It started as a ripple under his skin, beginning at the scalp and racing down his spine, making him toss his head and shudder. A puzzled chirruping sound escaped him, followed by a stunned silence, only broken by his Lady’s soft, musical little giggle that wiped the horrified stare off his face and replaced it with a shy, shaky grin. He had no idea what had happened, but when her fingers found his chin and began to scratch, he couldn’t help the way his eyes slid shut and the deep rumble built in the pit of his chest, swelling until his ribs couldn’t hold it, and his purr burst out of him so loud it seemed deafening.
Two days later, he was sitting at his desk, staring dumbly at the whiteboard. The sunlight streaming in the windows was making him groggy and dull-witted, unable to summon even the energy to yawn, much less cover his mouth. His gums itched, his spine tingled, and an ache had begun in his hands. Nothing worrisome, just as if he’d slept on them wrong, or smacked them on the edge of some unforgiving piece of furniture. Idly he spun his ring, anything to keep himself from dozing until—
Something flickered at the edge of his vision and he froze, gaze flicking towards the movement. A bright flash flitted across his desk and he felt the strangest prickling sensation along his scalp. The light returned, and he stiffened. A part of him was trying to sort out where the light was coming from, but it wobbled, and his shoulders rounded, hands tensing, shifting in his seat and then—
The sound of his palm slapping against the desktop was startlingly loud, making Mlle Bustier visibly jolt (somehow very satisfying), and suddenly he felt the entire class worth of eyes staring at him. By the time they did, he was slumped back in his seat, casual and relaxed, chin resting on his hand as he gazed out the window as if nothing had happened at all.
“Dude.” Nino’s voice was hushed, baffled as he boggled at Adrien, yet out of the corner of his eye, Adrien saw the flicker of light wobble across the floor. Where was it coming from? Another movement behind him and he twisted—far too much, too obvious—locking gazes with Marinette who let out a squeak that had him focusing his entire attention on her.
The light was coming from the sunlight glancing off her phone case. Lips twisting, teeth bared in a way that might have been a smile, he plucked the phone out of her hand and set it on the desk. Pink flooded her cheeks, the soft squeaking noises continued, and his lips tugged tighter across his teeth as he watched her sink lower in her seat.
By the time he turned back to stare at the front board, he could feel the rumble building again beneath his ribs.
He could hear Marinette’s heart pounding from where he sat, and his lips tugged into a sly, wicked sort of smile.
He was wet. The shudder went through him immediately. For one thing, Adrien loved water. Loved swimming. But this was an unwanted sensation when he hadn’t planned on being wet and his clothes were cold and rubbing against his skin and he was two seconds away from ripping the denim off and flinging it across the room and—
“Adrien, are you alright?” Marinette was there, helping him out of his once pristine white overshirt. He knew his father would kill him for the splash of artificial dyes from the soda soaking the fabric, yet still she was doing her best to hand him paper napkins with hands that shook from too many emotions. Anger that burned in her face and eyes and turned them to white-hot sparks of starlight blazing in a blue sky. Something else fluttering beneath the fury that made her smell sweet and inviting and everything he wanted to bury his face in and never leave and she only ever smelled like that around him and it made his chest burn and his lips peel back from his teeth that were growing sharper by the day. She was a whirlwind, fluttering hands and fiery eyes and a determined set to her mouth and brow and in that moment he saw the huntress behind the soft stutters and dazzling smiles and musical laughter. Saw the same furious glower that turned his Lady into an avenging goddess and something prickled along his spine and for one glorious instant he forgot about the awful, slithery wet sensation on his skin.
“I’m fine.” His voice. It sounded strange. The purring had begun as soon as Marinette had rushed to him and began helping even if she fumbled more than not. His fingers wrapped around her own as she tore her attention from Lila. Wretched false fox. He wanted to sink his fingers into her eyes, rake his nails across her smug features and watch her gasp and shriek and scream and bite at her, chase her until she never returned to his city. His and his Lady’s. It was theirs, not hers to poison and toy with as she pleased. He wanted to catch her by her hair and fling her into the Seine.
Especially when she threatened his favorite.
“You should have watched where you were going, Marinette! What if you hurt yourself? I’m so glad you’re both alright.” She simpered, and his hands closed around Marinette’s arms, folding her against him as his lips curled, a hiss trapped behind his teeth and a snarl building in his throat, the prickling sensation racing down his spine and making him want to bite. To snap. To lash out and leave five bright lines streaked across her face as he felt Marinette’s fingers twist in his shirt. The heat of her soothing, the scent of her fury and embarrassment and that sweet scent she only made for him dazzling his senses as he met Lila’s gaze and she flinched at what she saw.
“I’m glad too, I’d hate to have to take her to the infirmary because you tripped her, Lila.” His gums ached, but Marinette was warm against him and safe. Safe where she belonged, his fingers sinking into her softness, the textures of her clothes delightful as he rubbed her, feeling her relax in his arms as he kneaded her shoulders and sides. Safe. The snarl simmered down, the boiling sensation beneath his skin turning to a soft bubbling feeling, a low rumbling in his chest as he stroked a hand down Marinette’s spine and stared down Lila from beneath heavy-hooded lids, through his eyelashes as he kept her in his sight while leading Marinette away.
Touch her and you’ll wish you’d never come to my city.
At least he had a change of clothes in his bag. He couldn’t stand to wear the same outfit after fencing class was over anymore, unable to suffer the sensation of old sweat and grime no matter how little there was after he’d cleaned himself off.
Though he did enjoy the startled squeaking sound Marinette made when he pulled his shirt off over his head while he was still standing next to her, her face as red as his Lady’s suit as she clapped her hands to her face and fled, stumbling over her own feet as she raced for the door.
A smile peeled back from his lips, his fangs gleaming in the light.
One day, he’d catch her properly when she ran.
That thought brought out a pleased purr, and he padded into the showers, feeling Plagg’s familiar weight settling into his hair as he basked in the dark of the shower room, not bothering with the lights.
He kneaded his hands, an unhappy grumble low in his throat, thumb digging into the fleshy pad of his palm and massaging the joints of his wrists, his thumbs, the knuckle where his little fingers connected to his palm. The discomfort was constant, and discomfort made him irritable. He hated the rub of his clothes, hated the way he felt stiff. Hated having to sit still in his seat all day and—fingers buried into his thick hair and his voice dropped into his chest as his tail twitched, sagging back into that touch as his eyelids drooped instantly. Those wonderful fingers found the places that had been itching all day, kneading and scratching and petting until he fell boneless against the warm body next to him, sprawling across the empty lap and stretching out to his full length.
“Silly Chaton!” The giggle was soft, her grin obvious by her voice, and the hand in his hair stroked down the length of his spine in a blissful touch that left him arching into her hand. Her laughter echoed in his ears, happy and warm and everything good in the world, and he buried his face in the crook of her elbow as she simply continued to pet him. Content, he melted into her, purring deeply and dozing heavily as the tension from the day poured out of him, chased away by the palm rubbing his back just so.
Letting his eyes fall shut, his tail lazily flicked behind him, dozing as her warmth and her scent flooded his senses with everything that was his Lady.
Or perhaps he was hers. It didn’t matter as long as her fingers kept playing with his hair.
Those were definitely lumps on his hands. He stared in confusion, flexing his fingers, clenching and unclenching his fists. The joints felt a little stiff, but nothing too bad. It was workable. Idly, he wondered if it was residual from the fight with the akuma, but he couldn’t be sure. However it also seemed to be affecting his feet, and his shoes were starting to really bother him. He’d need to talk to Nathalie about getting an updated wardrobe if this kept up, but he couldn’t be bothered to worry too much. Today was one of the tryouts for the big fencing competition, and this was a distraction. Instead, he covered them with plasters, shuddering at the sticky sensation but knowing that the feeling of them rubbing against the insides of his gloves would be worse, and scooped his bag off the floor.
He couldn’t help the leer behind his mask. He was lighter, faster, able to twist away from his opponent’s foils more easily than ever as if filled with some sort of fluid grace. Nothing could stand against him, a yowl building behind his teeth as he pounced, his foil an extension of his arm, and only Kagami gave him any trouble. With her it was fierce, a battle of dominance, her motions deadly and precise and worthy of his time. Worth the way he heard one voice over the others.
One that made his growl build into a delighted rumble as heat flashed down his spine, goosebumps breaking out on his arms as his hair stood on end, a desire to shout his joyous battle cry to the heavens as he snatched Kagami’s foil from her hand with a flick of his wrist. His blood thundered in his ears, the delighted cry plucked from one voice amongst the cheering crowd flooding him with a flurry of sensations that made his whole frame itch in some nameless desire as he returned Kagami’s foil with a bow.
It took everything in him not to rush away. Not to bring her his opponent’s foil as a gift. Not to present it to her and rub himself against her and preen and sneer at the others around them. It took everything he had and he behaved.
Behaved until he was released and then he found her. His mask hung loosely in his fingers as he cut a path through the crowd to reach her, the delight in her eyes fueling the rumble in his chest and then he had her. Her scent flooded his head as he rubbed his face against hers. Hugged her tight to his chest. The scent of her hair as he nuzzled against it was sweet and perfect and the sound of her pounding heart was like a fierce harmony to his own. Her fingers tried to knead his chest but he couldn’t feel it properly through the padding which displeased him, but the attempt made him purr harder, and the soft sounds she made when he returned the gesture—hands dancing along her sides, up her back, her spine arching beneath his touch as she squeaked and squirmed and he was so close to snatching her up and carrying her away and—
He hissed, pressing her tighter to him as he glared over the top of her head at Alya and Nino. Irritated by their interruption, his eyes narrowed and his shoulders hunched, but the feel of her fingers along his sides was enough to soothe him. Gaze hooded but intense, he held her, basking in her warmth and the dizzying scents she made only for him.
He’d earned this, and he wasn’t about to let anyone take this victory from him, glaring at Alya and Nino as if daring them to interrupt this moment one more time.
“Adrien, are you sure you’re doing okay?” Nino smelled just as worried as he sounded, his friend studying him winding the sports tape around his hands. Luckily he happened on Adrien after he’d already gotten most of the bandages in place. Smoothing the tape down, he frowned as he flexed his hands, his wrists, the sharp staccato popping sounds no longer worrying to him. By now he was used to it, the way his joints would crack and the tendons twanged like plucked strings when he flexed, the sharp pain followed by sweet relief as it released the tension building in his joints. Nino, however, looked alarmed every time.
“That can’t be good. What happened?” He winced at the way Adrien tried to pop his wrists one last time, looking more than a little green around the gills even if he seemed to be doing his best to hide it for Adrien’s sake.
“Took a blow wrong in karate class the other day. I’ll be fine.” He smiled wanly, pulling his nail file out to blunt his nails a little more after they snagged on his bag when he tried to lift it. His nails were hardening, growing more than they had in ages. He’d tried trimming them but it had hurt so badly he hadn’t wanted to try that again. So filing it was. Tempted to borrow some polish and paint them, but he couldn’t. At least not in the few days before a photoshoot.
Dread rose in him at the memory, unsure of what to do with that little dilemma when he knew what lay under all the wrappings. What he was so carefully trying to disguise. Again he flexed his wrists, curled his fingers into claws. Stretching and flexing and massaging the taut ligaments and muscles.
Only to feel the sweet relief as new joints popped and cracked, his gaze hooded as he slung his bag over his shoulder and steered the conversation to something new.
Thank goodness for the akuma for once.
Chat could have laughed with relief, grinning hard enough that his fangs caught the light as he laughed, watching the akuma’s face as all fourteen of his claws dug into the backs of their hands as they grappled.
“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?” He growled, hearing his Lady’s scoff from behind him.
“Chat, come on! It’s not everyday you find someone as handy as you!” She grinned, and all he could do was purr delightedly at her pun, feeling all the more smug as her bandalore wire snapped tight, shattering the akuma’s cane in an instant.
“Okay, now can I see them?” Her hand was reaching for his own, and he trilled, hesitantly offering her one of his paws. It had taken days for the inconspicuous lumps to turn to stumps, taken him forever to figure out how to hide them, longer for the stumps to turn into vestigal digits, but by now he had claws even in civilian form, and two extra fingers on each hand. His pinkies had lengthened, his hands foreign even to himself, but the joints no longer popped and cracked, the tendons relaxing enough that they no longer constantly shifted. The discomfort was almost entirely gone.
It had taken quite some time to get Plagg to explain, but after he’d accidentally cut himself with his claws, it had been enough to break his kwami down for interrogation as he’d desperately tried to staunch the bleeding.
Ladybug took such care with him, turning his hands over in her own, rubbing the palms and his knuckles with her thumb, gently flexing his new fingers.
“Weird, I know.” He chuckled when she made a face, scenting her dismay and leaning closer, squeezing her hands. “It’s fine, my Lady. You’re allowed to say it, I kinda freaked out when I realized they were growing in.”
“That must’ve been really freaky.” She chuckled, sympathetic and her gaze as soft as her voice, and he shrugged, struggling with the urge to lean forward and buff his face against her own.
“Yeah, it was. The claws and fangs weren’t nearly as bad.” His chuckles were breathless as her eyes went round, and he sagged when she buried a hand in his hair, rubbing around his ears.
“Oh Chaton, I’m so sorry! That sounds awful.” She smelled wonderful, and he could hear the soft sound of chittering and for a moment he couldn’t tell if it was her or him that made it. In that moment it didn’t matter, lost in the feel of her rubbing the inside of his ear, the way her fingers tangled in his hair.
“Plagg said I’m one of the only ones.” His words were muffled by her shoulder, and he could feel her curiosity.
“He did?” Her words buzzed against him, his face pressed to her throat, and he let himself close his eyes, let her smells and sounds wash over him, her warmth envelop him.
“Mmm. We all end up a little cat-like if we have the ring long enough, but he said he could count the ones of us that ended up like this on his paws. I’m the only one who has it on both my hands and my feet.” As if to demonstrate, he waggled his feet where they dangled off the edge off the roof, and she made a sound that was hard to tell what it was. Not worried, not afraid. Startled, maybe. Certainly surprised.
“Has anyone else noticed?” She sounded so worried for him, and he laughed. It was a chuckling, rumbling sort of sound that he wasn’t used to yet. Sighing, he nuzzled deeper into her throat, and her hand smoothed down his hair, stroking his spine as he slumped into her.
“Sort of. I blamed an injury from my martial arts classes, and considering at the beginning I kept dropping things when they started to really grow in it worked out pretty well in my favor. My father was upset with me, but what else is new.”
His Lady said something that was most certainly unladylike, and he snorted, unable to hide his grin.
“I think I have a great way to hide it, though!” His face ached from his grin, his tail curling as mischief made his eyes gleam when he peeled himself away from her to squeeze her hands in his own. “I’m going to blame the akuma.”
She snorted, then laughed, and his tail arched high and his purr deepened at the sound.
“How is that supposed to work, Chaton? That won’t help, I used my Cure and everything.” She was making that wonderful little trilling sound, a hum that made him smile all the more, kissing her knuckles and baring his fangs in a playful grin.
“It’s not like he knows that, now does he?”
Still, he couldn’t bring himself to unwrap his hands at school. It was one thing to plot to give his father a fright with his Lady, and another entirely to make himself into a freak in front of all his classmates. The dressings on his hands were unwieldy, the medical tape plucking uncomfortably at his skin, and he glared at them, grumbling unhappily before he heard the sound of soft laughter outside the classroom, sitting up with pricked ears only to relax casually in his seat. Artfully sprawled with a careless grace and not at all like he was waiting for her.
Nino snorted beside him and Adrien pointedly ignored him.
“Good morning, boys!” Alya beamed, and he could already scent the difference on the air before she even rounded the doorway. Just hearing Alya’s greeting had been enough, and sure enough Marinette’s face was flushing pink as she stepped into class, biting her lip as their gazes met and he couldn’t stifle the purr. Couldn’t hide the chirp in his voice. He tried, he tried, but her stammered greeting had left him smiling (too wide, his fangs were showing he could tell). He leaned forward as she walked around his seat and brushed against her, her face flooding with color and her scent bright and sharp and suddenly—
Suddenly she was looking at him.
Looking at him, their gazes locked and the electric jangle down his spine was intense, his hair standing on end, and he just wanted to butt his face against her and curl up beside her on her seat. No, better yet he wanted to lay across her like he had his Lady’s lap and feel her fingers in his hair. His hair that he couldn’t stand the product in anymore. His hair that he’d simply brushed into place today. Grooming and grooming until it looked perfect and artfully tousled and he’d had to fix it just so when he got to school but now she was studying the way his bangs had fallen across his face.
The way he blinked at her, too slow to be entirely normal. His gaze unwavering. A pleased purr rising in him when she froze for a second and then, and then, she did it back. Marinette looked stunned. Surprised with herself, even. Then she was taking one of his hands in her own, thumb stroking the medical tape, her brows furrowing and he could see it in her eyes the moment that her mind began to whirl. Thoughts racing as her gaze danced across his bandaged fingers, his misshapen hands all wrapped in gauze and tape, across his face free of makeup for the first time in years because he couldn’t stand to wear it unless he had to and suddenly her gaze snapped to his.
Her scent changed, and he could feel his eyes go wide as he was pinned with her fierce, glorious gaze that burned him and warmed him and made him want to burst at the seams.
I know that look.
Suddenly she was pulling, pulling at his hand and he followed as if he was all liquid grace given wings. He didn’t care what anyone said. Didn’t even notice them. Only noticed her small, tiny fingers in his own and she would have been dragging him if he hadn’t been keeping pace so easily. As if they were meant to run together. To bound and fly and dance around one another as if it was as easy as breathing, as fast as sunlight, inevitable as the tide. He let her pin him to a wall and he knew by her face that his had grown smug and sly and he didn’t stop himself when he buffed his forehead against her own, rubbing her scent into his hair and onto his face so he could carry it with him all day.
“...Chaton?” Her voice sounded so small and soft and hesitant and he purred so hard it made him dizzy. Or perhaps that was her scent. Kneading her side with his free hand, he rubbed his cheek against her hair, and she didn’t protest at him messing up her hair, though she squeezed his hand.
“Yes, my Lady?” His eyelids felt heavy, blinking down at her, and a dozen different emotions and a thousand different thoughts flashed across her face. She was stunned and silent and he just waited, pressing his forehead to her own and letting her touch his face. Run her fingers through his hair until it fell wild into his face, her little gasp a sound he’d treasure almost as much as her laughter and her startled squeaking. Lifting his bangs out of his eyes, her fingers raked his scalp as she combed his hair into place, and he sank into her touch as if it melted him from the inside.
“Adrien…” So breathless with wonder and confusion and one by one her flurry of thoughts and emotions settled, the confused crease between her brows smoothing, and he nosed her bangs aside, his lips so close to brushing her skin but he didn’t dare. Not now. Not quite yet.
“Marinette?” He purred, cocking his head as he watched her. Studied the way her cheeks flushed and her freckles spread across her nose and down her cheeks, darker when she spent more time in sunlight. Took in the way she turned his hands over in her own—small and delicate and covered in scars and callouses and even now she had a new cut on her finger—thumbing the bandages.
“Can...can I see? What they look like now, I mean.” Her stammering was almost gone, now. And he looked between her and his bandaged hand, nodding after only a moment’s consideration.
“I wouldn’t mind, if you were the first to see.” He smiled, shy in that moment because it was one thing to see them when he wore gloves, another to see what it really looked like. Slowly, gently, as if he were made of spun glass or sugar, she peeled away the layers. Unwound the tape and gauze and for a moment she closed her eyes and he held his breath, and the last layer peeled away.
Fresh and pink and paler than the rest of his skin were his new fingers. It was strange, staring at them, knowing they were his now and yet it felt like he was looking at someone else’s hand. Marinette stood in silence with him, ribbons of tape and gauze tangled around her fingers, only to take the steadying breath, determination in every tense line of her figure, and cradled his hand in her own as if holding a newborn kitten.
The touch of her bare skin on his fingerpads was like lightning up his arm, and it took everything in him not to gasp. Teeth clenching to bite back the urge to suck air in between his fangs, it didn’t stop the purr that built as she tenderly manipulated both new fingers. How she lifted his hand to inspect it better. Taking in the sight of his claws, sharp again after only a day, then peering up at his face. His pupils were still round (thankfully, though he wasn’t certain if even that would stay), but he smiled brightly, unflinching as her thumb brushed his lip as she studied his fangs (sharp and blinding as almost all his teeth were, now). It wasn’t until she realized she was on her tiptoes with one hand on his face and the other holding his and they were close enough to kiss that she flinched, stumbling and stuttering apologies as she flapped her hands in embarrassment until he laughed.
His laughter shocked her into silence, then slowly, inevitably, it dragged out her own, and suddenly she was leaning into him and he couldn’t remember if he’d tugged her close or she’d pulled herself to him. All he knew was they were alone in a side hallway, her hands kneading his sides as he buried his face in her hair and lost himself in her warmth.
Somehow, miraculously (he was fully attributing it to Tikki’s good influence), they made it back to class in time. Sliding into their seats with stifled laughter as the bell rang, his still-bandaged hand resting on the desktop while the other draped in his lap as he shot Marinette a playful grin and got a teasing tug to his hair in response. Warmth blossomed behind his sternum as he grinned, resting his chin on his bandaged palm as his purr made his chuckles warble strangely.
“Alright, my guy, what is up with you today?” Nino shot him a side-eye, squinting in concern. “You’ve been acting like a weirdo all day.”
“Who, me?” Adrien grinned, lifting both hands in a shrug. “I’m perfectly fine!”
It wasn’t until Nino went as pale as Marinette and began to scream that Adrien remembered he and Marinette had forgotten to replace his bandages. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he shot his partner a panicked look while all hell broke loose in the class. At least he knew that it would be funny later. Much later. At least, he hoped so. Well, at least he knew there was only one thing that could be worse than a shrieking Chloe when his ears rang from being sensitive to loud noises.
Now he just had to figure out how to break this to his father, though a voice in the back of his mind that sounded entirely too much like Plagg presented his most solid defense possible.
He was definitely blaming it on the akuma.