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It starts on a Saturday evening.

“Do you think you’ll recognize me if we ever bump into each other outside of—“ he gestures to the black leather “—this?”

Ladybug considers him for a second, her expression barely visible in the distant glow of city lights.

“Chaton, I think I’d know you anywhere.”

 

*

 

No, it starts like this:

A girl in a red spandex suit crashes into a boy dressed like a cat.

And later, when the villain has been properly chastised, and the day is saved, he will stare at her like she hung the stars while she lingers far too long on the warmth of his hand on her shoulder.

But not yet— 

 

*

 

“Well, I’m glad it wasn’t an actual akuma,” Ladybug says, stretching. Alya had texted Marinette when her rss feed alerts her to reports of an explosion north of the city, but it’d only been a gas leak. Chat and Ladybug had stayed to make sure all the workers makes it to safety, letting the police handle the rest.

Now they stand on a roof at the edge of their usual arrondissement, Ladybug gazing out at Paris while Chat stares at Ladybug. 

“If there isn’t anything else—”

“Stay?”

Ladybug starts at the plaintive plea. Chat isn’t looking at her, but she can see his hand, clenched tight around his baton. She pushes away thoughts of homework, and her projects, and sleep, and says, “Of course.”

The smile he gifts her in return is more than worth it.

 

*

 

One of Chat Noir’s favorite things to do (besides running with his Lady, and talking to his Lady, and looking at his Lady—) is finding a quiet rooftop to sprawl across right as dusk starts to descend, all so he can soak up the last of the day’s warmth.

It’s an escape for when he feels the walls of his regimented life closing in, claustrophobic and—

“Chat? What are you doing out?”

Adrien scrambles up onto his elbows as Ladybug finishes clipping her yo-yo back to her bandolier, “What are you doing here, milady?”

To his delight, Ladybug settles next to him, close enough that their shoulders brush companionably, “I needed to clear my head.”

Surreptitiously leaning into his partner’s warmth, Adrien frowns at the closed expression on Ladybug’s face, at the tight line of her mouth. “I was just enjoying the sunset, but now that you’re here...” 

He trails off, and then jumps to his feet, “Last one to the Tour de Eiffel is a rotten egg!”

Adrien looks back once as he bounds away, smiling in satisfaction when he sees that Ladybug’s melancholy has been replaced by a familiar, exasperated joy.

 

* 

 

The fourth time Adrien tries to run away, he gets as far as the front steps of the public school before a familiar black car pulls up to the curb.

The fourth time Adrien tries to run away, Gabriel Agreste himself steps out to drag him home.

For the first time that night, Adrien misses patrol. He lets his room—an empty echo—darken around him as he stares at the red raw skin his father’s grip had left around his wrist, Plagg‘s unblinking eyes the sole pinpricks of light as the small god stands guard at the door. 

(Does it start like this?)

The next time Chat Noir sees Ladybug, she wordlessly hands him a cheap burner phone. 

Later, she says: “I won’t ever let you be alone again.”

 

*

 

They close their eyes; they release their transformations. She feels the brush of his fingers—light as the brush of a white butterfly’s wings—and it’s—

It’s not enough. Marinette wants to grab that hand—much loved, a hand that has saved her time and again—and see. It’s only Tikki’s angry buzz that stops her, and that night, after Dark Owl has been defeated, she and Lady Luck have their first fight. 

 

*

 

“You play the piano?”

“Don’t look so surprised, bug!”

“I’m not surprised,” Ladybug says indignantly, but breaks under Chat’s raised eyebrow. “Okay, okay. Maybe a little. But can you blame me? I wouldn’t have thought you’d be able to stay still long enough to learn.”

Chat leans in, whispering conspiratorially, “I’ll have you know that I play very well. I’ve won competitions.”

“So modest, too!” Ladybug laughs, and the grin that he gives her is more than fond. They sit in comfortable silence for a moment, surveying the city below. 

“So—competitions, huh?” 

“Yeah,” Chat says softly. Ladybug wants to ask—What place? What piece? Does he enjoy it?—but that would give too much away, make it too tempting for her to find him. 

The unfairness chafes, and Marinette finds herself becoming angry, the Miraculous in her ears an annoying weight.

“I fence, too,” Chat says suddenly, apropos of nothing. Ladybug smiles at him, grateful for the shared rebellion.

(His hands that have saved her, and pulled her to her feet, and lingered on her shoulder. His hands that can play the piano and knows its way around a fencing foil. How is it fair that she doesn’t know the shape of them beneath the bulky gloves? How is it fair that she wouldn’t be able to tell you if he bites his nails or not, if his palms are calloused or his fingers scarred?)

 

*

 

They text all the time, until Marinette is spending all the money she makes from commissions and helping out at the bakery on prepaid phones. They do send messages to coordinate patrols or to let each other know if they’ll be busy or need to be away—  

 

( you’re going where for a week?

/ᐠ。ꞈ。ᐟ✿\: milan...and i probably shouldn’t say anything else)

 

—but mostly, it’s— 

 

(Marinette stares at the video of the black beetles on her phone.

what did you just send me

/ᐠ。ꞈ。ᐟ✿\: yeetle beetle)

 

*

 

It starts like—

Marinette and Tikki fight. Between Marinette’s intractable stubbornness and Tikki’s godlike (of course) implacability, they don’t really get anywhere. 

“I don’t care, Tikki. I’m tired of not being there for Chat. I’m tired of having to send him back to that—that jail that he calls a house!”

“How do you think he’ll feel if Papillon possesses him and finds out who you are, Marinette? Could you do that to him?”

Marinette, who has been pacing back and forth, stops on a turn and whirls on Tikki. Her blue eyes are flinty, her entire expression unyielding, and Tikki is suddenly reminded of the fact that it has been two years since she first gave her charge the burden of the Miraculous.

“I’m already doing it—I’m already failing him.” 

 

*

 

Ladybug knows the name of every single person on the team, except for the one that matters the most. 

She knows that Chat knows, and that he’s made his peace with it, but it tears her up inside, that she can call Alya or Nino or even Chloe after a particularly bad attack, but Chat—the boy under the mask has no one to do that for him. 

“No, just stop—stop lying! I know you aren’t okay, I don’t know why you have to pretend all the time!” 

Ladybug and Chat Noir are standing in the dirty back alley of a deli after an akuma attack; she’s down to one spot on her earrings and they’re barely hidden behind a half-full dumpster. Anyone could walk by.

Marinette doesn’t care.

Chat’s stricken expression only makes her feel worse, but it’s hard to focus on it when she keeps keying in on the way he’s favoring his right side, even after the miraculous cure. Marinette wants to go to him, she wants to peel back the suit and ice his bruises and have him ice hers. 

“I’m done,” Marinette says, and Chat jerks.

“W-what? Bug, I—”

“I’m done,” she says again, her vision blurry. “I don’t care what Tikki says, I told you that you’d never be alone again and I meant it.”

Her earrings buzz in warning, and Marinette takes in a deep, shuddering breath, “I’m not going to break any of their rules, but if I recognize you, Chat, I’m not going to pretend.”

Tikki takes over then, forces her to swing away before she can see the expression on Chat’s face. 

 

*

 

She’d said, “Chaton, I think I’d know you anywhere.”

Adrien stares into the mirror of his dressing room, and curls his lips into a proper smile; it looks nothing like Chat Noir’s fanged grin. But. He thinks about Ladybug’s cool confidence, and the easy way she has around the press and the rest of the team. He thinks about holding her hand late at night, when it’s just the two of them, and how her words have a tendency to tumble one right after the other if she’s nervous. 

She’d said, “Chaton, I think I’d know you anywhere.”

He believes her.

 

*

 

(It doesn’t take long.)

 

*

 

No. It begins like this:

They’ve already walked past each other when she realizes—when she recognizes him.

A boy her age, blond and taller than her by about the six inches that he never lets her forget. A boy her age, and she doesn’t think she would have noticed except for the look on his face— 

He’s getting into a dark car by the time Marinette spins around, and she doesn’t think—she runs, wishing for her Ladybug speed, wishing that she had a name—any name, doesn’t have to be real—

The car door almost closes, and then: 

“Wait!”

It stops; Marinette knows people are staring, but she has tunnel vision now, no going back, not from this— 

A hand, with a silver ring on the fourth finger.

Chat Noir emerges from the car. Chat Noir is staring at her in her jeans and errand-day tee-shirt like she can’t possibly be real, like he’s stopped breathing at all, and Marinette isn’t entirely sure she’s breathing herself—

Marinette might have screamed. She’s fairly certain that she trips at least twice in her mad dash to get to him, but she doesn’t care, not when he’s stumbling over himself to meet her halfway. When they finally collide into each other, a tangle of limbs and tears and an indescribable sense of welcome home , it feels... 

It feels exactly the same. It feels like Chat Noir wrapping a hand around Ladybug’s wrist. It feels like a fist bump at the end of the day. Exactly the same, even though there are no masks and no suits. No superheroes. Just a boy and a girl.

“Chat,” a wet gurgle of laughter. 

“Hey, lovebug.” And he’s laughing too, and almost definitely crying, the both of them soaking the other’s shirts. But oh, she doesn’t care, not when he’s right here.

“So,” he murmurs into her ear some time later, and Marinette doesn’t have to see his face to know that a sly smile has curved his lips and crinkled his eyes. “Did I ever mention that I’m an actual supermodel?”

 

  

 

end