothing. Now can we please go somewhere private.”

Dismissing the curt tone, Adrien marched with Plagg into his study and shut the door behind him. Adrien turned, leaning against the door, only to see Plagg pacing back and forth in the office. “Now what was so important that you had to drag me away from Marinette?”

Plagg’s stern look morphed to one of amusement. “Well, for starters, nice to see you two back together. Maybe we’ll have one less black cloud hanging over your head.”

Adrien glared at the butler. “Not amusing.”

“I found it to be so.”

“And as your boss, whose opinion matters more?”

“Mine,” Plagg retorted without hesitation.

“Remind me why I keep you around?” he sarcastically asked.

“Because I’m useful.”

“I could call on anyone from my father’s house to be just as useful. Maybe more so.”

“Then…” he stumbled. “Because Marinette likes Tikki as her lady’s maid and if I left, she would follow me.”

Adrien smirked, finding the perfect lead in. “You sound like that’s a bad thing.”

Plagg’s expression flattened, but when Adrien’s grew more smug and knowing, Plagg’s eyes widened. “What do you know?”

“Officially, nothing,” Adrien remarked, “but now I’m curious.”

Green eyes widened, then shut as Plagg smacked his forehead. “I can’t believe I walked straight into that one!”

Adrien chuckled. “Well, are you going to tell me what’s been going on under my roof, Plagg?”

He watched Plagg argue silently with himself, running stressed hands through his hair before determinedly turning back to Adrien. “I asked Tikki to marry me.”

Dumbstruck, Adrien’s brow shot up. “What?”

“She said yes.”

A grin spread across Adrien’s face as he slowly processed Plagg’s statement. “But, didn’t you swear…?”

“I did!” Plagg cried, his hands shooting back up into his hair to grab fistfuls. “I know, but Tikki…” His hands rubbed the length of his face. “She just…I couldn’t keep up against her.”

Adrien burst into laughter.

Plagg growled.

“Come on, Plagg,” he teased. “You have to admit it’s hilarious. Especially considering I’ve been telling you for, oh, how long now?”

“No. Comment.”

Still chuckling, Adrien clapped his shoulder. “Nevertheless, congratulations. When’s the wedding?”

“Whenever I can get a parson to marry us,” he answered. “Tikki said she didn’t care for a date.”

“I’ll see what sort of weight the prince has when it comes to finding one.”

A small smile flashed across Plagg’s face. “Also…after the wedding, Tikki and I—”

“Of course,” Adrien interrupted, already knowing exactly where to place the newly-wedded couple. “Don’t worry at all. I’ll take care of it.”

Plagg sighed, his shoulders relaxing. “Thank you.”

Adrien grinned. “You’re welcome, Plagg. And again, congratulations. I’m very happy for you.”

The butler rubbed the back of his neck. “Unfortunately,” he continued, his voice losing all previous hints of joy, “I have other unpleasant things that I need to discuss with you. If you’re ready to be serious, that is.”

Adrien knew the tone of Plagg’s voice: worse than bad. “What is it?” he asked, keeping his voice low.

“I thought I saw something when I was out caretaking the west side of the house.”

“Such as?”

“A person,” Plagg answered. “And when I went to investigate, I saw tracks.”

Adrien pursed his lips. “Alert Kim and Nino. If Theo sent one of his hired men again, then he’s after one of two people: Me or Marinette.”

Plagg nodded once. “Understood.”

“Good.”

“As for you,” Plagg said. “Keep a knife in your boot and an eye on Marinette.”

Adrien scoffed. “You think I’m actually going to let my wife out of my sight?”

A smirk quirked up on Plagg’s lips. However, he wisely chose to withhold whatever snarky remark he had at the ready.

“Smart choice,” Adrien warned. “But that being said, I want a post outside Marinette’s door.”

Plagg’s jaw shifted from side to side. “Adrien, I’m not going to say this to be snide,” he clarified, serious as ever. “But I think you and Marinette need to share a room.”

As practical and lovely as that sounded, Adrien knew he couldn’t. “I promised her I wouldn’t force anything on her, Plagg. She isn’t ready.”

“Yet, she has no problem letting you kiss her like a lover.”

Adrien felt warmth fly from his stomach through his heart and up to his cheeks.

Plagg shot him a smug grin. “Ms. Mendeleiev was mumbling about it when I passed her by.”

Apparently, Adrien was going to reap what he’d sewn tonight. “Not one word.”

Not that Plagg flinched whatsoever. “You know I won’t. But what I will do is ask you why you won’t ask her, your wife, to share a room when there is possibly a threat on the loose.”

It was his turn to run stressed hands through his hair. “I don’t want to scare her,” he finally answered. “She’s still shaken by Theo.”

When Plagg sighed, it was stressed. “I wouldn’t know how to broach that subject. Frankly, I wouldn’t even want to touch it with a ten-foot-pole. How you’re navigating it, I don’t know.”

“There’s times I don’t even know what I’m doing either,” Adrien admitted. “I just…do what I can to be there for her.”

Silence.

“Well,” Plagg replied. “I guess that’s what makes you two a perfect pair.”

“Like you and Tikki,” Adrien teased, trying to lighten the moon once again.

“Lay off.”

A rushed knock on the door called both their attentions. Adrien went for the door only for Plagg to step forward and answer it in his stead. Carefully, he cracked the door open, only to swing the door open completely.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Nino said. “But Alix is awake and wants to talk.”

Chapter Text

Marinette sat in a chair at Alix’s side while the smaller girl clutched a steaming cup of special tea. Though Alix had been awake for a few hours now, it was clear to all that she still wasn’t fully alert. Tikki was fussing over her like a mother hen, ensuring the frail girl was taken care of.

Alix weakly swatted Tikki’s hand away from her forehead. “I’m fine.”

“I just want to make sure you don’t over-exert yourself,” Tikki countered. “You’re still feverish.”

“I’m fine,” she repeated, taking a sip of her tea.

“We know you are,” Marinette said, talking before Tikki could. “We were just concerned when you showed up unconscious.”

Alix’s expression softened. “I’m sorry for any inconvenience.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Alya chimed in, entering the room with a plate of dry crackers. “Honestly. It wasn’t any trouble. We’re just happy you’re all right.”

Alix didn’t look convinced. “If you say so. Thank you, by the way.” She took the plate Alya extended to her and set it on her lap before taking a cracker to nibble on.

“Are you sure you don’t just want to rest?” Marinette asked. “You’ve only just awoken, no need to stress yourself out any more by recalling any tales. We can wait for those.”

“It’s urgent,” she insisted. “I need to speak to Kim, but the head of this household deserves to know as well.”

“I thought Kim hadn’t left her side?”

Alix whipped around to Alya. “What?”

Marinette glared at her friend then drew Alix’s attention by patting her hand. “Kim was very concerned when you showed up unconscious. He had been at your side for the longest time, but I believe Nino forced him to go sleep in his own bed.”

“When I checked on him last,” Tikki said, “I heard him snoring behind his door.”

“That sounds like Kim,” Alix said, her small grin dulled by exhaustion. “He snores when he’s exhausted.”

The longing in her voice was evident. It gave Marinette hope for Kim. “You two are really close?”

Alix nodded. “I haven’t seen him in three years, though. I’m anxious to see him again.” She then turned to Marinette. “Forgive me, I can barely keep my thoughts straight. You are the lady of the house? Lady Mary Noir?”

“Marinette Noir, that is correct.”

“Sorry,” Alix quickly apologized. “Yet, you said something about your parents earlier?”

“You stumbled upon my parent’s home,” Marinette confirmed. “When you mumbled something about a knight named Kim, they recalled me telling them about Sir Kim, so they sent you here. You’re in the south part of Paris, now, instead of the north.”

Alix nodded as she processed the information. “I wish to thank them once I’m able.”

“I’ll write a letter to them saying that you are all right. They will be glad to hear it.”

A frantic knock followed by sharp whispers came from the door. All the girls turned towards it before Alya answered.

Tikki rolled her eyes at the men who entered. “Of course. Let’s just invite the entire house here to overwhelm the poor girl.”

Alix didn’t even hear the comment. She was far more focused on Kim, who was focused fully on her. Taking the plate of crackers from Alix, Marinette moved out of her chair so Kim could take her place. In three strides, he was at Alix’s side, sweeping her carefully up into his embrace. She wrapped her arms around his neck, whispering a barely audible “I missed you.”

When Kim finally put her down so that they could face each other eye to eye, he huffed a laugh. “Figures that the moment I leave, you wake up.”

Her smile quirked up on one side. “Should have left sooner.”

They shared a chuckle before Alix turned her attention to the other men in the room. Her mirth faded.

Catching her gaze, Kim backed away so she could see the room unhindered by him. Marinette tapped his shoulder then motioned to the chair she had been sitting in. He gave her a grateful smile before taking a seat in it.

“I suppose I owe my full gratitude to the lord of the house,” she said, surveying the three other men.

Adrien stepped forward, reaching up for the ends of his mask. “Alix, you know I would have done anything to help.” With that, the mask fell, allowing her to see his face unhindered.

Alix’s eyes widened slightly. “Adrien. I didn’t know you had other titles.”

“My mother’s estate,” he explained.

She nodded, then looked over to Marinette. “Your wife is very kind, by the way. I want to hear the details of your marriage later, considering that our fathers wanted us to marry.”

Marinette glanced over at Adrien, only to catch pride radiating off him as he looked at her. “A story you don’t want to miss. However.” He grew somber. “I believe that you have a story to tell.”

Alix’s expression hardened. She shifted upright in her bed. “As best I can.”

“We could always wait,” Adrien assured.

Kim placed his hands over hers. “You don’t have to—”

“Of course, I have to,” she said with surprising strength considering her weak state. “Besides,” she continued in a softer tone. She pulled one of her hands free to place it on top of Kim’s. “You need to know what happened after you left.”

With everyone silent, Alix started. “Two days after I sent the last letter off to you,” she said, addressing Kim, “there was a party for my brother’s twenty-first birthday. Half way through, my father stood to make a speech, only for him to be stabbed from behind.”

Kim looked like he was ready to leap from his chair at that, but he managed to keep himself still.

“The royal advisor, the one who my father had banished only a year before, came up behind him. When my father fell, I ran to him.” She took a shaky breath, her gaze sinking to look at her hands. “He died in my arms.”

It took her a moment, but she shut her eyes, fortifying herself. When she opened them again, there was a fire in her gaze. “I don’t remember what Hawkmoth’s little speech was, but what I do remember was that he proclaimed himself as king. Jalil and I were taken hostage, kept as slaves. I think it gave Hawkmoth some sick amusement, but we went along with it just to stay alive. His niece, a girl named Lila, came and took over as princess. Hawkmoth used her to draw in men that he could use to find some gems. A ring and pair of earrings, I believe? I don’t remember.”

“It’s all right,” Adrien assured her. “Just continue.”

“His particularly favorite lackey, a man worse than the rest by the name of Theo Barbot—”

“Theo?” Marinette cried, her heart suddenly picking up its pace.

Alix raised a brow but continued her story. “He’s Lila’s lover, and the man Hawkmoth promised Lila to should he bring back these items. I’ll admit he’s very good at getting what he wants, even out of Hawkmoth, but he’s hardly faultless. He’s rash and hot-headed, and exploiting that was the only way I was able to escape.”

“How did you make it here, though?” Kim asked. “Across the battle lines?”

“Furthermore, how does Theo do that?” Adrien wondered aloud.

“Lila grants him passes through the trade route. I stole his most recent pass straight out of his back pocket.”

Kim grinned proudly. “That sounds like you, Alix. Risky enough?”

“I almost didn’t make it,” she said, her fierceness fading slightly. “He grabbed me, pinned me back. For a moment, I was scared he was actually going to take advantage of me.”

Marinette felt her throat tighten and her vison begin to swim. She started fanning herself, but no one noticed. All attention was focused on Kim as he shot out of his chair in a righteous fury and began spewing vows to make Theo pay.

A steadying presence came up behind her, hands resting on her shoulders to keep her upright. “You aren’t going to faint, are you?” Adrien whispered, his lips right by her ear.

Her lungs were too tight to answer. Leaning into his hold, she gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head.

He pushed her back on her own two feet. “Can you stand for just one moment?” he asked.

When she nodded, he let her go in order to grab Kim’s forgotten chair. He righted it behind Marinette, and she all but collapsed into it. Adrien knelt at her side, taking hold of her hand and rubbing little circles on it with his thumb.  

“I will not let Theo get away with this!” Kim shouted. “That is the second woman he tried this on, and I will not let this go.”

Alix’s brow furrowed in confusion. It looked like she was about to ask before her eyes landed upon Marinette. Realization flooded her face, and she snapped her mouth shut again.

“Adrien,” Nino cried. “For heaven’s sake, you either call the man to task for his crimes, or I’ll help Kim string—”

“Men, there are ladies present,” Adrien warned. His authoritative presence filled the room as he stood. “We will discuss at length what to do with Theo when he returns. At the very least, there is more than enough evidence to strip him of his earldom.”

The men looked like they wished to object, but none of them did so.

“Good. As for now, I’m placing this house on lockdown and high alert. Men?”

They nodded, taking on stony expressions as they accepted their un-said orders.

“What for?” Alya argued. “Just because Theo is after Alix—”

“It’s not just for Alix’s sake,” Adrien interrupted. "She’s just his current target.”

“But still, it’s not like—”

“Alya,” Nino firmly intruded. “Please, stand down.”

“But—”

Alya.”

Marinette had never seen anything like it before. Her friend’s shoulders fell and her mouth shut tight as she yielded to Nino’s command. However, the way her eyes bore into Nino demanded answers.

“Now that that’s settled,” Adrien continued, his gaze bouncing between Nino and Alya before turning back to the girl in bed. “Alix, is there anything else we need to know?”

She thought for a moment but shook her head.

“All right. Then if you’ll excuse us, I need to have a conversation with the boys down in my office and get a letter off to my father.”

Alix waved them off, and Marinette couldn’t help but notice she held herself like a princess even though she looked paler now than before the men had come.

Plagg left first, Nino following right after. The way he stole a glance at Alya proved he’d meet her with answers afterwards. Adrien took a moment to ensure Marinette was all right before pressing a kiss to her cheek in parting. Kim took the longest time, promising Alix he would be back.

She bopped him on the nose. “Get going. You have work to do.” Her smile, though, told him she would be anxiously waiting

With a bow, Kim left, and the ladies were once again alone in the room.

Tikki shook her head. “In and out like a thunderstorm. I suppose that alone was enough to exhaust you.”

Alix said nothing in response. She simply reclaimed her tea and crackers from the bedside table. After taking a sip, she looked over all three of the ladies, her gaze landing lastly on Marinette. “Alya, Tikki,” she said. “It’s been nice meeting you, but I want to have a private chat with Marinette, please.”

“Of course,” Tikki said, curtsying. “If you need anything, ring the pull.”

“I will. Thank you.”

With that, the two maids left, leaving the princesses alone. An odd fact that Marinette was still struggling to wrap her head around.

“Don’t think I didn’t see how pale you got,” Alix said. “I fear I look that bad.”

Marinette wasn’t sure how to answer that.

Alix beckoned Marinette closer, which Marinette managed to do. Once she repositioned herself at Alix’s side, she waited for Alix to start.

“What did Theo do, or attempt to do, to you?”

Marinette’s lips drew into a thin line. “You see,” she began. “This is the story of how I came to marry Adrien.”

Alix rose a single brow, but she motioned for Marinette to continue.

“I…I fear I must admit my true station. I am the daughter of a very well-known baker in the north part of the kingdom. Months ago, I was assisting my father in catering a party hosted by a duke when I needed to make my way to the kitchen, only to get lost. Theo found me and started obsessing over me. Specifically, these earrings I was wearing.”

“Hmm,” Alix remarked. “Maybe he thought you had somehow come into possession of the earrings he was looking for.”

It was a strange thought, one Marinette dismissed for the sake of completing her story. “Theo tried to take them from me, and when I refused him…well, he became…aggressive.” She swallowed. “Adrien found me just in time. He tackled Lord Barbot, and the two of them fought until the head butler appeared. Not long after, the duke came, as well. He insisted that one of them marry me to save my reputation. I was just glad that I got a choice in the matter.”

“Not a hard decision,” Alix commented.

Marinette shook her head. “It was already hard enough to marry a stranger, nevertheless one who wore a mask and cat ears.”

Alix’s chin dropped in disbelief. “Cat ears?” she repeated skeptically.

“Cat ears,” Marinette confirmed. “Leather ones he pinned to his hair.”

Alix snorted in amusement.

A small, fond grin took the place of her pained expression. “Adrien…rather, Lord Noir had garnered a rumored reputation of being bad luck. He’s known as Chat Noir.

Alix chuckled. “That’s hilarious.”

“Not with how much it hurt him.”

While the laughter faded, her smile didn’t. “Forgive me, but I’ve known Adrien for a while. Him owning up to a reputation of a black cat is amusing. I wish I could have seen it.”

“Not much to see,” Marinette sadly said. “Except a man hurt by war.”

Any remaining mirth in the room was snuffed out at that. Alix studied Marinette for a while before breaking the heavy silence. “You care for him.”

“A lot,” Marinette confirmed. “Likely far more then I have right to.”

Alix’s brow furrowed. “Pardon?”

“He…he only just revealed to me his identity as a prince. I’m still in shock of my new title. It was hard enough to become Lady Noir—”

“But princess is something else entirely,” Alix finished.

“Yes,” Marinette stressed. “But…I’m a baker’s daughter. Tell me, do I have any right to have claims to such a title, or should Adrien let me go?”

Alix stared at Marinette long and hard. She took another sip of her tea, cradling the still warm cup in her hands. “It seems to me that anyone can claim to be a princess,” she eventually said. “But it takes more than just a title to become a worthy one.”

“Yes, but—”

“No ‘but’s,” Alix interrupted. “I know why you’re asking me, but honestly, I can’t answer that question for you. I don’t know you well enough. All I can say is that I know Adrien. I know he’s smart enough to walk through this tricky maze on his own. I say you should trust him and see where it leads.”

Marinette paused, unsure if Alix had answered her question at all. “Just one more thought,” she finally requested. “Does it matter that I am a baker’s daughter? Does it offend you that we share a title?”

Alix quirked her head, looking at Marinette strangely before giving her a gentle expression. “No,” she said gently. “I lived in a castle with a woman who took my title, my room, and my life. She walked like a princess, put on a grand façade, and looked the very part. She had always been royalty, always expected to advance in station, yet was a vile witch underneath. Her very presence offended me. Seeing as you are of merchant class, I expect that you will find it hard to fit into high-society, but I will not get offended if you make a social misstep or blunder. Not when I know that you are a respectable person who seems to be willing to do everything in her power to ensure the prince is well taken care of. So no, take no offence to us sharing a title.

“However, seeing as we do share a title, I find it my duty to correct you so as to not disgrace your position.” Her words, while blunt, were far from mean. “Remember this. You are a princess, therefore, you will act like a princess. Never question your title again. Own it.”

Chapter Text

Marinette sealed the letter she had been working on to send off to her parents. Upon inspecting the imprint in the wax, she absently wondered what her seal as a princess would look like. She set the stamp aside, next to the sketch of the design she had been wanting to ask Adrien for. The one she promptly scrapped after learning he was the prince.

“You look awfully happy tonight,” Tikki observed.

Marinette peeked at her maid through her mirror. “I could say the same for you.”

The blush that rose on Tikki’s cheeks was obvious.

Marinette turned around to face her. “This doesn’t happen to involve a certain butler does it?”

Tikki was torn between embarrassment and excitement. “He asked me to marry him.”

And kissed her well and thoroughly afterwards. Still, Marinette gave Tikki her best smile. “Congratulations! I’m so happy for you.”

“Thank you. It was so hard to convince him and I almost lost him, but then he came around and finally saw sense and…” she took a breath, only to sigh. “I’m so happy.”

“Did you two talk about a wedding yet, or…?”

“Plagg is setting up the legal things. I wanted to go shopping to look at materials for my dress, but…with the lockdown…”

Marinette frowned. “I’m sorry, Tikki. Surely it won’t take so long for it to be lifted. Adrien’s just nervous.”

“Rightly so, I suppose.”

“Maybe you could go convince Plagg to let the two of you sneak off into town,” Marinette slyly offered.

At least Tikki smiled. “It’s possible. But it’s also possible he won’t be moved on that. I already fought him today, so I don’t want to push something that isn’t hugely important.”

While admittedly wise, Marinette didn’t like seeing Tikki disappointed. “Then maybe I’ll just have to order several fabrics and see what you want and don’t want.”

A bright smile appeared on Tikki’s face. “Oh, Marinette. Don’t bother yourself with that. Honestly, I’ll find a way around it. Though I thank you for the offer.”

“All right,” Marinette surrendered. “You are my friend. I just want you to be happy.”

Though it was technically improper, neither girl cared as Tikki engulfed Marinette in a hug. “Thank you.”

“Anything for you, Tikki. You helped me so much.”

“You just needed a little guidance,” Tikki said, pulling away to take Marinette’s cheeks in her hands like a mother would. “And I was glad to give it to you.”

Marinette beamed under Tikki’s approval. “Thanks, Tikki.”

“Now, I suppose I should say goodnight. I have other work to do,” Tikki said.

But Marinette heard the lit in her voice. “And possibly meet Plagg on the way?”

Her blush returned. “Possibly.”

“Can I give you a small piece of advice?”

Tikki’s brow furrowed in slight confusion, but she nodded.

“The next time Plagg kisses you, make sure that it’s not in a hallway when someone is hiding behind the corner.”

Gasping in embarrassment, Tikki turned redder than a ladybug. “Marinette!”

Marinette didn’t hear a word over her laughter.

“Oh my word! That man! He said…ohhh.” Tikki collapsed into a humiliated heap on the edge of Marinette’s bed.

Calming herself but unable to keep the grin from her face, Marinette took a seat beside Tikki. “I won’t tell anyone. And you two won’t let it happen again. But may I remind you that you two aren’t married yet.”

Tikki peeked out between her fingers. “I know.”

A knock coming from the door interrupted them.

“I suppose I should go,” Tikki said, pulling her hands from her still red face.

“Yes, go say good night to Plagg. And stay out of trouble,” Marinette said with a wink.

While it put a smile on her face, it did nothing to help with her blush. Tikki opened the door to greet the visitor.

Adrien nodded his head in polite acknowledgement. “Tikki, I beg your pardon but I need to speak to Marinette.”

“I was just leaving,” she assured, curtsying to him. “However, why you come to her main door when your bed chambers are connected is beyond me.”

“Tikki!” Marinette cried, stunned.

However, when Tikki turned, Marinette caught her cheeky smile. Apparently, she was quick to get revenge.

Adrien coughed into his hand, clearly embarrassed. Thankfully for both of them, Tikki took her leave, but the awkward atmosphere she created stayed.

“You wanted to speak to me?” Marinette prodded.

“Uh, yes,” he sputtered out. “In private. Shall I meet you on the balcony?”

Marinette hesitated. “No.” This was her husband, not a suitor she was courting. Furthermore, she was comfortable around him. She trusted him. There was no reason she couldn’t reply, “You can come in.”

He looked minorly surprised for a moment before he forced himself to move, shutting the door behind him. “Well, I suppose this leads into my question.”

“What do you mean?”

Adrien sighed then forced his gaze to rise from the floor to meet her eyes. “There is a very good reason that I called for a lockdown of the house,” he began. “Plagg just informed me that he saw what he thought was an intruder on the grounds—”

“Intruder?!”

“Marinette, my lady,” he said, reaching for her as she shrunk away. He pulled her against his chest, holding her there until she willingly curled against him. “Fear not. We are all on high alert. If there is an intruder, then he will be dealt with.”

“That doesn’t negate the fact there is someone wandering around on the property. What if he’s dangerous or—”

Adrien shushed her. “It will be all right. I promise.”

It took a moment to settle into his embrace, pulling comfort from being so close. “But you don’t want the lockdown lifted until he’s caught.”

“Yes,” Adrien said. “I needed to talk with Nino, Kim, and Plagg before I told you anything so that we would have a settled plan in case anything happened again.”

“Again?” Marinette cried, pushing away from him so as to see his face.

He cringed. “Yes. Again.”

Her panic started flaring. “And when did this happen?”

“Before we married,” Adrien explained, rubbing her arms in an attempt to calm her down. Not that it was working in the slightest. “It was out of the blue when an intruder snuck into the house. We think he may have been hired by Theo to kill me.”

Panic seized Marinette’s heart as she clutched the fabric of his shirt. Any hope of response was gone since her tongue was practically glued into the roof of her mouth.

“We got him before he had the chance. Actually, Kim was seriously injured because of it. He took a knife to the leg in the struggle. But this won’t happen again because we are organized now. If there is an intruder, he won’t last long.”

The story Alya once told her about a man injured in Chat Noir’s presence came to mind. It seemed he was bad luck, to himself and everyone around him. She bit her lip, not wanting to think about how her own luck entered the mix.

“You will be safe,” he said, taking her cheeks in his hands and rubbing little circles on them with his thumbs. “I promise you.”

Marinette wasn’t sure if he could promise such a thing, but she tried to trust him anyway. “All right.”

“All right,” he sighed in relief. “However, this brings me to my proposition. I had to rearrange the house to ensure everyone’s safety. Kim and Nino are stationed together for Alix, Tikki and Alya sharing the next room over, and Ms. Mendeleiev in a room all her own close by. As for you, I have Plagg posted outside, but…” His eyes drifted shut for a moment as he collected his thoughts. He took a breath before looking back at her. “Before I say anything, I just want you to know I don’t want to force anything on you, nor do I want to make you uncomfortable. However, it would be safer for both of us if…if we roomed together.”

Despite making perfect sense, his words still came as a bit of a surprise.

“I can take the chair,” he quickly offered. “Or your lounger. Or none of the above. Just say the word and—”

“You can stay.”

The words came from her mouth so quickly, Marinette scarcely realized she’d spoken. Her only real indicator was the surprise on Adrien’s face.

“You can stay,” she repeated. “I want you safe.”

His body relaxed, and his arms wrapped protectively around her. She happily leaned against him, absorbing his warmth and comfort.

“Let me inform Plagg of the sleeping arrangements,” he said, pulling away and tilting her chin up so their eyes could lock gazes. His smile was enough to make her heart give out. “Then I’ll take a moment to get ready for bed before coming back. Is that all right?”

“Perfectly.”

His grin widened causing his eyes to shine with happiness. He pressed a kiss to her forehead before separating from her. “I’ll be back shortly, then.”

Marinette repressed her urge to respond with an “I’ll be waiting.”

When he left, she collapsed on her bed with the weight of what had just occurred. Heat crept up her neck from her stomach. It wasn’t a sin for her and her husband to share a room. Nor was the thought of it unpleasant. Quite a change from the first night here. Now, the thought of it was only a bit awkward and outside her comfort zone, but she was going to have to face such a fact, especially if they ever were to truly be husband and wife.

She fiddled with the quilt on her bed, the one she had only just finished. He had made it perfectly clear that he would sleep on a chair or in her lounger or basically anywhere but with her. But…that felt wrong. He was her husband, after all. The man she loved very much. It didn’t feel right to force him to sleep elsewhere.

Yet, she was torn. Was it improper for a woman to suggest her husband sleep in bed with her? Her lip should be bleeding from how hard she was biting it. Should she or should she not?

She wished her mother was here. While her mother had prepared her to become a wife—even the thought of that conversation left her blushing—she didn’t know how to navigate this.

A knock from the door startled her from her thoughts. But, it wasn’t from her main door. Leaping from her bed, she hurried to open the door connecting her and Adrien’s rooms. There he stood in a baggy, white shirt and tan sleep pants, his expression soft and vulnerable and free of a mask which left his scars clearly visible. Despite his determination to hide them, to make them disappear as though they never happened, Marinette thought those marks added some roguishness to his perfectly handsome face.

“May I come in?” he asked, his voice quiet like a shy child.

Marinette mentally kicked herself for staring. She moved out of the way and motioned him into her room. “Of course.”

With an awkward smile, he stepped into her room. Marinette shut the door behind him, leaning against it as to steady herself.

He looked at her expectantly. “Where would you like me to stay?” he inquired.

This was it. Marinette took a deep breath in hopes to calm her suddenly racing heart. “You…” She cleared her throat, hoping it would come out stronger this time. “You can stay with me.”

It took Adrien a moment to realize what she had implied. “Are you sure?” he questioned. “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable or—”

“It’s all right,” she assured. “It’s all right. It’s…it’s not improper or anything…”

“I just don’t want to push you to be uncomfortable around me.”

Yet, it seemed that he had no problem in kissing her senseless earlier. As she studied his face, she noticed something out of place in his expression: fear. Her heart constricted. “Is something wrong?” Suddenly, her whole chest grew tight. “Did I say something wrong? Was it improper to ask that?”

“No,” Adrien quickly assured. “There was nothing wrong with your request. It’s just…” he sighed, his expression gentle. “I still remember that first night. Coming into my room, only to see you there looking like a trapped rabbit. I didn’t sleep that night. I couldn’t. You were terrified. Of me.” He grasped her hands, pulling them up to his chest. “Marinette, I don’t ever want you to look at me that way again. Not now that I am madly in love with you. Not now after all the progress we’ve made. So while I will admit I want nothing more than to lay by your side, I do not want to push your trust further than it will go.”

Her mouth felt dry. Words were ethereal, swirling in her mind but unable to become reality. How was she to answer such a statement? Especially since she couldn’t find the ability to speak.

Her mind slowly came back into motion. She pulled her hands from his grasp, only to hold his jaw. She raised it slightly, his eyes locking on hers. With a smile, she garnered one from him. “I trust you.” Several rapid heartbeats passed before she managed to continue. “I trust you to care for me. I trust you to protect me. I trust you to hold and kiss me. I trust you to lay by my side.”

She felt the tension leave his body. He reached up to grab hold of her wrists. “I’m so glad that you trust me that strongly.”

“You’ve only proven it to me a hundred times or so.”

It got a chuckle from him. “You will have nothing to fear from me. I promise.”

“I know,” Marinette assured him. “I know.”

Chapter Text

Adrien ran. Theo. Theo was back. He was going to get Marinette if he wasn’t fast enough. Adrien had seen the gleam of the mad man’s knife, which only made him more determined. He pushed himself hard. He had to get to Marinette. He had to. His legs felt thick and weighty as he forced himself to get to her. Wherever she was.

“Adrien.”

There she was at the end of the hall, safe and sound. He reached for her but could never touch. His desperation grew. He needed to hold her. Needed for her to be safe in his arms, but he couldn’t move beyond his spot. His feet were stuck. He was stuck.

“Adrien.”

He reached for her, letting out a strangled sound as he gave it one last shot.

And felt her come into his arms.

Relieved, he latched on tight. She let out a small squeak of surprise as he pulled her against his chest.

Now where was Theo?

He turned around, hoping to spot him. He needed to know where his enemy was if he was going to protect Marinette from him. He scanned the hallway, but there was no one.

“Adrien, sweetheart.”

He felt her hands in his hair, soothing and comforting all at once. He tried to keep himself focused. Theo. He was after Theo.

“It’s just a dream.”

No. No it wasn’t just a dream. His arch enemy was after the love of his life, and he needed to protect her.

That’s when Theo appeared around the corner. His smile was wicked, and the blade of his knife shone in the dark hallway.

“Marinette,” he managed, his tongue thick in his mouth. He had to get her out of here. If Theo charged him, she’d be in the middle.

But she wouldn’t let him go.

“Adrien. Wake up.”

He struggled against her, trying to push her away to the nearest door so that he could face Theo.

Adrien!” She repeated, her hands shoving against his chest. “Wake up.”

His eyes shot open. He gulped in air, fighting against the sheets his limbs were tangled in.

“Adrien.” Marinette’s faintly moonlit form hovered over him and her hands made soothing circles in his hair. “You’re safe. You’re safe.”

It took him a moment to process what had happened. It was a nightmare. Just a nightmare. Rolling over on his back, he rubbed his shaking hands down his face, exhausted and stressed. It took a long while before his heavy panting slowed to a normal pace.

Her hands never stopped their ministrations, bringing to mind that she was awake at who-knows-what-ungodly-hour because of him.

“I’m sorry,” he eventually said, sitting up in bed. “I’m so sorry for waking you up.”

“Don’t apologize,” she said, her hands falling from his hair to rest on his shoulders. “It’s all right.”

“No,” he grumbled. “It’s very much not.”

“You’re right,” she agreed. “It isn’t. You shouldn’t have these nightmares that haunt you. It’s not fair.”

He blinked a couple times. “That’s not what I meant.”

“I don’t know what else you could mean.”

With a vice clamping slowly around his heart, he reached over to a wrap an arm around Marinette’s waist. “I mean you shouldn’t be woken by my fidgeting.”

She leaned into him. “I’ll have you know that I’m a very sound sleeper,” she said. “If you wake me, it’s because you’re flailing so much that I need to be awake for you.”

That only made his heart hurt worse. “I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry. I—”

“Adrien,” she interrupted. “Stop apologizing.”

“But I still feel bad. You need to sleep, not be waking up to shake me from my nightmares.”

She took hold of his cheeks, effectively silencing him. “I am your wife,” she said, her tone laced with warning. “That is my job.”

Taking hold of one of her hands, he turned his head to press a kiss into her palm. “It shouldn’t have to be.”

“Well, there’s nothing that can be done about it. Except, maybe, you stop fretting so that we can go back to sleep quicker.”

No matter how hard she was trying to be, it wasn’t humorous. Still, a strange sort of smile quirked his lips before he answered. “All right.”

With that, she pulled his jaw forward so to press a kiss on his lips before settling back down in bed. Adrien followed her lead, laying right beside her and wrapping an arm over her, an action he had feared four nights ago but now did without second thought. She snuggled into his embrace, willingly sharing her pillow with him as they cuddled together under the sheets.

A loud bang resonated through the halls, causing Adrien to near fly out of bed. He was ready in an instant, reaching for the knife he had brought into Marinette’s room. Theo. It was the only thought pounding through his head. Theo. Theo’s here. He’s after Marinette. He stared at the door for a moment, listening for any other noise, only to be greeted with silence.

He glanced back at Marinette. In the moonlight, he could see her silhouette propped up in bed, but he could imagine her eyes blown wide.

“I’ll be right back,” he said. “Stay right there.”

“Ok,” she said, her voice giving away her fear.

He felt for the door, opening it slightly and peeking out of the room. “Plagg,” he whispered on air.

“Get back inside,” he hissed.

“Not a chance,” Adrien responded, stepping out fully into the hallway.

“Get back in there for Marinette. We don’t know what we’re up against.”

Unwilling to admit Plagg was right, it was all Adrien had to shut the door.

“Adrien?”

“Stay calm,” he said, “everything will be fine.” With that, he found a few candles to light, putting dull, flickering light into the midnight.

Marinette was still in bed, tangled up in the sheets, the neck on her nightgown shifted over to the side and nearly falling from her shoulder. Her blue eyes sparkled in the light but with fear. His expression softened as he leaned over the bed to press a kiss on Marinette’s forehead. “It will be all right.”

“Hopefully.”

Shouting came from the hall, calling both their attentions to the door. Adrien felt Marinette’s hands grab his arm, clutching it tight. It was all he could do to stay put when he should be running out there to help his friends. He held onto Marinette’s hand tighter while he clenched the knife in his other hand.

The silence that followed stretched long. Adrien was itching to leave, to find his friends, to assist as needed. He was a soldier, he was wired that way. Marinette’s grip on him was the only thing keeping him grounded, reminding him that there was someone he had vowed to protect with his life. Finally, the horrible tension of his body eased when a series of knocks that meant “all clear” rapped against the door.

His grip on the knife loosened. With an apologetic look, Adrien loosened his grasp on Marinette, pulling away from her. Candle in one hand and knife in the other, he made his way to the door, cracking it open to see Plagg standing there.

“We got him,” Plagg growled. “He claims there’s not anyone else, but I’m not inclined to believe him.”

“Nor am I,” Adrien answered.

“We’ll start interrogating him now.”

“I want to be there for that.”

“I’ll handle it,” Plagg stated. “You stay with your wife.”

“I need to be there for it,” Adrien reiterated.

“Or you can trust me to have it under control.”

“I’m not staying here, if that’s what you two are debating.”

At the voice, both Adrien and Plagg looked into the room, only to see Marinette standing right behind Adrien, her arms crossed and expression determined. “I’m coming with you.”

“Absolutely not,” Plagg stated. “You are staying—”

“Right by my side,” Adrien interjected. It was clear as day Marinette wouldn’t stay put, and frankly, he didn’t want her to be alone. “Come on.”

Marinette sided up to Adrien, pulling the candle from his hand to that she could hold it.

Honestly, it made Adrien feel more comfortable, too.

Thankfully, Plagg didn’t argue. “Come on.”

The trio marched down the dimly lit hallway until they turned the corner, only to see Kim sitting on a man who had his hands tied behind his back while an amused Nino played with a knife. One he quickly put away when he saw Marinette.

Kim also looked appropriately abashed. “He was trying to get away.”

Adrien ignored the comment. “Where are the girls?”

“Alix is with Alya and Tikki,” Kim said, pointing towards the door.

“Good.” Adrien turned to Marinette, giving her hand a squeeze before he released her. “Why don’t you join them.”

Hearing the direction, she sighed. “Fine,” she relented, making her way into the indicated room. Only once the door was shut did the men turn all their fury on the intruder.

He was a thin man. Very unassuming. If Theo did send him, it was doubtful it was to kill. Any one of the men in the house could take him down in a flash, as was evident by Kim sitting on him.

And as amusing as that was… “Get off him, Kim.”

Nino was there to pick the man up once Kim did stand up. The man stood, and Adrien was surprised to learn precisely how tall the man was. Thin, sure, but taller than all of them.

“Make it easy on us,” Adrien began. “Name. Purpose. Who sent you.”

The man scoffed, staying silent.

“Ignoring the commands of a lord after trespassing on his property.” Plagg tsked, shaking his head. “Not looking good for you.”

Despite squirming under Plagg’s gaze, the man still stayed silent.

Adrien rose a single brow. “Really? You’re going to make it difficult?”

The man didn’t make a sound.

Adrien sighed. “Hard way it is. Nino, Kim, drag him to my office.”

“Gladly.”

The man yelped when the two men literally yanked him of his feet and started dragging him down the hallway. “Easy, easy!” the man cried out, struggling in an attempt to get back on his feet.

His cries were ignored, and he eventually surrendered his fight. However, instead of the office, they made it to the end of the hallway before setting him back up on his feet. Adrien didn’t want to wander too far from the girls, but neither did he want them to hear their conversation if they were listening from inside the door.

The intruder seemed a bit surprised at this but remained silent.

“We have all night before I have Plagg and Kim here escort you to the king himself.”

The leery look the man sent Kim was enough for Adrien to know he chose the right men to scare him with.

“Name. Purpose. Who sent you.”

Despite it all, the man didn’t speak.

“Wonderful,” Nino grumbled. “A strong, silent type.”

“Everyone breaks at some point,” Plagg said, now stalking the man like a cat. “Slowly and surely, everyone snaps. Isn’t that right?”

It took about five circles for the man to start fidgeting.

“Look at that,” Plagg said, now randomly poking the man as he continued his prowl. “Getting anxious?”

The man still didn’t speak, though at this point, it looked far more like he was biting his tongue then willingly keeping his jaw shut.

“Strong-silent-type my tail,” he growled. “In my book, anyone talks when persuaded.”

With that, he poked the man three times rapidly in the side.

He doubled over that way, only for Kim to yank him upright again.

Plagg sniggered. It was times like these that Adrien was slightly concerned for his butler. When this glimpse of a darker side to him appeared, Adrien couldn’t help but wonder what he went through to make him that way. Sure, Plagg had always been cynical from the first time they had ever crossed paths, but it was times like this that Plagg took on an aura that was more than a bit unnerving.

Maybe that’s what made this form of more or less harmless torture so effective.

“Stop it!” the man shouted after five minutes.

“Oh, words,” Plagg sarcastically drawled out. “Does that mean I’ll get you to answer the questions?”

The man clammed up again.

“Then how about this,” Plagg said, tapping several times on his spine and causing the man to stretch straight as a result. “The next time you talk, you answer one of the questions.”

Slowly, the man realized what Plagg was doing. “Interesting form of torture.”

A hard flick in the stomach, followed by one under the chin. “Mocking it, are you?” Plagg snipped.

“It’s pathetic.”

The low light made Plagg’s smirk sinister. “Yet a cat knows playing with birds makes them give up their hope to fly away.” With that, Plagg continued his prowl.

“That’s why you work with Chat Noir, then, is it?”

That earned him several hard jabs to the joints of his hips. The man’s legs buckled underneath him as he curled up against the pain. Plagg then smacked the underside of his jaw to get him to raise his head again. “I don’t need your commentary,” he growled. “I need answers.”

“And I won’t give them. Because, you see, a bird is smart enough to play dead until the cat gives up.”

“Not the black ones.”

“No, those end up dead.”

Despite Adrien watching Plagg’s arm jerk back, ready to hit—which Adrien would have allowed at this point—Plagg didn’t lash out. “So you’re telling us that you were here to kill Chat Noir?” he prodded. “Who hired you?”

And the man clammed up again.

Plagg tapped a line from the man’s stomach, up his chest, before hitting his jaw. “So be it.”

The torture continued. Long prods. Quick pokes. All growing increasingly annoying and uncomfortable. High on the neck; low on the legs. Front in the chest; back on the spine. Tap. Tap. Tap.

And the man was breaking. Adrien could see in on his face. The discomfort. The fidgeting. The way the man’s eyes rolled upwards to stare at the ceiling as if in silent prayer to make it stop. There were even a few times when Plagg prodded the backs of his knees or made several quick pokes in a row that the man nearly collapsed, only to be yanked up again by Nino and Kim.

“It could all be over in a second,” Adrien commented in a somewhat bored tone. “Just answer who hired you to kill me. I won’t even make you say your name.”

Despite flinching at Plagg’s touch, the man stayed silent.

“Hired to stay quiet, right?” Adrien said. “Well, Plagg will have fun while it lasts.”

“Nice to know that Chat Noir is as cruel as his reputation.”

The man then cried out at the jabs garnered from Plagg at the comment, doubling over in pain and hopeful reprieve.

Even in the face of hateful comments, Adrien couldn’t bring himself to summon more emotion than disconnected irritation. “You’re right. I’ll sit here all night until you talk,” he sarcastically drawled out.

“You’re wrong,” he said. “I just have to sit here until the job is complete, then I’ll tell you everything you want to hear.”

Adrien smirked at that, and suddenly, Plagg wasn’t the only on with a dark aura in the room. “You think you can kill me from where you stand?”

“Who said anything about me killing you?

The way the man grinned, Adrien knew he meant it as a riddle. One Adrien took far too long to figure out.

As he ran back down the hallway to the girls’ room, he could hear the man laugh before suddenly crying out. After that, the only thing left to hear were Adrien’s pounding footfalls down the hallway.

He flung open the door at the sound of a scream, ready to fight off whatever intruder had entered the room. Only, the sight before him told a far different story.

Adrien stood frozen in the doorway as Nino suddenly appeared at his side, taking in the strange scene as well.

“Alya,” Nino eventually said. “I believe I owe you an apology for every time I ever insinuated you couldn’t take care of yourself.”

Turning her attention away from the unconscious man on the floor, Alya lowered her frying pan and smiled. “Thank you, Lord Lahiffe. Apology accepted.”

Chapter Text

Breaking from her shocked stupor, Marinette ran to her husband, collapsing against his chest and bursting into sobs. His arms engulfed her, supporting her upright as she felt like her legs would give out from under her.

“What happened,” he demanded.

She cringed at his voice but quickly realized it wasn’t aimed at her. Which was good because she couldn’t bring herself to speak at the moment.

“We were talking all together huddled on the bed,” Alya answered. “We thought the scratching at the window was just the wind, so we ignored it. Until…” Alya paused, and Marinette knew why.

She gripped Adrien’s shirt tighter.

“Next thing we know, a man has a knife at Marinette’s neck. This one.” Marinette could only assume that Alya indicated the guy she had just walloped over the head with her frying pan. “He said if we screamed, she’d die.”

“Then a second one appeared,” another voice, Tikki, chimed in. “He was more interested in Alix, commenting how she was the little princess he was hired to find. Then there was some comment about dragging her back by her heels—”

“Where’s the second man?” Adrien interrupted.

“Here,” Kim spoke up. “Dead.”

Dead?

Marinette pulled her head out from Adrien’s chest so that she could look over at Kim, who was staring at the floor behind the bed with a gruesome look. “Looks like he fell on his knife.”

“He…he must have done it when I gave him the slip,” Alix shakily answered, scooting towards the opposite side of the bed. “Maybe with a little push from Tikki.”

“I wasn’t trying to kill him!”

“We know, Tikki,” Plagg said, appearing at Tikki’s side to pull her in. “We know. Don’t worry about it.”

“Then this one,” Adrien said, indicating the man Alya had felled, “what did he do to you, Marinette?”

With an unsteady breath, Marinette did her best to get words out when all she felt like releasing were sobs. “He…he pulled me off the bed…t-t-trying to get me…to the door.” She took moment to catch her breath. “He w-wanted my earrings. Kept demanding…where I k-kept them. D-demanding…that I give them up.”

“He never took the blade away from her neck,” Alya said, carrying on where Marinette couldn’t finish. “It was only when the other one struggled to get Alix was he distracted long enough for me to…well.”

“Where did you even get that, anyway?” Nino asked.

Alya sent him a flat look. “I’m used to being prepared with things to defend myself. I took this from the kitchen and have been sleeping with it under the mattress ever since the house was put on lockdown. There’s a knife under there, too. My own.”

Nino shook his head in disbelief.

“When he wakes up, he’ll be able to give us answers since the other one is…”Alya didn’t need to finish the sentence.

“No, he won’t,” Nino said, kneeling by the corpse. “He’s dead, too.”

Alya’s eyes widened as the frying pan slipped from her grasp and clanged against the floor. “What?”

Marinette felt like she was going to be sick.

Suddenly, she felt herself scooped up from the floor. “Men, get the girls out of here,” he directed. “Plagg, the man in the hall?”

“Knocked him out. I’ll take care of him,” he assured before leaning over to whisper something in Tikki’s ear.

“Good. We’ll clear this in the morning.” With that, Adrien carried Marinette from the room.

She resisted the urge to cry again.

“It’s okay,” he cooed. “It’s okay. You’re safe now. You’re safe.”

“Please, don’t leave me,” she sobbed out. She resituated her arms around his neck, pressing her face into the safety of his shoulder. “Please, don’t leave me alone.”

The way he tightened his hold, shifting her further into his chest and cradling her closer—if that was even possible—was a comfort. “I won’t, love,” he said reverently. “I promise, I won’t.”


 

After a while of tossing and turning, Marinette had gotten a few moments of rest. True to his word, Adrien hadn’t left her side. He adapted to all her shifting with no complaint. Every once in a while, he would coo “you’re safe” in her ear. It was usually accompanied by him rubbing circles on her back and tightening his hold on her.

By morning, she was anxious to get up, yet at the same time, hesitant to leave her room. But Adrien was there, coaxing her out of bed, convincing her that she needed to eat something. He said that stressful situations left one weak yet unwilling to eat. “Even just a little, maybe some tea,” he said. “And if nothing else, just get out of the room.”

She supposed he was right. She hadn’t wanted to eat after the Theo incident either. “Okay,” she relented.

With that, he pressed a kiss to her forehead before crawling out of bed. She repressed her urge to whine at his missing presence because they did need to get dressed for the day. Forcing herself from the comfort of her sheets, she pulled out some clothes she could put on herself. Some old ones from her days prior to a princess; things without laces in the back so she didn’t have to ring Tikki. She hurried to pull on a skirt and a blouse but felt strangled by the top buttons. She reached up to yank the collar forward, only to feel the sting as her fingertips scratched at her neck. Gasping, she unbuttoned the last two buttons on her high-necked blouse, desperate for relief.

A knock sounded from her door.

“One more moment, Adrien,” she called. Removing the blouse entirely, she tossed it back and pulled out a different one, one with a wider neckline. She pulled the loose blouse over her, certain she looked more like a peasant then she had in the past few months. Her husband probably wouldn’t appreciate it, and Alix certainly wouldn’t considering she had near scolded Marinette for believing she was anything but royalty. But she had to find something to wear, so it would have to do for now.

She tucked the end of her slightly baggy blouse into the waist of her skirt then opened the door to her husband’s room. At the sight of her, he gave her a curious once over, but it vanished just as quickly as it appeared.

That suffocating feeling was back. “Is something wrong?” she asked, pulling at her collar as subtly as she could.

“No,” he quickly assured. “I was just—” His eyes grew wide as he followed her movements. Marinette felt a blush rise to her cheeks. Did he mistake her actions for something else?

He suddenly grabbed her chin, forcing it upwards. His fingertips brushed her neck. The resulting gasp was more out of pain than anything else.

Adrien’s growl was enough to scare her heart to double-speed. “He got you.”

She silently begged her heart to stop beating so fast as much as she silently begged Adrien to let her go. Didn’t he know how much it hurt?

As though he heard her mental wishes, he released her jaw. She reached up to touch the burning spot. When she pulled away, little drops of red dotted her fingertips.

Her eyes widened. Last night may be a blur, but apparently, the man had nicked her with the knife he pressed against her throat, after all. She vaguely remembered how it stung but hadn’t given it any thought.

“He’s lucky he’s dead,” Adrien grumbled beneath his breath. “Or I would kill him where he stands.”

“Adrien, you don’t mean that,” she said. Surely, he was just angry.

The glare he turned on her made her shutter. He took a moment to close his eyes and recompose himself. “I’m sorry, Marinette. I…I don’t mean it. I’m just…” When he opened his eyes, his gaze was far softer than it had been. “I wasn’t there to protect you. Again. And again, you were hurt before I was able to reach you.”

Marinette reach out to rest her hands on his arms. “You were there, though. And…it might have been for the best you weren’t there any sooner.”

He looked offended at that.

“No, really,” she said. “If you had barged in, he might have killed me. He would have had the upper-hand because he would have had me to control you.”

Adrien swallowed, and it looked like a hard task to do.

“So, maybe it was better the way things played out,” she continued. “And in the end, you were still there when I needed you to be.”

With a relenting sigh that seemed to cause his body to relax again, he reached for her to pull her close. She surrendered to his will, curling up against him and snuggling under his chin.

“As reasonable of a theory as that is,” Adrien said, “know that in my mind, I still fall short because I wasn’t able to protect you.”

“Then I’ll be there to assure you that I still put all my trust in you.”

He squeezed her tight, pressing a firm kiss to the crown of her head. “I will do everything in my power to never let you down.”

“I know you won’t.”

They stayed like that a while before Marinette grew worried for his silence. “Breakfast?” she said, quietly. “We still have to go eat.”

He sighed then let out a humorless chuckle. “All right. I get it. Let’s go eat.”

Nervously, she grabbed the ends of her hair, only to realize she hadn’t yet brushed it out. It must look like a mess. “Let me brush out my hair first.”

His gaze softened. “Take all the time you need.”

Blush on her cheeks, she sat at her vanity and picked up her brush. Pulling the bristles through her locks, she tried to ignore the fact that Adrien was watching her through the mirror. She was halfway through before she turned. “What is it?”

She loved the smile he gave her: soft, kind, loving. “You’re beautiful; do you know that?”

Her blush deepening, she quickly turned back to the mirror as if that would hide her face from him. He chuckled, watching her as she finished brushing out her sleep-tangled hair. She set the hairbrush down then split her hair into two. Just as she was reaching for her ribbons, she saw that he had found them and was already holding them out for her. She looked up at him, taking in his smile as he extended the white ribbon out for her to take.

“You look so cute in your pigtails,” he said. “I love them on you.”

Could her face get any redder? She felt the heat flame up her neck and in her chest as she took the ribbon and tied one side of her hair. She took the second ribbon from him to tie the other side before she inspected her work in the mirror to ensure it was straight.

Adrien’s hand came up to brush a stray lock of her hair behind her ear, one too short to tie back. Only, when he pulled away, he rubbed her earlobe. “Marinette,” he said. “I know you don’t want to wear them, but can I at least see these earrings that Theo seems to want so badly.”

Biting her lip nervously, she glanced up at him, knowing all the while she wouldn’t be able to resist such a request. With a sigh, she pulled open her drawer and retracted the little octagonal box.

“That looks just like the one my ring came in,” Adrien commented.

“Really?”

“Yes. Exactly.”

Unsure of what to make of it, she opened the box, revealing the earrings. Carefully, he took the box from her to inspect the earrings himself. His brow furrowed as he picked up one of the earrings to study it closely. Then, he put it against his ring, comparing the two of them. Curious herself, Marinette stood so that she could get a close view of the two items together. They really were made of the same black metal, each set with the clearest gem shards she’d ever seen.

“Interesting,” he remarked before replacing the earring in the box.

“Do you think that Theo is after your ring?” she asked, “Just as he’s after my earrings?”

“I think that’s exactly what he’s after,” he agreed, looking down at the ring. “Why is the question.”

Marinette stared at his ring then glanced at the box her earrings lay in. Reluctantly, she took the earrings and put them in.

Adrien watched silently as she did, never commenting though his question was written across his face.

“If we are going to tell the others,” Marinette said, “then they need to know exactly what the objects Theo wants look like.”

His smile widened as he gently ran his fingers over her ears. Slowly, he pulled her in to press a kiss to the shell of her ear, one that made her shutter.

“I…I think we should go,” she said, desperate to leave before she died from the heat engulfing her face.

“But I love seeing you so red. It’s adorable.”

Adrien.”

Adrien chuckled but ignored her to press another kiss to her temple. Only when she whined did he relent, grinning all the while. “All right.” With that, he entwined their fingers together and led her out the door.

As they marched to the dining hall, they passed a very somber Plagg. He looked at Adrien as though wishing to say something, but the way he glanced to Marinette told her that he wasn’t going to say anything while she was around.

Marinette touched Adrien’s shoulder and loosened her grip on his hand. “Plagg looks like he needs to speak to you.”

With a sheepish grin, Adrien pressed a quick kiss to her knuckles before releasing her hand. He guided Plagg to the other side of the room, talking in low whispers while Marinette fiddled absently with the ribbons in her hair. After a moment, Adrien sent Plagg off with a firm pat to his shoulder. He returned to Marinette, grabbing both her hands to pull her along toward the dining hall.

She graced him with a smile before he turned to be side by side with her again.

When they made it to the dining hall, Marinette saw that there was already food out on the table. Who set it, she didn’t know. All she did know was that none of it looked remotely appetizing.

“I know,” Adrien assured her. “Really, I do. But please, try to eat something. It will do you better in the long run.”

She looked between the platters of food and Adrien, her nose crinkling upwards as she tried to muster the will-power to agree to his terms.

“Tea?” he tried, concerned. “Just a little.”

Her frown didn’t lessen, though she logically thought it would be easier than trying to take a bite of something. “Okay.”

With a smile, he guided her over to the chair to the right of his own before pulling it out for her to sit in. She took a seat, allowing him to push the chair back in. Instead of taking a seat, he took her plate, put a biscuit on it, then placed it back in front of her. He repeated the process with his own plate but took a small portion of eggs as well. Marinette frowned. Normally, he would have taken some meat, too.

“You aren’t the only one who isn’t hungry, sweetheart.”

Surprised from her trance, she looked up at him while he poured a cup of tea for her then for him. Only once he replaced the teapot did he take a seat beside her.

She watched him as he poked at his eggs before taking a reluctant bite. Feeling guilty, she forced herself to rip off a small layer of the biscuit he put on her plate and dunk it in her tea before eating it. The smile he gave her made it easier to swallow.

Nino appeared half way through their silent meal. He easily plucked a biscuit from the tray, ripped it in half, then topped it with some of the ham. He earned some odd looks when he wrapped it in a napkin.

“Alya isn’t feeling well,” he explained, taking one of the teacups and filling it.

It surprised Marinette a little. Even if she was sick, Alya powered through, doing her job all the while. For her not to even come down to get her own breakfast told Marinette how sick Alya must be. “Tell her I hope she feels better, okay?”

Nino gave her a half-grin. “I’m sure she’ll be glad to hear it. I think she’s more concerned about you, though.”

“Tell her I’m fine and that I’m more concerned about her.”

“She said you would say that.”

That warmed Marinette. “Alya and I have always cared for each other. Like sisters. She’s always been the strong one between the two of us, though.”

“I don’t know,” Nino commented. “It takes a lot of courage to continue on through everything you’ve been through.”

“Alya would have handled it better,” Marinette bitterly admitted.

“Alya would have handled it. I don’t think better.”

Unsure if she was willing to believe it, Marinette’s brow furrowed. “Since when have you become an expert on my best friend?”

A strange red tint rose to Nino’s cheeks. “Alya seems to have one fierce way to handle everything, where as you are able to navigate the unknown far more tactfully and practically.”

“Since when have you become an expert on my wife?” Adrien spoke up, teasingly.

Nino tossed his hands in the air. “I do happen to live in the same house with you two. Excuse me if I pick up a few things.”

Adrien sniggered. “I’ll let that pass this once, but I got my eye on you, buddy.”

With an amused shake of his head, Nino filled another napkin with the same meal before taking both meals and the tea.

“Alya hates having people wait on her,” Marinette commented after Nino had left.

“She looked pretty terrified last night,” Adrien replied. “Even the strongest people fall to stress.”

“I suppose so.”

Adrien reached over to place a comforting hand over her own. Meeting his gaze, she granted him a smile. Hand in hand, they finished their small breakfast just as Kim walked in.

“No one is joining us, but everyone wants something to take,” Adrien joked.

Kim huffed a humorless laugh. “Alix isn’t up to coming down, otherwise she would join us at the table.”

“So, you are going to join her instead?” Adrien remarked, watching Kim fill two plates.

In all the time Marinette had known Kim, she never saw even a hint of a blush on his cheeks, except for now. It may have been subtle and disappeared in a second, but it was still there. “We still have a lot to catch up on,” was all he said before taking the plates from the room.

Marinette felt herself smile. “How come I feel like there are three couples under this roof, not just us and our recently engaged friends?”

Adrien’s lopsided smile was bright. “I dare say soon to be four.”

“Four couples?” Marinette repeated. With a pause, she wondered about the fourth. “You don’t think Alya and Nino…?”

“I’ve known Nino seemingly forever. Wherever Alya is concerned, his mannerisms change just enough to be noticeable.”

“And I suppose Alya has surrendered more fights to Nino then I’ve seen with anyone else.”

A thoughtful quiet settled over the duo as they eventually accepted the fact.

“I suppose that leaves Ms. Mendeleiev out, doesn’t it?” Marinette joked.

Grinning, Adrien shook his head. “We just have to find an appropriate man to walk through the door, and according to history, the rest will be destiny.”

In stark contrast to the heavy mood earlier that morning, Marinette laughed.

Chapter Text

Since the morning was spent calmly and quietly in order to settle everyone’s ruffled feathers, Adrien waited until late afternoon to gather everyone in his office. Marinette sat in his chair while he leaned against his desk. Besides a still weak Alix and an oddly pale Alya, the others stood as well.

Adrien fingered the ring nervously. This wasn’t going to go over well, but he didn’t have a choice. “I know what Theo wants.”

“A ring and pair of earrings per what Alix said, right?” Kim spoke up.

“Yes,” Adrien said. “A specific pair.”

“And as much as I’d love to elaborate on that,” Alix said, “I don’t know anything else about them other than Hawkmoth wants them. Otherwise, I’d tell you everything so you could find them.”

“But we have found them,” Adrien admitted. “In fact…” he rose his hand up in a fist to show off the ring. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Marinette brushing her hair from her ears to reveal the earrings. “…I’m fairly certain Marinette and I are in possession of them.”

Plagg leaned forward to examine the jewelry. It wasn’t five seconds before his usually placid expression morphed from extreme shock to severe anger. “Do you have any idea what those are?” he bellowed.

Adrien felt his brow furrow while his mind struggled for an answer. He wasn’t able to come up with one before Plagg came up and cuffed him upside the head.

“Idiot!” Plagg shouted. “You’re the bloody Prince of Paris, for crying out loud, and you don’t even what you’re wearing?” For good measure, Plagg smacked Adrien again. “You idiot!”

“Plagg, quit it,” Marinette chastised. “Just tell us instead of—”

“That goes for you, too, Princess,” Plagg interrupted, ignorant to whatever Marinette had said. “You have the world in your ears, and you didn’t even know it. Gah! I can’t believe it!”

“Then why don’t you tell us what we’re missing?” Marinette snapped.

“Do you really have no idea?” Plagg drawled out, anger dripping from his tone.

“No, Plagg,” Adrien intervened. “And judging by the looks on everyone else’s faces, no one else knows either. So why don’t you just tell us?”

Plagg snuck a glance around the room of confused faced before pointing an accusing finger at Adrien. “What you have,” Plagg answered hotly, “are the Earrings of Paris and the Ring of France.”

The confusion only grew.

That’s what those are?” Tikki cried.

“Yes!” Plagg snapped, clearly happy to have someone who understood. “And they’ve been walking around with them.”

“Plagg, Marinette wouldn’t know anything,” Tikki corrected, “But I can’t say the same for Adrien. Honestly, Adrien, did you have no idea? Didn’t you learn about those at all?”

Suddenly feeling very stupid, Adrien shook his head.

“Where on earth did you even get those?” Plagg asked, exasperated.

“Do you remember the healer?” Marinette spoke up. “The one that came for Alix? Mister Fu. He was in possession of the items that he gave Adrien and me in return for assistance one day.”

“He just gave them away?” Plagg questioned incredulously. Even Tikki looked surprised at that.

“Yes.”

Plagg growled in irritation. Unfazed by his behavior, Tikki patted his shoulder. “Calm down,” she placated. “Either the man knew exactly what he had, or he didn’t have the foggiest idea what they were.”

“Doubtful,” Plagg grumbled.

“Then that means he knew what he was doing in giving them to Adrien and Marinette.”

“Well, Adrien I see, but Marinette?

Adrien bristled at that comment. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means,” Tikki said, taking over before Plagg could shout an answer. “That according to the legend of the earrings and ring—or the Miraculous Gems, as they are known—whoever is in possession of the items is the rightful King and Queen of France and Paris.”

It took a while for that shocking information to sink in. Even once Adrien was fully able to process, he wasn’t able to produce a more intelligent answer than, “what?”

“Those gems are legendary,” Tikki continued. “They were made using materials from both here and France as a way to unite the kingdoms. There was a treaty written between the two kingdoms that is rumored to state that whoever was in possession of the gems were the rightful owners of the respective kingdoms; the Earrings of Paris, and the Ring of France. It was meant to unite the kingdoms because the owners of the gems were called to marry and thus bring peace and prosperity to both lands.”

A chorus of shocked and surprised outbursts rang through the room.

“There’s no way that’s true.”

Everyone turned to Marinette, who looked pale and mortified. “If it was, that would mean that I’m…”

“The actual Princess of Paris?” Tikki finished. “Not just by marriage, but by right?”

Her blue eyes the size of dinner plates, Marinette swallowed hard.

“And if the documentation still exists,” Plagg continued for Tikki. “It means that you would overrule Adrien’s family in ruler’s rights.”

At this, even Adrien turned pale. “So,” he managed out, even though it sounded weak and squeaky. “Does this mean that I…I’m technically the ruler of France then?”

“If the documentation exists,” Plagg said.

“And is correct,” Tikki added. “It’s only legend. There should be matching treaties for both Paris and France, but no one knows what they really say.”

Running hands through his hair, Adrien tried to process everything.

“How do you even know all this?” Alix spoke up. “Not even I have heard of it.”

Tikki silenced Plagg’s outburst with a firm hand to his shoulder. “The eastern war was not fought over nothing,” she explained. “A king grew too powerful for his own good. He had heard of these gems and thought it would be an easy power grab if he found them.” As she told more of the story, Tikki wrapped her hands around Plagg’s elbow, likely in silent support as well as a way to keep him calm and restrained.

“How come you never told me that, Plagg?” Adrien asked.

The butler narrowed a look at him. “One: I thought you knew. Two: I wanted to keep that horror as far away from you as possible. I had hoped you would never expose yourself to it, but lo and behold, you stubborn brat have to charge headlong off into war that, apparently, revolved around the same damned gems that started the first one.”

“Plagg,” Tikki warned, her voice low and patient.

He growled but stopped his rant. With his arms crossed and shoulders hunched, he looked like a scolded child. It would have been comical if the situation at hand wasn’t so insane.

“So what do we do, now?” Alix said, bringing everyone back to the issue at hand. “I’m sure Theo knows what those are considering he hasn’t left any of us alone, and he’s not going to back off now.”

“That is the question, isn’t it?” Adrien rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “Besides waiting for Theo to come to us, there isn’t much we can do right now. Unless anyone else has any suggestions.”

Adrien wasn’t expecting anything other than silence to his facetious comment. However, Alix did have an answer. “I say we go to your father, gather a squadron, and face off Hawkmoth.”

“A little reckless, don’t you think, Alix?” Coming from Kim, his uncertainty spoke volumes. “This is Hawkmoth we’re talking about. He’s prepared and crafty. Do you honestly think he won’t be ready for an ambush?”

“You honestly want to just stand here and do nothing?” she snapped back. “Or did you forget that we were attacked last night.”

“Alix,” Marinette spoke up, her voice surprisingly strong. “It wasn’t Hawkmoth that attacked us. It was Theo who sent men.”

“Theo who is working for Hawkmoth because he wants those gems,” Alix said. “We need to get to the root of the problem and handle it.”

“I think we need to take this one step at a time,” Marinette countered. “This isn’t something that can be handled overnight. Besides, we only just learned about these gems. There are other things that need to be handled first before Hawkmoth.” She then paused as uncertainty flickered on her features. She glanced up at Adrien. “Right?”

Pride swelling in his chest, he nodded his agreement. “Marinette’s right. We are in another battle right now. Not one against Hawkmoth, but against Theo. We have to handle Theo first. Maybe then we can get information out of him that will prepare us better for facing Hawkmoth.”

Alix didn’t look happy about it but remained silent.

“She does bring up a point, though,” Alya spoke up. “That we need to get the king involved in this.”

As much as Adrien didn’t want to, Alya was right. “It’s inevitable, yes. I’ll need to face him with these recent attacks. From there, we can plan our next move.”

To that, everyone agreed.

“So when are we leaving?” Plagg asked.

Adrien sighed heavily. “It will take a couple days to get ready—”

“What do you mean ‘a couple days?’ We can be ready by sunset.”

Exhaustion suddenly washed over him. “What I mean, Plagg, is that we are all leaving to go to the castle.”

“What?” was the unanimous chorus of voices.

“Isn’t that overkill?” Plagg asked. “You need to face your father, then I’ll be with the—”

“I’m not leaving Marinette and Alix with only two guards,” Adrien interrupted. “And I’m not going unprotected without more back-up. We are all going; not one person will be left in this house. Am I clear?”

When no one objected, Adrien shooed everyone out of his office. “I have to write a letter to my father to send off. He’ll be furious if we show up unannounced and he’s unprepared.”

Wordlessly, everyone took their leave. Chairs were put back in their positions and the door was shut as the last person left.

Except for Marinette, who still sat in his chair, her hand reaching for his. He clutched her hand, grasping hold of his lifeline.

“I know you don’t want to do it.”

It wreaked havoc on his heart to be able to tell how much she cared just by her voice alone. “I know you know.”

“I’m proud you will do it anyway.”

He squeezed her hand.

She pressed a kiss to his knuckles then stood from her seat. “I love you.”

How was it possible for her to yank his heart around as much as she did? She was going to squeeze it to death at this rate. “I love you, too.” He leaned forward to kiss her, only to be stopped with a dainty finger pressed to his lips.

He stared at her, owl-eyed. Yet, her smile was kind and, to his chagrin, teasing. “After you finish your letter,” she whispered, her tone light. She tapped the tip of his nose twice before slipping past him. Had he been in his right mind, he would have caught her and held her back. However, his mind was still reeling and trying to catch up with the fact that he had just been denied a kiss.

He’d never wanted to write a letter to his father more in his life.

It was the creak of his door opening that snapped everything back into motion. He whipped around. “Marinette.”

She paused in the doorway. “Yes?”

He had to work his jaw a few times before words actually came out. “Stay? Please? Just…stay?”

“Won’t I be a distraction?” she asked, her voice still teasing and wonderful and bad for his heart.

“No,” he assured. “And I would like the company.”

She rapped her fingers lightly against the doorframe in decision. “Let me go get my sewing.”

He grinned, feeling as though he had won. “All right.”

“But,” she warned, “if you don’t get the letter finished quickly, I will leave. I don’t want your father knowing that I was the reason you didn’t send this off in a timely manner. He likely doesn’t like me already.”

Something niggled at him in the back of his mind. Something…something he couldn’t remember. Something…

Letter. Marinette. Father.

Sh—

Panicked, he yanked open the top drawer of his desk, only to be greeted by the lovely sight of the letter he had meant to send off to his father long ago.

“Adrien?”

He barely heard her as he plucked the letter from the drawer and held it up for her to see.

Her eyes grew wide. “Is that?”

Feeling a horrible rush of heat to his face, he shut his eyes against his wife’s impeding wrath, dropping the letter on the desk and rubbing his neck nervously.

“Adrien!”

He cringed when the door shut harder than normal, her footsteps audible as she came up to his desk. He carefully peeked at her from one eye, watching as she snatched the letter from the desk to stare at it.

“You never sent it off!?”

“I forgot.”

“How could you forget?” she asked, frantic more than angry. Whether that was good or bad was still up for debate.

“I was going to,” he defended. “But then…but then we fought and…telling father was the last thing on my mind.”

His voice had grown quieter with each pause, and the atmosphere had changed with it.

“Adrien,” she stressed. “This is really bad. Your father still doesn’t know about me. That means he has no clue what’s been going on, and with the intruder that is after me, he’s not going to approve of me. What if he hates me for it? What if he banishes me from the kingdom because of what I brought to his son? What if he—”

“Marinette,” he interrupted, desperate to break that train of thought because… well, where his father was concerned, nothing was out of the realm of possibility. “Calm down. Don’t panic.”

“But your father doesn’t know about me,” she argued. “He doesn’t know about us.

“Then he’s just going to have to learn the hard way, and I’ll take the blow. That’s on me, so I’ll pay for it. Don’t worry. It won’t affect you.”

“Of course, it will,” she snapped. “Anything that affects you affects me. Especially this because I am your wife.”

Adrien pursed his lips, hating that she was right. He was her husband; he was supposed to protect her from these things, not bind her to problems just because she was bound to him. Especially since being bound was the problem in the first place.

“And this is not going to end well. I know it. What if he forcefully annuls our marriage?”

The hurt in her voice only added to the strain on his heart. What if his father did demand it? Because he was king. Ultimately, he still had power over Adrien, as much as he was loathe to admit it.

He stared at his wife. The glimmering of tears in her eyes was physically painful. He reached across the desk to cradle her cheeks, only to cause those tears to fall. He was quick to wipe them away.

With a sigh, she let her eyes close. Her hands came instinctively up to hold his wrists in support. “I don’t want to lose you,” she whispered so softly he almost didn’t hear.

But he did. And he felt a burning in his own eyes. “And you think I could stand to lose you? We’ve gone through so much. I can’t separate from you just because my father demands it.”

 It was only in the corner of his eye that he caught the little flash of red in her ears, and a sliver of hope grew in him. He reached for her ears, gently fingering the gems. “The earrings,” he said. “If what Tikki and Plagg said is true, then you are the Princess of Paris. You will overrule my father.”

“Only if the documentation exists,” she reminded. “And would your father even dare to look it up before he cast judgement?”

“No,” Adrien reluctantly admitted. “No, he wouldn’t.”

Marinette sighed. As more tears fell from her cheeks, Adrien wanted nothing more than for them to disappear. “Let’s forget about this for now,” he said, wiping the tear trails away. “There isn’t anything we can do now except wait for the impact. Go get your sewing and come back. I’ll write the letter to my father, and we’ll talk about how to deal with this afterwards. All right?”

Marinette’s watery eyes looked up at him. Right now, they seemed extra blue, but he wasn’t sure it was a good thing. “All right.”

She slid from his light grasp, shuffling to the door. It killed him to see how her shoulders were slumped over and her head hung in defeat. “Hurry back,” he called after her.

Her smile was pained. “I will.”

Once she was gone and the door was shut behind her, Adrien collapsed into his chair, rubbed a hand down his face and denied that it was to wipe away a tear or two. He forced himself to be occupied, to pull a piece of paper from a drawer and write to his father. By the time Marinette reappeared, a sewing project in hand, he was engrossed in the letter. 

That didn’t mean he was so ignorant to the fact Marinette pulled a chair to his side and took a seat in it. That he wasn’t hyper-aware of just how close she sat to him. That he wasn’t being driven to pieces whenever her elbow shifted to touch him or how the edge of her skirt brushed against his legs when she shifted.

It felt like an eternity later that Adrien pulled out the wax to seal the two-page-letter. He then pressed his seal confidently down into the melted wax, making his imprint on it.

“Finished?” Marinette asked, surfacing from her sewing project.

“Finished,” he confirmed, pushing the letter away from him and leaning back into his chair.

Placing her sewing off to the side, Marinette reached over to grab his hand with both of hers.

He grasped on tight, pulling strength from her. He looked over to her, watching pride radiate off her. It made his heart swell with happiness. “You know,” he said, teasing growing in his voice. “I believe my wonderful wife promised me a kiss upon the completion of that letter.”

Her lips perked up into a playful expression though something softer shone in her eyes. “I believe that you were,” she said, standing from her chair as Adrien pulled her to him.

He guided her onto his lap, wrapping his arms around her as she settled in place. As he leaned to her, his hand moving to cup her jaw, she reached up to tap his nose once more. “Just don’t forget to send that out.”

Grinning at her teasing, he pressed his nose against the tip of hers. “I don’t think you’ll let me,” he taunted back.

She giggled. A light sound to ease any tension left on his heart. “That’s true,” she whispered against his lips before giving him a soft and sweet kiss.

Chapter Text

It was quiet in Marinette’s room. Unusual considering that Alya and Marinette together were normally tremendously chatty. Not after the events after last night, though. Not when Marinette bore a mark from a man who tried to kill her and Alya still felt guilty for taking a life.

“Nino told me not to be,” Alya said, snuggled under the comforter of Marinette’s bed. Marinette had suggested Alya stay with her for the night, just like they used to do when they were little. Except there was a staunch lack of smiles and joking and teasing and definitely no exchanging of fairytales this time around. “That I acted out of defense. That I acted to save your life.”

“You did,” Marinette confirmed.

“Telling myself he was a bad guy and would have hung anyways if he lived only helped so much. I still feel a bit guilty.”

Marinette rested a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I probably would feel the same way.”

They were silent for a while, relishing each other’s company.

“Alya,” Marinette eventually spoke.

“Hmm?”

“Thank you for being as fearless as you are.”

This got a hint of a smile from the brunette. “I’m your best friend. I’ll always have you’re back. Just like you’ll always have mine.”

Marinette scoffed. “I don’t know if I could have taken a frying pan to a guy’s head.”

“Not quite like that,” Alya corrected. “You probably would have talked him into letting his guard down just enough for me to escape. You’re really good at that.”

Marinette’s brow furrowed. “Good at what?”

“Facing tight situations like that,” Alya said. “You’re really brave, Marinette. You somehow… just… know what to do. You would have acted if I were the one with the knife at my neck; you just would have done it differently. That’s what makes us such a good team.”

“I’m not sure I would be quite that brave, Alya.”

“And I’m sure you would be,” Alya firmly countered. “Just look at what you faced so far. First, you bravely continue on even after the… the party. And then you marry a stranger and move all the way across the kingdom. By the time I came, you were already singing his praises and telling me that everything was fine. I don’t think I would have been able to handle that. You know me, I probably would have walloped him over the head if I were in your shoes.”

That got Marinette to smile.

“Really, not only were you lucky in marrying a good man, but you managed to face all of the surprises that came your way and still manage to pursue your husband as though you love him.”

“Which I do.”

Alya seemed shocked silent.

“I really do, Alya. I love him.”

With a smile slow creeping across her face, Alya shook her head. “You are so lucky.”

Marinette felt herself blush. “You are right. It wasn’t easy trying to be, at the very least, a friend to him in the beginning. But then, he’d give a little and I would give a little, and the next thing I knew…” Wordless, she shook her head. “I fell in love with him.”

“And that’s the Marinette I know,” Alya said. “The one who is brave enough to pursue the potential good even in the worst situations. Maybe that’s why you’re so lucky.”

“I doubt that.”

“Who else would have made an attempt to be happy with Chat Noir?

Marinette could only shrug at that.

“And that’s what makes you so worthy of being a princess. No one deserves it more than you.”

“Now you’re just saying things.”

“I bet Adrien would agree with me.”

“Alya,” Marinette warned, her cheeks heating up.

“It seems like he’s warmed up to you. He doesn’t wear those stupid ears anymore.”

Which Marinette was grateful for.

“Or that mask. Who would have guessed he was so handsome.”

“Alya!”

“And you’re so lucky to have him be the father of your children. They’ll be the most beautiful kids in the kingdom.”

Alllllyaaaaa,” Marinette whined.

The brunette sobered. “I’m sorry, was that too much? I didn’t mean to imply anything or make you uncomfortable, I just thought…”

Marinette sighed. “No, Alya. I know what you thought. I’m not offended. I’m…actually the opposite.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean…” With a sigh, Marinette propped herself up on her elbows, searching for the words to say. Alya mimicked her position, her body angled towards Marinette, heads close together like they always did when exchanging secrets. “It’s not that…the implication of having kids with him offended me. It’s that…it’s that it sounds like the most wonderful thing in the world. Alya, I do want a family with him. I want to raise children with him.”

“How come I feel like there’s a catch coming?” Alya asked.

Marinette felt heat bloom in her cheeks, trail down her neck, and flare in her belly.

“Wait,” Alya realized. “Is this because his vow not to lay with you?”

Marinette bit her lip. “I think that’s part of it.”

“Maybe you can just talk to him about it?” Alya suggested.

“I don’t know if that’s proper or just brazen,” Marinette countered.

Alya released a tense breath. “Well, I’m definitely not the right person to speak to about this.”

“You’re the best I have right now,” Marinette said.

“Maybe Tikki?” Alya suggested.

“She’s not married. I doubt she’d know how to handle it. Besides, there are more pressing matters right now then my relationship to my husband.”

“Barely,” Alya teased. “Only barely.”

The girls slipped into silence a while longer before Alya released a yawn.

“I suppose we should get some sleep, huh?” Marinette said.

Alya whined. “I don’t want to.” She then glanced at the door connecting Marinette’s room to Adrien’s, looking suddenly put out. “But, I guess that Adrien will be coming in shortly.”

Marinette frowned. “Actually, he should have been in by now.”           

“He probably has a meeting with the others about what to do with the captured men.”

“Probably,” Marinette agreed. “And if that’s the case, I’m surprised that you aren’t wanting to be involved.”

Alya shook her head. “They can handle it. I’ve handled as much as I can take for the moment.”

Marinette grew worried for her friend. “I hope you get back to normal soon.”

Alya’s smile was bitter. “Nino said I would. And I probably will. Just…let me adapt to the fact that I actually killed someone, okay?”

“Do you want to stay for a while?” Marinette asked. “Like old times? Would that help?”

“Are you sure that’s all right? I don’t want to intrude.”

“It’s fine,” Marinette said. “I’m the lady of the house. I get to make those rules.”

“But what about the lord of the house?” Alya questioned.

Marinette tapped her fingers against the sheets, debating. “My best friend needs me right now. He’ll understand.”

“As long as you’re sure.”

“I’m certain.”

“Then I’m not going to argue,” Alya said, yanking up the sheets to hunker down in them. “Because I don’t really want to be alone tonight.”

Smiling, Marinette mimicked her friend, pulling the sheets up to her neck and burying her face in her pillow. “Things look better in the morning. I know they do.”

Alya grinned. “I’ll trust your judgment on that.”


 

Adrien stared up at the stars, stress eating him alive. He had sent the letter off to his father via a personal carrier. It would be two days at minimum before Adrien’s father got that letter, and it would be anyone’s guess on how he would react upon reading it.

Honestly, Adrien was terrified of how his father would react upon learning about Marinette. It was likely going to end with his father demanding an annulment. And if his father was being nice, he would extend a bit of sympathy to Marinette over the ordeal. However, Adrien knew his father, and therefore knew he had to brace himself for the impact of that storm when it came.

Adrien rubbed his tired eyes. He only had a few days to figure out how to avoid annulment. The earrings and ring certainly helped his case, but his father was a hard man. Adrien was going to have to be just as unyielding and a little bit sly in order to keep his marriage to Marinette.

He sighed. That was going to keep him up all night if he continued thinking about it. He supposed that he should just get off the roof and go to bed.

Bed.

The sudden realization that the threat was gone meant he no longer had an excuse to go into Marinette’s room. That was the only reason she had let him in: for protection. Now that there was no reason for him to protect her, did he still have the right to enter? Was it presumptuous to go and expect to be let in?

He should ask her. Risk her sending him back into his own room. It might be worth it if he got to lay at her side. But if she rejected him, he wasn’t sure his heart could take it.

He groaned. Out of all the bad luck to have ever come his way, why had it brought upon him such a complicated relationship? A woman he had, yet didn’t. A woman he loved, yet couldn’t always touch. A woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, yet might not be allowed to. It was so difficult when it shouldn’t have been. Why could he not have just courted her properly, married her, then have her as his wife and the mother of his children?

While he knew that he wouldn’t have ever been allowed to court her in the first place, it did nothing to quell his frustration.

“I wish you were here, Mom,” he said out into the night. “What do I do? You would have liked her. Her rank wouldn’t have affected you like it will dad. I could have come to you and asked you what to do. I’m trying my best to treat her well, but it’s hard. I’m trying to be good to her, trying to make you proud, but is it too much to want her as my wife?”

He wished he had gotten an answer to that. He wanted to know if that was all right for a gentleman to want her in that way or if that was the mark of a cad.

Rubbing his hands down his face, he tried to pull himself together. Now was not the time for his desires to get in the way. He had far worse things to deal with right now, like Theo’s latest stunt and the man locked up in the back of the shed and the Miraculous Stones.

Catching sight of the ring on his finger glowing green in the moonlight, Adrien frowned at the gem. Prince of France. That’s what this gem made him. It was madness that a single gem held so much power. And that he had found himself in possession of it. He shouldn’t be the owner. It should be Alix’s, or her brother’s, Adrien supposed. Worst of all, there was a madman after this gem, likely wanting it to legally rule France, and Pairs if he could get his hands on the earrings.

Adrien sighed. He needed to get off the roof and get some sleep.

Sliding down and landing squarely on his balcony, he glanced over at Marinette’s balcony. He still remembered the first night she had asked to join him. It seemed like so long ago but was likely shorter of a time than he realized. When he recalled the date of their marriage, he realized just how quickly he had fallen for her.

Forcing himself back inside, he stripped off his outer clothes and, without bothering to dress in his nightclothes, collapsed into bed. He lay there for a while, sleep staunchly eluding him before he reached over to the empty half. A week ago, there had been nothing wrong with his bed. Now, having the other side be so empty was another reason to keep him awake.

He glanced in the direction of the door connecting his and Marinette’s rooms. Was it worth it to knock? To beg like a little kitten to let him stay with her. He wouldn’t even be past getting on his knees at this point.

But he didn’t. He wouldn’t. He would grow up and learn to cope without her at his side. A bitter pill to swallow. One that, despite being a full grown man, he really didn’t want to take.

Finally, when that got too much for him, he found himself back outside on the roof, where he stayed all sleepless night long. When dawn came, he had made three resolutions. One: he would apologize to his father, because Adrien finally understood why he became so bitter after losing Mom.

Two: This was only going to last a single night. Tomorrow, all pride would be laid down, and he would take whatever sentence Marinette bestowed upon him like a man.

As he stared down at the red gem in his hand, he made a third and final resolution, one that he deemed the most important: should Marinette accept him, Adrien would bestow the wedding ring he should have put on Marinette’s hand instead of the plain one he had hastily bought for their marriage. His mother’s.

Chapter Text

Things truly were better in the morning. Although she was still a bit reserved, Alya wasn’t half as pale nor as quiet as yesterday. Marinette would count it as improvement.

After Alya assisted Marinette in her dressing, Marinette shooed Alya down to her own room to get ready for the morning. “And if Ms. Mendeleiev has an issue with where you were,” Marinette added, “you tell her to come to me, okay?”

“Okay.” After a shared hug, Alya waved her goodbye. “It’s nice to have friends in high places,” she said with a grin before hustling down the corridor.

Marinette giggled then sent her friend one last wave. While she wasn’t all that hungry, Marinette made her way down to the dining hall for breakfast. When she arrived, she caught sight of a single, surprising person: Alix.

“Perfect,” the red-head said, setting down her fork. “Just who I wanted to see. Sit.”

Marinette didn’t argue as she made her way to the seat Alix indicated.

“We have a lot of preparation to do if you want to make a good impression.”

Marinette’s brow furrowed. “Good impression?”

Alix gave a curt nod. “Absolutely. You told me that you are not royalty. Kim was able to fill me in on the extent of your training as well as inform me that you have never met the king. So, this is where I take over your training so you don’t embarrass yourself or Adrien in front of his father.”

Marinette felt herself blush in embarrassment.

“Now, go get some food, and let’s get started.”

“Wait. Now?” Marinette asked, picking up her plate.

“Yes,” Alix said, smirking over her cup of tea. “Now.”

While it certainly wasn’t the worst breakfast of her life, it was close. Alix corrected every little mannerism as well as informing Marinette how a normal breakfast in a king’s court would go. While Marinette knew Alix was doing it to help her, every correction was a reminder of just how inadequate she was. By the time Marinette finished her breakfast, she was exhausted.

“Very good,” Alix praised. “For someone of your status, you’re doing well.”

“That certainly isn’t how it feels,” Marinette grumbled under her breath.

Alix’s expression softened. “Marinette, I’m not trying to come off as mean or critical. I’m sorry if I make you feel that way. But I know Adrien’s father. These are the things he is going to look for and take note of. He’s a harsh man, almost to the point of irrational. I want you to make as positive as an impression as you can, not just for your sake but Adrien’s. If you can prove yourself able to navigate high society well, it will reflect well on him as well as on you. You have the makings of a princess. I just want to help you refine them.”

Marinette sighed. “I know you want to help. And I appreciate it.”

“But?” Alix said, picking up the unspoken end to her words.

“I wouldn’t go as far as to say I have the makings of a princess.”

The smile that Alix gave to Marinette was almost out of place on the stubborn girl’s face: gentle and caring and sweet. “You do. You just don’t see it. With a little practice, you’ll be able to trick all of society into believing that you were born royal and raised for it. They’ll never know you’ve only had a few months of practice.”

“How can you have so much confidence in me?” Marinette asked. “You’ve barely known me a week.”

Alix scoffed. “You are a woman who was brave enough to remain calm when a knife was held to her neck. You are a woman determined enough to become the best lady you can even though you came from a lower station. You are a woman compassionate enough to learn to care for a man whom you were forced to marry. And I heard that it was you who was barking orders around when I showed up unconscious. You, just like myself, are made of something stronger than delicate lace and showy smiles. A good thing considering the world we navigate isn’t as easy as everyone seems to think.

“So let this be a lesson here,” Alix continued, expression shifting to a more stoic one. “You are a princess. I may have been born into royalty, but even I hold only as much power as my father or husband allows. It’s the curse set upon us. Which is why we need to not cower under them, but rise to match them. It’s by our own work if we earn it or not. So my advice is that if you are to focus your energy into learning only a few things, let it be confidence and competency. Grace and elegance are fine; knowing how to dance or tell spoons apart at a dinner table are grand; but there is nothing more important than learning how to be the best leader that you can. You are the Princess of Paris, and possibly France, the people of the kingdom will look up to you. Hold your chin high and set the example. Am I clear?”

Marinette swallowed hard, nerves buzzing like bees in a hive.

Alix’s smile reappeared. “You have it. Trust me. You faced me off yesterday, didn’t you? Calmly and concisely ending my little tirade? Why don’t we see more of that Marinette? She’s the one who has the potential to be a princess. Am I wrong to think she would have the courage to strive to live up to that?”

Biting her lip, Marinette couldn’t help but think about what Alya had told her last night. About her being brave. And then Adrien came to mind. Didn’t he deserve to have a wife who strove for the best? He was the prince, a man she had once told would make a great king. He deserved to have a great queen at his side. As his wife, it was her job to become it.

So with new determination, Marinette responded, “I do.”

Alix’s smile grew. “Good. Now for the next lesson.


 

It was nearly noon by the time Alix dismissed Marinette, telling her to take a break. She had been working hard to learn all Alix had been teaching her, and it had Marinette missing Tikki’s simple lessons compared to Alix’s complicated ones. However, Alix was very patient with Marinette and took ample time to explain everything she could to the best of her ability so that Marinette would understand.

And for the most part, she did. She just hoped she would remember it all.

She wandered down the hallway, aimlessly walking anywhere. Wherever her feet took her that was far away from the stress of the lessons was perfectly fine with her.

It turned out to be the gardens that she was led to. In a blink, she was standing in front of the bench under the canopy of ivy. A little secluded, welcoming spot, one that was already taken.

Adrien was lounging on the length of the bench, his legs hanging off over the side of his too-short resting place. Drawn to him, she took a couple steps closer, and his eyes lazily opened.

“Oh, sorry,” she whispered. “Did I wake you?”

He shook his head, slowly sitting up. “No. I never went to sleep.”

Her brow furrowed as she took a seat beside him. “Have you been awake all night?”

Sheepishly, he nodded.

“Adrien,” she cooed, taking his cheeks in her hands and rubbing slow circles on his cheeks. She took in his exhausted state from the way he could barely keep his eyes open to the way he laid his head heavily in her hands. “Did you have another nightmare?”

His expression looked pained. “Of sorts.”

“Oh, Adrien.” She continued rubbing little circles on his cheeks, and his eyes drifted fully shut. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there. Did you knock on my door? Did I miss you?”

He shook his head.

“Ok, good,” she sighed, feeling slightly less guilty.

When his eyes opened again, they were dim and dull. “You don’t have to let me in, you know.”

Her brow furrowed as her heart sank even more. “What?”

“If you don’t want me in your room, you don’t have to let me in. If I make you uncomfortable, there’s no threat any more, so we don’t have to share a room.”

She blinked, unsure if he had said what she thought he said. She grasped him tighter. “Adrien. No. I love being with you at night.” Instantly, her mind raced back to just two nights ago, when they had exchanged kiss after kiss snuggled down in her bed before he cocooned her up in his arms and she settled against him. Then that happiness had to be ruined by nightmares, both imaginary and real. “I loved having you there by my side.”

His expression perked up, and a little bit of life returned to his eyes.

And something dreaded clicked in her mind. “Did you think I didn’t want you?” Her heart sank and stomach twisted. “Is that why you didn’t come to me last night?”

“I didn’t know what you wanted,” he admitted. “And I didn’t want to force anything on you that made you uncomfortable. No matter how far we’ve come, I have to remember that this marriage was not something you willingly walked into.”

Marinette swallowed hard, formulating an answer that would stop those doubts in his head once and for all. “You’re right. It wasn’t.” Her gaze then locked with his, determination blazing in her. “But you never gave up on me, and I chose to stay and learn how to be your wife. Even when I pushed you away, I did it because I had come to love you. Adrien, I am your wife, and I will proudly claim that title. I will proudly state you are my husband. There is nothing that makes me happy quite like knowing that we are married and that my future is with you. So while this wasn’t something I willingly walked into, it’s not something I regret.”

She watched his breathing pick up as his green eyes sparked with life. It still stunned Marinette that they were so green. So striking, so vivid. Lost in their depth, she absently pulled his head forward.

The next thing she knew, his lips landed on hers. Soft at first. Tender. Then desperate. His hands came up to cradle her head, angling it against his own. Again, and again, and again, his lips took hers, and she automatically responded to every touch, every shift, every movement.

They broke apart with a gasp, but they didn’t pull away far. He was still right there, his breath rolling across her lips. “Marinette,” he whispered, “I can’t imagine my life without you, either. I want you as my wife. Desperately. It was all I could hope for last night.”

“I am your wife, Adrien,” she panted, grabbing his shoulders tight in reassurance.

As he stared down at her, he slowly shook his head. “No, Marinette,” he said, his voice husky and low. “I want you as my wife. I want you as mine.”

It wasn’t his words but the intensity and meaning behind them that made Marinette shiver, an action contradictory to how scorching hot she felt at that moment.

“If, and only if, you’ll have me.”

He grabbed her hands, forcibly loosening them from his shirt and grasping them tight. Marinette was a bit disappointed when he leaned back, but he never lost his smile nor did the glow in his eyes ever fade. If anything, he lit up like a lantern at midnight.

“Marinette,” he said reverently. “You never got a proper proposal, so consider this to be it.”

Her eyes widened on their own accord. She gasped, feeling unable to breathe as air suddenly left her lungs. Her grasp on his hands loosened, which allowed him to slip both her tiny hands into one of his. With his freed hand, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a sparkling ruby ring.

She broke eye contact to stare at the intricately carved stone set in a perfect gold ring. Only a mere second later did her clear vision start to swim with tears.

“Marinette,” Adrien said. “Will you choose to accept me as your husband?”

She looked back up at him, those tears rolling down her cheeks. “Yes,” she managed to choke out, causing him to brighten exponentially. Taking her left hand, he slid the ring onto her finger. While he had done it before at their wedding when he slid the thin, gold ring onto her hand, this felt far more intimate.

The band fit perfectly, and once it was on to join her other wedding ring, he raised her hand up to his lips to press a firm kiss on the back of it.

“Where on earth did you find such a lavish ring?” she asked.

“It was my mother’s,” he said. “The previous Lady Noir turned Princess of Paris. She wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to have it.”

Wiping away the tears that still poured from her eyes, she tried to process the fact that Adrien had just truly proposed to her and then presented her with a priceless family heirloom that she truly didn’t deserve but would cherish greatly. “I’ll wear it proudly. I’ll do everything I can to make her proud. To make you proud.”

“You already are,” he assured before taking her cheeks in his hands and once again bestowing her with kisses.

I know you think I have, but I haven’t yet, she thought through her haze of emotions. But I will. I promise.

Chapter Text

"That's a very nice ring."

Marinette looked down at her hand, starring happily at the ring that she hadn't been able to stop rubbing her fingers over.

"I'm guessing it's new?"

Breaking out of her trance, Marinette looked up at Alix, who sat across from her with a large, knowing smile. She bit her lip as she stared down at it again, heat blooming in her cheeks. "It was Adrien's mother's."

"Very special," Alix said. "What's the occasion?"

The words stuck in her throat for a moment before she managed force them out. "He proposed to me."

This garnered a questioning look from Alix.

"You see," Marinette explained, "up until now, our marriage has been one of propriety. We barely knew each other a few days before we married, so…"

Alix's grin widened. "So you two have treated your relationship more like a couple courting than a marriage. Is that what you're saying?"

Marinette blushed at that but nodded.

"If I can be honest," Alix said. "I didn't know any differently. From what I observed, I believed you two were happily married."

"Only in name," Marinette responded.

"Then, cheers to the new Princess of Paris.”

Suddenly, Marinette's stomach clenched. "And possibly France."

It was barely noticeable, but Alix's grin faded.

"How are you handling that?" Marinette asked.

Alix sighed, her entire presence deflating to make her seem small and frail. "It's a bit of a bitter pill to take," she admitted. "It's both harder and easier than losing it the first time. When Hawkmoth took over, I knew that while my kingdom was yanked out from under me, he wasn't truly the king. This time, my kingdom wasn't really overtaken but was legally taken from me. I don't really know what to think. It all seems like a dream."

Marinette bit her lip as words seemed to fail her. "I feel like an 'I'm sorry' is a pitiful understatement, though I don't know what else I can say."

"I know. And I don't know how to handle this, either. For that, I think I'd have to speak to Adrien and his father. If it is true that the owner of the gems overrules the family, then that would mean Adrien would uproot my brother and I. Above even ruling the kingdom, I'm more concerned about where my brother and I would go."

"I'm sure we could work something out. I speak for Adrien as well when I say neither of us want to take the positions that should be rightfully yours."

"But doesn't negate the fact that, technically, you two are the rightful rulers."

Marinette frowned. "It doesn't seem right."

"Unfortunately, that decision is not in your hands. Even if I wanted to—which I don't—I can't blame you for something beyond your control. If this contract puts me and my brother out, then we will have to make do. My brother will be able to manage better than I. I'm certain he could be able to find an heiress to marry. Hopefully…"

The words were supposed to put Marinette at ease, but they didn't. "If this contract is as disruptive as it sounds, maybe he could become an advisor to Adrien instead of being thrown out."

Alix's brow raised in intrigue.

"Your brother was raised to be king of France," Marinette explained, partly to herself as much as for Alix. "If Adrien is the rightful King of France because of the ring, I'm certain he wouldn't turn down help from someone raised to be the king for that country."

"I'd agree with you. Which bodes well for my brother if this turns out this way. At the very least, he wouldn't be completely displaced."

"But then there's you.”

Alix's expression was fake confidence. "As long as Hawkmoth hasn't touched it, I have an abundant dowry secured for me. That is, if it doesn't get transferred to you..."

"Even if it did, I wouldn't think of withholding it from you," Marinette interrupted. "And neither would Adrien."

"Then that will be enough to secure a decent marriage somewhere. Just as long as I'm provided for, that's all that matters."

While Marinette hadn't known Alix that long, she knew that an arranged marriage of that nature would end up making Alix miserable. But the reminder of Alix's status lingered in the back of her mind. Alix was a princess, and as a princess, she was a social pawn. As such, she never had a say in her husband. An advantageous match would have been made and Alix would have been stuck in it. Now, the difference was she wasn’t marrying for power, she was marrying for survival.

That didn’t sit well with Marinette. She absently bit her lip as she thought of a better solution. "How large is your dowry?"

"Large enough to entice many a suitor," Alix dismissed. "I would be the belle of any ball for my dowry alone."

"Is it large enough to support you if you marry, say, a knight?"

Alix's brow furrowed in confusion. "What are you—"

"What if you married Kim."

Silence engulfed the room as Alix's cheeks turned a rosy pink. Despite that, she scoffed. “He'd never.”

"And I doubt that."

"We didn't part last on good terms."

"Yet you two obviously still care for each other."

"As friends," Alix growled.

"I don't think—"

"Nor do you understand," Alix interrupted.

"What don't I understand?"

Alix suddenly clammed up, her mouth shut tight. With a great sigh, she admitted, "That I kissed him good-bye."

Marinette’s eyes widened. "What?"

Alix's gaze hit the floor in shame. "It was rash and brazen but…but I had feelings for him, and I acted out. So when he told me good-bye, I didn't want him to go. He was so close I just grabbed him by the collar and kissed him. And after I did, he all but ran from the room."

Silence settled over them as Marinette slowly processed the words.

"He doesn't want me," Alix said, her voice quiet. "And while my dowry is enticing, Kim's never been one drawn towards money."

"He's drawn towards you, though," Marinette countered. "You should have seen him when he first saw you unconscious; he was in a panic. And then I got to talk to him when he was at your bedside, and I thought that it was a shame because clearly he had feelings that may not be returned."

"If he likes me so much, then tell me why he ran."

"Because I knew I would never get the chance to marry you."

Marinette and Alix whipped their heads towards the door, where Kim stood tall and proud and focused completely on Alix. "I knew I had to go before I gave myself a chance to think about it. Besides…" a grin slowly crept across his face. "I was embarrassed you beat me to it."

Alix's cheeks grew redder as her gaze hit the floor, but still, she smiled. "I beat you to a lot of things, huh?"

"That you did. More than I'm willing to admit. But I want to beat you to this: I will more than gladly take you as my wife if I had the chance. Not for your dowry. For you, Alix."

Her gaze once again met Kim's. "Is that a proposal, Kim?"

Kim's smile turned from kind to impish. "Well, it's not how I envisioned it happening. I always thought I would storm the castle and abscond with you from some imprudent marriage."

Alix snorted, amused. "As if you would be more effective kidnapping me from a marriage than I would be from escaping one."

"Even if you planned it, you would still ask my help and you know it. Face it, you can't live without me."

"As unfortunate as that is," she sarcastically began before a fond grin took over, "it's true."

Marinette almost hated to interrupt, but she also hated being included on an increasingly intimate conversation. "Maybe I should leave you two alone," she began.

"No," Alix objected. "Stay. Kim will understand that I still have lessons to teach you before you meet King Agreste. Surely, he can wait until we pick up this conversation again."

Kim's brow quirked. "Was that a challenge, Alix?"

"A dare?" she coyly said. "Possibly."

"It couldn't be a dare," he countered, looking cocky as he crossed his arms. "You never stated any rules, therefore it was just a challenge. Nothing gained, nothing lost."

"Then how about this? I dare you to go a full four days before picking up this conversation again. Give me time to formulate an answer to your rather pitiful proposal."

Kim's twisted expression proved he didn't much like those terms. Still, he seemed to accept it. "And if I win?"

Alix's face contorted in thought.

"How about," Kim spoke up before Alix could, "A kiss."

Alix quirked her brow.

"A single kiss bestowed from a princess onto a knight."

With a narrowed gaze, she relented. "All right. A kiss. Should you fail, I shall reject you all together."

"Then this is one dare I better not lose." With a wink, Kim marched from the room, leaving Alix a more vibrant shade of red than she had likely ever been in her life.

It took a moment before Alix turned back to Marinette, doing her best to settle herself. But no matter how hard she tried, the color in her cheeks never dimmed. "Where were we?"


 

When Marinette was getting ready for bed, she didn't expect Tikki to come bounding into her room clinging onto a brown package, excitement radiating off of her like sunshine.

"What is that?" Marinette asked, already happy for her friend.

"Well," Tikki said, her pitch high in excitement, "I may have prompted Plagg to take me into town to look for materials for my wedding dress."

Marinette gasped, which only caused Tikki to bounce on her toes and cling tighter to the package. "Let me see!"

Taking it over to the bed, Tikki carefully untied the twine and undid the burlap covering to reveal a dusty red fabric.

Again, Marinette gasped, reaching for the fabric and feeling it between her fingers. "It's beautiful."

"I know. It was the best I could afford. It's stained with red clay, hence why the red is dull, but still, I wanted something red. It symbolizes good luck in the eastern kingdoms."

"And it will look lovely on you," Marinette said, raising the bolt of fabric up to Tikki's face to compare the color against her skin tone.

Tikki nodded fervently. "I know. Oh, I'm so excited to get working on it! I already have the pattern planned out and it will be the perfect thing to do when traveling to Castle Paris."

"And then we can plan out the rest of your wedding as well," Marinette said.

"It will be so much fun—" Tikki froze, staring at Marinette's hands which still held the fabric. "Is that…" Tikki couldn't get out any more words as she pointed to Marinette's left hand.

Marinette looked down at the ring before proudly extending it towards Tikki. “Adrien just gave it to me. He used it to properly propose."

The longer Tikki examined the ring, the bubblier she got until she released a full-blown squeal. "Marinette!"

"Isn't it the most incredible thing you've ever seen!" Marinette chimed in, her pitch as high as Tikki's. "And it was his mother's. Do you have any idea how much that means to me? He believes I'm worthy of it. I just…I don't even know how to process all of it. I love that man so much. He's more than I could have ever imagined."

Tears began in both of the girl's eyes to compliment the bright smiles. "Oh, Marinette," Tikki said, taking the girl by the shoulders. "I'm so happy for you."

"And I'm happy for you, too." Marinette responded, mirroring Tikki's action. "You and Plagg deserve to be happy together."

"As do you and Adrien. And now…look at you two. Pursuing each other. Agreeing to be in a union and not just be married. It's so wonderful."

Slowly, realization dawned on Marinette. Not bad, far from it, but a bit nerve-wracking, admittedly.

Tikki caught Marinette's glance at Adrien's door, grasping her charge's sudden change in demeanor. "You should wait for him."

Marinette turned back to Tikki. "Pardon?"

"You should wait for him. Like a bride waiting for her husband on her wedding night." Tikki's grasp tightened in reassurance. "Don't you see? It's perfect. You accepted him as your husband, agreeing to be his wife. Complete your marriage."

Marinette's face felt as though it was lit on fire.

Tikki giggled. "I'm not trying to embarrass you. I promise. It was only a suggestion."

"No. No, you're right, Tikki. It does seem perfect. It's just...I'm…a bit nervous."

"As all brides on their wedding night, no matter how excited they are to see their groom." Tikki assured. "My suggestion still stands: go wait for him. He'll know why you're there."

So no matter how the butterflies were swirling in Marinette's stomach—nervousness, anticipation—she decided to take Tikki's advice. The maid helped her ready for bed before sending her off with some encouragement.

Her heart was beating faster than normal as she sat on the edge of Adrien's bed, playing with the ends of her hair. She didn't quite have the courage to face the door, so she faced the window, looking out the open curtains and up at the night sky. She was tempted to blow out the candle so she could see more clearly, but she was waiting for her groom, so she didn't dare.

She stared down at her ring again, marveling at the brilliant red stone in the gold band. His mother’s. This was his mother’s wedding ring. The ring that carried her from a lady to a princess. Marinette pulled strength from that. If Adrien's mother could do it, then so could she.

The sound of the door opening startled her. She glanced over her shoulder to see Adrien pause in the door frame. She stood from her spot, her heart suddenly racing.

Slowly, Adrien shut the door behind him. Déjà vu washed over Marinette, she wasn't deathly afraid at the man who walked in compared to last time. She had come here on her own volition because unlike that first night, she actually felt like this wonderful man’s wife.

"Not that I don't love seeing you, darling," he softly spoke, "but what are you doing here? I haven't gotten ready yet."

She took a breath to steady herself. Only, when she opened her mouth to speak, she couldn't quite find the words to say.

Adrien approached her, reaching out to take her hands in his. His smile was gentle in the low light, and his eyes reflected the flickering candle. Even though the room was cool, his very presence seemed to warm her.

"I'm your wife," she finally said, squeezing his hands. "I'm yours. And I want you to be mine."

His grasp on her hands tightened, and the candle light seemed to spark brighter in his eyes. Tenderly, he reached up to cup her cheek, pulling her in and capturing her lips. She leaned into him, using her free hand to balance herself against his chest. She didn't want the soft, lingering kiss to end, yet he pulled away too soon for her liking. "Only if you're sure," he whispered, taking her lips again in another intoxicating kiss.

He was holding back, she could feel it in the rigidity in his body, the restraint in his lips against hers. He wanted this; he had said as much. But now, as he slanted his head to deepen their kiss, she knew just how badly he wanted her. And as the butterflies in her stomach drummed with anticipation, she knew she was ready for more, too. Even her nervousness couldn't overtake that light feeling at this point. She pulled away with a gasp, but he didn't. His lips traced her jaw up to her ear, kissing that tender spot right below it.

Her hands had wondered up to his cheeks, torn between holding him there and pushing him away to give him a clear answer. Thankfully, he pulled away, making that easier on her. "Adrien," she whispered, pulling him close so their noses were touching. "I'm certain."

In a flash, his arm wrapped around her waist, bringing her flush against him while his other hand cradled her head, bringing her in for a passionate kiss. Marinette inhaled sharply through her nose as her heart rate soared. She grabbed at his shoulders to steady herself against his barrage of kisses, ones she eagerly returned.

"My princess," he purred against her lips.

She could have melted right then and there but instead gathered all her strength and pressed it into the next kiss.

When that kiss came to an end, he pulled away, much to her disappointment. But she released a squeak of surprise when he swept her off her feet, cradling her tightly in his arms. He chuckled then shifted so their foreheads could rest together. "I love you, Marinette," he said, his voice husky and his breathing heavy. "I am so lucky to have you be my wife."

"No," she said, cradling his face in her hands and rubbing their foreheads together. "I'm the lucky one."

"That, my love," he whispered, walking over to the edge of the bed and tenderly laying her down on it, "is debatable."

She wasn't sure about that, but since his lips had once again captured hers, she wouldn't bother saying a word. Pulling him down into bed with her seemed like a much better option.

Chapter Text

Please, don’t anyone make me get up. Those were the words Adrien silently begged as he noticed sunlight begin to glow on the horizon. It was too close to sunrise, which meant the dawning of a day of traveling.

But he didn’t want to move. Today, all Adrien wanted was to remain in bed, holding his wife.

His wife. His. Wife. A smile came across his lips. Just two nights ago, he was desperate for her to be back in his arms. To hold her at night. Just to be with her. He hadn’t been beyond begging just to have her back. Yet, he hadn’t had to beg. He hadn’t even had to knock on her door. She had been the one waiting for him looking beautiful as ever highlighted by the moonlight with her hair down and nightgown nearly hanging off her shoulder. She was a beacon in the night, calling him to find safety and reassurance with her. But then came the magical words from her sweet lips promising even more than that, and he’d all but fallen apart in her arms.

He shifted, comfortably cradling his wife’s back with his arm while burying his face in her mused locks in an attempt to keep out any inkling of sunlight. While Adrien had learned previously how Marinette shifts in her sleep often, and while he learned how to accommodate that and still hold her during the night, he had no idea just how much it would wreck him now. He didn’t know how she could make heat flood his cheeks when she unconsciously moved her arm around his torso, dragging her hand across his skin, or shifted her freed legs against his or buried her face into his neck under his chin. And he definitely wasn’t prepared for the fire that would light in his belly when she mumbled in her sleep, “good kitty.”

He shut his eyes. Oh, please, don’t make me get up. Please, just let me stay with her.

It wasn’t often that he felt like he could fall back asleep in the morning, but today, he was just so comfortable, he felt like he could. And it lasted until a knock shook his door.

He withheld the urge to growl, but he probably didn’t succeed. Marinette stirred, but since she didn’t wake, Adrien thought maybe he could ignore it. Maybe Plagg would go away and leave him for a while. After all, Adrien usually answered, and if he didn’t, Plagg never wanted to be the one to wake Adrien from sleep.

Except the knocking persisted, louder and firmer this time.

Marinette released a whine, curling in on herself as her eyes scrunched shut. It was pure instinct that caused Adrien to shush her gently, hoping she would go back to sleep, but he also knew that if Plagg knocked again, it would be hopeless. So, as hard as it was, he disentangled himself from Marinette’s grasp. He was barely out of the sheets when Marinette reached for him. When she couldn’t find him, she blearily opened her eyes.

Leaning over her, he shushed her again. He ran a hand through her hair, smoothing it down before pressing a kiss to her temple. “I’ll be right back.”

With a pout, Marinette pressed her face into her pillow and curled into a tight, little ball under the sheets. Adrien gave her one last kiss before pulling away at the sound of another knock. Groaning, he forced himself up out of bed and snatched his trousers from the floor. He barely managed to pull them on before Plagg, the intrusive butler he is, tossed the door open and opened his mouth to yell.

Thankfully, not a sound came out. Instead, he took in Adrien’s disheveled state, the clothes on the floor, and Marinette still in bed. Where I should be, Adrien thought bitterly.

Looking appropriately abashed, Plagg snapped his mouth shut and pulled the door halfway closed again, motioning for Adrien to follow.

Once the door was shut, Adrien glared up at Plagg. “What?” he hissed.

Adrien couldn’t recall another time when Plagg looked this embarrassed. “Sorry,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I didn’t know.”

Adrien let out a sigh, rubbing his face with his hands. He supposed Plagg didn’t know and wouldn’t have suspected anything. “It’s fine,” he dismissed. “What is it?”

Plagg didn’t look any less guilty. “You’re not going to like it.”

Adrien felt sick to his stomach. “What.”

“Our thief in the night flew the coop.”

“What!?” Adrien bellowed.

“He didn’t get out on his own,” Plagg said. “The lock keeping him in his little makeshift cell was unlocked.”

He began to pace, anxiety rising in him. “So we’re dealing with a locksmith?”

“As much as I hate to say it.”

Adrien ran his fingers through his hair, grabbing fistfuls and pulling tight. They both knew who loved to dabble in that profession. “No other trail?”

“Nope. No way to track them down. No way to know where they went. No way to know how long ago they escaped.”

Wonderful.

“Look,” Plagg said, resting a hand on Adrien’s shoulder. “I’m sorry for bothering you. Go spend time with your wife. I’ll handle everything needed for the journey today. We’ll get to your father’s in a couple days, we’ll tell him about this, and everything will start lining up again. We’ve established we have enough on Theo to bring him to justice, and if he begins refusing the requests of the king, then he’ll only dig himself deeper into a hole. He may have gotten away from us tonight, but not forever. Got it?”

Adrien looked long and hard at Plagg before relenting with a nod. “You’re right. Just…ugh! The rat keeps slinking off.”

“Trust me,” Plagg grumbled. “I know. If I could string him up, I would.”

As much as he hated to admit it, Adrien was beginning to see only benefits by sending Theo to the gallows.

“Adrien, your wife’s waiting for you,” Plagg said, bringing Adrien back to the present, “and you and I both know that your father is going to attempt to keep you as far away from her as possible.”

“Don’t remind me,” Adrien whined, rubbing his hands down his face. His father wasn’t going to like Marinette. Adrien knew this for a fact. His father was going to like her even less because Adrien had only just informed him that he was married. And then there was the likelihood Father was going to be utterly livid because the consummation of their marriage had voided the possibility of annulment.

“Then I won’t say anything other than you better fight for her.”

“You think I won’t?” he snapped.

“Just making sure,” Plagg said. “Because I’m watching her go to the ends of the earth to make you proud of her.”

Adrien’s brow furrowed deeply. “I’m already proud of her. How can I not be? She’s an incredible woman. She’s doing her best to learn everything she needs to know to become a princess. Name one other woman who would have the strength to do what she’s doing.”

“Your mother,” Plagg easily retorted. “But that isn’t the point. The point is I caught her willingly subjecting herself to Alix’s scrutiny. She’s determined to ensure she doesn’t shame you in front of your father. She’s putting in all the effort she possibly can, so take my advice: you can’t just show your father the kind of woman she is. You have to show him the kind of princess she will make.”

It left a bitter taste in his mouth being forced to swallow those words, but Plagg was right: his father wasn’t going to see any value in Marinette the peasant girl who married into royalty. Adrien was going to have to prove the worth of Marinette the princess. And heaven help him, he was going to win that fight or go down trying. “Understood.”

Plagg gave him an approving smile.

“One last thing,” Adrien said. “If everything else goes wrong, if my father won’t accept Marinette and no contract can validate Marinette’s right as princess, then will you think that surrendering my title as prince would be insane?”

Plagg stared Adrien straight in the eyes. “Kid, if it comes to that, and you do that for her, then I don’t think I will ever respect you more.”

With a grin, Adrien grasped Plagg’s shoulder tightly. “Thanks.”

“What I’m here for.” Plagg patted Adrien’s shoulder one last time before shoving him towards his bedroom door. “Now get.”

Flashing an amused grin at a cheeky Plagg, Adrien relented and returned to his room. Marinette was awake now, sitting up while still wrapped in the blankets and looking at him with wide, worried eyes. “Is something wrong?”

Adrien forced a smile. “The only thing that’s wrong is that I was pulled away from you far too early for my liking.”

Marinette’s gaze sank while color bloomed across her cheeks. She forced her eyes up again, giving him full view of her shy smile. “Lair. I heard you shouting.”

He sighed, slowly making his way back to bed. “The prisoner escaped.”

“What?” she squeaked, now clutching the blankets to her chest with both hands. “How? I thought you said he was locked tight.”

“He was.” Adrien sank back into bed then shuffled over to her side, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close. “We have reason to believe Theo came to free him.”

Marinette released a tense breath, leaning further into Adrien’s embrace. “How can we never seem to catch him?”

“He seems to be one step ahead of us at all times,” Adrien admitted. “But not for long. Once my father gets involved, then we’ll start handling all of this, from Theo to Hawkmoth.”

“Hopefully. And then we have to figure out who the rightful ruler of France is and where Alix and her brother will go if not them.”

Adrien frowned. He had forgotten about that. “One step at a time.”

“One step at a time,” she agreed. “We have to deal with your father first.”

Allowing his eyes to close out of stress, he rested his chin on top her head. “Marinette,” he started. “I want you to know that no matter what happens with my father, I am so proud of you. I really hope you know that.”

“But I know I can do better,” she responded. “You’ve given me so much, and you never gave up on me even when I was pushing you away. I want to make you proud to claim me as your wife. I want to prove to everyone, your father specifically, that I am worthy of you. That I can stand by your side and be your equal, not a burden.”

It felt like a vice was painfully tightening around his heart, and he did his best not to choke on air. Gently as he could, he raised her chin so her eyes would meet his. “Marinette,” he said, “you listen to me. I. Am. Proud. Of you. You are the most incredible woman, and I am filled with the utmost pride knowing that you are willing to go so far for me. I know I don’t have to worry about you because I know you’ll do well. And I know that you will give everything you have into being the best princess you can possibly be. But when it comes to my father, there will only be so much you can do before your best won’t be good enough. I promise that if you continue doing the best you can for me, then I will carry you the rest of the way. Whether my father decides to like you or not is his decision, but never doubt that I will be there, by your side, helping you through everything and anything. Understand?”

Blue eyes glistened with unshed tears that fell free when she nodded. “Understood.”

He kissed the top of her head, pulling her in against his chest again. She snuggled against him, pressing a kiss of her own to his shoulder. “I love you,” she said. “I love you so much.”

“I love you, too,” he responded. “I love you so much.”

Chapter Text

Marinette was incapable of doing much more than gaping at the castle. Never had she seen anything like it. Duke Bourgeois’ mansion paled in comparison to this. From the intricacies of the architecture to the immaculately landscaped grounds, the castle screamed perfection. Suddenly, all the pep-talks she had given herself as well as the ones her friends had given her no longer bolstered her confidence.

A comforting hand landed on her shoulder. Marinette turned to see Tikki. “You’ll do fine.”

“I have to do better than just fine, Tikki,” she countered.

“She meant to say you’ll do great,” Alix said from the other side of the carriage. “Don’t worry. You have it in you.”

Marinette gave them a smile she wasn’t quite sure she felt. “Thanks.”

The carriage came to a stop, causing butterflies to flutter recklessly in her stomach. Tikki gave her shoulder one last reassuring squeeze before the door opened to reveal Plagg, his hand outstretched in a gentlemanly fashion.

Tikki gladly took Plagg’s hand and allowed him to assist her from the carriage. Even though he was trying to be discreet about it, Marinette caught the kiss he pressed to the back of Tikki’s hand.

Alya was next out. She had been persuaded to allow a gentleman to assist her out. “Anyone could be watching,” Alix had warned her. “Now isn’t the time to be stubborn. Just play the part and accept the assistance.”

“For you, Marinette,” Alya had said. “Because we can’t have the king think that you’re friends with an ‘unrefined woman’.”

Once Alya exited, Adrien appeared at the door. As the prince, he felt it was his duty to escort out the princesses. Alix went first, which only left Marinette. When he reached his hand towards her, reassuring smile on his face, she felt a bit of the nervousness ebb. She could do this. She could do this for him. So, returning his smile, she put her hand in his and exited the carriage.

“Never forget,” he whispered. “I’m proud of you.”

“I know,” she responded, placing her hands in his crooked elbow. “I know you’ll be with me every step of the way.”

His hand came over hers, further instilling peace in her. “But most importantly, my princess,” he continued, so close that his breath tickled the shell of her ear. “Never forget I love you.”

She begged her heart to calm and hoped her blush wasn’t blaringly noticeable. “I love you, too, Adrien,” she whispered back, squeezing his arm and shifting half a step closer.

The castle doors flew open, calling all attention, and Marinette just wanted to shrink into nothingness.

In the center of the open door way stood a man clothed in red and pure white, looking regal as he stood tall and proud. “Adrien,” he said, his voice clear and authoritative, “leave your party. I need a word with you.”

 The man’s gaze then locked on Marinette, and his eyes narrowed. Do not cower, she internally begged herself. Do not cower.

Adrien squeezed her arm in reassurance. “Father, first I—”

“Introductions can be held later,” he interrupted. “This pressing matter must be dealt with now. Nathalie will tend to your party until we are finished.”

With a sigh, Adrien relented. “Yes, Father.”

Marinette released him, much to both of their disappointment. Before he could leave, Adrien took her hands, bowing to press a firm kiss to her knuckles. “I’ll be back. And don’t forget.”

“I won’t,” she said, squeezing his hands one last time before he released her.

He spun on his heel, marching tall and proud towards his father. It was when Adrien stood directly in front of the king that the resemblance became clear: tall, slender, each holding themselves with authority and pride.

A woman dressed in dark clothing with her hair tied back into a tight bun approached. “My name is Nathalie,” she said with an even tone. “I was directed to show the Princess of France, the…” she trailed off, clearing her throat, “the Princess of Paris, Baron Lahiffe, and Sir Kim to their rooms.”

Marinette stole a glance at Alya, almost embarrassed. They grew up as best friends, as equals, but they were far from it, now. Alya would be in the servant’s quarters, and Marinette a room of honor. The walls of Noir Hall allowed them to remain close friends, but that was not the case back in the outside world.

Marinette would have to get used to that.

She snapped out of her thoughts just in time to follow Nathalie into the castle, then proceeded to clench her jaw so she wouldn’t look like a fool gaping at the interior. She’d never seen ceilings so tall nor such detail carved into every nook and cranny. The support pillars themselves were works of art, even painted with gold to highlight the white stone. The floors were made of black and white tiles, scrubbed to shine. The gargantuan windows allowed light to pour in, and the colored diamond panes that decorated the windows sparkled.

“Nathalie,” Nino spoke up. “I know the rooms of the castle. If you tell Kim and I where our rooms are, we would like to rest. That will allow you to show Princess Alix and Princess Marinette around.”

Nathalie regarded him skeptically before relenting with a nod. “Very well. Lord Lahiffe, you will be placed in the green room. Sir Kim, you will have the red.”

“Thank you.” Nino tipped his hat to her then bowed to Marinette and Alix. “Your royal highnesses.”

Kim followed suit before following Nino deeper into the castle.

“This way, your royal highnesses,” Nathalie directed.

Marinette and Alix followed Nathalie around the castle, each marveling over the beauty surrounding them. Eventually, it ended in a hallway with many rooms. “Princess Alix,” Nathalie said. “This will be your room, the gold room. Ring the bell pull if you require anything. Dinner will begin at seven.”

“Thank you,” she said, opening the door.

Once Alix disappeared, Marinette followed Nathalie down the hall to another room. “This is the sapphire room, your highness,” she directed.

“Thank you, Nathalie,” Marinette said.

She nodded in acknowledgement. “Ring the bell pull if you require anything.” With that, she spun on her heel and left.

Marinette walked into her very blue room to see her things already there. It was beautiful, especially considering it was only a guest room. She could have spent some time in there, marveling at the details, yet she couldn’t help but want to explore the castle further, specifically without the scrutiny of Nathalie. So, peeking out the door to make sure it was empty, she stepped out into the hall and began her exploration.


 

Adrien knew he was in serious trouble the second he saw his father appear. And that feeling of dread only grew by the time his father led Adrien into his office and slammed the door shut.

“Do you know how many months you had to inform me of your little indiscretion?”

“More than enough,” Adrien answered, watching his father march to his desk.

“Far more. And I had to hear this from Chloe Bourgeois, of all people.”

“I’m sorry for keeping you uninformed for so long. I meant to send you a letter a few months ago—”

“You should have sent me a letter the moment it happened,” his father interrupted, anger contorting his face even further. “What on earth were you even thinking? Marrying a peasant girl. What even possessed you—”

“She was attacked by Lord Barbot. By the time Duke Bourgeois appeared, the apparent scene was damning, and he gave the ultimatum for her to marry either Theo or me.”

“And so you volunteered?”

“I wasn’t about to let Theo have her when—”

“There were other ways to solve that situation, Adrien.”

“None of which you would have liked.”

“I like this one even less.”

“I was following your rules set for me. I wasn’t about to go breaking them when you demanded I keep myself in hiding.”

“Something I see you aren’t even bothering to do now.”

It took a moment for Adrien to realize he was talking about the lack of mask. About his scars being out in full view. Honestly, he had forgotten about it. Maybe because with Marinette, his scars didn’t matter. Even when she touched them, bringing his imperfections to the forethought of his mind, she had always given him a kiss shortly after. She looked at him, not his scars. Slowly, he registered that everyone seemed to. He hadn’t worn the mask for days and no one had ever commented.

Except his father.

“I don’t see what is so wrong about it.”

His father frowned deeply. “Your scars aren’t going to heal well if they’re exposed to sunlight.”

“Father, I’ve been healing for months,” he said. “This might be as good as they are going to get.”

Adrien could tell that he offended his father but honestly couldn’t bring himself to care. He wasn’t going back to hide as Chat Noir again.

“Fine,” his father relented, “I’ll let it drop because we have more important things to discuss.”

Suddenly, Adrien was wishing that he could fight with his father over his scars, again.

“Just how, did you think, that you could possibly stay married to her? A commoner. She has no royal blood to save her. The marriage will be annulled, she will be sent back—”

“Everyone in her village believes she is married to Lord Noir,” Adrien argued. “Sending her back home after all this time would ruin her.”

“And you think that staying married to her would be better?”

“Yes.”

“You are a prince, Adrien,” his father snapped. “You don’t have the option to marry a commoner. Even as a viscount, you brought disgrace upon your head by marrying her. The marriage will be annulled immediately.”

Adrien took a breath. His father wasn’t going to like what he had to say next. “No, it won’t.”

His father glared at him. “Adrien, for heaven’s sake, just what are you trying to accomplish with this?”

“She is my wife,” Adrien argued.

“Of a forced marriage,” his father rebutted. “Law states that in such a union—”

“I willingly agreed and so did she,” Adrien interrupted. “The union is not forced.”

“Then just what…” His father’s eyes slowly widened in understanding before narrowing in fury. “Did you have relations with her?”

Adrien only tipped his chin upwards.

“Are you telling me that it is possible she is carrying your child?”

Adrien swallowed. Oh, he could only wish she was. Raising a family with her, having little ones run around calling him ‘papa’ or hiding in their mother’s skirt like he used to do as a child. It was a dream he was more than willing to fight tooth and nail for. “Yes.”

His father’s demeanor darkened. “Unbelievable,” he mumbled, falling into his desk chair and steepling his hands in front of his tightly pursed lips. “Adrien,” he eventually spoke. “You are the heir to the throne. You are destined to marry someone of far higher standards.”

“Like you did?” Adrien challenged.

His father fell silent.

“Against all advice, you married mother.”

“Your mother was at least an heiress in her own right. Marinette has nothing to offer you.”

Somehow, all retorts regarding Marinette died on his tongue as his mother was brought to the forefront of his mind. “Did you really only marry mother for her dowry?”

His father appeared offended. “If I wanted a woman only for her dowry, I would have married someone with a much larger one than your mother.”

The answer appeased Adrien a little, allowing him to focus back to the topic at hand. “So you marry below your station out of love yet chastise me for doing the same?”

“Your mother wasn’t a commoner, Adrien.”

“She’s Lady Noir, same as mother. Yet that isn’t enough.”

“She was a commoner whom you endowed with that title. It’s not hers in her own right.”

“In her own right she is the Princess of Paris,” he argued, his voice now roaring through the little office.

His father scoffed. “What on earth are you talking about?”

“Have you heard of the Earrings of Paris, Father?”

“Mere myth,” he dismissed.

“Except that there should be records to say otherwise. And if there are, then that means that Marinette, who is in possession of the earrings, is Princess of Paris.”

His father stared at him hard. “If I’m not mistaken, this legend also states that the woman in possession of the earrings is only the Princess of Paris if she is married to the holder of the other gem—a ring, was it?—the Prince of France.”

“Which is me.” Adrien held up his fist, showing off the green gem. Silence engulfed the room as his father studied the gem, his expression unreadable. “Are you going to deny that the gems are merely legend?”

His father’s gaze shot up to Adrien’s. “The gems mean nothing unless there are papers to back them,” he said, his voice cold.

“So are you going to look for them, or not?”

A ticking clock was the only sound to fill the silence between them.

“I’ll give you an ultimatum, Father.” Adrien lowered his fist and crossed his arms. “You will search the records for the treaty. If you find them, you will accept Marinette as the Princess of Paris, and you will help me present her to the kingdom.”

“And if I don’t find the papers,” his father continued, “then you will no longer claim her as your wife. You married her as Lord Noir, correct? As far as the world knows, the Prince of Paris is unwed. Therefore, let her live on as Lord Noir’s widow. She’ll return home with her reputation intact and you will claim your rightful title.”

“How about this,” Adrien shot back, fire burning hot within him. “If you don’t find the papers, then the Prince of Paris relinquishes his title and lives on as Lord Noir. Let the Prince have died in war and Lord Noir will go claim his wife and his estate.”

Adrien could almost see the flames in his father’s eyes. “You are going to throw away your duty for a woman who seduced you?”

“She is my wife, and as you pointed out, possibly the mother of my child.”

“She is nothing more than your mistress pregnant with a bastard child,” his father argued. “A shameful indiscretion on your part.”

“The child of my legal wife is no bastard but an heir you will be forced to claim.”

“I will do no such thing.”

“Then should I assume you will not look for the treaty papers? For I will walk out of your life this instant should you say no.”

The tension was so thick, a knife could not have been able to cut it. The two men stood chest to chest. How they got that way, neither knew, but neither wanted to move.

“I’ll look for the papers,” his father finally said. “I’ll be good on my word if only to prove that you’re making a colossal mistake. In turn, you will accept my condition.”

“No, Father,” Adrien said. “You will accept mine. Or heaven help me, I will have no qualms making scandal from your terms and take the ‘widow of Lord Noir’ as my wife, and the Prince of Paris will be claiming the possible child of Lord Noir as his own. Are you ready to accept that?”

His father was silent.

“You will search for the papers, or I will make good on my words.”

“So you will bring ruin to this family for your mistress?”

“I will stand with my wife, the one I gave vows to.”

His father stared at him long and hard. “Then you aren’t the son I raised.”

Adrien forced himself to stay strong. “I’m fine with that.”

Those were the last words spoken before Adrien retreated to his room.

And broke.

He let himself sob, cries muffled by his hand tightly over his mouth. He ignored the tears as they poured down and just allowed himself this moment to wallow in the pain of the bashing his father had given him.

He took a breath, forcing himself to calm. He thought of Marinette, reminding himself he was doing this for her. This was the price he was going to have to pay, but never for a second did he question if it was worth it.

When he finally had the strength to stand, he wandered over to the most unused door of his room. When he was young, he hadn’t any idea what this door for, only that it led to another bedroom. Mother hadn’t told him until he was fourteen what this room was supposed to be. While he’d wrinkled his nose at it at the time, he wanted nothing more than that room to be occupied now. Yet, he was certain that there was no one was in that room, much to his disappointment.

Still, if by some miracle she was in there, Adrien knocked. “Marinette?”

He waited, hopelessly. Who was he kidding? There wasn’t going to be an ans—

The door opened, and there she stood, blue eyes fixated on him while his wide eyes were trained on her. She gave him a small smile. “Hi.”

He blinked a couple times before his mind started functioning again. “Did my father actually place you in this room?”

Color filled her cheeks as her gaze hit the ground. “No. I…umm…was looking around and got lost and…ended up here.” She looked up at him again, placing her hand over her heart. “You nearly gave me a coronary when you knocked. I thought I was going to get into serious trouble.”

His smile softened. “Frankly, I’m just glad you’re here.”

How severely her smile dimmed proved just how easily she could see through him. “What happened?”

“Well, as I knew, my father wasn’t happy.” He sighed, trying to repress the pain that was wanting to surface again. “We didn’t even get to discuss Theo. We were just in a yelling match over you.”

“I’m sorry that I’m causing such tension. I had hoped I wouldn’t.”

He took her in his arms, bundling up against him. “Please, love. Please, don’t blame yourself for this.”

“I’m not. I promise,” she said, her hand sliding to the spot over his heart. “I’m just sorry that there is added tension where there shouldn’t be any.”

He let out an easy breath, resting his cheek on top of her head. He stayed like that, happy just to be with her. His heart pounded as Marinette’s thumb made slow circles against his chest. Unable to take such a gesture, he grabbed her hand, bringing it up to his lips to kiss. She then stretched out her hand to cup his cheek and started up those slow circles again.

“What room are you placed in?” he asked, desperate for any distraction that wasn’t Marinette trying to make him melt into a puddle at her feet.

“The sapphire room,” she answered.

He scoffed. “Of course, Father would place you there. It’s the furthest room from mine.”

She chuckled. “Then that proves just how lost I got.”

“You weren’t lost at all,” he said. “You found your way to the room that should be yours.”

She glanced over her shoulder. “That must be why I like it so much.”

It at least brought a semblance of a smile to his face. “I’ll get someone to move all your things up here. Plagg won’t mind.”

“Adrien,” she said, her voice gentle. “Don’t press your father further.”

His brow furrowed. “Marinette, you are my wife. This should be—”

“Adrien,” she interrupted, her voice still gentle. “Don’t test your father. You may not agree with him, but moving me here to spite him will not allow good relations between the two of you. I will be fine in the sapphire room, and it’s not like we won’t be able to be together during the day. But don’t test your father too much. All right?”

Adrien didn’t want to accept that. Didn’t want to admit that she was right. But she was. When it came to his father, he had to choose his battles carefully. And this was one just asking for trouble. Rather, more than there already was. “All right.”

She smiled at him, and he felt lighter even despite their distance. “That’s my good kitty.”

And there she went, stealing his heart again and magically turning it into nothing but a puddle. “Anything for you, Marinette.”

She gave him a smile that eased the sting of his father. “Then how about a kiss?”

His face split into a wide grin. That was a command he was more than happy to oblige.

Chapter Text

Despite there being only seven people at the table, dinner consisted of enough food to serve twenty and still have food left over. Marinette watched Alix throughout dinner to ensure her manners were up to par. As far as she could tell, Marinette managed to succeed in her task. At the very least, King Agreste never gave her a disapproving look, but considering he didn’t look her way at all, Marinette believed he already disapproved of her in general.

Adrien sat at her left side, his hand grabbing hers under the table mid-way through dinner and squeezing it in reassurance. It gave Marinette the strength to make in through the rest of dinner with a bit of confidence.

Once the last course was cleared away, King Gabriel addressed the table. “Adrien, I would like to see you in my office.”

“Father,” he spoke up. “If this is about the contents of the letter, then I believe there is not one person at this table that should sit this conversation out.”

Gabriel’s gaze narrowed, and even though it wasn’t aimed at Marinette, she was intimidated. “I believe there are two people at this table who should.”

Adrien shot a glare of his own at his father. “Seeing as Alix is the Princess of France and has her own story to tell, I see no problem with her sitting at this table. And seeing as Marinette is my wife and deeply involved in this as well, I see no problem with her staying, either.”

“The topic I wish to discuss is not appropriate for female ears.”

“Sire,” Plagg spoke up from behind King Agreste. Marinette watched at the king’s features contorted into irritation, and she quickly grew worried for the outspoken butler. “These two females, as you so derogatorily refer to them, have seen and experienced more unsavoriness in the past few months than you have in the past two years. I’m certain that you will find them more than capable of handling any topic you have to converse about.”

Marinette gave the butler a fleeting, approving look before turning her attention back to the very displeased king.

“Adrien,” Gabriel said, his voice laced with warning. “Please inform your butler that he is out of line.”

“Seeing as my butler was once a knight in your service that you respected highly, I say he did not step as far out of line as you believe,” Adrien countered. “If that is all, then I believe the conversation should begin with Theo Barbot.”

The king seemed to grow angrier. “There are servants in the room, still, Adrien.”

But Adrien leveled his father a glare of his own. “Did I not just state that Plagg was a former knight? I see no others, and Plagg is certain to prove useful by preventing any servants from entering, yes? So, the topic of Theo Barbot.”

Marinette simply sat quietly as Adrien explained the entire story to his father. Everything was covered, from Theo’s first, horrible attack on Adrien to the regrettably unforgettable day Marinette had entered Adrien’s life to Theo assisting the escape of a criminal. Gabriel sat in his chair and listened to every word. His expression remained stoic, but Marinette swore she could feel the anger radiating from him.

“As for what to do with him,” Adrien finished, “I say that we have enough evidence to pin him as a traitor to the crown and try him for treason. Furthermore, I say all his assets are stripped from his family line. No one with any ties to Theo will take over his earldom."

To this, King Agreste easily agreed. "Done. I will not have the decree announced until Theo Barbot is captured, but consider his assets under crown rule until a new earl can be appointed. I will send guards to his house to capture him should he make a reappearance there, but until then, I will send word out to all guards to be on the lookout for him. Hopefully, he won't be missing for long."

For the first time, Adrien seemed to be at ease with his father, and his father at ease with him. But it was only the calm before the storm because Adrien then allowed Alix the floor in order to explain her story.

Marinette never noticed just how expressive of a story-teller Alix was. She chalked it up to Alix being so gravely ill the first time she told her story that she didn’t have the energy to use her hands for large gestures or make an effort into her facial expressions. If her story weren’t so terrifying or dramatic, then Marinette would have thought it comical how the most expressive person in the room was facing off the most stoic.

“And so I say we have no choice but to assassinate the man!” She slammed her fist on the table, somehow eliciting a shocked response from the king.

He settled himself quickly, though. “Princess Alix, please retake your seat.”

She did as asked, slowly sinking back into the chair. “My point still stands. There is no good way to capture Hawkmoth, and he’s too dangerous to leave alive.”

“And just how, do you propose, we accomplish such a task,” Gabriel challenged. From the look on his face, he was very much expecting for Alix to be unable to concoct a plan.

And while she didn’t, her response was strong. “I don’t know. There are many ways to go about it, and it’s not my call to make.”

“I say we send a small squadron of spies to the kingdom to complete this task," Adrien volunteered.

Gabriel’s eyes narrowed. "I wish it were that simple, but that is out of the question. They have no knowledge of the land nor of this Hawkmoth. They would be going in blind, and I am not in favor of such a possibility."

"Then send Kim. He knows the land and knows Hawkmoth. Have him head the squadron."

"I'll readily accept that mission," Kim spoke up, determination blazing in his eyes.

An uncomfortable rock settled in Marinette’s gut. What Kim was agreeing to…it sounded like he was agreeing to walk into his grave. From the way Alix was pointedly trying not to look at Kim, she must know it, too. She, however, seemed to accept that tragic fact more readily than Marinette. "Alix," she spoke up, a plan forming in her mind. "You know Hawkmoth the best. Do you think he would be reasonable if Adrien and I approached him under the guise to negotiate surrender?"

Alix’s brow furrowed in thought, but another voice objected before she could answer. "You are not going to France, and that's final."

Marinette turned to Adrien, only to be met with a firm gaze. She had to steel herself against it. "Why not?" she challenged.

"You are not going into a war zone."

"If I have to, I will."

"I forbid it."

“If it means providing a significant distraction for Hawkmoth so Kim and his squadron can complete their mission, then I will go and there is nothing you can do to stop me.”

Marinette wasn't sure who was more shocked at her words: her or Adrien. Still, the more she mulled it over, the more she realized she meant those words.

“It could work,” Alix interrupted. "Hawkmoth is brutal but crafty. If you were to approach the castle with surrender flags, he might meet you in peace. It would be easier for him in the long run to negotiate a surrender than continue fighting.”

“So if we meet him with the gems—”

“You are not going,” Adrien repeated.

“That is to be debated,” Marinette countered, “but as of now, we are talking hypothetical situations. Specifically revolving around these gems he seems to want.” She turned back to Alix. “So if we do come to him with terms of surrender, do you think he will make himself vulnerable enough for Kim and his squadron to complete their task?”

Alix’s mouth drew into a thin line. “It would ensure you meet in either one of two rooms, which would provide clearer opportunities for Kim and his squadron. Furthermore, if my brother is still there, alive and well…” Alix coughed to cover her cracking voice, “then he’ll be able to provide assistance to them as well. However, the only risk we run with distracting Hawkmoth in this way is he will likely have his guards on high alert. He will be fully aware of his vulnerability and do his best to compensate for it.”

Marinette frowned. “What if…what if we get him to come here?”

Everyone raised a brow at that. “Pardon.”

Marinette looked to Adrien. “I relent. I won’t go into the battlefield. We’ll bring him to us. Someone will still need to approach Hawkmoth in France, but what if we told him about the gems he so desires. We can use them to lure him here.”

For the first time during dinner, Gabriel looked at her with the utmost disdain. “Any king worth his salt will not do what he can send his men to accomplish.”

“Then when his men come,” Adrien spoke, his voice frim to counter his father, “we capture them and replace them with our own undercover men. When the men go back, they can complete the task of executing Hawkmoth.”

“So you agree to this idea?” Gabriel challenged. “You would put your life on this plan?”

“I would.”

Strong silence hung in the room. It took a moment for the king to break it. “You would willingly go back into this war again?”

“I am the Prince of Paris. It is my duty. You raised me that way.”

Suddenly, this was no longer about the war outside the kingdom borders but the one between son and father. Marinette wanted to stop it before it could continue anymore because she knew barbs would fly and she would have to play nurse for the inevitable loser of this war. While she was more than willing to do it, she didn’t want Adrien to get hurt in the first place.

“I raised you to be smarter than charging headlong into a war when your people need you here. You won’t be able to rule efficiently if you become a wreck in the process. A task that you seem hell-bent on completing.”

As stealthily as she could, Marinette moved her hand onto Adrien’s knee. The movement was hidden under the table, but the strengthening affect it had on Adrien was evident. “You raised me one way, but I watched you rule differently. You took action when needed. You were a symbol to the kingdom. I am only slightly beneath you, meaning I hold similar power. Have you noticed that since the Prince of Paris went to war, the kingdom has rallied together and pushed the war line back towards France? But when it comes to this plan, this was exactly how you raised me: negotiations and diplomacy. The one chance I get to be the son you wanted me to become, and you disagree because you don’t like it. Father, I am your adult son, prince of this kingdom, and there is only so much control you have over me before I overrule your power and act for the good of the kingdom on my own. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” With the air of authority akin to a king, Adrien pushed back from the table and stood from his seat. “Kim, Nino, Plagg, I want a word with you in the library.”

His friends stood from their places and followed him as Adrien stormed from the dining hall.

Alix excused herself from the table with all the grace she could muster after such a show before following the men out the door. The door closed, leaving Marinette alone with Gabriel. She glanced over at him, noticing the hints of distress in the wrinkles of his brow and exhaustion in his eyes.

“Sire,” Marinette spoke, calling his attention. “Your son is far more capable than you give him credit for.”

Anger quickly overtook his expression. “I might question your assessment.”

She felt the barb, but instead of cowering, she raised her chin with confidence. “Sire, I was not born royal, into this world of facades and false promises. I was born as a commoner and taught that your words and actions are everything. Adrien runs on his word; if he says he will, then he will. When he took vows to me, he did not release them even though I once demanded him to. I watched him hide under the mask, adopting a condemning title of Chat Noir, all because he knew you expected that of him.”

“Yet,” he interrupted, “he does not hide now. He is in full view of the world, something I suspect I have you to thank for.”

“Adrien doesn’t just run on his word,” Marinette easily countered. “He runs on honor. That honor drove him to go to war in the first place. That honor drove him to protect me when I could have easily ended up a mistress to Lord Barbot.”

“Make no mistake,” Gabriel growled. “You are still a mistress. Except my so-called ‘honorable’ son has taken you instead of a mere earl.”

She steeled herself against his words, doing all she could to convince herself they were lies. “I am the legal wife of Lord Noir, who happens to be the Prince of Paris. Your son has taken but one woman unlike Lord Barbot who is known to have another mistress entirely as well as visibly pursue Lady Bourgeois. Your son is honorable. Don’t let your anger over his choice of wife cloud the truth.”

The king was silent for a moment, scrutinizing Marinette intently. “Why do you even care?”

That was the most shocking of all his comments. “Because I love him,” she answered. “Because I am his wife and he deserves for me to be the best woman I can be. Because I’ve watched him fight for me, for his friends, for the safety of this kingdom, and he deserves me to fight for him, even against his own father. Your son is the most incredible man I’ve met. He strives to be the best man he can be, knowing one day he is destined to be a king. He is the kind of man who will do what he believes to be best for everyone and will bear the consequences of whatever he had to do to make things right. He’s turned into a man you should be proud of, and it shocks me that you aren’t. If you didn’t raise your son this way, then you failed to raise him well. But if you did, don’t condone him for being exactly what you shaped him to be.” With that, Marinette stood from her chair and marched out the door.

Chapter Text

Marinette released loud squeak that echoed down the hallway when her hand was suddenly grabbed. When she saw just who had pulled her into a side hallway, though, she swallowed her scream.

“Sorry,” Adrien said, looking a little sheepish. “I thought you heard me behind you.”

“I must have been lost in my own thoughts.”

He frowned. “How are you holding up? What my father said was completely unwarranted.”

Marinette’s brow furrowed. “Did you hear everything?”

“You didn’t think I would just abandon you with my father, did you? I was waiting for you to follow me out, or at least follow Alix, but when you didn’t, I stayed, ready to go in and get you.” Slowly, his smile grew. “But then you were holding your own against my father. Listening to you…” he shook his head in bewilderment. “Every time I think I can’t be any more proud of you, you prove me wrong, and it just makes me fall all the more in love with you.”

Her heart fluttered wildly inside her chest as she absorbed his praise, and her cheeks flooded with color at the twinkle in his eyes. “I mean all of it,” was the only thing she could think of to say.

“I know you do,” he said, grabbing her other hand and using it to pull her closer.

“And I would do it again in a heartbeat.” She was rambling at this point, but she really couldn’t bring herself to care, not when he looked like he was going to kiss her and she desperately wanted him to.

“I know you would.”

By now, she was leaning against him. One of his arms wrapped around her waist while his other hand tilted her chin upwards. Her tongue flicked out to wet her lips in anticipation as his head lowered to meet hers. “I love you, Adrien,” she said on a whisper.

He stopped, only for a second, for his hand to move from holding her chin to cradling her head. She leaned into his touch, allowing her eyes to drift the rest of the way closed. She could feel his lips tickle hers when he whispered back. “I love you, Marinette.”

And then he leaned forward the last little bit to lock his lips against hers. While Marinette wasn’t going to complain about the slow, sweet way his lips caressed hers, she could tell he was holding back. It was on instinct that she wrapped her arms up around his neck, using her new leverage to pull him in and pour some passion of her own into the kiss.

Sharply, he took a breath through his nose before pulling away from the kiss, much to Marinette’s disappointment. “Easy, Marinette. Please,” he begged. “As much as I would love to stay here and kiss you senseless, the men are waiting for me in the office. I shouldn’t keep them waiting too long and should show up presentable when I do.”

Marinette pouted, but her cheeks flushed as she wondered just how unpresentable they could possibly get in a hallway. She bit her lip against voicing her thoughts, though, lest her husband take that challenge.

Not that she was against it, per se, but she was still embarrassed about Plagg walking in on them the morning after their wedding night.

“Then you should go. Don’t keep them waiting any more than you have too.”

He pressed one last kiss on her lips. “I’m sorry, love.”

“Don’t be,” she assured. “As unfortunate as it is, there are more pressing matters than kissing me.”

“Very unfortunate,” he responded through a smile. “But kissing you is still very high on my priorities list.”

She giggled, her cheeks heating up. “You should go before I change my mind and don’t let you go.”

He forced himself to take a step back from her, but he grabbed her hands and didn’t let go. “Come with me. I’m sure Alix has invaded the room already and won’t be persuaded to leave.”

Marinette wasn’t sure if her answer was influenced by actually wanting to listen into their plan or to just be beside Adrien. “All right.”

With a grin, Adrien pulled her to his side before guiding her to the library. He knocked before opening the door, drawing the attention of everyone in the room which, to Marinette’s surprise, now included Alya and Tikki.

“We have a plan,” Plagg said.

Adrien shut the door behind them, his expression growing serious. The addition of the two new women to their group didn’t seem to affect him. “Go ahead.”

Marinette listened as Plagg explained in great detail. A plan that was basically her own.

“It’s a good plan,” Plagg had said early on. “But it just needed a few adjustments to truly make it work as well as it can in our favor.”

In simple terms, it was decided that Adrien would approach the king with terms of surrender, offering the gems to Hawkmoth in return for ending the war. He would take the ring with him for proof of concept, but the earrings would be withheld. Not only would this hopefully—that word made Marinette nervous—ensure the safety of Adrien, but also allow for several opportunities for Kim to head a squadron to assassinate Hawkmoth.

“As contradictory as it is,” Kim spoke up, “the more time we get to spend around this Hawkmoth, the better. Not that we are going to drag our feet when it comes to completing the job, but we might not get any opportunities the first time around.”

“Especially considering his favored places,” Alix added. “He spends most of his time up in the tower. The window may be large, but unless he’s standing right in front of it, I don’t think there will be any good shot available to you. His other favorite place is his office. It’s on the first level, so there is a better shot, however, there aren’t any hiding spots for a distance. It’s just the courtyard. There is a chance you could catch him if he was walking between the two spots, but there are two different hallways he uses, meaning you might miss him. The only other chance is the large sunroom in the back of the castle. It’s open to the gardens, which should provide a good hiding spot for which to complete the mission.”

“With a skilled archer, that is,” Kim finished. “I’ll admit I’m good, but not that good. I’ll need someone who fits that profile in order to complete the mission. We only get one shot at this, and if we blow it, the chances any one of us walking out alive is slim.”

Marinette swallowed as the room took on a weighty tension. It brought back to reality just how much danger they were in. This wasn’t going to be an easy task. This was going to be a near impossible challenge, and that was only after they figured out how to get to France in the first place.

“Plagg,” Adrien eventually said. The tone of his voice combined with the questioning quirk of his brow conveyed a whole conversation in one word.

 Plagg sighed heavily, and Tikki took to his side. He didn’t look at her, but the way he was grasping at her hand spoke volumes.

“You don’t have to, Plagg,” Adrien quickly told him.

“But,” Plagg countered, “you need me to.”

“I would feel assured that no opportunities would be lost. But I don’t want to push you.”

Marinette stared at Plagg, slowly piecing together what Adrien was asking Plagg to do. She knew his uncertainty had to do with his own trauma. Adrien wasn’t the only one scarred from war, and while Plagg may have learned to live with it, it likely would always affect him.

The thought swayed Marinette to grasp her husband’s hand.

Plagg noticed it, glancing down at their hands before looking at Marinette. His eyes drifted to Tikki, who gave him a reassuring look. Eyes drifting shut, he sighed. “Kim,” he said. “I’ll do it.”

Kim didn’t comment, though he looked like he wanted to. “All right. If Adrien has faith in you, so do I.”

“Then Nino is with me,” Adrien finished, giving an appreciative nod to Plagg.

Nino grinned. “I’ll actually be able to go with you instead of sitting out with a broken leg.”

Adrien smirked. “You were so delirious with fever, you could barely argue.”

“I can’t even remember. What I do remember was that you told me the day before you left that you were leaving while I still had weeks left before I was fit enough to go.”

“You threw a fit large enough to rival a spoiled child.”

Nino shrugged off the collective laughter with a smile. “What can I say? It was my duty as your closest friend to follow you into battle. Someone had to make sure you came home alive.”

“I’d like to think it’s more the other way around,” Adrien teased.

Nino’s soft half-smile proved it was likely true.

With the jesting over, Adrien grew serious again as he returned to the topic at hand. “If that is all, then I think the only other thing we have to discuss is preparations and the trip itself.”

“I think the best chance you have at getting there alive is on the trade route,” Alix immediately suggested. “I still have the note that Lila wrote to Theo Barbot. If you find someone to forge her handwriting, it will be easy to pass that way.”

Adrien nodded. “I’ll have to ask Nathalie for that. She won’t like it, but she’ll understand why I’m asking. I suppose you’ll say next that going incognito is the best option.”

Alix frowned in thought. “For Kim and Plagg, yes. For you, however, it might just be best to approach with white flags waving but still have a way to state who you are.”

“We’ll do that, then. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I’ll start preparations and we’ll set off in a week or so.”

Everyone voiced their agreement to the plan, effectively ending their meeting. Adrien dismissed them to their own rooms for the night, but Plagg hung back, Tikki still at his side.

“Adrien,” he began.

Immediately, worry clouded Adrien’s features. “If it’s about going with Kim—”

“No, it’s not that,” Plagg assured. “I’ll be fine, anyway.”

Marinette wasn’t sure just how certain she was of that if the way Tikki was rubbing his arm was any indication.

When Plagg noticed Marinette’s gaze, his expression softened. “I was a skilled fighter in my unit, back in the eastern war,” he explained to her, clearly drawing strength from Tikki being at his side. “My strength, though, was stealth. I could clear a camp in a few minutes without anyone seeing hide nor hair or me.”

It took Marinette a few seconds to realize just what Plagg meant by “clearing” a camp. She pushed past the uneasy feeling that stirred in her gut, focusing more on how large of a toll that “strength” must have taken on Plagg.

“It earned me the reputation of being the ‘god of destruction’ on both sides of the war. That’s why Adrien wants me on this mission. And before you say anything,” he added quickly, his eyes hardening as Marinette shut her mouth, “I need to go. This isn’t ‘just another camp’ with the sole purpose of pushing closer and taking out soldiers. This is potentially the end of this war. I have the ability to do it, and I need to.”

Marinette could only nod in response, unable to form any words. If she had been able to she might have said that he didn’t have to, that they could find someone else to do it. But the way Plagg grasped Tikki’s hand, how he leaned towards her as if to pull from her strength, it proved that he did have a need to. That he did have very personal stakes in this war. He had Tikki and potential for a family with her. If Marinette knew Plagg at all, she knew he would give everything to protect that. So even though there might not be any children of his existing yet in this world, he was determined to ensure it was safe when they did come.

“You’re a good man, Plagg,” Marinette finally managed to say. “I’m sorry for ever thinking you weren’t.”

Her compliment seemed to have stunned him, but he managed to collect himself enough to nod his thanks before turning to Adrien. “What I wanted to talk to you about was on another subject entirely.”

Adrien nodded for him to continue.

“Tikki and I want to be married before I go.”

Suddenly excited, Marinette looked up at Adrien expectantly. Surely, he could make that happen in a couple days.

And the way he smiled proved it. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Tikki looked like she just might burst with happiness. Even Plagg was grinning widely. “Thank you, Adrien.”

“Yes,” Tikki agreed. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” he said, “but I’m really happy for you two.”

“Just as long as it’s before we start out,” Plagg said. “I’ll be thankful.”

Tikki anxiously nodded her agreement. When she glanced over at Marinette, she grinned. “As much as I would love to stay,” she said, turning her attention to Plagg. “I do have duties as a lady’s maid.”

Marinette almost wanted to object, but honestly, she wanted to have a talk with Tikki more. That didn’t mean she didn’t feel a slight bit guilty when she saw the disappointment on Plagg’s face.

“I suppose you do,” he relented. He let her go, but not without pulling her hand up to his lips in order to place a lingering kiss on her knuckles. “Good night.”

She patted his cheek affectionately. “Good night, love.”

The sweet affection reminded Marinette she better part with her husband the same way since she wouldn’t be seeing him tonight. Standing on her tip-toes, she pressed a kiss to his cheek. “I guess that’s my cue to leave as well. Good night, Adrien.”

He looked stunned by this but pulled himself out of it enough to kiss her forehead. “Good night, sweetheart.”

With a grin, Marinette slipped away from Adrien’s grip in order to catch up with Tikki. Once the duo arrived in the sapphire room, happy squeals were released from each of the girls before they embraced, a task made difficult by how they bounced on their toes.

“Oh, I’m so happy for you!”

“I’m very excited,” Tikki said. “I’ve been waiting such a long time for this and now…eee!

From there, the conversation morphed to wedding details and how there likely wouldn’t be many considering how rushed the event would be but what did it matter when Tikki was this happy. Slowly, as the girls calmed, the topic changed to families and children and how Tikki wanted five little ones running around.

“You best hope Plagg has the patience for that,” Marinette teased, wondering how the stoic Plagg would handle five children.

“I’m sure he will,” Tikki stated. “He may not seem like it, but I’m certain he’ll make a fantastic father.”

Marinette grinned in response. “I think he will, too.”

Finally, after what seemed to be an hour, the girls finally calmed enough for Tikki help Marinette out of her dinner dress.

“Thank you, Tikki,” she said once she was dressed in her nightgown.

“It’s my job,” she responded, “though I am fortunate to have such a wonderful friend that I serve.”

The duo shared one last hug before they bid each other goodnight. Tikki left, shutting the door quietly behind her as Marinette took a seat at her vanity to brush out her hair. Tikki had not placed it in an intricate up-do for dinner, and instead opting for something very simple. Marinette took out the stylized braid, running her fingers through her locks as she gradually freed them.

Suddenly, her door creaked open. With her heart pounding, Marinette whipped around to face the sudden intruder.

Only to see Adrien shutting the door behind him.

Her heart steadied, but her curiosity did not. “What are you doing here?”

He almost looked sheepish, but the twinkle in his eye was too roughish for that. “I didn’t want to sleep without you. Knowing you were so far away…it was too tempting a prospect to come beg to be at your side than risk facing a night alone.”

A playful sort of smile crept across Marinette’s face. “So you risk being labeled a rouge to sneak into a woman’s room so far away from your own?”

His smile lost all hints of sheepishness from before. Now, he looked very much like a scoundrel and didn’t seem ashamed whatsoever. “There was a time I swore I would never sink so low as to enter any one of these rooms. There was also a time I swore that the only woman’s room I would ever dare to enter was my wife’s.” As he approached her, she could see clearly how his eyes gleamed in the candle light. “But I find myself in the predicament now as those two vows are contradictory.”

She stood, closing the distance between them. “Then maybe,” she teased tapping his chest, “you should follow the first one.”

There was a fire in his eyes now. Marinette was sure it was no longer just the candlelight that created that smoldering gaze of his that sent her heart pounding. “Maybe,” he countered playfully, “I don’t want to.”

She hummed, taking a half step closer so she could rest her hands on his shoulders. “Then I suppose if you were only to follow one of those rules, the second one is by far more important.”

He grinned, engulfing her in his arms. “I’m glad you think so. Because you see…” he leaned closer, his nose nearly touching hers. “My wife didn’t give me a good and proper good night kiss.”

Her smile was uncontrollable. She wasn’t sure how to answer that other than granting him his wish.

Sweet and soft and lingering and just enough to leave her dizzy, followed by another kiss just like it. They separated, content to just lean their foreheads together, their noses pressed against each other’s. Marinette’s eyes may have been closed, but it was as though she could see clearly. Children running around, coming to her, calling her mama, then running to their father and begging for a ride on his shoulders, just as she did as a little girl.

“Adrien,” she whispered.

He hummed, his eyes drifting open.

“You once said that I could ask you for anything.”

He leaned away so he could see her clearly. “I did. And I would do my best to grant you anything.”

“Well…when this is all over,” she whispered, “I…I would like a family. Maybe not as big as what Tikki wants, but…a family nonetheless.”

His whole expression softened. “Sweetheart,” he cooed, taking her cheeks in his hands. “I promise you, once this is all over, we’ll start a family. There is nothing that sounds better to me than that. To have kids of our own.”

With a smile, she reached up to take hold of his wrists and leaned into his hands. “Two or three,” Marinette added.

“However many you want sounds wonderful to me. A family, any family, with you sounds wonderful to me.”

Her heart hurt with the happiness that filled it. She leaned forward, snuggling against his chest and wrapping her arms around his torso. His arms came around her, cocooning her up in a sweet embrace that he completed by resting his cheek on top her head.

“But in order to do that,” Marinette finished, her mind traitorously wandering back to the conversation in the library, “you need to come home alive.”

He squeezed her tight, an action Marinette was mirroring. “I promised you I would do my best to grant you anything. I will do everything I can to be safe, to make it home to you, but I really can’t promise anything.”

As Marinette held her husband, she realized just why Tikki and Plagg were in such a rush. Tikki had sworn that there was no other man like Plagg, that she would never find another. As for Plagg, there was no one other than Tikki. With Plagg now being the prominent assassin on a risky mission, they wanted to spend whatever time they had left together as husband and wife. Maybe the wedding would provide a strong enough illusion of happiness until the men left. Even then, Marinette hoped with all her heart that all of them would come home alive and well. There was no need for any husbands dying on this mission.

Chapter Text

“May I speak with you?”

Adrien looked up from the book he had forcefully immersed himself in to see Alix standing in the library doorway. “Of course.”

She shut the door behind her as he shut his book. By the time he placed it aside, she had taken a seat on the couch across from him. “Have you learned anything about the power held by the ring and earrings?”

Adrien shook his head. “Unfortunately, father hasn’t informed me if he discovered anything since I put him to the task yesterday.”

Alix grumbled something under her breath. “Then, may I speak with you in hypothetical terms.”

Adrien quirked a brow. “About?”

“Who the true ruler of France is.”

A hard frown came across his lips. “Alix, we know nothing about what the document, if it exists, says. Therefore, I can’t discuss anything with you right now.”

Again, she grumbled.

“Why do you ask?”

“I need to know if I’m a princess or not.”

Something akin to discomfort twisted in his gut. This was a topic he had tried to avoid for as long as he could, but evidently, that time had come to an end. “Alix, I don’t want to take this kingdom from you.”

“But hypothetically, you are the rightful ruler,” she said. “If the law states that you are the ruler, there is nothing that can be done.”

Adrien frowned. “That just doesn’t sit well with me.”

“For obvious reasons, it doesn’t sit well with me, either.”

“But we don’t have the law in front of us yet, so no decisions can be made,” Adrien interrupted. A beat of silence passed between them before his hard tone softened. “Alix, I don’t want to take the kingdom from you. If we find this law, then we will read it over to see what can be done, what sort of loopholes we can find, and we will proceed from there. Until that can happen, I refuse to talk about this anymore.”

Though Alix looked far from happy, she relented with a sigh. “You’re right, as much as I wish you weren’t.”

“Why is it so important all of a sudden?”

“Because of this wager I made with Kim,” she explained. “And time is almost up.”

His brow furrowed.

“Marinette and I were having this conversation days ago,” Alix explained. “Specifically, we were discussing where my brother and I would go if you displaced us. And Kim…” her gaze hit the ground. “Kim offered to marry me.”

Adrien’s eyes widened, but his surprise quickly ebbed. As much as Adrien talked about Marinette on the battlefield, Kim had told many stories of his own about the most incredible fire-haired princess he knew.

“I bet him he wouldn’t bring up this conversation again until I got an answer. Time frame I gave him is almost finished. He’s not going to wait any longer than that, so I need to know how to respond to his proposal. Am I still the princess, or have I lost that title?”

Adrien struggled for words. “That’s a question I can’t answer.”

She slumped back against the couch with a sigh. “I’m sorry for pressuring you.”

“You did no such thing,” Adrien assured. “You’ll just have to tell Kim to wait.”

“As unfortunate as that is,” Alix mumbled.

“He’ll understand.”

“I know he will,” Alix said. “I just don’t like not fulfilling the terms of my wager.”

“Until Father locates the agreement, you literally cannot.”

“I hope he finds it quickly.”

“That is, if he ever does,” Adrien grumbled.

Alix frowned. “If he doesn’t, how will that bode for Marinette?”

Adrien stiffened at the mention of her name. With a sigh, Adrien felt half his energy leave his body. “If she isn’t the legal princess, then father is determined to remove her from my life.”

“I hope you aren’t going to let that happen.”

Adrien scoffed. “Over my dead body.”

She gave him a nod of approval. “Yet, by hoping I regain my title as Princess of France, you are taking away Marinette’s opportunity to be the Princess of Paris via connection to the earrings.”

A conflict of interest, he was fully aware. But Marinette had told him she didn’t want to displace Alix and her family. Furthermore, Adrien knew that having Marinette be the legal Princess of Paris was only beneficial to coercing his father to accept her. Otherwise, she was the legal princess via marriage to him and that should be enough. “She’s my wife. That’s all there is to it. I won’t abandon her; I will never take another. She is the wife of the Prince of Paris, meaning that she is the Princess. If anyone cannot accept that, that is not a fault of my own.”

“And if your father is the one who can’t accept that?” Alix challenged.

“Then Marinette is just going to be Lady Noir because I’m not going to keep my title if I can’t keep her.”

Alix blinked once, twice, three times, then finally shook her head. “I think you’re being rash—”

“How so?” Adrien challenged, anger flaring inside him.

“Your father can do many things, but not even I would think he would discredit you as an heir. He can pressure you into giving her up, disapprove of you until he dies, but you are his heir. I don’t think he would discredit you from the line. It would not be in his best interest.”

It was Adrien’s turn to be stunned.

“You will make a great king,” she continued. “And Marinette will be a great queen. Your father will always be your father, will always be the king, but even he cannot control everything you do. That is, as long as you don’t let him.

A strong silence passed between them, broken only by the clock chiming the hour.

“That time already?” Adrien thought the morning would drag on, especially considering he had forcefully dragged himself away from Marinette before dawn this morning. He’d felt as though time had been at a crawl ever since.

“Surprised?” Alix teased.

“A little bit,” Adrien said, standing from his seat. “But it’s now late enough for me to run an important errand. That is, if you’ll excuse me.”

Alix tilted her head in confusion but released him with a swipe of her hand. “Of course.”

Nodding his thanks, he took his leave, marching out of the room.

Only to cross his father.

Adrien stood straight, mirroring his father’s rigid stance. “Father.”

“Adrien.” His father extended out a scroll from behind his back.

Adrien looked down at it curiously before taking it.

“The…documentation of the gems,” he forced out, looking like it pained him to admit such a thing.

Shocked, Adrien looked back up at his father.

His father remained silent. After a moment, his father turned to take his leave.

“Father,” Adrien called out.

His father stopped, turning half-way back to his son.

“If this says what I think it does,” he started, “then I’m sorry it had to happen this way. But I hope you will respect me and respect the fact Marinette is rightfully the queen.”

His father’s lips remained tightly pursed. “I think,” he eventually said, “that is easier for me to accept that girl is queen than the fact that you took her as your…wife before you knew about it.” And with that, he walked away, leaving Adrien with his scroll in his hand, and more disheartened than ever. It never got any easier, no matter how many times his father rejected him.

He headed back for the library, surprising Alix with his return. “Back so soon,” she teased.

Dumbly, he held out the scroll for her to take. “Here,” he said. “Read over this. If you can find any loophole or find any way to finagle your kingdom out of this, then do it. If you can’t find anything, then I’ll read over it when I come back.”

“You aren’t going to stay?” she asked. “Surely your errand can wait until we’ve read this over.”

Adrien stared at her then at the scroll in her hand. With a sigh, he dropped onto the couch beside her. “All right.”


Marinette wandered down the hallway, wondering where Adrien might be. She had been disappointed when he left so early, but he needed to sneak back to his own room before the house was bustling with servants. His father made it clear how much he approved of Adrien being married to her; there was no need to further test him with a servant reporting where Adrien had actually slept last night.

She had waited for a while before ringing for Tikki. The two had talked for a while before Marinette finally made her way downstairs. She had looked in several rooms already, searching for her husband. She decided to look in a few more rooms before she checked the dining hall. He might be at breakfast, but she wanted to make sure of that before she took the chance of walking into a room alone with King Agreste.

The next room she approached had its door cracked open with voices drifting out. Cautiously, she approached it, peeking inside to see Alix and Adrien intently studying a paper. She knocked on the doorframe, calling their attention. “I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” she said.

“No, no, not at all,” Adrien assured, beckoning her into the room.

She walked up to them, looking curiously at the paper.

“The document validating your earrings,” Alix explained.

Marinette leaned over, curiosity now piqued.

“We’re doing our best to find a loophole,” Adrien said. “Any little thing that we could use to ensure Alix keeps her kingdom.”

“Have you found anything?” she asked.

“So far, no,” Alix disappointedly answered. “But we haven’t been pouring over it long.”

Marinette frowned. This couldn’t be all. She tentatively took the remaining seat beside Alix on the couch. “May I?”

Alix handed it over for Marinette to read. Adrien, clearly tired of sitting, stood to pace. Marinette read over the document, doing her best to decipher the fancy terms and peculiar wording. Eventually, she let it drift into her lap, allowing Alix to read it over as well.

Uncertainly, Marinette pointed to the beginning. “This wording seems so odd to me. The way it’s phrased, one would think that the rightful owners of the gems were the Princess of Paris and Prince of France. Not that they gave the owners their titles.”

Alix frowned. “Of course. Isn’t that the point of the law?”

“No,” Adrien said, looking at the paper with a newfound intrigue. With a pleading look, he reached out for the paper. Marinette handed it over for Adrien to read again, and when he did, a small form of a smile grew on his face. “That’s it. The gems hold no power. This document is stating the owners of the gems, not what the gems make their owners.” With this revelation, he continued pouring over the document. “It’s really tricky wording. I can’t say for certain that the gems don’t hold power, but it might be the case. I’ll have Plagg look over this, as well.”

“Then why place so much emphasis on those gems?” Alix challenged. “Not that I’m complaining, but…”

“That is the question isn’t it?” Adrien said.

Marinette pursed her lips in thought. “Didn’t Plagg say that those gems were made from materials from both Paris and France?” she said. “What if they were supposed to be gifts given for their betrothal?”

“It’s possible,” Adrien agreed. “And if they were, then this document is a treaty, not a law. Therefore, Alix and her brother are the rightful heirs to the crown of France even without this gem.”

Marinette glanced at Alix who looked more than just a little relieved. “I really hope that is truly the intention of that document,” Marinette said. “It would be overwhelming for the people if one kingdom was suddenly imposed upon another.”

Adrien and Alix shared a look that proved they hadn’t even thought about that.

“No matter what,” Adrien said in way of changing the subject, “I’ll want Plagg to read over this to assess our theory. Tikki might be of help, too.”

“Considering they seemed to know of the legend even before us, I think that’s a wise idea,” Marinette agreed.

After Alix nodded her agreement to the plan, Adrien excused himself to go find said butler. “I’ll likely leave it with Plagg and Tikki,” he said. “I have an errand that I still need to run. If by the time I come back they’ve come to the same conclusion that we have, then it will be decided. If not, then we might have to go back to studying this.”

“Let’s keep our fingers crossed,” Alix said.

With a nod of agreement, Adrien left to go find Plagg. Once he shut the door behind him, Alix leaned back against the couch, suddenly looking exhausted despite the early hour.

Marinette looked over at her in worry. “What’s wrong, Alix?”

“Kim,” she said, rubbing her face with her hands, “that’s what’s wrong.”

It took a moment for Marinette to remember. “Your bet.”

From behind her hands, Alix nodded. “If this is the case, and I am still the princess,” she said, allowing her hands to drop, “then I’m going to have to turn him down.”

Marinette could hear Alix’s unspoken “and I don’t want to”.

“I don’t even know why I allowed myself to let my hopes up,” she scoffed. “I’m a princess, and I’m glad if I truly do get my position back. I want it back. But…I don’t know. I’m such an idiot.”

“You are not,” Marinette assured, resting a hand on Alix’s shoulder. “Just because you’re a princess doesn’t mean you aren’t above hoping for love.”

“But I don’t get to love Kim romantically. I knew that. Why I let myself get my hopes up—”

“Because you’re human,” Marinette interrupted. “You may be a princess, one who knows her responsibilities, but you are also a person who loves someone very deeply. There is no fault in caring for Kim the way you do.”

“Except that it will never be more than just platonic,” Alix countered. The sadness in her eyes when she looked up at Marinette was painful. “It’s hard.”

Marinette frowned. “I know that as a princess, you don’t get the chance to choose your husband—”

“It’s not that, Marinette,” Alix said, her voice cracking. “I’m so jealous of you.”

“Me?” Marinette cried, confused.

“Yes.” When Alix turned her full attention back to Marinette, tears began to spill from her cheeks. “I’m talking to a woman who got to marry a prince despite the huge gap in social standing. You didn’t love him when you married him, yet somehow a peasant was able to marry the prince. And what I’m asking is to be able to marry the son of a duke, a knight who trained in my father’s house for his own service, one whom I love and respect very much, and the answer is no. I’ll never get the chance.”

It was a blade to Marinette’s heart, and a tremendously embarrassing one at that. Who was she to speak on the topic of love when she was basically living a fairytale? Not everyone would be as lucky as she. In fact, even that might be overestimating how many women were as fortunate as her.

There was little more Marinette could do than sit in silence while Alix calmed herself. “I’m sorry,” Alix eventually said. “I’m so sorry. That was horrible of me.”

“But you’re right,” Marinette said, guilt rising in her. “I don’t really have a right to talk. And you have every right to be upset when our situations are so different despite being so similar, yet your more reasonable situation isn’t the dream that comes true.”

Alix let out a shaky breath. “It’s just the bitter reality of being a princess.”

“That doesn’t mean I’m not sorry about it. If there was anything I could do, I would.”

“There isn’t anything either of us can do,” Alix mumbled. “Kim and I will never get to be anything more than friends. Why I keep believing otherwise, I don’t know.”

“It’s sweet,” Marinette countered.

“Well, whatever it is, I just wish it would stop. I know better than to give into fantasies like this. With what I’ve been through, you’d think I’d learn that things aren’t always so sweet and rosy.”

Marinette swallowed, buying time for her next words. “I think that no matter how hard life is or how bitter things seem to be, we always have a little bit of hope that makes us dream for better. I don’t think it’s something we stop, and if we ever do, it means we’ve lost hope in things ever getting better. For you, the darkest times are coming to an end. Don’t focus on Kim right now. You’ll have time to face him later. For now, focus on being thankful that you will inherit your kingdom once again.”

Alix regarded Marinette with shame. “Now you’re just embarrassing me.”

Marinette smiled. “This was only a bet with Kim. This wasn’t a finality. This was a wager between two friends. Right now, you have other things to focus on. Very exciting things. And no matter what happens, I have no doubt Kim will be by your side, offering all the help he can he can to help you restore your kingdom. Because he’s your best friend, and nothing is ever going to change that.”

Alix stared at Marinette, occasionally sniffing or blinking back tears. A somewhat rueful smile quirked up her lips. “I thought I was supposed to be teaching you, not the other way around.”

Marinette chuckled, but it sounded dull. “Well, maybe a princess can learn some things from a peasant.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Alix relented. “Thanks.”

She wasn’t sure if it was ‘appropriate protocol’ but she didn’t really care. She engulfed Alix in a hug, one readily returned. “Any time.”

Chapter Text

Any interaction between Alix and Kim following the realization Alix was, in fact, still the Princess of France was tense and bittersweet. Marinette watched the duo as they forced smiles and pretended to be perfectly fine with this development, but it was clear that they weren’t. Alya had told her that she happened to cross the duo when they were having that conversation. Supposedly, there were tears on Alix’s end, and Kim had a fit afterwards. However, there was no stronger tension between them than there was now.

As Tikki and Plagg stood at the alter ready to give vows.

The church was nearly empty. Only six people wanted to witness what was a far more miraculous event than it appeared to be. Adrien had somehow convinced the church priest to hold the special ceremony. He had told Marinette that it had involved a bit of convincing to forgo the usual crying of the banns as well as more convincing that this marriage was not a rushed cover-up for an illegitimate child.

“What would he have said had he known the circumstances of our marriage?” Marinette had joked after Adrien finished.

He had only shaken his head in bemusement. “I can’t even imagine.”

Looking back, Marinette thought it a shame that the crown prince had to have such a rushed wedding ceremony, and furthermore, to a woman who hadn’t loved him. She wished that they could have had a ceremony like Plagg and Tikki’s: small, quaint, and attended by a few people who wished them all the love in the world. Tikki’s dress was a small point of envy for Marinette. It was nothing short of beautiful, especially considering all four girls had put in hours of time embroidering it. Paired with the wild roses that Alya had found before the ceremony, it was a dress Marinette wished she could have worn on her own wedding day.

And then there was Plagg. Marinette had never seen Plagg smile so much. His expression was bordering a lovesick one. Actually, for Plagg, it just might be.

Adrien had ordered rings to be made to Tikki and Plagg. Nino had been the one to go fetch them before the wedding ceremony, hence why it was he who pulled the bands from his pocket when the priest asked if there were any rings.

Tikki looked like she could cry with happiness. As Plagg collected the rings from Nino, he sent an appreciative nod over to Adrien. Adrien responded similarly.

Finally, once the rings were on their hands, the priest pronounced them husband and wife. He barely got to finish the next sentence before Plagg swept Tikki into his arms and gave her a kiss.

There was a small applause for the newly married couple. Tikki’s smile was wide enough to split her face in two while Plagg wore a huge smile that nearly seemed out of place on him. Out of the corner of her eye, Marinette saw Nino slip away, but she knew that was only because he had to fetch the carriage. The married duo then came down from the alter to where the others were waiting to give them personal congratulations. Plagg bravely hugged Adrien in thanks for all he had done to make the wedding possible, and Tikki followed suit.

“You’re very welcome,” Adrien responded.

Eventually, the duo made it out of the church to the carriage Nino had at the ready for them. They weren’t exactly going to go on a honeymoon, but at least they would have a private drive back to the castle. Plagg opened the carriage door before completely lifting Tikki into his arms. She released an audible squeak of surprise then giggled as Plagg placed her into the carriage. He hoisted himself into the carriage after her and shut the door firmly behind him.

Nino rolled his eyes at the show before sending a salute off in the direction of the rest of them. After Adrien saluted back, Nino whipped the reins to start the horses off.

“I’ll get our carriage.”

“Thank you, Kim,” Adrien said as Kim headed off.

Marinette felt someone shove her back. “Ask him,” Alya whispered to her.

Her eyes widened. She had nearly forgotten. “Adrien.”

“Yes?”

“Alya and I wanted to make up a room for the newlyweds, and we wanted to know which was the best room for that.”

Adrien slowly grinned. “I had completely forgotten about that.”

“You had lots of other things to worry about,” she assured him. “Alya and I will take care of this. We just need to know what room to make up for them.”

Adrien pondered it for a moment. “Give them the gray room.”

Marinette nodded. “Gray room. All right.”

The clatter of wheels on cobblestone signaled the arrival of Kim and the carriage. He pulled the horses to a stop in front of the church then hopped off his seat to open the door to the open-topped carriage. “Are you riding on the seat with me?” he asked Adrien.

Marinette took Adrien’s hand in hers, squeezing it while her other hand wrapped around his elbow.

He smiled down at her before answering Kim. “I believe my wife says no.”

Kim chuckled. “I can’t argue with that.”

Alya clamored into the carriage first, taking a backwards facing seat. Alix followed, having some assistance from Kim. However, considering the look that passed between them and the way their hands grasped each other, Marinette guessed it was less for assistance and more of a bittersweet gesture. Neither one were willing to let the other go, it seemed, even though they weren’t allowed to be together.

Adrien assisted Marinette into the carriage. He never let go of her hand as he followed her in and took his seat beside her. He did momentarily let it go so that he could shut and latch the door, but he took it back up again immediately afterwards.

Once they arrived at the castle, Alya and Marinette waited only for Kim to open the door before clamoring out. They ran like giddy children into the house, making their way to the servant’s area to grab a clean set of sheets. If anyone gave Marinette an odd look for being in the servant’s area, she didn’t notice. She was focused solely on making up the room as quickly as possible so that Tikki nor Plagg would be the wiser.

With Marinette holding the sheets and Alya carrying some cleaning supplies, the duo hurried up to the room Adrien had indicated.

“I knew the room would be dusty,” Alya commented, swiping her finger along the mantle.

“That’s why we’re here,” Marinette commented, setting the sheets on the comforter of the bed.

Alya nodded determinedly. “The sheets first.”

So the duo set to work putting the fresh sheets on the bed. Out of curiosity, the duo beat out the comforter, only for dust to speckle the air. They cringed.

“Umm,” Alya started, staring skeptically at the dusty air, “I don’t want to put this back on the bed.”

“Neither do I,” Marinette agreed. “But my guess is that there isn’t another comforter just laying around anywhere.”

“I’m going to guess that you’re right.” Alya and Marinette shared a worried look. “Any suggestions?”

Marinette pondered it for a moment before brightening. “I know. You start cleaning the room. I’ll be right back.”

She slipped from the room, marching all the way down to her own room to search through her things. When she found what she was looking for, she headed back to the gray room.

Only to run into Adrien in the process.

He purposefully set himself in her path, stopping her from proceeding. “You sure took off in a flurry,” he commented, his smile proving he was teasing.

She shrugged. “Alya and I wanted to make sure the room was perfect for them. We both love and respect Tikki. She’s been wonderful to both of us, so we wanted to make sure she had the best wedding day possible, and a place to go for the night.”

Adrien smiled then looked down at the bundle in her arms. “Isn’t that the quilt you were working on?”

Marinette followed his gaze. “It’s finished now. I was going to use it for my bed, but then…” a little pink hue tinted her cheeks, “my bed became our bed and I had a different pattern in mind for a marriage bed pattern. So, since the comforter in the gray room is so dusty, I’m giving this one to them.”

Adrien’s smile proved his pride as well as his happiness. “I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.”

“Tikki was there for me through the rocky beginning of our marriage. I want to show my thanks.”

“And that is one of the reasons I love you.” He pulled her close to press a lingering kiss on her forehead. “You’re so selfless. I know precisely how long you’ve been working on that quilt, and how proud of it you are.”

She blushed, shrugging it off. “I should go finish up.”

“On one condition.”

She looked up at him expectantly.

“Tell me what you want for this ‘marriage bed’ quilt, and I’ll get it ordered for you right away.”

She giggled, heat still flickering on her cheeks. “Deal.”

Adrien then stepped aside to let her pass through, and Marinette hurried back to the gray room to help Alya.


 

Dinner was a joyous affair. Adrien’s father decided he was not going to join and instead insisted a meal be delivered to him in the library. Honestly, Adrien did feel a little bad about taking over his father’s dining hall, but it wasn’t as though he had banned his father from joining. It was his father’s choice, and that was perfectly fine with Adrien. It was more enjoyable without his father there. Plus, he didn’t have to get yelled at for insisting that Plagg and Tikki be seated at the head of the table. They were a bit scrunched together, but neither seemed to mind. They…err, Tikki, was enjoying pretending to be the queen of the castle while Plagg submitted to her every ‘wish’ as though he were her servant.

There was much laughter, much heckling, much joking. Even if dinner wasn’t anything grander than normal, it was a dinner to remember. But all good things must come to an end. With dinner long finished and their joyous conversation slowly winding down, they decided to disband for the night.

However, before Tikki and Plagg could sneak off, Adrien caught them. “First off, congratulations again. I’m really happy for you two.” They way Adrien grabbed Plagg’s shoulder left an unspoken ‘especially you’ hanging between them.

Plagg returned the gesture with a smile, proving that he got the unsaid sentiment. “Thank you, Adrien. And I’m sure you’ll say the same, Marinette?”

Adrien glanced over his shoulder to see his lovely wife siding up next to him. “That is absolutely correct,” she assured. “But that wasn’t the only thing I wanted to say. After all, there is the wedding night that you two surely want to sneak off for.”

Tikki blushed brightly, giggling nervously. Even Plagg looked a bit flustered by that fact.

“So Alya and I made sure that the gray room was made up for you.”

Plagg’s eyes widened while Tikki let out a soft gasp.

“And let it be known,” Adrien continued, “that the gray room will be yours for the time being. Hopefully no one will interrupt you in the morning.” Adrien shot a wink towards a now red Plagg.

“Well,” Plagg said, rubbing the back of his neck nervously. “Thank you. Tikki and I appreciate it.”

“That being said,” Marinette continued. “Tikki, Alya is going to be my lady’s maid for now, so don’t worry about that. Enjoy time with Plagg.”

She grinned, abandoning Plagg’s side for a moment in order to hug Marinette. “Thank you so much.”

“Of course. I’m not going to let you work when you should be enjoying your honeymoon.”

The mood changed rather quickly. Tikki found her way back to Plagg’s side, wrapping her hands around his arm. “Hopefully, Plagg and I get a real one when he gets back,” Tikki said, leaning closer to her new husband.

It was a bit odd to see Plagg so affectionate, pressing a kiss to Tikki’s head. “We will. You’ll see,” he whispered into her hair.

It wasn’t lost on Adrien that Plagg didn’t say the word ‘promise’ and he didn’t think Tikki missed it either. “I’ll hold you to that,” she said.

Subtly, Adrien shooed Plagg away. “Have a good night,” he said.

“We will, thank you,” Plagg returned before guiding Tikki away.

Adrien was about to do the same with Marinette, but then he felt her arms wrap around his torso. He turned his full attention down to her, only for his heart to crack at the sight of tears glimmering in her eyes. “What’s wrong, love?”

She looked up at him. “Just remembering that Plagg isn’t the only one walking into danger.”

He sighed, his heart breaking a little more. “I know. If there was another way, a peaceful way where we all made it out alive guaranteed, I would leap at the chance.”

Marinette buried her face into his shoulder. “I know you would. I know that if you could, you’d make me promises, but you won’t make me a promise you don’t know if you can keep.” She looked up at him again, heart shining in her eyes. “That’s one of the things I love about you, even if it hurts.”

He should just bid his heart good bye because he wasn’t sure if he would have one left after this. Cradling her head with his hands, he leaned forward so their foreheads would touch. “Go get ready for bed,” he whispered. “I’ll meet you in a little bit, all right?”

She let out a tense breath, one that seemed to leave her exhausted and weak. “All right. I’ll be waiting.”

With that, he let her go, watching her drag his heart along with her. If this was how it was going to be when they were talking about him leaving, he was not looking forward to the state his heart would be in when he actually left her.

Rubbing his tired eyes, Adrien turned absently, running into someone. He looked up to apologize, only to see Kim. He looked haggard, exhausted, and disheartened, but he looked at Adrien with pity. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop in on that conversation,” he said, “but I couldn’t help but overhear it.”

“It’s fine. It was nothing private,” Adrien assured.

Kim didn’t look convinced. “You’re very lucky, you know,” he commented. “To have someone like her in your life. I’m sorry you have to leave her.”

Adrien forced a half-smile. “Thanks, Kim. I know I’m lucky. And that Plagg’s lucky, too. To have Tikki in his life. I’m only sorry they won’t get more time together before we leave.”

“But the fact is they’ll get time together,” Kim said, longing clear in his voice. “Even if it’s for a blink of an eye, they’ll get to have each other. And then Plagg will have her to come home to, a future to look forward to. I understand why he wanted such a rushed marriage.”

Adrien turned to stare at his friend. While he may not have known him as long as Nino or Plagg, he could still read Kim fairly well. “You’re jealous.”

“I’ll fully admit I am.” Kim released a heavy sigh, rubbing his hand down his haggard face. “I won a bet with Alix, only for my prize to be her turning down my marriage proposal.”

“Marriage proposal?” Adrien asked.

Kim nodded. “Before we made that bet, she was worried that because you were the Prince of France, she wouldn’t have anywhere unless she married. So—”

“You offered,” Adrien finished, inwardly cringing.

“Yeah. But you know what the worst part is?”

Adrien could only guess. “You wanted to marry her.”

“I love her,” he affirmed. “She’s…she’s not the only girl I’ve ever liked, but the only one that I could even imagine myself being truly happy with. And when she admitted she loved me, too…”

Feeling bad for his friend, Adrien patted his shoulder. “The only thing I can even say right now is I’m sorry.”

Kim shut his eyes. “I know. I guess sometimes, there aren’t happy endings. I’m happy for Plagg, but that doesn’t mean I’m not jealous of him. Or of you.”

“I’d say you have a right to be. But don’t be so jealous that you miss out on spending time with her as a friend, either. You love her, you’d do anything for her, so don’t abandon her friendship.”

It was clear Kim absorbed those words. “I hear you. Now, don’t sit around and pity me. I’m just whining. Go spend time with your wife while you can.”

“I still do pity you, Kim,” Adrien said, even though he fully headed Kim’s advice.

When he made it to his room, he undressed as quickly as he could before dressing in his nightclothes. Longingly, he looked towards the door that connected his room to what should rightfully be Marinette’s. Snapping the fabric of his shirt as he forcefully shoved it on, he decided that this was ridiculous. She was his wife. He didn’t care if his father approved of that or not; it was a fact he would have to accept. Tomorrow, Adrien would move Marinette into that room, because he was not going to waste another night marching down the hallways to a guest bedroom his father assigned to her, only to leave early so that he wouldn’t get caught.

And on that note, he decided that he wasn’t leaving her tomorrow morning. He would hold her as long as he desired and not worry about anyone seeing him come out of his wife’s bedroom. He was married to the woman that inhabited that room. He wasn’t a scoundrel.

Tossing open the door, Adrien marched through the castle to the sapphire room. He knocked this time, not knowing what state of dress she was in or if Alya was still in there or not. He got his answer shortly when Alya answered the door. However, she gave him nothing more than a smile as she slipped away, leaving the door slightly cracked.

He tentatively pushed it open, immediately spotting Marinette brushing her hair in front of her vanity. His fingers itched to comb through her silky hair, maybe pressing a kiss of two to the crown of her head in the process. Slipping inside, he carefully shut the door behind him. He didn’t know how quiet or loud he was, but the second the door fully closed, she turned to face him. Her smile was warm and welcoming, inviting him closer.

And closer he went, like a moth to a flame. She stood to meet him, placing her hands on his shoulders just as he took her in his arms.

“I hope you know that no matter how long we have to spend together,” Marinette said, “I’m glad I got to spend that time with you. And I don’t care that our own wedding was rushed and forced, I am so glad that I got the honor of being your wife.”

Adrien looked down at her, stomach twisting in a bittersweet motion. They really didn’t have much of a wedding. He wore that blasted mask, and she didn’t have a clue whom she was pledging her life to. “Marinette,” he said, a plan forming in his mind. “When I come back, we are going to have a public ceremony.” Saying it aloud only affirmed how much he liked that plan. “Yes, it’s perfect. That way, we introduce you as the Princess of Paris. Being married publicly will quell the rumors and any possible scandal. And then we can start a family after that. It’s perfect.”

Her hands left his shoulders to cradle his jaw. He leaned into her touch, drowning further in her watery, blue eyes. “That sounds perfect.” And then when she pulled him in for a kiss, he eagerly returned it, plenty happy to lose himself in her affections.

Chapter Text

Marinette held her shaking husband in her arms. She didn’t know what time it was; she only knew it was dark and that nightmares had once again plagued him. She gently shushed him, cradling him against her, rocking him slightly in hopes that he’d calm down. It was a hard task when tears of her own were streaming down her face and terror seized her heart.

“Sweetheart,” she cooed, running her fingers through his hair. “Calm down. I’m here. I’m with you. You’re safe.”

His arms tightened around her torso, and he buried his head into her shoulder. “For how long?” he sobbed.

She sniffed, wishing that tears would stop pouring from her eyes. “We had this conversation already. I don’t want you to go. You don’t want to go. But we don’t have any choice.”

Adrien continued to cry against her shoulder, his body still shaking. “I don’t want to leave you. I don’t want to leave you alone.”

“I know, sweetheart. I know.”

“No. No you don’t.” Somehow, he found the strength to sit up, no longer relying on her to hold him. He took her jaw in his hands, holding in tightly in desperation. Even though she could barely see him in the night, she could perfectly imagine how his face looked with tears streaking his cheeks, his eyes so red it dulled out the green, and his hair ruffled into a frantic mess. It broke her heart in pieces. “Marinette, I’m scared to leave you.”

Slowly, that knife pierced her heart and hot tears broke new trails down her cheeks. “You think I’m not terrified to lose you?” she choked out. “Do you think that I’m not scared that you’re going to leave and never come back? I don’t even have twelve hours with you left. What if you never come back to me?”

It was Marinette’s turn to shatter into pieces, leaning against Adrien to support her. His arms wrapped her up tight, pressing her fully against his chest. She leaned into his embrace, shifting into his lap and wrapping her arms up around his neck. She laid her head on his shoulder, burying her face into the crook of his neck.

They stayed like that for the longest time until their tears slowed and their heavy breaths evened out. Even once they calmed, neither moved, unwilling to let the other go.

“I love you, Adrien,” Marinette said. “More than I ever thought I would.”

“If I could guarantee that I will come back to you, I would give it to you,” he returned. “If I could promise you’d always have me, I would. I love you, Marinette. I would give you anything if I could.”

She knew it. She knew it deep down in her heart. Pulling out of his neck, she leaned their heads together. “You once promised me that. Back when I didn’t love you and you didn’t love me. I know that if you could, you would promise that you’ll be back safe and sound. But what you can promise me is that you’ll do everything in your power to come back to me alive. Promise me.”

“I promise,” he reverently whispered. “I promise. I promise.”

“I’ll take it.”

He kissed her. Once, twice, three times.

And she quickly lost count.

Neither had let go nor had their kisses remotely slowed by the time Marinette’s head hit the pillow. Not for the first time, she wished he left her with child. It was in the sweet dreams of the night that her heart would hope for such, but her head would see the problems with her fantasy come light of morning. If Adrien came back, they would proceed with the public ceremony. If she was pregnant, it would cause scandal that they had relations outside wedlock, even though that was not the case. If he didn’t come back, then there was the issue of if King Agreste would accept that child as Adrien’s heir. And if on the slim chance he did, they were back to the dilemma that the prince had relations with her seemingly outside wedlock. That would leave her and the child to be in charge of the Noir estate, which would be the best option of them all because the towns already believed Marinette was married to Lord Noir. However, that best case scenario depended on the worst case scenario of Adrien not coming home alive.

A dizzying thought process, one that didn’t leave her with a clear answer. Instead, she would fly back and forth between reality and fantasy, never making up her mind which was better. But as Adrien continued his ministrations, leaving her breathless, she knew which she currently wished for.

Dawn found the two lovers wrapped in each other’s embrace. They had both found sleep again, thankfully. Marinette was the one who woke first, much to her surprise. Adrien usually woke before her and woke her with a kiss to the forehead or by snuggling her tightly in her sleep. Apparently, Marinette got the honor of doing that this morning, pressing a lingering kiss to his cheek, whispering “I love you” in his ear, and nestling up comfortably against him.

His arm tightened around her waist. Slowly, his eyes blinked open, only to flutter shut again. “I’m not moving until I have to,” he groaned.

Marinette giggled. “Please don’t. I rather like quiet time with you.”

With a grin, he pressed a kiss to her temple before nuzzling his nose into her jaw. “Good, because I’m not letting you go.”

“Promise me you’ll never,” she said, beginning to run her fingers in his soft hair.

Slowly, he leaned over her, his green eyes intently locked on her blue. “I promise, I will never let you go.”

He stole a kiss, leaving her dizzy and oblivious to time. What felt like seconds was really hours because when she opened her eyes again, she was standing in front of the castle, grasping tightly to Adrien’s hands as she sent him off.

“I’ll be back,” he said, leaving off the ‘I hope’ at the end of it.

“I’ll be waiting,” she responded.

Gently, tenderly, he cupped her cheeks. She mimicked his action, wrapping her hands around his jaw, then leaned in to steal one last lingering kiss before he would be forced to depart. When he did, it felt like he took all warmth with him, leaving her cold in a way that not even her cloak could protect her against.

Speaking of which—

“Adrien,” she called out.

He turned to face her once again. She ran up to meet him, her fingers fumbling with the clasp on her… no, his cloak.

“Mari,” he quietly protested, but he made no move to stop her from slinging the fabric over his shoulders.

“I want this back,” she said, a quiet plea to be safe.

Even though he reached up to stop her from latching the clasp of the cloak around his shoulders, she was too fast for him. She fisted the clasp, preventing him from being able to do much more than hold her hands. He let his eyes drift shut as his hands tightly gripped her own. When he opened his eyes again, they shone with unshed tears. “I’ll bring it back to you.”

“I love you.”

He pulled her hands away from his cloak, up to his lips to press a kiss to her knuckles. “I love you, too.”

Adrien once again pulled himself away. The other men were waiting for him, after all. Marinette watched as he took the reins of his pitch black horse from Nino before giving his friend a reassuring pat on the shoulder. Then he mounted his horse, looking regal as he sat tall and proud in the saddle. He gave one last salute good-bye before he spun his horse around and started off.

Nino followed at his side, but he managed to look back towards the girls, tipping his hat in their direction. Marinette didn’t miss the way Alya waved in return. The plethora of soldiers Adrien had recruited followed after them, their horses creating thunder as they headed down the castle pathway. Finally, they were followed by Kim and Plagg, disguised as peddlers driving a wagon that appeared loaded with goods. Kim gave one last wave to Alix, who returned the gesture. In a very un-Plagg-like gesture, he looked at Tikki then placed his hand over his heart, never breaking eye-contact. In return, Tikki kissed her hands then blew it over to him. He wasn’t the kind to make a show of catching it, but he did in his own way, patting his heart a few times.

The girls stayed there until the traveling parties completely disappeared from their sights. “God, be with them,” Alya said, breaking the hard silence that had fallen over them.

Marinette nodded in agreement.

Alya broke away first, her hand resting on Alix’s shoulder to pull her from her trance. Together, the duo turned and walked back towards the house.

Tikki was the one to reach out to grab Marinette’s hand, but Marinette could tell that it was less a gesture suggesting they go inside and more of a desperate plea for strength.

She turned to Tikki, noticing how worry marred her pretty features. “Was your night as hard as mine?” Marinette asked.

Tikki turned her full attention to Marinette, pulling her blue eyes away from the place the men disappeared. “Only if you spent more time comforting your husband from his night terrors than actually sleeping.”

“And begging him to come back home alive?”

“And exhausting yourselves with tears.”

Marinette squeezed Tikki’s hand. “Let’s go inside.”

Tikki followed Marinette inside. Even once they were in the warm castle, Marinette didn’t stop shivering, but she doubted it was from the cold.

Dinner that night was silent. Painfully so. Neither Alix nor Marinette felt like talking. With King Agreste there, observing Marinette with his usual disdain, she didn’t feel very hungry either.

When Alix asked if she could be dismissed early, Marinette jumped on the chance to agree. For the first time King Agreste didn’t argue. “Go. It’s been a long day for all of us.”

Alix and Marinette marched together out of the dining hall, walking back to their rooms. Neither one spoke, only walking in the comfort of each other. At the top of the stairs, they split apart, Marinette walking towards her new room, the one Adrien moved her into barely a week ago. When she got there, she rung for Alya, or maybe it would be Tikki now that Plagg was gone. She didn’t know.

It was Alya that appeared. “Hey,” her friend said in a soft voice. “How are you holding up?”

Marinette forced a bitter grin. “I’m okay.”

“But just barely,” Alya observed. She engulfed her friend in a hug, and Marinette had a hard time containing herself. “It will be all right. A little time apart, and you’ll see him again.”

“Thank you for trying, Alya,” Marinette sniffed, feeling the beginnings of tears. “I know you’re just saying that.”

“And hoping it’s true,” she assured. When they separated, Alya’s expression lit up. “I know. How about we go visit your parents?”

Marinette blinked blankly. “My parents?”

Alya nodded. “Absolutely. I don’t think it’s good for you to be cooped up here with reminders of Adrien everywhere and far too much time on your hands. Your parents are only a day’s trip away.”

“A long day, and that’s if we’re quick.”

“Still,” Alya said. “It would be good for you. And they’d love to see you again.”

Marinette bit her lip, uncertainty waring with desire.

Alya quirked a brow. “Do you really want to stay here with your father-in-law?”

It got her to cringe, mostly because Alya was succeeding in her goal with that reminder. “Fine,” she relented. “You win.”

Alya grinned. “You won’t regret it. I know it.”

“Just help me get out of this thing,” Marinette snipped, referring to the dinner dress.

“Of course, your highness.”

Alya continued trying to put a smile on Marinette’s face, but nothing the girl could say helped. By the time Marinette was tying her hair back for bed, Alya sighed. “I know you’re worried about him,” Alya said. “But he’ll come back. You’ll see.”

“I hope so,” Marinette said. “I hope they all do.”

“I can’t argue with that, but you’re my best friend. Of course, I’m hoping for Adrien’s safety. And Nino promised me he’d make sure of it.”

Marinette’s brow screwed upwards as she looked to Alya for clarification.

“I didn’t finagle it out of him. I promise. He swore that to me all by himself. He told me he knows Adrien is the future king, and that alone is enough to ensure he does everything in his power to protect him, but…he also said that between him and Adrien, he isn’t the one madly in love. Nino doesn’t have as much to lose, and that’s really the reason he’s protecting Adrien. He told me that not even his own life was too high of a cost for his friend. So you see, Marinette? Adrien will come home to you alive, even if it goes wrong.”

Marinette swiped away the grateful tears that welled in her eyes. “I just hope it doesn’t go wrong.”

“Don’t we all, Marinette.” Alya engulfed her friend in a supportive hug, but Marinette could tell that she was supporting Alya a little bit, too. “Don’t we all.”

Chapter Text

What started as two girls going home turned into four girls deciding they all were going to go on a trip. Honestly, it was rather hilarious to see the four of them hitch up a cart in the early dawn. Marinette was fairly certain that if horses could have rolled their eyes, they would have. They eventually succeeded, and the quartet headed off just as the sun crested the horizon.

By the time the sun was on the horizon again, Marinette’s childhood home was in her sights. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to shout with happiness or cry in joy.

She ended up doing both.

When the cart came to a stop in front of the house, Marinette leaped from her seat and rushed to the front door. There was something so comforting about being somewhere so familiar, but at the same point, it seemed odd. Home was Noir Hall. Home was with Adrien. While somehow she knew that this wasn’t home, something about seeing the little abode she grew up in tugged at her heart and called to her like a refuge in the midst of chaos.

She nearly collapsed against the door, partly because she tripped over her dress in her haste to reach it. Thankfully she caught herself just in time for the door to swing open, revealing a tall, broad chested man. She felt like she could cry. “Papa.”

She never saw his expression, but she could only guess by the way he swept her up into his arms and hugged her fiercely, he was happy to see her. “Sabine!” he shouted. “Sabine!”

By the time her mother got to the door, her papa set her down. “Maman.”

Tears shone in her mother’s eyes. “Oh, Marinette.”

The women embraced tightly, and Marinette wasn’t afraid to admit tears were pouring down her cheeks by now. “I missed you two so much.”

Eventually, they parted, and Papa was able to inquire about the three other women that were standing by the cart. “And where is Lord Noir? He didn’t come with you?”

Her smile turned bittersweet. “It’s a really long story, Papa,” Marinette said. “After we put away the horses and cart, I’ll tell you everything.”

“You four go inside,” he said, walking to the horses. “I’ll put the cart away. Your maman will get you something to drink.”

Her mother eagerly agreed. “Come on, girls. All of you inside.”

“Thanks, Papa, Maman,” Marinette said. “We’ve had a long trip.”

“I’m certain you have.”

It didn’t take long for the girls to position themselves around the fire. Sabine put a pot of water for tea over the flames before searching the house for blankets. By the time every girl had a blanket over their shoulders, Marinette’s papa had reentered.

“Before I start the story,” Marinette said once her parents had brought over stools from the kitchen to sit on. “I suppose I should introduce everyone. You know Alya, of course. I’m so thankful she came down. It’s been a blessing having her around. And then you might remember Alix. You were the ones that found her and sent her down—”

“Ah, yes,” Maman interrupted. “I remember that. I’m glad to see you made a full recovery.”

“Yes, in no small part thanks to you,” Alix said. “I’m very grateful for taking me in as you did and caring for me.”

“You’re very welcome,” Papa said. “Sabine and I are both thankful that you made a full recovery. And that the Kim we had heard about from our daughter was the Kim that you were looking for.”

“Yes, that was pure luck,” Alix agreed. “Not that I’m not thankful for it. After so many years apart and after everything that had happened, getting to see him again was very much needed.”

“Marinette did tell us all about that,” Maman said.

“I informed them of quite a bit,” Marinette spoke up. “But not the whole story. We’ll be sure to explain everything, but lastly, I need to introduce you to Tikki.”

“Ah, your lady’s maid,” her mother recalled. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you. We’ve heard so much about you.”

“And I, you,” Tikki returned. “Marinette spoke of you fondly.”

Marinette blushed at that.

Papa winked at Marinette. “I’m sure she did. She’s our precious little girl.”

“Papa,” she whined. However, the smile on her face betrayed her chastising tone.

He chuckled then grew serious. “What brings the four of you girls here? Certainly you weren’t all traveling alone.”

Marinette frowned. “As much as I would have liked to say no, partly so that I could introduce you to Nino and Kim and Plagg as well as properly reintroduce you to Adrien, I can’t.”

Her parents’ brows furrowed.

“Because,” Marinette finished, “they’ve gone off into war.”

A somber aura filled the room as the girls took turns recounting the story. Marinette’s parents listened to everything from Alix’s escape to the men heading out. Not a detail was missed between the four of them, and by the end, they felt even more exhausted than they had been.

Marinette’s maman stood. “I think that’s enough for tonight. Get some rest, girls. I suggest there is more space for you all to sleep down here rather than all four of you trying to sleep in Marinette’s old room.”

The girls eagerly agreed to this. While the girls took turns going up to Marinette’s room to get changed for the night, Marinette’s mother called her into her parent’s bedroom. “I’ll help you get that dress off,” she said. “And we’ll be able to have a private chat.”

While uncertain of what this “private chat” would contain, she couldn’t deny she was happy for the chance to speak face to face with her mother again.

Once the duo had entered her parents’ room, her mother shut the door. “That is a very lovely dress,” she commented.

“Tikki and I make all my dresses together.”

“I should have recognized your talent the moment I saw that dress.”

Marinette’s pride swelled.

“Now, I know you’re tired,” her mother said as she began to loosen the laces on the back of the dress, “but there is one last story I want to hear before I send you off for the night.”

“What is it?”

“The story of that lovely ruby ring on your finger.”

Marinette’s gaze fell down to her hands “He swore he would fight for me,” she reverently answered. “That I was worth any trouble he would face and more. Because he loved me.” Marinette had to pause in order to keep her voice from cracking. “He said that if it came down to it, he would be willing to surrender his title as prince for me. And it scared me that he actually meant it. He needs to be the prince. He’s going to be such a good king. I told him he needed to let me go because he didn’t need me to bring him down or cause him trouble from claiming the throne he needed to claim. But he told me that before anything else, he was my husband and that was his first priority.”

Despite Maman standing behind her, Marinette knew she was smiling. “I’m so happy for you,” she said. “That is all a mother could want for her daughter: to have found a man so honest, devoted, and committed.”

Marinette’s smile was bittersweet. “But I didn’t want him to be forced to make that choice, to potentially give up his title—”

“Sweetheart, his mind’s already made up,” her maman countered. Having finished undoing the laces of Marinette’s dress, she forced her daughter to spin around to face her “Whether he becomes the king or not, he’s chosen you. It’s clear enough by his actions, and anyone would be able to tell it just by the lovely ruby on your hand.”

Automatically, Marinette’s right hand wrapped around her left. She could feel the edges of the ruby in contrast to the smooth gold as she stroked it with her fingertips. “It was his mother’s,” she answered reverently. “His mother’s engagement ring. He used it to propose.”

“Propose?” her mother repeated.

Marinette nodded. “We had grown so close, and it was clear that we loved each other dearly. It happened just recently that he took me out into the gardens, one of our favorite spots, and he commented that I never had a proper proposal, something he wanted to remedy.” Marinette paused to keep the happy tears at bay. “So he presented the ring to me and asked if I would chose to accept him as my husband.”

“And you accepted.”

“I couldn’t fathom saying no.”

A knowing grin slowly crept across her mother’s face. “And judging by the smile on your face and look in your eyes,” she said softly, “I would guess that you accepted him as your husband in more than once sense of the word.”

Despite the fire rushing to her cheeks, Marinette still nodded.

“And he didn’t force you in any way?”

Marinette quickly shook her head. “I was the one that went to him,” she admitted. “While he made his intentions known, but he never forced me or pressured me.”

Her mother squeezed Marinette’s hands. “I’m glad to hear that. And I’m so thankful that despite being forced into a marriage, you managed to find a love like the one I was lucky enough to find. I had hoped that the marriage would at least be amiable. That you two would at least become good friends, but to hear you say that you love him and watching your eyes light up as you talk about him… it makes me so happy.”

Marinette felt her smile quiver as her eyes held unshed tears. “He promised me,” she began before having to take a steadying breath. “He promised me that we’d have a public ceremony when he got back. One where he wasn’t wearing a mask.”

This got both her and her mother to chuckle.

“And then he said we would start a family,” she continued. “I just… really, really hope that we get the chance to. I mean, Tikki teased that I could be pregnant even now, which would be wonderful to have a baby because what if he doesn’t come back? But… but I want him to be around to see his child. Our child.”

Her mother took Marinette’s cheeks in her hands, wiping away her daughter’s tears in the way mothers do. “Now now, don’t think such thoughts,” she soothingly said. “You have so much else to think about. Such as a future with him and what you’ll name your many little ones and how often you will be willing to visit so I can see my grandchildren.”

It elicited a momentary smile from Marinette.

“I know you’ll make the most incredible mother,” Maman continued. “And I’m certain he’s going to make such a good father. Think of how he’s out there now, doing what he can to make this kingdom a better place for you and your future children. Because that’s what he’s doing. And when he returns, the kingdom will begin to heal and become a place where you’ll be proud to raise your children. And then you’ll be able to point to their father and tell them how he worked hard to ensure the kingdom was good enough for them. Isn’t that a legacy worth leaving?”

Marinette had to remember to breathe as she absorbed her mother’s every word. “It is,” she managed to say. “It’s just… hard.”

“Because you love him. And you want him safe and sound, even if it’s not with you.”

Marinette nodded.

Her mother sighed. “I can’t say I know what it’s like to be in your position. I don’t know what to say to you other than to keep hope. Even when it looks bleak, remember good things can come from even the darkest and most hopeless of situations.”

Tears continued to travel Marinette’s cheeks, but she took those words to heart. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Her mother tenderly wiped away the tear trails before pulling Marinette’s head down to give her a kiss in her hair. “I’m sure the girls are waiting your return downstairs. I’ll let you finish changing. Just remember to keep your chin up, sweetheart, and be hopeful that he’ll come home to you.”

“I’ll try.” It was the best answer she could give to her mother because while her heart begged for one thing, the dark recesses of her mind slowly stole that hope out from under her.

Chapter Text

Marinette had nearly forgotten it was like to get up pre-dawn to assist her father in baking and taking care of the animals in the back. Alya and Tikki assisted with chores inside while Alix joined Marinette to collect the eggs from the chickens.

It was nearly comical, watching Alix eye the chickens with unease. And when Alix nearly fled the coop when a chicken ran at her, Marinette burst into laughter.

“I’m sorry,” Marinette said between giggles, shooing the insistent chicken away. “Really, I am. It’s not funny.”

Alix blushed. “It’s fine,” she managed, removing herself from her hiding spot behind Marinette. “I just…have bad memories from getting locked in a hen house.”

“And that is?”

Alix ducked her head in embarrassment. “I was chased by three different birds and attacked by a couple more. My maid was horrified at the cuts and bruises I got, but Kim thought it was hilarious.”

Suddenly, Marinette was laughing again.

By the time they had finished searching most of the hen house, the basket they had brought out was full. Surprising for autumn; filling the basket twice was more of a spring occurrence. “I’ll go put the eggs we have in the house,” Marinette suggested. “I’ll be right back if you keep searching for any we missed. Just put them all in an empty perch so we can put them in the basket to take back to the house.”

Alix gave the chickens a leery look before she tilted her chin up proudly. “I can do it.”

Marinette gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “Good job. I promise I won’t lock you in the coop.”

Alix tried to level her a flat look but couldn’t hide the hint of a grin. “Ha ha. Very funny.”

With a giggle, Marinette quickly returned to the house and hurriedly put the eggs away. The earthy smell of fresh-baked bread and hot breakfast filled the house and made her stomach grumble. The sooner she finished, the sooner they could eat. So, with an empty basket, she hurried back out to the hen house.

The strange sight of the wide open door caused her to slow. Peeking inside the hen house, she saw Alix was nowhere in sight. Curiosity then concern grew as she shut the door to prevent the chickens from escaping. She looked around, calling Alix’s name until her gaze hit the ground. The dew of the cold morning had softened the dirt, allowing footprints to be made easily. There were two sets created by her and Alix traveling to the coop, but there were also two sets leading away. And from the looks of it, there was definitely a scuffle.

A sharp whinny from the stables pierced the air, causing Marinette to nearly jump from her skin. But when she realized that was where the prints led, she dropped the basket and took off at a run.

She almost shoved the door open but froze upon hearing a male voice echo through the barn. One that was far too smooth and familiar for her liking.

“You listen to me, wretch,” Theo threatened. “You can come by force or will.”

A muffled whine responded followed by a shuffling sound.

“And I warn you,” Theo continued, his voice growing growly with impatience, “you’ll have to suffer the consequences of your choice.”

Ice seeped into her veins. Marinette could see nothing, but she knew precisely what was happening. She had lived it. Silently, she slipped through the door, careful to keep every footstep quiet.

There was another shuffle, one that sounded like wood doors shaking, before a dark, eerie chuckle rent the air.

“That little trick won’t work on me this time,” Theo purred, obviously pleased with himself. “And if that’s your choice, then don’t blame me for the consequences.”

Another muffled cry came, one that was desperate and fearful.

Heart pounding with fear yet determination coursing through her like fire, Marinette reached for the shovel leaning against the wall. She was careful to keep it from scraping the ground as she pulled it close, making sure the blade was up and ready for defense.

Peeking around the corner of the stalls, she caught full sight of Theo pinning Alix between a stall door and his chest. One of his hands was over her mouth while the other hand had grabbed her arm, holding it behind her. Alix was immobilized, and considering the panicked look in her eyes, she knew it.

“Now,” Theo said, his smirk purely predatory, “you’re going to come with me back where you belong. Because right now, it’s between my head and yours. And it’s not going to be mine.”

Anger flaring in her, Marinette glanced down at her shovel before she roughly gaged the distance between her and Theo. Just as he opened his mouth to speak again, Marinette took the two steps forward she needed to swing the shovel up over her head and bring it down on Theo’s.

It knocked him down, but much to her horror, it didn’t knock him out.

Freed from his grasp, Alix ran away from him. Her eyes locked on Marinette’s for a scant second before she caught sight of the shovel Marinette wielded. But her feet continued to take her out the door. While Marinette was focused on Theo, she could hear Alix screaming outside. What was being said, Marinette didn’t know nor could she tell with the way blood was roaring in her ears, but she could only assume it was a cry for help.

In hindsight, Marinette likely should have run along with Alix, but she found herself frozen in place as she watched Theo struggle to right himself from the ground. She raised the shovel, preparing to swing.

But Theo took a step back before the blade could collide with his skull again. “Marinette,” he warned. “That was a very poor choice.”

She didn’t care. Determination pulsing through her like fire in her blood, she swung out again.

And he launched forward to catch it before it could hit him.

He grinned that winner’s smile, the same one that he had worn way back when he thought he would get his way with her. “Nice to know you’re still a feisty little filly.” Grasping the handle, he yanked the shovel forward, straight out of a surprised Marinette’s grip. “And here I was sorely disappointed that I wouldn’t be the one to break you.”

Then he raised the shovel, and Marinette ran. She nearly tripped over her dress as she turned the corner, stumbling in the process. However, in that fraction of a second, she caught sight of her father’s bull whip. She snatched it from the ground, never wondering why it was on the ground when it should have been on its hook. Instead, she instantly recalled every lesson she ever had.

Once she rebounded from her stumble, she spun on her heel, flicking her arm outwards to toss the whip straight at Theo. As he rounded the corner, Marinette tugged the handle just slightly, causing the end to release a loud snap.

Before Theo hit the dirt, he lashed out the shovel one last time. The back of the shovel collided with her shoulder, and she tumbled to her knees in pain. She blinked a few times, panting heavily while she begged the pain to dull, just enough to stand.

Shakily, she forced herself up. With her right hand, she grabbed the shovel, taking it out of his reach, yet she just tossed it aside, seeing as the whip was clearly the better weapon against him. Mostly because it allowed her distance.

Several heart-pounding moments passed before he finally sat up, blood dripping from the new gash across his forehead, little red rivulets running down his brow and dripping onto his cheek. He looked at her blankly, blearily, and Marinette tightened her grasp on the bullwhip.

When her father came rushing in, her world diminished to a blur. Her chest heaved as she gasped for air. Her hearing gave way to the sound of blood roaring in her ears. Her grip on the whip never loosened despite her maman tugging it out of her hand.

By the time that Maman and Tikki coaxed her out of her trance and partly back into reality, Marinette could see her papa grabbing Theo straight off the ground. She wished she could have watched the whole thing, but she was pulled from the barn before Papa finished hogtying that pig.

For the next hour, Tikki sat with Marinette and Alix in Marinette’s room as the two girls gradually recovered.

“I wasn’t even that scared the first time,” Alix eventually said, breaking the silence. “But he had a better hold on me this time, and how he grabbed me…”

The way she trailed off implied that there had been more to his advances than even Marinette had seen. “What even happened?” she asked, feeling as though both she and Alix had calmed down enough for that question to be voiced.

“He came in so quickly after you left that I thought you had just forgotten something. Since I thought it was you, I didn’t bother looking up from trying to move one of the birds, but then he wrapped a hand over my mouth and pinched my nose and I couldn’t even breathe as he dragged me out of the coop. He wanted to get me back.”

“I heard,” Marinette said, resting a reassuring hand on Alix’s knee. “That’s when I had arrived.”

“It didn’t matter what he said,” Alix continued. “I could see it in his eyes. One way or another, he was…” She swallowed. “He was going to use me.”

“It’s over now,” Marinette assured, her stomach twisting in knots as unbidden nightmares of her own surfaced. “And he’s not going to be able to do anything to you now.”

Alix took a shaky breath before patting Marinette’s hand. “I’m glad you showed up when you did.”

“I’m thankful that I showed up when I did.”

A knock sounded from the door, calling the girl’s attention before Tikki answered it. Marinette looked up to see her best friend.

“Your father and I just finished questioning Theo.”

“And he actually spoke?” Marinette asked.

A bitterly amused smirk flashed across Alya’s features. “I’ve never seen your father so fearsome. I’m fairly certain he threatened to break every single bone in Theo’s body.”

It didn’t surprise Marinette. “And Theo believed him?”

Alya’s smirk grew. “Only once your father had his hands around his neck and said, ‘want to bet?’”

Marinette’s expression soon mirrored Alya’s. “I almost wish I was there to see it.”

Alya’s chuckle was borderline dark. “Every possible question I could think of, I asked. Everything from what he was doing here to the men he sent to kill us to what his next plan was.”

“Can you give us a short version of his answers?”

Alya’s lips pulled into a thin line. “The shortest summery I can give you is nothing less than bad news.”

Marinette’s stomach twisted at that.

“After he freed the prisoner, a man by the name of Xavier who is apparently an assassin from the kingdom of France, he kept close eye on us. He watched the men take off to France and sent his assassin to go before them to warn the king. Apparently, Theo told Xavier to tell the king that if Theo didn’t arrive within four days of the arrival of Prince Adrien, to…well…to execute them all.”

Marinette’s eyes widened. Over the sudden lightheadedness, she could hear Tikki gasp and Alix release a quiet “no” under her breath.

Even Alya bit her lip. “I don’t know what we’re supposed to do. I don’t think Theo knows the plan, so it’s possible that the men might complete it before the king can give the order to execute them. But at the same time, they might not. And we can’t release Theo because even if he does return to France within those four days—”

“He’ll have Adrien executed in a heartbeat.” Dread sank so heavy in Marinette’s gut that she felt the urge to throw it up. Tears swam in her eyes, blurring her vision, and it became very hard to breathe as her chest tightened.

“There has to be a way to warn them,” Alix said, her own voice shaking. “There has to be.”

Marinette begged her mind to function. To think. To save her husband and Tikki’s husband and the love of Alix’s life. But what could they possibly…?

Slowly, the beginnings of a plan came to her mind. “We’ll have to ensure that Theo gets there on time.”

The girls each shot their own confused look to Marinette.

“He has four days,” Marinette continued, her voice growing steadier. “The boys left two days ago which means we are going to have to make good time to get there, but—”

“Marinette,” Alya interrupted. “Are you crazy? We can’t go marching into the Kingdom of France. We’ll be captured and—”

“And we don’t have a choice,” Alix interrupted. “I think I see where Marinette is going with this, and if we want to save the men, it’s the only option we have right now.”

Alya gave a tense sigh, but her posture proved she had relented.

It was Tikki who spoke her worry. “What sort of crazy plan are you concocting?”

Marinette gave them a pitying look. “Something none of you will like.”

“Why…?”

“Because it involves taking Theo as our hostage and traveling to France.”

Chapter Text

From the moment he woke that morning, Adrien dreaded the day. Not only did he fear the final day of travel to Castle France, but he still had no idea just what they were going to do with their prisoner. When the night watch had caught the man sneaking around last night, Adrien had instructed the guards to tie him to a tree post and wait for the morning. Now, morning had come, and he still didn’t know what to do. The most tempting option was to leave that decision up to Plagg, but Adrien worried that might result in him assisting Plagg in hiding a dead body. However, as the morning dragged on, Adrien found himself caring less and less about being part of that as the man kept up his incessant squawking.

“Shut your yapper,” Plagg threatened.

“Or what? You’ll poke me to death?”

“Don’t tempt me.”

“Plagg,” Adrien warned. “Not yet.”

Adrien wondered if he should be worried how amused he got from the way Plagg turned a dark grin on the now frightened prisoner.

“Tell him,” Adrien instructed, a plan forming in his mind, “he has a grand total of five minutes to tell us who he is, how he escaped, and what his mission is, or else I’ll turn a blind eye to whatever technique you employ to kill him.”

Plagg’s smile grew wider, mostly for show. “Can I tell him how I plan to do so?”

“Depending on what your plan is, it might be more productive.”

Plagg’s green eyes flashed dangerously as he turned his attention back to the tied-up prisoner. “Would you like to know?”

Pretending not to squirm, the man looked on at Plagg expectantly.

“Well, for each answer to the three questions, I’ll tell you one phase of how I plan to kill you. Does that seem fair?”

“But there’s a catch,” Adrien interrupted. The man turned back to him, fear still clear in his owlish eyes. “If you answer all three of the questions, Plagg’s plot to kill you will be held against him in a court of law should he chose to go through with it.”

A hand suddenly clapped Adrien’s shoulder. Jumping in shock, Adrien whipped around to see Nino standing there with lazy grin on his face and a pocket watch in his hand. “And may I remind you,” Nino said, addressing the prisoner. “That you have four minutes and twenty seconds left to complete this limited time offer.”

The man blinked rapidly as he processed the information he was given.

Twenty seconds ticked by in silence before Plagg growled. “How about you start with an easy one. Your name.”

The man stared back at Plagg before looking to Adrien.

Clearly, the man needed a little persuasion. “Plagg,” Adrien said, “you brought your favorite knife, correct?”

“The one I used to filet three men on the battlefield?” he responded, laying it on thick for show. “Of course, I did. Did you think I would leave home without it?”

Adrien grinned at seeing the fear that once again overtook their captive. The man didn’t need to know that Plagg had only stabbed said three men out of self-defense before stripping them of all their supplies. Honestly, Adrien didn’t even think Plagg would have the guts to do such a thing, nor did he believe for a second that Plagg would brutally kill the man. He was more of a quick and efficient killer, but that wasn’t the kind of threat that made a captive talk.

“Xavier Ramier.”

“See,” Nino teased. “That wasn’t so hard.”

“And now Plagg will keep up his end of the deal, correct?” Adrien said.

Plagg crossed his arms. “Since Adrien was kind enough to remind me of that knife, how about I show you what you did?”

The man swallowed hard, and if Adrien didn’t know any better, he would have said the man was sweating.

“So, second question,” Adrien continued, keeping things moving. “How did you escape the shed?”

Xavier wrinkled his nose at the question.

Nino glanced down at his watch. “Three minutes.”

“Lord Barbot assisted me,” he answered. “As per our deal.”

“Deal?” Plagg prodded.

But the man scowled. “My question is answered. And now you have to hold up your end of the bargain.”

Plagg frowned, but growled something quickly under his breath. All Adrien could manage from it were the words “fire” and “rope.”

“I think it’s hilarious just how much power this man thinks he has,” Nino whispered.

Adrien couldn’t help but smile at that. “Entitled and very stupid,” he whispered in return.

Nino sniggered as he looked down at his watch. “Two minutes. Last question: what is your mission right now?”

The man wasted thirty precious seconds staring down each one of the men, clearly debating about whether they truly meant their words. As if to prove it, Plagg pulled out his knife and began rubbing his fingers against the blade in act of testing its sharpness.

“I have only one thing to tell the king: if Barbot doesn’t return within four days of you arriving at the castle, the king should execute you all.”

Plagg’s eyes widened, Nino’s attention was directed fully on Xavier, and Adrien felt his stomach twist. “So,” Adrien prodded once he regained his ability to speak. “You’re saying that the king likely won’t execute us without your say so?”

But the man clammed up. “The deal is a deal.”

Plagg growled, reaching for the man’s shirt, but Adrien stopped him with a sharp call. “He’s right.”

“What?” Plagg snapped.

Nino snapped his watch shut. “The man’s right,” he said, making a subtle motion with his head. “As much as I hate to say it.”

Slowly, realization dawned over Plagg. And it was only that realization that caused him to put his knife away. “You’re lucky,” he growled at the man before storming off.

The man smirked, looking as though he won.

But Adrien grinned, knowing the man was far from such a feat. “Nino,” he whispered to his friend. “Ask Kim to round out the rest of my questions from him. Most importantly, what Theo is doing back in Paris. And if Kim isn’t enough to make the man talk, I have nothing wrong with him being tossed around between the men.”

Nino nodded conspiratorially. “I think Kim will finish the job rather nicely, but if he doesn’t, I doubt our little assassin will know what hit him.”


 

Castle France appeared in the distance, and uncertainty once again grew in Adrien’s gut. Even with the new information Kim had gleaned from the man, the confirmation that King Hawkmoth wouldn’t execute Adrien unless he served no purpose was hardly a comfort. In Adrien’s mind, King Hawkmoth was unpredictable. Who knew if the man would truly let him live? Even if he did, there wasn’t a guarantee he would extend that curtesy to the men as well, and that thought sickened Adrien more than he cared to admit. Several of the men here had families, and it was his responsibility to ensure that those women and children got to see these men return to them alive and well.

Then again, he also had a duty to return alive and well. He clutched at his cloak, Marinette surfacing in his mind. From the vague answers Xavier had provided for Kim, it seemed as though Theo was going to attempt to capture Alix and the earrings, not go after Marinette. He would be lying if he said it didn’t worry him, though. He tried to rationalize that Theo would know going after Marinette would be a foolhardy attempt, one that he would never succeed in. As long as the girls stayed in the castle, the guards would protect them, but not even that settled his worry for Marinette. Would she be safe? Would Theo manage to get her despite all that?

Adrien shook his head, begging it to clear. Surely, he was being paranoid, but no matter how many times he said it, it didn’t bring any greater comfort. At this point, he could only hope that she would be safe and that he would be able to return to her alive and well. After all, he promised her they would start a family, and he always strove to fulfill his promises. Especially a promise as sweet as this one.

Then, unbidden, another thought arose, one that had haunted him several times throughout the journey. He did his best to shove the thought away, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t deny the possibility that…that there was already a child. Considering the nature of their relationship, it was entirely possible, but it only served to wrap more fear around his heart. The thought of his child growing up without a father or Marinette raising a babe without him by her side was not a picture he wanted to imagine.

Eventually, the castle was but a short distance away. Adrien instructed the men to raise the white flags into full view. Even though they clearly came in peace, there was no guarantee that the king would invite Adrien in to draw up a treaty. Adrien hoped that King Hawkmoth would be smart enough to take up him on the apparent offer, but if the man was as smart as Kim and Alix claimed, he likely would try to outsmart Adrien in his own plan. Considering that Adrien was going to account for that, he really didn’t know what was going to happen.

And that didn’t sit well with him.

Hoping for strength or just a little distraction, he turned to Nino. Unfortunately, the look that passed between them said they both had equal confidence in this plan. Adrien sighed, rubbing his exhausted eyes. It was far too late to turn back or make any other adjustments to the plan seeing as Plagg and Kim had already turned off. This would either work, or they all would go down trying to scrap it back together.

When they got close enough to the castle, French soldiers rapidly descended upon them in mass. Adrien ordered his entourage to halt before maneuvering his horse to the front of the group. When the soldiers encircled them, Adrien held his hands up in a form of surrender. “I am Prince Adrien of Paris. I have come to meet King Hawkmoth in order to negotiate peace.”

A murmur rose from the soldiers before one who obviously held rank silenced them. “Follow,” he demanded.

The castle was far more ominous up close. Adrien had been here once as a child, but he didn’t remember it being so dark and fearsome. Furthermore, the district feeling that the interior held his doom was not a feeling he recalled having before.

When the group stopped, the head guard ordered them to dismount. He shouted some orders for his soldiers to take Adrien’s men away before he instructed Adrien to follow him.

“If I may,” Adrien spoke up, placing a hand on Nino’s shoulder. “I would like to request ”

“Request denied,” the man interrupted. “Either follow me to the king or not at all.”

Adrien frowned at the man, but a hand on his shoulder called his attention. Nino shook his head in way of saying it wasn’t worth fighting over. While Adrien disagreed with his friend, he wasn’t going to fight Nino.

With a sigh, Adrien relented, patting Nino’s shoulder in apology. “All right.”

Adrien followed the guard into the doors of the castle all the while listening to the orders the soldiers outside barked at his men. Before the doors could close, Adrien turned around to steal one last look at his entourage. Nino tilted his hat at Adrien, a motion that Adrien knew well enough to understand was an encouragement.

When the doors shut with a bang, Adrien blinked rapidly at the sudden darkness. It took him a moment for his eyes to adjust, and once they did, he noticed the guard that had paused impatiently for him.

Adrien quickly started to follow the man down the hallways of the castle. Absently, Adrien looked out every window they passed wondering where Plagg and Kim were at that moment.

The guard suddenly turned and raised his hand in a ‘halt’ motion. “Wait here,” he instructed. “I will inform the king of your presence. When he is ready, he will come get you himself. In the meantime, I advise you not to move from this spot.”

The warning glare he pierced Adrien with spoke volumes. Still, Adrien stood tall in determination not to let a mere soldier, no matter the rank, intimidate him. “Understood.”

The man nodded curtly before spinning on his heel and marching down the hallway, soles of his boots clicking against the hard floors. The flames of the torches followed him as he breezed by, flickering in the dark hallway. When the man disappeared at the end of the hallway into a door that shut with a reverberating thud, Adrien allowed himself to relax slightly.

As he examined his surroundings, he decided that this definitely hadn’t been part of the castle when he had been here last. Princess Alix had been—and still was—a bit of a rouge. She had indulged Adrien in showing off even the restricted parts of the castle.

Adrien was certain that this hadn’t been part of that secret tour.

“Well, well,” a feminine voice spoke up from behind him, causing him to jump. “I didn’t know we would be graced with the presence of the Prince of Paris.”

Adrien turned around out of curiosity, only to be met with a smirking woman standing with a hand on her cocked hip while the other hand was splayed across her chest as if in shock. “If I had known,” she said, slowly sauntering up to him. “I would have put on a nicer dress.”

She dragged her hand downwards, the movement drawing Adrien’s attention. Upon noticing how low the neckline of her bright orange dress plunged, he forced himself to look up to her face. Yes, he absently thought, you should have.

“Seeing as we never had the chance to be formally acquainted,” she continued, stopping right before him, “allow me to introduce myself. I am Princess Lila Rossi, King Hawkmoth’s heir.”

He didn’t miss the way her neckline seemed to reveal even more when she dipped into a curtsy. He bowed, less out of respect and more so that he wouldn’t have to look at her ample bosom. “Prince Adrien Agreste of Paris.”

Pleased, she hummed. “Pleasure to meet you.”

He noticed she stood up again, so he did the same. “The pleasure is mine,” he responded, mostly out of habit.

“What brings you? Surely not my uncle.”

Adrien froze a moment, his brow raising in silent question before he dismissed her comment. “I came on my own accord in hopes to set up a peace treaty with him.”

Her brow quirked in confusion, her head tilting to the side. “You’ve come to surrender?”

He decided that agreeing would be the best course of action considering that’s what he was mockingly doing.

Lila made a show of sighing with relief, her hand once again coming back up to her chest and drawing attention. Honestly, he thought to himself, does this woman have any class? It was barely a second later that Adrien recalled that this was Theo’s lover. It didn’t make it acceptable, but it explained quite a bit.

“How wonderful,” she said, smile coming to her lips. “This war has only caused trouble and damage. For it to end will be a blessing.”

To that, Adrien could truthfully agree.

“Seeing as my uncle might be a while,” she said, looking past him down the hallway. “Would you like to join me for tea? Surely you’ve had an exhausting journey.”

“I have,” Adrien admitted. “But I was asked to wait here, and I will not test your uncle in leaving.”

“He’ll understand if you’re with me,” she assured. “He would think me rude if I ignored you and went on my way.”

“But he’ll understand if I decline in order to keep my instructions,” he firmly responded.

She pouted. “Then that puts us at an impasse. For he would berate me on my manners for not caring for our guest. Especially one of your status.”

“Then I will be certain to tell him that I was the one who declined your offer.” Frankly, anything to get this woman to leave would be preferable. She had a rather suffocating presence and acted in a far too familiar fashion. He must have taken several steps back just to keep a respectable distance between them. Not to mention he would like her to get a more appropriate dress or shawl to cover herself.

“Come now,” she coaxed. “Surely, you’re exhausted, or thirsty at least. Allow me to get you something to drink.”

As much as he would have liked some water, he was going nowhere with this woman. “Thank you, but I’ll pass.”

In the glint of the firelight, her green eyes flashed with irritation, but she quickly covered it with a smile. “Then allow me to keep you company until my uncle arrives. With him, who knows when that will be.”

Adrien fought his urge to frown. Instead, he turned around to face the door the soldier had headed into, partly because he wanted to see exactly when he would be beckoned in but mostly to turn his eyes away from this woman.

Unfortunately, Lila ended up at his side, grabbing at his arm. No matter how much he wanted to, he didn’t retract his arm. Curse his deeply ingrained manners. “If I may be so bold, you are quite the handsome young man.”

“Thank you,” he absently responded.

“Surely, you must attract attention of many a woman.”

“Mostly of the unwarranted and unwanted variety.”

Lila giggled. Even though he had only just met her, he could tell her laughter was fake. One didn’t spend as much time as he had with several young ladies vying for his attention all at once and not learn the difference between fake and real laughter. “The downfalls of people with our status,” she bemoaned. “People who want to marry for rank, not pleasure.”

Then she shifted closer, forcing Adrien to take a half-step sideways.

“But that’s what is so perfect about the two of us,” she purred out, running a hand up his arm. “We aren’t searching for advancement in rank.”

He reached out to grab her hand, pushing it away from him. He could tell his gruffness shocked her, but he wasn’t going to put up with this little vixen’s flirting any longer. “I’m married, and I would thank you very much for remembering such a fact.”

Her eyes shot wide at that revelation, and her grip on his arm loosened. “And here I thought we would make the perfect couple,” she weakly responded, attempting to salvage the conversation. “I never heard anything about the prince marrying anyone.”

“It was held in secret to a woman I love very much,” he sharply said, piecing together mostly-truths.

“Oh,” was all she said before a silence slipped between them. He noticed, however, that even though the silence stretched long, she never released his arm. He was half tempted to rip it away but held better manners than that.

“Maybe, once all this war nonsense is over, I could meet her,” Lila said. “Surely, she must be a sight to behold.”

“Maybe,” was all Adrien responded with.

“What was her former title?”

At this, Adrien froze, a momentary panic flooding him before he managed to pull together an answer. “Viscountess.”

“Of…?”

Adrien didn’t want to answer, but he couldn’t be rude. But if he answered, there was a grand possibility that Theo had told her enough for her to throw the pieces together rather quickly.

He tried to think of an answer, but she spoke before him. “Would it, by any chance, be the Viscountess of Noir?”

His eyes widened, and when he turned to look at her, dread swept over him at the sight of her crafty smile.

Her fingers crawled up his arm once again, but he was too stunned to pull away. “A good princess,” she purred out, a sly grin on her face, “educates herself on the lineage of those of her status, including those from other kingdoms. A smart princess knows when to make connections between overlaps that are too…coincidental.”

Her eyes sparked with something dangerous, and that dread in Adrien’s gut began to churn uncomfortably.

She chuckled, amused with herself. “Why bother with her? What purpose does she serve? She’s a peasant you married—”

“To protect her from your lover.”

This time, it was Adrien who had the dangerous glint in his eye while Lila was the one to stand shock still. “Don’t think I don’t know about that. What purpose does he serve?”

Her eyes hardened. “Many a purpose,” she defended. “Such as doing whatever Uncle wants. And if Uncle isn’t around, then it’s me he serves.”

Adrien sneered in disgust. “He’s your yes-man, then. Pathetically wrapped up in whatever mess you need him to dive into so you can keep your hands clean.”

“An asset,” she corrected.

“One who will turn on you faster than you can blink.”

Lila snorted amusedly. “He’s not that smart.”

“But he’s powerful and willing to go to great lengths.”

“Precisely why he’s useful.”

Adrien scoffed. “What useful things can he possibly do other than playing the dog and going to fetch whatever you want him to?”

“Like your precious wife?”

He faltered for a second, but that chink in his armor was clearly visible to Lila. She took hold of it and ran before he could collect himself. “Don’t think he doesn’t have the power to drag her back here. And don’t think he wouldn’t. He likes finishing what he started, and when he wants to break a filly, he knows he has to wait for the stallion to leave first.”

A disgusting metaphor. One that sent his gut rolling, but it also sent his heart pounding for a whole other reason.

“You seemed to be so willing to take her before,” she continued, her sly smile growing. “But are you willing to take a soiled dove?”

“You’re lying,” he snapped. There was no way she could know that. And there was no way Theo could get to Marinette. She was safe. She had to be safe.

She shrugged. “I might be. But how can you be certain?”

His heart clenched, and his head chanted that it was just lies. That they had to be. But it was too late. The seed of doubt was planted firmly in his heart, and there wasn’t any way to reason with his mind when it was engulfed in panic.

He snapped from his stupor when Lila ran a hand up his chest to pat his heart. He tried to step away, but his back hit the wall. Considering the twinkle in her eye, she found it very amusing. “And do you think you truly love her enough to look past that?” She then made a show of gasping. At least she removed her hand from him. “And what would you do if she conceived a bastard child. No…” the sparkle in her eye grew sharp, like a knife blade. “What would your father do?”

Flashing one last sly smile, she patted his cheek teasingly before sashaying away, her dress swinging on her hips with every step.

Someone cleared their throat, calling Adrien’s attention. He stood tall on instinct, but he felt his face flare with embarrassment when he realized who was standing in front of him. Dressed in head to toe in purple with a gold cane in his hand, King Hawkmoth stood regally before him.

And the scowl proved that he had witnessed the scene that had transpired.

“If you are finished flirting with my niece,” he growled. “Then you can follow me.”

The king spun on his heel marching down the hallway at a clip that proved he didn’t remotely need that cane.

Despite the shame and embarrassment flooding him, an overwhelming fear and doubt consumed him entirely. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he told himself to pull it together and face the king like the prince he was. But that was easier said than done when all he could see was a vison from the past. One consisting of Theo holding Marinette to the ground. Of her teary eyes begging him for help while her skirts were hitched up, making Theo’s intent clear.

While it terrified him to have witnessed such a scene the first time, he would much rather be there to see it again than to not be there when it happened.

Chapter Text

No matter how many times this plan was thought out or talked through, it didn’t make Marinette any less nervous. After all, it was basically a guarantee that the men were captured at this point. Their freedom, if not their life, rested in the successful completion of the girl’s plan.

That, and the plan involved Theo. That alone was enough to cause Marinette considerable worry. Especially considering that he was currently their only way onto the grounds of Castle France.

“I cannot believe your plan is this pathetic,” Theo grumbled, gripping the reins to the horse driving their cart.

“It will work if you cooperate,” Marinette hissed, peeking out from the tarp tied over the back of the cart.

“And if you don’t,” Alix threatened from Theo’s side on the driver’s bench, “a knife into the side is a very painful way to die. Bleeding out hopelessly while you struggle—”

“I know,” Theo interrupted. “I think you’ve told me a hundred different times how I would die from a stab wound. Speaking of which, remove that thing from my side.”

“But I think it’s far more effective to position the knife right here,” she sassed back. Her smirk seemed to be highlighted whenever the sun flashed on the dagger she had pointed right below Theo’s ribcage. “After all, the entire point of this knife is to keep you motivated not to die. If you keep your mouth shut and say your lines, you live. If not, you die.”

“And all of you rats with it,” Theo retorted.

And that was the catch. Marinette believed that Theo valued his life enough to play along, but on the slim chance he didn’t, they were all goners.

“But don’t you want it this way?” Marinette coaxed. “If King Hawkmoth dies, then you marry Lila and become king over the land.”

“But you’re forgetting one thing,” he retorted. “The ring and the earrings. I know you’re in possession of them, and the fact that you know that I know it makes matters incredibly difficult.”

Marinette bit her lip. Theo was right. He believed that they weren’t going to give the gems up any time soon, and if they did give the worthless gems up easily, Theo would suspect a trick. There was no winning that situation.

Unless they revealed the secret.

While she was debating it, Marinette felt a tap on her hip. From the gap in the tarp, Marinette could see Tikki giving her a look of confirmation. With that, the only thing left was for Marinette to hope it would work. “They mean nothing.”

Theo chuckled in disbelief.

“Don’t believe us?” Alix asked tauntingly. “Have you ever seen the document?”

He turned just enough for Marinette to see his smile fall slightly.

“The document that Hawkmoth believes gives the earrings and ring power is actually a treaty with those gems given as gifts. They don’t hold the power he thinks they hold.”

This garnered a skeptical look from Theo.

Alix responded with a large grin. “Come now, Theo. We both know the man is delusional. But that creates the perfect cover for you. If he’s distracted by the gems, you get to pretend to play his game while you plan to take over.”

For a moment, Theo actually seemed intrigued before a doubtful brow slammed down over his eyes. “And how do I know you’re not lying?” he demanded.

“Since I know you won’t take my word for it, why don’t you take a look at the document. Pay attention to the wording. It’s very deceptive.”

He stared at her for a moment before turning back to driving the cart.

Alix looked over her shoulder to Marinette, each sharing a glance that was both hopeful and worried. Theo wasn’t completely stupid to just go along with this plan. He was mulling over their words, and then likely concocting a plan of his own, meaning the girls had to be cautious and one step ahead of him.

Marinette dropped the cover over the cart, plunging her back into the hazy darkness the tarp created. She could make out Alya and Tikki’s forms curled underneath it, but not much more.

The cart soon pulled to a stop, and that was when the sound akin to rolling thunder could be heard. Marinette felt her heart pound when the sound grew before shadows flickered over top her. She shrunk down, holding as still as she could, all while hoping Theo went along with the plan so the guards wouldn’t suspect anything.

“Theo Barbot,” one of the guards gruffly said.

“I’m here to see the king, obviously.”

The man huffed, but Marinette could hear the man’s amusement. “Here to prove you can fix your mistakes?”

Theo growled. And Marinette smirked. She wondered if Alix was smirking, too.

“Go on, then. The king will be happy to have her back. He might even give you another chance.”

With a snap, the cart started up again.

“Wait,” another guard said. “What’s in the cart?”

And that’s when Marinette’s heart dropped to the ground while her stomach twisted in sickening knots.

“He’s got a point,” the first soldier said. “You never travel with a cart.”

“I usually don’t have a high-maintenance runaway either,” Theo returned.

There was a pause long enough for Marinette to silently beg the man three times over to believe Theo’s story.

“Touché,” he relented. “Go on, then.”

Marinette let out the breath she’d been holding, and she was certain that Tikki and Alya did the same.

The cart rumbled underneath them, but Marinette still stayed shock still, mostly because it hit her that this was it. They were now on the enemy’s territory, about to sneak into his own castle.

It was far more nerve-wracking than Marinette had anticipated.

Eventually, they slowed. “We’re here,” Alix said, just loud enough for Marinette to hear.

Shifting in preparation to leap up in an instant, Marinette’s entire body tensed with anticipation for the next signal.

It was several heartbeats later Alix slapped the bench.

All at once, Marinette, Alya, and Tikki scurried out from under the tarp and hurried to find a place to hide away from the stable hands. Alix had clearly been on the lookout for them because within seconds, they were hidden among a bunch of stacked supplies.

The wagon continued on, stopping right before the barn entrance where they were greeted by stable hands ready to take the horse and unload the cart.

Marinette turned back to Alya and Tikki. “Remember what Alix told you?”

The two girls nodded. “She described everything so well, I feel like I’ve been here before,” Alya returned.

Marinette couldn’t disagree with that. Alix had told them several times the layout of the castle. She’d even gone so far as to draw out maps on paper with pieces of charcoal for them. “You know if we all could go in together, I would suggest we would. It would have been easier.”

“We know why we can’t,” Tikki assured. “It will draw too much attention, and considering our mission depends on us not calling attention to ourselves…”

Marinette returned a hopeful smile. “Let’s hope that we have a bit of luck on our side, huh?”

Alya and Tikki both nodded. “We’ll be fine,” Alya said. “But you should go now. Alix and Theo surely have enough of a head start. Alya and I will meet you two in there.”

“And you remembered the dagger, right?” Tikki asked Marinette. “It’s a little late now, but—”

“Don’t worry, I got it.” To prove it, Marinette pulled the sheathed dagger her father had given her out from the folds of her skirt. When he had first presented it to her, she’d been shocked. Despite his size and stature, Papa was a peaceful man. It was only after he told her the knife had been in the family for generations that her surprise had faded.

“And you don’t have to use the sharp end,” Papa had told her, flipping the dagger around. “Taking the blunt end with enough force to the back of someone’s neck will knock them out faster than you could blink.”

And that was exactly what she needed to do to Theo. Once he had gotten them into the house, he had served his purpose. They just needed a place to hide him. Then Alya and Tikki would guard their captive while Alix and Marinette went off to finish part two of their plan.

Peeking out past the crates, Marinette ensured there was no one around—or paying attention, at least—before emerging from her hiding spot and heading inside. Even if she was spotted, she was wearing the typical servant’s attire—just as Alix, Alya, and Tikki all were—in order to blend in. Hopefully, no one would pay her any mind, and if they did, she just hoped she was close enough to the entrance to duck inside before they noticed she wasn’t a familiar face.

She released a breath of relief when she managed to make it through the door. Theo and Alix were standing there waiting. Except Theo didn’t wait long before he spun on his heel and marched off.

Marinette nearly got frustrated with it, but when she grasped the handle of her dagger, she realized it was better this way. He wouldn’t see it coming.

Three paces away, she pulled out the dagger, preparing herself to strike. Don’t think about it, she internally scolded, or else you won’t do it.

Two paces from him, she readied her stance, eyeing the spot on his neck she would have to hit.

She resisted the urge to close her eyes as she took that last step and raised her arm hard and fast. The dagger gave a jolt when it struck Theo, but Marinette ignored how uncomfortable that feeling was because she had succeeded in hitting her target spot on. Within a second, Theo was face down on the ground, unconscious.

“That’s one way to do it, I suppose.”

Barely managing to suppress the urge to scream, Marinette whipped around to face the assailant, only to catch sight of a rather calm man stroking his chin thoughtfully while he studied Theo. “Apparently, efficient, too.”

“Jalil!” Alix whisper-squealed, running towards him with her arms open wide.

He was smiling by the time he caught her, picking the short girl off her feet as he returned her hug.

Slowly, Marinette lowered her dagger. As her mind started back up again, she realized that this must be Alix’s brother.

“What are you doing back here? Did he catch you?” Jalil then set Alix down and held her out at arm’s length while his expression turned worried. “Did he hurt you?”

Her smile fell. “Well, almost. But he didn’t!” she quickly assured. “I’m fine. Perfectly. Really. And… actually… it ended up being the other way around.”

Alix’s words didn’t remotely put Jalil at ease. “What are you talking about?”

She sighed heavily. “It’s a long story that I promise to explain, but right now, we need to get Theo tied up and locked away.”

When Jalil looked over her shoulder again, his expression hardened. “All right. We’ll hide him away. Then, I want you to tell me everything. Clear?”

Alix nodded. “I promise.”

With that, Jalil turned his attention to the unconscious Theo. “Grab his legs,” he instructed. He grabbed under Theo’s arms and began dragging him down the hall. Alix picked one of his legs up off the ground, and Marinette got the other. Together, the three of them made their way into an unused room. After dropping Theo inside, Jalil shut the door.

“Wait,” Alix quickly realized. “Alya and Tikki.”

“They’ll be here any moment, right?” Marinette said. “They were only supposed to wait until the count of sixty to come in after me. Unless there was someone blocking them, they should be here.”

“Go back into the hall and wait for them,” Jalil said. “You’ll be safe as long as there are no guards crawling around.”

“But what about the staff?” Alix questioned.

A slight smile came across Jalil’s face. “Ever since you got out, Hawkmoth had quite the conniption. I won’t go into detail, but when all was said and done, the staff turned on him, hopeful that you’d bring help to free the kingdom once again. They aren’t going to stand up to fight, mind you, but they are more than willing to turn a blind eye to anything fishy going on around here.”

That little bit of information provided a strange sort of comfort. “All right,” Marinette said. “Alix will start filling you in on the story. When I come back with Alya and Tikki, we’ll fill you in on our plan. Maybe we can enlist some of the servants help to make sure we get away with it.”

When Jalil nodded his agreement, Marinette slipped out of the room, retracing her steps down the hallways they had wandered. She froze when she saw two sets of shadows, but when she realized who those shadows belonged to, she relaxed.

Stepping out of the hallway into their view, Marinette beckoned Alya and Tikki to follow her.

“You got him fast,” Alya whispered, pulling a length of rope from hidden in the folds of her skirt. “I half expected for us to catch up to you before you knocked him out.”

Marinette nodded. “I was lucky. He turned his back and I did it before I could talk myself out of it.”

Alya placed a hand on Marinette’s shoulder. “Either way, good job.”

Marinette gave her a thankful smile. She opened the door to the room Theo had been hidden in, revealing Alix calmly explaining everything to Jalil.

Of course, the sight of him caused Tikki and Alya to pause.

“No, he’s okay,” Marinette quickly assured. “That’s Jalil, Alix’s brother.” Marinette turned back to Alix. “Keep explaining. We’ll take care of Theo.”

As if to prove it, Alya raised the rope she brought in.

Jalil smirked. “You girls seemed to have thought of everything.”

“And crossed our fingers for some serious luck,” Alya added.

“No doubt. Considering you all are here, I would say you definitely found some.”

By the time that Alya, Tikki, and Marinette finished tying Theo, completing his bondage with a cloth gag Tikki brought in, Jalil looked like he might just explode with anger. “He’s lucky you need him alive, right now,” Jalil said. “Or I’d wring his neck on the spot.”

“You might have to compete with my husband for that right,” Marinette cut in.

When Jalil gave her a curious look, Alix gasped. “Sorry,” she said. “I forgot to introduce you all. This is Princess Marinette Agreste of Paris. Then we have her lady-in-waiting, Tikki, and Marinette’s best friend, Alya. Marinette was the mastermind behind our current plan.”

“One that’s very stupid,” Jalil argued. “Like I said, you had to have had some serious luck on your side to have made it this far.”

“But we had no choice,” Marinette said. “If we didn’t do something, then all the men who came would have died. Theo said he sent a man ahead of him—”

“One who never arrived.”

Marinette’s eyes opened wide while Alya mumbled something under her breath. It was Tikki who asked, “What do you mean?”

“I know who Theo’s little assistant is,” Jalil said. “Seen him a couple times. Actually, I remember him because of that public trial he was in several years ago. The man is bad news, but I haven’t seen or heard about him recently.”

“Meaning we came out here in vain,” Alya realized defeatedly.

“No, surely we can do something useful,” Alix said, hope and uncertainty warring for dominance in her voice.

“What was your plan?” Jalil asked. “Maybe if you communicated with Adrien and Kim, you could be an asset. I know Kim said—”

“You’ve seen Kim?” Alix asked, her eyes wide as she stared at her brother.

A hint of a smirk flashed on Jalil’s face. “Yes. I was out in the gardens when I crossed paths with him. He and a man named Plagg are around the grounds. I’ve told them all I could about Hawkmoth’s habits in hopes to help. Before we parted ways, he said that if I could find a man named Nino, then we could keep in contact via him. Supposedly, he’s in the castle, but with all the soldiers, I don’t know who it is.”

“We’ll tell you later,” Marinette said. “But you’re right. With the men still here and not at risk of being executed—as far as we all know, anyway—then we’ll be able to serve as an asset to them, either helping with their plan or them helping with ours.”

“Which I still haven’t gotten told,” Jalil said.

“We have Theo,” Marinette explained. “It seems that Hawkmoth favors him for his ‘usefulness’. However, from the sounds of it, Lila is his biggest weakness. If we capture her, then we have an advantage over him. From there, I would approach him to offer Lila and Theo in exchange for the men. Alix said once he favors his office and the library, so I would meet him in one of those places.”

“And what would you do if he attacked?” Jalil questioned. “Because contrary to what most think, he’s actually a skilled swordsman. He’s got a blade hidden in that cane of his.”

Marinette pulled out her dagger and unsheathed it. It wasn’t the best thing, and truth be told, she didn’t want to kill anyone. But the fact was that she was now in the midst of war, and while not the main battle line, this was still the battlefield. “I am ready to take him out if it comes down to it. I don’t think he would see it coming. And if I take Alix in the room with me, one of us would surely land an attack.”

Jalil frowned. “That’s a crazy plan.”

“It was the only one we had,” Alix defended. “And all of the other ones were even crazier than that.”

He sighed, clearly stressed, and rubbed his eyes tiredly. “All right. Listen. I think the best thing you girls could do right now is to halt your plan until you speak with the others. Seeing as they aren’t captured, as you were all led to believe, they will likely provide a much better plan than the one you have.”

Marinette bowed her head slightly, unwilling to admit how right Jalil was. “All right. Do you know where they are?”

“As I said, I doubt you’ll be able to speak to Kim and Plagg. But Prince Adrien’s room is down this hallway, take a left, then a right to the stairs. Proceed up them, then right, right, and the third door on the left. The soldiers are all being housed down in the guards’ quarters, but considering they are off limits for most people during the day, you girls should be able to slip down there without being seen. Hopefully, anyway.”

“So hallway, left, right, stairs, right, right, left?” Marinette asked.

Jalil nodded. “Third door. While I’d offer to watch Theo for the meantime, I have to get back to work. I know I’m being watched.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Alix dismissed. “You’ve helped enough already. Get back to work so that you don’t end up under even more surveillance.” She gently shoved his shoulder, forcing him towards the door.

He chuckled then ruffled her hair affectionately. “Best of luck. If you need me, you know where to find me.”

“That I do. Now, go.” Once again, Alix shoved at his shoulder, but this time, he listened and headed out the door.

“Marinette,” Alix directed, her princess side shining in the way her eyes narrowed and she took on an air of authority. “Go to Adrien, but be careful. I’ll go to the servants’ quarters. Alya, Tikki, keep an eye on Theo. Knock him out again if he’s loud. Got it?”

The girls all nodded.

“Okay. Let’s go.”

Alix was out the door faster than Marinette could blink. Once she processed Alix was gone, she forced herself forward and out the door, determined to get to Adrien all while hoping he was in his room. “Left, right, stairs. Right, right, third on left.” It was her chant as she carefully and cautiously continued onwards. She was lucky to stay out of sight for the most part, slipping down the hallways as silently as she possibly could. When she reached the door that was supposedly the door to Adrien’s room, her heart was pounding so hard she could barely hear anything else.

“Please, please be the right door,” she quietly begged. Before she lost all confidence, she grabbed the door handle. She was in such a nervous haze that she didn’t notice a thing as she threw the door open, slipped inside, and shut it behind her. Her eyes closed on their own accord as she gasped for air, feeling like she might pass out any second.

“Marinette?”

At the sound of the wonderous voice, her eyes shot open, and she was greeted with the miraculous sight of Adrien. She sighed in relief, feeling her heart begin to slow its rapid pace as a smile slowly came across her lips.

In a few strides, Adrien crossed the room, wrapped her in his arms, and clutched her tightly, going so far as lifting her from the ground. Marinette held on tight, grasping handfuls of his shirt while feeling a sense of security and safety just being here with him.

Of course, being held like she was in his arms added a whole other layer of comfort. Because he was alive, and she was here, and they were—if even for only a moment—both all right.

“What on earth are you doing here?” he mumbled against her shoulder, still not letting her go.

“Long story,” she replied, never loosening her grip on him.

“I have plenty of time.”

Slowly, reluctantly, Adrien replaced her feet on the ground, but he still didn’t let her go. Frankly, considering how weak her knees had gotten in that short amount of time, Marinette was glad for it.

It took Adrien far too long to realize he should offer her a seat, but Marinette didn’t hold it against him. She didn’t realize how good of an idea it was for her to take a seat until she nearly collapsed into the offered chair.

Seeing as there was only one seat in the room, Adrien knelt down in front of her, his hands never letting hers go. Frankly, Marinette liked it that way: her hands in his while they each held on tight. “The story,” she remembered. “Yes. I suppose you want to hear that.”

Marinette left out no detail as she explained everything to him. She could tell his mood just by the bursts of pressure on her hands as well as the slight contortions of his expression.

“I’m not fully happy with you right now,” he admitted. “Leaving the castle was a foolish thing to do, and coming was even more so. But…” A relieved grin slowly morphed his expression. “I have to say that having you here and knowing that you’re all right, that Theo didn’t touch you…it’s a weight off my shoulders. I’ve been worried for days ever since Lila put some very unpleasant thoughts in my head.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry about that now.” She let go of his hand only so she was free to scratch his scalp in the way he enjoyed so much. His smile grew, and he let his chin rest on her knees when she began make little circles in his hair.

“Yes, but I have a whole new set of worries,” he said, rubbing circles on her knee in return. “You and all the girls here in the midst of this.”

“But we’ll be here to help,” Marinette countered. “Between all of us; the fact Hawkmoth doesn’t know about me, Alix, Tikki, and Alya all being here; and the fact that Theo—and potentially Lila—is our prisoner under his very roof, we might just have the advantage.”

Adrien didn’t look entirely convinced, but he didn’t fight her. “As much as I don’t want to agree with you, you might very well be right. However, since the plan has changed and I think your plan is slightly insane, here’s what I think we should do.”

Chapter Text

Jalil had not been kidding when he said Alix’s escape had rallied the servants and given new hope. While they had insisted they stay far from physically fighting, they had no issue with hiding the girls for the night or feeding them in the morning or giving them any other assistance they may require for executing the new plan.

A plan that made Alix smugly excited. “Sweet revenge,” she mumbled under her breath, smirking all the while.

“Cautious, Alix,” Tikki gently warned. “We’re doing this out of necessity, not revenge.”

Alix pouted. “Well, you aren’t doing it out of revenge. Nor is Alya. That’s enough for me.”

“Nor is Marinette,” Tikki warned.

Alix snorted. “You may say that, but considering that hussy was hoping to seduce Adrien, I’m doubtful Marinette doesn’t have some wish of revenge.”

Much to her chagrin, Marinette could only say, “Alix isn’t wrong.”

Tikki leveled her with a flat look.

“Tikki,” Marinette said, “I’m not going to let the need for revenge compromise the mission, but tell me you wouldn’t be feeling the same way if that ill-dressed, ill-mannered strumpet was throwing herself at Plagg.”

Suddenly, the red-head was silent, her gaze locked on the table they sat at.

“And that’s what we thought,” Alix said with a winner’s smirk.

Tikki released a relenting sigh. “All right. Just…be careful. We’re already taking a lot of risks, and if we don’t keep a level head through all this, we’re going to get in trouble.”

Alix’s hard expression softened a bit. “We know, Tikki. We remember you gave us that same warning before we started out. But we’re here now and don’t have a choice.”

“But we should still keep her out of the main action,” Marinette said, referring to Tikki.

“I’m fine,” Tikki argued.

“We know you are,” Marinette assured. “But we want you, out of all of us, to stay that way.”

“I might not even—”

“Doubtful,” the other three girls replied.

“Look,” Alya spoke up. “Tikki, you stay here and ready that room to hold Lila in. If we need you, we’ll ring three times for you. Marinette, Alix, and I will certainly have it covered.”

Tikki’s determination faded to a put-out expression. “I’m not invalid,” she mumbled.

“We know you aren’t.” Alya once again assured. “But we’re doing it because we love you and because Plagg would kill us if something happened to you now.”

Alix snorted in amusement. “What are you talking about? Plagg would kill us if he knew she was here now.”

None of the girls could disagree with that.

 The silence was short lived as a ringing bell called their attention.

“That’s our cue,” Alix said, standing from her seat.

Alya snatched the rope from the kitchen table as well as the cloth gag. “Come on, girls. Let’s go.”

“Best of luck,” Tikki said, waving them off.

“Thanks, Tikki,” Marinette said, touching Tikki’s shoulder in gratitude.

With Alix leading the way, Alya and Marinette followed swiftly and silently down the halls and through the castle. Up one hallway, down another, left, right. If she had thought Castle Paris had been hard to navigate, she had been proven wrong.

“This room,” Alix indicated. Marinette and Alya nodded, each positioning themselves on opposite sides of the doorway while Alix knocked on the door, careful to mimic the pattern Lila’s lady’s maid had taught them last night.

“Come in.”

It was somewhat of a relief that she didn’t come to the door. It would be easier to grab Lila if she was cornered in her room rather than snatch her out of the doorframe.

Alix opened the door, quickly slipping in before Marinette and Alya. Lila was standing in front of her window, looking outwards. She never saw them, nor did she give any indication that she knew just who was in the room.

“It sure took you long enough to get here,” Lila growled. She didn’t wait for an answer before continuing. “I’ll need to get ready for the day, but I don’t know what the best thing to wear is. I’ve been trying to break the prince, but he’s not responsive. Nor do I believe he will be. He knows too much, and I came off too strong in the beginning. I’m going to have to switch tactics.”

Something akin to lead settled in Marinette’s gut. Sneaking glances at Alix and Alya, Marinette noticed they had frozen in place, too. In the quick glance they shared, they silently agreed to keep quiet and let Lila continue her rant.

“A real shame, too. He’s by far the most handsome man I’ve meet.” Her voice almost took on a dreamy tone. “Tall, well-built, and the Prince of Paris. Who could have dreamed for more? We would have made the perfect couple. But he seems to be attached to some peasant girl. What does she have that I don’t? Supposedly, this girl is pretty but doesn’t possess the typical figure or beauty a man craves. And does she even give him his marriage rights? Does he know what it’s like to be loved? Considering the circumstances of their marriage, my guess is he doesn’t. Why he doesn’t leave that woman and marry a person who will actually love him?”

Forget that lead feeling; a fire lit inside Marinette, one that burned hot and fierce. Somewhere underneath that, there was a level of disgust at this girl, but for the most part, she couldn’t see past her blinding anger of her husband being talked about in this way.

Especially since Lila could never give Adrien the kind of love Marinette gave him.

“Unless you know how to get that man to talk,” Lila continued. “I’m going to have to change my sights from him to one of his guards. Because mark my words, something is going on around here and I’m determined to find out just what. The Prince of Paris doesn’t just show up unannounced without a trick up his sleeve. I doubt he’s come to willingly surrender, and clearly, he refuses to consider a marriage union. There was one guard I have my sights on, one he seemed close with. Maybe he isn’t as tightly wound up as the Prince. You know that dark-skinned one who’s always wearing that awful hat? Tell me, do you know if he’s married or not?”

“You know what I think?”

Alya’s fierce tone rang though the room, causing Lila to freeze. “I think he’s smarter than to succumb to a harlot masquerading as a princess.”

It was a blur because one second there was peace and the next, all three girls had rushed forward to detain Lila before she could scream. Somehow, they managed to be successful, Lila now glaring up from her position sitting awkwardly on the ground with her hands tied behind her and a gag over her mouth.

“Now,” Alix said, smirking. “You can either chose to cooperate, or not. You won’t like the consequences of the second option. Am I clear?”

Lila grunted, glaring daggers into Alix.

Alix gave her a twisted grin. “That’s what I thought.”

Before Alix and Marinette lifted Lila from the ground, Alya checked the outside hallway. “Hallway is clear.”

With that, the girls yanked Lila to her feet. The brunette seemed determined not to be helpful, purposefully stumbling and trying to bring the other two girls down with her.

Eventually, they did manage to get her into the room down in the servants’ quarters. They didn’t bother taking off the rope or gag, figuring they could let her sit in there a moment to calm down before returning.

“Did she come easy?” Tikki asked from behind them.

“For the most part,” Marinette answered.

“It was great,” Alix added with a grin. “She wouldn’t shut her yapper for a solid minute after we walked in. She knows we’re up to something, and she was planning to find out. As we knew, throwing herself at Adrien wasn’t working out so she was planning to seduce Nino in hopes he’d tell her what was going on. And then Alya got all jealous—”

“I was not jealous,” Alya quickly interrupted.

Alix snorted. “Liar. You got madder than Marinette, and don’t think I didn’t notice just how rough you were with Lila.”

“But I was not jealous,” she repeated.

While the two girls continued, Marinette watched as Tikki bit her lip to keep a smile at bay. When she caught Marinette’s eye, she pointed behind the bickering girls. Marinette glanced over her shoulder, only to see a blushing and bewildered Nino.

Somehow, the two girls stopped their conversation to follow Marinette’s gaze. Upon catching sight of Nino, Alix burst into laughter while Alya’s blush soon matched Nino’s.

“Well,” Nino eventually said, rubbing the back of his neck and looking away. “I was coming down to ask how everything was going so I could report to Adrien, but it seems I got my answer.”

Marinette’s smirk didn’t fade as she tried to remember another time Alya had gotten that red. “Tell him we have Lila and that he’s free to move onto the second phase.”

Nino gave a curt nod in response before spinning on his heel and marching off at a quick clip.

Once he disappeared around the corner, it took Alya all of two seconds to bear her teeth at Alix. “You’re so lucky I don’t want to cause any trouble down here.”

While being short compared to Alya, Alix didn’t seem guilty in the slightest. In fact, she looked smug. “I doubt that. I bet ten years down the line, when you two are happily married and have kids of your own running around, you’ll be thanking me for it.”

Marinette had to slap her hands over her mouth lest she burst out laughing.


 

Adrien stared absently out the window while he waited patiently for Nino to return. He wondered where Plagg and Kim were at the moment. Hopefully close, but it’s possible they were on the opposite side of the castle instead of where Adrien needed them to be. Unfortunately, last night’s attempt to contact them had failed. The needed to know about the change of plans.

The door opened, calling Adrien’s attention as Nino slipped in. “They got her.”

A proud smile crossed Adrien’s lips. “Good. Did she come easily?”

“Supposedly, yes,” Nino answered. “She wouldn’t stop talking and ended up telling the girls that you appearing out of nowhere was suspicious and she was determined to discover what was going on.”

Meaning Hawkmoth likely felt the same way. Which, in turn, didn’t bode well for him.

“I think we’ll need to execute this plan as soon as possible,” Nino continued. “With Theo still causing trouble and Lila likely not willing to stay quiet for long—”

“He’s still giving you trouble?” Adrien questioned.

Nino groaned. “He threw a fit, causing a ruckus that called the attention of some French guards. I doubt I’ll be able to defuse the situation a second time.”

“I meet with the king in the library in two hours,” Adrien said. “Hopefully, you’ll be able to keep enough of a handle on Theo until then.”

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed for it. I’m going to try one last time to get in contact with Plagg or Kim. If I can’t do it, I’ll have to ask Jalil to continue trying.”

“They need to know the girls are here, at least.”

“Something Plagg is not going to be happy about.”

That was an understatement. Plagg may have complained about missing Tikki on the way over, but Adrien knew full well that he would be furious. “While he would agree with me when I say I would much rather them be back home, I hate to admit that the girls were helpful in this case, gathering bargaining chips for us as they did.”

“I know,” Nino agreed. “I have the feeling Alya is more than willing to step head-on into trouble. Alix, too,” he quickly amended.

Adrien bit his lip to keep his smirk from showing. “I don’t like it either, but they are here and an asset. If we want this to go smoothly, we had to use them to our advantage and hope that they stay clear for us to take care of everything else.”

Nino snorted at that. Adrien knew it was too much to ask for, but he could hope.

“Anyway, if you get in contact with Plagg and Kim,” Adrien continued. “Tell me.”

“I’ll do my best to find them, but they are hidden really well.”

“Well, ‘gods of destruction’ learn not to leave markings.”

“Can’t argue with that.”

Adrien smiled at his friend. “Best of luck.”

Nino tilted his hat in return. “I think you’ll need it more than I will.”

That, Adrien conceded, was very true.

Once Nino left, it became a waiting game. It wasn’t an hour before Adrien grew impatient. He knew Hawkmoth had said he needed time to finalize the draft of the treaty as well as attend to his daily schedule, but something didn’t sit right with Adrien. Growing anxiety made sitting impossible, forcing him to stand and pace and plan. But after five minutes, even that wasn’t enough to calm his storm, so he marched from his room and began roaming the hallways.

He rounded a corner, nearly running into Jalil in the process.

He had to admit, Adrien liked this man. He’d barely known him for a day yet knew he would make a great king.

“Prepare yourself,” Jalil whispered to him. “I fear Hawkmoth has a plan up his sleeve.”

“I fear the same thing,” Adrien returned just as quietly. Jalil’s confirmation only added to the storm of anxiety. Yet, he was grateful for the warning. “Nino hasn’t returned yet from attempting his search for Kim and Plagg. But I’m unsure if he’ll be able to find him.”

“I finish this set of chores in half an hour. I’ll go look once Nino returns.”

“Perfect.”

While Adrien would have liked to talk to Jalil longer, he knew he couldn’t hold him up. Jalil was under tight surveillance, and Adrien couldn’t risk getting Jalil in trouble.

By the time Adrien had made a round of the castle, he was debating about slipping down into the servants’ quarters to see Marinette one last time. However, Nino returned before he could do so. “Any luck?”

“Worse than that.”

Dread twisted Adreian’s gut so tightly he wasn’t sure if breakfast would make a sudden reappearance. “What?”

A scowl crossed Nino’s face. “Theo’s missing.”

“What the hell do you mean ‘he’s missing’?” Adrien hissed, every nerve standing on end and goosebumps rising up on his skin.

Nino didn’t answer.

The urge to lash out was incredibly tempting, and if he didn’t keep a lid on his temper, it was a temptation he would indulge in. “How.”

“If we knew, it wouldn’t have happened,” Nino answered, clearly just as angry as Adrien. “The door was locked the whole time. One of the men went in to check on him, and he was gone.”

Adrien was half a step away from snapping. “Walk with me.”

Nino forced Adrien to round the castle twice in hopes he’d burn off his anger. And while he felt a little better, the urge to break something was still very strong.

“I have my weapons,” Nino whispered. “Do you have yours?”

“I didn’t leave the room without them.” While he would have felt so much more comfortable with the familiar weight of a sword at his hip, he couldn’t have a weapon in broad daylight. He had a peaceful appearance to keep up, after all, so he had to keep his weapons secret. He was forced to settle for twin daggers stored in the sides of his boots. It didn’t provide that same sense of security that a sword did, but they would have to do.

“Then you’re ready for the meeting?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Adrien responded. “I don’t like the idea of meeting Hawkmoth alone, but it was what we both agreed to.”

“Have the feeling Hawkmoth might not hold up his end of the deal?”

“Exactly,” Adrien answered. “I’m tempted to ask if you could join us as my right-hand man, but that might come off more suspicious to him.”

Nino just grunted in return. “Whatever you say, buddy.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t want to press my luck.”

“I think you’ll be pressing it either way.”

Adrien hated that Nino was right.

After one more lap around the castle, Nino pulled out his pocket watch to show Adrien the time. With a sigh, Adrien grabbed Nino’s shoulder in a mix of support and appreciation. Nino returned the gesture.

The trek to the library, while short, was unnerving. Not even the daggers in his boots gave Adrien a sense of security. He had the eerie feeling that this…this was all a façade and both he and Hawkmoth knew it. Hawkmoth wasn’t a fool. Adrien was forced to admit that his foe was incredibly crafty and sly. Even with all the planning Adrien had done, it all could have been for not depending on what plan Hawkmoth had up his sleeve. There could be anything from a hostage situation to blood.

And if the latter, Adrien hoped it wouldn’t be his own.

The library door was open in invitation. One that was not welcoming in the slightest. Taking a fortifying breath, Adrien stood tall as he walked into the room, Hawkmoth already sitting at the desk.

“Come in,” he beckoned. “Then shut the door, please.”

Quickly, Adrien scanned the room. Upon seeing no one other than Hawkmoth, he shut the door.

Hawkmoth stood, staring down Adrien while Adrien returned his firm gaze. “I think you’re smart enough to know that this is an awful façade.”

Something churned in Adrien’s gut, warning him to stay on his guard. “I’m glad you agree.”

Hawkmoth hummed. “Then you know I want your ring.”

“That I do,” Adrien answered, feeling the metal band with his thumb.

“And you want me dead.”

Adrien simply raised his chin in response.

“I hope you know that only one of us is going to get what we want.”

“Yes, but you are also smart enough to realize that I am the only one who knows the location of the earrings you want.”

Hawkmoth grinned, and Adrien fought hard against showing his discomfort. “I know your little wife has them. And I know she’s hiding in the servants’ quarters. So, I’ll give you an ultimatum: the ring, and I might just let her live.”

A vice was clamping around his chest, one that made it very hard to breathe as his mind tried to figure out how Hawkmoth had learned such a thing. Several seconds ticked by, and Adrien had no choice but to concede. He took the ring from his finger and held it out for Hawkmoth.

While Hawkmoth held out his hand, awaiting Adrien to drop the ring in his outstretched palm, Adrien didn’t let go. Instead, he waited, hyper-aware of his surroundings, the way his hair on the back of his neck stood up on end, and the way Hawkmoth had glanced over Adrien’s shoulder more than once.

He waited, his heart pounding ferociously, until he felt he had to take a chance. In one fluid movement, he reached down to snatch his dagger from his boot and swing outwards behind him.

The man leapt backwards, the knife in his hand catching light and flashing in Adrien’s eyes. Adrien realized too late he didn’t know what to do with the ring in his hand, having no good place to put it. Relenting, he put it in his boot, knowing it would be uncomfortable but having no other option at the moment.

He barely had time to stand back up before Theo launched himself once again at Adrien, and the fight for life was on. Back and forth the two of them went, one gaining ground, the other losing it, then the tides turning. Metal whipped through the air as the two of them took swipe after swipe. And while Adrien did everything he could, he wasn’t the one who landed the first hit.

With a shout, Adrien stumbled, his free hand grabbing his side where Theo sliced the skin. He had been lucky Theo missed in terms of stabbing, but the blood that he was already losing and the way his side burned with each breath proved Theo still hit a mark.

Pressing past the pain and gathering every ounce of strength, Adrien persisted. He was loathe to admit Theo was a worthy opponent.

But he was better.

Theo once again took a shot at Adrien’s side, but Adrien saw it coming. He fell to his knees and swung his blade squarely into Theo’s thigh.

With an anguished cry, Theo collapsed, breathing heavily yet refusing to release the blade.

Despite the pain that made his vision blurry and his mind spin, Adrien launched forward, pinning Theo to the ground while grasping his blade in determination to land a finishing blow. Theo’s knife came up once again in a last attempt, but Adrien caught his arm before the blade could make contact with his body and forced it back down to the floor.

Adrien wasn’t a killer, but when forced into a moment of life-or-death struggle with adrenaline pulsing through his veins, it was almost as though he was blind to such actions. He flipped the dagger in his hands, taking aim, but the smirk on Theo’s face suddenly had him pause. That’s when he noticed the shadow overtake him, and he instinctually whipped around to look up.

The first thing his eye caught was the sword being brandished above him, the glittering steel catching the sun that managed to stream through the window. His mind registered the color purple somewhere beyond the focus on the sword, but that was the last thought in his mind. As the sword came down, he raised his dagger to block it.

Metal crashed together, knocking Adrien off balance and onto the ground.

As Hawkmoth finished out the swing of his sword, Adrien felt the whoosh of air over his head. His stomach twisted as his mind demanded he get up. His body struggled to obey, but he was too slow. Hawkmoth stood over Adrien once again, sword raised.

Only to throw his head back with a shout. Hawkmoth dropped his sword as he stumbled forwards, barely managing to catch himself.

Adrien glanced down Hawkmoth’s body, eyes locking on a large blade that was yanked out of his side. Hawkmoth was shoved down, and this time, he hadn’t the ability to catch himself. He hit the ground, blood pouring from his side and staining his regal purple clothes.

Panting heavily, Adrien looked up to the man that hovered over Hawkmoth. The first thing he noticed was the blade with blood dripping down the smooth metal in little rivulets. And then he saw the man’s face.

“That,” Kim growled, his breathing hard and fast from anger, “was for the king.”

As Hawkmoth gasped for air, sputtering and hissing in pain, he shot Kim one last glare. “You… will never…succeed.”

Kim’s gaze hardened as he slowly lowered the dagger. “We already have.”

Hawkmoth had the audacity to grin, though it quickly turned to a grimace. “That’s…what you think.” He took a hard, raspy breath. “Life…for a life. Not all of you…will make it out…alive. That…I swear to you.”

With that, his eyes drifted closed, and he continued huffing for more air before his raspy breathing finally stopped. An eerie stillness filled the room as both Adrien and Kim’s heavy breaths became the loudest sound in the library.

Kim was the first to snap from his stupor and reach out a hand towards Adrien. He grasped it tight and allowed Kim to help him up onto shaky legs.

“Theo,” Adrien said on a breath, quickly scanning the room. Only to find that he was gone.

Kim growled. “Must have ran.”

Adrien cursed under his breath.

“You’re bleeding.”

Adrien looked down at his side. The sight of blood was almost startling. “I am.”

A few beats of silence slipped between the two as Adrien pulled the fabric of his shirt apart to examine it briefly. “Superficial,” he observed. “No massive damage.”

A slight lie considering how much it was bleeding, but Kim knew Adrien well enough not to comment on that. He wasn’t going to point out the truth if a lie was going to keep Adrien standing. “Still,” Kim said, “you need to get that cleaned up quickly.”

 Adrien nodded, but then looked to the dead man on the floor. “We can’t just leave him.”

“We won’t.” Kim walked over to the back wall, behind the desk, where two decorative candle holders were attached to the wall. He went to the right one, grabbing hold of the golden swirl underneath the three-candle holder. He gave it a sharp yank, the spiral coming out of the wall while the center of the wall bent in. Kim pushed the wall farther inwards, revealing the secret passage. “We’ll hide him in here and come back for him. This passage leads to several places, including the servant’s quarters. We’ll go there, get you patched up, and proceed from there.”

“Fair enough.”

It took the two of them to lift the body and drag it into the passage. Then, Kim pushed the door shut plunging them into darkness. He took Adrien by the shoulder and began leading him down the passage way. “Follow me,” he said. “I’ll tell you when to watch your step.”

“All right,” Adrien responded.

With each step he took, Adrien could feel the adrenaline wearing off and the aftermath hitting him. His knees grew weaker with each step. The shakes began from his hands and worked their way through his body straight to his core.

Kim stopped, and Adrien felt on the verge of collapsing. He grabbed hold of Kim’s shoulder to steady himself. Then came the blinding light, and Adrien wanted nothing more than to allow his knees to just give out so he could hit the ground and sink into darkness. However, he couldn’t, not when Kim grabbed his arm, hard, and yanked him out into the open.

The world was turning into a blurry haze and sound was beginning to give out to the roaring in his ears. He tripped, stumbling, but Kim caught him and kept him upright. “Little further. Hold on.”

Adrien heard the words Kim said but only barely. He was far more focused on the way red now stained his pants as well as his shirt.

Somehow, Adrien blinked, and he found himself in a room, people fussing over him, pain engulfing his side. He was stripped from his shirt, feeling the cold air against his hot skin. Someone shoved him backwards, his bare back landing against something cold and hard yet his head resting on something soft. Someone draped a cold rag over his head, holding it there while something cool and wet dripped down his side into his wound. It burned. It was relief. He didn’t know, nor could he figure it out in his haze.

And then came the pain. The stabbing sensations that shot through his entire body to his fingertips. He cringed, crying out, withering at the pain. Stitches, he belatedly realized. Something he should be used to by now; something he’d stayed awake to face several times. But his body betray him. His strength was gone, and he simply didn’t have the energy to fight off the blackness beckoning him.

Chapter Text

He was so pale. It made Marinette sick just looking at him. He’d lost a lot of blood, a fact proven by how badly his clothes were stained. The knife he had taken to the side left a gash that was as long as Marinette’s hand. Tikki had taken charge of the situation immediately, instructing people what to do and what she needed and then proceeded to take care of the rest. Marinette had done all that she could to keep Adrien calm, trying to soothe him while holding back the tears that threatened to pour over.

She’d failed on both parts considering Adrien had passed out from the pain and tear trails stained her cheeks.

Now, they had moved him to one of the servant’s rooms where he could lie on the cot instead of the dining hall table they had hastily shoved him down on when he came stumbling in the servants’ quarters half held up by Kim. Even though there was nothing more that could be done other than give him time to rest, Marinette refused to leave Adrien’s side. She wanted to keep an eye on him, she had argued, though that was only half the reason. She needed time to process. Time to think. Time to let everything she had learned sink in.

After Adrien had passed out, Kim recounted all the details he could of the fight that had happened. How he had come through a secret passageway only to see Adrien and Theo in the throes of a fight for life while Hawkmoth carefully watched. How the king had had a chance to kill Adrien, and Kim had leaped to end Hawkmoth before that could happen. Lastly, how somewhere in the middle of Kim entering and him striking down Hawkmoth, Theo had, once again, slipped away.

The realization that Hawkmoth was dead was hard to absorb because that meant that all of this…was over.

Well, almost.

Hawkmoth may be dead, but he did leave an heir behind, meaning that Lila was the current problem they had to deal with. Even if she wasn’t the heir, they had yet to officially take back the kingdom of France. And then the fact Theo was missing…

This may nearly be over, but the mess that was left to clean up was overwhelming. Or maybe it just seemed that way to Marinette. The fact Adrien was injured and unconscious was a lot for her to handle. She wasn’t able to face much beyond that.

A knock vibrated on the door, signaling the entrance of Tikki. “How are you holding up?”

Marinette let out a sigh, taking a moment to rub her eyes before answering, “I’m fine.”

Quietly, Tikki shut the door behind her. She rounded the bed to stand at Marinette’s side and rest a comforting hand on her shoulder. “The worst part of being a nurse was informing a family member that their loved one wasn’t coming home,” she spoke softly before giving Marinette’s shoulder a squeeze. “I’m really glad I didn’t have to do that today.”

“Do you think he’ll be all right, Tikki?” Marinette questioned, tears once again beginning to blur her vision.

“I have reason to believe so,” she assured. “I’ve seen far worse than just a single cut to the side. With the right herbs, plenty of rest, and a little luck, he’ll be back to normal in no time at all.”

Marinette absently nodded.

Tikki let out a sigh that Marinette only faintly heard. “I don’t like pulling you away like this,” she said. “But we would like to have you join our discussion in the dining hall.”

She knew it was coming, and while she wished she could say that she wasn’t leaving Adrien’s side, she knew that wasn’t an option. So, with a heavy heart, she leaned forward to press a lingering kiss to her husband’s forehead, noting it was hot but remembering Tikki saying that would be normal. “I’ll be back,” she whispered before forcing herself to stand and follow Tikki from the room.

Kind as she was, Tikki laced their arms together in order to comfort Marinette as she guided her into the dining hall. Marinette followed absently, trying to force back the numb feeling in order to face whatever conversation was going to happen. Before they entered the dining hall, Tikki paused, allowing Marinette one last moment to take a steadying breath before facing everybody.

With a nod, Marinette followed Tikki forward to the table they had patched Adrien up on not that long ago. Alya patted the seat next to her, indicating Marinette to take it. Forcing a smile as a silent thank you, Marinette took the seat between Alya and Alix.

Jalil cleared his throat to gather everyone’s attention. “As we know, Hawkmoth is dead, Theo has escaped, and Lila—who currently is the Queen of France—is our prisoner.”

“So,” Alix continued, “we have to figure out a plan in order to reclaim the kingdom and stop this war.”

Marinette was thankful for the pause that lingered afterwards because her head was currently spinning fast enough for her to plead ill and leave to lie down. If she barely made it through two sentences, she hoped she’d be able to make it through the rest.

“Theo was injured, correct?” Nino asked. “I think that will slow him down enough for us to not fully worry about him at present.”

“And if he dies, then good riddance.”

“Plagg,” Tikki quickly chastised.

Plagg didn’t look remotely abashed, but he did keep his mouth shut against any further thoughts.

“But how do we take back the kingdom?” Kim questioned. “Lila isn’t going to cooperate with us, nor would we…um…”

Marinette appreciated Kim purposefully not finishing that thought.

“The best I can think of is Lila surrendering the kingdom,” Jalil said. “But I doubt she would do so.”

“I don’t see why.”

All eyes turned to Marinette, who was as shocked as everyone else that she had spoken. She swallowed, took a breath, then forced herself to continue. “Well, Hawkmoth is…” she waved her hand to imply what she didn’t want to say. “And Lila is captured. For all she knows, we are able to either take over her kingdom with force or do what we wish to her in order to claim the kingdom. Wouldn’t she rather make a deal with you, one that seemed to benefit her, in order to know she would walk away from this?”

Silence rent the room as everyone stared at Marinette who, at this point, wished she could just melt into the floor.

“That,” Jalil eventually spoke, “is logical. But Lila isn’t known for taking the path of least resistance when she can put up a fight and get what she wants.”

“But she doesn’t get what she wants,” Marinette countered. “Not now. She’s not in a position to do anything.”

“Marinette’s right,” Alix agreed, taking up the torch that Marinette was growing tired of holding up. “Lila is in our control. She’s our captive. There isn’t an escape for her. Considering that she is the Queen of France now, it wouldn’t be unheard of for us to end her. For all she knows, we would take over in the same manner that Hawkmoth did. And after all she did to us, I doubt she doesn’t consider the possibility of us taking revenge on her.”

Jalil raised a brow. “So you’re saying that we manipulate her into surrendering.”

“It’s hardly manipulation if she doesn’t have a choice,” Alix countered.

“It’s true,” Marinette agreed. “And I think she knows it. After all, it was her uncle that killed your father in order to take over. He brought her up to power, and now, she has to fall from it. She’s our captive; there isn’t any escape for her.”

“Something she might not believe considering that she is still in France,” Jalil pointed out. “She’s still in her territory, and we’re the ones who are a bit out of our element.”

Marinette’s lips pursed in thought. “Then we take her back to Paris,” Marinette said. “If we were to do that, we would remove her from power to some effect. Then, there would only be two options: surrender or…um, well, you know. I think she values her life enough to drive a bargain with you.”

Jalil didn’t look convinced. “But—”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Jalil,” Alix blurted. “This is a solid plan. Lila is in a losing position, and she knows it. If she surrenders, then the kingdom is ours again. She’ll hold no claim to it. She’ll lose all power.”

His brow furrowed in growing irritation. “Except power over those loyal to her. And for what we know, the guards are the ones loyal to her. Who’s to say she won’t rally them for an uprising.”

“There’s no way they’ll go with it.”

At this, everyone turned to Plagg.

He leaned is elbows on the table, looking slightly irritated. “They’re men of war,” Plagg said. “While you’re right that they would be willing to follow those they are loyal to into war if necessary, even the most anxious fighters get war weary after a while. Considering this war has gone on for years, they will be ready for this to end. All you have to do to win their loyalty is to end this war. Make peaceful negotiations with Paris, and they’ll turn to you. Bring prosperity to the kingdom, and you’ll have nothing to worry about.”

Somewhere in the room, a clock ticked down the time that passed as Jalil mulled over Plagg’s words. “If that’s true, how would you suggest we go about securing the kingdom?”

“Simple,” Plagg answered. “Gather all of our men, some of the more prominent French guards, you, Alix, Marinette, and Lila all in the royal hall. Have Lila surrender there. Then, you show some peaceful negotiations with Marinette in order to gain some of their trust or, at the very least, to present yourself as respectable, and the kingdom is yours.”

“And you think they will surrender so easily?” Jalil challenged. “The guards were mostly loyal to Hawkmoth. Who says they won’t be loyal to Lila over us? If Lila were the one promising these same things to them, don’t you think they would follow her over us?”

To that, Plagg had no answer.

Surprisingly, though, Marinette found herself with one. “Alix, how large of a backing did Hawkmoth have when he took over?”

Alix quirked a brow at Marinette. “Pardon?”

“You said Hawkmoth took over suddenly,” Marinette said. “And you mentioned he wasn’t well liked. What sort of following did he have to back him once he took over?”

The way Alix’s brow furrowed then shot upwards spoke volumes. “Jalil,” she said. “I think Marinette has a very good point.”

Jalil nodded his agreement. “To answer that question, his following was very small. I believe he put his most loyal soldiers in the position of power.”

“But,” Alix continued, “I think that if we rally the rest of the men, anyone still loyal to Hawkmoth will fall.”

Another silence slipped between everyone as the conversation slowly wound down.

“Then,” Tikki spoke up. “I believe that if we have reached an agreement, this meeting is adjourned. I don’t believe there is anything left to work out.”

“I don’t think so, either” Alix said, effectively bringing the conversation to an end. She gave a sympathetic look to Marinette. “I think it should be my brother’s job to negotiate with Lila. We’ll plan out her formal surrender after we know how she’s going to react.”

Marinette heard Alix perfectly clear, but the words she didn’t say were far clearer. “Thank you,” she whispered, standing from her chair.

“You’re welcome,” Alix returned just as quietly.

 The others started standing as well. Jalil looked less than thrilled to go negotiate with Lila, not that Marinette could blame him. She would dread that as well.

She made her way back to Adrien’s room, back to his side, and sank down in her chair. Gently, she took his hand in her own, giving it a squeeze. With her other hand, she gingerly brushed his hair from his forehead.

Marinette let out a sigh, hoping the tension would leave her body so she could relax. She was facing a waiting game. For Adrien to wake. For Theo to be caught. For Lila to be negotiated with. It felt like time crept on, but Marinette knew she was too tired to judge how fast time was passing by.

Giving into the urge to rest a moment, Marinette shifted her arms, curling them up on the edge of the mattress so she could lay her head comfortably on them. She carefully situated herself so she wouldn’t have to let go of Adrien’s hand, rubbing her thumb on the back of his hand all the while. With a sigh, she laid her head down on her curled arms and let her tired eyes drift shut.

Only for them to shoot open when she felt something squeeze her hand.

Hope filling her, she lifted her head. “Adrien?”

Though they remained shut, his eyelids fluttered, and his nose twitched ever so slightly. Marinette’s heart picked up its pace. “Adrien, sweetheart?”

Again, his eyes scrunched before cracking open. It was barely a second before he shut them, groaning in discomfort.

Marinette dropped his hand so she could cradle his jaw, rubbing her thumbs in little circles on his cheeks. “It’s okay, sweetheart. You don’t have to open your eyes. You can rest. I’m just glad you’re all right.”

He groaned, his lips tugging downwards. “Hurts,” he moaned, his voice gruff.

“I know,” she comforted, continuing her ministrations. “You took a bad hit. Tikki said you’ll be sore for a couple days.”

He hummed in response. He forced his eyes open so as to meet hers, only barely keeping them open long enough to lift his hands to lightly hold her shoulders.

She felt herself breathe a shaky sigh of relief. She leaned forward, resting her forehead against his, smile blooming on her face. While he was clearly exhausted and likely wouldn’t remain awake for another few minutes, it was enough to assure Marinette that her husband would make it through.


It was intimidating, standing off to the side of the dais in the throne room. Jalil was clearly nervous if the way his heel bounced on the ground was any indication. Alix was more collected, but Marinette knew her well enough to be able to tell that the way Alix fidgeted with the fabric of her dress was to ease her nerves. Both brother and sister took their parents’ thrones, which was probably good because each of them looked like they might just fall over if they were standing.

Marinette stood to Alix’s side, a comforting hand resting on Alix’s shoulder. She wasn’t sure it did much, but considering the way Alix patted her hand when it had come to rest on her shoulder, Marinette knew the gesture was at least appreciated.

More than once had Marinette stolen a glance at Lila, who currently stood between two guards. If looks could kill, Marinette was certain that she, Alix, and Jalil would be dead already, along with every guard in the room, as well.

The door opened, causing Jalil and Alix to straighten and put on strong facades in hopes of covering their agitation. Marinette retracted her hand from Alix’s shoulder and stood tall as Nino entered, holding the door while several guards walked in.

Marinette took a deep breath, feeling the tension in the room triple. The number of Parisian guards outnumbered the French, but that hardly eased her nerves. This still had the potential to go wrong.

“Men,” Jalil spoke, standing from his seat. “May it be known from now on that the Kingdom of France is back under the rule of the Kubdel family.”

The guards looked a little surprised, notably more so than from when they walked in.

“And if my declaration wasn’t enough,” Jalil continued. “Then you can hear the surrender from Lila herself.”

Every eye in the room turned to Lila.

Her glower still remained as she straightened. “I, Lila Rossi,” she started, turning her fierce gaze to Jalil, “will surrender the kingdom upon the agreement you release me.”

“And leave the kingdom,” Jalil finished, “and never return.”

“And never return,” she spat as if those words burned her.

Satisfied, Jalil nodded to the guards, who stepped back from Lila in a show of ‘releasing’ her.

She marched forward to the head guard, mumbling something in some language Marinette couldn’t understand. Not that she could hear well enough to understand, either.

But that determined look in Lila’s eye… Marinette knew what Lila was saying. Somehow instinctively knew that these guards would not surrender as long as Lila was murmuring promises.

“Men,” Marinette called out, grabbing all attention. “Listen carefully, for I will say this once and only once before what could very well be your final decision.” Where she had found her voice, she wasn’t sure, but the words had rolled of her tongue before she could stop them. Since everyone in the room was now staring at her, she might as well continue. “Let me make something very clear: Lila has legally surrendered the kingdom. There are many witnesses to said event to prove it, including I, Marinette Agreste, Princess of Paris.”

She swallowed. While technically her title, it wasn’t official. There hadn’t been any ceremony nor public announcement. For all the world knew, she was a fraud. All she could hope for was that the Kingdom of France was so disconnected from the kingdom of Paris that they didn’t know any better. “This war—a war that started for reasons unknown to most everyone— between our kingdoms has gone on for long enough. Do you even know why you are fighting? What do you have to gain from this war except decimation of your people and depletion of your resources? I am here, willing to negotiate peace, but only with the true king of this land: Jalil Kubdel. So here is your choice: rebuke your loyalty to this woman this moment, and this war will end right now. Both sides will reach a truce, and this war will halt before it can bring any more chaos. Or, if you chose to rebel with the determination to avenge the man you were loyal to—a man who is now dead—then I swear to you, Paris will continue with this war until you are forced to surrender or are completely destroyed. The future of your entire kingdom rests in your hands. Who is your loyalty to?”

That last challenge hung in the open, stealing the air from the room slowly but surely. Uncertainty grew in Marinette’s gut, but she shoved it down forcefully again and again, all while hoping her fierce demeanor never faded.

No matter how quiet the sound was, the metallic sound of a sword being pulled from its scabbard filled the room. A single French guard, the lowest ranking of them considering his position in the grouping of men, had unsheathed his sword and pointed it at the back of the head guard’s neck. “King Jalil Kubdel,” he spoke. “My name is General D’argentcourt, a moniker that I hope that thou art familiar with.”

Jalil didn’t hesitate. “Quite.”

“May I be the first to ascertain that my loyalty, though challenged, has not wavered from the true reigning family of this kingdom. But should these common scoundrels masquerading as my superiors not bend knee to dub thee their king, I beseech ye to slay them all upon where they stand.”

The threat rung loudly in Marinette’s ears despite how even the man’s tone remained.

“Your proposition has been heard,” Jalil returned. “And has not fallen upon deaf ears.”

With a single motion from Jalil, every Parisian guard drew his sword and stood ready to attack. The man, General D’argentcourt, had taken several steps backwards to gain distance from his superiors.

“However,” Jalil continued, “considering that you have confirmed what I have already suspected, I will not fully heed your proposition. Instead, their arrest is preferable.”

As Marinette suspected, the men didn’t go quietly. Her heart pounded as she watched the chaos erupt. There was fighting, shouting, and blood, yet it was scarcely two minutes before every last one was caught and escorted from the room. Even Lila, though screaming, was dragged out of the room by Nino.

“General D’argencourt,” Jalil called out. “I remember you in high regard. As of now, I restore your position as head of the guards. I do so in hopes that you will restore my men to their former integrity.”

The man bowed deeply. “You have my word.”

“Very good. You may be dismissed.”

“Thank you, your majesty,” he said, straightening. But then he turned to Marinette and bowed again. “I have not overheard the kingdom of Paris gaining a new Princess, but may I say, your highness, that should honesty back your elegant yet brazen words, you shall prove yourself to be a princess above reproach. It is an honor to be of your service.”

Marinette couldn’t help but smile, pride filling her as, for the first time, she felt as though she had truly earned that title. “I thank you.”

Chapter Text

“You should have heard her, Adrien,” Nino said from his seat next to Adrien’s bed. “You would have been so proud of her.”

Adrien smiled fondly. “Why does everyone think she needs to make me proud? She’s already made me proud.”

“I know, buddy,” Nino said dismissively. “But…this was the type of speech that would have made your father reconsider his stance on her. She took complete command in that room. Honestly, she was stunning.”

His heart sped up in his chest at the reverent way Nino described Marinette. “I wish I could have been there.”

A knock sounded against the door before it opened to reveal Jalil. “May I come in?”

At Adrien’s nod, Jalil entered. “How are you feeling?”

“Sore.” As long as Adrien stayed still, the throbbing in his side was manageable. It was only if he moved that it stung. “How did the meeting go? Nino was telling me Marinette certainly made an impression.”

Jalil gave Adrien a firm nod. “I never would have guessed she had not been brought up a princess. She spoke with such grace and authority. I was extremely impressed.”

Again, Adrien’s heart did little flips at hearing such high praise for his wife.

“However, it is you who will have to complete her promises.”

“What did she promise?” Adrien asked, ready to sign off or seal whatever she needed him to.

“To end this war immediately should the guards surrender their loyalty to Hawkmoth, which they more or less did after she threatened them.”

Adrien wasn’t sure how many more times it could have been stated, but he loved that woman. “Done. Nino; a lap desk, ink, and paper, please.”

He looked a little torn. “Are you certain you don’t want to take it easy for the moment?”

“I’ve had my moment to rest,” he countered. “Now I have a promise to fulfill. So, can I please have the desk, ink, and paper?”

While Nino’s questioning look proved he wasn’t sure Adrien was fully up to the task, he relented with a sigh.

“Your wife,” Jalil continued once Nino had shut the door, “also promised that there would be open communication between Paris and France. Peace treaties, even.”

“I am in full agreement,” Adrien quickly said. “While I can’t speak for my father, I promise you that I will cooperate with you to end this war. I doubt that either kingdom knows what caused the fighting, anyway. Uniting the kingdoms would be in the best interest for everyone, at this point.”

Jalil gave a single, curt nod. “While a nuisance that I don’t want to bother with, I will have to ask for your assistance writing up a public peace treaty and making a show of signing it since, clearly, a marriage union is out of the question.”

Adrien smiled, rubbing the ring on his left finger. “Clearly. Besides, Alix would never agree to marry me even if I was single.”

“Yes. She has her sights locked on someone else; I’m fully aware.”

This surprised Adrien, who raised a brow in silent question.

Jalil smirked. “I believe I knew Alix was infatuated with Kim before even she knew she was. Those two were chaos together, but if I’m being honest, I’ve always respected Kim. Despite his penchant for trouble, he was very honorable and trustworthy. He was also a very talented knight, one who could become a strong leader with time.”

“And a bit of self-discipline,” Adrien added.

“Yes,” Jalil amusedly agreed. “A bit of that. Something I had hoped his trip would teach him. I have yet to see what affect the last few years have had on him, but they seem to have done him well.”

“He’s a good man,” Adrien said, “As well as a skilled fighter. He’s proven himself to be worthy of all my respect.”

Jalil studied Adrien for a moment. “So tell me,” he eventually said. “If you had a sister, would you entrust her to him?”

“Is that your way of asking if I think he’s good enough for Alix?”

Jalil shrugged, but Adrien could speculate the answer.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because he loves her,” Adrien answered.

“That’s not good enough reason.”

“But surely you know Kim well enough to know how loyal and devoted he is to those he cares about.”

At that, Jalil was silent.

“That man took hits for me on the battlefield,” Adrien continued, “as well as a knife meant to kill me when an assassin broke into my own home. I trusted him to care for my house when I was away. He was respectable and kind with Marinette when she unexpectedly became my wife. He was there by Alix’s side, refusing to move, when she came to my home unconscious. He cared for her, running any errand she could think of, while she was on bedrest. And finally, when there was worry that this ring of mine would uproot you and Alix from the throne, he offered to marry her just so that he could ensure she would be safely taken care of. Frankly, Alix wasn’t happy when she learned that by remaining the Princess of France she wasn’t able to accept that proposal.”

Jalil mulled the words over, his gaze hitting the floor while he sank deeply into thought. Eventually, he lifted his gaze once again. “Your thoughts are noted. Thank you for your opinion. I wanted to know just what sort of man that Kim had become, and you’ve proven he’s grown into a good one.”

Adrien felt himself grin. “I hope that it means he is blessed with happiness after all. He was very jealous of my marriage as well as Plagg and Tikki’s.”

Before Jalil could answer, Kim burst through the door. “There you are,” he said, referring to Jalil. He then glanced over to Adrien before returning his attention to Jalil. “Perfect. I can tell both of you at once.”

Jalil’s eyes narrowed in worry. “What is it?”

“Plagg brought you two a present.”

It was Adrien’s turn to frown. “What sort of ‘present’?”

Kim’s smile was downright devious. “A brown-haired rat that goes by the name of Theo Barbot.”


 

It wouldn’t be for another few days that Adrien was well enough to stand so that Theo could face both him and King Jalil.

Theo himself limped from the injury that Adrien had given him. When the sentencing grew too long, Theo had to be supported by the two guards that had escorted him into the throne room.

By the end, Theo hung his head. Everyone in the room knew Theo was damned. The only reason for the deliberation was if Theo should be hung in France for his cooperation with “King” Hawkmoth as well as his aggressive intentions towards Princess Alix or if he should be dragged back to Paris in order to face King Gabriel. In the end, it was decided that his position as Lord Barbot meant that he had far more crimes against Paris than France, including treason, attempted murder of the prince, and attempted rape of the princess, just to name a few.

After the sentencing, Adrien had written a lengthy letter to his father describing that needed to be done about the prisoner that was being sent his way. While Adrien would have liked to return to Paris himself, he figured he would stay a few extra days to assist Jalil in establishing his new position as king as well as starting formal peaceful negotiations.

It had nothing to do with Marinette’s insistence that Adrien allow his injury to heal a while longer before embarking on their journey home.

“Nino.”

“Yes?”

Adrien held out the completed letter to his best friend. “I need you to escort Lord Barbot back to Paris. Give this to my father so that he knows what to do with that man.”

Hesitantly, Nino took the letter. “Are you certain?”

“Are you saying I shouldn’t trust you to take Theo?” Adrien sarcastically challenged.

“Not at all. I just thought you’d want to be there.”

Adrien sighed. “As much as I would like to, I can’t. There is business that still needs to be taken care of. Besides, I would feel safer if Theo traveled separately from the girls when they are escorted home.”

“That, I cannot argue with,” Nino said before a sly smile grew across his face. “But I’m not worried about Alya as long as she has a cooking pan.”

Adrien chuckled. “May I suggest you stay far away from any kitchen when you ask to court her.”

Nino grinned, but Adrien could tell he was nervous. “I will keep that in mind.”


 

A full week had passed by the time Adrien felt it was time to leave. He would admit that he was glad to have stayed as long as he did because he was proud to be present for the small ceremony for Kim.

“You never were officially knighted,” Jalil commented from his position on the dais. “But I believe it is far overdue. Kneel.”

Kim knelt before Jalil while Alix, who stood before her mother’s throne, watched with pride.

Jalil unsheathed the sword from his side. “Sir Kim Le Chien,” he stated loudly, tapping the sword on Kim’s shoulder. “I knight you the Noblest Knight,” he switched the sword to Kim’s other shoulder, “in all of France.”

It was very subtle, but Adrien noticed the way Kim stiffened under the title. Understandable considering that title was usually reserved for a member of the royal family.

Suddenly, Adrien was fighting to keep a straight face.

“You may stand.”

Kim did as asked, never wavering under Jalil’s firm gaze.

“Now,” Jalil said, sheathing the sword. “You possess the most honorable title a knight can hold. Do you understand the responsibility that comes with it?”

“Yes, sire,” he said. “I will uphold that title with the highest of honor.”

“Good. I will not stand for you doing anything less.”

“I will ensure you never regret such a decision,” Kim reverently swore, “and I will work my hardest to prove that to you.”

Jalil’s expression softened for a split second. “However, that title must also be proved to the kingdom,” he said, voice still as powerful as ever. “You must prove that you are honorable and steady. And that is most easily accomplished in the form of a marriage union.”

Alix tensed, her eyes widening ever so slightly.

“Sire?” Kim questioned, clearly confused and likely nervous himself.

Jalil was as stoic as ever when he nodded. “Yes. For that reason, I will arrange such a union that would be beneficial for you and the kingdom.”

Kim bowed his head, clearly ready to submit even though it was doubtful he wanted to. “Yes, sire. I am at your service.”

Even though she did a very good job at hiding it., Adrien could see evidence of Alix’s disappointment.

After glancing over at his sister, Jalil’s expression softened once again, this time permanently. “You are to marry Princess Alix Kubdel in order to ensure her safety and protection.”

The duo stiffened upon hearing Alix’s name, both wide-eyed as they shared a look.

“In such a turbulent time as this,” Jalil continued, “I want to ensure that the royal family is protected.”

Adrien couldn’t fight the smile that grew on his lips. It quickly earned him a gentle elbow in his ribs.

“You knew, didn’t you?” Marinette whispered.

“For about a week now,” Adrien returned just as quietly, albeit a bit smugly.

Marinette gave a quiet sigh, but didn’t say another word as she watched the scene unfold in front of her.

Instead of standing before Jalil, Kim was now kneeling before Alix, holding her hand in his as he asked for her hand in marriage.

It surprised no one when she gave him a bright smile and said yes.


 

“I’m sad to see you leave,” Jalil admitted. “I grew used to having you around.”

“We’ll keep in close enough touch that it will hardly feel as though I’m gone.” Adrien said, shaking Jalil’s outstretched hand. “Besides, we’ll be back to witness the wedding. I’m certain that it will be the only thing Marinette talks about for weeks.”

It earned him a jab in the ribs from his wife, but it only caused him to grin.

Jalil chuckled. “Well, I wish you all a safe, quick, and uneventful journey home.”

“Thank you,” Marinette said.

With one last bow good-bye, Adrien and Marinette made their way to the carriage Jalil had graciously loaned to them for the trip home. Plagg hopped out of the driver’s seat so as to hold the door open for Adrien and Marinette.  “Thank you, Plagg,” they both said.

He nodded in return.

Adrien assisted Marinette into the carriage before following himself. Plagg shut the door behind them, and Adrien took his seat beside Marinette facing forwards in the carriage. Tikki and Alya were already inside, the latter working on some sewing project while the former rested her head on the side of the carriage. Adrien frowned. Even in the warm morning light, Tikki looked pale.

With a snap of the reins, the carriage was off, and Adrien couldn’t deny just how good it felt to know that they were finally heading home. Marinette waved out of the window, garnering a wave from Alix in return. Adrien grinned at the friendship that had bloomed between those two as well as thanking the heavens that Alix had come into Marinette’s life to help shape her into the incredible woman she had become.

By the time the castle was out of sight, Adrien allowed his head to fall backwards and his eyes to drift shut. Marinette slipped her hand into his, and immediately he felt the wedding band on her hand.

Which reminded him…

“I believe I promised you a wedding when we got home.”

He cracked an eye open so he’d be able to see her reaction. The way her surprise turned to excitement was priceless. “That you did. And I eagerly await that.”

“Hold on,” Alya cried, her sewing hastily forgotten. “When what that decided?”

Marinette gave her friend a sheepish look. “Before Adrien left, he decided that we would have a public ceremony once he returned.”

Alya seemed to bubble over with excitement and in no time at all, the duo were engaged in excited chatter over the details of the event. Adrien had no problem allowing Marinette free reign on what she wanted. He was far too focused on how adorable her excited expressions were, anyway.

Suddenly, Marinette’s happiness fell. “Tikki, are you all right?”

All eyes turned to Tikki and the way she clutched her stomach.

“Tikki?” Adrien repeated.

When she placed a hand over her mouth, he smacked the roof. “Stop the carriage!” he hollered.

The second it came to a stop, Tikki threw open the door and bolted, only to empty the contents of her stomach behind one of the trees.

“Oh, poor Tikki,” Marinette cooed, watching Tikki from the window.

“I had hoped we would make it home before these symptoms started to show,” Alya commented.

“What symptoms?” Adrien asked as he watched Plagg walk over to Tikki. He rubbed her back as she finished her heaving, providing support for her to keep standing.

When the girls remained silent, Adrien turned to face them. “Girls?”

The girls each looked sheepish. “Well…”

“Marinette,” he warned.

“Tikki’s pregnant,” she admitted.

Adrien’s eyes widened. “She’s pregnant? You dragged a pregnant woman into a war zone?”

“It’s not like we knew when we started out!” Alya defended.

“She only realized it soon after we arrived,” Marinette completed. “We wanted to keep it secret until we got home because we were worried how Plagg would react.”

“Well, it’s a bit late for that now,” Adrien commented. He glanced out the window to where Plagg was somehow yelling at Tikki while cuddling her protectively. Clearly, she had told him, and Plagg was reacting about as well as Adrien suspected he would. Tikki would just have to be patient with the way Plagg couldn’t decide hold her at arm’s length or pull her close for hugs and kisses.

“They’re so sweet,” Alya commented.

“There really couldn’t be a better woman for Plagg,” Marinette agreed. “And Tikki couldn’t have found anyone who could rival how much Plagg cares about her.”

While Adrien wasn’t certain he would define the scene as sweet as much as it was Plagg flying in to a justified panic, he’d not ruin the girl’s opinions. After all, if it was Marinette who was the one pregnant, he’d likely be acting the same as Plagg.

Suddenly, his heart picked up its pace. “Marinette?”

Her brow furrowed at his tone. “Yes?”

He hesitated. “You…you would have told me if you were…”

Understanding his unfinished question, her posture relaxed, and she gave him a sweet smile. “Honestly, if I were in Tikki’s position, I probably would have done the same. Especially considering you were injured, you didn’t need to worry about me.” She squeezed his hand in reassurance. “But that’s a moot point for us.”

Adrien felt the next breath come a little easier.

Eventually, it seemed Plagg had settled for holding Tikki firmly against him, arms wrapped around her tight as he rocked her back and forth. Considering Plagg’s head was pressed against the side of Tikki’s, Adrien guessed that he was probably calm enough to be able to share a happy moment with his wife over what really was wonderful news. They stayed like that for a while before Plagg swooped Tikki up in his arms and returned her to the carriage.

“You listen to me,” he told Tikki, his tone somewhere between loving and warning. “The moment you begin feeling sick again, we stop. If you need us to slow down, we’ll slow down. If—”

“Plagg,” Tikki interrupted. “I’m fine. But if I need anything, I’ll say so, all right.”

His lips pursed in uncertainty as he gently put Tikki down in front of the carriage. “All right.”

Tikki gave him a smile and a brief kiss. “I love you,” she whispered.

Plagg lowered his head so their foreheads touched. His voice was barely audible, but Adrien still heard it. “I love you, too. I just want you and this little baby of ours to be safe.” Plagg’s hand lowered to touch Tikki’s abdomen, as if he could feel the baby there.

“We will be. You’ll see.” Tenderly, Tikki patted Plagg’s cheeks before she turned to enter the carriage. Plagg offered all the assistance he could before flashing Tikki one last smile as she took her seat.

Plagg shut the carriage door then hopped back up to the driver’s seat, shaking the carriage in the process. When he snapped the reins, starting the horses going again, Adrien gave Tikki a grin. “I hear that congratulations are in order.”

When Tikki smiled, it was as though she was glowing. “Thank you,” she said, her hands cradling her still flat stomach. “I didn’t expect to start a family so early, but I’m not complaining.”

“I am,” Marinette said, her tone and smile proving she was teasing. “It means you won’t be my lady’s maid for much longer.”

“I’m more than happy to fill that role,” Alya volunteered.

“I’m not invalid,” Tikki objected.

“We know that,” Marinette assured with a wave of her hand. “But deny that you want to settle down with Plagg in your own home so you can be fully devoted to your little one once it’s born.”

The carriage was silent as Tikki pressed her lips into a thin line.

Marinette only grinned. “See? So I just want to spend time with you while I can.”

The girls continued their conversation while Adrien soon grew lost in his thoughts. For all Plagg and Tikki had done for him, he wanted to ensure that they would have a home to call their own. While he had once had a spot picked out, it no longer seemed good enough. However, the idea that soon came to mind had him grinning, and it was definitely big enough for the five children Plagg had said Tikki wanted.

Chapter Text

“You are absolutely not going, and that is final.”

Marinette did not want to argue with him. Unfortunately… “But, I’m the princess. Or at least, I am to be. Are you certain I don’t need to be there?”

Adrien’s gaze softened. Stepping forward, he took her hands in his. “Frankly, this is nothing short of a formality trial just so Theo’s actions and sentence are made public. It’s going to be long, and I know how it will end. It’s not something I want to attend, and I wouldn’t dare make you sit through it. Besides, the kingdom has yet to learn they have a princess, and I’d rather not introduce you there.”

The band that seemed to be constricting her chest loosened, making breathing easier. “I certainly am not going to fight you if you say I don’t need to be there. I hope for your sake it goes quickly.”

“I can hope.” Adrien then pulled her close, wrapping her arms around her. Burying his hand into her hair, he guided her head to rest on his shoulder. “Go spend time with Tikki,” he whispered, nose brushing against her earlobe. “Maybe spend time planning the wedding. I’ve already talked with my father, and he will have the banns cried starting tomorrow.”

Marinette’s eyes widened, and she pulled away from him enough to look up into his eyes. “He…he will?”

Adrien gave her a soft smile. “He will.”

“But…I thought…” Marinette shook her head in bewilderment. “How did you convince him to do that?”

His smile fell slightly. “I made it very clear to him that I will go through with my threat of surrendering my right as prince if he doesn’t accept you.”

“You did not!” Marinette cried, her heart pounding. “I thought you were joking when you said that.”

“Not when it’s regarding you, my love.” He pulled her close once again. “I fully meant those words.”

She didn’t fight him, instead surrendering and curling up against him, burying her head in his neck and her hands in his shirt. “What did I do to deserve you?”

“I often ask myself that question about you,” he countered, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “However, I love you too much to lie to you. My father was not happy about my ultimatum. While he surrendered to my wishes if only to preserve his own image and lineage, he was very reluctant to accept you as the Princess of Paris.”

Marinette felt herself slump, her lips pulling down into a frown. “I figured as much.”

Gently, Adrien’s hand came to her chin, forcing her to look back into his eye. “Unfortunately, sweetheart,” he said in the gentlest of tones, “there is nothing that you nor I can do to change that. He will either accept you, or he won’t. I’m sorry it has to be that way—”

“I know,” Marinette interrupted, placing a hand over his heart. “I know. If you could change the world for me, you would.”

He smiled warmly at her then pulled her close to press a kiss to her forehead. “And I’d do it in a heartbeat. Never doubt that.”

Her smile couldn’t be contained. “I never have, and I never will.”

Another kiss, this time on the cheek. “I love you.”

Unsatisfied, she leaned up, wrapping her arms around his neck as she stood on her toes. Their noses bumped together as they grew closer. “I love you, too,” she said on a whisper right before her lips claimed his.


 

Marinette was organizing the freshly cut pieces of fabric on her bed when a knock sounded at her door in a pattern familiar that she knew by heart. “Come in, Alya.”

The door opened with a creak, and Marinette looked up from her fabric pieces to see Alya slip through the doorway. “Hey,” Alya quietly greeted, shutting the door behind her. She quickly became interested in the piles of cut fabric lining Marinette’s bed. “Is that for the quilt you’re making? The wedding one?”

Marinette blushed. “Adrien just bought me the fabric for it. He approved, saying the blue was like my eyes.”

“And the green like his?” Alya asked, picking up a large, green square.

“Well…he didn’t catch that, but that was the point.”

“You two are so precious together,” Alya commented, taking a seat on the edge of the bed.

“So…um…how did the proceedings go?” Marinette asked, hesitant yet curious.

Alya’s expression grew grim. “King Gabriel was terrifying. He never raised his voice, never yelled or shot accusations. He sat there quietly until everyone had said their piece. Then in a snap, he stripped Theo of everything. He even discredited Theo’s entire family from the everything, as well. He swore that no one baring the name of Barbot would own that land ever again.”

“So the estate will be sitting empty for a while?” Marinette inquired. “Or will it be absorbed into the King’s estates?”

Alya’s grin was almost out of place. “Well, Adrien interrupted his father before he could finish. I don’t know what he said, but the king gave a semblance of a smile at the idea then gave Adrien the floor. Right then and there, Adrien bestowed Plagg with Theo’s title, estate, and fortune. He said it was for all his loyalty to the crown as well as his efforts to halt the chaos that Theo Barbot had started. It was a show, a barb against Theo—you could tell by the way Adrien annunciated his speech—but even the king looked pleased at the display. Especially since Theo was forced to watch it.”

It took a long moment for that to sink in. “Adrien gave Plagg…”

Alya nodded.

Another pause. “Which would make Tikki…”

“A countess?” Alya said, smile widening across her face. “Yes.”

Marinette couldn’t help but smile, too. Tikki deserved it, Marinette firmly believed that. The house would be perfect for Tikki to raise her family in, and Theo’s fortune would ensure that all members of Tikki and Plagg’s family would be perfectly cared for.

However, there was one last question hanging between them, one Marinette almost dreaded asking. “And…what happened to Theo?”

She grimaced. “Theo is to be hung immediately,” Alya explained. “I…didn’t want to watch.”

Understandably.

“Nino escorted me back, saying he didn’t care to watch either. So…” Alya’s gaze hit the bed while a pink hue bloomed on her dark cheeks. “So we talked a bit, and… he confessed that he cared for me. A lot.”

Despite the heaviness of their former topic, excitement was bubbling up inside Marinette. “And?”

“And…” Alya took a tense breath before releasing it, her cheeks growing pinker by the moment. “I told him I returned that sentiment.”

Marinette stifled her squeal. “Is this going where I think it’s going?”

“If by that, you mean he asked permission to court me, then yes.”

The excitement was slowly killing her. “And did you agree? Or were you a fool and declined?”

Alya’s resulting smile was timid and sweet. “I agreed.”

Unable to hold that stifled squeal any longer, Marinette launched at her friend to engulf her in a hug. “I’m so happy for you! When you first came to the castle, I thought you and Nino would kill each other for certain, but look at you two now!”

Alya could only chuckle. “It’s funny how things turned out, isn’t it?”

“A bit,” Marinette agreed. “But that being said, no matter how you two started out, I have the feeling you two will end up being really happy together.”

Alya’s cheeks grew brighter. “I have the feeling we’ll be really happy together, too.”


 

Marinette tried to calm her racing heart. No matter how many times Tikki assured her that she would be fine, that didn’t help the fears that came with being publicly introduced to the kingdom.

It had been a week since Theo’s death, and that fact still loomed hauntingly over the kingdom. One of their own had betray them, after all. How would the kingdom react to her?

Suddenly, Marinette felt all air being forced from her lungs as her corset was yanked tight.

“Stop it,” Tikki warned, looking in Marinette’s eyes through the mirror. “The kingdom will love you. I promise.

“But they don’t know me,” Marinette argued while Tikki loosened the ties.

“But they’ll love you. You are the woman who helped bring peace to this kingdom and the Kingdom of France. That will be enough for them to trust you.”

Marinette cringed. “I hope so. No one is going to be happy when my true former station is revealed.”

Tikki’s lips pressed into a frown. “I don’t know how to respond to that. I know that King Gabriel was furious when Adrien said he was going to reveal himself as Lord Noir, but I’m not sure how royalty is going to take to you. The kingdom will love you, that is for certain. The only advice that I can give you is to stand tall and proud of who you are. Of what you’ve done. Just like Gabriel, they will learn to either accept you or they won’t, and there will be nothing you can do about it other than stand tall in the face of adversity.”

Unconvinced, Marinette chewed her lip.

“Now, let’s get you into this dress.”

Marinette turned to where Tikki was standing, only to gape at the gown Tikki held. Bright red velvet decorated with black lace on the sleeves and neckline. Black ribbons crisscrossed the front of the bodice while a large black sash was draped around the waist. And then Tikki turned it around, revealing the sash tied in a bow before the ends trailed down to the floor. But the most striking part were the twin trains of velvet that fell from the shoulders and pooled on the ground.

“Oh, Tikki,” Marinette cooed. “It’s beautiful.”

Tikki grinned. “I knew you would like it. While not fully traditional, especially with the black, I thought it would look striking on you. Besides,” the maid’s grin widened. “You aren’t exactly traditional yourself.”

It got Marinette to smile, at least.

Once the dress was on and Tikki decided that the fabric no longer had to be finagled, Marinette stared at the woman in the mirror with awe. She felt as though she was standing in front of the mirror that first day she had actually been dressed in something a proper lady would wear. She could still remember how odd it was to wear something so regal, though that pink dress paled in comparison to the one she wore now. The neckline hung delicately on the tips of her shoulders while the sleeves reached all the way down to her wrists. The lace that lined the ends of the sleeves reached from the hem on her wrists up to the elbow. While plain, Marinette loved how the skirt flared out dramatically on the floor, but it was the trains of fabric hanging from her shoulders that had her mesmerized. Because, in that moment, she looked like a…

“Ladybug.”

Tikki grinned, giving the strings one last tug before tying them. “I overheard your father calling you his ‘lucky ladybug’ back when we went to visit. I thought maybe it would bring you some luck, or at the very least, some comfort.”

 Suddenly, tears began blurring her vision. Before she could stop herself, Marinette wrapped Tikki in a tight hug. “Thank you,” she choked out. “Thank you for everything.”

Slowly, Tikki returned it. “You are very welcome, Marinette.”

The girls stayed like that a moment, mostly so Marinette could collect herself. Only once she was certain that she wasn’t going to cry did Marinette pull away.

“Now,” Tikki said, patting Marinette’s shoulders affectionately, “sit down and let me do your hair.”

Several minutes later, Tikki added the final pin into her hair, keeping up the elegant bun interwoven with several bright red ribbons. Marinette couldn’t keep the smile from her face. “It’s beautiful. Thank you, Tikki.”

“Anything for you, my friend,” she said, rubbing Marinette’s shoulders while exchanging eye contact through the mirror. “Just one suggestion.”

“Yes?”

Tikki’s grin brightened. “Keep that smile on your face.”

Marinette marveled at how easily a grin came to her face at Tikki’s gentle encouragement.

“Wait a second,” Tikki suddenly said, snapping her fingers in a moment of brilliance. “I think I know just the thing to finalize this outfit. And it will go with your earrings, too.”

Now curious, Marinette watched as Tikki dug through the drawers of her vanity before pulling out a black ribbon choker with a stunning red ruby pendant hanging from the front. “I cannot wear that,” Marinette said, going into a panic. “That’s much too nice.”

Tikki giggled, ignoring Marinette and tying it around her neck anyway. “This was the previous Lady Noir’s. She wore it only on rare occasions, mostly because red was not her best color. But it is yours. It looks perfect on you.”

No matter how much she wanted to protest, Marinette found she couldn’t disagree. “Do you think Adrien will mind me wearing his mother’s jewelry?”

The grin Marinette received was already enough of an answer. “He was the one that told me to move her old things into your vanity. He wants to see them on you.”

Her heart picked up its pace. “Really?”

“Why would you doubt that?”

Honestly, Marinette didn’t even have an answer to that question.

A knock sounded at the door, and Tikki was quick to answer it. “Yes?”

“They’re ready for her,” Plagg’s voice answered.

Tikki opened the door completely while motioning for Marinette to come. “She’s ready.”

When Plagg’s gaze turned to her, it immediately widened. He was silent for a moment as he stared at her. “You outdid yourself this time, Tikki,” he finally said. “There won’t be a person in the room that isn’t captivated.”

Marinette felt herself blush. “You’re just saying that.”

The smile he gave her proved her wrong.

“Well…then, thank you, Plagg,” she managed. “That’s very flattering.”

He bowed before her. “Now, I would have liked to escort you down, but I believe there is someone else who wants that task.”

Marinette’s brow furrowed as she watched Plagg disappear from the door frame. She peeked out

And was nearly reduced to tears.

Her papa, dressed in his best, smiled down on her. “Marinette.”

Tikki would have to touch up any powders that the tears ruined because Marinette was completely incapable of holding them back. “Papa.”

She collapsed against him, his broad arms engulfing her as each shed tears.

“Look at you,” he said, Marinette still held against him. “You’re so beautiful.”

“Thank you, Papa,” she choked out, squeezing him tight.

It took a while for them to separate, and when their eyes met again, a new round of tears started. The only difference this time was they were punctuated with wide, bittersweet grins. “My baby girl,” Papa reverently said, gingerly wiping the tears from Marinette’s face. “A princess. Had someone told me before now, I never would have believed it.”

“I wouldn’t have either,” she said through the tears.

“I guess you always were a lucky ladybug. And now, the whole kingdom is going to know it.”

Marinette wiped the tears from her eyes, her cheeks beginning to hurt from grinning so much.

The moment was brought to an end when Tikki tapped her shoulder. “I’m sorry, but I should fix your make-up before you go down. They’ll be expecting you soon.”

Reluctantly, Marinette pulled herself away from her papa in order to let Tikki touch up her face powders. It took a moment for Marinette to calm enough where the tears stopped, so Tikki had to make haste in touching up Marinette’s appearance.

When she made it back to her father, he seemed to have gotten his own tears under control. With a proud grin, he extended his arm. “Shall we go, my lucky ladybug?”

Marinette took it without hesitation. “We shall.”

There was a peace that her papa brought with him, an easiness that made Marinette forget about the butterflies in her stomach. They walked in silence, each knowing that conversation would likely start off another round of tears. But talking didn’t matter. To Marinette, having her father here to guide her through the near empty hallways was a blessing she was immensely thankful for.

When they arrived at the tall double doors that lead to the throne room, her father patted her hand. “You’ll do perfectly. I know it.”

Marinette knew her father meant those words, and it eased the worst of her nervousness. “Thanks, Papa.”

“Be sure to tell your husband thank you for me. I doubt I’ll get the chance to do it.”

Marinette’s brow furrowed. “For what, Papa?”

He sighed, one that was tender and clearly meant to steady himself against the onslaught of tears. “For giving me a second chance to give my daughter away. This time, to a man that I fully believe will treat you well and give you the life I could only imagine giving you.”

Do not cry, she begged herself. You’re wearing make-up. Do. Not. Cry.

“I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold onto you forever,” he continued. “And that first time giving you away at that hasty wedding of yours…it was so painful for me. Because I wasn’t able to protect you anymore. I was giving you to a stranger. Now, since I know I won’t get the luxury to give you away at your upcoming wedding, I’m honored to give you away this time.”

Marinette shoved back the tears as she hugged her father again, tightly. “I love you. I love you, Papa, so much.”

“I love you, too, Marinette.” He then lifted her chin so as to meet her gaze. “Now go make your mother and I proud.”

She dabbed her eyes before tears could fall then nodded.

With one last kiss to the crown of her head, her father stepped back, just in time for the doors to open. Marinette squared her shoulders, standing tall and proud as Adrien’s voice came to her as clearly as ever. “May I present to you my future bride, Lady Marinette.”

The hall was silent as every single guest turned their attention towards her. A new wave of fear washed over her, but it was quickly conquered with her determination to make her father proud.

With that in mind, she was able to take a breath and march onwards. Her heart pounded, but she managed to lock eyes with Adrien across the room. The smile he gave her was just fortifying enough to give her the courage to scan the crowd as she walked down the aisle towards the thrones. To Adrien.

His smile never faded as she made his way towards her. If anything, it grew. As she reached the dais, He extended his hand out for her to take. And when she finally was able to place her hand in his own, she felt her confidence soar because the way he was looking at her, the way he squeezed her hand, it was reaffirmation that she was right where she needed to be.

By his side.

He guided her to the center of the dais before turning her around for the kingdom to see. “Let it be known,” Adrien spoke, loudly and proudly, “that in nearly two weeks, I will be wedded to the woman who was able to negotiate peace with the Kingdom of France. To the woman who, because of her efforts, brought an end to this war and peace to the kingdoms. To the woman who helped place the rightful rulers of France back on their thrones. If I may be so bold, it is because of her that good fortune has been restored to not only this kingdom, but to France: a kingdom that is not her own but that she selflessly risked everything to save.” His resulting smile was bright and bold, one fit for a prince. He raised her hand victoriously in the air and shouted, “Long live Princess Ladybug!”

Marinette felt like she just might pass out as the crowd roared with applause. It was surreal, standing there in a dress that seemed too regal, the Prince of Paris at her side, being praised for just being…her.

It was a wonder how she ended up in such a position. How so much bad luck seemed to pile against her, yet it brought her here. It brought her to the side of the man she loved, to make friends she never would have made otherwise, to face a bright and shining future.

As much as she wished she could call Adrien’s words flattery, she couldn’t deny that she never felt more like a Lucky Ladybug than she did in that moment.

Chapter Text

Adrien paced the downstairs frantically. He’d hoped to burn off some of the anxiety pulsing through his body, but it was just too much for him to handle.

“Calm down, will you?”

Adrien turned to glare at Plagg. The earl was leaning lazily against the wall, a little bundle cradled carefully in his arms. At this point, that little bundle was the only thing keeping Adrien from smacking Plagg. It also made Adrien bite his tongue against any sharp retort. “Not. Helping,” he growled between clenched teeth.

Plagg’s grin grew. “You know, I seem to remember that was the advice I was given when I was in your shoes.” 

“And I am regretting it by the second,” Adrien grumbled.

Plagg chuckled, only to be interrupted by a little, whiny fuss. In an instant, Plagg was focused solely on calming the baby in his arms.

Adrien’s attention shifted to the little bundle that Plagg coddled and cooed at. He had to admit he hadn’t expected Plagg to have changed so much, but the day that little Wayzz came into the world was the end of the old Plagg. Somehow, his gruff and grumpy friend had been replaced by a very gentle and patient father.

Soon, there was no more whining, only grabby little hands reaching up to Plagg’s nose. With a grin, Plagg obliged, leaning down to put the tip of his nose in the tiny hands.

Adrien could only shake his head. “How you gained the patience to tolerate being snacked and grabbed by that little one, I will never know.”

Plagg chuckled as he nuzzled the little baby’s tummy, garnering a happy squeal from the infant. “You’ll understand soon enough,” he answered. “It’s like they are placed in your arms and the reality of it hits you. You’ll never be the same.”

Adrien grinned, but it was pained. Mostly because it reminded him of what Plagg was trying to distract him from.

Plagg seemed to realize this, too. “Have you heard from Nino and Alya recently?”

Trying to engage in any sort of distraction, Adrien nodded. He itched to pace once again but tried to keep still. “He and Alya just returned from their honeymoon.”

“About time,” Plagg mumbled. “How long had they been traveling?”

“They’ve been back for the past week, recuperating from their month and a half long travels. Nino admitted that Alya might just be more adventurous than him.”

“There’s no doubt about that. Alya is too fearless for her own good.”

“I’m sure Nino will help hold her back.”

Plagg scoffed. “If she doesn’t kill him first.”

That garnered a chuckle out of the duo.

“Any recent news from France?” Plagg asked, clearly working hard to continue offering a distraction.

“They’re starting to show signs of recovery,” Adrien answered.

“That’s promising.”

“Jalil is very pleased.”

“I think it helped to have strong leaders organizing peace between the kingdoms,” Plagg said. “France seemed to accept Jalil and Alix immediately. Then Jalil introduced Kim in some ridiculous way that I can’t even remember.”

“I think it was along the lines of ‘the war hero that saved my life’.”

“That’s right. And you were referred to as ‘the man who started reaching for peace’.”

Amused, Adrien shook his head. It was contrived and slightly forced, but Jalil had managed to present Kim with a certain grace that didn’t make his speech seem so odd. “I think what really helped was when Jalil informed the kingdom that it was Kim who struck down Hawkmoth.”

“Of course, that was the strongest point. Most people knew Hawkmoth to be the madman who sent their kingdom to war over nothing, so why wouldn’t France praise the man that took him out?”

That was a fair point.

“Then add to that the wedding between France’s greatest hero and their princess, and moral is immediately boosted because the kingdom knows now that strong, capable people are in control. You remember what happened after your own wedding.”

Adrien did, very well. Word spread rapidly that it had been Marinette who had started the peaceful negotiations. How, without her, peace might have taken longer than it had to get started. She quickly became revered throughout the kingdom, but that wasn’t what had truly endeared her to the kingdom.

It was after the wedding and that miraculous two-week honeymoon that Adrien and Marinette had arranged to welcome back the troops returning from battle. Adrien had done what he’d been raised to do: greet them cordially and thank them for their service. But it had been Marinette who had been far more personal. If Adrien didn’t know any better, it was as though Marinette had forgotten that she was a princess as she warmly welcomed the troops back, paying extra attention to the ones who had somehow been injured in battle. One war hero had been brought back on a stretcher, both his legs looking an awful lot like Mister Fu’s. Marinette had approached him, held both the man’s hands, and kissed his cheek. “Thank you for your risk on the warfield.”

Adrien couldn’t remember what else she had told the man, but once she had finished, the man had grinned, squeezing her hands tightly and thanking her profusely. When she had returned to Adrien’s side, she admitted that she offered him a reward of sorts, not only because he was a war hero, one praised by several troops, but because it was clear he would not be working for a while and wanted to help him.

When news got out about the princess’s kind heart, Marinette went from being the princess with a mysterious background to the princess that everyone in the kingdom adored.

 “The kingdom adores their princess, that is for certain,” Plagg continued. “Shame they had to fall in love with her after the wedding so the kingdom couldn’t enjoy it more.”

That was true. At the time of the wedding, while the kingdom respected their Ladybug Princess and were clearly grateful for what she had done, they hadn’t fully trusted her. It was understandable considering that her past was a bit of a mystery to the kingdom. It led to the wedding being less joyous for the kingdom than it could have been. While the celebration had definitely lifted the people’s spirits, the wedding was mostly just a show to legitimize their marriage.

Not that Adrien found anything wrong with that. Not when he got the pleasure of giving personalized vows to her and seeing her in the most beautiful dress imaginable. Not when the priest publicly christening them husband and wife meant he could be affectionate with his wife in public without people deeming it inappropriate. Not when their union meant they could start a family without scandal. Something they had very much tried to accomplish throughout the honeymoon, but no one except him and Marinette needed to be aware of such intimate information.

“As long as they love her,” Adrien answered, “the ‘when’ doesn’t matter to me.”

“I suppose,” Plagg said with a shrug. “I had thought that the presence of King Jalil, Princess Alix, and Prince Kim at the wedding would have helped ease that, but apparently, I was wrong. It was good they were able to make it, though.”

Adrien quickly agreed. “And I was glad that we all were able to make it to see Alix and Kim’s wedding.”

“I’m just thankful Tikki recovered from being so sick at that point,” Plagg said. “Shame it was Marinette who picked up that unfortunate torch.”

Adrien grimaced. It was a day before they were set to leave, and Marinette had dropped the news that she was pregnant. Adrien had nearly fallen over, and it did not help when she elaborated that she was likely about a month along. She had made it just fine to the wedding, where she was able to share with a very excited Alix the good news, but the trip back was miserable. Thankfully, by noon every day, Marinette’s illness had eased, but mornings were very hard on Marinette, which made them hard on Adrien and slow for travel.

Worst yet, she hadn’t recovered when they returned home. Mornings were hard for over two months before the sickness slowed, appearing sporadically throughout the rest of her pregnancy. It had worried Adrien to no end.

“Hey,” Plagg called out, pulling Adrien from his mind. “She’ll be fine. You have nothing to worry about.”

Adrien rubbed the back of his neck. “I know. It’s just… well…”

“I get it,” Plagg assured. “I was in your shoes not all that long ago.”

“And I’m glad you’re here, don’t get me wrong. It’s just…” Adrien sighed. “She’s early. She wasn’t due for another three weeks yet.”

Plagg’s expression softened. “I get it. But lots of babies aren’t born on time, this little one included. I seem to recall you and Marinette visiting before the baby was born, only for Tikki to go into labor two weeks early. Wayzz at least had the decency to let us visit first before informing everyone that he was coming.”

That was true. Adrien nearly had a coronary when Marinette’s water broke barely half an hour after Tikki and Plagg arrived. While she had felt like she’s had pains for weeks before, they both chalked it up to the baby being active. Now, Adrien was worried that they had missed something.

A hand grabbed Adrien’s shoulder. He looked up from the hole he was staring into the ground to meet Plagg’s gaze.

“Adrien,” Plagg said, his voice steady and calming. “She’ll. Be. Fine. Tikki is with her, and some of the best midwives in the kingdom are up there, as well. It won’t be long before—”

“Adrien.”

Adrien whipped around to see Tikki descending the stairs. His heartrate soared again, his breathing picking up with it. “What’s the news?”

Slowly, Tikki grinned. “Just wanting to check on Wayzz,” she said, reaching for the baby.

“Take it easy on him, Tikki,” Plagg said, handing the baby over to his wife. “He’s been stressed enough.”

When she turned back to him, she looked apologetic. “Give them a bit more time to clean up,” Tikki said. “When the midwives come down, then you can go up to meet your perfectly healthy little one.”

“So she’s fine?” Adrien asked, his anxiousness not easing in the least. “And the baby?”

Tikki nodded. “They’re both fine. That little one just didn’t want to wait any longer to meet you.”

Time dragged on seemingly forever. Tikki did her best to distract him, but the moment Adrien saw one of the midwives approach the top of the stairs, he took off running. He was practically sliding down the hallways as he rushed for Marinette’s room. Without second thought, he threw open the door, surprising the other midwife who was finishing packing up. But Adrien didn’t notice her. Instead, his attention was fully on the woman in bed, covered in blankets, cradling a little bundle to her chest.

She looked exhausted, and her hair was damp and hanging freely over her shoulders. Yet, as she turned to smile up at Adrien, she was the most beautiful sight in the world.

“Come meet your daughter, Adrien.”

He had to lean on the doorframe as his knees grew weak. This was real. He had a child. A daughter. Somehow, he managed to get his legs to move, walking over to the bed and carefully sitting down cross-legged beside Marinette before he could collapse onto the floor. Gently, slowly, Marinette moved the blanket away from the baby’s face

And Adrien’s world stopped.

She was beautiful. Perfect. Flawless. There was nothing that could possibly hold any sort of value compared to this itty, wrinkly babe. His itty, wrinkly babe.

He had to remember to keep breathing.

“Adrien?”

He looked up to meet Marinette’s gaze, only to find he couldn’t focus on her with the way tears were filling his eyes. He managed to wipe them away in time to see the smile she gave him. “Do you want to hold her?”

The first answer was no. No, don’t move that little darling; let her sleep and be happy and safe in Marinette’s arms. But then came a second instinct that completely clashed with that first one, no matter how nervous he was. “Yes.”

Ever so gently, Marinette placed the tiny baby into Adrien’s arms. And that was when he realized he never wanted to let go.

He sniffed, willing his happy tears away. Though he failed, he didn’t care. They rolled down his cheeks, but Marinette was able to wipe them away before they fell. With a happy sigh, she leaned against him, her head on his shoulder and hand on his arm. Adrien turned to press a long, lingering kiss to the top of her head. “She’s beautiful, sweetheart. Absolutely perfect.”

Marinette hummed her agreement. “Absolutely.”

Adrien’s grin was wide as he turned his attention back to his daughter. His. Daughter. The girl that had not even been in the world an hour yet had completely and utterly stolen his heart. Rather, what part of his heart Marinette didn’t hold. He didn’t realize it was even a possibility for his wife not to hold his entire heart, yet he was fairly certain that his daughter now possessed half of it. It was wonderous.

“Welcome to the world,” he whispered, pressing the lightest of feather kisses on the little baby’s forehead, “Emma Agreste.”