It wasn’t the first time they had done this. Not even close. And yet, Marinette couldn’t ignore the flutter of imaginary butterflies flitting through her stomach and chest as she stripped off her dirty, blood-stained clothes in preparation for a hot shower that could wash off the grime and exhaustion plaguing her appearance. The grime and exhaustion, in fact, that she had acquired only over the last couple of hours.
The fight had been one of the hardest ones yet, and they all knew it. She saw it in Rena’s eyes as the curly-haired heroine helped Marinette walk away from the pile of rubble that had once been a cute little shop full of kid’s toys, and she saw it in the dark cuts that stood out harshly against Queenie’s marble-esque skin. She felt it in the gash left on her by the akumatized victim, a canyon of ripped skin and clotted blood on her back, soaking through her shirt even when she detransformed. Judging by the sound of Adrien’s gasp behind her once she ditched the ruined item of clothing, it looked just as bad as it felt.
Even though they had technically walked away from this battle victorious, it still felt like she had lost.
Marinette’s shower generated enough steam to cloud the mirror in her bedroom, with the fresh humidity of hot water relieving her senses of musk and dust, beckoning the both of them forward. She was first to approach the shower and plunge herself into the soothing warmth held in by her nylon-and-plastic shower curtains. Adrien was quick to follow, with Marinette obediently continuing not to turn around, just as they established when they first began doing this.
To Marinette, it didn’t really matter-- by the time they both got in the shower, she was far too close to dropping dead from exertion to care. They could have been standing face-to-face with their naked bodies on full display, and she wouldn’t bat an eyelash. After all, it had been years since her crush on him had faded.
She cast a furtive glance over her shoulder and was rewarded with a glimpse of tan skin. It was true that since she had found out about the double life he lived, (and disclosed her own secret to him), they had drawn closer to one another. Began to depend on one another. Maybe it was the shared burden of being heroes—the injuries and physical strain were certainly enough to cause due stress on both their bodies and minds-—or the fact that both of them were stuck perpetually pining for a time long since passed.
So, to put it simply, they bonded over stress and wistfulness. Which, in hindsight, was probably a risk factor to begin with; a weakness to exploit. But it was clear that they both knew it. The nights they stayed up talking about their duties and their old school life and everything else in between highlighted that fact. As much as they knew the dangers of becoming too close while trying to uphold their positions as Paris’s heroes, it went unspoken between them that they didn’t want to let it go.
Unspoken in the fondness Adrien’s eyes held when he looked at her. Unspoken in the fact that Marinette, despite craving some kind of love to fill the hole in her life left by Him, constantly reminded him in the softest voice that she could muster: “Duty first.”
“Marinette?” Adrien’s voice snapped her out of her thoughts. She almost turned around to face him before realizing that she couldn’t exactly do so. The heroine hummed questioningly, closing her eyes as she allowed scalding streams of water to roll down her body and sweep the dirt and sweat off her skin. It was possible she had made the shower too warm, but really it felt far too good against her tired body, coaxing her muscles into rarely-obtained relaxation.
“Want me to get your back?”
Marinette’s eyebrows shot up, and she opened her eyes to look blankly at the shower curtains. “My back?” She repeated dazedly, pushing her sopping hair back away from her face. Adrien laughed, like honey and rain and warmth converted into a sound that she was lucky enough to have heard so many times. “Yeah, your back—the one with the cut the size of the Eiffel on it, My Lady.”
“You’re over-exaggerating, Kitty.” Marinette mumbled ruefully, flexing her right shoulder and craning her head so the tender touch of water could caress her neck and dip down around her collarbones. “I shouldn’t have thrown myself in front of Queenie. She totally could’ve taken that hit without a problem. After all, it wasn’t like she was the one with two spots left. Her suit’s regenerative properties would’ve been working.”
There was that laugh again. Marinette, despite herself, smiled as she felt the blonde gently wipe off the clotted blood around her injury, opting not to use soap so as to keep the gash from being infected. The water pooling itself around her feet was colored red. Even though the cut looked horrible, this wasn’t the worst injury she had ever gotten during a fight, and they all knew it. It was obvious in the way that Rena had seen the cut and tried to reign in her look of concern, brushing it off. It was obvious in the way that—
God, Him. She didn’t want to think about Him, but her thoughts betrayed her. The way he had stared at her, void of all emotion, before taking off into the streets of Paris, and the empty feeling her had left her with was enough to make her wince even a few hours later. It looked like he didn’t even care. At that moment, it had been enough to make her tear up.
Adrien hadn’t been blind to that, but had mercifully left the topic untouched. And now, she could feel the worry he had contained for her since the fight building up like a wave that would inevitably crash against the sand beneath her. It was practically tangible in his voice as he replied, “You need to take better care of yourself. For one, people will figure out you’re Ladybug if they see the injuries, and…..and I don’t want you to get hurt. Not for me, not for anyone else. We’re all heroes too, My Lady. We can take care of ourselves.”
Marinette sighed, reaching behind her to gently take his hand and guide it to her shoulder, giving it a comforting squeeze. “Adrien, as much as you may despise it, the Ladybug Miraculous holder is tasked with protecting the others. That’s my job-- to make sure you guys are safe. It’s just like your job, which is to act as my partner. Trust me, I hate it just as much as you guys do, but we were chosen for a reason.”
The blonde hero’s touch was more scorching than the shower water pouring down on the two adults as he pressed his palm against her shoulder. Marinette could feel scant touches of his skin against hers, his breath cool against her ear and succeeding in raising goosebumps along her neck and shoulders. “That doesn’t matter to me. I’m telling you to stay safe before I end up having to jump in front of you.”
His words were enough to make Marinette turn around, completely ignoring Adrien’s yelp of protest. She glared up into his eyes, resisting the temptation to take a look down at the rest of him or allow herself to be consumed by the vibrant green of his irises. Marinette jabbed a finger at his (toned) chest, closing much of the distance between their faces. “Don’t. You. Dare. I don’t give a shit about how you feel regarding my role as a Miraculous wielder; the job is mine and mine alone. Nobody, not even my partner, can tell me how to do it.” She clenched her fists. “We talked about this when I first found out you were Chat Noir, Adrien. I won’t let our relationship get in the way of any of my duties as a protector of Paris. I won’t. And I won’t let you take hits for me like you used to do when we were fifteen.”
The shock in Adrien’s expression should have been enough to guilt her back into silence, and yet that night it wasn’t. She stood there with her back prickling under the water, keeping her gaze determinedly on his.
Finally, he spoke, voice cracking. “I care about you too much to let you throw yourself in front of us, Marinette.” The raw anguish in his voice was enough to make her falter, but not enough to make her back down. Without thinking, she shot back, “Oh, like you do with me?”
Immediately, she regretted it. Adrien recoiled, pulling his bottom lip between his teeth as hurt flashed within his eyes. “You did the same fucking thing for Him too, Marinette.” The presence of both the swear and the mention of Luka was enough to bring her crashing down. Marinette felt her eyes water again, not for the first time that day, bringing her hand up and running fingers through her sopping hair to disguise this. She cast her gaze at the shower curtains as silence engulfed them, interrupted only by the sound of water continuing to fall.
Suddenly, her cheek was met by the same scorching heat that had held her shoulder earlier. Adrien tilted her face up, expression painfully soft and so full of adoration that Marinette felt like melting and falling down the drain just like the water at their feet. “You’re a pervert, Kitty. You should’ve turned around by now.” Marinette managed to get out, earning her a grin that made her heart skip a beat.
Since when was Adrien allowed to do that to her again?
“Sorry, Princess.” He muttered, golden strands of wet hair beginning to fall into his face. The brunette laughed, reaching forward to brush them aside before realizing just how exposed she was. Either of them could have looked, and she was tempted to, but she didn’t. And he didn’t either.
Adrien leaned closer, and as he did Marinette whispered on impulse: “Duty first.”
This had been happening too often lately-- points during their conversations or interactions where Adrien would smile at her just a little too bright, or leave his hand on her for just a little too long. It had been years since she had revealed her civilian identity to him, and she still couldn’t help but remind him that they had a job to do, a job that must always come first before anything else. Today was different, though.
Instead of his usual apologetic smile or his stuttered apologies, she was greeted with the sound of his voice, gravelly as if he had swallowed some of the dust at the site of the akuma victim’s battle. “Marinette.”
Some kind of emotion flashed through her, hot and raw. She let out a small exhale, reaching out to slowly cup his jaw with her hand. Coming closer, he told her, “I’m not Him.”
“I know.” Marinette’s reply was so fast, and so undeniably truthful in the way that she didn’t even have to think before she said it. During the pregnant pause that followed her words, she was almost doubtful that she had spoken, but then it was becoming more and more obvious as Adrien drew closer and holy fuck his lips are right there--
The tall hero swallowed Marinette’s gasps, lips pillowing against her own and coaxing her forward. Dimly, the raven-haired girl wrapped her arms around his neck, allowing her body to become malleable under his touch like clay. Her finger curled in the wet hair at the base of his neck, and his skimmed down her sides before setting at her waist. When her shoulders met the cold shower wall, she elicited a small moan that was lewd enough to draw a groan from Adrien. Adrien. Marinette’s mind, her mouth, her touch, her ears-- her everything was full of Adrien.
But she wasn’t full enough. And that terrified her.
“Stop.” The word bubbled against his lips but reverberated off the walls anyways. The blonde boy pulled back, panting. “Did I hurt you?” He asked instantly, and quickly she shook her head.
“N-no. Adrien, should we be doing this?” She looked up at him, gauging his reaction. His cheeks reddened, shoulders rising and falling in a useless shrug. His lips brushed against hers as he spoke.
“Probably not.” He said honestly, eyes tearing away from her own lips to meet her gaze. “But I really don’t want to stop.”
That was enough for her. She crashed back against him like a wave breaking against a cliff, kiss rough and desperate. Her fifteen-year-old self would have either run away or passed out from pure embarrassment, but she was nineteen years old now. She had done enough to deserve this-- fought enough battles, cried enough tears, and lost enough people to akumas before proceeding to suffer in silence because after four years, seeing people being taken advantage of only became harder. She couldn’t hide the smile that graced her lips and was reflected back at her by Adrien. By her partner.
She deserved this win.