Chapter 1: Instant Best Friends
“I’m telling you, they were fighting last night,” Alya said as she waved her phone in front of Marinette’s face.
Marinette laughed. “Yeah, like that would ever happen. What would they have to fight about?”
“The audio is crap, so I have no idea,” Alya said, pulling the phone in close and staring at it, “but they’re definitely screaming at each other. And look!” She turned the screen towards Marinette. “She just decked him in the face!”
Marinette’s eyes widened as she saw Ladybug’s fist meet her partner’s mouth. “Oh dang,” she murmured.
“I know, right?” Alya chirped. “Man, wait till this hits the Ladyblog, it’s gonna generate—“
“Hold that thought,” Marinette said, silencing Alya with a gesture. She was staring over Alya’s shoulder, apparently not paying attention to the conversation.
Alya twisted to see what her friend was looking at, and—Adrien. Should’ve guessed.
She turned back to Marinette and leaned in. “So,” she whispered, “you finally going to talk to him today?”
“Yeah,” Marinette said, dreamily, and began to wander toward the object of her affections, who was currently talking animatedly with Nino. Alya crossed her arms and met her boyfriend’s eyes with a smile, and it was obvious that both of them were wondering what bizarre approximation of a sentence was going to come stumbling out of Marinette’s mouth today.
Instead, to both of their shock, the tiny girl hauled back and slugged Adrien in the shoulder. “Hey, Dorkasaur,” she said with a grin. “You’re seriously just gonna walk past me without saying hi?”
Alya’s breath outright stopped, and she could see Nino’s jaw pop open like a supervillain’s soap bubble. What the hell? When had... what was she...?
Adrien turned to her, rubbing his arm with a grimace that, as soon as his eyes lit on Marinette, morphed into the brightest grin Alya’d ever seen him wear—which was even more rapidly replaced with a smirk that would’ve put Chat Noir to shame. “Well,,” he drawled, in a very non-Agreste way, “I didn’t want to blind you with my radiance too early in the morning.”
Alya blinked. Was he... flirting?
Marinette scoffed. “Small chance of that, Agreste,” she said, reached up, and ruffled his goddamn hair. “You get enough sleep last night?”
Adrien leaned into the head rub like it was practically orgasmic—she could swear she heard him purring. “We’re good?” he asked.
“Course we’re good,” Marinette replied, holding up her fist.
They tapped knuckles. “Pound it!” they said in unison, before turning to enter the school doors.
Leaving Nino and Alya to stare at each other, with the words what the fuck written across both of their faces.
Chapter 2: Float Like a Ladybug
“I am sorry,” Adrien said as they pulled books out of their lockers. “About last night.”
Marinette groaned. “Adrien, you spent a month doing the one thing I asked you not to do,” she said, yanking her grammar book out of the pile and praying it didn’t collapse. “You know this isn’t just about last night.”
”I couldn’t help it!” Adrien said, closing the locker. “You said you knew me—” He looked around to see if anyone was listening. “—you know, Adrien-me, and I was so close!” He leaned in close and waggled his eyebrows. “You know what they say about cats and curiosity.”
She swallowed as the sudden proximity to that face, the one she’d fantasized about so often, was suddenly up in hers, smile just begging to be kissed clean off of him. “Don’t—don’t act like this was... was out of your control,” she stammered, trying to control her blush but feeling it heat her face anyway. “You could have n-n-not.”
Adrien’s face fell and he backed away, rubbing his chin. “Yeah,” he murmured. “You made that pretty clear.”
They turned to walk to class together, Adrien staring at his shoes and Marinette unsure of what to say. Their whole dynamic had shifted in a single night, and now... she wasn’t sure what they were. Still partners, obviously, and her feelings for him were—ugh, she didn’t want to think about that, she’d just embarrass herself in front of him again and it was worse because he was Chat, she’d never hear the end of it—but when she looked at him she still saw Adrien.
”I’m sorry for punching you,” she said, finally.
Adrien laughed morbidly. “It’s okay,” he said with a grimace. “I did kinda deserve it.”
Marinette giggled. “Kind of?”
Adrien grinned back at her. “Besides,” he said, “it was a hell of a jab.”
”Marinette Dupain-Cheng, secret boxer,” she said, raising her fists in a rough approximation of the stance she’d seen boxers take in photographs. “Float like a Ladybug—”
”—sting like me,” Adrien finished, waggling his right hand as if he were in the suit and had called for a Cataclysm.
The two of them giggled, then Marinette shoved him in the shoulder. “Come on,” she said, turning towards the classroom door. “Don’t want to be late for class.”
”You can school me anytime,” Adrien replied, following after her.
Marinette felt the heat rush to her cheeks again. Refused to turn around. You aren’t getting to me, Casanova.
So she didn’t see Adrien’s face fall when she didn’t seem to react.
”What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck,” Alya whispered to her boyfriend as she watched Adrien and Marinette interact. Watched them touch. Watched them flirt. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, not entirely, but the tone was too playful. Something had happened and she’d missed it.
”I don’t know either, babe,” Nino said, squinting at his best friend and his oldest friend as they playfully tugged on each others’ sleeves. “This is pretty out of character for both of them.”
”I knowwwwww,” Alya groaned. “Nino, I have to know what happened!”
Nino put a finger to his chin. “Why don’t we just ask them?”
“Hmm,” Alya said. “Later. I wanna see how this develops first.” She walked off, muttering to herself, leaving Nino behind.
Nino crossed his arms. “Huh,” he said to no one in particular. “Today’s gonna be a weird day.”
Chapter 3: Questions but No Answers
“Okay, guys, I need theories,” Alya said, slamming her palms on the table. “Does anyone have any idea what the hell is going on?”
“Akuma. Duh.” Kim scratched the inside of his ear with his finger, barely paying attention, as if he’d solved the whole problem with two words.
Alix snapped a rubber band into the back of his head. “An Akuma effecting just the two of them and no one else?”
Alya shook her heads. “Akuma are flashy. They have to be to get Ladybug’s attention. If this were an Akuma we’d have seen it by now.” She steepled her fingers. “It’s gotta be something else.”
”Parallel universe?” Nathanael offered.
Alix scoffed. “I love you, Nath, but you read too many comic books.”
”You have traveled in time,” Max retorted.
Alix froze, finger raised and mouth open, before settling back into her seat and crossing her arms. “Point taken.”
“Okay but are we in the alternate universe or are they?” Alya said. “Like, did our Adrinette get swapped last night with someone else’s?”
”I thought we decided on Adrienette?” Rose interrupted.
Alya bolted to her feet to defend her choice before Juleka grabbed her by the shoulder. “This argument is not happening again,” she said, turning to Rose. “Sorry, sweetie.”
Juleka turned back to Alya. “My brother tried to text her pretty late last night, but none of the messages were going through.”
Alya’s eyes widened, as did her smile. “Your brother was—” She shook her head. “No, Alya, focus. Luka drama later.”
”I repeat again,” Nino said, exasperated, “why don’t we just ask them?”
”Adrien hissed at Lila, Nino!” Alya cried. “Hissed!”
Everyone could agree that that was indeed stunningly weird. Adrien and Marinette had walked into class together, and as soon as Lila had turned to look at them Adrien basically went into attack mode—hackles raised, teeth bared, and, well... hissing. Lila had jumped and the entire classroom had been in shocked silence. He looked like he was going to claw her face off, until Marinette tugged on his arm and shushed him with nothing but a soft look.
Of course, Lila had tried to stare daggers at her, and Adrien interposed himself between them, matching her daggers with a greatsword of his own. Alya had never seen him act like that—it was so completely out of character for him that she’d nearly dropped her backpack, and in fact that she’d almost entirely missed the fact that Marinette was holding his arm without her customary windmilling “oh-my-god-I-touched-the-boy” panic episode. Almost, but not quite.
”Maybe she finally confessed,” Rose said with a dopey grin.
”Yeah!” Myléne interjected with a blushing smile. “It explains everything! I mean, you all remember how Ivan got after he... you know...” She trailed off and covered her mouth with her fingers, clearly too embarrassed to finish her sentence.
But Alya was already shaking her head. “She’d have called screaming if anything like that happened, and I can definitely still hear so I doubt it.” She tapped her ear with a smirk. “Besides, Adrien can’t get out of the house, she couldn’t get in, and we all know how bad she is on the phone—when could it have happened?”
”All of his could be so much easier if you just asked them,” Nino grumbled.
”What do you think Alya was gathering everybody up for?” Adrien said, trying desperately to ignore the way Marinette’s legs were slung across his lap. It doesn’t mean anything, he reminded himself, focusing on controlling his breathing so he didn’t give away what she was doing to him and risk giving her a reason to stop. He stared at one of the cat plushies on her desk, not daring to look down lest he catch a glimpse of pink-clad leg against the chaise. Ladybug touches you like this all the time. It’s not any different.
Marinette shrugged. “She’s got video of me knocking your teeth out,” she said, glaring at her raggedy half of a sandwich as if it had insulted her mother. “That’s all she’s gonna be talking about for days.”
She held her sandwich up, and he swapped it with his without even thinking.
”My brave Knight,” she giggled, shoving his lunch into her mouth and taking a bite so large he wondered how he could fit it all.
Adrien’s breath seized at the nickname, and he fought down the urge to grab her and start planting kisses on her face until she was as breathless as he was. God, she even looked heavenly with her cheeks stuffed like a chipmunk!
”What is it with you and pickles?” he said instead, looking down into the sandwich she’d given him. “They’re delicious.“
”’Ey’re ‘e worsh,” she responded through a mouthful of chicken.
”You and Ladybug are literally the only people in Paris I’ve ever met who think that,” Adrien said. Then his stomach crunched. “Or... well...”
She swallowed and laughed. “That’s how you figured it out?” she cried. “Pickles?”
Adrien just bit into his sandwich, unable to respond. It had been a mountain of little things, things he’d never have noticed if he hadn’t been watching both of them. Stalking, to be honest.
How could he say that without losing her forever?
Chapter 4: The Wrongest Day
“Adrien!” Marinette shrieked, giggling. “Put me down!”
”No chance!” he called back, charging the classroom door with a manic grin. He had her slung over his shoulder, and he was running like she weighed nothing at all.
Alya blinked. “How does this keep getting weirder?” she whispered to Nino.
He shook his head. “I have no idea.”
They entered the classroom together to see Adrien attempting to deposit a wriggling (and apparently quite ticklish) Marinette into her usual seat with little success. Every time he shifted her she squirmed again with an uncomfortable giggle—clearly she wanted him to set her down, but her body was having problems with the parts where he had to touch her to do so.
”Need some help?” Alya said, reaching up for her friend.
”Yes please,” Marinette gasped.
Nino joined in, and between the three of them they were able to maneuver a furiously blushing Marinette into her seat without dropping her. (Well, without all of them dropping her at once, anyway, which was the real worry.)
"You good?" Alya said, as soon as Marinette managed to stop squirming.
Marinette only glared at Adrien. "I am going to skin you," she growled.
He grinned back. "I hear there's more than one way to do that," he said.
"Okay!" Nino said, snapping his fingers right in between them, interrupting their locked gazes. "What is up with you two today?"
Adrien raised an eyebrow, turned, and made his way to his desk. "What do you mean?" he said—and, much to Alya's aggravation, completely missing the lovely shade of red on Marinette's face.
"I dunno, man," Nino said. "I mean, just yesterday you two were barely interacting, and now it's almost like—"
Alya hissed and drew a finger across her throat, trying to get her boyfriend to stop talking right the hell now.
He did not. "—like you two are dating."
Adrien froze, halfway between standing and his chair. Marinette choked.
"We're—" Adrien said, glancing back at Marinette, who was studiously avoiding looking him in the eye. "We're not." He grimaced as he sat down in his chair. "We're not," he murmured again, shaking his head.
Alya widened her eyes at the disappointment in his voice. Had Marinette heard that? She glanced at her friend, who had buried her face in her hands. Alya grimaced. Given Marinette's tendency to overthink, it was doubtful she'd heard something so subtle—and if she had heard it, it wasn't likely she'd believe it.
Nino opened his mouth to ask further questions—oh god she was going to KILL him—when suddenly he was cut off by the sound of the door opening. Lila walked into class, spotted Adrien, and sidled up to him, and Alya saw Marinette’s muscles get tight.
She sighed—not this crap again. Did Marinette really have to start bristling at every girl who came near Sunshine Boy?
“Hey Adrien!” Lila said. “So I was talking to Ladybug last night, and she said she might be interested in meeting you!” She leaned in close with a conspiratorial smirk. “She even asked me to give you her phone number.”
Oh, no. That was... like, the surest way to get Adrien's attention. Marinette was going to be furious. Alya shot a glance at her, mentally bracing herself for her friend to go off...
Marinette... just relaxed? What the hell?
Adrien stared at Lila. Then he looked at Marinette. Then turned back to Lila.
And then he began to cackle.
The entire class stared at him as a completely unfamiliar sound emerged from his mouth. Whenever they’d heard him laugh before, it was polite, small, controlled. This was none of those things. Adrien was laughing loud, and hard, and somehow kind of vicious, and he couldn’t seem to catch his breath. Even Madame Bustier was staring at him like he’d grown a second head.
The only person who didn’t seem to find it strange was Marinette, who was watching him through half-lidded eyes with what appeared to be grim satisfaction.
"...Adrien?" Lila said. "Are you okay?"
Adrien's laugh died down to a chuckle, and he wiped his eyes. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I'm—" He giggled. "I'm good."
Lila straightened a bit, confusion written across her face. "Hey, I mean, I know it can be kind of nerve-wracking, meeting your idol—"
"I'm not nervous," Adrien interrupted with a predatory grin. "I just..." He shook his head. "I can't believe you picked today, of all days, to try that line on me."
"Line?" Lila said. "I... what?"
Adrien smiled, turning toward the board. “Might’ve even worked yesterday.”
Alya blinked, as confused as Lila was. What did he mean?
Lila squinted. “Are you telling me you don’t want to talk to Ladybug?” She frowned. “Oh, Adrien, she’ll be crushed!”
Adrien chuckled. Marinette smirked.
”Come on, dude!” Nino said. “You’ve been wanting to meet her for ages. You can’t pass up this opportunity!”
Adrien glanced back at Marinette, his face bright red. Evidently he hadn’t wanted her to hear that for some reason?
Marinette, much to Alya’s surprise, only glared at him. "Don't," she whispered. "You promised."
Adrien deflated into a pout. "Fine," he huffed. He turned to Lila, as if to say something, then thought better of it and turned to the board... ignoring her completely.
Lila’s eyes widened. "W-what did you t-tell him?" she said to Marinette, her voice quivering. "Are you—you r-really that... that petty—"
“Oh, can the fake waterworks,” Adrien said without turning around. “The first thing you ever said to me was a lie, you really think I would trust your word after that?”
”Adrien!” Marinette snapped.
”Wait, what?” Alya said.
Lila stood, utterly shocked. The rest of the class stared as Adrien rose to his feet, his face utterly blank. “You can lie to me all you want,” he said with an utter lack of inflection, “but I told you. Try and hurt my friends...” He beamed, his face sunny and bright again. “And I will end you.”
Chapter 5: Protection, Protection
“What happened to ‘as long as you and I know?’” Ladybug snapped, grabbing Ivan's arm and, with a deft leg sweep, judo-flipped him into the janitor's closet. She slammed the door in his face and crushed the knob between her fingers.
"That was before I knew she tried to kill you.” Chat kept his baton outstretched, sweeping back and forth to ward off Nino and Rose, who stared at him with hate in their eyes. "Why didn't you tell me about what she said in the bathroom?"
Ladybug opened her mouth, but in that moment, Alya pounced onto her. "Imposter!" the Ladyblogger screeched, attempting to claw at Ladybug's suit.
Ladybug groaned and kicked Alya free. “Nobody believed me about anything that day,” she said. She pointed at the Ladyblogger, who was currently scrabbling away from her on all fours like some kind of horror-movie demon. “This is exactly what we were trying to avoid, Chaton.”
”Can you really blame me for wanting to protect you?” Chat said, leaping over Ladybug’s head. He snatched Alya by the wrist, ripped open a locker, and tossed her inside, slamming the locker door behind you.
”Yes!” Ladybug said as she leaped upward over Kim’s head, doing the splits against the ceiling as she wrapping him in yo-yo and jammed his torso into a ventilation shaft. “Considering how often that ends with you dying?”
”We’re not dead yet,” Chat said. He nodded toward the end of the hallway. “Heads up. Liarbug.”
Ladybug groaned as she saw “herself” round the corner, spinning her yo-yo with a determined look on her face. “Chaton!” the other Ladybug cried. “Don’t listen to her! She’s the liar!”
”Stinkysock,” Ladybug said to Chat—the third code phrase they’d agreed on for telling imposters after the Copycat debacle. He nodded with a smirk, dropping to all fours and bounding down the hallway towards Liarbug... only to get tackled out of the way by a roaring Principal Damocles.
Ladybug rolled her eyes as she charged toward Liarbug, neatly vaulting the roiling mass of Damocles and Chat and rolling towards her doppelgänger. “You’ve had your fun,” Ladybug said. “Give it up already.”
”Never,” Liarbug growled in Ladybug’s voice. “As long as Paris needs me, I’ll never let you win.” She twisted like a baseball pitcher, cannoning her yo-yo straight at Ladybug’s stomach.
Ladybug shifted one foot back and held up her hand. The magical plastic whapped to a stinging halt right into her palm. She stared at Liarbug with a raised eyebrow. "You done?"
"Kitty!" Liarbug said. "Please, you have to stop her!" She leaped toward Ladybug, fist outstretched. "Stinkysock!"
Ladybug dodged, grabbed Liarbug's fist, slammed her into the ground. "Macaron!" she said. Code phrase four. The rotating system was designed to trip up any Akuma that tried to listen in on them.
Chat flip-kicked Damocles off him, dive-rolled toward Liarbug, and slammed his fist into her face, leaving her stunned. Ladybug reached up, ripped the left earring from Liarbugs ear, and squished it between her fingers, releasing the black butterfly.
"You okay?" Chat said as Ladybug collapsed against the lockers, as soon as the Akuma was released.
"I'm frustrated," Ladybug muttered, her fingers fluttering open and closed. Marinette’s habit when she was trying not to get angry—he’d seen her do it in the suit before, but far more often with bare fingers over a sketchbook. "She's taking everything from me, and, and, and I—I don't know how to stop her."
Chat tried to take a step toward her, then balked. A weird time to start respecting her personal space, but... well, he knew how tough sensory things could be when in overload like this. He held out his hand instead. "I... I should never have left you to face her alone," he said. "But...” He smiled at her, soft. “I'm here now."
She smiled, placed her hand in his. "Yeah," she whispered.
Alya dashed up, phone held at the ready. "Ladybug!" she cried, and Chat saw his partner flinch. "Wow, I haven't gotten an interview in forever. Got a moment?"
She and Chat looked at each other. He could see how tired she was, and for a moment he was tempted to say no on her behalf. But then he saw the fire flare back up in her irises, and she nodded to him, then turned back to Alya. “Yeah,” she said. “We’ve got a few.”
Alya held up her phone. “So this whole thing started because Paris Golden Boy Adrien Agreste claimed that your best friend was a liar,” she said. “I know you’ve worked with him before—what are your thoughts on that?”
Ladybug blinked, and he could see the deviousness flit across her face for a half-second before she steeled it again. “Why would he say that about Chat?” she said, turning to him, extremely convincing mock confusion on her face.
”Uh—no, not, uh, not Chat,” Alya said. “Lila? Lila Rossi?”
Ladybug turned back to Alya with her eyebrows furrowed behind the mask. “Who?”
Chat snapped his fingers—or at least, the fingers of the hand that didn’t still have Ladybug’s clenched around it like a drowning woman. “Wait,” he said. “She’s the one we just fought, right?” He turned to Ladybug. “I think she’s the one who keeps swearing revenge on you.”
Ladybug pursed her lips for a moment. “Wait,” she said, then snorted and began to giggle. “You mean—you mean the—” She snorted again, then gasped, trying not to choke on her own laughter. Quite the convincing performance. “The girl with the sausage bangs?”
”That’s the one!” Chat crowed. Ladybug collapsed back onto the lockers in paroxysms of laughter as Alya stared at them in confusion.
Ladybug wiped her eyes. “Sorry, sorry,” she said to Alya. “Who told you she was my best friend?”
“Um... she... did?” Alya replied, her eyes steadily widening in horror—Chat would bet ten euros she was realizing the hole she’d stepped into.
Ladybug shook her head, put her hands on Alya’s shoulders with a fond smile. “Alya, you know you’re my favorite reporter, but...” She tilted her head sarcastically. “Seriously. Check your sources.”
Then she turned and leaped over the rail into the basketball court below.
Alya turned to Chat. “You guys don’t usually hold hands like that after battles,” she said, indicating the offending appendage with a nod—and bouncing back surprisingly quickly from her embarrassment, he noted. Resilient. Maybe she was Rena Rouge? He’d have to ask Mari later, after class.
”Are you two—” Alya began, and his heart leaped up into his throat.
”No comment,” he managed to say without sounding too strangled. We’re not. We’re NOT.
“Chaton!” Ladybug called from down below. “Are you coming or not?”
“Think that worked?” Chat said. He looked down at the window of the janitor’s closet, judged the distance, then dove right through.
Ladybug followed right behind him. “Don’t know,” she said, squeezing into the small space. “Can’t wait to see how she spins that.”
Her breath—his breath—they were both breathing hard, breathing rough. In the tiny space, with her practically pressed up against him, it was hard not to think about what they could have been doing in here instead. If she'd wanted him. If he'd been someone she wanted.
He released his breath and his transformation in the same moment, green lighting up the interior of the closet and flashing across the mops and the dustpans, followed shortly by pink. And then it was just a few layers of cotton between them.
Marinette pressed herself against his side and yawned. "Why am I so tired?" she said. "Akuma fights don't usually drain me like this."
Adrien wrapped his arm around her shoulder, protective. "Long day," he said, trying not to let her hear how his voice shook at the casual way their bodies intertwined. "Longer night."
She snorted. "Speaking of, how's your jaw?" she said. "Any better?"
"Yeah." He rubbed it with his other hand. "Cure helped." He felt her pulse beneath his fingers, just a little bit faster than his own, allowed himself a single second to think about what it would feel like any any other context, before knocking himself back to professionalism. "We gotta get back to class, Buggy,” he said.
"Mm,” she replied, closing her eyes and resting her entire body weight against his shoulder. “Carry me.”
”Whatever the Lady wishes," he replied, reaching for the door handle. Anything at all.