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[0%]

All things considered, Marinette should really be heading home. It’s just that heading home means admitting it’s Sunday night, and admitting it’s Sunday night means admitting tomorrow’s Monday, and hardly anyone she knows is ever ready to admit that. And more importantly, heading home means saying good night to Luka.

Which is… dumb. Everyone else already did, so why should she be any different? She’s already spent enough time at the houseboat, drawing inspiration from today’s jam session and taking breaks to let the ringing in her ears fade out. It shouldn’t be that hard. It’s just that, well, Luka asked her to stay—which isn’t totally unusual for him, because these days he’s been pulling her aside more and more often to find some time along with her. And it’s hard to say no to someone like him. He’s almost too kind for it.

She doesn’t mind the murmur of the cabin anyway, whether it’s filled with a wordless admiration of his guitar pick collection or the idle notes he likes to pick when he’s trying to find the rhythm of someone’s heart. Whose it is, she never has any clue, but’s definitely not hers. It’s too jumpy and erratic and loud to match the smoothness or the beats.

No, the tempo. He’s been teaching her the right words.

And more than that, she… doesn’t really… want to go.

“That time?” Luka asks when she glances out the porthole. It takes her a moment to realize he’s stopped playing. And that his face is falling. It always seems to do that, when the sun is starting to set.

She gives him a little nod and an apologetic shrug. There’ll be other jam sessions. There’ll be more alone time.

“You sure you don’t need company going home? Paris can get dangerous at night.” He smiles, good-natured as always, and wiggles his fingers like he’s telling a ghost story. “You never know who’s going to be akumatized next.”

It’s astonishing, how he can joke like that as though it hadn’t happened to him just a couple of weeks ago. But if he can’t even remember what he said to her as Silencer, then maybe it makes sense. Maybe it’s something he carries quietly, like he seems to do with most things.

For his sake, at least, Marinette manages a faint smile back. “Let me just call my dad and tell him I’m on my way.” It’s a miracle she manages to fish her phone out of her back pocket without dropping it, and a shock at how the low battery icon is blinking across the screen. It won’t even let her send a text, let alone make a call. And a panicked pat-down of her pockets and peek into her purse confirms the worst: her charger’s still at home.

Just her luck.

“Uh oh,” Luka says, in that way that’s only sort of half-teasing. “That doesn’t look good.”

In return, Marinette only sort of half-grimaces, and glances toward his phone charger, still plugged into the wall. “I… sorry, you wouldn’t mind if I…?”

“Go ahead.” He scoots back, as though that will make any difference. “My home is your home, Marinette.”

She wonders if, sometime soon, he just might regret saying that.

———

[4%]

It’s been five minutes, and her phone is so slow to turn on that she wouldn’t be surprised if it was trying to find itself like some twenty-something soul-searcher. It doesn’t matter how frantically or how often she lifts the screen or rests her thumb there; the battery icon is still glaring back at her. Punishing her, almost. She told Luka she wouldn’t be here much longer, she didn’t want to impose, but at this rate, she might as well have packed an overnight bag or something.

No, wait—that’s weird. An overnight bag? For Luka? Oh, no. Oh, no no no

“Take your time,” he says softly, and pats the empty space on the couch. His electric guitar is propped up beside him, but he takes it up so carefully, every inch of him loving it, and sets it on its stand. “Lento. Slow. That’s how they say it in music.”

Marinette groans in response and sinks to the couch with her head in her hands, waiting for her phone to come to life. “Please don’t say those Italian words.”

“Oh. Right.” Luka does this thing sometimes where he laughs so quiet that it all comes out through his nose. It’s not annoying, but Lila is. Actually, annoying doesn’t even begin to describe it. At this rate, Marinette wouldn’t be surprised if she even tried to steal— “Is she still giving you trouble?”

She doesn’t answer, only jumps when the phone vibrates at her thigh and prompts her to trace her passcode. Thank goodness for a quick escape. Her thumbs move at rapid-fire speed as she texts the first two people she can think of: Alya, and her father.

“I get it,” he says. He knows so much for someone who says so little sometimes. Maybe that’s exactly why he knows so much in the first place. “I won’t ask.”

Too late. The floodgates are open. If she grips her phone any tighter, she might break it, and she’s already starting to bounce her leg, tension crumpling tight like a ball of paper in her chest. “She just—”

“Mmhmm.”

“And, I mean—”

“Oh, I’ve heard.”

“I can’t stand—”

“I know, Marinette.” He rests a patient hand on top of her head, and then slides it down to her shoulder and gives it a squeeze. And he’s not pushing down on her, but somehow she can feel herself sinking into the couch anyway. “Let’s not talk about that.”

There’s so much kindness in his voice that Marinette can’t help but fall into calm. The only sound left is the rocking of the boat in the river, waves lapping against the sides and the creaking of wood around them and, one room over, one side of Juleka’s phone conversation bleeding into the wall. It’s muffled, but they don’t have to guess who she’s talking to. “I’m sorry,” she says, and she’s never sounded so small around him, and she’s more than sure now that she’s in for a long couple of hours.

Her phone vibrates in her hand, four times. She doesn’t bother checking her messages.

“Take your time,” he says again. He’s good at saying things twice. “Slow.”

He doesn’t speak Italian.

Little by little, her leg stops bouncing.

———

[17%]

She’s actually kind of grateful that Adrien isn’t her lock screen or her wallpaper anymore. She’d never know how to explain it, even if the whole teenage girl swoons all over local teen model heartthrob thing is right there for the taking. The photos in her room, she can barely get away with; she took them all down in a fit of humiliation after they’d been broadcast on TV, and it took days and a painstaking self-resignation to put them back, one by one. She can’t help it, in the end; she’s a sucker for him in a way that’ll probably never leave her.

She also just… wouldn’t know how to explain it to Luka, if he saw. Even if she didn’t have to explain it. Even if she could just pass it off as some celebrity crush thing. Something’s been… shifting here, and it’s not the boat on the waves. It’s something between them. And she doesn’t know how to explain that, either.

What would his lock screen be? Some minimalist Jagged Stone icon? An artsy photograph of his guitar? His sister?

Did he see the photos in her bedroom that day?

“Your dreams must mean a lot to you,” Luka comments to break the silence.

Marinette jolts to attention, adrenaline like pinpricks under her skin. “What do you mean?”

He doesn’t say much of anything, only nods toward her wallpaper when her phone lights up with another message from Alya. It’s pink, like most everything she gets her hands on, and it’s decorated with an array of dots and silhouettes of scissors, a pin cushion, a needle and a spool of thread and buttons of all sizes. On instinct, she flips her phone face-down—partly so neither of them have to talk about her wallpaper any further, and partly so he can’t read Alya’s message, because it’s inevitably about Adrien. Or worse—it’s about him.

“I just think it’s interesting,” he says, and it sounds nothing like the way some people start a passive attack, I just think it’s funny how… He actually thinks it’s interesting. Whatever it is. Idly, he twists the ring on his index finger; she never knew until recently that the black band in the middle spins and spins as much as he wants it to. That he resorts to it when he has nothing to do with his hands, when he has to speak with his words instead of with his notes and he’s afraid he might say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Not that she’s ever known him to, not since he stuttered her name and withdrew so quickly.

“So…?” she says. “What’s interesting?”

“Just the fact that…” He trails off, and the ring spins and spins, faster and faster, with every erratic flick of his thumb. “That when you love something, Marinette, you let it consume you. It’s alive in you even in the smallest ways. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.” He presses his thumb down, and the ring stops. “In a world where so many people can be unkind, and where so many bad things can happen to us… it’s good that you have something to connect to so deeply. You know, something that anchors you down like that.”

At first, Marinette freezes. And then the house rocks, and she lets out a weak laugh, because she doesn’t know what else to do. “That was… you really said that on purpose, didn’t you? ‘Anchors you down…’”

And then Luka laughs too, after a moment, and says it was an accident, he promises. And it’s more interesting, to her, that he’s spinning his ring as fast as her heart is fluttering.

———

[26%]

Luka’s always looking for something to do with his hands, it feels like. Even if he’s just flexing them over and over and studying the bones and tendons and muscles underneath. There isn’t much there—his fingers are slender, practically skeletal—but in all this time together they’ve never not been mesmerizing to her.

It’s the way he plucks at those strings.

The ones on the guitar, she means.

“You know, I have another one,” he says—he’s so strangely good at pulling her out of her own thoughts. Before she can answer or ask what he’s talking about, he’s making his way toward a closet nearby, rummaging around and hefting out a black leather case. It looks a little weathered, cracked here and there but not enough to cause a threat, and it’s curved so delicately, like an hourglass. Nothing like the hooks and horns, the rocks and rolls and the bold colors of his usual instrument.

He undoes the latches one by one, and hefts out the polished wood of a classical guitar like an old friend. He cradles it in his arms, lays it on his lap once he sits down again, and it’s almost too intimate, how he traces his fingers down the neck and the body of it, gets used to it all over. Like she shouldn’t be watching. Like… she’d die if she let herself wonder what it felt like.

“I don’t play this one much,” he says. “I’m too faithful to my electric these days. But this one taught me almost everything I know.”

“Are they really different?” she asks.

Luka smiles, more to himself than to her, but he doesn’t make fun of her. He never makes fun of what she doesn’t know, just because he happens to. “Look,” he says, and her gaze follows every trail of his hand and how his fingers curl around the neck, how he pauses every so often to tighten the strings and tune everything into a six-way harmony. “The fretboard is wider. See? It’s no good if your hands are small. No good for you, Marinette.”

She pouts. “My hands aren’t that small.”

“I’m joking, I’m joking… Look,” he says again, and without thinking too much, she scoots closer. “The strings are different. Nylon, not steel. It’s lighter, too. And it’s harder on my nails if I have to pick with my fingers. And the sound…” He manages a shrug. “Well. You probably know.”

“I don’t know the sound when you play it,” she blurts out. It’d sound almost poetic if it weren’t so nonsensical. Her eyes widen, and she tries to save some face with a blush and a glance off to the side. “I-I mean… how come you don’t play it more often?”

He hums in thought—even that sounds musical—and looks down into space, fingertips following the outer curves of the hollow in the middle. “I guess it didn’t sing to me the same way,” he finally admits. “I like how electric feels. I like how it makes me feel. Do you understand what I mean?”

Marinette huddles up on the couch, chin on her knees, and finds herself tracing the outline of him with her gaze. Pushed-up sleeves and shaggy black-blue hair, plugs and rings and frays in his jeans, hands holding onto a body for dear life and tender all the same. “Yeah,” she murmurs, half-dreamy. “Yeah, I know.”

———

[31%]

He warms up with scales, and decides to tell her then, “You know, I can hear colors.”

If Marinette weren’t so tired, she’d probably fall off the couch in shock. Instead, she only hugs her knees tighter, and laughs his kind of laugh. “What? No. That’s not a thing.”

“It is,” he says, and all the playful nudging is in his voice. “It is a thing.”

“Oh yeah? Then what’s it called for real?”

“’Synesthesia.’” He doesn’t hesitate, and the word even rolls like steel color off his tongue. Synthetic. Musical. “It’s when someone experiences two different senses at the same time. Like sight and taste, sound and touch. Or… or how certain numbers, or days of the week, or months of the year have different personalities. For me, it’s simple. I play music, I hear a color.” He shrugs and strums a chord, soft and unassuming. To Marinette, it doesn’t sound like anything special, beyond the fact that Luka’s playing it. It sounds like sound.

“What color was that?” she asks.

“Gold,” he murmurs, like he’s stuck in it, and presses his fingers into the strings. “F sharp minor is always gold. Not for everyone, but it is for me.” Whatever he’s plucking out, it sounds almost improvised, like he’s exploring every shade there is, every sparkle. “I thought everyone heard things like I heard things.”

“What happened when you found out?”

Luka laughs, rests his hand across the strings to stop the sound, keeps his gaze trained on the guitar, so low that Marinette can almost make out the shadows of his eyelashes. “At first, I thought it must be pretty boring for everyone else. To not get to hear these swirls of color, to not get to make music the same way people paint pictures…” He shakes his head. “Then I figured, well. If I’m lucky enough to get to experience it, then I’ll just have to bring it to everyone else the best I can.”

“I don’t think it’s boring,” Marinette says, just above a whisper; she wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t hear her, but the way he meets her eyes for a moment might tell her otherwise. “So then, every key has its own color? Even the major ones?”

He plays a new chord in response, and then another. More scales, here and there. She’s never known how to qualify major and minor, only that one sounds “good” and the other sounds “bad.” One sounds happy no matter how slow and sad you try to play it, and one sounds sad or angry or evil no matter how much you try to cover it up with a beat. And she’s not good enough to know what all the keys are, so she has to take him at his word when he says something like, “C major, purple,” or “B major, yellow, but it’s a lighter yellow than the E major. Like Easter, not like sunlight.”

It’s like every other conversation they have. She asks questions, and he lets her not know things. He loses her somewhere in the explanation of his life, of exactly what it is he experiences, but when she tries to catch up, he smiles and reaches forward just enough to ruffle her hair. “You’re learning,” he says.

“I feel like I learn something new about you every day,” she blurts out, and God, is she tired of talking without thinking. Even if Luka looks like he isn’t. Even if his hand lingers when he tucks her hair into place.

“That’s how we connect, Marinette,” he says softly. “That’s how we find each other.” And she isn’t sure if the next string he pulls is somewhere high up on the fretboard or somewhere inside her.

———

[43%]

“What are you thinking about?” Luka asks her, and it throws her for a loop because it sounds sort of like the way a boyfriend would ask.

By now Marinette’s given up on checking her phone, partly because Alya isn’t bothering to text her back, and partly because several percentage points ago, Luka commented that worrying and watching wasn’t going to make the battery charge faster. And even partly because checking the battery almost makes it look like she wants to leave. And the more she stays and listens to whatever riffs he comes up with, the less she actually does want to go. Even less than before.

“What makes you think I’m thinking of something?” She has to open an eye and look at him at an angle from the way she’s lying on the couch, but even the way he nods to her hands, folded tightly on her chest, is a dead giveaway.

“I can hear your heart,” he says. “Remember?”

She raises a brow. “Can you hear the colors in there, too? Maybe some red or pink?”

Luka tilts his head, the guitar still cradled close even as he stops playing. Every little action is so subtle, so purposeful, so filled with concern. “Marinette,” he presses, and she starts to think that maybe she should think more deeply more often, if if means she’ll get to keep hearing him say her name that way. Even though she’s cornered and they both know it.

“I…” She doesn’t know how many times she tries to start and restart her sentence, to gather and regather her words, in so few seconds. “You were angry.”

“When?” It twists something in her, how patient he sounds. Like he’s really listening to her, and not just waiting for something to impress on her that he’s already thought of.

Her eye falls shut again, mostly because she doesn’t want to see the falter in his expression. She’s already got a sense of it in her mind, anyway. “At the TV studio. You were angry, upset… You wouldn’t have been”—she breathes in sharp, like she’s afraid to say the word, admit that what happened really did happen—“you wouldn’t have been akumatized, otherwise.”

Marinette doesn’t need to be able to hear colors, or have this synesthesia thing, to feel the faint chill that falls over the two of them. There is no sound, so Luka hasn’t so much as moved his own body, let alone put the guitar aside. For all she knows, he’s only holding it tighter. He doesn’t speak for a long while, but when he does, he says, “They stole your art. They took something that could only ever be yours.”

“They stole yours, too. They took your music.”

When she rolls onto her stomach to look up at him, he’s frowning, and there’s a knot in his brow, and he’s making all the motions of plucking strings in the air without making any sound. Maybe it’s just another thing for his hands to do, when he’s holding the guitar and can’t spin his ring. “He threatened you,” he says, the kind of quiet that she’s not used to hearing from him. It’s cold, and small, and… scared, almost. “I would have been fine, but not if he hurt you. Not if he hurt your dreams.”

“What…” She pauses. “What did your heart sound like then?”

He stills, like he’s stopped breathing altogether. Forgotten how to. “I… don’t know,” he admits. “I don’t have the music for it.”

Luka tells her time and time again that he communicates better with music than with words, and maybe it’s Marinette’s lack of skill, but she doesn’t know the notes that could ever match the way he looks at her with so much sadness, or the way he dares to thumb her cheek and says, “I don’t know what I’d do if anyone ever hurt you.”

———

[55%]

It’s been minutes that Marinette hasn’t wanted to count, and she can still feel the touch of Luka’s hand. And she’s still thinking. If he knows it, he doesn’t stop to tell her so; he’s already gone back to picking a melody that sounds like something she should hear in a movie without words, something on a long train ride overlooking a river. For someone who hasn’t played a classical guitar in a while, he’s picking it up again pretty quickly; she can’t help wondering if maybe there was always some part of him that this kind of music sings to. If he thinks it’d ever be worth drawing out again.

If he can tell that the only reason she has her cheek in her hand is because, maybe, there was always some part of her that never wanted him to stop touching it.

Marinette waits until the music dies out on his fingertips to call his name. “Luka?”

He grips the neck of the guitar to stop sound, and lifts his gaze. It isn’t so sad as before, but there’s something still living there. Something concerned.

She blinks up at him slowly, pausing the lazy back-and-forth kick of her feet. “Did you mean what you told me at the studio?”

Sometimes it feels like Luka’s more holding the guitar like a security blanket than actually playing it. Just feeling the weight of it in his lap and arms and against his chest than actually creating with it. If only the space between them was quiet before, now it feels as if the whole boat has fallen silent, like anyone could be listening. It’s not that he needs to say anything. It’s just that the words have been so burned into her mind, and maybe into his too, that he doesn’t need to ask about it. To repeat it.

And she kind of wishes she would. She wants to hear it again. Clear as a music note. Sincere as a melody all his own.

Instead, he averts his eyes and says, “Looking back, I… maybe I shouldn’t have said it.”

That makes her stop altogether. “But why?”

“Because it wasn’t fair of me.” For the first time, he puts the guitar aside and gets up to move about the cabin. He stretches from side to side, and up toward the ceiling, and she has to look away to avoid the way his shirt rides up his stomach. (Which isn’t exactly fair, either, but he looks too serious for her to bring it up, and she’s too shy to even think about it.) “I shouldn’t have put those feelings onto you, when you… when I saw…”

Marinette has to crawl toward the armrest to see his fingers curl around the rim of the porthole, to see his teeth sinking into his lip. She can’t imagine what he must be thinking of. No, she can—because she can see in her head, so perfectly, how he looked at her and told her to go on ahead when they left the skating rink weeks ago. What she can’t imagine is how much he’s thinking about it now. Or how much he must have been, all this time. She feels… guilty, that it ever bothered him.

“I should be the one apologizing,” she tells him, even though she has to dig her nails into the upholstery just to get the words out.

Finally he turns, and all the leftover sadness in his eyes drops to the curl in his smile. Hides a little better there. “I want you to be happy,” he says. “I want you to choose what makes you happy.”

Something in her wants to go to him, to cross the little space in between them and touch his wrist the way she did before. Another something in her wonders if that would just make things worse. “It’s so hard,” she murmurs, “and I don’t get it.”

His smile widens just a touch. “You’ll figure it out. You always do.”

“But did you mean it?”

Luka takes the two steps toward her, and fishes his phone out of his pocket to show her his list of contacts; there is her name, surrounded by musical note emojis on either side. “Every word.”

———

[69%]

Maybe she doesn’t get it because she’s been thinking too much about it, too. But what else is she supposed to do about it? She can’t help overanalyzing every time she stutters around Adrien hours and days after it happens, just like she can’t help overanalyzing why staying here makes her feel so warm on the inside. Or why Luka doesn’t want her to go, no matter how many times she tries to unplug her half-dead phone and insist that she should.

Luka Couffaine has a heart bigger than she probably deserves, and she wonders how he can bear to fit her in there.

Somewhere in the midst of all their talking and thinking and feeling, Luka’s taken up the guitar again. He’s playing it, at the very least, strumming gentle melodies as though a part of him is afraid to occupy the space with sound. He’s painting pictures Marinette only wishes she could see, with his lips pursed in concentration and his fingers dancing across the frets and finding all the right places. It’s almost effortless, how he comes to put everything together, how the music even seems to consume him as much as it does her the more he plays it.

How he just… lets it.

This close she can’t help studying him. It’s easy to, when he’s so focused on creating that he’d barely notice her staring. When she’s so focused on the music that she’d barely notice she’s not thinking so hard. This close, she can clue in on every wrinkle in his jacket and in his brow, every note he brings to life and every little way his heart pushes through, in the spaces between the nylon strings, and sings to her. Like it’s hoping she’ll learn how to sing back, and somehow like it’d be happy to keep her warm and entertained even if she stumbles along the way.

Like it’s hoping she’ll learn to let it, too.

“Luka,” she says, soft enough not to startle him but loud enough to interrupt his playing. She’s not looking at him upside-down anymore; she wants to hold his gaze for a while before she even thinks about relaxing again. Even if it freezes her a little. “Could you play something for me?”

He inclines his head, sort of looks at her through his lashes in a way that says without words that he just might follow her to the edges of the Earth if he had to. Did he ever look at her like that before? Did she ever look at Adrien like that? “Anything.”

She can learn. If she spends enough time with him, she can learn to let things… exist. Run whatever course they’re supposed to, without thinking of the end or the beginning or anything but the now, the right-in-front-of her, the wrinkles, the notes, the frays and frets and—

“Play me something blue,” she murmurs, and lies back until the crown of her head bumps against his knee.

Even from this angle, Marinette can see the sparks of understanding in him, even as he readjusts his position and brushes her bangs from her face, almost as if it’s instinctual now. “What kind of blue?” he asks. “Like the sky, or like the river?”

“Like your eyes,” she says before the words can get caught in her throat, but her breath does instead. And in the moments just before she lets her eyes flutter shut and her body sink into the couch, he looks like his breath does, too.

Luka is slow to start, but when he does, he plays her a steady rainfall, laced with the frost from an ice rink and the lap of river waves and the words he never took back.

———

[80%]

By the time Marinette’s phone buzzes and lights up at the other end of the couch, Luka hasn’t stopped playing. He still looks so focused when her eyes fly open and she comes back to herself, and somehow there’s still something dreamy about it. Like there’s a place he goes when he’s playing—maybe another plane or dimension, or maybe somewhere inside of himself. The only thing Marinette knows is that, wherever it was, she thinks she was there, too. And she doesn’t think she’s been there since the day they met.

He’s still playing even as she checks her phone, and her heart almost sinks at the notification on her lock screen.

Your phone is sufficiently charged.

All things considered, Marinette can go home now.

Well, it’s what she’s been waiting for, hasn’t it? The moment to go home and stop imposing, to simmer in her own thoughts and everything she thinks she can control? It’s here, in her hands. All she has to do is unplug it.

All she has to do is…

“Everything okay?”

The music stops, and Marinette nearly drops her phone. Luka’s still cradling the guitar, still looking at her so patiently, when she turns on her heel, clutching her phone to her chest. “O-oh! Oh, yeah, fine, just fine, just…” She gives it a little shake, nearly sticks it in her back pocket before she remembers it’s still plugged in. “I think I have enough to get home safe. So, I… thank you? For letting me borrow your charger, I mean. I’ll just…”

She’ll just…

She grips her phone, tight, and lays it on the couch again. Still plugged in. Still charging.

“Marinette?” Luka says, but she’s already shifting toward him again, sitting cross-legged on the couch so that their knees are bumping.

“There’s one more thing I want you to play,” she says, quietly, like she’s afraid anyone else could hear her. Swallowing thickly, she reaches forward to let her fingers stroke the guitar strings. They make no sound, but they don’t have to. For her, for now, feeling them is enough. Feeling all this creation is enough.

She could be closer to him, she knows, but she’s still close enough that she doesn’t think she could bear looking at him without her heart pounding between her ears. She can barely hear him as it is when he tips his head to partly meet her eyes and says, “What is it?”

It takes her a moment to say it—longer, and with a little less impulse, than when she asked about the colors. “Could you play me?”

Luka’s eyes narrow a little, but not like he’s upset with her. Only confused.

“You said…” Her hand flexes and fists, flexes and fist, against the body of the guitar, trembling all the while, and now she can see why he needs that ring of his. “You said I’m the song you’ve heard in your head since the day we met. So… play me.”

When she lifts her gaze, Luka’s staring. Like now he’s the one who’s thinking too much about too many things. He blinks once or twice, and takes a deep breath or two, but never looks away. In the quiet, he sits up a little straighter, and while one hand curls tight around the neck of his guitar, the other comes to brush her hair back and cradle her cheek again, his thumb dragging just under her eyelid. On instinct, she finds herself sinking into the touch, but before she can reach up to so much as touch his wrist, his hand is sliding, longing and reverent, down her neck. He stops at her shoulder to give it a squeeze, and then skims down her arm, lets jet-black nails and leather wristbands catch on the fabric of her sleeve before his fingers slide between her own.

This touch, she almost knows, but only from performance. Never so private. Never so…

Intimate.

His hand slips away before she can so much as register the touch, let alone press into the spaces between his knuckles. “I meant,” she says, but stops short at the sight of him pressing his lips to two of his fingertips, long and lingering. And then at the touch of his fingers to her lips.

“It’s a work in progress,” he whispers, and Marinette falls silent.

———

[98%]

At just shy of a hundred percent, Marinette unplugs her phone and lets Luka go. She sends one text to her parents, to let them know she’s on her way home, and one to Alya, to let her know when she arrives.

She doesn’t tell her parents about the classical guitar, or about songs stuck in heads, or why she keeps smiling to herself and touching her lips every so often. She only tells them, over a light dinner, “Did you know that some people can hear colors?”

Her father and mother look at each other, cock their heads and shrug their shoulders. “Where did you hear about that, Marinette?”

“Oh,” she says, and looks down at her food with a grin so wide it makes her face hurt, “Just from my friend.”

They talk about what their favorite songs must look like—if the notes make landscapes in the country or abstract swirls on a canvas. But they don’t talk about Luka.

She doesn’t tell Alya about how for thirty minutes, the guitar went back into hiding, and her phone charged a little more. Or how in those thirty minutes , she dared to touch his hands a little more, here and there, until he snaked his arm around her waist and opted to hold her against his side instead. She doesn’t tell Alya, either, about how she doesn’t know how to translate music to colors, or how to translate anything to music, really, but that she knows what Luka must have in his heart because she heard it pounding right against her ear. And how if he weren’t so good at guitar, he could pick up percussion easily, with all the beats inside him.

She doesn’t tell Alya that they have a date on Saturday. Not a last-minute will you go ice-skating with my crush and his probably-sort-of-crush thing. Not a do you want guitar lessons as an excuse to spend more time together thing, even though it’d probably be true, and even though she’s actually sort of considering it. A real one, a let’s try this out and see where it goes. A work-in-progress thing.

She’ll tell her… soon. Mostly because it’s late, and it’s probably better told in person. And besides, she’s not ready for one earful of I told you your compass went haywire and another earful of but what about Adrien?

There isn’t a what about with Adrien. He’s Adrien. And Luka is Luka. And she is letting things be. She’s Marinette, and she is learning.

She sends two texts to Luka at the end of the night, just before she lays her phone to rest at her bedside, off the charger. One to tell him she’s safe. One to tell him good night. It doesn’t take long for him to text her back, or for Tikki to squeal about it.

Sleep well, Marinette. My home is your home.

Come over any time you want to hear your heart. Or mine.

On instinct, she presses her palm to her heart.

She can feel it. Singing.