Actions

Work Header

The Ladybug Man

Chapter Text

 

Humility is the quality of having a modest or low view of one’s true importance (Oxford Pocket Dictionary, 2014.) “True humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” (Clive Staples Lewis, 1898-1963)

 

***

 

Over the years, Marinette Dupain-Cheng had made it a habit to be late to school –she was probably already running at this very instant, gasping for air, just so she would make it in time–

            This was good. Nino was counting on this because he knew Alya always waited for her friend in the schoolyard before joining the rest of their class in the common room.

            “Stop fidgeting, already! You’re making everyone nervous,” Alix complained, as she was finishing tagging Alya’s locker with giant red and pink roses and white golden stars, while Rose and Juleka were busy sticking hearts and cupids all around the skater girl’s piece of art. “She’s gonna love it, okay? And…if she doesn’t, I’m gonna spray red paint all over her clothes.”

            “You are most definitely not going to do that, Alix,” Rose reprimanded her, before she turned around to face Nino. “Don’t worry. It’s gonna be epic.” She smiled at him softly, and Juleka confirmed her girlfriend’s assertion with a shy nod.

            Nino had to sit down. He closed his eyes and let out a long sigh, as he clutched his heart in an attempt to calm his heartbeats. “I just want everything to be perfect. She always goes big on Valentine’s Day, getting me backstage tickets to meet Carbon Kevlar and organizing treasure hunts all over the city…This year, I told her to leave it to me and I just…I don’t want to disappoint her, you know?”

            Rose’s face softened as she walked across the room and sat next to her friend, wrapping a comforting arm around him. “You’ve been planning this for weeks. There’s no way it will go wrong,” she assured him, as she gestured at Kim, Max and Adrien, who were standing by their lockers, chatting idly, all dressed up in the ridiculous hip hop costumes Nino made them wear– it was already too late for them when they realized that the hoodie and the baseball cap, in addition to the flying harem pants were definitely not looks they could pull off. “Come on, boys, tell him!”

            They all seemed a bit surprised at first, not exactly knowing what to say, but it was Adrien who spoke first. “We’ve all heard the song. It’s amazing. You’re basically reenacting all the best parts of Alya’s favorite rom-coms and she’s gonna love it, I guarantee it.”

            “Today’s gonna be lit,” Kim added, snickering. “The woman’s gonna talk about Valentine’s Day of 2021 until she’s like a hundred or something.”

            Nino scoffed at the remark. “Thanks, guys, and thanks, Rose,” he said, straightening up a bit and taking a deep breath, right before a text message from Marinette popped onto his screen, saying Alya and she were on their way to the common room. He was on his feet immediately after that, calling everyone into position.

            Outside, people were throwing knowing glances at Alya and giggling like little children, slowly annoying the Hell out of Nino’s girlfriend, but the latter tried her best to ignore them. When she and Marinette passed through the doors of the common room, Alya was a bit surprised to find it empty.

            “Where the Hell is everyone? Class doesn’t start before ten minutes at least, and I’m pretty sure I just saw a bunch of them walk in here,” Alya wondered out loud.

            Marinette just shrugged. “Maybe they’re in the bathrooms,” she supposed, confidently heading toward her locker and perfectly ignoring her best friend’s visible unease as she did so.

            Alya crooked an eyebrow at her. “All of them?” she squawked, but followed her nonetheless. She reached for her padlock key in her backpack as she went around the benches and the bags that were left on the floor– she tried hard to keep to herself how incredibly suspicious she found it that everyone just dumped their belongings here, completely unattended, and ditched the place, when Marinette didn’t really seem affected by it– and then stopped to just stare at Alix’s artwork. “What is that?”

            “Why don’t you open it?” Marinette suggested, chuckling softly.

            “Hmm,” Alya shot her a wary look, as she inserted her tiny key into her padlock to open her locker. As she did, she was thrown off and drowned under a flood of all her favorite candy, almost sinking in a deluge of Carambars, Tagada strawberries, Arlequins and Mi-Cho-Ko chocolate bars. “Oh, my God!” she let out, laughing, as she struggled to keep the sweets from slithering out of the locker, and keep herself from stepping on them. “Marinette Dupain-Cheng, you were onto that, don’t even try to deny it,” she accused her best friend, giggling hard.

            “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Marinette cheekily refuted. “Look!” she quickly added to distract her friend. “There’s something else.”

            “It’s an mp3 player,” Alya noticed. “There’s a note. Play me.” As she hit the play button, both girls recognized Juleka beatboxing and glanced at each other, their eyes round in surprise. “Is that…Juleka?”

            Marinette only smiled, and shrugged as an answer, before she turned around and urged her friend to do the same. “Hey, Alya? You have to see that.”

            As Alya reluctantly drew her eyes away from her locker and did as she was told, she was startled by the sight of Nino in an amazingly ludicrous rapper costume, draped in flashy colors and ostentatious jewelry– she was almost certain the heavy string of silver beads he had around his neck was actually his bicycle chain, but chose not to comment on it. He was striking one very confident pose, with something that looked like a mike, but that Alya suspected to be his mom’s iron radial hairbrush, in hand, his cap slightly tipped down in a way to hide his eyes, and she had to bite the inside of her cheeks to keep herself from laughing. She just crossed her arms on her chest and patiently waited for the rest of the show.

            “I’m the little Arab kid, so my prose isn’t the best– I’m the last one at school, no one is really impressed– I’m a mixer, I’m a DJ, and my rhymes are fine– So, babe, here’s a tentative happy Valentine’s…”

            He was rapping and dancing, and Alya was genuinely impressed by his talent, watching him in wonder, a hand pressed against her mouth, as she took in the lyrics, and tried hard not to cry, before he was joined by Adrien, Kim, and Max, who pushed the benches aside to make more room for Nino and accompany him in his hip-hop routine.

            “My girl– that is youis a gem, she’s the queen of Up-Above– Cupid-sized fireworks, and OMG, I’m in love– I dare y’all to remain so indifferent and cold– Before that dainty woman who honestly is worth her fucking weight in gold.”

            Alya laughed out loud, rapidly swiping her tears away, grinning brightly, as her eyes shone like two blazing black suns, listening to all her boyfriend’s praises and acclaims.

            “Her lips are made of silver, and her diamond eyes I crave– Her mermaid hair twirls around like a manic ocean wave– Her voice is like a daze and her words are bewitching– My love make of me your only prince charming!”

            And then, the music stopped, and Nino was standing in front of her, breathless, and everyone had suddenly gone out of hiding and was cheering around them, but all Alya could see was him. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and hugged him fiercely against her, as she buried her sobs in his shirt, still incapable of forming words.

            “Happy Valentine’s Day, babe,” Nino spoke gently at her ear. “I hope it’s not too cheesy or anything… Tell me when it becomes too much,” he said, and Alya could tell he was a bit nervous, before he let go of her and took off his cap. Inside was a little purple velvet box that he took out and opened right before her face. “I googled the best gift one could make to a Doomtree slash Dessa Wander’s fan…so uh…I hope you’ll like it.”

            It was a bronze-plated necklace with a pendant that looked like a pair of hideous, uneven ramshorns, and Nino looked quite unsure of his present, but all the doubts he had just flew away when his girlfriend screeched in excitement at the sight of the jewelry and immediately demanded he helped her put it on. “I cannot believe it! That’s– I love you!”

            Nino smiled, looking all smug all of a sudden, as he carefully tied the string around her neck. He did his research, of course. He knew what the pendant meant– it was a bronze-molded 3D printout of something called the caudate nucleus, a tiny part of the human brain scientists unofficially discovered was the part that actively partook in the process of falling in love, based on a study orchestrated by Dessa Wander herself. He just wasn’t sure Alya would know about it, for she never really mentioned any of it before, and feared she wasn’t gonna like the gift.

            “It was my turn to go big, this year,” he gestured to the candy at their feet, and then looked at everyone who participated in the whole thing– he told her it was Alix who drew the flowers and Juleka who provided the mp3 player, but Alya had already guessed this much. He said it was Kim who designed the choreography and Marinette who picked out their clothes for them– at that Alya shot a crafty smirk at her best friend, and they both burst in laughter as they took another look at the boys’ outfits– before he admitted to getting Ivan and Mylène’s help with the lyrics. “So, what do you say?”

            Alya shook her head, giggling still, as she laid both her hands on her boyfriend’s cheeks and left a quick peck on his lips. “I love it. I love the necklace, I love the song…I love all of it,” she confessed. “You’re amazing.” She paused, glancing at each one of their friends, a beautiful beam on her face. “You’re all amazing, thank you,” she said, wrapping her arms around Marinette and Juleka and bringing them closer to her, before she took turns hugging and kissing everyone, and finally ending up taking up residence in her boyfriend’s arms. “By the way, Juleka…I didn’t know you could beatbox.” At the mention of her name, the Goth girl’s cheeks turned tomato red, as she tried her best to hide behind her girlfriend. “I think you’re truly terrific,” Alya complimented her, smiling genuinely.

            “Thank you,” Juleka mumbled in her typically muffled voice, her head down, but she didn’t add anything else.

            “Also, where the Hell did you put all my books?” Alya asked Nino, and, immediately, Marinette reached for her own locker, opened it, and took out her best friend’s stuff to give back to her, whilst everyone else was chuckling. “My hero…” Alya sighed, fluttering her eyelashes at her, and Marinette winked at her absurdly, making it look as if it was meant to be intentionally provocative.

            The school bell rang shortly after, announcing two boring hours of P.E. for their class, and the whole group decided to head to the gym together, where they were greeted by their teacher and directed to the changing rooms.

            “Lucky,” Marinette tsked, as she let go of Alya’s pendant that the latter absolutely refused to take off even though their gym teacher specifically forbid anyone to wear jewelry during class– whatever, the bluenette thought to herself. M. Shultz was later going to make her take it off anyway, and it wasn’t really any of her business. “I wish I could have someone who’s half as in love with me as Nino is with you…”

            Alya scoffed. “Don’t you mean you wish Adrien was half as in love with you as Nino is with me?”

            “Whatever,” Marinette shrugged. “I’ve already accepted the fact that Adrien Agreste will only ever see me as the little clumsy friend that occasionally clings around when our two respective best friends are busy making out in a nearby bathroom. Ugh. And you thought our relationship couldn’t get any more awkward…”

            “Come on, Marinette, don’t say that!” Rose intervened, a ray of unfounded and utterly ludicrous hope in a fog of gloom. “Adrien loves you.”

            “Yeah, Rose,” Marinette replied scornfully. “As a friend.

            “Well, it’s a start, at least. It’s better than nothing, right?” Rose tried to sound convincing, but Marinette only rolled her eyes at her.

            “Not really –in this case, I think nothing is way better than being friends. I don’t mean to be mean or anything Rose, but I don’t think you know what it is like to be in love with a friend.” Marinette sighed. “It’s weird and unpleasant and I hate it because I get to hear him talk about other girls and it kills me. Sometimes, I wish nothing more than to be done with these… feelings.”

            “Then be done with them,” Alix boldly suggested, as she put on her sneakers.

            “Easier said than done,” Marinette lifted an eyebrow at her and smirked.

            Alix shook her head. “Nah,” she said. “It’s pretty easy. You just have to turn it off and say fuck it. That’s how I got over Nathaniel and Marc dating.”

            Marinette giggled. “Well, not caring about your feelings takes up lots of courage. I’m not sure I’ll be able to pull it off.”

            “You don’t have to stop caring about your feelings,” Alix quickly rectified. “You just gotta stop taking rejection personally, ‘cause, at the end of the day, it’s not really about you– it’s about them,” she explained. “What you need to do is just like go up to Adrien and spill your guts to them. The worst thing that could happen is him saying no– and it’s fucking Adrien we’re talking about. He’s gonna be extra careful and try his best not to hurt you or anything. Then, you’ll be sad for about two or three days, and after that, it’ll be as if your feelings never happened. Ergo, problema resuelto.”

            “I can’t just walk to Adrien and spill out my guts without a plan!” Marinette sounded outraged.

            Alix snickered. “Why not? Boys go up to girls and do it all the time. They don’t die of it.”

            “Yeah, but we’re girls,” Alya reminded her. “We’re not biologically molded to handle romantic rejections.”

            “Come on, that’s just bullshit,” Alix laughed.

            “I’m serious,” Alya insisted. “We’re just gonna take that rejection, and hang out to it until it becomes a part of us and then, we’ll use it to explain to people why we’re this very unique kind of fucked-up that we are today. It’s just how we work.” She paused, seemed to think about something for a minute, and carried on, “example: my first real crush is in love with a boy so now, I’m an angsty tomboy and I don’t drink milk,” she carried on, smirking at Alix, who blushed and rolled her eyes. “I mean, come on…”

            “Whatever,” the pink haired girl sighed, but, when everyone around her started to laugh lively, she couldn’t help down a smile. “I don’t agree, but whatever, Césaire. The only time you told a guy that you liked him, you two ended up dating for three years. You’re probably even gonna get married someday and have like eleven kids in the suburbs.”

            “I’m never gonna move to the suburbs,” Alya countered.

            “But you’ll consider baring eleven children?” Marinette couldn’t exactly hide her bewilderment.

            Alya was about to answer, when the girls were called outside by the teacher, and that bit of conversation was lost forever.

 

 

“So, Romeo…you think you’re gonna get lucky tonight?” Kim snickered, as he took off his shirt and reached for another one in his locker, this one made of lighter material.

            Nino grimaced. “Shut up. It’s not like that– And I didn’t have some disgusting agenda in mind when I planned all this.”

            “Sure, you didn’t.”

            “Hey, dude. Come on,” Adrien defended his friend. “Back off.”

            Kim let out a deep sigh and rolled his eyes at the pair. “Whatever. So, anyway– as I was telling Max earlier, I won four entries to Okay at a radio contest the other day. So…uh what are you doing on Friday? Care to join us?”

            “You’re saying this as if it wasn’t huge!” Nino exclaimed suddenly, startling the whole room. “No one gets into Okay– Especially not boring high-schoolers like us…are you kidding? Of course, I’m going! That’s like the hottest nightclub in town.”

            Kim chuckled. “Cool.” He turned to Max. “Now we just gonna need to find a fourth guy– and it will be on.”

            Nino blinked at both of them, seeming rather confused. “You’re kidding, right? What about Adrien? He’s literally right there.”

            Kim thought Nino was joking for a second and laughed, but rapidly came to the realization that Adrien’s best friend was dead serious. “Definitely not.”

            “What? Why?” Nino sounded infuriated as if Kim had just insulted him.

            “Because…!” the latter replied. “When you go out partying, you only bring out your ugly friends– not the ones that look like Roman gods… That’s like the number one rule of the Playbook.”

            Nino’s shoulders dropped instantly. “Are you fucking serious?”

            It was Max you answered him, instinctively reaching for his phone’s calculator. “I can confirm that being surrounded by friends with less than average physique would make you look up to 50% more attractive and would increase your chances to engage in more…let’s say exciting territories by at least 72.3%. Whereas, otherwise, if you show up with your eye-catching friend, your chances will overall drop to about 37.8% if my calculations are correct, with 100% of all prettiest girls throwing themselves at your abovementioned friend,” he blurted out the facts, readjusting his glasses at regular intervals, before he looked at Adrien with a pout.

            “See?” Kim nodded, completely agreeing with his friend, as he cockily thumbed his chest.

            “Whatever,” Nino tsked. “You guys suck.”

            “You want the tickets or not?” the tall boy asked the latter, a defying smile on his face.

            Nino mumbled something inaudible and folded his arms together, making Kim laugh out loud. Adrien stepped toward him and laid a comforting hand on his best friend’s shoulder. “It’s fine. I don’t mind– I don’t think my dad would’ve let me go anyway.”

            Kim clicked his tongue in annoyance. “Look at the great Valjean, always being the bigger person and putting others before him. Seriously, dude, don’t you get like tired of being perfect all the damn time, like this?”

            Adrien’s mouth flew open. “I don’t try to be perfect,” he said. “And I-I’m not perfect.

            “Negative,” Max replied immediately. “Thomas Astruc even tweeted it himself.”

            “The who, now?” Adrien seemed perplexed.

            “Uh…only our god and savior, father founder of the Miraculous world? Hell-o?”

            Kim shook his head in disdain. “Ignore him.” Nino and Adrien were quick to follow the advice, and Max sighed in anguish. “Adrien,” Kim pursued, “I guarantee you that if you told freaking Ladybug that you loved her, she would just lose her effing mind and blow you.”

            Adrien blushed as the lewd image made its way into his mind, but he shook it off immediately. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

            Kim did not miss Adrien’s sudden unease. “A thousand pushups.”

            “Was that a Brooklyn Nine-Nine reference?” Max asked him.

            “Why are you always so weird?”

            Max shrugged. “I’m just self-aware.”

            “Whatever,” Kim pouted. He turned back to Adrien. “So, what do you say?”

            Adrien frowned. “What do I-I say about what?”

            “I bet you could get into Red’s pants without putting in a single effort. And, if I win, you’ll owe me.”

            Adrien glanced away, shoving his hands down his pockets. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. S-She’s not like that.”

            “Like what? A girl?” Kim mocked him. “Girls get horny, too, you know. And, I don’t know you, Max, but I could name about a hundred girls at Dupont that would kill just to share the same air as Adrien. You really think Ladybug is any different?”

            She’s already in love with someone, you fucking jackass, Adrien wanted to reply, but he knew he had to keep it to himself, so he just burst out of the room instead, listening to Kim cackling behind him, as he crossed the couple feet to the door and got out.

            Dupont’s gymnasium had just been renovated a couple of months ago– the floor had been cleaned thoroughly for the first time in many years, and still shone under the white neon lights on the ceiling, and the school had installed two new basketball hoops that delimitated the new indoor court, there were two new handball goal posts, and larger, more comfortable bleachers and Adrien decided to sit on the very top of them, to show Kim he had gone too far this time. Of course, the latter didn’t see anything, and joined him at the top of the bleachers, as if nothing was wrong, accompanied by Max and Nino, and the three of them were talking very normally as if they just didn’t realize how upset Kim’s comment really made Adrien.

            “Okay, guys! So, today, this semester’s theme will be sports acrobatics,” M. Shultz began explaining to his class, after taking the attendance of course, when he saw everyone was there. “As you can see, the gym mats are all in the storage area, and you’ll be able to take and place them after I’m done with you. Okay, so we’ll start by assigning teams…I want Dupain-Cheng, Chiến Lê, and…uh– Bourgeois, sure,” he called the three students that were raising their hands to the front of the class. “Choose your teams– Marinette, you first.”

            Shultz had a very particular system where girls were only allowed to pick boys in their teams and vice versa. He always said it was to construct more mixed and diverse groups and avoid all-girls or all-boys teams that might be the source of some disadvantages when they would play against each other. So, Marinette hesitated, a bit nervous, before she was able to say, “Uh…I choose Adrien,” quietly congratulating herself for not mispronouncing her crush’s name.

            The latter got up immediately to join his friend at her side, and Kim waited for him to be in his field of vision to let out another nasty comment. “Of course, you do.”

            If Marinette did not understand why Adrien seemed so angry all of a sudden, she did not intervene when he bluntly told Kim to piss off. The latter only winked at the blond boy, and turned toward the class. He chose Alix as his first teammate and greeted her with their special handshake when she joined him.

            “Hey, you okay Adrien?” Marinette asked him in a worried voice, but Adrien only shook his head and tried to smile.

            “It’s nothing, I swear. Kim is just acting like a giant baby.”

            Marinette giggled. “Well, nothing new there, then.”

 

***

 

School was over and many people had already taken off, when Adrien and Nino stumbled on Kim taking bets in the middle of the schoolyard.

            “If there’s one guy in all of Paris that has a chance with Ladybug, it is our little Adrien,” he was telling people, accepting the money he was handed out, while Max wrote down the names of the people that chose to participate. “She said no to the Cat Noir, she’ll say no to anyone. You, me… But Adrien is not anyone. No one can say no to Adrien Agreste, not even our little Ladybug.”

            “What the fuck are you doing?” Adrien was immediately at his side, staring at him with red eyes and some smoke coming out of his ears, while Nino tried to hold him back, and keep him from punching their friend in the teeth.

            “She said no to Cat Noir,” a voice in the crowd cut off Kim just when he was about to reply. “Maybe it’s because she’s more into Rena Rouge. Even Adrien couldn’t change that! I mean, Cat Noir has superpowers. No offense, Adrien.”

            Adrien’s eyes rounded in surprise at that, and he could’ve just grabbed Kim by his collar and beat him bloody, if his father hadn’t taught him to channel his anger and control his emotions from a young age. Instead, all he said was, “that’s not cool.”

            Kim smirked. “Prove me wrong, then. Win the bet. Ruin your chances with LB.”

            “You’re a jerk.”

            Kim brushed off the insult with a shrug. “Yeah, well, I’m bored. And I need new sneakers– you know how it is… So? What do you say? Wanna make some money?” he asked, waggling his eyebrow at the blond boy. “Oh, I forgot, you don’t need any,” he snickered, before he turned back to the crowd, cupping his mouth so that everyone could hear him clearly. “He’s rich, he’s smart, he’s handsome– what else could a girl ask for? Who is team Ladrien? Who, on the contrary, is team Lady Rouge? Place your bets!” he shouted and was acclaimed by everyone around him, except, of course, for Adrien and Nino. “I think I’m gonna get some T-shirts printed out. What do you guys think?”

Chapter Text

 

Diligence is a synonym of conscientiousness, assiduousness, and assiduity. It is defined by careful work and persistent effort (Oxford Pocket Dictionary, 2014.)

 

***

 

Adrien’s chauffeur always dropped him off at school early, because fencing lessons took place before class.

            Usually, or rather when she was able to make it, Adrien’s childhood friend Chloe Bourgeois would meet him by his locker after training and they would talk for a little while before the place became too crowded and they were both surrounded by their friends.

            More often than not, the conversations were very Chloe-centered and on most days, Adrien would just sit idly and listen to her latest problems, sometimes give her some advice he knew perfectly she was going to ignore, but today, he just couldn’t bear the thought of it, so he told her off, in a nice way, of course, but oddly enough, he knew she didn’t take it so well and sighed when he realized that he would probably never hear the end of it– she was certainly already on her way to tell Sabrina about it.

            “I know I always tell you to stop trying to constantly be nice to everyone and bend over backward like this, and I know I always act like I dislike this girl but…and, don’t get me wrong, I find it absolutely upsetting and stupid, but you’ve always been a smiley little ray of hope and sunshine, and now I can’t help but notice that something’s wrong,” Kagami remarked, as she was carefully folding her fencing uniform. “Would you care to talk about it?”

            Adrien glanced away and shook his head. “N-No.”

            She just shrugged. “Okay.”

            She was about to go on her way, when Adrien reached for her wrist to stop her. She turned around immediately. “W-wait uh…I– yeah.”

            Kagami’s face softened as she let her shoulders relax and took place next to her friend on the bench. “What happened?”

            “Um…d-do you…find me attractive?”

            The question was startling. Kagami blinked at him in confusion. “Pardon me?”

            Adrien’s cheeks turned red instantly, as his eyes almost bulged out of their sockets, and he was shaking his head frenetically. “N-no! Not– I’m not asking you out or anything like that!” he was quick to say. “I uh…just… F-from a completely objective point of view… Do y-you…find me attractive?”

            Kagami smirked. “Well, if I don’t, every teen fashion magazine that’s ever been seems to.” She paused. “Why?”

            “Why did you go out with me in 10th grade?”

            “Uh…is this some sort of distasteful prank or something?” Kagami pouted. “I’m uh…” she made a move to get up and probably leave, embarrassed enough at it was by Adrien’s very weird inquiries, but he shot her a pleading look and convinced her to stay.

            “I’m really asking, Kagami.”

            She seemed to believe him and sighed. “Ugh…” She thought about it for a while before she simply gave up, “I don’t know,” she admitted. “I think you’re cute. And I liked making Chloe’s life miserable.”

            Adrien nodded, and looked down. “And then, you realized I wasn’t your type.”

            Kagami shrugged, a bit saddened. “Yeah, basically.”

            “Why am I not your type?”

            Kagami crossed her arms over her chest and stared at him with what seemed to be a mixture of worry and annoyance. “Adrien…what is going on with you?”

            Adrien apologized immediately. “I’m just…I’m tired. I haven’t slept much last night– I stayed up late thinking about some stuff Kim said.”

            “Well, you certainly don’t need me to tell you that Kim’s a royal jackass and you shouldn’t listen to a single thing he says,” Kagami snickered, but seeing Adrien not even trying to smile, she laid a gentle hand on his shoulder and said, “or you do. Adrien, Kim is a royal jackass and you shouldn’t listen to a single thing he says.” Adrien chuckled, but it was empty and sounded awful. Kagami chose not to comment on it. “I’m surprised you still hang out with him at all.”

            “He’s my friend, you know.”

            “Yeah, a friend who’s also a giant running mouth… Why? What did he say this time?” she asked, when she realized that trashing Kim wasn’t cheering up her friend.

            “Nothing…he… He said that with a pretty face like mine, I could get any girl I want. Do you– Do you think he’s right?”

            Kagami’s smile was genuine– Adrien loved it when she smiled like this. It was rare, but she truly looked beautiful. She laid a soft hand on his cheek and whispered, “Well, you go me, didn’t you?”

            Kagami was a very reserved, quiet, and distant kind of person. It wasn’t exactly easy to talk to her, or even be friends with. People thought she was very snobbish, but Adrien knew she was just very introverted and too strong to let people toy with her. She had a very heavy schedule as well, but unlike him, she didn’t care for friends or any activity that didn’t have to do with school, fencing, or music. She was difficult to reach out to, but Adrien had managed to crack her open and become a close friend of hers.

            Thanks to his looks, apparently. And that wasn’t exactly something he could take credit for–

            Adrien wanted to pursue the conversation, ask her more about her views on their very particular friendship and seek some sort of reassurance, but his phone rang before he was able to, his news app alerting him of an akuma attack downtown, and he had to excuse himself.

 

***

 

Hey! Get b-back here! Do you really think you can hide from me, Ladybug? Run all you want, but you won’t be able to do so for long!” the akuma’s cackle resonated between the buildings and triggered a faint tremor– it was more than enough, however, to cause the people to panic even more, and they were now running aimlessly around the city, waving their arms above their heads as they screamed the names of their loved ones and put on a show in front of the cameras.

            “Ugh…fuck,” Ladybug cursed at herself, as she landed on a nearby rooftop and immediately went to hide behind a chimney. Her ankle was twisted and she was holding on to the metronome her Lucky Charm had earlier sent her way.

            This new akuma had arisen something like half an hour ago and Cat Noir had yet to show up. His name was Windweaver, but Ladybug didn’t know exactly what caused him to succumb to Hawk Moth powers– she just knew that he had the ability to turn the energy contained in vibrations and sound waves into earthquakes.

            A cold gasp escaped her as she reached for her earrings when she heard them let out their first beep. Windweaver was still going around on the streets, actively looking for her, making the earth tremble as he stepped on it. Chaos reigned around him– cars honking, kids shouting, edifices and houses shattering to the ground– A state of sheer anarchy that shadowed every monster attack Paris has ever lived. Windweaver couldn’t use any of it. Noises echoed, riotous, uncontrolled, and he wasn’t endowed with the right capacities to grasp and redirect them. He needed harmony– he needed to focus on one single unaltered sound and convert it to power.

            “Have you located the akuma, yet?”

            “Jesus!” If you asked Ladybug, she would tell you her partner, at that moment, had appeared out of nowhere to make her fall on purpose, and nearly give her a heart attack. Of course, Cat Noir would argue that he had been standing beside her for quite some time now, but she was too focused on the akuma to actually notice his presence. “Can you never do that again?” Ladybug had to swallow a scream, as she clutched her hand to her chest and glared at him with an angry frown.

            He laughed and helped her up. “Swipe you off your feet? Why, you know I cannot promise you that, M’Lady.”

            Ladybug decided to ignore his comment, clean and simple. “The akuma is in his headphones,” she said instead. “I noticed he uses them to amplify vibration sources and fuel his powers.”

            “Okay,” Cat Noir nodded. “So…what are his powers? Making stuff explode, is that it?”

            She shook her head. “No, he uses sound as a mechanical wave to cause earthquakes.”

            “Great. And what about this?” he wondered, gesturing at the red and black metronome she had in hands.

            She shrugged. “I honestly have no idea what to do with that,” she admitted, seeming rather confused. “I don’t ever know what it is…”

            Cat Noir smiled at how incomparably adorable she looked when she was all nervous and flustered like that– It not surprisingly reminded him of when they first became superheroes, and were sent to fight Stoneheart. She was very scared back then, and odd, she had no clue what she was doing, and it was rare to see this side of her now, almost three years later.

            She had quickly grown out of it, he realized, to become the very elegant, very smart, very sharp girl she was today –she always was extremely clever, of course– but it was also nice to see that she wasn’t always this strong, courageous, undefeatable force of nature that the whole Paris depicted her as, that she was also human and flesh under her mask, and could be vulnerable, and that only him, Cat Noir, was allowed and trusted enough to see it.

            “It’s called a metronome,” he told her. “Music teachers often use it as a device to introduce the notion of beat and tempo to their youngest students.”

            “So…w-what? Are we supposed to play him an arabesque or something?” Cat Noir chuckled at the remark, before Ladybug actually seemed to take it into consideration. “Wait…it’s not that bad of an idea…” she shrugged. Her partner crooked an eyebrow at her, looking very doubtful all of a sudden. “Hear me out…he needs power, right?” she said, as she carefully took a peek ahead the wall she was standing behind, at the akuma raging along the city’s streets. “He can’t purify the sounds around him, and, as a result, can’t really use them…so he needs harmony. He needs music…” she seemed pleased with herself for having figured this bit out, before she glanced down at the metronome she had in hand, and instantly lost her smile. She peered up at her partner. “But…I don’t know how to play any instruments…”

            “I do,” Cat Noir assured her. “I play the piano,” he said, thinking it would impress her, before he took a good look at his hands– with dismay, he realized he had claws, as if it was legitimately the first time he ever noticed them, and sighed. “Do they seem bigger to you?” he asked Ladybug, and she just rolled her eyes at him.

            “Can you still play?”

            He frowned. “I-I…guess. It’ll be harder, though.”

            “Okay,” Ladybug nodded. “Then, what?”

            “Well, I guess I’ll be bait…”

            “Yeah, but what’s our action plan? How am I supposed to use this…thing to snatch his akuma from him?” she wondered, wide eyes, gesturing to the metronome.

            “I…uh…I may have an idea,” Cat Noir shyly suggested, blushing a bit as he glanced away nervously.

            Ladybug pouted. “What?”

            As if he immediately realized what he’s sudden coyness may have implied, he raised both his hands in plea and said, “No! No, nothing like that, M’Lady…I was just…uh… W-when I was a kid, I h-had this piano teacher, right? He was very old and couldn’t exactly hear properly so he had to wear this odd hearing device at all times. The akuma looks like he’s using his headphones in the same way.”

            Ladybug folded her arms together. “Where are you going with this, Cat?”

            “Listen! And uh…keep in mind that he was a horrible teacher and that I was like six at most, so don’t be too harsh while judging me…”

            “Just get to the damn point. You know I’m the last person that’ll ever judge you…”

            Cat Noir seemed touched by her words, but they seemed so natural and obvious to her, she didn’t even notice it until he thanked her, making her blush a bit. “One time, I had a dirty agenda in mind, and I started to play really quietly– So quietly he had to turn up his device volume to the maximum… And that was when I hit him with the fiercest, most powerful note I could. He yelled from the pain it caused him, but I was six, so I found it funny, and had to throw away the device instantly.” Cat Noir paused, seemed to look back at this event, and passed a hand through his messy hair to scratch the back of his next. “So…it could be a way to get Windweaver to detach himself from his akuma, right?”

            “Oh my God!” Ladybug exclaimed, biting on the inside of her cheeks to hold down her giggles. “That is genius, Cat.”

            “Well, M. Pardo quit almost immediately after I pulled up this stunt while accusing me of rendering deaf and…I was grounded…uh pretty severely for it, but sure…if it helps defeat akumas…” he snickered. “Let’s just say that I took one for the team.”

            Ladybug chuckled lightly, before her face was serious again. “But where on Earth are we gonna find you a piano at this hour?”

            Cat Noir didn’t need to think about it. “The Sunny Theater,” he said. “Most of piano concertos are given there, and they have displayed one of the nicest and most expensive pianos in Europe. Well…it’s nothing compared to the one they have at the Austrian New Day Philharmonics Conservatoire…”

            Ladybug had to snap her fingers before his face to get him back, as she said, “Okay, kitten, where is this theater?”

            “Follow me.”

 

 

Ladybug figured it was a good idea to turn on the metronome and place it in the middle of The Sunny Theater entrance hall to lure Windweaver there, as she waited in the auditorium with Cat Noir. The latter was already scouring the piano tool’s content, looking for a partition that wouldn’t be too difficult to play, while she endorsed the role of the lookout– she had to hide behind the curtains as she fed Tikki, when the beeping of her Miraculous became too insisting. To her content, the metronome was still ticking in the theatre’s hall after that.

            “Would you date a guy just because he’s good looking?”

            The question was so unexpected, and Ladybug was so surprised by it, she had to turn around to face her partner. “Uh…what? Where is this ever coming from?”

            Cat Noir got to his feet, a music sheet in hand, that he placed on the piano holder, before he cracked his fingers and started to play– he had to get used to playing with the claws– it was a very unpleasant sensation, if you asked him. “It’s just a question. Would you?”

            Ladybug scoffed, shook her head. “Cat, I told like a million times– I’m in love with someone else. Get it in your damn head, already…”

            “You’ve been saying this for three years now,” Cat Noir replied. “I really thought you’d be together with this douchebag by now. Better give up, if you ask me.”

            He was sure Ladybug was gonna yell at him for calling her crush a douchebag and proceed to list him all the reasons why he, in fact, wasn’t, but instead, she just smiled, and relaxed a bit. “You haven’t,” she said, and it almost made him stop playing.

            “Touché,” he snickered to himself. “So, this guy, huh? Must be pretty special, yeah?”

            “I guess,” she shrugged, turning back to the main doors, as she readied her yo-yo in hand, when she heard a distant thud coming from outside the room.

            “You guess?”

            “Look, can we talk about it later?”

            “There’s never any time– we’re always fighting off akumas, and when we’re not, our Miraculouses are out of juice and we need to leave to feed our kwamis.”

            Cat Noir seemed angry. Ladybug turned his way and walked up to him– she looked at him with worried eyes, as he stopped playing and nervously chewed on his lower lip. “What’s going on?”

            He shook his head and laid his fingers on the ivory keys again, more gently this time, as he urged Ladybug to go and hide behind the stage. “It’s n-nothing,” he assured her. “I just wanted to know. F-forget it.”

            Ladybug hesitated before she left him, when the doors flew open, and Windweaver had found them. According to some information she had gathered on their way here, the akuma’s real name was Angelo Escobar, and he was around thirteen years old. He was playing the drums a bit too loudly in his room, while his mom had some friends over, and got grounded a little too harshly, when he refused to put on his headphones and make less noise– his mom ultimately confiscated his drumsticks, and his neighbor, who witnessed the whole scene through his bedroom window, made fun of Angelo for being such a bad musician. And then, well, let’s just say that Hawk Moth just couldn’t resist such a golden opportunity.

            “Ah…,” Windweaver grinned at Cat Noir, as the latter gradually began to play more gently and softly, to a point where one had to be at least sitting in the front row to hear anything. “Chopin’s Nocturnes, I see,” he recognized the piece, as he headed toward the stage, and, just as the two superheroes expected it, started to increase the volume of his headphones.

            Cat Noir felt six again, waiting for the best moment to drop his bomb, as he relished the look on the akuma’s face. Hawk Moth undoubtedly tried to warn him that it was a trap, that there was a reason why the superhero duo always won, but Windweaver was too focused on the music to pay even the slightest attention to the angry man shouting inside his brain. Ladybug was nowhere to be seen, Cat Noir imagined Hawk Moth saying, she must be hiding, waiting for the perfect opportunity to ambush you– but Windweaver was still not listening.

            The masked superhero smirked as he dared to glimpse at where his partner was indeed hiding– she was laying on a girder beam above the stage, watching him play, and if he didn’t know her all this well, he would say that she looked rather fascinated by his playing the piano– he made a note of it for later, as he continued to play smoothly. When he returned home today, he promised himself, he was gonna thank his father for pushing him into this musical lifestyle he used to hate so much.

            Things went pretty quickly after that– Cat Noir hit Windweaver with one very strong note, and the akuma threw off his headphones, just like the superhero predicted it. Ladybug drew out her yo-yo to catch the cursed object and broke it immediately, freeing a dark-winged butterfly that she purified, as Hawk Moth let out agonizing yells of defeats.

            The first thing Windweaver did as he became Angelo again was to apologize to the two heroes, before they brought him back home. On their way back, they were stopped by a mob of journalists and paparazzi and had to answer to some questions, before their Miraculouses gave out and they had an excuse to leave.

            “To answer your previous question…uh– I want to say no, but I would be lying,” Ladybug finally confessed to Cat Noir, just when they were about to go their separate ways. He turned around to face her, looking a little confused, but let her finish. “I once agreed to go on a date with a guy because I found him cute,” she said, and her mind immediately went to Luka Couffaine, who she hung out with a couple of times in the past. “But he wasn’t really my type– I think I knew it from the beginning…I just wanted to give him a chance, I guess. Oh, well…it was like an eternity ago, anyway, but uh…yup. So…yeah, you got your answer.”

            Cat Noir smiled. “I’m sure you only went out with him to try and forget about the other one.”

            Ladybug giggled. “I tried to ‘change targets,’” she said, miming quotation marks. “It didn’t work out– so I just told my friend to shove it,” she blushed, and glanced away. “Little to say she was impressed with my boldness.”

            Cat Noir was about to add something, when his ring began to beep again, and Ladybug urged him to get out of there. “This guy you’re crushing on…he’s really lucky to have you.”

            The spotted superheroine grinned at her partner, before she drew out her yo-yo and bugged out.

 

***

 

“Do you think I’m attractive?”

            “Asks the boy whose face is placated all over the city,” Alya clicked her tongue, as she idly kept going through the magazine she had in hand.

            Adrien pouted, although she couldn’t see it, and sat next to her on the bench. They were alone– Nino and Marinette had math class together at this hour, and he and Alya had made it a habit to spend this free period they had in common together. “No, I’m serious.”

            “He pleads, sounding very insisting,” Alya continued to ignore the urgency of the situation. “Borderline annoying,” she added, snickering to herself.

            “Alya…”

            “But of course, being her all magnificent self,” Alya interrupted him, finally tearing her eyes away from her magazine, “and the incredibly glorious and generous person the world knows her to be, the great Alya, who has a boyfriend, by the way,” she added sarcastically, “at last, puts down her book of wonders, which cover is governed by her irritating friend’s face, and glares at him, as she swiftly reminds him that her boyfriend is none other than the abovementioned friend’s best friend.”

            Adrien grimaced. “Can you just answer the question?”

            “Are you living under a rock? Boy, you’re like the quintessence of attractiveness. You’re seventeen and a freaking top model. Can’t you see all the guys that dress up like you in the hope of having better chances with the ladies?”

            “So…say you didn’t have Nino, would you consider me?”

            Alya pursed her lips together, eyeing him suspiciously. “Consider you for what?”

            Adrien shrugged. “I don’t know…being your boyfriend?”

            Alya almost laughed out loud. “Bold of you to ask that,” she said, and by the way she was smiling, it looked like she was complimenting him. “You are engaging in dangerous territories, Agreste.”

            “It’s just that…ugh. Nevermind. Forget it,” Adrien let out in a frustrated sigh.

            “No,” Alya simply refused. “Mama’s curious now. Tell me.” Adrien wrapped his arms around his legs and glanced away, frowning, denying her any sort of reply. “Okay, fine…” Alya gave up easily. “I would maybe, possibly, if I wasn’t in a happy and perfectly satisfying relationship with Nino, think about considering you as like…a one-night-stand– during which I will obviously take a picture of your butt and save it into my phone to brag about the little hottie I just scored with my girlfriends,” she admitted, a bit amused by Adrien’s insistence. “But actually dating you? Nah…”

            At that, the boy jerked up immediately. “What? Why not?”

            “Uh…’cause I’m more into guys like Nino?” Alya waggled her eyebrows at him. “Remember him? Your best friend?”

            “Oh, yeah. Right. Nino.”

            Alya giggled. “But seriously…what’s really going on in that pretty little head of yours, my baby pumpkin pie?”

            “Your baby pumpkin pie? Really?” Alya just shrugged. Adrien sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose in exasperation. “I’ve just…been thinking about what Kim said yesterday.”

            At the mention of Kim’s name, Alya just rolled her eyes at Adrien. “What did that idiot say this time?”

            “He said that I could get any girl I wanted because of how handsome I am.”

            Alya looked like she wanted to say something, but then Adrien’s words threw her off. “Oh,” she blinked at him, visibly very confused. “Isn’t that a good thing? That’s like a pretty nice compliment, right?”

            Adrien peered down at his feet and shook his head. “Well, I guess I just took it the wrong way, then.”

            This time, Alya couldn’t help down a giant laugh. “How?” she managed to ask between giggles, almost crying at how funny she found the situation.

            Adrien didn’t find any of it amusing. He just glared at her, his arms folded against his chest, and waited for her to calm down, before he admitted, “It’s not what he said, it’s the way he said it.”

            And, just like that, Alya was taken by another guffaw. “Adrien, you poor, poor little girl.”

            “What?”

            “You are way too pure for this world,” she carried on, laying a soft hand on his shoulder. “You may look seventeen and all, but you just can’t seem to act like a teenager.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “Nothing…” Alya tsked, quickly taking her hand off of him.

            “No– tell me.”

            “You know how people define teenagers, these days, Adrien? Horny. Teenagers are horny all the damn time. But you’re a freaking prude– I mean…a gentleman,” Alya instantly corrected herself. “You’re too…gentlemanly. You’re the guy we want to date when we’re like thirty and want to settle down.”

            “You mean I’m not exciting,” Adrien said.

            She shrugged. “Adrien, you’re hot, okay? But like…”

            “Yeah-yeah…fine. I got it.”

            “Hey, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing…” Alya tried to sound reassuring. “So yes, you could theoretically get any girl you want, that’s pretty much every guy’s dream, right? You could get in her pants,” she said, gesturing to a brunette that was talking with a couple of friends next to the staircase, “Or hers. And hers… and even that one over there. Oh, wait, no, not that one.”

            “Why not her?” Adrien wondered curiously.

            “She’s too liberal,” Alya scoffed. “But I guess if you coaxed her right, you would be able to get her, too.”

            “So…any girl?”

            “Well, pretty much…”

            “Even Ladybug?”

            “Except Ladybug.”

            Adrien snorted. “Why not Ladybug?”

            “Because she’s Cat Noir’s, so leave her alone.”

            “I thought she wasn’t into him.”

            Alya crooked an eyebrow at him. “Of course, she is. She just doesn’t know it yet. So don’t go on messing with her head, pumpkin.”

            Adrien looked rather amused by her statement. “So, what you’re saying is that…you think I could get her if I tried.”

            Immediately, Alya’s face was very serious. “Listen, you know I like you, Adrien, I really do. But if you go after Ladybug and Cat Noir finds out about it and wants to gauge your eyes out…let’s just say that I won’t be the one to stop him. Because he’ll have every right to.”

            Adrien didn’t seem to mind all that much. “Ladybug will, I’m sure. If I get her, that is.”

            “Ugh…you will. She’s a girl. I’m sure she already had like a thousand wet dreams about the great Adrien Agreste, just like the rest of us.”

            “Um…what?”

            Alya didn’t look embarrassed at all by her revelation. “I stand my ground. It’s time you finally grew up and realize the true effect you have on people, baby pumpkin. I can name a hundred girls at the top of my head that would die to have this guy confess his love to them,” she said, pointing to Adrien’s face on the cover of her magazine. “And…oh! Would you look at that! This guy looks a lot like you– Are you two like related by any chance?” she teased him, but Adrien just pouted.

            “So, basically, what you’re saying is that you would give me a chance because I have a nice face, but wouldn’t really go out with me because my personality is shit.”

            Adrien really hoped Alya would find a counter-argument to that, but all she said was, “Yeah, basically. But that’s just me,” she added, right before the school bell rang in the distance, and she had to go. She told him not to think too hard about it, but of course, he didn’t listen.

            It wasn’t just Alya, Adrien realized, as he took in hand the magazine she left on the bench. It was Lila– Lila Rossi was obsessed with him when she was first accepted to Dupont, but over the years, she just completely gave up on him, and was now dating college guys.

            And Kagami, too. He actually went out on a couple of dates with Kagami– nothing happened, of course, and he always thought it was because he had such strong feelings for Ladybug…but…well, Kagami had just told him earlier that she wasn’t interested in him anymore –not in that way, anyway– so maybe he was the problem, after all. And that was why Ladybug wasn’t in love with Cat Noir– she couldn’t see his face, she couldn’t see how ‘handsome’ he was…so she never bothered giving him a chance.

            Tears built up at the back of his throat but he quickly swallowed them back, salty and warm and disgusting, and tore up Alya’s magazine cover. Of course, an action like this one couldn’t have been left unseen, and Kim, Max, and Nino, who were just getting out of class, came up to him, having witnessed the whole scene.

            “Something bothering you, dollface?” Kim snickered, as he gently brushed his fingertip over Adrien’s cheek.

            Nino immediately pushed him out of the way. “Get lost,” he hissed at him, as he took place next to his best friend. “Hey, you okay?”

            Adrien sighed. He couldn’t cry. Not now, not here, especially not in front of Kim. “Yeah…”

            “Don’t listen to him. He’s a jerk. He does what jerks do.”

            Adrien shrugged. “Well, he’s kind of right, though. I asked around. Everyone thinks the same. I’m perfect, and hot, and attractive, and I could get anyone I want with my looks.”

            “I’m sorry,” Nino scoffed. “Are you complaining about it?”

            Adrien rolled his eyes at him. “I just want someone to like me for me, not my face. Like you and Alya.”

            At that, Nino jerked up, looking particularly offended by Adrien’s remark. “Okay, first of– RUDE. Second, the only things your looks will get you are easy job interviews and a first date –maybe a second and a third one– and eventually a couple of one-night-stands here and there, but that’s it. I hope you realize that.” He paused, seemed to think about what to say for a second, then pursued, “You are gonna find a girl that liked you for you– The only difference is that you’ll probably gonna find her before Kim finds a girl period, and you won’t have to be locked up in a cage at a zoo for that.”

            “I already found my soul mate, if you must know,” Kim replied, a bit slighted.

            Adrien and Nino chose to ignore him, while Max only rolled his eyes at him. “Chloe has eyes only for Nathaniel Kurtzberg, so get over it already,” he said, as he readjusted his glasses.

            “Yeah, well…he’s gay now, apparently, so…”

            Adrien couldn’t listen to any of this– He just learned he wasn’t interesting enough for girls to stick around as he dated them, and that this was why he was never able to make Ladybug fall in love with him.

            But what if…she could actually see his face? Would she give him a chance, then?

            “Uh-oh…I know this look,” Nino remarked, pointing an index toward Adrien’s face. “That’s the look you do before doing something really stupid.”

            Adrien simply shook his head. “I…don't know what you’re talking about.”

            Nino glared at him. “Dude, I know you like the back of my hand. You are looking for trouble. Brotherly advice? Don’t. You’ll just end up doing something stupid, and that you’ll regret.”

            “Apparently, it doesn’t really matter if I am stupid. Girls will still go out with me– until they found out I am stupid, of course, and dump me. But it won’t stop other girls from going out with me as well. Vicious cycle.”

            “That’s not–”

            “Hey, Kim!” Adrien called his friend, who was busy arguing with Max about his future with Chloe.

            “What’s up, dollface?” he smirked at the blond boy.

            “If you’re right, and I get Ladybug to fall for me –to actually say that she loves me– even after I got the proof today that I’m not exactly the type of guy girls like to date long-term– just the type they will have fun with…then I…uh… I’ll run three times around the school with nothing but my underwear on.”

            Kim scoffed. “So that everyone will just swoon at your feet as soon as you’re done and I lose all chances I got with Chloe? Nu-huh. If you get Ladybug to fall in love with you, Adrien Agreste, I will…cut your hair.” Adrien’s eyes bulged out in surprise at those words, encouraging Kim to add, grinning, “I was thinking a magnificent mullet with some pink highlights at the sides, what do you say?”

Chapter Text

 

Patience, from the Latin Patientia, is “the ability to endure difficult circumstances, such as perseverance in the face of delay and tolerance of provocation without responding in anger. It is often coupled with forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties. Patience is the level of endurance one can have before negativity,” (Oxford Pocket Dictionary, 2014).

 

***

 

The sky was clear of clouds and seemed so high, Cat Noir and Ladybug had the impression they were staring at it from the bottom of a water well. The air was cold around them, but their costumes contained their warmth and worked against the friskiness of the end of the night. Paris slept tightly under their watch, trusting in the two superheroes that guarded the city.

            “Okay, fine. I admit. I know absolutely nothing about astrology,” Ladybug confessed, blushing behind her mask, as she tried to hide her slight embarrassment behind a coy giggle. “You caught me, alright?” She gently nudged against her partner’s arm. “I was just trying to impress you.”

            Cat Noir crooked an eyebrow at her. “Impress me? Why?”

            She shrugged. “I don’t know… I guess I like the attention,” she said, turning to her side to face him completely, and resting an arm under her head.

            “Well, I’m already head over heels for you, you know that. You already got all of my attention,” he assured her, as he finally dared to close the distance between them and leaned in, gently pressing his lips against hers.

            She was quick to return the kiss, urging him to open his mouth wider to deepen it. It felt magical, kissing Ladybug under the starry sky, and feeling her hands run all through his body, as she shifted their position and climbed on top of him. He hugged her closely against him, and all he could taste was her lip gloss, and all he could hear was his heart, pounding madly in his ears, as a thousand of emotions tore his mind apart.

            Her tongue slowly brushed the seam of his lips as her teeth grazed his skin carefully, and her palms traveled along his arms, and his chest, and his neck, desperately looking for some flesh and softness. She grinded against him, moaning to his ear, before he flipped them over, and she was the one lying her back against the cold tiles of the top of the Lafayette galleries, but, as he was about to kiss her again, she drew a single finger to stop him.

            “Cat Noir, come on, I’m tired,” she said, purring almost. “I want to go to bed. Let’s get this thing over with, already.” And, just like that, Cat Noir’s bubble popped, and he was dragged back to reality, where he was very much standing before Ladybug, a safe distance between them, and she was holding two red straws in her fist. “Come on,” she insisted again. “Pick one.” She seemed tense and irritated as if she didn’t want to be here at all, and Cat Noir tried hard not to take it personally.

            “Right,” he scoffed out, passing his hands over his face, to shake off every last piece of the fantasy. “I ah…almost forgot about that for a second, there.” He appeared shy all of a sudden, for a reason Ladybug wasn’t able to grasp, but he reached for a straw nonetheless, plucking it out of the latter’s fist.

            “Shit,” she cursed to herself, when she realized she had gotten the smallest one.

            Cat Noir let out an empty laugh. “Well, guess you’re stuck with the babysitting, then.”

            “Ugh, this really sucks,” she mumbled, kicking the air with her foot, before she tossed the straw off the galleries’ rooftop. “Like…can I just say how big of a child is Gabriel Agreste being by making us do that?” She jumped over one of the mall’s ramparts and sat on it, crossing her arms together, and Cat Noir couldn’t help but find her little angry, exhausted pout simply adorable. “We’re superheroes, for crying out loud! We’re here to protect the city from akumas– not to look after stupid teenage boys and keep them away from frantic fans… I mean, it’s ridiculous.” Cat Noir just smiled and moved to sit beside her. “I have a life, too– I know, right? Crazy. B-but it seems that all people see are red spandex and superpowers– and I’m so sorry. I’m rambling again,” she apologized, eyes big, the instant she realized she was still going on and venting about her own problems, without even letting him speak once. “You don’t need to hear that– you are in the exact same position. I just feel stupid now.”

            He shook his head. “Well, don’t. No, really…you’re allowed to be mad and find the situation ah…upsetting. Besides, I don’t mind listening to you fussing about having to bodyguard pretentious little shits with 7.2 million Tweeter followers– Yeah, I know that’s the only reason you agreed in the first place. The Agrestes are pretty influential people…”

            If it were any other day, Cat Noir would’ve probably told her not to worry about it– that he would have it all covered, and that it was absolutely no bother at all– because, truly, all he would have had to do was to transform a couple of times while he was backstage and make it seem like Adrien Agreste was indeed being looked after by superhero Cat Noir, and it was easy for him to save her the trouble.

            But now that Kim has been nagging him for two weeks straight about their bet, even showing up to gym class with Ladrien t-shirts on, he realized how good of an opportunity his father’s legendary restlessness had actually gotten him; the perfect pretext for a glorious meet-cute between the great and fierce Ladybug, and top model Adrien Agreste– not that both of them hadn’t already meet before… The difference, this time around, was that they will actually get to sit and even maybe talk for a bit…get to know each other.

            “Well, at least, you’ll get free tickets backstage, right?” He tried to sound optimistic.

            Ladybug was about to tell him that she already had free backstage tickets, in addition to a well-defined, and amazingly thought-through fifty-seven-step plan that would, for sure, get Adrien, A.K.A. the one and only tenant of her heart, to fall in love, finally, with her civilian-self, after three years of epic non-successes, but was able to refrain herself. “I guess…”

            “It’s just one afternoon, I’m sure you’ll get through it,” he encouraged her.

            “I know– I know…” she assured him. “It just sucks because that’s not exactly how I pictured my weekend going…” she shrugged. “Oh, well… I’ll live, I guess. I’m just gonna work out some crappy excuse that I’m gonna study at the library or something…”

            “You’ve been spending lots of time at the library lately,” Cat Noir remarked, looking particularly amused suddenly, “careful not to set your parents’ expectations too high…”

            Ladybug lifted an eyebrow at him and smirked, as she leaned back on her elbows, making her pose a bit more comfortable, and took a long glimpse at the sky. The stars were beautiful tonight. “I will have you know that I am, and always have been, a straight-A’s-student, mister,” she stated confidently.

            Cat Noir let out a small laugh, shaking his head slightly. “Of course, you are…”

            She slapped him on his arm for that. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she shrieked, falsely outraged, and Cat Noir laughed again, louder, this time, before she proceeded to hit him again. “Hey! Cat Noir– there’s nothing funny about what I said!” she exclaimed again, trying hard to keep herself from smiling, as she saw him struggling, almost, to regain composure.

            “I know, I know…” he chuckled, not sounding convincing at all, which Ladybug was quick to point at.

            “Then, stop laughing!” She was grinning now, and giggling a bit, because she couldn’t fight it any longer, but she still had no idea what they were laughing about. She straightened up and brought her legs toward her, before she pressed one foot against her partner’s arm and threatened him to push him off the rooftop. “What is it?” she asked again. “What did I say?”

            “I’m just…” He shook his head again, pinching the bridge of his nose to keep himself from once more bursting into laughter, before he was able to look at her. He was smiling, quite a bright and annoying smile, one might add, but Ladybug still decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. “What I meant was… of course, you’d be a straight-A’s-student. Every aspect of you is perfect, M’Lady.”

            Ladybug’s smile dropped instantly, and she seemed shy suddenly, exposed, finally looking like she was ready to go home. It felt weird, watching her pull out like that, but Cat Noir didn’t comment on it. “Look, Cat… I…”

            He cut her off immediately. “Just go, Ladybug,” he said, and he sounded upset as well, even though he tried hard not to come off hostile. “I know. You’re tired– it’s already late. Plus, it’s a school night. So…it’s better to go and try to get some sleep before morning.”

            “I’m sorry…” There was guilt and sadness in her voice, as she took a step toward him, and drew out a hand to lie on his shoulder. It felt cold, like a blazing shower of doubts and insecurities creeping into his very soul.

            “You have nothing to be sorry about…” he sighed.

            He despised it, when tables turned like that, and everything suddenly became so serious and gloomy and intense.

            Shadows screamed at the back of his head that this girl, the love of his life, will never, ever see him the way he wanted her too, shaking up his deepest fear of losing her forever, once they would have to return their Miraculouses. It was awake now, spreading poison under his skin, and he really needed to get out of here before he started to cry.

            “I-I… I have to go,” he said, before he unhooked his pole from his belt and ran straight into the void, after he kissed her cheek lightly to let her know that things were still okay.

 

***

 

“The answer’s still no, Kim. Forget it,” Adrien snapped at last, as he slammed his locker shut and turned toward the exit. Kim lifted an arm to block his way.

            “Come on, Adrien,” he continued to insist. “You’d be doing me a huge favor.”

            The blond boy just shrugged, raising both his hands in plea as he laid against his locker, trying to convince his friend once more that he really didn’t have any say in the matter. “I’m sorry,” he really wasn’t, “but I only get so many invites to my father’s shows. I already gave out the tickets. I can’t do anything.”

            “Is this because of the T-shirts?” Kim asked. “Because I can easily stop selling them…a-and cancel all production…!”

            Adrien scoffed, shook his head. “Well, the T-shirts certainly did not help your case, but…no. Really, man, I’m serious. I mean– come on, you’ve met my Father…you know how he is.”

            Kim’s shoulders dropped and he pouted, and Adrien had to fight the urge to laugh at his face, especially when Marinette stepped into the common room and walked toward them– but that was only because they were standing next to her locker. “Hey, boys– what’s going on? Everything good?”

            “Hey, Mar–” Adrien greeted her with a small wave, moving around Kim to get to the door. “Yeah, I was just heading to class, actually. See you in a bit, yeah?”

            “Sure,” Marinette nodded, as she disposed of her backpack in her locker, only to pick up a thin notebook and a pen for Bustier’s class. “Oh, wait for me– I’ll walk with you.”

            Marinette never knew how she got the words out of her mouth, but she chose not to dwell on it for too long– This moment was magical because by some sort of mystical miracle she was able to hold her stutters in, and overthinking it would just ruin it.

            “Wait!” Kim stopped Adrien again, this time grabbing him by his arm. He looked at him dead in the eye as he pointed a finger toward Marinette. “You have a soft spot for her. If I can’t convince you, she will,” he said, irritatingly confident, before he turned around to face the little bluenette. “Marinette, please– You need to get him to listen to reason,” he practically begged her, joining his hands before his face, and proceeding to make Marinette feel terribly uncomfortable.

            She shot Adrien a nervous look. “W-why? What’s going on?”

            Adrien rolled his eyes at Kim, visibly incredibly frustrated by his messing around. “Just ignore him,” he assured her, folding his arms together. “He’s being a dick, as per usual.”

            Kim opened his mouth wide in shock at that. “Marinette, you know that’s not true,” he immediately defended himself. “I was just asking my dear friend Adrien for a little teeny-tiny mini favor, and he keeps refusing to grant it to me, because of this stupid Ladrien T-shirt charade… I mean, it was just an innocent joke– he keeps on taking it the wrong way.”

            Marinette crooked an eyebrow at the pair. “Right… What is up with that, by the way? What does Ladrien even mean?” she wondered, and Adrien was sure Kim was actually going to answer her, if he hadn’t stepped on his foot to shut him up.

            “It’s ah…n-nothing,” he assured her afterward, and, even though she looked a bit suspicious, he was thankful that she did not press any further. “Kim just wants a backstage entry to my father’s show on Saturday, and I was just telling him that I already gave out all the invitations I had. He heard Petra Bianchi and Magda Jane were going to partake in the event– let’s say that he’s just eager to meet them,” he chuckled, and Marinette shot him a knowing glance and smirked, looking suddenly very amused by the whole situation. “I’m still surprised that your little plan of picking up girls at the Okay nightclub last week didn’t work out.”

            “Shut up. I’ve read every single one of their interviews,” Kim cut in. “I am totally Petra’s type. And once Chloe will see us together, she’ll finally realize that she’s been racing after the wrong dude all along.”

            Marinette had to bite the inside of her cheeks to keep a straight face after a remark like this one. “Yeah, oddly enough, I don’t really think she’ll care all that much,” it was Adrien who spoke, and it sounded as if he was trying not to laugh as well. He winked at Marinette– her mind went blank for a second, not knowing if she had to burst into giggles, or just blush red.

            She decided to do neither, and shrugged. “Well, if it’s really that important to you– You can have my ticket, Kim. I won’t be able to attend the show, after all. Sorry, Adrien…”

            “Wait, really? Why?” the latter seemed a bit bummed out, but, at the same time, he tried not to make her feel too bad about her decision– it was a difficult line to walk, if you asked him.

            “I think I’m gonna hit the books instead,” she said. “I’ve been a little behind in chemistry lately.”

            “Well, do you need any help?”

            Marinette shook her head, forcing up a smile– she couldn’t believe she was refusing to spend more time with Adrien for…ultimately, technically, spending more time with Adrien. B-but…it wasn’t the same. She would be on duty, then. No time to sit around and talk. Being Ladybug wasn’t just about having superpowers and an animated costume…it was a very important responsibility– and Marinette took it very seriously. “Nah, it’s fine. I’ll wing it. So, Kim, if Adrien is okay with it of course, you can have my pass backstage and work your magic on Petra,” she almost sang, squeezing her notebook against her. “Very lucky girl, if you ask me.”

            “Wow, thanks Marinette! You’re the best!” Kim exclaimed, wrapping his arm around the bluenette’s tiny figure and squashing her into a deep hug. “I owe you.”

            Yup, that is the reason we don’t hug, Marinette thought to herself, but she returned Kim’s embrace nonetheless, before she and Adrien left the common room to go to class.

            “It sucks that you’ll be missing Father’s new collection,” Adrien said, when the silence between them was starting to grow heavier.

            Marinette tried her best smile –one that didn’t make her look like a disgusting evil witch– and said, “it’s fine. I’ll just catch the re-diffusion on T.V.” Way to start a conversation, Marinette, her Alya voice resonated inside her skull, being just as derisive as always. You are definitely killing it.

            “Oh, yeah. C-cool.”

            Awkward. Quick, think of something to say. “So…this Petra girl, huh? Kim seems rather determined to ah…get his way with her…”

            Seriously? What is wrong with you, right now? And you’ve been doing so great… Remember; rule number twenty-three, talking about other girls is the best way to make him think about them. Such a rooky mistake.

            This time, the voice sounded more like Chloe, Marinette noticed. The realization unsettled her a bit– but it was fine, she immediately reminded herself, because Chloe and she had decided to bury the hatchet some time ago.

            And, even though things were still pretty weird between them, Chloe tended to be good advice. Chloe was smart, and knew exactly how to turn any situation to her advantage– so maybe Marinette should indeed take what she had to say in consideration, at least.

            Perfect. So, now, you shift the conversation toward Kim, and away from the hot model, Adrien is going to spend his Saturday afternoon with.

            “Is he okay, by the way? He seems more ah…jumpy than usual.”

            “Kim’s an idiot. He’s been hung up on Chloe since middle school, and he’s still not getting the hint,” Adrien said, shaking his head. “If Chloe really wanted anything to do with him, she would’ve let him know by now, don’t you think?”

            Ouch, Alya and Chloe spoke at the same time, and Marinette felt her toes go cold. “Uh…y-yeah, totally. He should move on. Chloe’s obviously not ah…interested. Ha.” Her face felt hot suddenly, as she glanced around nervously, trying her best to avoid Adrien’s piercing green eyes. “But like…it’s still kind of cute, don’t you think? That he’s still not giving up…right?”

            Adrien shrugged. “Yeah, maybe…kind of sad, too, no? Everything he does is about her…and, don’t tell him I told you that, but I think Chloe’s beginning to catch up on that.”

            “Yeah? How does she feel about it?”

            “Not great… yeah, she mostly doesn’t care, but it gets annoying sometimes. And believe me, I totally get what she means.”

            “You do?”

            “Like, it’s still Chloe. She definitely enjoys the attention…but sometimes, she just wishes Kim would just…leave her alone, you know? Find another girl to obsess over.”

            “So, you’re saying there’s zero chance for them whatsoever,” Marinette concluded, even though she wasn’t exactly talking about Chloe and Kim anymore– Unfortunately, Adrien did not catch on that.

            “Well, …not zero chances. I’m just saying they’re not good…”

            “Got ya,” Marinette nodded, and all she wanted to do now was leave, and go home, and hide under her bed covers until she felt like she could face the world again. “I’ll uh…catch you later, okay?” she said, didn’t even wait for Adrien’s answer, before she stepped into the classroom and went to sit at her usual place.

            She busied herself with textbooks and papers to avoid any unwanted attention and patiently waited for Alya to arrive, but Adrien’s words still echoed in her head, crawling on her skin like giant spiders, and his voice was like an icy whiplash snapping her back to reality.

            She was an idiot, wasn’t she? She has been hung up on Adrien since she first met him, and he’s never once shown any interest in her. She was a fool just to think that he would ever consider her as more than just his friend.

            Why was she pining after him, anyway? Adrien wasn’t perfect. Right? He had his flaws, like anyone else. In fact, she was gonna write them down immediately.

            Adrien was… Sometimes, he would miss school for several consecutive days– but that wasn’t his fault. He always had an irrefutable excuse for not coming, and, either way, his absences didn't impact his grades in any way. Adrien loved going to school. And, besides, the only reason this even made it into her list, is because him not being at school meant that she didn’t get to see him, so it didn’t exactly check out as a flaw, Marinette managed to convince herself, as she crossed ‘repetitive absences’ off her list.

            His face was far too pretty. Yeah– being his girlfriend would just make her feel terribly insecure about just everything, really. Plus, he thought Carambar jokes were hilarious, and that said a lot about his personality…although, Carambar jokes could be funny, sometimes…I mean, who didn’t like stupid animal puns, right?

            “Hey, …what are you doing?” Alya suddenly cut into her stream of thoughts, peering over her best friend’s shoulder to try and get a glimpse at what she was writing.

            Marinette let out a deep, long sigh, as she laid back in her chair. “Following Alix’s advice, I guess,” she chuckled emptily, crumpling up the sheet she had in hands into a tiny paper ball and tossing it into the bin– she scored but seemed too upset to realize it. “I’m moving on.”

            Alya shot her a probing look, as she sat down next to her. “W-why– what happened?”

            “Ah, nothing. It was time for my reality check, anyway,” she said, glancing at the blond phenomenon that was laughing along at one of Nino’s jokes– he really laughed at anything, didn’t he? “That’s it. I’m over him. I’m done.”

            Alya didn’t seem convinced at all. “Really? That easy?”

            Marinette nodded. “Sure…why not?”

            “Sorry, hon, but I just don’t believe you.” Alya placed her head in her palms and waggled her eyebrows at Marinette.

            “Well, it’s true. I’m just gonna find ‘someone else to obsess over now’… Hopefully, this one will get the memo.”

 

***

 

After Adrien had agreed to welcome Kim to his father’s show on Saturday, he really thought it would be the end of this whole Ladrien propaganda– Kim did promise he would stop selling the T-shirts, after all, but that was his cue to launch the production of Ladrien stickers. Little to say, Adrien wasn’t pleased.

            “Ugh, you are killing my artistic vibe, dude,” Kim called Adrien out. “You’re being so overly sensitive about all of this.”

            “You haven’t got a single artistic bone in your whole body,” Adrien shot back. “Stop with this nonsense already.”

            Kim lifted one arm above his head and folded it around his shoulder, mimicking their gym teacher’s stretching exercises– Shultz had arranged the whole class in a giant circle around him to ensure that everyone was properly copying his poses. “I’m only doing that to make sure you were still up for our bet. I made the math–” Max, who was standing between them, cleared his throat at those words and crooked an eyebrow at Kim. “Fine,” the latter quickly corrected himself, “Max did the math, and turns out, if you declare forfeit, I won’t get nearly as much money as if you lose.”

            “That’s doesn’t make any sense,” Adrien countered. “If I declare forfeit, I lose, by definition.”

            “Some people will want their money back,” Max said. “Some are already withdrawing because it’s been two weeks and you haven’t even established contact yet.”

            Adrien clicked his tongue in annoyance. “Of course I haven’t established contact yet, I would like to see you two scoring a date with a freaking superhero.”

            “Well, maybe you should ask Lila for advice, then,” Kim innocently suggested.

            “Lila?” Adrien seemed confused. “Why Lila?”

            “Well, remember when she briefly dated Cat Noir last year? I’m sure she knows a thing or two about getting in touch with a superhero.”

            “What?!” Adrien couldn’t believe his ears. “She said that?”

            Kim and Max glanced at each other, then back at Adrien. “Yeah,” they spoke at the same time.

            “And you believed her?” Adrien was still thrown away by the information. How many people believed it? Did Ladybug hear about it?

            Kim shrugged. “Well, she’s hot and famous…so, why not? I mean…the girl’s met half of Hollywood. She’s been on Jagged Stone’s private jet.”

            “But that doesn’t even make any sense,” the blond boy maintained. “How would it have even happened?”

            “Well, she has been akumatized several times, now,” Max said. “She said she was at her window, the night after she was akumatized to Chameleon, and Cat Noir saw her and went to check up on her. Apparently, they talked all night long and it was epic and romantic…and then, it just…happened, I guess.”

            “That’s bullshit,” Adrien looked outraged.

            “I guess it’s your word against hers, then,” Kim chuckled.

            “Or her word against Cat Noir’s,” Adrien shot back. “Why didn’t he mention her in an interview, before? Like, ever?”

            “He would never out her like that,” Max shook his head.

            “She already outed herself, apparently!” Now, Adrien sounded mad. “I mean, even if it were true, why would she go around talking about it in the open, like that? It will only make her an even juicier pray for Hawk Moth.”

            “Wow, Adrien– First of, ‘juicier’? Really?” Kim smirked at him. “Second of all, you’re no better, you know? Going around, bragging about being able to get with Ladybug…I mean, tell me about a pot meeting a kettle.”

            “I’m not bragging about anything!” Adrien exclaimed in a whisper. “You’re the one selling T-shirts and stickers to fifteen-year-old little twats every day after school for two weeks now.”

            “I know you’re angry, Adrien,” Kim stated plainly, thriving to keep a straight face, but Adrien knew he was still scorning him. “But name-calling has never been your strongest suit. Words like that just lose their profound meaning when spoken by your perfect little mouth.” The blond boy just glared at his friend, frowning, before he shook his head and looked away. “What?” It was Kim that sounded annoyed this time– Adrien couldn’t help but take pride in that. “I already told you I’ll stop with the T-shirts… Okay, fine– and the stickers. So– cool down, okay? Jeez.”

            Adrien rolled his eyes at him and took a deep breath, before he said, “I’ve been receiving threatening letters for a couple of months now– don’t worry,” he quickly added when he saw the dismay on Kim and Max’s faces, “that stuff happens all the time in show-biz apparently. Natalie says celebrities receive deceiving mail on a daily basis even, and that they’re basically all scam and empty warnings,” he sighed, as he bent over to touch his toes, like Shultz was instructing them to. “I used it and told my father that I would like an upgrade to my security team.”

            “And?”

            “Well, he hired Ladybug.”

            “Shut up– wait, seriously?” Kim couldn’t hold down his excitement. “That is so sick! That means I’m gonna meet freaking Ladybug on Saturday?”

            “Yeah, probably. Which means you are absolutely forbidden to wear any Ladrien T-shirt, got it?” Adrien warned him, point an accusatory finger in his direction.

            “You got it,” Kim winked at him. “Plus, it means that I’ll get one step closer to winning this freaking bet. I can’t wait to see you bald.”

            Adrien pouted at him. “Well, you’re not gonna win ‘cause she’s not gonna be interested. She said no to Cat Noir,” he reminded him. “There’s no way she’s gonna fall for me.”

            “You underestimate the power of your seductive abilities,” Kim denied instantly. “I even raised some bets on the side to see when she’s gonna tell you that she loves you. I put my money on week 2.”

            Adrien scowled at him and was about to say something back, when Shultz ordered the class to split and join their respective groups, and his words were left forever.

            The little model didn’t usually take Kim’s bets– but this one, he was absolutely sure he was going to win because Ladybug had already rejected him many times over the years before, her answer always unchanging, so this time won’t be any different. And it was Kim, who going to end up bald.

Chapter Text

Chastity “is a virtue related to temperance and defined as refraining from deviant sexual conduct.” It is broadly outlined by the “moral standards and guidelines of a culture, a civilization or a religion.”

            “The words ‘chaste’ and ‘chastity’ stem from the Latin adjective castus, which means pure. ‘Chaste’ means ‘virtuous’ or ‘pure from unlawful sexual intercourse’ while ‘chastity’ means ‘virginity’.” (Oxford Pocket Dictionary, 2014)

 

***

 

Gabriel’s show didn’t start for another three hours at least, so the only people who were here already, were those in charge of electrical and technical maintenance and the main event orchestrators, like Natalie and a couple of her colleagues, of whom Adrien never really bothered to learn the names. The latter had had to catch a ride with his father’s assistant in the morning to be able to make it to the Palais Galliera at all –it was beside amongst the reasons why he was the only model here– and his friends decided to tag along when they heard they might get a free limousine ride out of it.

            At first, Nino, Kim and Alya were all staying with him inside his trailer, watching him try on different costumes and fantasizing about hot models and interviewing Ladybug, but then Natalie had offered to take them and show them around, in order to let Adrien relax and get his hair and makeup fixed to save time.

            “Do you know what you’re gonna say to her?” Plagg asked, flying right out of his pocket, and Adrien was about to tell him to hide, when he remembered they were alone.

            “Who?” Of course, Adrien knew perfectly who his kwami was talking about– but he tried to contain his excitement. Over time, he learned that having too many expectations about something, anything really, often ended up in disappointment. Also, he read somewhere that girls went crazy for the silent and tortured type– so, he was trying to play it cool. Relaxed. Aloof. There was nothing even remotely distant, reserved nor indifferent about his Cat Noir persona, and Adrien was many things when he put on his superhero suit, but ‘silent’ was definitely not it, so that might be a reason why Ladybug never really considered him as a romantic interest before.

            He could see Plagg in the mirror rolling his eyes at him. “Duh. Ladybug. Do you know what you’re gonna say to her?”

            “Uh…thank you for being here; it’s an honor to have you. Enjoy…the s-show?” Adrien innocently suggested, as he shoved his fists into his pockets and leaned back in his seat. Plagg crooked an eyebrow at him. “What…?”

            “You have the chance of a lifetime, to find yourself in the same room as the love of your life –or so you say– and, bonus, no akumas to distract you, and you’re not gonna try anything?” the kwami sounded disconcerted, maybe even a little annoyed.

            Adrien shrugged. “She’s here as part of her job…I don’t think she’s expecting –nor wants–anyone to hit on her. There was a bomb threat, remember? She’ll probably be focusing on that. She won’t give two shits about flirting with lame dudes.”

            Plagg shot his holder a jaded look. “We both know the bomb threat is bullshit.”

            “Seriously? No trying to convince me I’m not lame? Or, I don’t know…give me any sort of encouragement, whatsoever?”

            The mini-god seemed to think about it for a full second, before he simply answered, “No.” Adrien let out a derisive chuckled, shaking his head at his kwami’s shenanigans, and the latter only blinked in confusion. “I mean, why would I ever lie to you, Adrien?” He sighed, and flew over to land on the boy’s shoulder. “Come on… Your favorite color is beige, you know who Sergei Rachmaninoff is, and just last week, you were excited to attend a class about hula-hooping. Do I even need to go on?”

            “First of all, Rachmaninoff is a virtuoso pianist, and to anyone who’s never heard of him…well, their loss,” Adrien shot back, folding his arms together. “And beige is a very nice color. It’s simple and elegant…and passe-partout…”

            “It’s beige. And no one wears beigevoluntarily,” Plagg interrupted him. “Your dad is a fashion designer… how do you not know that?”

            “Fine,” Adrien mumbled under his breath. “What do you think I should say?”

            Plagg pouted– Immediately, Adrien expected the god of chaos to lecture him about how he was but a kwami, who has made it very clear over the past years that he couldn’t care less about boring human interactions. Instead, the little floating cat took in a deep breath, and said, “Just make her laugh. And then, tell her that she has a beautiful smile. Be genuine. She’ll know it. And compliment her on things she does, not on how she looks. Don’t be a weirdo.”

            Adrien’s eyes almost budged out in surprise. “Wow, that’s actually pretty good advice. Thanks, Plagg– I…I’ll do that.”

            Plagg shrugged. “As much as I like watching you get all nervous and tongue-twisted around her…and as unbelievable as it must sound, I’m actually rooting for you two. So, go get her, Tiger.”

            The blond boy smiled at his kwami, nodding. “Thanks.” He seemed sincere–

            “Whatever. Don’t get used to it,” Plagg replied, flying away to hide somewhere on a high shelf. Plagg wasn’t exactly one to get all emotional for long.

            Adrien chuckled before he turned back to the mirror. Gabriel had picked a rather strange theme for this month’s collection– The event was called La Mascarade, and all the clothes Adrien had to wear today resembled a chic, less withered version of what one would find scouring through the closet of the Phantom of the Opera. “I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be…” Adrien started to complain, frowning at his own reflection, when he was interrupted by a knock on the door. His makeup wasn’t even ready yet– they only got to do half of his face and blue eye shadow looked simply ridiculous on him.

            “Adrien? It’s Natalie. I have Ms. Ladybug with me. Can we come in?” His heart skipped a beat at the mention of the superhero’s name and he was quick to get to his feet– unfortunately, his shoelaces were undone and he tripped, hitting the ground in one loud thud. It was enough to alert his father’s assistant and came barging into the room, Ladybug following after her, both looking very worried. “Adrien! Adrien? I-is everything alright? We heard a…”

            Natalie stopped talking when she saw him on the ground lying on his stomach, and she rushed to him to help him up. The boots he was wearing were heavy and weird, and Adrien couldn’t help but feel stupid as he struggled back up. “Thanks, but I’m…fine, Natalie,” he said, blushing profusely, when his eyes met Ladybug’s. As always, Adrien was flabbergasted by the sight of her– as if he simply couldn’t convince himself that she was real, that she was alive and breathing, and standing right in front of him. Sometimes, he truly believed that it was this extra shot of superhero courage that enveloped him when he transformed that kept him from turning into a puddle of bones and blond hair whenever he was near her. I mean, she was so beautiful, and smart, and brave, and everything, really, just talking to her was an honor. “Uh…I s-said I was fine,” he mumbled, forcing himself out of his reverie, before he finally got her to let go of him. He shot her an annoyed look and rearranged his jacket, dusting off his clothes to have something other to do than confront Ladybug with a red hot face and stutters.

            Natalie only smiled and stepped away, giving Adrien his space, as she stared down at her document holder to keep herself from glancing at Ladybug and, inevitably, bursting into giggles. No, she reminded herself, she was a professional– and she definitely couldn’t laugh at the sudden gawkiness of her boss’s son. It would only embarrass him even more and besides, something was telling her that this sudden clumsiness had a lot to do with Ladybug’s presence, so, overall, it will only make him angry and…no one wanted to deal with that– especially with all the drama that was already going on. “I’m sure you already know who Ms. Ladybug is, Adrien, and why she is here, so there is no need for any more presentations,” she said in her cold, serious, unshaken voice. Ladybug greeted him with a shy wave and a smile, before looking away, making Adrien blush even harder. “I thought you would be by the makeup station already, that is why I told her she could start by inspecting your dressing-room before moving on to other places around the palais, but now that you’re here, are you alright with letting Ms. Ladybug work here for a while?”

            “I could always come back when the room is free, it’s really no bother,” the superhero was quick to add after that, looking uncharacteristically nervous– of course, she would be, Adrien thought. She didn’t even want to be there, but she was trying to be polite about it.

            “No, that would simply be ridiculous,” Natalie, built-in hundred-year-old veteran of team Adrien Agreste, said, as she put her folder away and rearranged her glasses. “You’re already here, there’s no reason to drag this whole situation any longer. I will be backstage, if you need anything,” she announced, before she nodded, and exited the room, leaving the two teenagers rather unsettled.

            “So…that was intense,” Ladybug tried to joke to lighten the mood, but Adrien didn’t seem to get that, because he immediately started to apologize and assure her that he could still leave, that there was no problem there, that he could leave and she could stay here, if she preferred to work undisturbed.

            “No, really– I mean, you’re a superhero a-and…you don’t have to be here or anything. I-it’s not like you owe us a-anything o-or um…you’re d-doing us a favor…b-b-because uh… This is stupid. I should really go– I still have to go into hair and makeup and… I don’t want to be any more trouble. I’m really sorry about all of this,” he could stop the words that were coming out of his mouth. “I’m sure this is not how you wanted to spend your Saturday…and I…probably am making it a hundred times worse just by being like this…I– I better go. It’ll take you much less time if I’m not here to distract you,” he tried to convince himself, as he picked up a jacket on his couch, before he realized what he was saying. “N-not t-that I could distract you, or anything, because well, I know you take your job very seriously and all, uh…” he immediately added, but he was rambling, and he felt like a moron. He shook his head and began to put the jacket on, before he saw that it was actually Kim’s, and that he was, accessorily, already wearing one. He let out a deep sigh, pressing his hands against his eyes to try and calm down, and then he realized he had makeup on. “Shit, I’m so sorry,” he apologized again, looking at the dark stains on his fingers, as he walked toward the door. “I…I’ll leave you to it, then…I don’t even know why I’m being like this. I’m not this way, usually, really. I’m not…ha…It’s not like me to just lose it like that uh… Y-you must think I’m a total idiot. I’m sorry.”

            “Adrien,” the spotted superheroine finally managed to speak, as she lifted a hand to get him to stop talking. She was still smiling, and Adrien’s knees were still shaking, but she didn’t look mad at all, only a little concerned, maybe. “Please, stay,” she said, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder, burning the skin under his clothes. “And, stop apologizing. I don’t think you’re an idiot at all,” she reassured him. “It’s okay to be scared,” she told him, looking at him right into his eyes, sending an icy shiver all through his spine. “It is a pretty scary thing that is happening to you. But I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.”

            For a second there, Adrien had no idea what she was talking about, and then, he recalled that she was here to search the museum with his father’s security team and protect everyone here if there were to be a bomb. “R-right,” he nodded. “Okay. S-sor– I mean, th-thanks.”

            Ladybug smiled. “Do you want me to get you anything? A glass of water, perhaps?”

            “Thank you, but I’m okay.”

            “Why don’t you sit down? I won’t be long,” she said.

            “Yeah,” Adrien obeyed immediately, as she moved around the couch and towards the shelves. He tried to breathe– he could hear his Plagg voice snickering at the back of his head– then got up the second he remembered his kwami was napping on the shelves. “W-wait– wouldn’t it be better if you started with the vents…? Uh, I mean…they’re a good hiding place. I’m guessing.”

            Ladybug turned around to face him. She shrugged. “Yeah, sure. We can do the vents first,” she agreed, stepping away from the shelves. As she walked past the window, where Adrien was now standing, she was able to get a glimpse at the crowd that was beginning to form around the museum. There were many people already, all carrying posters and cardboards they were surely hoping Adrien would sign, and screaming the latter’s name, cheering him, as they watched the ads scrolling on the giant screen– Ladybug found it very kind, that idea Adrien had, to record the whole event and project it outside, live, for the ones that weren’t able to get a ticket. “That’s a lot of fans you got there,” she remarked, still amazed by the growing number of people– they were beginning to unfold some chairs, now, to sit in the museum’s court.

            Adrien smirked at her startled look. “That might be why it’s so cold out there,” he joked. He regretted the words as soon as he pronounced them, but he knew it was already too late to take them back. He shrugged. Well, if anything, acting like Cat Noir at least allowed him to calm down and make sense.

            Against all odds, however, Ladybug actually laughed– well, it was more of a chuckle, really, but he still took pride in it. Now, Adrien knew for a fact that Ladybug would’ve never laughed at a joke like this one, because, well, he knew her, and she never usually laughed at any of his jokes, even his smartest ones, so he just assumed that by doing that, she was just trying to get him to relax. Whatever. He made Ladybug laugh at a stupid joke. He deserved a freaking award. “That was very lame,” she snickered, lifting an eyebrow at him, and Adrien’s cheeks turned pinker.

            Had he been Cat Noir right now, he would’ve probably made some lousy remark and pointed to the fact that she had at least found the joke funny enough to laugh, but he decided against it, and rather followed Plagg’s advice. “You really have a beautiful smile.”

            The compliment seemed to surprise her. “Oh, uh…t-thank you, I–” She glanced away, blushing.

            Wait. Blushing? Did he just make her blush? Adrien could just kiss Plagg right now. He didn’t care about the cat hair– he could just take him in his hands and kiss his disgusting Camembert-smelling face.

            She let out a small sigh and rearranged a strand of loose hair behind her ear, still looking down. “That’s…very kind of you say.”

            He smiled. “I mean it.” She smiled back, this time looking back at him, and her face was as red as her costume.

            “Y-you have a nice smile, t-too,” she said coyly, before she shook her head and the moment was over. She took a deep breath and walked past him, toward the vents. Adrien watched her take a chair and climb on top of it to reach the metallic flues. “I will need something to undo the screws…do you know where I can find something like that?” She sounded more serious, now, her voice was sharper and she seemed more focused, much more like the Ladybug he knew and loved.

            “I don’t know, sorry, but you could still check with the maintenance guys,” he suggested, rapidly closing the distance between them to help her get down of the chair– she didn’t his help, he knew that, but she took his hand nonetheless, blushing again, and he was really beginning to enjoy this effect he had on her.

            They were very close when her feet touched the ground– close enough he could feel her breath on her lips. He was sure that if he listened carefully enough, if he could just stop thinking for a minute, he would be able to hear both their hearts beating at the same rhythm.

            “I–” she started, but the words never came out, and whatever she wanted to say, it was lost forever. She was still holding his hand, Adrien remarked, as he boldly laced their fingers together. He half-expected her to reject him and maybe burst out of the room, screaming, repulsed by his actions, but she did none of that and, instead, took a step toward him.

            His heart went crazy inside his chest. He was hearing it in his ears, pounding like a mad hammer against his skull, tearing his mind in half. Electricity ran through his nerves, ripping his flesh apart, and, as he followed Ladybug’s gaze, he realized she was staring at his lips. “A-are you gonna kiss me?” he dared to ask.

            She looked up at him– these blue eyes were going to be the death of him. “Do y-you want me to?” She was nervous, too.

            He nodded frenetically. He was bleeding from his pores, now, and his skin was peeling off, and all he could think of was Ladybug, and Ladybug’s mouth, and Ladybug’s entire face. “I would really like that.”

            That wasn’t the first time he –his Adrien-self– and Ladybug found themselves in the same room, together, and it definitely wasn’t the first time they got close enough to kiss. Hell, he already kissed Ladybug– there was even photo-evidence of that– but somehow, this felt different. There had always been this kind of tension between them, he’d felt it before, and her most recent behavior proved him that he hadn’t been imagining things. But they were grown up, now; kisses weren’t just that anymore. They weren’t all that innocent. And if they kissed right now, it would mean something. It had to. B-because he was in love with her– a-and if she kissed him back, that would mean that, all this time, Ladybug had actually liked him back.

            Yeah. Or she just wants to know what it feels like to kiss the pretty face of a top model. I don’t know many girls that would waste such an opportunity

            “Shut up!” Adrien hissed between his teeth, closing his eyes shut and shaking his head to get rid of Kim’s voice in his mind.

            Ladybug’s eyes rounded in surprise, and she stepped back, instantly letting go of his hand. “Excuse me?”

            Immediately, Adrien panicked. “N-no! Not you!” he exclaimed, as he gently grabbed her hand back– she let him, thank God, but still seemed a bit tense. “Not y-you– You’re perfect. I-I meant…m-me.”

            She looked amused. “You were telling yourself to shut up?”

            He shrugged. “More like my…uh– t-thoughts?” he tried to explain, rubbing the back of his neck as he did. “They were keeping me from enjoying the moment.”

            “Enjoying the moment, huh?” she almost purred, lifting her head up to close the distance between their faces. Adrien could feel his fingertips getting colder by the second, and his hands trembled when he cupped Ladybug’s cheeks and pulled her to him.

            Their lips barely brushed each other, before Alya came barging through his door, her camera phone in hand, already recording the whole scene, and they quickly had to let go of each other– and act as if nothing was going on. “Ladybug!” the lady-blogger screamed her idol’s name, and even though Adrien truly wanted to kill her right now, he still felt bad for Ladybug. “I rushed into Adrien’s dressing room as soon as I knew you were here! Would you care to say a few words about what is really happening?”

            “Uh…well, now isn’t exactly the best of times…” Reluctance echoed in Ladybug’s voice, as she tried to decline Alya’s bid as politely as possible. The latter insisted nonetheless:

            “Do you know who sent this death threat? And, why? Do you really think there’s a bomb in there? Are we in danger? And where is Cat Noir?”

            Ladybug looked tense at the mention of her partner. She sighed. “Look, come find me when I’ve secured the whole parameter. I’ll answer any of your questions,” she promised, and it seemed to be enough to convince Alya, who put her phone down. “Okay, I– I need to get something to open the– this.” She turned back to Adrien. “I’m sorry, I need to go.”

            He just nodded, and looked down, and was about to tell her that is was okay and even suggest she would come back here after the show, but Alya was quicker than him. “Can I come? I could help!” she exclaimed, her eyes dark with excitement.

            Ladybug giggled. “Yeah, sure,” she agreed, before she stepped back into the hallway and closed the door behind her.

            Adrien watched her leave, feeling rather frustrated by the whole situation, but he didn’t forget to wake Plagg up and hide him in his pocket before the superhero came back. When she did, however, she was with Alya and Nino and Kim, and she really had to work, so Adrien and she never really got a moment to themselves before the show started.

            The latter was a great success, by the way, and Gabriel’s security team didn’t find any bomb, but Adrien didn’t get to see Ladybug when he was finished and went back to his room. Nino and Kim were waiting for him there, arguing about something Adrien didn’t care enough to listen to.

            “Yo, Adrien!” Kim threw his shoe at the blond model, who was still busy getting rid of all the makeup on his face. “Why won’t you answer?”

            Adrien shook his head, still confused, before he turned in his seat to face his friends. He frowned. “What is it?”

            Nino chuckled at that. “You seem in a good mood…”

            Adrien sighed. “I’m just tired, that’s all. Sorry,” he apologized. “What were you saying?”

            “I was asking you if you got to talk with Ladybug a bit,” Kim smirked. “Tried to arrange a date and whatnot.”

            “I don’t know, Kim. Were you able to talk to Petra?” Adrien shot back, crooking an eyebrow at his friend.

            Nino laughed out loud. “He wishes.”

            “Shut up– I so did talk to her.”

            “Yeah, he said ‘hello’ and ran away,” Nino snickered, popping an M&M in his mouth. “You’re not built to talk to pretty girls. Just get over it, man.”

            Kim shrugged, and sat back on the couch. “Yeah, I’m no you, Dollface. So? Do tell us, please. How’d it go with Beetle?”

            Adrien yawned, laid his head against the table. “Alright, I guess. Of course, that was before Alya came in, and straight-up ruined everything. I bet she’s the one holding her up, right now, and the reason why I haven’t seen her after the show…”

            “Well, you knew what to expect when you let Alya come– She’s basically been in love with anything related to Ladybug since the girl even came to existence,” Nino snorted. “I think you invited her just to self-sabotage.”

            Kim was quick to react at that. “Hey, no fair! You can’t do that. You need to play square. I’m not getting my hair cut by a cheater.”

            Adrien rolled his eyes at him. “I didn’t try to sabotage anything.”

            Nino scoffed. “Really? ‘Cause I’d totally understand if you would. That bet you made is nasty. And believe me when I say, it ain’t gonna end good.”

            “What do you know?”

            “Either you lose, and I end up hanging out with a hillbilly from Alabama or something, or you win, by some sort of freaking miracle, and Ladybug finds out about it. ‘Cause there’s no way in Hell she ain’t gonna find out about it. She’s freaking Ladybug,” Nino explained. “Then, you gonna be F-ucked.”

            “Ouch, yeah… if Ladybug finds out about the bet, I can guarantee you that she’s gonna go full crazy-ex-girlfriend on your ass. And if she doesn’t, be sure that Cat Noir will find you and cut off your dick,” Kim giggled.

            “Ugh…don’t be disgusting,” Nino tittered.

            “The way I see it, you should totally just give up already. F-for your own safety, I mean,” Kim went on. “I’ll take embarrassing pictures of you and your new haircut and sell them to make up for the money, so really, no biggie, if you decide to back off.”

            “Fuck you. Both of you,” Adrien insulted them, but Kim and Nino only burst into laughter again, fully ignoring him.

            “That’s what people say when they’re out of argument, pumpkin-face,” Nino winked at his best friend, this time emptying his whole bag of chocolate candy in his mouth.

            “So? What’s your big plan? Are you gonna quietly wait until the next akuma attack to ambush her?” Kim wondered. “Please, do tell.”

            “Can you let it go for like a second?” Adrien sounded angry all of a sudden. “I really don’t want to talk about it.”

            “Talk about what?” Alya asked, as she entered the room, her eyes glued on her phone, still amazed at the footage she was just able to get. “Guys, you are not gonna believe this– Exclusive interview with the Ladybug. Her fears, her concerns, her plans after she defeats Hawk Moth…and an insight of what she really thinks about the Miraculous team. This is going online.”

            “You were with her this whole time?” Kim wanted to know, as he got his legs off the couch to allow Nino’s girlfriend to sit down.

            “Yeah,” she sighed. “I just left her in the parking lot.”

            Kim turned to Adrien at that, grinning widely. “Bet you could still get to her before she leaves…”

            Adrien didn’t take the time to answer Kim before he rushed out of the room, making both his friends snicker. Alya looked at her boyfriend in a suspicious way, but did not comment, too busy uploading the video on the Ladyblog.

            Ladybug was still talking with Natalie in the gardens behind the museum when Adrien arrived. His clothes were all crumpled up and his hair was a mess after all his running to get there, but his face was clean of any makeup, and he managed not to fall on the ground, so he got that going for him…

            “Ladybug, w-wait!” he called after her, just when she was about to draw out her yo-yo to flee. “I– ah, I wanted to talk to you…”

            As both Ladybug and Natalie turned around to face him, the latter shot her boss’s son a knowing look, and smirked, as she whispered, “she’s all yours,” before she left them alone.

            Adrien was a bit startled by Natalie’s strange behavior, but didn’t have the time to think about it for long, before Ladybug’s voice made its way into his mind, and dragged him back to reality. “Is there something wrong?” she asked gently. “Because I really need to leave. I’ve been transformed for a long time,” she explained. “My earrings are almost out of juice.”

            Her Miraculous let out its first beep at that, and Adrien nodded, and promised he wouldn’t take long of her time. “I– I just wanted… Thank you. F-for everything you do– I mean saving Paris and everyone, all the time… it mustn’t be easy… Ha…uh… I-I just wanted you to k-know that I think you’re amazing.”

            Ladybug’s blue eyes rounded at the compliment, as her skin began to match her costume. “Uh…t-thank you, A-Adrien, b-but, you know…I’m only doing my job!” she said, forever humble, and shy, and perfect.

            He shook his head. “Still. It’s not a responsibility anyone would like to endorse.”

            “Yeah, I mean…I’m glad I was chosen, considering…well, everything,” she chuckled. “It’s more of chance. This whole superhero thing has made me a better person, overall. And besides, not every girl in Paris can dream about calling herself a superhero and fight off supervillains with magical powers…”

            Adrien’s gaze dropped to the ground as he smiled slightly. “Yeah, you’re…there’s no one like you.”

            Ladybug’s red lips curled up into a crafty smirk. “I hope you meant it as a compliment.”

            At this point, his heart wasn’t pumping blood anymore. It was pumping cold air, and he could feel the ice freezing his bones, and his muscles, and all will he had to keep himself from doing or saying, or thinking, about doing anything stupid. “O-Of course! I– Yes. Of course, it was meant as a compliment, Ladybug… I–”

            “Relax, I was just messing with you,” she giggled, softly patting his arm, before her earrings beeped yet again. “Okay,” she sighed, gesturing to her magic jewels. “I really need to go, now. Uh, I’ll see you around, Adrien.”

            “Wait!”

            Adrien didn’t exactly know what had gone through him when he’d shouted like this, or when he instinctively expanded his arms to grab hers, but it seemed to work, because it kept her from just...bugging out.

            “What is it?” She looked worried.

            Adrien let go of her immediately and glanced away. He was blushing so hard, his face was almost black. He shook his head. “I’m sorry…I just– I swore to myself that I was gonna tell you, and…”

            “Adrien? Are you okay? Is something wrong?”

            No, everything is so right, and you are the most perfect human being on this planet, and I’m in love with you. Please, love me back. I want you to love me back. “I– I ah…”

            He knew more words were supposed to follow after that, he just…he didn’t seem to be able to get them out. He tried again, in vain, before Ladybug decided to cut it short. “Look, I really need to go…are you going to be alright?”

            “I’m in love with you.”

            There, he said it. It was out. The words were out. He did it. He had said them.

            Ladybug blinked in confusion at that, and she seemed so far away for a second, she didn’t seem like she heard the third beep of her earrings. “Uh…”

            “I know what you’re going to say,” Adrien was quick to add. “T-that I don’t know you, and I couldn’t possibly mean what I’m saying but…believe me,” he was almost begging her, as he reached for her hand, and brought it to his face. “Believe me, please, when I tell you that my feelings for you are real and-and I just…I can’t ignore them any longer.” He paused, took a deep breath, and carried on, “I’ve been in love with you since the first time I ever saw you, and each time you’re near me…I-I don’t… I don’t know how to explain it but, I know it means that you’re doing something to me…getting me addicted to you, somehow and… I just know that being near you, in your presence, looking and talking to you, it makes me so nervous, but at the same time, it feels so natural, and I find it soothing. I love you.”

            His whole body was trembling and tears were shining in his eyes. Ladybug took her hand off him, and she looked so sad and sorry all of a sudden, Adrien could already picture what she was going to say. “Adrien… Look, I…”

            “Please, let me finish,” he didn’t let her go on. “I– Love shouldn’t be more complicated than that. I mean… when you know, you just…know, right? And I know I’m in love with you, Ladybug, and it’s true, and I haven’t been more certain about anything else in my life. Love shouldn’t be hard or difficult. It should be easy.”

            “Oh, my God…” Ladybug let out a deep sigh, placing both her hands on her eyes to hide her face, as she screamed something unintelligible between her palms. “Oh, my God–” she continued to freak out, and she was breathing very loudly, and for a minute there, Adrien wondered he’d done a mistake. “I cannot deal with this, right now–” she was talking to herself, and Adrien couldn’t tell if she was angry, or nervous, or sorry. He took her hands off her face, held them in his, and tried to smile to calm her down. She glanced away. “Listen, Adrien…”

            “You don’t need to give me an answer right away,” he assured her, softly squeezing her fingers between his. “No pressure. I just wanted to let you know.”

            She nodded as she bit her lips and looked away, and her Miraculous beeped once more. “I…” Adrien knew she was about to say something, but she just stopped to look at him, and he was stroke by the blueness of her eyes, and all the light they contained. He didn’t know what was happening until he felt her arms wrap around his shoulders and her mouth close around his, as he tried to retain the explosion in his brain. He kissed her back, of course, not as quickly as he wanted to, but he did, with all his will and determination– he kissed her back and thought of all the times that he had wanted to kiss her before, and now, it was finally happening, and there was no akuma in the world that would be able to take this memory away from him. “O-okay,” she said, putting a term to their embrace, when her earrings gave her her last warning. “I really need to go, now.” She smiled. It was probably the most beautiful smile Adrien had ever seen. “You know, when you know,” she whispered softly. “Bye, Adrien.” And then, she was gone, and Adrien was still standing there, smiling idly, as he continued to play the scene over and again in his head.

            “Well, that was easy,” Kim’s voice spoke behind him. “Yay, team Ladrien,” he acclaimed, clapping slowly, and his sole presence was enough to ruin this moment for Adrien.

Chapter Text

Kindness is a synonym of affection, warmth, concern, and goodwill. It is defined as “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” (Oxford Pocket Dictionary, 2014)

 

***

 

When Adrien stepped into the common room after his fencing practice on Monday morning, Kim was waiting for him next to his locker. He was wearing a red Ladrien t-shirt and held a pair of scissors between his fingers. Max stood next to him, his eyes focused on the digital screen of his new graphic calculator, while Nino lied on the bench next to the lockers, his arms crossed behind his head, trying to catch up on all the sleep he was missing by waking up so early.

            Kim greeted Adrien with a wide smile, waggling his eyebrows at him, as he gestured to the scissors he had in hand. “Back off, Kim,” Nino immediately came to his best friend’s rescue. “We already went over it. Ladybug didn’t say the words. She needs to say them for you to win.” Adrien made the mental note to dry out all of his dad’s credit cards and throw Nino a huge party for his birthday this summer. He was even going to ask Gabriel if he could use their lake house. “The bet was clear. She loves him, you win. She doesn’t, you lose. A kiss doesn’t mean anything. We’re not in a freaking fairytale. Grow up, Ursula.”

            “That’s bullshit,” Kim groaned. “What if he decides to keep it to himself? How could we possibly know he didn’t lie? Surely, he doesn’t want to lose, end up looking like Sylvain Durif,” he smirked, winking at Adrien, whose eyes bulged out in horror at the mention of the infamously renowned frenzied man’s name, but the latter forced himself to relax– Kim couldn’t possibly mean it. And if he did, showing any sign of weakness now, certainly would not help his case.

            “And…what? You want to make him wear a mike at all times?” Nino scoffed. “That’ll be beyond stupid.”

            Kim opened his mouth to say something, but then closed, as he seemed to take in Nino’s words. “You know what? Considering… It’s not that bad of an idea.”

            Nino almost choked at that, and had to sit up. Adrien walked up to him almost instinctively, to see if his best friend needed any help, but, as the latter let his hoodie down, he was laughing uncontrollably. Kim took it personally and frowned at him, folding his arms together.

            “You can’t be serious!” Nino exclaimed when he calmed down a bit. When Kim didn’t answer, he said, “You’re sick. Adrien will just tell us. He’s not a liar.”

            Max shrugged, finally deciding on joining the conversation. “Maybe not, but when put in a situation in which lying advantages you, you have up to 86.3% of chances to do so, even when you’re not a designated liar, and a full 100% when you are,” he blurted out, as shoved his calculator in his back pocket and rearranged his glasses. “Statistics, however, cannot lie.”

            “What?” Adrien felt insulted. “There’s no way I’m letting monitor me– especially if it’s for that stupid bet. I mean, do you even hear yourselves?”

            “Come on, Kim. That’s ridiculous,” Nino added. “Even coming from you.”

            Max lifted an eyebrow at his rapper friend then turned to Adrien, eyeing him from head to toe, before he leaned back against the lockers to pull himself out of the exchange. He reached for his calculator in his pocket, holding it right before his face, to pretend as if he’d disappeared.

            He did this, sometimes; assailing bits and pieces of conversations and walking into debates he wasn’t a part of, in order to blurt out some numbers and facts that went in favor of his best friend Kim, before going back to being unnoticeable. Max liked Kim; he knew Kim wouldn’t mind taking a punch for him, and would always defend his nerdy penchants and weird habits– He would fight anyone who dared to mock him.

            Kim and Max went way back. Their moms are best friends, so the two of them practically grew up together. Kim was bit like the older brother Max never had, and the same way Kim would do anything for him, Max would do anything for Kim– Even if it meant taking his side when the latter was wandering into troubled waters and making some politically incorrect statements.

            Kim lifted both his eyebrows at the model boy. “Well, you knew what you were getting into,” he said, his voice challenging.

            “Whatever,” Nino backed up his best friend. “It’s illegal.” Kim shrugged.

            “Whatcha all Neanderthals whooping about?” it was Alix who spoke, as she walked into the common room, then to her locker, Marinette and Alya on her heels. On her way, she stopped to take a look at the work she’d done on the latter’s locker and smiled.

            “None of your business, Kubdel,” Kim snickered. Nino had gotten to his feet at the sight of his girlfriend and greeted her with a shy peck on the lips. She grinned at him and took his hand, before they sat on the bench together. “What are you all doing here this early, anyway?”

            Alix only pouted at him, as she left her backpack in her locker and, with Marinette’s help, picked up her bag of spray painting and art utensils. “Well,” she sighed, “if only you took the time to listen to me when I talk, you would know that Damocles had asked me to draw a mural on one of the school yard’s walls.”

            “Really?” Adrien seemed impressed. “That’s so cool. What are you gonna do?”

            “She’s gonna draw a giant picture of Ladybug and Cat Noir, right before the main entrance!” Alya answered at her friend’s place as she wrapped her arms around Nino’s shoulders. “That way, they’re gonna be the first thing people see, as they enter the school. How great of an idea that is, seriously?”

            “Yeah, well…” Alix blushed. “I’m not actually the one who came up with the idea,” she admitted. “And it’s not like I can invent new designs or anything– I’m just really great at copying them. Nate’s really the one who sketched the mural. He’s the real artist.”

            “You’re too hard on yourself,” Marinette cut in. “I never saw anyone spray-painting like you do. There’s no way I, or anyone I know, can even begin to compare. You’re truly talented, Alix. You should own it.”

            “Yeah, what she said,” Kim added. “Tomato head’s got nothing on you.”

            “Thanks,” Alix whispered shyly, as she took her things from the bluenette and slammed her locker door shut– she winced at the weight of her bag on her shoulder. Kim didn’t miss it.

            “Hey, you sure you don’t need help with that?” he wondered. “Sure looks pretty heavy, if you ask me.”

            Alix shook her head. “I’m fine. Besides, the art class is only at the end of the hall.”

            “Come on,” Kim insisted. “What are all these muscles for, if I can’t even help out pretty girls?” he winked at his pink-haired friend, who blushed, before she reluctantly agreed to give him her stuff, and lead him out of the room.

            Something sparkled in Alya’s eyes at that as she rapidly realized how perfect of an opportunity Kim’s ego had just created, and she leaned into her boyfriend to word something neither Adrien nor Marinette were able to make out into his ear. The latter snickered and nodded, before he took his girlfriend by the hand and followed her outside, leaving their friends alone together– the latters just watched them leave, before they stared at each other in bewilderment, and laughed.

            “So…how was your weekend?” Adrien tried to small talk, as he shoved his hands into his pockets and leaned against his own locker, which was only a couple feet away from Marinette’s. “Did anything fun?”

            The latter knew that if she turned his way, Adrien would see how red her face had gotten suddenly, so she kept herself busy with the backpack and her books, and avoided his gaze at all costs. “Uh…n-nothing much, really,” she said. “Studying, mostly. H-how about you? Any life-altering experiences you’d like to share?” she took a jokey tone, but was actually very interested in his answer.

            Adrien chuckled. “No,” he lied. “You know, the usual…working, eating, sleeping.” Kissing Ladybug, kissing Ladybug, kissing Ladybug.

            Marinette tried to hide her disappointment– of course, he won’t tell anyone what happened between them; that would be incredibly foolish of him. “I saw the show on T.V.,” she let him know, to change the subject.

            “Yeah? What did you think of it?”

            “Your dad was collaborating with that boutique on the 7th, right? Hidden Treasures? I always loved their stuff,” she admitted, taking out her History book from her bag for the third time now and putting it back in her locker. “I think the new collection was great.” Adrien shrugged. “You don’t think so?” she wondered, looking amused.

            He shook his head, smiling. “I mean, it’s definitely not clothes you can wear on just another manic Monday,” he snickered. Marinette smirked at the reference– she’s always been into old bands. “Besides, if I’m being honest, I found them rather silly.”

            Marinette lifted an eyebrow at that. “Silly? What do you mean silly?”

            “I don’t know,” he sighed. “My outfit made me look like a pirate and a clown had a baby.”

            When Marinette realized that Adrien was waiting for her to walk to class together, she finally decided to leave everything but her tablet, and closed her locker. “I think it looked good on you,” she admitted, glancing away, and she was certain she had imagined the blush on Adrien’s face when she said it.

            “Thanks, Marinette,” he grinned at her; Marinette was sure she had never seen a more beautiful smile.

            And, suddenly, there it was: her heart, it had a mind on its own, pounding in her ears, deafening her, and her thoughts, so loud, they disturbed her vision. Her blood, rushing to her neck and her cheeks, making her skin swell under her clothes and turning her knees to jelly. She thought she had been done with that; but the kiss only strengthened everything she had felt for him. It was true, she finally realized. That had really happened; she had really kissed him.

            Her breath was short and she felt hot and cold all over. There was no way she could make it to class now, without falling in the middle of the hallway and melting on the ground– Adrien would have to pick her up and carry her. Her mouth fell dry at the thought.

            She shook her head– they were already by the door when she made her steps go to a halt. “I-I need to go to the bathroom,” she blurted out the first excuse that went through her mind. “Y-you should go. I’ll see you in class,” she assured him.

            “You okay, Marinette?”

            She probably didn’t look okay if he’d felt the need to ask her that, but she decided not to dwell on it. “Yeah, yeah. Don’t worry. Go… I don’t want you to be late because of me.” She tried to laugh it off, but she knew Adrien could tell something was wrong. He didn’t say anything, thank God, and just nodded, before he left.

            “Ugh…” Marinette sighed, as she let herself fall on the bench, her head between her legs. “What is the matter with me? Why can’t I act normal around him? Fucking weirdo…”

            “Nothing’s wrong with you,” someone who was standing behind her replied. “We all get cold feet sometimes, it’s perfectly natural.” Marinette wasn’t exactly expecting an answer so, when she’d received one, she stood up instantly and turned around. Max was there, playing with his calculator as he leaned against the lockers.

            “Max?” she seemed very surprised to find him there. “I thought you left with Kim.”

            Max only shrugged. “That doesn’t surprise me,” he said, not lifting his head up from his calculator. “More often than not, the whereabouts and actions of secondary characters go unnoticed.”

            Marinette shot him a jaded look. “What are you even talking about?”

            “Nothing,” Max pouted. “And don’t worry about Adrien,” he assured her. “He doesn’t think you’re weird at all. If anything, he thinks you’re cute.”

            Marinette blushed at that. “What? How do you know that? Did he tell you?”

            Max shook his head. “He didn’t need to. I have eyes.”

            Instantly, Marinette wanted to know more– she had so many questions to ask him. Max liked to answer questions, it was something she had noticed about him. It flattered him and made him feel like he had all the answers. So, she knew he wouldn’t mind her pestering him to know more about what Adrien thought of her. But then, she remembered Max was Adrien’s friend, and would probably tell him about it at some point or another, and that she wanted to avoid at all costs. “What are you even doing on your calculator?” she asked instead.

            Max finally peered up at her, his eyes, dark brown and shining, behind his glasses. “When Chloe was a little girl, before her father was elected mayor of Paris, she used to spend every single winter break in the Alpes with her parents, and had wanted to go back there ever since. But her mom hates villages, and her dad cannot leave City Hall for more than a weekend– and Nathaniel hates snow… and skiing.”

            “You think she’s gonna go with Kim?” Marinette had to hold down a laugh.

            Max shook his head. “Of course not. But she’d go with Sabrina.”

            “I’m…confused.”

            As if bored already, Max glanced down at his calculator. “I’m just trying to help Kim get the girl, that’s it. And girls like Chloe don’t speak words, they speak actions. If he offers her and Sabrina the trip to the Alpes… she might reconsider him. And even if not, I know he’d be happy just to make her happy.”

            Marinette puckered her lips. “Did you come up with the idea, or did he?”

            Max scoffed. “He did, of course. I’m just the brains trying to make it work.”

            Marinette knew it wasn’t true, of course, that it was Max that came up with the whole thing, but she chose not to comment on it. “Well, anyway, it’s really nice what you’re doing for him. And Chloe,” she said.

            Max smiled to his calculator screen. “I know. Kim would be lost without me.”

 

* * *

 

Throughout his very long kwami life, Plagg has been called many things: a demon; an infernal spirit that had awoken from the depths of the Earth and somehow found its way back to the material world of humans to terrorize all who dared to cross his path. Or even a ghost; that of a cat cursed with black magic and that once belonged to a witch. For a time, he was believed to be the reincarnation of an Egyptian god –the one that had the head and face of a feline– and, most recently, he had been compared to a genie, just like the one in the lamp– except, of course, that he came out of a ring. Plagg has been called a coward and a selfish being by none other than his compeer, the goddess of creation and white energy, accusations to which he responded that he was merely a free spirit. His newest holder, Adrien, also called him a glutton once, but Plagg rather saw himself as a Camembert-enthusiast, and when he was scolded for being lazy and careless, he simply replied that he was saving his worry and strength for a time of need– like when the world was in danger, for instance.

            “All I’m saying is that it’s Ladybug’s night today, and I know you heard it as well as I did when she said she’s got it all covered,” Plagg tried to reason with his holder as he chewed on some old piece of cheese. “Wouldn’t it be kind of sexist to assume she would need our help, just because she’s a girl?”

            “What? That’s not it at all!” Adrien was glaring at him.

            “Then, maybe you should let her handle this one,” Plagg shrugged.

            “Why are you always looking for excuses not to do your job?”

            Plagg sat up at last and swallowed the Camembert he had in mouth. “Giving you powers and helping you defeat evil is my job,” he shot back. “Transforming you, wasting my energy, so you could sneak out and run after your love-bug, isn’t.”

            Adrien pouted. “Well,” he sighed, putting himself into position, “Fortunately, that’s not for you to decide. Claws out!” he called upon his transformation and slid easily inside his leathery black suit in a flash of green light. He didn’t forget to lock his bedroom door before he walked toward his skylight, the frame of his windows outlining the perfect silhouette of a tiny Ladybug running on the rooftops of Paris.

 

 

Hi…”

            Ladybug stilled at the sound of the voice that spoke behind her and held her breath as she turned around slowly, half-expecting to find a monster behind her, the other half hoping it was only Cat Noir. Her eyes rounded in surprise when she saw it was actually Adrien Agreste who was standing before her and, immediately, she looked completely panicked. “H-How did you get here?” she asked, ignoring all her manners, and eyeing the model boy from head to toe, looking for anything that would tell her that she was either dreaming, or Hawk Moth was playing yet another trick on her.

            Adrien shrugged and shoved his hands in his pockets– he always did that, she thought, when he felt nervous or flustered. “Well, I saw you from my bedroom window and tried to call you over, but I guess you were too far away to hear me; so, I put on my Spiderman suit and climbed all the way up here,” he tried to joke. Ladybug did not find it amusing. He chuckled. “Relax. If there’s something you need to know about me, is that people basically let me do what I want in exchange for a couple of autographs and selfies.” He shook his head, and smiled softly. “I bribed the guard to let me through. The part about me seeing you from my bedroom window, though, it was true. I’m surprised you didn’t hear me walk in,” he went on, gesturing to the old metal door on his right. “That thing made such an awful sound when I opened it. You must’ve been deep in thoughts.”

            Ladybug glanced away, then back to him, and wrapped her arms around herself. “Ha. Yeah, I guess.” She turned around, toward the city, and just waited for Adrien to join her side.

            “The view from the top of the Arch of Triumph has always been…” He paused, peering at her, “…breathtaking.” She hummed in agreement.

            It was late; all the shops and restaurants were already closed. The streets, even the metro were all empty. It was Monday. People slept at this hour. Adrien moved to sit on the monument’s ramparts. “Aren’t you afraid you’re gonna fall?” she tried to warn him.

            He just grinned at her. “Nah, I have you to look after me.” Ladybug didn’t reply anything to that and turned back to the urban landscape. It was beautiful; the City of Lights, shining like the sun in a pool of darkness. She let out a soft sigh. “What are you doing here, anyway?” he wondered.

            She pouted. “I couldn’t sleep.”

            “You can’t sleep, so you gear up and do rounds around the city?” he snorted. “What happened to good old fashion sleeping pills?” Adrien knew he needed them sometimes, to be able to sleep without having to deal all the nightmares and the screaming, and his heart beating out of his chest while akumas came back to haunt him at night.

            “I don’t like the way they feel,” she winced.

            He pursed his lips together, nodded. “Got ya.”

            Both of them remained silent for a while, quietly staring at the night. Sometimes, Ladybug glanced at Adrien, but would glance away the second he looked back at her. She shook her head. “This…shouldn’t be this awkward,” she remarked, biting on her lips.

            “What do you mean?” Ladybug didn’t answer; she just shrugged, continuing to avoid his gaze. “You kissed me,” he reminded her.

            She blushed, looked down. “And I shouldn’t have. It was widely inappropriate.”

            Adrien felt his heart drop at once. “Then why did you do it?”

            “I liked the things you were saying,” she confessed.

            He scoffed. “Surely I am not the first person to tell you this kind of things,” he said, thinking about his superhero-self who many time has worn her heart open to her. “You must get love confessions from people all the time. Why am I any different?” he wanted to know.

            She chuckled emptily. “I can’t tell you that.”

            Adrien smirked. “Come on…we’re alone. What’s the worst that could happen?”

            Ladybug turned to face him, a crafty look in her eyes, as the curve of her lips curled up in amusement. “You…could be Hawk Moth,” she said, hopping on the ramparts to sit next to him. “Or one of his minions.”

            Adrien lifted an eyebrow at her. “Well, I’m not. And I’m definitely not Hawk Moth.”

            Ladybug pursed her lips together. “That’s what Hawk Moth would say.”

            “Come on, Ladybug,” Adrien insisted. “You know that’s not the answer I want to hear.”

            “What do you want to hear, then?”

            “The truth. I know you’re not the kind that goes and kisses random boys that tell you they love you.”

            Ladybug’s smile fell. “You’re right. I’m not.”

            Adrien’s face softened. “Why did you kiss me?”

            “I don’t regret it,” she assured him at first, and Adrien let himself relax a bit. “The truth is…I –normal, civilian-me, that is– have been waiting…or hoping, rather, for you to tell me…what you told me. And then, I realized…you said it to the wrong person. And, right now, I don’t know if I should act ecstatic…or simply be heartbroken.”

            Adrien seemed confused. “What do you mean?”

            “I mean you love Ladybug. You don’t love me.”

            He thought she was joking for a second there and laughed, but then realized she was being perfectly serious. “But you are Ladybug,” he reminded her, furrowing his eyebrows.

            She shrugged. “I know, but…it’s not the same. Not really, at least. It’s definitely not like we can date or anything like that– b-because you don’t know who I am, and you probably don’t know how I feel outside the mask.”

            “How do you feel?” he asked her, a narrow smile on his lips.

            Ladybug rolled her eyes at him, giggling. She didn’t answer. “Besides, if I let you go around and look for me, you might confuse me with one of your groupies.”

            “Well, aren’t you?” he asked.

            She chuckled. “I…don’t think so.”

            “Oh…so you don’t have pictures of me all over your bedroom?”

            She snorted. “Definitely not,” she lied. “I don’t feel that way about you because you starred in a perfume add. I do, because you’re kind a-and…smart –well, you can be a complete idiot sometimes, but…it’s okay. You’re also very…strong,” she admitted. “I mean, your life…it is not an easy life, and anyone would complain about it, but…you don’t.” She paused, peered up at him. His eyes were wide and green and glued on her. She smiled. “It’s true. You’re so brave and you always see the good in people; give them second chances, protect them and even those who do not deserve your protection…put your faith in them and trust with all your guts that everyone wants to be the best version of themselves. You say that no one ever fixed something bad, by just…being bad. And you’re completely right,” she sighed. “I don’t know how you do it; I just know that knowing you…had made me a better person. And I love that person that I’ve become. So, if I love you, Adrien Agreste, it would surely not be because of your fame and glory. You inspire me.”

            “Who are you?” Adrien was blushing profusely and his feet felt cold.

            “Just a girl that’s lucky to have someone like you in her life,” she whispered. “But…it doesn’t change anything…”

            He raised a hand to stop her. “You’re a superhero; I’m a supermodel and the son of the most famous fashion designer in the world. If anything, us, dating, it would only make sense.”

            “You don’t even know my name.”

            He shrugged. “It’s not your name I’m in love with,” he said, lifting a hand to her face and gently brushing his knuckles across her cheek, as he leaned in slowly.

            “How can you love someone you know nothing about?”

            “I know everything I need to know about you,” he replied, and, a second later, they were kissing. Adrien’s world was right again.

            The cold spring breeze blew around them, as their mouths crashed together and their lips melted against each other’s skin, and the universe had stopped to watch. They were sitting at the top of the Arch of Triumph, kissing each other in front on the Champs-Elysees, with the Eiffel Tower and the Luxor Obelisk as their witnesses, and all Adrien could hear was his heart and his thoughts, as he still was trying to figure out a way to breathe without letting go of Ladybug. He could feel the blood filling up his face and his flesh getting hotter and hotter under the superhero’s touch. In his veins ran boiling water and steam, and he felt like his whole body was swelling up under his clothes.

            The inside of Ladybug’s cheeks felt hot and tasted like paradise, and Adrien knew there was no way he was going to let go of that now. He wrapped an arm around her waist and fully pressed her against him. Her hands slid on his chest and his shoulders, sending waves of electricity down his spine. The bitter savor of adrenaline stung his gums and he felt like his muscles were ripping off, when Ladybug hugged him even tighter, then took a hold of his hands and led them to her breasts. His blush instantly spread to his neck and probably his arms and body too. Suddenly, Adrien thought that it was impossible to kiss Ladybug and not die, but the latter didn’t even give him enough time to try and process what was really happening, as she began to lie back, and pulling him down with her as her back hit the concrete.

            As he closed his eyes and kissed her again, Adrien felt like he was falling and, for a moment there, he wondered if he was really awake– if all of this was really happening. He dreamt about Ladybug, and being with Ladybug so much it the past, it would be stupid if he didn’t at least consider the possibility. It had always felt real and, each time, he had woken up, empty and frustrated and discouraged afterward.

            Dreams were irrational; they didn’t make sense. Dreams forgot about context; they just showed your brain the images it wants to see and purged your mind from everything that crippled it. Sometimes, dreams were so intense, you believe they are real. But love was irrational, as well. Love…didn’t make any sense. Love didn’t care about context. Love whispered nice words in your ear and convinced you it was the only thing worth living and fighting for. Love is so intense, it occupies three-quarters of every man’s head and primes over logic and reason.

            “Well, hi there,” Ladybug chuckled out, breathless, as she let go of Adrien’s mouth and let her head fall back to the ground. She was smiling widely, gazing at him with dark, lusty eyes and dilated pupils, and Adrien never felt more embarrassed than at that precise moment.

            His elbows rested at each side of her head and he had tried not to touch her too much, but it had obviously not worked. “S-sorry…” He didn’t know what else to say; he couldn’t even look at her. Her hands were still at his sides. She ran them up all the way to his face to cup his cheeks and make him.

            “Never be sorry,” she said, pushing herself up just slightly enough to press her mouth against his, before she let herself fall back down.

            Adrien smiled and relaxed, as he got off her to lie next to her. “I love you,” he said.

            She smirked. “I already know that.”

            “Do you love me?”

            “Maybe.”

            He snickered and turned his head to the sky. It was beautiful, a sheet of black silk stretched all across the universe scorched with the fire of undying stars. “I’ll take maybe.” Love didn’t always make sense– but Ladybug and he? They put science to shame. “I always wanted to travel the world,” he confessed. “Sometimes, I just… I feel like dropping everything and packing my bags, then driving to the airport to buy a ticket for the next flight out.” Love was something so precious and tender, but so ferocious when it wanted to. Love can be jealous, it can be pain, but now, Adrien finally understood everyone that said that all this ache and sorrow were worth it. “Tell me something you’ve never told anyone.”

            “Why?”

            He shrugged. “Humor me.”

            She fell silent at that, thinking about what to say next, and Adrien almost thought she wasn’t going to answer. When he turned his way to look at her, she was already staring at him, and he almost glanced away, but then decided to hold her gaze and let himself drown in her eyes. “I really love tattoos,” she said, shifting to lie on her side so she was facing him completely. She let her head rest on her arm and smiled.

            He lifted an eyebrow at her “Really? Tattoos?”

            She nodded. “Yeah. I’ve always wanted to get one.”

            “Are you this kind of girl that would get her whole body tattooed if she could?” he wondered, puckering his lips.

            She grinned at him and blushed slightly. “Perhaps…”

            “I like it,” he told her. “When are you going to get one?”

            She let out a half-smothered giggle. “Never?”

            “What?” he blinked in surprise. “Why not?”

            “Because my parents would likely disown me, if I did,” she replied. “My mom looks just like me, you know. Asian parents are not exactly big fans of tattoos.”

            “How about not telling her?”

            Ladybug shook her head. “She’ll know.”

            “What kind of tattoo?”

            Adrien felt a bit stupid for asking the question, because he knew very well that Ladybug couldn’t answer, and he wasn’t really expecting her to, anyway, so it was to his surprise when she said, “When I was little, my parents had just opened the bakery and had to work all day long to be able to pay back their loans. I used to spend all my afternoons at my grandmother’s. I think you would’ve liked her,” she added, “She was a nature photographer. She’d seen the whole world; always had so many stories to tell. My friends all loved her.” She paused to breathe, before she went on, “She smoked a lot; cigarettes, shisha, even opium, sometimes… and swore like a freaking sailor– Her favorite drink was a shot of Absynthe right out of bed, in the morning… But she was an amazing woman with a big heard and a very strong sense of integrity. She basically raised me to become who I am. She always used to stuff her bras with jasmines to make her breasts smell nice.”

            Adrien listened. When she was done, he didn’t speak for a whole minute, the gears in his brain screaming from over-exhaustion. “Why are you talking in the past?” he dared to ask.

            Ladybug glanced away to hide the tears that had formed in her eyes. “She passed away last spring.”

            “I’m so sorry…”

            Ladybug’s eyes glowed at that and she let out a little chuckle as she pressed a finger against his lips. “I told you never to be sorry. For anything.”

            Adrien’s face softened. “Is that the tattoo that you want to get?” he wondered. “A bouquet of jasmines?”

            “Something like that,” she nodded. “I already sketched it,” she admitted.

            “Will you show me?”

            She shook her head. “You know I can’t do that.”

            “Yeah,” he sighed. “I know.”

            A moment of silence elapsed, during which they just quietly stared at each other’s eyes, before Ladybug sat up, and decided to take Adrien home.

            It was around two o’clock in the morning when the superhero landed on her balcony and de-transformed, before she let herself through the open trapdoor and to her room, her kwami on her shoulder.

            “Tikki! Can you believe it?” Marinette almost sang as she let herself fall unto her bed. “I just kissed Adrien. Again. And he loves me! And I told him! I finally, finally told him! Oh, my God…” she whispered, pressing her hands to her eyes and smiling at the ceiling. “We love each other… We kissed at the top to Arch of Triumph and he…” she blushed. “Tikki, I think I love him even more, now.”

            “I’m really happy for you, Marinette,” the kwami giggled in her tiny voice. “I’m happy for both of you.”

            “Is this even real?” Marinette wondered out loud. “Did it even happen? You sure I didn’t dream it or anything?”

            Tikki was about to answer, when Marinette’s phone beeped on her nightstand– the latter had left it there to charge before she went out for patrol.

            It was a message from Alya– actually, it was about nine missed calls from Alya and a hundred fifty other messages that told her to check the Ladyblog.

            “Everything alright, Marinette?” Tikki asked her holder when the latter’s had lost her smile and already rushed toward her desk to turn on her computer.

            “We’ll figure that out in a bit…”

            To be completely honest, what Marinette saw as she entered her passwords and sighed into her profile on Alya’s blog, was not at all what she had expected– Marinette was expecting to see a post about a new akuma, or something Hawk Moth-related… that the guy had taken a hostage or something or had decided to attack City Hall with an army of black moths (because who really knew what went on in that butterfly farmer’s crazy mind anyway?)– but it was actually a picture of her, and Adrien, taken earlier tonight, as they were both sitting at the top of the Arch of Triumph, kissing. Like, really kissing. It has been posted by an anonymous source. Marinette’s face immediately went livid as she reached for her phone to call Alya. Her best friend answered after the first beep.

            “Alya, you need to take that down immediately… B-before anyone sees it,” she told her– it was still very early. Everyone was asleep– There was no way anyone had seen it. They still had time.

            “Girl, I’m trying! But the site has blocked me as an admin. I’m sorry, I tried everything. I don’t know what else to do,” Alya’s words screeched into her mind like the most terrible of akumas, as Marinette glanced over to Tikki, who looked just as panicked at her. Marinette never heard any of what her best friend had said next. Fu was very likely going to kill her.

Chapter Text

Temperance is a synonym of abstinence, abstention and sobriety. In the Bible, ‘temperance’ is a moderation of action, thought and feeling, a restraint in the indulgence of the appetites and passions of the body.

            It is a virtue that “provides balance in the use of created goods” and is believed to combat the sin of gluttony. “Temperance is commonly broken down into four main strengths: forgiveness, humility, prudence, and self-regulation” (The Oxford Pocket Dictionary).

 

***

 

“Come on, though, Mar– You can’t tell me you don’t find all this to be like…completely ah ba-noodles?” Alya chuckled out, her eyes, round and brown and shining with marvel and bewilderment as she spoke with such amazement and eagerness in her voice and made wide gestures with her hands and arms. “I mean…Ladybug and Adrien? What is she even doing?” she wondered out loud, as her smile lit up her face and made a loop around the Earth.

            It was Tuesday morning and Alya and Marinette were both walking to school– the latter didn’t sleep through her alarm for once (she didn’t sleep at all, actually, but Alya didn’t need to know that) and had decided to meet her best friend halfway so they could talk about what happened last night.

            Well, it was Alya who did the talking, mostly– especially because Marinette was still rehearsing her tirade of apologies she was going to recite to Master Fu when she will meet him later at noon, right after her morning classes.

            She let out a cold sigh as she pictured the old man’s very disappointed face and the angry speech he was certainly going to give, telling her exactly just how upset he was with her: she had no excuses, she could perfectly hear him say. She had deliberately put a civilian’s life in danger and now, Hawk Moth was going to use Adrien to get to her–

            The latter was likely going to be persecuted by the butterfly villain. Fu was probably going to take away her Miraculous or something, and try to salvage the whole situation the best he could…

            Paris would have another Ladybug to look after it, and Marinette… Well, Marinette will go back to being just that– Marinette. But this time, she won’t be Marinette the Loser who couldn’t even stand or breathe right… This time, she’ll be Marinette the Failure; the one who failed the world, her mentor, her kwami, and her partner. She deserved to have her Miraculous to be taken away from her. She had been reckless, thoughtless, and her actions of the last days weren’t ones worthy of a superhero. Marinette was not a superhero; she was just a girl in a red costume with superpowers.

            As Alya pinched her in the arm, Marinette was harshly dragged back to reality, leaving her dark, spiraling thoughts behind. “Argh! Alya!” the bluenette let out screechy scream as she rubbed her skin where it was still red. “What the hell?”

            “How are you not talking right now? This whole situation is like the literal definition of coo coo bananas. Hey…what’s on your mind?”

            Marinette shrugged and shook her head. “It’s not that crazy, you know, if you come to think about it. I mean, she’s a superhero and he’s a supermodel and the son of like the most famous fashion designer of all time. If anything, them, dating…? It kinda makes sense, doesn’t it?” she said, repeating the words Adrien had said to her last night. She looked down at her shoes, then the ground, suddenly finding the pavement and the way all these blocs of concrete were assembled incredibly interesting. “Can we stop talking about it, now?”

            “Uh, request denied,” Alya replied. “Come on, I can see how bummed out you are about all of this. You’re trying to hide it, but I know you. Marinette, talk to me.”

            “I’m fine, Alya,” Marinette hissed at her best friend, still unable to meet her eyes. “Really. I just…I don’t feel like talking about it, right now. I’m uh…still processing.”

            Alya shrugged. “Well, we can talk about how the Ladyblog is going cray-cray over here,” she said, gesturing to her phone in her hand. “Or the fact that I am still unable to access it…”

            “Really? That’s weird. It should be working by now,” a voice spoke behind the two girls and they both turned around to find it was Max walking behind them. “You should try again. I fixed it just this morning.”

            “Max? How– what are you even doing here?” Alya lifted an eyebrow at her classmate who pursed his lips at her and shot her a jaded look.

            “I live here,” he remarked. “You’re literally standing in front of my building.”

            “Oh… Right,” Alya didn’t know if she should feel bad. Max only rolled his eyes at her.

            “Wait…what do you mean you fixed it?” Marinette wondered. “The Ladyblog was hacked.”

            “Yeah,” Max nodded, looking at Marinette as if she had just stated the obvious, before he started to walk again, quickly followed by Marinette and Alya. “And now, it’s not anymore.”

            “Were you able to take the pictures down?” Marinette asked.

            “I’d rather not do that. At least until we all get to school,” Max said.

            “What? Why?”

            He shrugged. “I have my reasons.”

            “Max, it’s not funny. Adrien might be in danger– Hawk Moth could…” she trailed off for a minute, thinking about all the horrible things Hawk Moth would indeed be very capable of, before she was able to carry on, “He could try to get inside his head and force every information he has on Ladybug out of him.”

            Max pouted. “I’m sure Ladybug was smart enough not to have told Adrien anything that could trace him back to her true identity and compromise either her or her team. Granted, Hawk Moth might try to toy with Adrien’s mind a bit at first, but the moment he realizes there’s nothing there for him, he’ll leave him alone.”

            “Max,” Marinette ignored the fact that Max straight up sounded like a sociopath right now and still tried to reason with him. “You need to take the pictures down. Please.”

            “I’m sorry,” Max shook his head. “I won’t. I uploaded them for a reason.”

            “What?” Alya sounded furious suddenly. “You’re the one who hacked my blog?”

            Max lifted an eyebrow at her. “Obviously,” he admitted without flinching. “That’s why I was able to fix it so quickly. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some business to attend to,” he said, before heading toward their school’s main gate on the other side of the road, crossing the street like a lunatic without taking the pedestrian track or even checking for cars.

            “Is he serious?” Alya spoke between her teeth and she looked like she was about to bite something.

            Marinette still looked completely disoriented, taken aback by Max’s revelations. “I’m afraid so.”

            “And I am going to chop off his arms and shove right up where the sun doesn’t shine.” Alya’s cheeks were angry red, as she folded her hands into fists and began trotting toward the school, her best friend at her heels.

            “What do you think he’s talking about?”

            “I don’t care,” Alya spat. “No one messes with my blog.”

            “Alya…” Marinette sighed, as she tried to keep pace with her best friend. “Do you even know what you’re going to say? Or do? Alya, stop. We need to think it through. You can’t just go there and beat him senseless.”

            “And why not?” the blogger barked.

            “Because that would be wrong.”

            “How are you even defending him right now?”

            “I’m not. I just don’t want to get in trouble– especially for something as stupid as that.”

            “My blog is not stupid, Marinette.”

            Marinette pouted. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

            “Hey there, ladies,” Kim whistled as he made his way to Alya and Marinette, skipping, an electric shaver in hand. “You’re looking feistier than usual,” he remarked. “What’s up?”

            “Max hacked the Ladyblog!” Alya blurted out almost violently, her eyes, orange, blazing with hot white flames. “He’s the one who posted those pictures of Adrien and Ladybug– and he’s refusing to take them down!”

            Kim seemed confused at that and was about to talk, but Marinette spoke first. “Do you think you could convince him to delete them?” she asked him, much more serene than her friend, as she peered up at Kim with wide blue eyes and a sad face.

            He shrugged. “First of all, he did it for me, Alya,” Kim rolled his eyes at the blogger. “So, if you wanna be angry at someone, be angry at me.”

            “What? Why did you tell him to do that?”

            He shook his head. “I didn’t.” He seemed honest. “I-I…thought you gave him permission to uh…post the pics a-and– but still, he thought he was doing me a favor, so, go easy on him, kay?”

            Strangely enough, Kim looked very sincere and almost mature as he said the words, and the way he took his friend’s defense got Alya to calm down a bit.

            “Hmm,” she hummed, still frowning, her arms folded together. “It’s still my blog. And I want the pictures out.”

            Kim nodded. “I’ll talk to him.”

            “Thank you, Kim,” Marinette said, when Alya couldn’t bring herself to.

            They could’ve all gone their separate ways after that, with Marinette trying her best to get Alya to take deep breathes and stop taking the whole thing so personally, when something Kim had said flashed back into the blogger’s brain. “Wait, what did you mean by the whole ‘he did it for you’ bit?” she wondered. “Why do you care about Ladybug and Adrien, anyway? It’s none of your business.”

            Kim smiled and winked at the girls, before he unbuttoned his jacket and showed them the Ladrien t-shirt he was wearing underneath. “Let’s just say I got some money on the line.”

            “Money?” Marinette repeated, her tone very skeptical. “Money how?”

            Kim opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted when Adrien’s car pulled up in front of the school gates and the latter got out, Nino right after him. The model boy had the stupidest smile on his face, walking as if he was floating on air, and his best friend couldn’t but tease him for it. Kim called them over, immediately putting a term to Adrien’s good mood. “Well, if you must know,” the Ladrien fan wiggled his eyebrows at Marinette, “Dollface and I made one hell of a sick bet,” he announced, wrapping an arm around Adrien’s shoulders and pulling the latter down as he rubbed his knuckles against his head. “It’s about Ladybug. If he wins, he gets to cut my hair,” he said, finally letting go of his friend. “If not, I get to fuck up his.”

            Marinette’s gaze quickly flicked from Kim to Adrien and she looked truly horrified by the information. “What the hell is he talking about?”

            “I’m talking about this,” Kim didn’t give Adrien enough time to answer, as he gestured to his shirt. “Ade and Lady plus t-shirt make three,” he chuckled out, and he seemed pretty proud of his pun. “I’m running bets all over school, too– no one believed in my guy Adrien, but…I have pretty strong evidence now.”

            “You manipulated Ladybug to win a bet?” Alya was the one to speak, when Marinette was clearly too shocked to form words. “That’s dark.”

            “W-what? No! O-of course n-not!” Adrien struggled to blurt out, his face all flustered and flushed with red, as he tried to sound convincing, at least to Marinette. “That’s not it at all– I… Please, I would never…” He sounded almost desperate.

            “He argued that Ladybug would never fall in love with him, actually,” Kim surprisingly went to his friend’s rescue as he searched for something on his phone. “But, I don’t know…she seems pretty much in love with you in these, don’t you think?” he smirked at Adrien as he flipped his phone around to show him the pictures Max had taken last night.

            “W-what…” Adrien’s face turned an even brighter shade of red as he stared at the pictures, visibly not aware of their existence at all before now.

            “Adrien, honey, I’m going to change your life,” Kim clicked his tongue as he lifted the electric shaver he had in hand and turned it on. “Adrien Agreste, you can get any girl to fall in love with you, even Paris’ hottest Bachelorette. So, just admit it, and we’ll get to the fun part.”

            “These pictures don’t prove anything,” Adrien replied, covering his head with his hands as he frowned at Kim. “Just because you see two people kissing, doesn’t mean they’re in love or anything.”

            “So, you’re not in love with Ladybug,” Marinette tried to make sense of what Adrien was saying. “You were just trying to get into her pants. For a bet.”

            “No! That’s not what I–”

            “Who cares?” Kim cut him off. “The bet isn’t about him. It’s about me. Listen up, hot stuff, I agreed to back off even after I saw you two kiss at the Galliera on Saturday, but… A bet’s a bet. Now play fair and admit you’ve lost.”

            “Well, you still gotta acknowledge that… the guy’s got a point,” Nino intervened, shoving his hands down his pockets. “And I can’t believe I’m saying in front of my girlfriend of all people,” he went on, “but you and I both know that little snogs don’t equal love, Kim. And guys all have this thing in common that they’ll do just about anything to get their ways. Girls are the same, ain’t I right? I mean, seriously– Who in their right mind would pass up a hot hour with our lil’ Agreste over there.”

            Kim’s shoulders dropped at once. “Ugh, come on, bro. Again? What are you doing to me?”

            Nino always shrugged. “I’d have to take Nino’s side on that one,” Alya added, folding her arms together. “If I was given the opportunity to screw The freaking Rock Johnson, I won’t hesitate for a second.”

            “Well, that was one…vivid example to illustrate my point,” Nino said, still eyeing his girlfriend suspiciously. “We’ll talk about that later. But yeah, you get it. Your bet is un-winnable for you, Kim, ‘cause, basically, you’ll never be able to prove anything. So I guess you’re the one getting a nice liberty spikes Mohawk cut, after all. Don’t look so appalled, man. You still got all your money, don’t ya?”

            “Actually,” it was Marinette who spoke this time, her voice, minuscule, but loud enough to bring all the attention back to her. She was looking at Adrien, with mad black eyes, as if she hated the very thought of him. He gulped in apprehension as she turned to Kim. “I was out, last night, and I saw him with Ladybug. He told her to let her down in an alley next to his house because he was worried of security cameras catching her on tape or something. I heard her tell him then that she was in love with him,” she admitted, her gaze, extremely serious. “So go ahead and change his life, Kim.”

            At that, Kim just exploded into laughter before he wrapped his arms around the tiny figure of Marinette and lifted her up to hug her tightly. “Oh, boy– Marinette, you just saved my yearbook picture,” he told her. “You’re officially my favorite person in the world.”

            “What?” Nino seemed outraged. “That’s ridiculous. Marinette, no offense, but you’re not even a part of this– a-and all of this sounds deviously convenient…”

            Marinette turned around to face her best friend’s boyfriend and the latter just shut up instantly as her cold expression froze the words on his tongue. “What reason would I have to lie? You just said it. I’m not even a part of this.”

            Nino shook his head. “I-I don’t know if we can even believe you.”

            “Have I ever lied to you, Nino?” Marinette asked innocently, but she sounded more scary that anything else. She shrugged, gestured to Adrien, who still wasn’t daring to say anything. “Besides, it’s my word against his.” She turned back to Kim. “Use it wisely,” she ordered him. “I hear green and purple dreads are back for the season.”

            Kim grinned and lifted a hand to hive-five her. “I like the way you think, Cheng.”

            She grinned at him. “Oh, come on, Dollface,” she used Kim’s nickname for Adrien to address the latter. “Don’t worry. I’m sure those perfect golden locks of yours are insured.”

            “Ha! That was one wicked line, Cheng,” Kim giggled to himself. “I think my only regret is that I didn’t come up with it.”

            Marinette only smirked and tugged on Alya’s sleeve to get to follow her on the stairs. “Bell’s ringing,” she answered her best friend’s silent question. “I didn’t wake up early so I’d be late to class.”

 

***

 

“You know, what Kim said earlier…it’s really not what it looks like,” Adrien said, eyeing Marinette with worried green eyes, as he laid his back against Ivan’s feet and tried to sit on air while she was climbing on his thighs. M. Shultz was making the teams try out some gymnastic figures today and Marinette never more in her life regretted to be paired up with Adrien.

            “I really don’t care, Adrien,” she sighed. She was avoiding his gaze, trying not to blush as she held on to his hands to keep herself from losing balance.

            “Look, I was stupid, I get that, but…at least hear me out,” he insisted. “There’s always another side to a story.”

            “Why do you care what I think, anyway? You’re Adrien Agreste. You can do whatever the fuck you want,” she spat. “And you can have any girl you want, right?”

            “Marinette, please…”

            “Did you, or did you not, make a bet with Kim, involving you getting together with Ladybug?” she asked him, meeting his eyes for the first time since their little fight on the school stairs. Her irises were a frozen ice blue.

            Adrien’s lips parted, he shook his head. “Y-you’re taking things out of c-context…”

            “And…unwind,” Alya, who has been focused on the chronometer on her phone, spoke up, letting her team break off the pose– to pass the exam, all of them would have to pick a song and come up with a whole choreography testing their endurance, balance and dynamic, and choose around five or six figures to present among the dozen available, which they would have to hold for a whole 30 seconds, before moving on to another one.

            Marinette took a deep breath as she let go of Adrien and jumped back on the ground. She walked to her best friend before he could stand up, putting a term to their conversation.

            “We could try this one,” Mylène suggested, pointing to a sort of pyramid drawn at the center of the page. “It doesn’t look too difficult. Ivan and I could be at the base.”

            “I could be the one on my hands,” Marinette shrugged.

            “You’re kidding, right?” Alya shot her a dirty look. “There’s no way I’ll be able to stand this straight when my whole body is practically hanging in the air. I’ll be the one on my hands, and you do the Plank.”

            “Can you even stand on your hands?” Marinette asked.

            Alya pouted. “I’ll learn.”

            “We need to start training with the balls and ribbons,” Ivan said as he crawled over to Mylène to sit next to her. She smiled at him and kissed his cheek, before turning back to Alya and Marinette.

            The latter took that as an opportunity to get away from Adrien and stood up, suggesting she would go into the storage room to fetch everything. “I’ll come with you,” the model boy replied, getting to his feet as well. She threw a couple of arguments at him, explaining why it would be best for everyone if she went alone, but he shook them off easily and was even backed up by Alya who thought she was doing her best friend a favor. In the end, Marinette had to agree, and let Adrien go with her, but, as they walked, she always tried to keep at least a couple feet between them.

            “Marinette, wait,” Adrien called after her, as they entered the storage room, softly grabbing her arm. He made her turn around to face him. He was at least two heads taller than her –even taller than he was last year –more handsome, too– and Marinette had to remind herself that she was mad at him now and she couldn’t just stare at him and marvel at his perfect features. “You’re being unreasonable.”

            She shrugged, folded her arms together. “Maybe I don’t want to be reasoned with.”

            Adrien rolled her eyes at her. “Why did you out me to Kim like that?”

            “I thought it was time for you to get your hair cut.” She looked amused. “I mean, all of this is getting way out of hand.”

            He pursed his lips together. “You lied.”

            She shook her head. “I didn’t lie.”

            Adrien blushed at that and spaced out for a second– Marinette thought it was flattering. “Well, whatever. It’s my business; you shouldn’t even have intervened at all. You literally threw me under the bus.” He paused. “Should I expect that each time you don’t agree with one of my stupid decisions? You, giving me the cold shoulder like that. B-because…I’m not sure I want that.”

            Marinette’s lips parted and she was about to say something, when she stopped herself and seemed like she was actually thinking about what Adrien had just said. He…was actually right. She was acting unfairly, almost petty. She didn’t know his side of the story and well…wasn’t her job now to always be on his side no matter what? She sighed. “I have no idea what you’re talking about Adrien.”

            He frowned at that. Did she seriously just say that? Is she really going to act as if nothing happened between them? As if he didn’t already figure her out? How could he not? He’s practically been in love with both of them. “Are you trying to get back at me somehow? Is that why you’re doing this?”

            She blinked in confusion. “Get back at you for what?”

            He shook his head, shoved his hands down his pockets. “I don’t know… I–” he scoffed. “Maybe you’re just jealous of Ladybug.”

            She lifted an eyebrow at him. “Yeah, because all I ever dream of is being with you.”

            “Why not?” he shrugged. “Everyone seems to.”

            She snorted. “Get your head out of your ass.” When he didn’t add anything afterward, she just shook her head before she walked toward the shelves at the end of the room and reached for the ribbons her group seemed so eager to have. She grabbed two balls on the ground before she headed back to the door.

            “I know you’re Ladybug, Marinette,” Adrien said and she froze on the spot, dropping everything she had in hands. The balls bounced on the floor and rolled away to hit the walls. “And I still mean every single thing that I told you last night. I really am in love with you. So, please…at least let me explain.”

            Slowly, Marinette turned around, her face, white; her eyes so wide and blue, Adrien struggled to find his way out of them. “You have ten seconds.”

            Adrien’s heart skipped a beat as he searched his brain for his arguments and everything he wanted to say, but all he found were letters, scattered randomly across his mind and he just wasn’t able to arrange them into real words. “I-I…”

            “Eight. Seven… Six…”

            “I was angry, okay? I-I… The others…they all said that– Well, they didn’t exactly say it, but it was implied that… I don’t want everyone to think that I’m just a pretty face,” Adrien hung his head. “Kim had been pestering me about it for weeks and I guess…I guess I just snapped. But I never intended to follow through with it, I swear. I only accepted to get him off my back…and then, I just– I guess I just saw it as an opportunity… T-to– approach Ladybug– uh, you. As myself. Because I wasn’t lying.” He lifted his head to look at her. “I really love you. Please, tell me how to make this right.” He reached for her hand and interlaced their fingers together, making her blush. “You love me too, don’t you? You said so.” He sighed. “It’s just a stupid fight.” We fight all the time, he almost said, but then remembered she didn’t know he was Cat Noir yet. I mean, he’ll tell her eventually, of course. But not right now. “I don’t want Kim to come between us like that,” he said, tugging on her arm to pull her to him. He took her face in between his hands and was about to kiss her –she would’ve probably let him, too– when someone walked into the storage room and they had to let go of each other, thinking they had just been caught by their gym teacher.

            “Oh, hey, Adrien,” it was Lila, looking as lovely and innocent as one can possibly appear. “Hi, Marinette. What are you guys doing here?”

            “Uh…we’re just picking up some equipment,” Marinette quickly said as she reached for the balls she had dropped and gesturing to Adrien to pick up the ribbons. “We’ll be on our way, now.”

            “Actually, Adrien? Can I talk to you?” Lila asked in her ever so soft voice. Marinette turned around instantly, eyeing the pair rather suspiciously, and Lila could immediately see Adrien’s reluctance in staying. “I just wanted to thank you– for accepting to tutor me after school. God knows I need all the help I can get…”

            “No worries, Lila,” Adrien didn’t even smile.

            “I also wanted to tell you how grateful I was, because I know things between us aren’t as smooth as they once were and I… I mean, since we’re ought to spend a lot of afternoons together now, I’m just so happy that you agreed to forgive me.” Marinette rolled her eyes at them, and was about to head out, when Lila called after her. “I hope you won’t mind too much, Marinette, but I assure you, I’m not interested in Adrien that way at all. I just want to us all to be friends again.”

            “Whatever, Lila,” Marinette sighed. “Now, if you don’t mind, our friends are waiting for us…”

            “Of course you wouldn’t be jealous, Marinette– You’re way above that. You know, I really admire the way you were able to keep your calm when the pictures came out. I don’t think I would’ve been able to, if I’m being honest. I mean, if I caught the guy I have been in love with since forever kissing another girl, I would’ve been furious. But I guess that means that you’re over him after all,” she reasoned. “And you’re totally right… You don’t need anyone.” Marinette shrugged as an only answer. Lila turned to Adrien. “By the way, how did you find Ladybug? She passed by my apartment after you two were done to talk about it –you know how us girls are, there’s no way anyone could shut us up, especially when we’re talking about boys… Or were you too busy swallowing each other’s faces?”

            “Uh…” Adrien’s cheeks turned red.

            “Oh, don’t worry,” Lila smirked. “I didn’t tell her about the bet,” she assured him. “I would never do that to a friend. Oh, I’m not judging you or anything,” she quickly added, winking. “I bet on you, you know,” she said gesturing to the Ladrien bracelet she wore on her wrist. “I knew you would win– you’re so amazing, you can achieve anything you put your mind to. I mean, seducing Ladybug? That’s not something anyone can brag about. But if I can give you some bit of advice? Don’t be too harsh when you break up with her– she’s the one saving Paris from akumas all the time, after all. And I don’t think anyone would try to stop her if she suddenly decides to feed you to an akuma or something.”

            “You should go, Lila,” Adrien hissed.

            Lila just smiled. “I’m just trying to help. I mean, I can read, and I think everyone remembers all these horror stories leaked in Voici about your ex-girlfriends. All were incredibly fierce and passionate ladies, that’s for sure. They didn’t deal well with broken hearts– some even went to terrible extremes. But hey, every playboy has his share of enemies.”

            Lila was good at manipulating people around her– she knew how to keep track of every one of her lies and was clever enough to just turn every situation to her advantage; even when she had just been caught red handed. She was nasty; she knew how to make everyone believe her. She spoke calmly and smoothly and had her voice had a nice ring to it. She was pretty too– that helped, of course. But unfortunately for her, Adrien and Marinette saw right through her little games and were immune against this desire of hers to make everyone like her and pay so much attention to her they wouldn’t have time to do anything else– they knew perfectly what she was trying to do, drawing them apart with well-conveyed sentences and nice flowery words, trying to stir up ill-feeling between the two of them.

            Lila liked to make up stories in which she was the main protagonist and took great delight when all eyes were on her and she could a flame of admiration burning up in each person around her. She enjoyed being at the center of a crowd and talking about the time she went all the way to Achu to visit her best friend prince Ali; she always took her time describing the ampler of the palace, never missing an occasion to paint her audience an image of the room she had been staying in– a giant stained glass window shaped like a vineyard that shown like a rainbow every time the sun rose in the morning. Her four-poster bed encrusted with all kinds of very expensive gems, yellow emeralds, red sapphires, pink diamonds, which was so comfortable, with silky purple sheets, she could just lay in it all day forever. She talked about the particular shape of the throne room, shaped like a love heart, and dedicated to the strong, unbreakable friendship that tied her to the prince, and the exquisite taste of all the exotic food she had the honor to taste.

            Then, when Prince Ali was as much as a hot topic anymore, she invented that Cat Noir and her were an icon and proceeded with telling everyone, especially the girls, every detail about her relationship with him. When the picture of Cat Noir and Ladybug kissing made it to the Ladyblog, at some point a few years ago, she made a scene in front of the whole school accusing Alya of denigrating her and belittling her very recent breakup with the superhero– that was when Marinette was able to finally convince her best friend that Lila was indeed a mean person.

            Lila had been everywhere, had dated lots of interesting people and was loved by many. She had a song written for her, a whole village that worshipped her in Africa, and personally knew every single inapproachable people in Hollywood, and didn’t mind sharing anecdotes about them when their names were mentioned in conversations. Her stories always left people taken aback, wanting for more, and she absolutely loved the feeling.

            “And thank you, it is very much appreciated,” Adrien said, his face, unreadable. “I’ll meet you at the library after school, okay? Bye!” he exclaimed, pushing her through the exit and slamming the door in her face.

            When he turned back to face Marinette, the latter looked a bit amused. “I’m not sure you’re allowed to do that.”

            He lifted an eyebrow at her. “What?”

            “Close the door? I mean…everyone saw us walk in.”

            “So, what?”

            “So, what?” she echoed after him, snickering, folding her arms together. “We could be in trouble for that.”

            He smirked confidently. “I’m Adrien Agreste. I can do whatever the fuck I want,” he said, as he took a few steps toward Marinette, urgently closing the distance between them, as he crashed into her, almost tackling her against a wall, pinning her arms at each of her sides and kissing her deeply.

            He felt her laugh against his teeth, but she instantly positively responded to his touch, as if it was all but instinctive and the whole universe wouldn’t have it any other way. Their embrace was hot and passionate, and Marinette blushed when she felt Adrien’s knee between her legs, lifting her up to find a better angle.

            When he finally let go of her hands, he put his under her thighs and raised her to his level. She wrapped her legs around his waist and circled his shoulders with her arms, pulling him closer, always closer to her, pressing her chest against his own and touching him everywhere. The skin at the back of his neck radiated warmth and electricity and she could feel him everywhere. He had his heart in his mouth and she could taste it with the tip of her tongue.

            Immediately, she forgot why she even was mad at him in the first place. It seemed so trivial now, because the only important thing that was flashing in her head, over and over again, was the fact that she was in the gymnasium storage room with Adrien, that the door was closed and they were doing exactly what everyone outside was thinking they were doing. Adrien loved her and she loved him and everything was perfect and nothing could ever ruin that. They fit together– they were made to be together– there was no other possible version of their story: in the end, Adrien and Marinette would always find each other.

            The whole bet was stupid but that was just it; without it, Marinette would have probably not been kissing Adrien’s face off right now. She then thought about what Max had told her about Kim; how he was saving up to buy Chloe a trip to the Alpes. At the end of the day, all the positive aspects of this bet outweighed the negative.

            “W-we should probably s-stop,” Marinette whispered against Adrien’s lips, breathless, gently pulling away from him to look at his face. It was red and flustered, his eyes, wide and dark green. “So that’s how much you missed me, huh?”

            “I already hate it when we fight,” he said, shaking his head. “But if this is how we make up…” Marinette smirked.

            His hair was a mess and she couldn’t help herself as she reached for it to arrange his bangs out of his face. She giggled. “That’s a shame.” Adrien seemed confused. “I like your hair. I’m gonna miss it.”

            He shrugged. “It’ll grow back.”

            “I’m sorry, by the way.” She looked away. “Thought I should mention it, at least. About what I did earlier. It wasn’t cool.”

            “I don’t care,” he told her, sounding honest, as he finally let go of her before he kissed her lightly on the lips. “As long as I get to call you my girlfriend.”

            Marinette’s smile dropped at once. Adrien did not understand. “You can’t,” she said. “You’re with Ladybug, now. I mean, you don’t want people to think of you as a cheater or anything, do you?”

Chapter Text

In Christian thought, charity is the highest form of love, signifying the reciprocal love between God and man that is made manifest through unselfish love of one’s fellow men. It is commonly defined by the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need (Oxford Pocket Dictionary, 2014).

 

***

 

Marinette looked like she was deep in thoughts, standing in front of her open locker before a giant pile of books on top of which laid Tikki, towering over her, her wide indigo eyes blinking back at her.

            “Is everything alright Marinette?” asked the little talking ladybug but Marinette barely glanced at her. Tikki didn’t really mind though, for she was already very busy as it was on her own; with the tip of her pink tongue sticking out of her mouth and an extremely serious look on her face, the red and black kwami was actively trying to figure out a way to tie her two antennas together. But, ugh. It wasn’t working– It seemed as if the knot simply refused to hold in abeyance.

            When Marinette had earlier wondered what it was exactly that she was trying to accomplish, and, more importantly, why, Tikki hadn’t been able to come up with a clever answer.

            In truth, the kwami had no idea why she was doing what she was doing. She just knew that she had seen Plagg playing with his whiskers in such a way last week –even though he was at a level where he could just tie them in a sailor’s knot without even touching them– and had wanted to do just like him.

            Of course, Tikki would rather die than admit it to him. So, she practiced on her own, too proud to ask him for any help or pro-tips, and she could already picture how awestruck he was going to be the next time they will see each other and she will be able to glare at her antennas until they bent into one perfect surgeon’s knot on their own.

            Marinette, on the other hand, had other just as important things on her plate– starting with what happened two days ago in the gym storage room… When she and Adrien got out after one very steamy, hot make-out session, Alya and Kim were waiting for them at the door, smirking and looking all crafty and smug, and everyone else couldn’t stop whispering and staring at them.

            Mr. Shultz pained to recapture the class’s attention later on and, after maybe twenty minutes of struggling, he decided to simply give up and sent everyone back to their lockers. That’s when real troubles began– the girls wouldn’t leave her alone, asking all kind of nosey and invasive questions, and pushing Marinette to spill out everything. She only assumed Adrien had lived the same situation in the boy’s locker room.

            To everyone’s surprise, Chloe Bourgeois was the very first one to take the bluenette’s side and stood tall and blond and beautiful, right next to Alya, hissing at every inappropriate remark that was thrown at the baker’s girl– she almost barked at Lila when the latter wanted to give Marinette some ‘advice’ regarding boys like Adrien who dated several girls at once and kept on defending her childhood friend until the little smile on the brunette’s lips completely disappeared.

            Lila was nasty. Her veins pumped ice water and lies, and her voice was so soft, one could listen to her stories forever. Her face made her look like a fairy– but Chloe wasn’t impressed by any of it. Chloe was strong and bold and loud and didn’t need to lie to be heard– she was one of the few people at Dupont who saw right through Lila’s mind games. Now all this wasn’t to say Chloe was perfect– indeed, the mayor’s daughter could pose as a mean master of manipulation, even sometimes show a little cruelty, but the main difference between Lila and her was that Chloe never tried to hide this aspect of her personality.

            Chloe loved Adrien –in a very platonic, definitely nonsexual kind of way, she assured Marinette many times– and quite rightly. Adrien was a great friend and an even better person; he always tried to help everyone, make himself available, smiled…even when he had nothing to smile about. He made people laugh and happy, and he was always genuine in his words and actions. He didn’t have one bad bone in his entire body, so, whenever Chloe heard anyone talk about him or just mention him in a negative way, she would lose her mind and turn into a golden dragon that roared, and breathed fire.

            Marinette let out a deep sigh and laid her head against the coldness of her locker door. The common room was empty– Wednesdays were half-days, so everybody had already left. Marinette had decided to stay late to work on a science project she was supposed to turn in by the end of the week but, as she sat at a table right in the middle of the library and just stared at her notes, she realized, hours in, she had been doodling tiny ladybugs and cat paws all over her textbook– I mean, even though Max had agreed to take down all pictures of Ladybug and Adrien…it would just be foolish to assume Cat Noir hadn’t seen them.

            Everyone had seen them, and now the entire world was convinced that Adrien Agreste and Ladybug were an item, and there was no changing that. This was beside one main reason why Marinette had been trying to avoid Adrien these past few days– Like, she would still wave at him from a distance, and smiled, to keep him from worrying too much, but she would always surround herself with many friends when she walked down the school halls so he wouldn’t be tempted to go and talk to her and made a point to never be alone in the cafeteria, common room, or even in the bathrooms. She knew his schedule by heart, so it was pretty easy for her to ‘move out of sight.’ He tried to call her of course and had sent her many texts already, but it wasn’t difficult to come up with an excuse not to talk to someone in these conditions.

            ‘My phone was dead.’

            ‘I didn’t see the messages.’

            ‘The Internet was down.’

            ‘You know, it’s weird, I was just going to call you back, but I was holding a huge tray of freshly baked cookies and so…I tripped, and my phone just flew out of my hands and right into a glass of water and had been sitting in a bag of rice ever since yesterday.’

            ‘Hey, I just saw your messages but I’m getting kind of sleepy so I’ll talk to you in the morning–’ and just never text back.

            Tikki hadn’t liked it but it wasn’t like Marinette had a choice, really. The rumors were still fresh. It was too risky– if she was to confirm out loud that yes, she and Adrien had indeed kissed in that storage room, then it would only be a matter of time before people start connecting the dots. Marinette would die before she let something like that happen.

            Surprisingly though, Master Fu had been very considerate regarding the whole situation. He hadn’t been angry at Marinette at all when the latter had visited him yesterday– he wasn’t even disappointed in her, and he definitely didn’t try to take her Miraculous away.

            Instead, he only told her to keep a close eye on Adrien from now on, to protect him, if Hawk Moth one day decided to take advantage of all of this, not without adding, with a little knowing smile on his lips, that he was sure it wasn’t going to be a problem. He also later urged her to be more careful in the future, to which Marinette swore she would be.

            Weirdly enough, she didn’t feel like Cat Noir would demonstrate such an understanding– the guy could be really childish when he wanted to, giving her the silent treatment and making the whole working with him thing even more difficult.

            “Hey, there,” someone whispered in Marinette’s ear, making her jump altogether in surprise, as she hurried to slam her locker close to hide any traces of Tikki’s existence.

            When she turned around, her face was pallid and she was panting, but she let herself relax when she saw that it was Adrien who was standing in front of her, looking kind of worried by her sudden reaction. “Oh my God,” she whined, pressing both her hands against her eyes, “you scared me. Please, never do that again.”

            “Swipe you off your feet? I don’t think I can control that,” he winked at her, but she didn’t find it funny. “Sorry,” he apologized, smiling and blushing and looking all cute and adorable. “I didn’t mean to.” If Marinette didn’t immediately notice Adrien’s new haircut because she was too busy trying to calm down, she definitely did now. It was a disaster; she tried hard not to laugh.

            The Mohawk didn’t suit him at all– his hair was way to curly to pull it off, and gel obviously wasn’t working. Adrien knew all too well he looked absolutely ridiculous, but still thought he had been lucky to have been able to convince Kim not to shave off the sides of his head with a razor blade. Instead, the young swimming champion had decided to leave the hair at the back, and the whole thing now looked like failed mullet– if that was even a thing.

            “So?” he asked a bit nervously, shoving his hands down his pockets. He shrugged. “What-what do you think?”

            Marinette pursed her lips together, smiling provocatively, as she crossed her arms together. “You know what? I dig it.”

            He crooked an eyebrow at her. “You do?”

            “Yeah,” she nodded. She tugged on his shirt to make him step closer to her and reached for his cheek, before she slid her hand through what was left of his hair, and rested it against the back of his neck, her nails, softly grazing his skin. “You’re like on Andy Biersack’s level of perfection– I really don’t think anything could look bad on you.”

            “Are you kidding?” he scoffed. “I look like a blond rad took a dump on my head and died on the spot.”

            “Eh,” she shrugged. “You just need an epic a makeover montage and you’ll be good to go,” she said, smiling widely. “A bit of eyeliner here and there, some dark lipstick, lots of eye shadow to really make that green pop, and maybe even a nice nose ring…”

            He shook his head. “I’m not getting a piercing, Marinette.”

            She pouted, watching as her palm slowly went down his chest, stopping right where his heart was. It was beating really fast, skipping several beats at once, even though Adrien looked very calm on the outside. “Suit yourself,” she sighed. “But I think it’ll look hot.”

            “And then next thing I know you’re gonna ask me to paint my nails and wear very tight pants and giant dress shirts.”

            “Like I said, hot.”

            “My dad will kill me.”

            She winked. “I’ll find a way to bring you back.” Adrien smiled and leaned in to kiss her, but she was quick to stop him. “Not in here,” she said, gently pushing him back. “Someone might see us.”

            “The school is empty,” he countered. “We are literally alone.”

            “We thought we were alone at the top of the Arch of Triumph, too,” she replied. He glanced away and stepped back. She instantly missed feeling him under her touch. “What are you still doing here, anyway? I thought you left with everyone.”

             “I uh…waited for you,” Marinette could hear the hesitation in his voice when he answered. “I told my bodyguard and Natalie that Purpleplum decided to give us an extra lecture this afternoon.”

            Her face softened. “Why?”

            He shook his head, reaching for and scratching the back of his neck. He looked tense, nervous. He wouldn’t meet her eyes. “I don’t know,” he said quietly. “I f-feel like you’ve been avoiding me…”

            Marinette felt her own heart drop. She let out a deep breath and allowed her back and head to rest against her locker. “Y-yeah, I have.” It took her courage she didn’t even know she possessed to admit that, but the words were out now, and the only thing she could do was to wait for Adrien’s reaction– It was almost immediate. When he peered up at her, he looked hurt, and Marinette instantly hated herself. It physically sickened her to see him like this, but she knew it would’ve been a thousand times worse if she had tried to lie to him. “People have been talking, Adrien…” she knew it didn’t even count as half an excuse, but she still used it. “We, as in Marinette and Adrien, cannot be seen casually exchanging saliva in the hallways between classes. It’s too…dangerous.”

            Adrien rolled his eyes at that, pouting. “What if I broke up with Ladybug? Publicly,” he suggested, laying his hands on her waist to pull her into him– she let him, and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Could we then sit together in the cafeteria and like…have lunch together or something?” he asked, letting his fingers run on her sides, her shoulders, and her neck, all the way up to her face, tilting up her head to make her look at him. God, was he tall.

            Her lips parted instinctively and his gaze was immediately drawn to them, but she pressed her index against his chin to keep a safe distance between. “First of all, Ladybug will be the one to break up with you, if anything,” she said and could smell his minty breath when he snorted at her comment, “and second of all, you never eat lunch at the cafeteria.”

            “I mean, I could…”

            “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I can’t risk people finding out that I’m Ladybug. Not until Hawk Moth is defeated, at least. If Ladybug and you broke up and you and I started dating immediately afterward, people will get suspicious.”

            “People are stupid,” Adrien grumbled. “They’re all so blind. They won’t realize a thing,” he told her and he seemed so convinced about it, Marinette almost believed him.

            “How do you know?”

            Because the masks are magic and their main function is to protect your identity at all costs. Because I appeared in an exact replica of a Cat Noir attire, in public, and no one realized. I even voiced my own alter ego in Astruc’s movie a couple of years ago, and not a single soul could tell I was him.

            Of course, Adrien didn’t say any of that– he would’ve, probably, if his phone didn’t beep and a text from his bodyguard lit up on the screen, letting him know he was waiting for him outside. Well, he wasn’t sure it was the right time anyway.

            “Tell you what,” Marinette wanted to cheer him up, “leave your window open, tonight. I’ll swing by.”

            “Really?”

            “Yeah,” she said, smirking. “I miss my boyfriend.”

 

***

 

It was almost nine– Adrien had already called upon his transformation and geared up, and was now sitting on his piano stool, his skylight wide open, as he waited for a Ladybug-shaped silhouette to appear in the distance. Outside, the moon looked splendid, hanging in the sky like a giant pearl on a thread made of flickering diamonds and silvery stardust.

            This was good, he thought. Everything needed to be impeccable. It was now or never. Ladybug was coming, and this was his chance. Tonight was the perfect opportunity to tell her that he was Cat Noir, he once more repeated to himself, as he mentally went over his little setup, probably for the thousandth time in the last ten minutes. There were flowers and candles and cushions arranged in front of his giant T.V. screen, with snacks and beverage he had earlier sneaked out of the kitchen.

            He opened his mouth and breathed in deeply. He was nervous, one could tell; his feet were tapping against the ground, uncontrollably, and he seemed like he was struggling to steady them down. He kept on crossing and uncrossing his legs, folding and unfolding his arms, as he made sure the bouquet he placed on top of the piano contained nine red roses exactly; in the language of flowers, offering nine red roses to someone was considered one of the most beautiful, most sincere and genuine act of love, a powerful declaration, a promise that both partners will be together forever. But, hey, no pressure.

            He glanced down at his piano keys. He couldn’t play with his gloves on– the claws made it especially uncomfortable. Last time he did it, he had had to bend and contort his fingers in a way that made him look like an even scarier version of Edward Scissorhands, and he could still feel the cramps for days afterward. It was a shame; playing usually helped him calm down. I mean, this was the moment of truth. He was going to reveal himself to Ladybug. He was actually going to do it– break all the rules and shatter the mask. This was it; this was everything he ever dreamed and hoped for. Again, no pressure.

            A cold shiver went up his spine when the pole that was hooked to his belt began to ring. For a second there, he wasn’t entirely sure what to do about it and stood confused and lost, looking at his weapon buzz in his hand like an angry bee. Fortunately enough, it didn’t take him much time to snap out of it at last and accept Ladybug’s call. Her face appeared on the screen almost immediately, as beautiful and flawless as he remembered. He smiled instinctively and greeted her, but she was scowling at something he couldn’t see and didn’t seem so happy.

            “Finally!” she blurted out, still frowning, and she looked like she was running away from what one could only describe as an explosion. “There’s a situation on Dreyfus Boulevard. You need to get here. Stat.

            “What’s going on?” Stupid question. He knew that. Akuma gone wild. Duh. Why else would she even bother to call him anyway?

            “Remember Baby August?” Cat Noir nodded. “Well, apparently, his last tantrum was what did it. It was the final straw. Lucy got akumatized.”

            “Lucy, really? Wow…what are her powers?” Why, God, did he ask that? And why was he still standing there? He should’ve already been on the move by now. Was he stalling? What for?

            “I…” she seemed to hesitate. “Look, I’ll explain everything when you get here, okay? Please, just…hurry!” she exclaimed, right before she hung up. A moment later, she was sending him her exact location.

 

 

Lucy was maybe four or five years older than Marinette, tops– the latter knew that because Ladybug had had many occasions to get to know the young mother over the years. According to Cat Noir, her son, August, despite his tender age, exhibited some impressive degrees of assholery and suffered from what he satirically called Persistent Temper Outbursts Disorder. This made him the perfect target for Hawk Moth; indeed, the superhero was convinced the toddler had spent more time as a hangry giant than as an actual baby– Ladybug smiled at the thought. Cat Noir never failed to make that joke whenever they were battling Gigantitan. She still found it pretty funny.

            Unlike her son, however, Lucy was an ocean of serenity, always so kind and patient, and extremely understanding. She had a very soft voice; people often confused it with coyness. She could be clumsy but never let it get ahold of her– she was a single mom with two jobs and who sometimes struggled to make ends meet. She didn’t exactly have the time to mope around and panic.

            She taught 10th and 11th-grade Biology at two different schools and tutored on weekends. She also had a twin sister, Cara, who watched over August when Lucy couldn’t. Occasionally, their mom laid a hand as well– the little fella’s father hadn’t exactly been in the picture, and for quite some time now.

            All that to say, Marinette had never really pictured the day Hawk Moth would actually be able to get inside of Lucy’s mind– I mean, August got akumatized when his lollipop fell on the floor, but the bluenette always saw Lucy as an unbreakable force of tranquility– even when her son refused to eat or go to sleep, it was extremely difficult to annoy her.

            “Come out, come out, wherever you are… Come on out, little bug!” Marinette heard Lucy’s voice in the distance getting closer to her, resonating, clear as day, despite the loud, cheering crowd that surrounded her.

            Heart pounding, the bluenette covered her mouth with her hand to keep herself from breathing too loudly, and pressed her entire back against the alley wall, before diving into the shadows.

            “Mommy’s getting tired… come on out, and we’ll say you won,” she laughed maniacally before she threw her weapon at an old newspaper kiosk and destroyed it. Marinette bit on the inside of her cheeks to keep herself from screaming, but was able to calm down when she realized it was already empty. “Okay, now, you have really made me angry. You have until three to get out of hiding. One…”

            Marinette glanced over at Tikki, who was already eating her cookie as fast as she could. “Ugh… Cat Noir…” the bluenette whined. “Where the hell are you?”

            “Okay! I’m done!” Tikki exclaimed, shoving what was left of her cookie in her owner’s purse for safekeeping.

            “Are you sure you don’t want to finish it?” Marinette whispered. Tikki nodded without flinching. “Okay. Tikki, spots on!” the bluenette called on her transformation and watched, as her kwami zoomed into her earrings, and she was washed with raging pink lights, her costume slowly coming to form and coating her bare skin.

            Lucy called herself Mama Hen now, and went around the streets of Paris, ranting about how children should always listen to their elders, and taking over the minds of kids of all ages to build herself an entire legion.

            Her face was painted like that of a smiley clown and her costume was made of very vibrant colors. She wore a white cape that made her look like a superhero and, as a weapon, harbored a giant purple hammer made of plastic– it boomeranged right back to her whenever she threw it away, much like Thor’s Mjolnir. She also held a D-shaped wooden bell rattle in hand, which she used to control the army of children that marched beside her– if Ladybug had to guess, she would say that was where the akuma was.

            “Two…” Mama Hen continued to count, as her crowd of baby followers kept on cheering her on. “Who wants to tell Ladybug what happens when we reach three and she still hasn’t obeyed?”

            “You’ll get angry,” answered a little boy who was standing right next to Mama Hen– he shouldn’t be more than six, or seven. The way he looked at the akuma, with a glimpse of esteem and admiration in his eyes, as if he was simply in awe before the akumatized woman, almost broke Ladybug’s heart. “And then, she’ll get punished.”

            Mama Hen’s mouth broke out into a big smile that overlapped with her clown makeup and made her look even more intimidating. “That’s right! Good boy,” she complimented the boy, who awkwardly stuck out his chest, feeling proud, as she gently patted him on the head.

            Ladybug scowled at the scene before she unhooked her yo-yo off her waist and threw it as far up as she could, hissing herself on top of a nearby building.

            The view was terrifying from up there– Ladybug only had to flee the battlefield for a little less than fifteen minutes or so, to recharge Tikki’s batteries, and it seems as if, in that ridiculously infinitesimal lapse of time, the assembly of children Mama Hen had gathered had already tripled in size.

            They were all wearing the same clothes as the akuma and either looking at her in utter worship or pointing at the rooftop where they have spotted the superheroine, with big smiles on their faces and bright shiny eyes. From where she was standing, Ladybug could also see a toddler playing with the Lucky Charm Mama Hen had stolen from her earlier on– it was a red and black bouncing ball that he kept throwing at the wall and ogled at it, as it rolled back to him. Ladybug still had no idea what to do with it.

            There was light thud noise behind her and the sound of big heavy black boots stepping closer to her. She didn’t need to turn around to know it was Cat Noir. “Why, thank you for finally joining us, Mr. Noir,” she teased him, peering at him over her shoulder. She smirked when she noticed his new look and slightly nudged him on his arm. “What’s with the hair?” she asked, gesturing at his new cut.

            He shook his head, chuckled. “I…I don’t know. Just wanted to try something new, I guess.”

            “I like it,” she clicked her tongue, nodding. “I think it suits you.”

            “I know,” he sighed, smiling widely, but immediately covered it with a grateful, “Thanks.” He crossed his arms over his chest and glanced down at Hawk Moth’s latest creation– and almost retched. “What’s the Sitch?”

            She raised an eyebrow at him but did not comment. “Calls herself Mama Hen,” she said instead. “She controls kids with that bell rattle she has in hand. I think that’s where the akuma is.” She pouted. “Also, she has a hammer that makes stuff explode.”

            Cat Noir swallowed. “Cool. Super-duper cool,” he nodded, pressing his lips together. Ladybug eyed him suspiciously– he was blinking a lot, teeth chattering, as he gawked at the sprouting pool of small, helpless little children that were, earlier tonight, dragged perforce out of their beds by the akuma. He turned to his partner with wide anxious eyes and sweat drops shining on his forehead. “I-I don’t think I can do that…I mean…they’re children. I feel like I’m in the live reenactment of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. And I hate that story. German tales are always so creepy and dark.”

            Ladybug wasn’t sure how to respond to that. “Don’t think of them as children, then… Think of them as…like…mini-sized humans with tiny heads and really small hands… whose mothers will probably go mental if anything happened to them.”

            He scoffed. “You know you’re not helping at all, right?” She almost laughed, but then saw his smile drop as he glanced away. “That’s terrible advice.”

            It was terrible advice, she realized, when she really thought about it. Mama Hen had gathered an army of children– she couldn’t fight it like she fought ‘normal’ akuma-induced-zombified-soldiers. Children were children, and treating them as such was exactly how she was going to win this thing… Or, maybe not– but…it was the only plan she had so far.

            “Hey.” She stepped closer to Cat Noir and laid a friendly hand on his shoulder. “You just worry about getting me that bell rattle, alright? I’m great with kids,” she said, whooping out her yo-yo and immediately starting to spin it around. “I’ll distract them. I didn’t think dealing with kids would creep you out.”

            “Kids don’t creep me out,” he replied, pouting. “I just don’t like seeing them uh…subdued or-or dominated by like…super oppressing parent figures. Kids should be free. No one should be allowed to stand between them and their freedom.”

            Ladybug nodded. “I hear you, I do. But kids do bring a hell lot of chaos– I mean, you can’t just let them run around in the wild and expect the world not to implode…”

            Cat Noir shrugged her hand off his shoulder and peered down at Mama Hen’s disgusting parade. Ladybug could see that he disagreed with her but he decided to change the subject before she could add anything else. “What if she attacks you and the kids are too close to it? I don’t think she cares if she hurts them at all.”

            She smiled. “It’s all good. I trust you,” she assured him, making him blush. “I’ll need your belt, by the way,” she said, having finally figured out how she was going to use the bouncing ball.

 

 

Children are great imitators; so give them something great to imitate, Mama Hen’s words continued to play over and over in Ladybug’s mind, as she finally discovered the real utility the akuma had for all the kids she had been gathering all night–

            While Cat Noir was busy dodging the hits of Mama Hen’s hammer, his partner was fighting against seven children at once, all aged between the ages of four and nine, who, the second they saw her with her yo-yo, had taken one of their own out of their pockets, and were now mirroring her every move, quickly mastering the art of using a yo-yo as a weapon– they were able to tackle her many times before she finally decided to call upon another Lucky Charm–

            The lights and the ladybugs that flew out of her yo-yo were enough to distract the children, who just stood there, trying to understand exactly how the magic of it all worked. Ladybug felt pretty proud of herself right then, as she jumped the highest she could to catch the red rubber band the sky had thrown back at her before anyone else could–

            She gaped at it for a minute, thinking about how to integrate it to the plan she already had in mind, when she saw the little boy who was playing with her bouncing ball earlier and something in her head just clicked.

            Kids were just kids; they just wanted to play. And, as far as she was concerned, she, too, was their elder. There was no reason they wouldn’t listen to her the same way they listened to their Mama Hen.

            “Kids,” she announced to the children around her, “I will be back in a second. You wait here for me, okay?”

            It was a young girl with dark hair who answered. “Okay, Ladybug.”

            Ladybug smiled at her, before she walked up to the boy and handed him the rubber band. He looked at her in confusion. “I’ll trade you the rubber band for the ball, what do you say?” He seemed doubtful at first but was easily convinced after Ladybug started to stretch and flip the rubber band around to form a variety of mesmerizing shapes. “I could teach you how to do a Double Star, if you want,” she suggested, and, immediately, the boy had already forgotten about the ball– she was able to grab it without him even noticing.

            “I can do it just like you,” he said, taking the rubber band from her and copying everything she did with it.

            Ladybug chuckled. “Of course you can,” she told him. “You’re a very smart boy. Your friends are waiting for me, though, so I’m going to go. Will you be alright?”

            He nodded frenetically and instantly went back to playing with his newly acquired rubber band. “I’ll be fine. Mama told me to stay here and told them to fight you. So I’ll stay here.” He reached for something in his front pocket then and took out another rubber band, one just like Ladybug’s, and tried to mimic the figures once again, this time, simultaneously, and with one rubber band in each hand.

            When Ladybug went back to the seven children she had been fighting and left under a streetlight, they were all still here, waiting for her to return, just like she had instructed them to do.

            She showed them the bouncing ball she had in hand, and they all let go of their yo-yos to replace with an exact replica of said bouncing ball, which they took out of their what seemed to be bottomless pockets.

            Ladybug threw her head back and placed the ball on the tip of her nose. The children seemed confused about what she was trying to do. She grinned at them, glancing at them from the corner of her eye. “So, I saw what you can do with a yo-yo. Now, can you do that?” she challenged them, before she made the ball bounce against the bridge of her nose. She rapidly switched positions to catch it with her shoulder and made it slide all along her arm before she captured it between her index and middle finger. She raised an eyebrow at her audience and gestured at them. “So?”

            “Of course, we can,” replied the girl who had spoken earlier, and, as soon as the words were pronounced, she started to repeat, step by step, everything Ladybug had just demonstrated. The other kids were quick to follow afterward.

            “Fine,” Ladybug sighed. She seemed disappointed– it made the children proud. “How about that?” she asked, placing this time the ball on the top of her head. In one swift, smooth gesture, she lashed it in the air and bicycle kicked it like the talented soccer player that she was not. The kids all cheered in joy, throwing their hands in the air, when it bounced back against the wall and Ladybug was able to catch it in her fist.

            “That’s easy,” one of the boys spoke up, and replicated to perfection what the superheroine had just done. He grinned at her when he was done, both his hands on his hips, and a defying look on his face.

            Ladybug’s shoulders dropped and she looked like she wanted to give up. She stared at each of the other children, warily, but they all performed the task just as well.

            She raised both her hands in plea. “Okay, okay,” she muttered. “You got me.” The kids looked satisfied at that, exchanging knowing glances between them. “But I bet,” Ladybug was quick to add, “that you couldn’t make the ball roll along this belt without dropping it, as you hold it above the ground,” she said, waving around Cat Noir’s belt.

            The children glared at her and, moving as one, all reached for their pockets to take out copies of the belt. They stretched their own prototype before them, extending their arms as far as they could, and placed their bouncing balls at one end of it, before flicking it gently.

            To their dismay, no one succeeded. Ladybug smiled broadly when she saw them try again– readjust their position– carefully study their wrists’ movement– so very focused on their task, they never realized she had never actually shown them how to execute it beforehand.

            Having the kids occupied allowed her to sneak off, and join her partner against Mama Hen– the latter looked awfully surprised when the spotted superheroine just…showed up out of nowhere and caught her hammer before she was able to, and threw it away, out of her reach.

            “You’ve done enough harm for today, don’t you think?” Ladybug shot at her, menacing the akuma with the string of her yo-yo, and she could see her enemy’s face turn red, as anger began to build up in her chest.

            Mama Hen reached for her bell rattle on her hip and opened her mouth to call on her army of toddlers, but Cat Noir snapped it away from her with his pole almost immediately. “I think you could really use the timeout to think about where you went wrong, Hawkie,” he giggled to himself, before he cataclysmed the cursed object.

 

***

 

“Oh my God, it’s over!” Ladybug exclaimed, laughing out loud, still unable to contain her excitement, as she landed on the rooftop of L'Opéra de la Bastille, and immediately rolled on her stomach to hide her face in her arms. “This has to be the creepiest akuma we ever fought, right?”

            Cat Noir sat down beside her, bringing his legs to his chest and wrapping his arms around them. After the fight, they had had to bring all the kids back to their parents, and keep Lucy from having a nervous breakdown, when they told her what had happened. Now, everything was back to normal– Parisians slept tight, unaware of the real danger of things, and the onerous responsibility Ladybug and Cat Noir held toward their city still weighted on their shoulders, like a burden, while a mad criminal mastermind, who was, with every day, becoming more and more powerful, on the loose. “I mean… Reflekta was pretty creepy,” he said. “Sometimes, I think about it, and can’t shake the feeling of being in someone else’s skin.”

            Ladybug pressed her hands against the cold concrete and hissed herself to a sitting position. “No,” she chuckled. “Reflekta was weird– The whole…concept of Reflekta was just…weird.”

            Cat Noir rolled his eyes and scoffed. “Okay, then…what about Zombizou?”

            Ladybug took a minute as if to think about it. “Okay, yeah, Zombizou was pretty creepy too,” she had to admit. She laughed, but Cat Noir didn’t join in on it, and she suddenly felt like she did some terrible mistake of some sort– it only took her a few seconds to figure out what was wrong. “You saw the pictures, didn’t you?” she asked, lowering her voice and looking down as if she simply couldn’t face him right now.

            He blinked at her in confusion. “W-what?”

            She pouted. “The pictures of Adrien and me? On the Ladyblog,” she explained. “Kissing?”

            “Oh. Right. The pictures.” He hesitated. “Uh, yeah. I saw them.”

            She stretched out a hand to rest on his arm but froze when she realized it probably wasn’t the best of ideas to touch him right now. She peered up at him instead and saw his gaze was lost somewhere on the horizon. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. It sounded sincere. He still wasn’t looking at her. “I wish this wasn’t how you…”

            “Do you really love him?” he cut her off. There was something harsh in his voice, even though he didn’t want it to be.

            She swallowed, and nodded. “Yeah, I do. Very much,” she added. He let out a cold sigh.

            She was about to speak again, but he was quicker. “Ask me why I love you.”

            “Cat…”

            He stared at her sternly. “Please.”

            Her face softened. She tried to smile. “Why do you love me?”

            This time, he turned around completely to face her. He took a deep breath and tried to hold her eyes. They were a vibrant blue and electrified his skin. “I love you because you’re the strongest person I have ever met. I love everything about you, really,” he rapidly came to the conclusion, but decided to go on nevertheless. “I love the way you always smell of coffee beans and vanilla, and the way you light up the whole room when you smile. I love how…you get shy about things, sometimes, and I’m the only one who can see that. You’re always just adorably cute.” He paused to take a look at her. She was blushing just as red as her costume and seemed as if she didn’t know if she had to interrupt him…or just let him go on. He grinned at her. “Your gorgeous eyes. I love them so much. They’re so beautiful.

            “I love…how you are yourself around everyone– and wouldn’t change for anyone. I love the way you pretend to laugh at my jokes. I love the way you laugh in general.” He breathed in. “I love how I can trust you with my life, and how you’ll always be there for me to talk to. I love how you need me, sometimes, and you’re not afraid to admit it.

            “I love the fact that you mean more to me than anything else in the entire world because you always have the right thing to say to me and you only know how to get me out of a bad mood– even if it’s you who put me in it. Just thinking about you makes me smile. I feel…safe when I’m with you,” he confessed. “You always know when something is wrong and, whatever it is, you always tell me that everything is going to be ok. And you know what? You’re always right– Because everything will always be okay, as long as I have you in my life.

            “I love how you forgive me straightaway when I do something that makes you angry, and the way you take your time to explain things to me when I get confused. I love how you’ve helped me remember who I really am, not who other people want me to be.”

            “Cat Noir…I…” He didn’t realize how close together they were sitting until she spoke and felt her breath brush the skin on his face– if he just tilted his head right, he would be able to kiss her.

            “You make me complete and you make everything better. And I had no idea what love meant until I met you. All that is why I love you.”

            She glanced away. “You know I cannot say it back.”

            He smiled and reached for her face to arrange a lock of hair behind her ear. “You don’t need to,” he whispered, pressing his forehead against hers.

            He left his hand against her cheek and she did nothing to push it away. He could hear the way she was breathing, heavily, and quickly, and the way she was trying to hide it. She closed her eyes and frowned, as she slowly wrapped her arms around his shoulders and hugged him against her. He couldn’t tell if she was crying– he had no idea how long they stayed like that. “I have to go,” she said, pulling away, when her earring emitted their first beep. She was definitely crying. “I-I…promised someone I would meet them tonight.”

            He just nodded and got to his feet to help her up. “I hope I didn’t make things awkward between us,” he tried to joke, lighten up the mood.

            She chuckled, but it was empty. “I’ll see you soon, Cat Noir. Take care,” she told him before she unhooked her yo-yo and jumped into the night. He didn’t need to ask her where she was going– he already knew. And he knew all the shortcuts.

            He got there before her, as he had planned it, and grabbed the bouquet he had left on the piano, while he waited for her. He did not drop his transformation.

            When she finally appeared at his window, he saw her slightly falter, a glimpse of hesitation glowing in her eyes, before she stepped into the room. He was wearing all black and it was dark in the room, so she didn’t see him right away. “Adrien?” she called out. “A-are you asleep…” The rest of her sentence was lost forever when her gaze found the little space he had set up for them, with all the cushions, and the candles, and flowers, in front of his T.V. She placed her hands over her eyes and sighed into her palms.

            “Hey.” He was standing behind her, the roses in hands. His voice made her shiver.

            “It’s beautiful,” he heard her whisper. “B-but…I-I don’t-don’t think I can stay l-long…” she said, wrapping her arms around herself.

            He walked to her and laid a hand on her shoulder. She pressed her cheek against it– it was wet with tears. He could see them glistening on his gloves. “Are you cold?” he asked. She was trembling.

            She shook her head. “The suits are windproof,” she snorted.

            “Why are you crying?”

            “I-I’m not.”

            “Turn around.” She didn’t and didn’t bother with a reply either. He softly squeezed her arm. “Come on,” he insisted. “I want you to look at me.”

            He could hear his heart beating in his ears, loudly, when he felt her move under his touch, and then, they were finally facing each other. Her eyes widened in shock and her lips parted, but she was too surprised to say anything. He smiled, trying his best for it not to come off weird, and handed her the bouquet, still awaiting her reaction.

            She broke down in tears, and his whole soul froze, before she grabbed the back of his neck and pulled him to her to kiss him. Their lips crashed together and he immediately let go of the flowers to wrap his arms around her waist, pressing her against him and hugging her as tightly and hardly as he could, to show her how much he really needed her.

            They kissed until their Miraculouses finally gave in and their masks peeled off their faces, but even then, didn’t look like they were ready to let go of each other. “I love you,” she breathed against his teeth, and Adrien found himself on top of the world, “so freaking much.”

            “I love you so freaking much, too,” he replied, giggling. “I was so nervous about how you would react.”

            She bit on his lower lip and smirked provocatively. “I love you, for every side of you and everything you are. And you have no idea how happy I am right now.”

            “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier… I was…”

            She kissed him as a way to get him to stop talking. “Do not apologize,” she reminded him again, and this time, it was he who kissed her, fully, passionately, and he knew he was at least doing something right, when he heard Plagg gagging in the distance.